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Get To Know Your Neighbors In A Place Where No One Knows Their Neighbors

in Your New Home by Wendy Gittleson Leave a comment

Technology is amazing. Social media enables us to make friends across the world. Texting enables us to send people a quick “thinking of you” or get up to date without sacrificing too much time. Smartphones give you constant access to your emails. What may be lost in all of this, though, is face to face communication, and especially communication with your neighbors.

About 1/3 of Americans have never met their neighbors. This has gone up from about 20 percent during the 1970s. While for many, especially for those who are introverted, or perhaps just busy, that doesn’t sound like a bad deal. You could, however, be missing out. While your neighbors may or may not be friends, there are a lot of advantages to at least getting acquainted.

As different as you might be, you and your neighbors have one very important thing in common. Obviously, you both live in the same neighborhood. While apps and social media sites like Nextdoor are great places to exchange information, for things that are specific to your block or to your front yard, there’s nothing like personal interaction.

Since it’s no longer expected to meet your new neighbors, finding an opening might seem a bit less organic, but really, all it takes is a smile and a wave. When I moved into my home, I knocked on the doors on either side and across the street. Since then, I’ve become on a first name basis with two other homes. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if my house incurs a break-in or if one of my dogs gets out, I know I can enlist my neighbors for information, if not for help.

It does sound a little old fashioned, but some homemade food goes a long way. Of course, there are many dietary restrictions these days, so when in doubt, a basket of fruit can win over even the most reclusive neighbors (or at least it can help).

Inviting them over for dinner, a barbecue or coffee is a great ice breaker, or perhaps you can ask for restaurant suggestions and take them out for a meal.

Children, of course, are natural conversation starters. Ask about local parks and activities, and maybe what to beware of. If your children are close in age, introduce them. Let them take it from there, though.

Even if your neighbors don’t end up being close friends, you might end up having someone who can keep a spare key for you or help out in a pinch. At the very least, they’ll be someone who will return your mail that’s accidentally delivered to them.

Featured image via Pexels.

Moving From A Big Home To A Small Home – How To Make It Work

in Storage, Your New Home by Wendy Gittleson Leave a comment

There are a lot of stereotypes about the Bay Area, some of them true, some of them not, but there is one truth: it’s expensive to live here and you don’t get a lot of house for your money. So, how can a person (or family) adapt to a small home without losing their minds? Here are a few tips:

Store stuff

— If your move into a smaller space is temporary, then by all means, store your extra furniture and things.

Sell stuff

— Sites like Nextdoor.com, Facebook and Craigslist are great ways to get some cash for your extra goods. You can also host a yard sale or sell to a consignment shop.

Look up

— You might feel horizontally challenged, but when it comes to small homes, the sky, er, ceiling is the limit. Hang pots from the ceiling above your stove. Build lots and lots of shelves.

Image via Amy Guth/Flickr.

Image via Amy Guth/Flickr.

Decorate in neutrals

— Neutrals with pops of colors tend to make a small space seem bigger.

Image via Modern Miami Furniture/Flickr.

Featured image via Modern Miami Furniture/Flickr.

Buy convertible furniture

— Sturdy ottomans can double as seats and many have storage. Sofa beds offer additional sleeping space without having to have an extra bedroom. Folding tables and chairs can be a lifesaver. A murphy bed allows you to hid the bed altogether.

Stop buying music and books

— No, I’m not suggesting that you stop indulging your music and reading habits. I’m all for those, just stop buying the physical versions. For books, use the library or download on a tablet. For music, downloads are just as convenient and take up no space.

Buy smaller furniture

— While a full-sized sofa might seem adult, how often do more than two people actually sit on it? Buy a love seat instead and you might be able to fit a chair that people might actually use. Buy a table for two or four with a leaf and folding chairs for extra guests. Buy a queen sized bed instead of a king. Think smaller and narrower when buying sofa tables, coffee tables and end tables, if you need all of those at all.

Move outside

— If you are in a house instead of an apartment, or if you have a deck, think of it as living space. Invest in outdoor furniture and you might be able to do all your entertaining outdoors.

Going small can be a challenge, but it can be a fun one. Just let your imagination lead the way. If you have any creative ways to make smaller living better, leave them in the comments.

