Basic Tools for Homeowners

When you own your own home, there are a lot of small repairs and similar tasks that you’ll have to do at some point. You may also want to tackle some DIY projects or make some changes around the house from time to time. Regardless of what’s going on, you’re going to need some tools to get things done. Which tools should you get, though? A lot of homeowners opt for basic premade tool kits but find that they don’t always contain everything that they’ll need for various home repair and improvement tasks. Whether you’re thinking of getting a kit or wanting to build your own tool collection from scratch, here are some of the basics that you should make sure that you have.

Measuring Tools

One big thing that you should always have around the house is a few tools for measuring things. The most obvious tool for this is a tape measure, but there are a few others to consider as well. Pick up a level (or two, in different sizes) and a carpenter’s square so that you can always tell when something is level and when corners are actually squared off. A stud finder and a plumb bob should also be in your collection.

Hammers

When it comes to hammers, most of the time you can get by with just a standard claw hammer. Picking up a rubber mallet to supplement your tool collection isn’t a bad idea, though, especially if you plan on working outside or want to go camping. There are a few other specialty hammers that you might have specific need for, but you should only pick one of those up if you actually need it.

Screwdrivers (Plural)

Despite what most people think, screwdrivers aren’t a one-size-fits-all tool. You should have both flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers (and star and square head screwdrivers wouldn’t hurt), and ideally you should have at least two or three different head sizes to accommodate different screws. While the wrong size driver head will often work, you can damage both the head and the screw by not matching the tool to the job. Picking up a screwdriver with interchangeable head bits is a great way to make sure your needs are met.

Wrenches and Sockets

You’ll almost certainly run into bolts at one point or another, and having a wrench and socket set will ensure that you have what you need to handle them. Get a decent wrench set and a decent socket set, making sure that you have both metric and imperial options. In most cases you can find a tool set that includes both, along with Allen wrenches (which are sometimes called hex keys); get that set, since it’ll cover you on all three fronts.

Pliers and Channel-Locks

There are a few different types of pliers and adjustable wrenches out there, and it’s hard to say exactly what you’ll need from the beginning. Having a set of channel-lock pliers, a good adjustable wrench or two and both basic and needle-nose pliers will meet your needs most of the time. You may run into a few instances where you need more specific tools such as a pipe wrench as well, but that’s not a must-have when you’re still building a tool collection.

Clamps

Locking clamps or adjustable clamps are great to have; even if you don’t use them very often, they’ll be more than worth it in those instances where you actually need one. Other fasteners such as zip ties are also good to have on hand. If you’re planning on getting into woodworking or similar DIY projects, then you might want to pick up some extras.

Other Tools

There are a many other tools that you might consider, though whether you need them will depend on you and the sort of work you plan to do. A drill with a basic assortment of bits is good to have, and an electric sander can be useful on some jobs. Utility knives, wire cutters and other cutting tools can be handy as well. You may even find a need for a table saw or other larger power tools. Just make sure that you have a good reason for bigger purchases to keep from buying things you won’t actually use.

Is the Job Too Big?

Having the right tool for the job is important, but so is realizing when the job you’re facing is a bit too much for you to handle alone. If you hit that point, HomeKeepr can help. Sign up for a free account today to find the professional you need to get the job done quickly.
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Are You Ready for Storm Season?

As spring turns to summer, more and more focus is shifting to outdoor activities and enjoying the wonderful summer weather. Unfortunately, not all of the weather is going to be so wonderful. Depending on where you live, you may face several severe storms during the summer as well as the usual summer storms and rain. Now is the time to prepare for storm season to make sure that you aren’t taken by surprise when bad weather hits.

Clean Your Gutters

One big thing that you can do to get ready for storm season is to make sure that your gutters are clean and free of debris. This is the time of year when everything is in bloom, and that can produce seeds that have blown off trees and plants, ending up in a nice wet gutter environment. Add in dust, decaying leaves and other items that may have collected over the winter then washed into your gutters, and you’ve got a lot of potential blockages to deal with. Clear them out to help your gutters work properly, diverting water away from your roof and home to prevent leaks and flooding during storms.

Trim the Trees

Falling limbs and trees are one of the big causes of property damage associated with storms. A lot of this can be prevented with some forethought, however. Trim back or remove heavy or dying limbs that hang over your house, vehicles or power lines. Diseased, damaged or dead trees should also be removed to prevent them from falling as a result of heavy winds.

