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Utility Bill Shock? Here’s How To Save Money

in Posts, Your New Home by Wendy Gittleson Leave a 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.

How To Get The Most Possible Money When Selling Your House

in Real Estate by Wendy Gittleson Leave a comment
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Depending on when you bought your home, there’s a very good chance that you have quite a bit of equity right now. Still, there’s probably a lot you can do to increase the selling value of your home and a lot of them are pretty simple.

1. Clean up the outside – Try to look at your house as if you have never seen it before. If that’s tough for you, ask a friend or coworker to give you an objective opinion. Curb appeal is the first thing new buyers see and you’d be surprised at the number of potential buyers that let that be the last impression.

Do you need to paint or do you need new siding? Even if the siding is in good shape, make sure it’s a neutral color. Personally, I love purple houses, but I’m in a small minority. the same holds true for other more creative shades.

Fill bare ground with ground cover or lawn. Add some shrubs and flowers to the front. Shutters and an accent door add a lot of personality, without being offensive, to the house.

2. Clean the inside – This takes work and will constantly need to be maintained while the house is being shown. Dust and vacuum every single day. Never, ever leave a dish in the sink. Make sure all the beds are made and that each has matching or coordinating bedding – in other words, no two different colors of pillow cases. Make sure the bathrooms have clean, preferably new, matching towels. Potpourri is always a nice touch, as are subtly scented candles. The old Realtor’s trick of baking cookies actually does help.

3. Renovate the bathroom – Bathroom renovations can be anything from brand new spa-like fixtures and tile to new light fixtures and faucets. Regardless of your budget, caulk and add new linens.

4. Renovate the kitchen – Yes, that’s expensive and might not be worth it. Ask your Realtor, but there are some things you can do without spending too much. Paint, scrub your appliances spotless, add a new backsplash. You can even paint your cabinets, which takes about a weekend or two. If you have the budget, knock down walls for an open look and build an island/breakfast bar. Replace your appliances with stainless steel.

5. Paint the inside – Again, use neutral colors.

6. Add an additional bathroom if you have room – Most Bay Area homes don’t have basements, but there are many homes with wasted space. If you can add a bathroom, it should add to the value of the home. Again, consult with your broker and perhaps a contractor to weigh the value.

7. Don’t define rooms for buyers – Some rooms are obvious. A kitchen is a kitchen. A bathroom is a bathroom, but your home office might be another’s playroom. Your TV room might be a home office. Put neutral furniture in those rooms, such as a sofa, chair and maybe a small desk that can double as a plant table.

8. Change light fixtures and buy new bulbs.

9. Add solar – In California, we have plenty of sun and solar rooftops can add thousands to your home’s resale value. It’s best if you go solar before selling your home, so you can benefit from the cost savings too.  A solar water heater is also a great investment.

10. Add hardwood – If you can afford new flooring, hardwood is the most popular option. There are several types of hardwood flooring and there are laminate floors that look like hardwood but aren’t. Gauge that based on your neighborhood. A high-end neighborhood will require high-end flooring. A starter neighborhood may be fine with laminates.

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