Featured image via Wikimedia.

Utility Bill Shock? Here’s How To Save Money

in Posts, Your New Home by Wendy Gittleson 1 Comment

Over the last two (granted, colder than normal) months, our utility bills have nearly doubled and are significantly higher than this time last year. Why? What are we doing wrong?

There are many, many ways to save money on your utility bills and they range from quite inexpensive to quite expensive but worth it in the long run.

Featured image via Brendan Wood/Flickr

Featured image via Brendan Wood/Flickr

With our moderate temperatures, houses in California are notoriously unprepared for temperature extremes. Many homes have minimal insulation and some have none at all. Many homes are older and have wasteful windows, furnaces and other appliances.

Now, let’s start with the cheapest, and in many cases, free options.

1. Turn down the heat – Yes, it’s nice to have your home at a toasty 70 degrees all year around, but it can be expensive. A five degree difference can save you hundreds of dollars a year. Wear sweaters. In my house, it’s not uncommon to see me walking around in my bathrobe during the middle of the day. At night, turn your thermostat down to 55 or 60 degrees and pile on the covers.

2. Cover drafts – This isn’t the best looking alternative, but rolled up towels under the doors can make a big difference. You can cover those single-pane windows with plastic weather proofing to help the draft there. Covering your windows in plastic isn’t the most elegant solution, but it does make a difference on your comfort and utility bills.

3. Unplug – Even when off, many of your electronics continue to use electricity. Plug things that don’t need to constantly run (like your refrigerator) into power strips and when not in use, flip off that switch.

4. Get curtains or other insulated window coverings – Cover your windows in a more attractive, but somewhat more expensive way. Thermal curtains or other window treatments can save you hundreds a year.

5. Get Rugs – Wood and tile floors are cold and they have a tendency to cool the entire home. That’s why homes in hot climates often have tile floors. If you don’t want carpet, invest in some rugs. They will help preserve heat and they will keep your feet warmer.

6. Insulate – Here’s where things start go get expensive. Look to spend between $1.50 to $3.50 per square foot, so for a 2,000 square foot house, you could spend between $3,000 to $7,000 for insulation. Obviously, it won’t pay for itself during the first year but it will over time and it will help add to your resale value, as will these next two.

7. Get new windows – Your single-pane windows are a huge source of heat loss, and during the summer, heat coming into the house. On average, a good double-pane window will cost you about $500 – $1,000. For houses that have 20 or more windows, that can really add up, but it will save you a lot of money in the long run.

8. Get solar – This subject is a bit more complicated and can be expensive, but also a huge cost savings. Solar will be the subject of next week’s blog post.

9. Check with your utility company – Utility companies often offer rebates on energy efficient upgrades. Your first step is to invite them out to do an energy audit. They will tell you what’s eligible for a rebate and what’s not. They’ll also have some great tips.

Nine Tips For An Easy, Breezy Unpack

in Preparing for a move, Your New Home by Wendy Gittleson Leave a comment

When you’re getting ready to move, there are all sorts of resources to help you prepare. Pretty much anyone, including your moving company, can offer tips on packing. Everyone seems to disappear, though, when it comes to the job of unpacking.

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First off, your moving company (at least if it’s a good one) will not abandon you. They would be happy to help you unpack. Just tell them where things go, and they’ll get to it. That’s for organized people, though, or people who used the moving company to pack.

We live in the real world, though, and in the real world, we start out with the best of intentions. We carefully label and organize maybe the first 20 boxes or so, but once moving day begins to creep up upon us, the organizational system begins to go out the window. Of course, this can all be avoided by paying the moving company to pack you, but we don’t all do that, and that’s okay.

I can’t say I actually enjoy unpacking, but it’s far less tedious than packing, and it’s a lot more rewarding. There is a real sense of accomplishment in seeing your new digs come together with your stuff. So, how can that be done quickly, and with as little hassle as possible?