Inspect the Roof

A roof is easy to ignore until it starts leaking, but at that point a significant amount of damage may have already been done. To help you get ready for storm season, take some time to walk around your home and see if you notice any visible damage such as missing shingles or notable divots in the roof material. You might also consider bringing in a roofing crew that offers roof inspections as part of your storm preparations. The more potential damage you find now, the easier it will be to avoid leaks and other damage when storms hit.

Secure Everything

Wind can do a lot of damage during storms. Double check any shutters, downspouts or other wall fixtures to make sure that they’re well secured, tightening screws or replacing securing straps as needed. If you have items in your yard that could be moved by the wind, such as a trampoline, consider getting straps and pegs to secure it to the ground as well. The more secure everything is, the less chance that there is for property damage to occur in strong winds.

Mind Your Electricity

Between high winds and lightning, storms can spell bad news for your electrical power. Installing a lightning rod or a full-home surge protector can help protect you in the event of lightning strikes or power surges, and hooking critical electronics up to an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) can keep them running for a little while even if your power drops out. If it’s in your budget, you might also consider getting a home generator that you can switch on if the power goes out.

Check Your Insurance

If you have homeowner’s insurance, it’s worth double checking to see what is and isn’t covered by your policy. While insurance might cover several common forms of storm damage, a lot of policies don’t cover flood damage unless you take out additional coverage. By understanding what is covered, you can get a better feel for what additional coverage you might need to be secure even in the worst of storms.

Get Storm Ready

If you need to do some work around the house to really get it ready for storm season, HomeKeepr is here to help. Sign up for a free account today to find roofers, electricians and other home pros who can hook you up with everything you need to protect yourself from the storms.
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Update: Latest Construction Trends

Throughout the years, the construction industry, and the trends that it follows, have changed significantly. While some key elements in construction tend to stay more or less the same, in other areas the industry needs to be adaptable to keep up with the changing wants and needs of consumers and other clients. So if you’re considering a change, but aren’t really sure what you want in your home, here are a few of the recent and upcoming construction trends to keep in mind.

Children’s Playrooms

A lot of homeowners with children have come to feel that their kids need a place to play when at home. While children can and will play anywhere, giving them free reign of the house can be nerve-wracking, especially when you have to clean it all up every day. Establishing a dedicated playroom helps to contain the chaos, confining the clutter to a single area within the house. It’s possible to use an existing room as-is for a playroom, but a lot of parents would prefer to do at least a little bit of remodeling to ensure that the room both meets their kids’ needs, and is optimized for safety and storage.

Ditching the Dining Room

Big formal dining rooms have been popular for a long time, though that popularity has waxed and waned over the years. These days, many households aren’t using their dining rooms nearly as much as they did in past decades. As a result, more homeowners are looking for other things to do with that space other than using it to hold a table and chairs. This has led to surge in remodeling to make better use of that dining room area, with homeowners opting instead to create nooks or other smaller dining spaces that can be used much more efficiently at mealtime.

Smart Home Construction

Once a thing of science fiction, smart home technology and home automation are increasingly popular options for homeowners. A lot of smart home automation tech is designed to be plug-and-play, with smart lights, smart thermostats and various sensors being available as aftermarket purchases. For new construction, though, more people are opting for integrated technology. Built-in smart sensors to track things like water leaks, open windows and various aspects of security are all popular. Other construction options such as built-in Ethernet and design that avoids Wi-Fi dead spots are also being requested more and more frequently.

Home Office Spaces

As people work from home more often, they need a dedicated area to do their work in. In some cases, this is as simple as moving a computer into a spare bedroom, but many home workers require more customization for their home office space. This can come in the form of additional storage or custom work areas, improved soundproofing or electrical work such as improved lighting and added outlets. Other home workers may want a custom outbuilding to serve as a “shedquarters” so that they have a work area that’s at home but separate from the house itself.

Smaller Room Designs

While open room designs have been popular for years, there has been a shift recently to smaller and more distinct rooms within the home. This doesn’t apply to every room, of course; for living rooms and some other spaces within the house, bigger and more open continues to be popular. And having other rooms with a more compact design can make these seem bigger by comparison, even when you don’t have a huge amount of floor space to spend on big open areas.

Keeping Up with the Trends

Trends change over time… if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be trends. HomeKeepr can help you keep up with the Joneses and stay on top of the latest trends. Sign up for a free account today and see just how well it can connect you with the pros you need to stay on top.
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Considering a DIY Interior Paint Job?

