Patio Planning 101

It’s finally spring! Time to break out the grill and the patio set and spend your evenings cooking out under the stars. Except, you don’t have a patio, you have a backyard that’s currently a soppy, muddy mess from spring rainstorms. You’d love to get outside, but it’s just so mucky and sticky out there.

This year, you’re resolved to install a patio once and for all. There’s a lot to consider when planning your shiny new patio, but don’t worry, we’re here to help make it simple.

Patio Planning: The Basics

If this is your first major home improvement project, you’ve picked one that should give you a real sense of satisfaction when it’s done. But you’ve also chosen to tackle a multi-part effort that’s not very cut and dry. Before you go out and rent a Skid Steer and hire three guys to pour cement, make sure you’ve checked these items off your pre-patio checklist:

  • Location, location, location. Although many patios are constructed as a transition from the house to the rest of the yard, there’s not a rule saying this has to be the case. Choose your favorite flat spot on your lot and try to imagine what it would be like having dinner there.
  • Materials. Many patios are poured concrete slabs, but there are also some fantastic stones and pavers out there that would make excellent patio surfaces. And don’t forget the brick. Patios are great because they can really stand the test of time when the right materials are chosen. Consider the weather in your area when you’re shopping.
  • Size and shape. Like there’s no required spot for your patio, there’s also not a standard size or a standard shape for them. You want a 10×16 rectangle? Poof! Done. What about a 15 foot long kidney shaped patio? No problem. Design the patio of your dreams, not the patio that other people think should be your dream.

Bringing It All Together

Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of what your patio will be made from and where you’re going to put it, it’s time to take the next step and put that pencil to paper. It can help to draw your entire lot on grid paper, adding buildings, plants and other noteworthy features in their correct spots (you’ll need to measure all of this for best results) will ensure that your patio plan doesn’t run into pesky problems from real life colliding with your perfect patio.

That handy drawing of your patio can become a map to something a little bit more impressive than a simple slab in your backyard. Consider drawing in (and including!) these user-friendly elements so you can make it do even more:

  • Pergolas. There’s nothing like a pergola to create a semi-shaded spot in your yard. If your patio is attached to the house, adding a pergola is just a natural step. If not, you can still anchor one in cement so it can be freestanding and won’t blow away. Pro tip: grow your favorite vines on that pergola and they’ll help shade you all summer long.
  • Built-in seating. Sure, you have a patio set, but sometimes it’s nice to have some extra benches in case you’re wanting to sit, but not at a table. Like deck builders put benches around the outside of decks, or use them to separate areas on a very large deck, you can do the same with benches made from the same materials as your patio.
  • Water features. Look, no one said you need a fountain or pond near your patio, but wouldn’t it be pretty cool? Small fountains add interest and ponds not only give you a place to keep impressively large koi, birds and other wildlife can use them for water.
  • Outdoor kitchen. This is the ultimate patio upgrade. Adding an outdoor kitchen, even if that’s just a built-in grill and a small sink, can make your home easier to sell down the line and possibly even increase your home’s value.

 


Posted on March 21, 2019 at 9:20 am
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

What’s New in High End Garages

What’s New in High End Garages?

Your garage is a big deal. Even if you totally ignore that your garage doors themselves can take up a significant portion of your home’s street facing surface, there’s all that (often unfinished) space inside that you’re just leaving to its own devices (and possibly growing lots of brown recluse spiders).

Your garage doesn’t have to be an afterthought, though! You, too, can have a super fancy garage that feels almost like another living area. We’re talking taking garages to the next level today.

The Garage Reimagined

There was a time, not so long ago, when simply having an attached garage was kind of a big deal. Then it was a two-car attached garage, then an extra-deep third garage bay, and onward and upward. A garage, even at the four-car level, was still just a garage: a poured concrete slab, some drywall (finished if you were lucky), a couple of four foot long fluorescent shop lights and maybe a workbench in one corner.

Then suddenly something happened. People started demanding more out of their garages. Like so many other spaces in a modern household, the garage needed to be more than a mere storage unit, it needed to become a flexible living area.

Dolly Holmes, garage designer and owner of San Antonio’s Premier Garage, put it best in an article in The San Antonio Express-News, “I recently had a customer come to me and say they wanted to drive into a garage that looks as good as the rest of [their] home.”

Turning an old grimy, potentially frightening, garage into a gorgeous and welcoming living space where your car just happens to hang out is no small feat. It takes the concept to a whole new level, really.