  1. Unpack cleaning supplies first – You’ll need them.
  2. Unpack the kitchen – Trust me when I say you’ll need your kitchen stuff. Odds are, you don’t have to get too creative with unpacking the kitchen. First, though, put a post-it on each cabinet door. This trick might seem sort of stupid, but when you’re unpacking, you don’t want to think. Know in advance where everything goes, and putting things away will be a breeze.
  3. Electronics – You want to give the kids something to do.
  4. Toys – Ditto.
  5. Unpack the clothing next – Unpack the kids’ clothes first and then yours. The bedrooms should be very easy. When you pack, pack one drawer per box. Then everything can easily go right back in. Your mover should provide you with wardrobe boxes, which makes hanging things in your closet super fast.
  6. Unpack books – You might not need books right away, but they are easy to unpack and they help you feel at home.
  7. Unpack knick-knacks – You can put this off, but I don’t like to. There is nothing like your personal collections to make your new home feel like you.
  8. Pictures on the wall – Like with the knick-knacks.
  9. The garage – I’ll confess, we moved 7 months ago, and there are still boxes in our garage. The garage usually gets last priority, but don’t put it off as long as we have. Your cars will appreciate it.

 

Yes, this sounds easy – perhaps too easy, but it can be broken out. If you work full-time and have children, you probably won’t unpack in a day or a week, but you can in a couple of weeks, if you set aside some time to unpack maybe five boxes an evening.

Featured image via Joe Hall on Flickr. 

How To Start A Neighborhood Watch Group

in Advice, Your New Home by Wendy Gittleson Leave a comment

You’ve probably read statistics lately that murder rates are up across the nation. You’ve probably been barraged with reports of murders across the Bay Area. There’s a grain of truth to the rise in the murder rate, but the figures have also been exaggerated. Regardless, people across the country are wondering how to keep themselves and their neighborhoods safe.

One old fashioned, but effective way, to keep your neighborhood safe is to start a neighborhood watch group. It is a commitment, but it costs nothing and it can yield safer neighborhoods. Here’s how to get started (from the National Crime Prevention Council):

  • Phase One: Getting Started — Meetings, Block Captains, and Maps
  • Form a small planning committee of neighbors to discuss needs, the level of interest, possible challenges, and the Watch concept.
  • Contact the local police or sheriffs’ department, or local crime prevention organization, to discuss Neighborhood Watch and local crime problems. Invite a law enforcement officer to attend your meeting.
  • Publicize your meeting at least one week in advance with door-to-door fliers and follow up with phone calls the day before.
  • Select a meeting place that is accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Hold an initial meeting to gauge neighbors’ interest; establish purpose of program; and begin to identify issues that need to be addressed. Stress that a Watch group is an association of neighbors who look out for each other’s families and property, alert the police to any suspicious activities or crime in progress, and work together to make their community a safer and better place to live.
    Phase Two: When the neighborhood decides to adopt the Watch idea Elect a chairperson.
  • Ask for block captain volunteers who are responsible for relaying information to members on their block, keeping up-to-date information on residents, and making special efforts to involve the elderly, working parents, and young people. Block captains also can serve as liaisons between the neighborhood and the police and communicate information about meetings and crime incidents to all residents.
  • Establish a regular means of communicating with Watch members—e.g., newsletter, telephone tree, e-mall, fax, etc.
  • Prepare a neighborhood map showing names, addresses, and phone numbers of participating households and distribute to members. Block captains keep this map up to date, contacting newcomers to the neighborhood and rechecking occasionally with ongoing participants.
  • With guidance from a law enforcement agency, the Watch trains its members in home security techniques, observation skills, and crime reporting. Residents also learn about the types of crime that affect the area.
  • If you are ready to post Neighborhood Watch signs, check with law enforcement to see if they have such eligibility requirements as number of houses that participate in the program. Law enforcement may also be able to provide your program with signs. If not, they can probably tell you where you can order them.
  • Organizers and block captains must emphasize that Watch groups are not vigilantes and do not assume the role of the police. They only ask neighbors to be alert, observant, and caring—and to report suspicious activity or crimes immediately to the police.

I would also add that neighborhood watch groups should take advantage of social media. Form a Facebook group or join a site like NextDoor, which you can limit to just your neighborhood.

Try to keep your group light and fun. Ask the police department to meet with the neighbors once a year. Plan barbecues and block parties or potlucks.

Remember, the more the merrier. Arguments will happen, but the block captain should try to keep everyone on the same page. Who knows, you might even make some friends.