There are a lot of people tackling DIY projects at the moment. Some of these are necessary projects that people are doing themselves to avoid bringing strangers into their homes. Others are simply a way to pass the time and shake off some boredom. Regardless of the reason, you might find yourself considering some interior painting. This can be a great idea, especially if you find yourself going a bit stir-crazy while you wait for everything to reopen. That said, it’s important that you don’t rush into a DIY painting project since that can lead to results that are less than optimal. Here are a few things to think about to help ensure that your painting project turns out well.

Measure First

A can of paint only goes so far, so it’s important to know just how much paint you need before you buy it. Since most paint colors are mixed, there’s no guarantee that paint mixed at different times will look exactly the same even if it’s all supposed to be the same color. A can of paint covers an average of 400 square feet, though this can differ based on the paint type and other factors. To begin, measure the width and height of each wall and multiply to get their area. Be sure add the area of any ceilings if you’re painting them as well. Once you know exactly how much surface area you need to cover, you can check the coverage of the specific paint you’re getting and buy accordingly.

Make a Single Trip

Even though some areas are opening things up again, that doesn’t mean you can stop respecting social distancing rules. Figure out exactly what you need and make a list so that you can buy it in a single trip. Wear a mask, avoid getting too close to anyone else and go get your supplies at a time when the store isn’t crowded.

Prep Your Rooms

Don’t underestimate the importance of prepping your rooms. Fill any holes, sand rough surfaces and take the time to clean everything. If possible, wash the surfaces you’re going to paint with soap and water a day or two before you plan to start painting. Even if you aren’t painting them, you should also clean the ceiling, baseboards and any other surfaces so that any cobwebs, dust and dirt on them doesn’t mess up your freshly painted surfaces. Remove any outlet covers, light switch panels and anything else that’s attached to the walls. Once the room is ready, be sure and use an appropriate primer to coat everything you’re going to paint before you start painting.

Paint in the Proper Order

You might be tempted to jump right in and start working on the walls. Doing so can actually make things more difficult in the long run, though. If you’re painting your baseboards, start with them first. Move on to window and door frames, then the ceiling. Once these are all painted, give them plenty of time to dry, then put easy-release painter’s tape over the painted surfaces. After everything is taped up, you can then paint the walls and not have to worry about getting paint on those areas you’ve already painted. Any paint that got on the walls while you were painting your trim and ceilings will be painted over with your wall paint.

Working With Tape

Putting down painter’s tape is easy but pulling it up can be very frustrating. A lot of people don’t think about the fact that paint from the walls will overlap onto the tape, so pulling the tape off can take paint with it, leaving an uneven edge on the paint. Before pulling, take a utility knife and cut the paint right at the edge of your trim or taped surface. Pull the tape at a 45-degree angle behind where you’re cutting, ensuring a nice crisp edge to your painting. Just make sure that the paint has dried for at least a day so that it’s not still soft or gummy.

Give Yourself Time

When you start painting, allow yourself at least a few days per room. You’ll need time to prep the surfaces you’re going to paint, time for the primer to dry and then additional time for the paint itself to dry. If you’re doing multiple coats, that time will be even longer. It will all pay off in the end, though, with the extra time resulting in a more professional look with even coverage and nice clean edges. Once everything’s dried you can start replacing anything you removed, but give yourself at least a few more days before trying to clean the newly-painted surfaces.
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6 Home Inspection Tips for Buyers That Sellers Can Learn From, Too

In fact, 90% of homeowners believe that home inspections aren’t a luxury but a necessity, according to a poll from the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).Realizing that each side ultimately wants the same thing—and that you can work together toward closing a deal—should set all parties more at ease. Start with these 6 home inspection tips for buyers that offer hidden lessons for sellers, too.
Papers outlining a home inspection contingency for buyers.
Source: (Kristine Isabedra/ Death to the Stock Photo)

Tip #1: Make the inspection official by writing it in as a contract contingency.

It’s not enough to tell the seller of a house verbally that you plan to get the house inspected before closing. You’ll need to work with your agent to make sure it’s written into the contract as a contingency clause, which “defines a condition or action that must be met for a real estate contract to become binding,” according to Investopedia. The inspection contingency clause in particular allows a buyer to stipulate that they have a certain amount of time (typically 10-14 days) to inspect the property after both parties sign the purchase offer. This gives the buyer the chance to back out of the deal and get their earnest money back if they can’t come to an agreement on repair negotiations. In the event that you’re buying the house from a friend or relative—or trying to compete in a hot market with fierce buyer competition—you might be tempted to waive the inspection. Bad idea—says Frank Lesh, who also has inspected houses since 1989 and is the executive director ASHI. “Unfortunately, that could be a serious mistake,” he said. Even if a seller isn’t deliberately hiding something, some maintenance issues aren’t apparent to an untrained eye. Jesus Cardenas, a top-selling agent in Pembroke Pines, Florida, echoes that inspections are always part of the contract in the West Broward County area, where he works. “All properties are sold as is with the right to inspect within the first 10 days,” he said.