From car-safe flooring that can resist oil stains to gorgeous cabinets that can hold chemicals that are traditionally banished to the garage, plus all those accessories for home theaters, pool cues and ping pong tables, today’s high end garage can become far more than anyone ever believed.

Beefing Up Your Garage’s Storage Potential

It can be easy to let your garage turn into a storage unit, that’s why so many of the fanciest garages start with a really amazing plan for dealing with the clutter. If you walk through your favorite home improvement store, you’ll notice an entire section of cabinetry just for the garage. These durable options offer more than just a place to put all your stuff, they give you a huge start on a high end garage that you’ll love.

Cabinets might not be the sexiest part of your high end garage, but they will help calm the overwhelm that a garage lacking storage for all those random things that end up being stacked to the ceiling can create. And hey, if you want to get really neat, use those cabinets to create a wet bar or a media center fit for the inside of your home.

Unappreciated Garage Tech

Even though garages have been getting smarter for years, most people haven’t noticed and these technological leaps have gone largely unadopted. Garage tech ranges in complexity from simple swaps of equipment already in your garage to quite complex undertakings that definitely will require a construction crew.

Smarter Garage Doors

Smart garage door openers have been around for a while, but they fail to get the kind of attention that other smart gadgets have seen. For example, this unit from Ryobi was named “The Most High-Tech Garage Door Opener in the World” back in 2016, but apparently no one read this particular article.

These door openers range from being simply controlled by your phone to being part of a complete safety system for your home. For example, some will notify you if they’re opened when you’re not home and most will tell you if you’ve left them open on those mornings you need a lot more coffee to get the job done. You can then tap into a security camera and even shut the door from anywhere.

How About an Elevator for Your Car?

Of course, simply replacing your garage door opener with one that inhabits the Internet of Things is one thing, but literally being able to park your car underground is quite another. This is major stuff here. Instead of wasting valuable above-ground garage space with dedicated areas for your car, motorcycle, boat or other garaged vehicles, a garage lift can kill two birds with one stone.

Basically, your garage can now be your own personal Bat Cave.

Garage lifts are pretty cool, but they will require a professional installation and work best when incorporated into the building plans of your garage. Still, if you’re building and you’re hoping to use your garage as a rec room, you can recapture lots of square footage with one of these amazing things.

Is it Time for a Garage Upgrade?

When it comes to high end garages, you might as well go big or go home (although, your garage is part of your home, so that doesn’t really work…). From cabinets that can handle anything your garage can throw at them to custom flooring and one of those fancy garage lift systems, you’re going to need a few good home pros to create your ultimate garage.

Luckily, they’re easy to find with HomeKeepr. Not only can you count on your home pros being absolutely top notch since your real estate agent recommended them to you, you can check out other pros that those home pros recommend to complete your dream garage dream team.


Posted on March 14, 2019 at 4:37 pm
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

How Are My Property Taxes Calculated

Understanding how your property taxes are calculated can often feel like unraveling one of the deepest mysteries of the universe. However, it’s vitally important that you get your arms around this tax, if you are subject to it, as it’s often a large expense that you may be saddled with for a lifetime.

Property taxes can vary wildly, not only between different areas of the country, but even between different parts of the same municipality.

Just how do property taxes work? Shouldn’t they be the same for everyone?

First, Real Property Versus Personal Property

When we refer to “property taxes,” what we really mean is “real property tax.” The term “real property” means the land you own and everything that is permanently affixed to it. For example, if you have a stick-built house, a garage, a shed with a permanent foundation — these are all things that would be considered “real property.”

On the other hand, you may also have “personal property,” which is basically anything else that you own that may have a title and can be moved, even if it takes a bit of work. Your fishing boat, your car and, to confuse matters further, most manufactured homes, are considered personal property – not real property. Manufactured homes specifically can be a bit of a sticky wicket because you can often affix one to your real property in such a way that it also becomes real property.

For the purposes of this discussion, when we say “property tax,” we’re talking about real property, less any specially qualified manufactured homes.

Your Property Taxes Are Made Up of Layers

Most people know that their property taxes are calculated based on the value of their property, but there are lots of homeowners who don’t realize that what we all generally refer to as “property tax” are actually several different taxes smashed into one greater tax sandwich… or layer cake, if you will.