Featured image via Wikipedia.

What To Do About A Bad Neighbor

in Moving Costs, Your New Home by Wendy Gittleson Leave a comment

If you live in the city, you likely avoid eye contact. If you live in the country, you might be able to avoid the bad neighbor altogether, but there are almost bound to be times when you will come face to face with your bad neighbor, and rather than reacting, perhaps it’s best to solve any problems beforehand.

Pick allies wisely – Bad neighbors are all in the eye of the beholder. You might hate the purple house with the sofas in the front yard, you might hate the loud music, you might hate the loud cars or the overgrown lawn, but there is someone in the neighborhood who loves all of that, and more importantly, there are likely people in your neighborhood who are friends with your bad neighbor. Tread lightly. You want to engage allies, but don’t ruin relationships while you’re at it. Feel your other neighbors out. Ask what they would like to see changed in the neighborhood. If someone mentions weird colored houses or loud noises, you might have an ally.

Confront them – Be careful. As in so many Hollywood movies, people can get a tad defensive when they are told they are doing life wrong, which is how they’ll take criticism of their paint choices. The best thing to do is to befriend them first. Cookies are cliche, but they are effective. Patience is your friend here. Don’t bring up touchy issues when you bring over the cookies. Wait a few weeks. Most people don’t want to be rude, but sometimes it takes someone pointing out their foibles.

The creepy neighbor – We all have one of these. You can check the sex offender registry. If nothing is there, but you still get a bad feeling, listen to your gut and stay away. Don’t hesitate to call the cops if warranted. No one wants to be “that person,” but things will only get worse if you don’t.

Call the landlord – If your neighbor is a renter, too much noise or messy yards are probably a violation of the lease.

For the neighbor who talks too much – I work from home and my neighbors seem to feel I have nothing better to do than talk to them. Sometimes, I have to not answer the door or the phone. Other times, I simply tell them I am on a deadline.

Regardless of your neighbors, remember you live in a neighborhood. Sometimes, the weird members are what gives your neighborhood character. Some neighborhoods, especially those with homeowner’s associations, are much less accommodating to those whose homes look less than pristine. They won’t help with difficult personalities, though.

How To Create Boundaries When Moving In With A Roommate

in Your New Home by Wendy Gittleson Leave a comment
Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Roommates used to be like keg stands and all-nighters; we left them behind at college or shortly after. However, rising real estate prices, people staying single longer and an aging population looking for ways to stay social and active are causing a resurgence of roommates – of all ages.

Moving in with anyone can be stressful, but when the relationship is strictly platonic, things can even get more complicated. How do you divide the groceries or do you? What about visitors?

In the past, I’ve had several roommates and not a single one of them was a friend going in. A few of them are still friends. When you move in with a roommate, the odds are stacked against you. It might work out for the duration of the lease. In rare circumstances, you’ll find roommate magic. My personal philosophy is that friendships are too precious to risk in such close quarters, but if you do decide to move in with a friend, there are ways to make things easier.

Ask if they are morning or night people. Neither makes someone a bad person, but opposite sleeping schedules can make for an awkward roommate situation.

Ask about food and smoking. You don’t have to eat together, but a vegetarian might hate the smell of meat cooking. A non-smoker probably will hate the smell of cigarettes.

How to meet a roommate – While I don’t recommend moving in with friends, you can ask friends. You want to have something in common with your roommates and friends of friends might indicate that you enjoy the same music and some of the same activities. Craigslist or other online sites are risky, but with credit checks and references, you should be okay.

Lease – I recommend that only one name go on the lease, just in case things don’t work out, but the landlord might require that both names go on. I also recommend that only one name go on utilities.

Deposit – The lease holder should treat the roommate as a tenant. Require a deposit and run a credit check and get at least two references. This is much easier if the potential roommate is a stranger. You’d be surprised at what you don’t know about your friends.

Ground rules – Once you’ve found that roommate, it’s time to set up some ground rules.