What that means for sellers:

95% of purchased homes go through an inspection before closing so there’s very little chance that you’ll wiggle out of this step. The only exception may be in a white-hot market where buyers are clamoring to compete, giving you all the power to sell “as is” for market value (but it’s rare). Because the inspection is written in as a contingency, you should know your options when it comes to repair negotiations: agree to fix the issue, offer a credit to the buyer at closing, or refuse to take action with the risk that the buyer could walk away with their earnest money. The upside of a home inspection is that it puts everything out in the open. Both sides know what a property’s problems are and can negotiate with all facts on the table. For more tips on what’s the right call in varying negotiation scenarios, check out HomeLight’s guide: “Fix it or Fight It?” which is all about how to handle repair requests before closing. Many agents will suggest a pre-listing home inspection to either tackle maintenance issues early or give buyers a heads-up about certain issues, creating transparency. Cardenas, for instance, incorporates an inspection into his pre-listing routine because his area has a lot of 1990s homes with Spanish-tile roofs near the end of their life expectancy. One such inspection found that a client’s roof had perhaps one or two years’ life left. Cardenas knew a roofing company that his client hired to perform about $6,000 worth of repairs, plus provide certification of another year on the life of the roof. “The seller was a nervous wreck, but you know what? The inspection went through completely fine,” he said. “We sold the place to the first buyer.” He’d rather know of any problems upfront than have the buyer’s inspector unearth a surprise maintenance issue.

Tip #2: Temper your expectations for a perfect inspection.

Although a home inspection report is detailed, it doesn’t cover every nook, creak, and cranny. “One expectation that first-time buyers have is that the inspector is going to find everything wrong with the house—and that’s not the case. We’re there as a guest of the owner, so we’re limited in our ability to inspect things,” Lesh said.
“We can’t tear behind the wall to see if there’s a leak behind the bathroom faucet or the bathtub. We can’t take things apart to see why the dishwasher is making a funny sound. Other than removing the electrical panel, we don’t move furniture or appliances.”
So if there’s a sectional sofa in front of the living room windows, for example, the inspector may not be able to reach all the windows to test if one sticks.

What that means for sellers:

The inspection report assesses a home’s condition. It’s not a report card on how good a homeowner you’ve been or a “pass or fail” test. You may be used to your home and its quirks, but a buyer isn’t, so try not to take anything in the report personally—and remember, minor things will always crop up. “Listen, you’re buying a 30-year-old home … even a ten-year-old home or brand-new construction, you’re going to have issues. Every house has an issue,” Cardenas said. Trust your agent to help weed through what’s minor and what’s a potential deal-breaker.
Buyers inspecting home before selling.
Source: (Monkey Business Images/ Shutterstock)

Tip #3: Be prepared to attend the inspection and ask lots of questions.

When buyers pay for the home inspection, it’s fairly standard for them to watch the inspector at work. “The first thing I always do is I ask what their concerns are. Maybe they had an issue with a previous house, so they’re sensitive to that,” Lesh said. Although he also explains that he needs elbow room—he might go into and out of the house several times, crouch down to examine something, and make sudden stops—he’s glad to answer any questions the buyer has. “You’ll still get a report, but it’s easier to understand a problem when I can explain it to you, and you see what the issue is,” Lesh said.

What that means for sellers:

Although buyers need this opportunity, a seller already knows the home—and more often than not can get in the way. Lesh and Cardenas both have had experiences with buyers clashing with sellers who became defensive or emotional during the inspection. Let your agent supervise the inspection and tell you what the inspector found. (If you’ve had a pre-listing inspection or a maintenance inspection done recently, you’ll already know what’s in store.)

Tip #4: Know when to ask for a repair, take a credit, or leave it be.