Your home is very likely located in several intersecting tax jurisdictions that can vary greatly from area to area. The taxing jurisdictions that homeowners most often encounter are your:

  • City
  • School district
  • County
  • State
  • Fire district
  • Cemetery district
  • Library district

Each of these layers will have their own tax rate, making the calculation of your property taxes even more confusing. And by the way, the value used to determine your taxes isn’t necessarily your home’s appraised value, it’s something called the assessed value.

An Aside for Assessed Values

Property tax assessments are often one of the most confusing concepts for most new homeowners. However, you need to have a handle on it in order to understand your property taxes. The assessed value absolutely is what your taxes are based on, but there’s no set way for any tax jurisdiction to determine this number.

In some places, your property’s assessment and your home’s market value may be more or less the same, in others, the assessment is a stated percentage of the market value. In addition, these values might be updated yearly, every other year or only when the home is resold. If you meet certain requirements, you can also have your assessment frozen so that your taxes can only increase if the rate itself increases (and even then, there are a few states that will freeze your actual tax rate).

Put another way, knowing how your property assessment will work is kind of the key to how everything behind the scenes works. Without that, all the layers of government grabbing at your wallet are pretty meaningless. Fortunately, if you’re just looking to simple math, this figure is provided for you by your taxing bodies. We recommend you call or drop into your local tax assessor’s office to get a detailed explanation of your specific tax situation as every taxing body may be slightly different.

Wait, What’s a Mill Levy?

You’ve probably seen the term “mill levy” tossed around if you’ve been reading up on property taxes. A mill levy is just another way to describe the tax rate that’s being applied to your real property’s assessed value. One mill is equal to a buck per $1,000 of the real estate’s assessment, or 1/1,000 of a penny. The mill rate that determines your tax is set by the taxing authorities themselves.

For example, let’s say your property is assessed at $250,000 (by whatever method). If your county mill levy is 5, then for every $1,000 of assessed value, your bill goes up $5. In this case, that’s a very reasonable sounding $1,250. Remember, though, this is just one layer of the tax layer cake. You’ll need to add all the layers together to get your actual tax bill. Get your calculator ready and pour yourself a stiff drink – this could take awhile!

Need More Information About Your Property Taxes?

There’s no better or more reliable source for tax information than the people on the ground nearby. That might mean CPAs, real estate agents, home appraisers or even a mortgage pro. They can help you make more sense out of your tax bill if something specific is confusing. And don’t worry, finding the best of the best among these professions is simple with HomeKeepr. Just ask your community for recommendations and before you know it, you’ll be elbow deep in answers to your most burning tax questions.


Posted on March 7, 2019 at 9:28 am
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

How to Drain your Water Heater

How to Drain Your Water Heater

Of all the things that civilization has brought us, including sliced bread, hot water may be the very best. It’s certainly up there, without a doubt. So, it would follow that if you really value that hot water, you’d want to care for and protect the equipment that makes it possible.Whether you’re doing it as a bit of regular maintenance or because you’re leaving a vacation or rental home unoccupied, draining said water heater is one of the easiest things you can do to keep that particular appliance in tip-top shape.

Why You Should Drain Your Hot Water Heater

Most water supplies contain lots of random minerals in various quantities. Get enough of them together and you get “hard” water, which really just means it has a lot of minerals in suspension. Over time, these minerals settle out and land in the bottom of your hot water heater. Given enough time, a layer thick enough to interfere with the function of the appliance will develop.

Before you reach that point, a maintenance flush is in order. How often you flush depends on a lot of factors, including the size of the hot water heater and how often it’s used. A good rule of thumb is to flush your water heater every six to 12 months, whether you think it needs it or not. It’s better to wash those particles out before they become a problem.

Of course, draining your water heater isn’t just about flushing particles. If you’re going to leave a house sitting empty for a significant period of time, you should empty the hot water tank. Draining the hot water heater is an important part of winterizing vacant homes, it helps to protect the heater itself from damage due to low temperatures. When the water lines are also drained, emptying them completely keeps them from freezing and bursting.

How to Drain a Water Heater

Draining a hot water heater is a really simple process. In fact, the hardest part is working with water hot enough to scald you. Before you even get started, snagging some thick dishwashing gloves or other heavy, insulated and very importantly, non-absorbent, form of hand protection.If you’re wearing thick cotton gloves, for example, they’ll just hold that extremely hot water against your skin.