  • This sounds an awful lot like living with the parents, but it’s a good idea to designate a quiet time during the week, especially if one person is a light sleeper. It’s not too much to ask that headphones go on at 11:00.
  • Figure out how to divide the food, or not. I have found it easiest for each person to buy their own food, especially if the roommates aren’t on the exact schedule. It is a good idea to share condiments, spices and cleaning supplies. Note, though, cooking together is a great opportunity for bonding.
  • Cleaning is a biggie. Do whatever you want with your bedroom (close the door) but keep the common areas clean. It’s a great idea to start a chore chart. Wash your dishes after using them. Take out the trash when full, not when overfull. Vacuum, dust, clean the bathroom, mirrors and floors at least once a week. If you can afford it, hiring a weekly cleaning service has probably saved more roommate situations than anything else.
  • If one or both of you have pets, discuss pet care. It is the pet owner’s responsibility to walk and feed the pet, not the roommates, but it’s nice to have a roommate who’s willing to pitch in. I once had a roommate who didn’t even offer to walk my dog after I had surgery. That was a sign of a short-lived situation.

 

 

 

How To Throw A Housewarming Party

in Your New Home by Wendy Gittleson Leave a comment

Cocktails_mit_SchirmchenYou’ve moved into the perfect home. You’ve even (mostly) unpacked. It’s time to breathe. Wait, not so fast, your friends and neighbors want to see your new place, so why not follow a time-honored tradition and throw a housewarming party? Take advantage of that small window before the house becomes too lived in.

It’s somewhat traditional for housewarming guests to bring gifts. One controversial idea that’s gaining popularity is registering, like you might when getting married or having a baby. Almost any store that has a bridal registry has a housewarming registry. Stores like Crate and Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond and most department stores would be happy to accommodate. Tread lightly with this idea, though. While people might intend to bring a plant or another low-cost gift, it could turn a lot of people off if you suggest gifts. My suggestion is to leave it off the invitation and register just in case someone asks what you would like or what your need.

There tend to be two types of housewarming parties – traditional and open houses. With a traditional party, you’d probably invite a smaller group of people and you’d expect them to stick around. You might serve a full dinner or perhaps just appetizers and cocktails.

With an open house, you can invite more people because people will be going in and out. For an open house, you should serve appetizers and cocktails only. If you do host an open house, it might be nice to invite your new neighbors as well as old friends. If you have kids, you can consider a child friendly housewarming party and ask your kids to invite new classmates. If you do invite kids, have games and other activities for them.

Next, you should plan the theme. Casual is probably best. Barbecues are alway a great idea as are more casual cocktail party style.

Once you’ve planned your party, it’s time to send invitations. Online invitations are fine, if you have email addresses. You can even invite people through social media. A couple weeks in advance is fine.

Once the guests arrive, they are going to expect tours. You can either have individual tours or group tours. People tend to feel more comfortable on smaller tours, but the logistics can be difficult to maneuver. You don’t want to spend the entire party giving people tours. You can divide up the duties. If you have children who are old enough, ask them to pitch in. Remember, you don’t have to open your closets (unless you want to show off that fabulous walk-in) or your kids’ bedrooms, if you don’t want to.

If you do invite new neighbors, involve them. Ask them to talk about the neighborhood. You might consider neighborhood tours as well as house tours. This can be done as one large group and be sure to tell your guests to wear comfortable shoes.

The Quickest Renovations You Can Do

in Your New Home by Wendy Gittleson Leave a comment
Painted kitchen cabinets. Image courtesy of Flickr

Painted kitchen cabinets. Image courtesy of Flickr

New homes are rarely perfect. Even on a brand new home, you generally want to put your own touches on, just to give it your personality. However, when you have to live there and when your budget is already stretched, tearing down cabinets and walls is probably not in the cards. Fortunately, there are several ways you can make your new home yours without breaking the bank, your back or your family’s sanity.

Pretty much everyone knows that the easiest thing to start with is painting. A coat of paint will add instant personality to a room and it’s cheap and relatively easy. But, don’t let the paint start with the walls. Paint some furniture, if you like the look of painted wood. It’s not generally recommended that you paint your countertops, but you can even paint your kitchen cabinets, it does, however, take some work. Here’s a video on it:

New hardware will quickly spruce up a home. Change out the light fixtures. Light fixtures can add pop to any room. Change the hardware in the kitchen and in the bathrooms. Brushed metal is modern and easy to keep clean looking. Change the door pulls on drawers and on kitchen cabinets. You’d be amazed at how transformational it can be.