The home inspection can trigger some delicate negotiations over a property’s flaws. For each, a buyer can request that the seller hire a contractor to fix it, obtain a credit (a reduction in the purchase price) toward fixing it themselves, or let it be. Sellers can opt for either or simply reject both and negotiate from there, although that puts the transaction at risk of the buyer walking away. Sellers should repair major structural issues or safety problems, such as a dated roof or any requirements for a government-backed mortgage like an FHA loan, or offer credit if they don’t have the funds. Cosmetic imperfections, such as chipped paint or peeling wallpaper, can be left to the buyers to handle once they purchase the property. “Most of the time, a seller will say, ‘No, I’m not going to give you a credit because the door doesn’t close properly,” Cardenas said.

What that means for sellers:

If your electrical system, appliances, or water heater are older, talk to your agent about offering a service contract to sweeten the deal. Cardenas said these cost about $300 a year and reassure sellers that any repairs that might arise after closing will be covered. “That takes away a lot of problems,” he said.

Tip #5: Request documentation to prove completed repairs.

While not essential, this can help verify any amenities the seller’s advertising, such as a new roof. “If the receipts are out, I’ll look at them,” Lesh said. “I think it’s a good thing for a seller to do if they actually did have work done.”

What that means for sellers:

You might already have your receipts handy for a home appraiser, so it doesn’t hurt to let a home inspector view them, too, as well as your agent. “If the buyer asked for the documents about the repairs, and it was recently [done], then it’s better to give them to me,” Cardenas said.
Source: (Fevziie/ Shutterstock)

Tip #6: Now’s your chance to get specialty inspections, too.

Although home inspectors are trained and certified to assess several parts of a home, they also can specialize in what are called “ancillary inspections,” or more detailed reviews focusing on individual components. If they don’t have the right expertise themselves, general inspectors might refer the buyer to specialty inspectors who can more accurately assess components such as the home’s foundation or signs of termites. These types of specialty inspections are an additional fee. Depending on where you live, radon inspections are a common one for home buyers to get, Lesh said. This colorless, odorless gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in rock, soil, and water, so any home can have a radon problem, the EPA says. However, people tend to think of radon testing more readily in homes that use well water or that have basements. Other specialty inspections include termite or pest inspections, swimming pool inspections, and well or sewer scans, where they insert a special camera into the sewer line underground to make sure the pipe is functional. If your home is older than 10-15 years, an electrical inspection can point out any repairs needed to bring the property up to code, such as replacing the electrical panel and any outdated wiring and receptacles.

What that means for sellers:

Be prepared for your home to be scrutinized and have patience throughout the various inspections—but do keep tabs on the deadlines of the contract and when the buyer is supposed to have each appointment scheduled by.
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Public Spaces and Social Distancing

It goes without saying that no one expected 2020 to turn out the way that it has. The last several weeks have been especially difficult, with businesses shutting down and people needing to stay at home. Though the measures seemed extreme, they were necessary as a way for people to protect both themselves and others in their community. This isolation is finally starting to wind down, with many areas either reopening businesses or releasing a roadmap for reopening. This doesn’t mean that everything is immediately going back to normal, however. There are still some risks associated with going out in public, especially in certain parts of the country. Here are some things to keep in mind to help you stay safe even as restrictions are lifted.

Social Distancing Is Still a Thing

One big thing to be aware of is that just because more places are opening doesn’t mean you can ignore social distancing guidelines. When out in public areas, you still want at least six feet between you and those around you. To help you navigate this, many stores and other places open to the public are placing tape, stickers or signs out to show you how far six feet is. Even if those indicators are not present, you can estimate six feet by picturing how much room you take up holding your arms out to your sides; if you’re close enough that you could touch another person’s hand or arm if you both had your arms stretched out, then you’re a bit too close.

Avoid Crowded Public Spaces

Just because a place is open for business doesn’t mean that you have to visit it right now. Many businesses or other public venues that were previously closed will have a sudden rush of people who have been waiting to visit. This can be bad, as crowds make it difficult to maintain proper social distancing. Wait for things to clear out a bit or choose a time early in the morning to avoid the crowds and keep yourself and others safe.

Use Curbside Purchasing

You may have already used some curbside pickup options while buying supplies during the lockdown period. As more stores open, many of them will offer curbside options as well. Most will use curbside pickup for online purchases, but some places such as pharmacies, vets and specialty stores may let you call in orders directly from the parking lot. The rules for curbside pickup vary based on the specific store you’re visiting, but for the most part you simply pull into a specially marked space and give the store a call. Let them know that you’re there to pick up an order and give both the identifier for the space you’re parked in and your name or order number. They’ll deliver the order to you with minimal contact.