With your skin adequately protected, draining or flushing your hot water heater is a piece of cake. Just follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the water heater. If it’s electric, flip the breaker; for gas units, turn the gas off or set the unit to “pilot.”
  2. Wait patiently for the water to cool a bit. The longer you give it, the safer you’ll be. (You can skip this step, but do so with caution)
  3. Turn the cold water off. You can’t drain a water heater that’s constantly filling up!
  4. Open some faucets. Pick a faucet or two close to the water heater and turn the hot side on and leave it on until you’re totally done with the draining portion of the show. This helps speed up the draining and prevents vacuums from forming in the pipes.
  5. Attach a water hose. It’ll screw onto the brass drain valve near the bottom of the unit.
  6. Pick a spot to dump the water. There’s a lot of water about to come out of that hose, so choose your disposal option carefully. Outdoors is a good place to run the hose (just not too close to the house), but if you can’t reach that far, a sump pit, floor drain or big bucket will do.
  7. Open the valve! This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Open the value (you may need a screwdriver). If you’re flushing the hot water heater, then let it run a few gallons at a time into a bucket so you can tell when the sediment has finished coming out of the unit.

If you’re draining your hot water heater because you’re leaving the house empty for a while, you’re essentially done with the water heater now (winterizing a home is a whole different blog). If you’re flushing sediment, keep going until you see the water run clear, then do all those steps in reverse for a hot water heater with shiny clean insides and hot water.

Hot Water is Pretty Cool, But Flushing the Heater Safely Can Be Tricky…

When you’ve given draining your hot water heater a lot of consideration and decided you’re not ready to DIY it, you don’t have to start calling random plumbers for help. Just log in to your HomeKeepr community and select from the recommended plumbers in your area. Other pros are staking their reputations on the quality of work they do, so you know every recommended listing is for a company you can count on.


Posted on February 15, 2019 at 2:35 pm
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

FIVE MONEY-SAVING GREEN UPGRADES

Going green is great for the environment, but that’s not the only benefit. When you make green upgrades in your home, it can also lead to some major savings.

  1. Solar panels: The upfront cost is big, but the long-term savings are huge. Solar panels will cost several thousand dollars to install, but ongoing maintenance costs are very low, and a typical system could save you hundreds of dollars per year. You can even sell your surplus electricity.
  2. Wood furnace: Wood-burning furnaces are relatively inexpensive, and though the yearly savings aren’t as dramatic (about 10% on heating bills), it adds up over the long run.
  3. Insulation: There’s a good chance your insulation isn’t very efficient, especially in older homes. Look into installing floor, cavity, wall, and loft insulation to reduce your heating bills.
  4. Rain barrels: Rain barrels are extremely inexpensive, and provide gallons of free water to use when you wash your car or water your garden.
  5. Geothermal system: OK, so the price tag is scary at first. A geothermal system uses the earth’s temperature to heat and cool your home, but can cost $30,000 to install. But tax credits allow you to get a lot of that money back, and the energy savings average about $1,900 per year. If you plan to be in your home for a decade or two, it’s a great investment.

Posted on February 22, 2018 at 4:52 pm
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

PRIORITY TASKS FOR YOUR MOVE IN

Moving into a new home is an exciting time, and you’re probably daydreaming about decor and paint schemes and new furniture. But before you get into the fun stuff, there are some basics you should cover first.

Change the locks

Even if you’re promised that new locks have been installed in your home, you can never be too careful. It’s worth the money to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that no one else has the keys to your home. Changing the locks can be a DIY project, or you can call in a locksmith for a little extra money.

Steam clean the carpets

It’s good to get a fresh start with your floors before you start decorating. The previous owners may have had pets, young children, or just some plain old clumsiness. Take the time to steam clean the carpets so that your floors are free of stains and allergens. It’s pretty easy and affordable to rent a steam cleaner—your local grocery store may have them available.

Call an exterminator

Prior to move-in, you probably haven’t spent enough time in the house to get a view of any pests that may be lurking. Call an exterminator to take care of any mice, insects, and other critters that may be hiding in your home.

Clean out the kitchen

If the previous occupants wanted to skip on some of their cleaning duties when they moved out, the kitchen is where they probably cut corners. Wipe down the inside of cabinets, clean out the refrigerator, clean the oven, and clean in the nooks and crannies underneath the appliances.


Posted on February 8, 2018 at 3:57 pm
Debra Maio | Posted in Uncategorized |

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