There’s nothing that can add more of your personality than new window treatments. While they can be expensive, good window treatments will be easy to clean and they will help insulate your home, saving you money in the long run.

Retiling your bathroom or your kitchen can be a major job, but new grout can be easy. It’s clean and it can even add some color.

If you’re really ambitious, you can refinish your bathtub or porcelain sink. Here’s a video that almost makes it look easy, but leave it to someone with lots of patience and who’s detail oriented.

Add instant curb appeal by planting shrubs and flowers, adding attractive paving stones and painting your door. Shutters on your front window can add a special touch

10 Things You Need To Know If You’re New To The Bay Area

in Bay Area News, Your New Home by Wendy Gittleson Leave a comment

Sf_skyline_from_bayI’ve been in the Bay Area only about five years and while I absolutely love it here, there were a lot of things that took me by surprise. If you are moving to the Bay Area, your movers can definitely be a great resource, but here are some things that you might forget to ask about:

1. The weather – The weather here shocked me. I knew that summers were rather cool (we’ll talk about that ‘Mark Twain’ quote in a bit) and that winters were warm, relative to most of the country, but I had absolutely no idea that it literally never rained in the Bay Area during the summer. Of course, most of my years here have been during a drought, so it’s hardly rained during the winter, but that’s another story.

2. The traffic – It’s bad. It’s bad during the week. It’s bad on weekends. It’s bad when it’s not rush hour. It’s miserable when it is rush hour. Leave early and listen to books or podcasts or some great music. Don’t talk on the cell phone, though, unless you have Bluetooth, because you will get a ticket.

3. The dress code – What dress code? Yoga pants and hoodies are almost workwear. As a comfort junkie, I do feel right at home, but on rare dressy occasions, I find myself having a difficult time putting a nice outfit together. Bottom line, have a few nice things in your wardrobe.

4. The nightlife – There are so many things to do in the Bay Area, you’ll never run out. There are world-class restaurants. There are museums and galleries. There are clubs. However, unlike New York, San Francisco does sleep. Last call is at 2:00 am. You might have trouble finding places to eat past 9:00.

5. Outdoors – There are few places in the country that match the sheer variety of Bay Area activities. There is a ton of hiking. There’s rowing and kayaking. There’s rock climbing. There are running races and triathlons pretty much every weekend. There’s cycling, but beware, there aren’t as many cycle friendly roads as non-Californians might imagine.

6. Politics – The rest of the country doesn’t know this, but not everyone in the Bay Area is a Prius driving (although there are a lot of those) Democrat. No matter your political beliefs, you will find a lot of like-minded company. But, people do take being environmentally responsible pretty seriously.

7. The history – The Bay Area loves to talk about its history, and for good reason. It’s one of the most culturally rich and diverse cities in the world. The Bay Area was home to greats such as Ansel Adams, Isadora Duncan, Natalie Woods, Bruce Lee, Tony Bennett, Robert Frost, Jack London, and Joe Dimaggio (trust me, the list is far to extensive to include everyone).

San Francisco was one of the few cities that was almost untouched by the Great Depression. One Bay Area city has more dead people than living. Entire neighborhoods are built on top of landfill.

The Beatles gave their last concert in San Francisco. Again, space limits me for all the interesting facts that one can learn about the Bay Area. However, one quote that you will hear a lot as a new transplant is, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” which is usually attributed to Mark Twain. He didn’t say it.

8. The cost – Everyone you’ve spoken to is right about this one. It’s expensive here. You can save some money by moving across the bay from San Francisco, but even there, it’s expensive.

9. Dogs – Not everyone has one, but they are everywhere. You might as well get one. And, the biggest off-leash dog park is in the East Bay. It’s Point Isabel, which is a gorgeous three (give or take) mile loop along the Bay. The dogs can go for a dip (beware muddy low tide) and they can be cleaned off at the dog wash or you can hose them off yourself. It even has a cafe for you and the pooches.

10. Nothing is as close as you think – Silicon Valley is actually pretty far from San Francisco. Plan on a 30 minutes to an hour or more to get anywhere, even just across the bridge.

 

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