Real Estate Concerns

The real estate market has been hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, with many buyers and sellers being hesitant to physically interact with each other. As things open back up and the economy starts to improve, we’ll likely see more open houses and showings. Care should still be taken to ensure that social distancing guidelines are followed at all times. Doors, windows and any other barriers should be opened by the homeowner beforehand to reduce or eliminate the need for contact with surfaces inside of the home.

Home Improvement Options

While everything was in lockdown, a lot of people put off home improvements and other non-essential activities that might bring new people into the home. Many turned instead to DIY projects, and they’re still a great idea even as things start to return to something closer to normal. With that said, you might be ready to bring in a contractor for your home improvement project. Just make sure to maintain distance away from any workers and check with the contractor to make sure that everyone will wear a mask or other facial covering while in your home.

Getting Out of the House

While we may not be out of the woods yet, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get out of the house if you do so safely. To help prevent the spread of disease while outside, wear a mask and maintain your distance from others. It’s ok if things still feel a bit weird, and you’re more than welcome to ease back into things at a pace that you’re comfortable with. Just remember that there are a lot of outdoor activities in parks and other public areas that let you stay away from crowds while still getting out of the house. Even if it’s just a brief trip, you might be amazed at how much good getting out can do after weeks of seeing the same four walls.
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Is Now a Good Time to Buy?

With social distancing being an important part of life at the moment and so many parts of the economy suffering the effects of state lockdowns, some are worried about how all of this will affect the housing market. This is especially a concern for those who were hoping to buy a new home and have seen their plans potentially derailed by the pandemic. Is this a good time to consider buying a new home, assuming that it’s even safe to do so? Depending on where you live, the answer may be surprising.

It’s a Buyer’s Market in Some Markets (but not everywhere)

With the current state of the world, the demand for real estate has dropped significantly in some parts of the US and Canada. This has left many of those who have already listed homes for sale or who were planning to list over the summer in a position where there are far fewer people looking at their properties. For some sellers, this isn’t much of an issue; they can simply wait it out and stick to their previous plans. A lot of sellers don’t have that luxury, though. This creates a buyer’s market where a lot of sellers are willing to consider offers that they wouldn’t have in the past, giving potential buyers a lot more control in the home-buying process. As the name suggests, it’s always good to buy in a buyer’s market. It isn’t necessarily a great time to list a home for sale, of course, since you’d likely have to settle for a lower offer than you were expecting if you want to move the property. This usually helps to balance out the market, with listing rates slowing down to meet demand until things pick back up again. With all of that said, not every market is experiencing this pandemic the same way.  In fact, many markets remain a seller’s market due to low inventory, mortgage rates, or any number of other local demand characteristics.

Demand Is Staying Low in Most Markets

Most of the time, a buyer’s market is caused by shifts in the economy that have people trying to save money; an example of this would be a recession. These economic shifts temporarily reduce the number of people who are willing to take on large debts, creating a glut of sellers trying to entice a smaller pool of buyers. The buyer’s market typically fizzles out once the number of sellers shrinks or the economy stabilizes. In the current buyer’s market, the economy certainly plays a factor. There is an external factor at play here as well, however: The physical distancing that COVID-19 requires has added additional worry about open houses and other forms of interpersonal contact that are traditional when buying or selling a house. There’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, including how long it will last, so with this external factor and the currently stunted economy we could see demand stay low for longer than you would expect in a buyer’s market situation.

Market Recovery

This isn’t to say that the market won’t recover, of course. Some states have already started reopening non-essential businesses and other parts of the economy, and other states have plans to start reopening soon. The economy will likely stay sluggish for a while, but reopening is the first part of recovery. Even the pandemic is becoming something less of a factor as people continue to practice social caution and science continues to work toward treatment and vaccine options. While market recovery may take longer than in the past, a recovery will happen, and the good deals that buyers can find now will become less common as things move forward.

Buying Safe

If you do decide to shop for a home in the current market, make sure that you’re smart about it and stay safe. Maintain all physical distancing practices while looking at homes, even if there is only a seller or agent present. Ask whether no-contact options such as virtual tours or virtual closing with digital signage are options, and if touring the property request that any doors or other barriers be opened before you arrive to reduce contact. Wear a mask, bring hand sanitizer and take the same precautions that you would in any other social situation. This may seem excessive for viewing a home, but keep in mind that these practices not only protect you, but also protect the seller and agent as well.
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New Real Estate Rules Under Social Distancing

Buying or selling a home can be stressful even under ordinary circumstances. Unfortunately, the current state of the world is far from ordinary. The housing market is feeling the crunch, as fewer buyers want to get out and shop for a home, and fewer sellers want to take a risk with selling. This isn’t to say that nobody’s buying and selling, of course; the market is just going through some changes. One of the biggest changes revolves around how buyers and sellers are handling social isolation and social distancing. If you’re thinking of selling, or are in the market to buy, here are a few new “rules” to keep in mind when entering the real estate fray in the era of self-isolation.

Increasing Online Presence

One of the big changes to the real estate process is an increased dependence on online resources instead of in-person shopping. This includes lots of pictures and videos of properties being posted online, but many sellers are taking things even further than this. Recorded virtual tours, online conferences to allow buyers to ask questions about the property, and even livestream walkthroughs with a seller or agent showing the property are all increasingly popular options to supplement or even replace in-person showings and conferences.

Fewer Open Houses

Open houses are a popular way to show off a property to many potential buyers, but in the current crisis these events are a big no-no. In many locales, open houses aren’t even allowed under state and federal guidance. In states where they haven’t been specifically banned, many sellers are still hesitant to hold an event that would bring multiple people into close contact with each other. Online “virtual open house” conferences are popping up as one option to adapt to this, letting multiple potential buyers come together on Zoom or a similar video conference service at the same time to get a better feel for the property that’s being sold.

More One-on-One Time

As convenient as online access and virtual tours are during the current isolation period, few if any buyers would sign on the dotted line without getting a chance to see a property in person. To accommodate this, many sellers and agents are meeting with potential buyers by appointment only. This lets a potential buyer get a good look at the property in question while also restricting the size of the meeting as much as possible. Many of these appointments are made with the understanding that if any participant feels the least bit under the weather on the day of the meet-up, then it will need to be rescheduled for another time.

Respecting Social Distancing

Even when buyers and sellers do meet up, the process is usually a little different than it used to be. Social distancing rules are usually respected, meaning that everyone involved should stay at least six feet apart at all times to prevent potential infection. Discussions about the property and general Q&As are more likely to occur outdoors in the open air, and any greetings or introductions skip out on traditional handshakes. Masks, gloves, shoe covers and hand sanitizer are commonly available on site, and many sellers go through and open all of the doors and windows to both maximize airflow and to allow interested buyers access to the entire house without having to touch doorknobs or other surfaces in order to see inside.

Closing Remotely

Remote closing negotiations are becoming much more common, taking advantage of video conferencing to bring everyone together without actually having to be in the same room. There may be some instances where people have to meet up to actually sign paperwork, but digital signing is more common because it removes that point of contact. Even when people do come together for closing and signing, it’s much more likely that everyone will utilize social distancing and that both parties will use their own pens instead of sharing.
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DIY: Raised Bed Gardening

Even though everything seems to have ground to a halt, it’s important to think about things a bit further down the line. This not only helps you to prepare for when things start back up again, but it can also make you a bit more self-sufficient in the future. This is where planning out a garden can be a great idea; it helps to keep you occupied now and yields a variety of healthy vegetables and other foods later in the year. Maybe you don’t have a lot of space, though, or perhaps the soil in your yard isn’t the greatest. Neither of these prevents you from having a garden, though. There are a few different options available to address these concerns, but you might find that a raised bed garden is exactly what you’re looking for.

What Is a Raised Bed Garden?

First thing’s first: What exactly is a raised bed garden? Essentially, it’s a garden that has a box or other physical container around its border that allows you to add more soil to plant your vegetables and other crops in. In some cases, this can be a few added inches of topsoil. In other cases, you’ll need to add a substantial amount of new soil, and some raised beds have so much added topsoil that the plants never actually touch the “real” soil. Regardless of whether you add a little soil or a lot, the growing medium is still raised at least slightly from the ground level thanks to the garden box that surrounds it.

Building the Garden Box

There are a number of options available to you when it comes to building a garden box. You can use landscaping timber, bricks, 2x4s, wooden planks or even concrete. Decide on a height that works for you and pick a material that you’re comfortable working with or have easy access to. You can design a perfectly sized garden box, or you can make one that has gaps in the corners where your material doesn’t quite line up. It doesn’t actually matter what the box looks like, just so long as it is solid enough to contain your soil and is connected to itself or other supports to keep the sides from falling apart. Just keep in mind that some materials such as pressure-treated wood contain chemicals that could leak out into the soil over time. If you have concerns about this or are using materials that you know present a chemical hazard, be sure to stain or seal your materials before use to keep water from penetrating and leaching the chemicals out.

Filling It In

Once you have a workable garden box, it’s time to add some soil. Ideally, you should till the ground soil before adding any additional soil to the box. Add a layer of garden soil or topsoil, then use a rake or hoe to blend the garden soil and your additive soil a bit. From there you can continue adding soil, mixing it together periodically, until you’ve reached the level you want in your garden box. In some cases, you’ll have room left within the box; in others, the soil will go all the way to the top. After it’s filled, you might want to water it well to let the soil settle a bit before you start planting.

Planting and Garden Care

With the box built and filled with soil, you’re ready to get your plants in the ground. Planting is largely the same as you’d do if you were planting directly into the ground, though your newly filled garden bed likely has softer soil than your yard. Water your garden a little more often than you normally would, as raised beds offer more of a chance for water to leak out or evaporate than ground soil does. Feed your plants as needed, remove weeds or grass when it appears, and do your best to keep pests out of the garden. The raised bed itself may deter some pests, and a small chicken wire fence around the edge of the bed can help as well. There’s a decent chance that your raised bed garden will grow better than an in-soil garden thanks to the quality of its soil and the added control that you have over your garden environment. With proper care, you should be able to enjoy a bountiful harvest in just a few months.
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At Home Entertainment for the Whole Family

One of the best things that we can do right now to protect both ourselves and our friends and neighbors is to stay home. Unfortunately, there are only so many times that you can watch Tiger King or listen to your kids sing along with Elsa on Disney+. You need something new to do, and it needs to be something that the whole family can enjoy while you’re all staying safe at home. There are some unique opportunities available right now that may never be available again once this is all over. They provide experiences that the whole family can enjoy that aren’t just the same old TV shows. Though this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few activities that you might consider that would give your family some new things to do.

A Virtual Reunion

With record numbers of people working and doing schoolwork at home, more people are using video conferencing services like Zoom, GoToMeeting and Microsoft Teams than ever before. These services aren’t just for work, however. You can use them to get in touch with family from around the country, and even schedule a “virtual reunion” to catch up and check in with each other. This can be a recurring event, letting you stay connected with loved ones throughout the pandemic. You may even grow closer as a family despite the distance.

Museum and Zoo Tours

Even though museums and zoos are currently closed to the public, a number of high-profile museums and zoos have started offering virtual online tours for free. You can go online and view great works of art, watch animals relaxing during their downtime, and even see unique things like puppies getting to run wild in an aquarium. On top of these custom experiences, many zoos and similar facilities have webcams focused on specific exhibits that you can check out throughout the year.

Learn Something New

To help families pass the time, many online learning platforms are offering extended free trials so that people can pick up new skills or learn interesting things while in self-isolation. On top of that, some teachers and experts are streaming free courses on Zoom and other platforms as well. There is a wide range of content available for both kids and adults, meaning that there’s something for everyone to learn and enjoy.

Start (or Join) a Book Club

Reading is a great way to pass the time, and you can share that with the family by starting a family book club. The premise is simple: Everyone picks out a book, and once a week you get together and discuss what you’re reading. Even younger children can participate; let them pick out a book that they want you to read, and at the meet-up you can let them show off the book and tell everyone about it. If you want a bit more social interaction with your book club, you can also look into online book clubs that are a bit closer to traditional book club offerings. These can have members from across the nation or around the world. Some of them operate on dedicated websites, and others use social media groups. Either way, there should be options available for most readers.

Listen to a Story

Even if you don’t feel like doing all of that reading, there are a good number of authors and celebrities doing podcasts and videos in which they read a variety of books or stories. Quite a few of these are aimed at children, but some of them are more tailored to adults as well. Levar Burton (of Reading Rainbow fame) has even recently launched a video version of his podcast Levar Burton Reads with a wide range of content.

A Night in at the Movies

Under ordinary circumstances, you’d be able to take the family out to see some of the many movies that would be in theaters right now. But that’s not possible now that all the theaters are closed. So instead, movie theaters are adapting. Special digital rentals are now available for recent box-office hits that ordinarily wouldn’t be available for rental yet, so that a wider audience can enjoy them. And some movies that were scheduled for early summer release, such as Trolls World Tour, are also making their debut via digital rental. So pop some popcorn and enjoy these new and recent blockbusters all from the privacy and safety of your own home.
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