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New Mexico True Dark Skies Trail

by The Schnoor Team

Did you know that New Mexico was one of the first states in the U.S. with a law that protects our night skies? Did you know that Travel & Leisure named New Mexico one of the world’s Top 10 stargazing spots? Are you ready to be an astrotourist? Come to the Land of Enchantment and experience an ancient and authentic adventure, where we celebrate our dark skies and relish the starlight. Our high elevations, low population densities, dry climate, clean air, and number of clear nights make for an excellent stargazing adventure.

New Mexico International Dark Sky Parks

New Mexico is home to Gold and Silver-Tier Dark Sky Parks, as certified by the

International Dark Sky Association.

Capulin Volcano National Monument

Little can rival the beauty of the night sky. As a Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Association (IDA) Park, Capulin Volcano boasts one of the best in New Mexico. Park staff work hard to maintain this designation and invite the public to enjoy it year-round through public programming and personal observation at its soon-to-be constructed Night Sky Observation station. If you don’t have your own equipment or you’re hoping for a guided adventure, join us for a ‘Star Party.’ Star Parties are held April through September at the base of the Volcano and occasionally on the Volcano Rim. Interpretive park rangers give brief talks about the night sky and any astronomical events underway. All equipment needed is provided by the park. Information about Star Parties and other events can be found on its website: Capulin Volcano National Monument.

Clayton Lake State Park

Designated as New Mexico’s first dark sky park in 2010, Clayton Lake State Park is a Gold level International Dark Sky Park and has its own 14-inch Mead telescope. The night skies feature very little light pollution, and star-gazing events are hosted every month of the year during the week of the new moon for the general public. Clayton Lake State Park is located north of Clayton, New Mexico and is known for its wide open skies, fishing derbies, and dinosaur tracks. The State Park has a visitor center with information on dinosaurs as well as the geology of the region. While waiting for the stars to come out at night, be sure to check out the dinosaur tracks near the lake spillway, including some of the most well-preserved trail drags anywhere in the U.S.! Visit their website:  Clayton Lake State Park.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

In 2013, Chaco Culture National Historical Park was designated an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association, further enhancing the canyon’s place as a location where deep sky viewing is available. During the summer months the observatory is open to the public Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. Visitors gather on those nights to attend a lecture usually on the astronomical practices of the ancient Puebloans and how their observations informed their daily lives. The observatory’s several scopes are then turned skyward to view what has made Chaco a haven for amateur astronomers and anyone who wants to connect to this celestial cultural resource. Visit their website: Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument protects four of the best-preserved 17th century Spanish mission churches in the continental United States of America. The Salinas basin formed ancient salt beds from which the monument derives its name and drew early inhabitants. Modern visitors value the largely unchanged cultural landscape, which also includes structures and infrastructure, vegetation, view sheds, and pristine night skies and natural sounds.

The Monument is located in the Estancia basin, which is a bowl flanked by mountains and mesas. The Manzano Mountains to the west block much of the light pollution and sky glow generated from Albuquerque and development along the I-25 corridor. Although conditions at all three units of the park are impressive, Gran Quivira offers nearly unobstructed views in all directions — including that of mountain ranges up to 100 miles away. Visit their website: Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.

Cosmic Campground

This peaceful, starry, quiet place was the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the Northern Hemisphere. The Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary is easily accessible from U.S. Highway 180 between Alma and Reserve. A tall, brown Forest Service Cosmic Campground sign sits halfway between mile marker 37 and 38. Across U.S. Highway 180, an orange cattle guard begins the 1.3-mile, hard-surface road to the Cosmic Campground. Arrive in daylight for a 360-degree view of the setting sun. As darkness falls, planets and stars emerge. Complete darkness finds the Milky Way crowning the mountains of the Gila Wilderness, as well as the faint glow of distant galaxies and zodiacal light. Cosmic Campground has a hard-surface observing area with four pads for telescopes, no artificial light for nearly 25 miles in any direction, and an exceptionally dark sky. Visit their website: Cosmic Campground.

Source: "New Mexico True Dark Skies Trail"

Tips for Managing Property Taxes

by The Schnoor Team

Understand how they affect your budget when you’re shopping for homes.

This article was contributed by financial expert and blogger Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP, author, speaker, and founder of Workable Wealth. She provides financial coaching for individuals and couples in their 20s to 40s across the country, helping them make smart, educated choices with their money.

If you’re in the market for your first home, you’re probably trying to figure out how to calculate what the property tax is going to cost you. Chances are you’ve considered how property taxes are going to impact the amount of home you can (or can’t) afford.

Property taxes are taxes that are assessed on real estate and are typically based upon the value of the property (land included) that you own. They’re assessed by the governing authority of the jurisdiction where the home is located and can vary greatly depending upon the state, county, and school district lines you live within.  They typically go towards the creation of roads, school or park maintenance, trash collection, and other similar needs.

Where to Find Local Rates

Property rates vary significantly across the country, so instead of using a generalized assumption, it’s best to do your research to narrow in on what to expect for your area. A simple Google search of the name of the county or city and state and the term “property tax rates” should provide you with the rate you can anticipate paying.

How Property Taxes are Calculated

The amount of property taxes you’ll pay is determined by multiplying the current assessed value of the property by the property tax (mill) rate. For example, a home in San Diego County worth $800,000 will have a property tax rate of 1.17%. Therefore, the annual property taxes owed would be $800,000 x 1.17% = $9,360.

If you’re not up for calculating out and researching rates in your area, you can typically find a good estimate of what you’ll pay through home listings or by using an online home affordability calculator.

Considerations for Your Budget

Property taxes are important to keep in mind as a part of your home buying budget. Due to the huge range you can experience, be sure to factor this into your expenses early in your shopping.

For example, while a home in San Diego, California may cost $800,000 with a 1.17% property tax rate, a similar home in McKinney, Texas, could cost $400,000 with a 2.66% property tax rate (and an annual property tax bill of $10,640). You’ll pay more in property taxes in McKinney than you’d pay for a home in San Diego at double the price.

However, it’s important to note that putting down 20% and making payments on a mortgage on a home valued at $400,000 versus one valued at $800,000 will look significantly different when it comes to your overall budget. So while some areas may have higher property taxes, if their homes are priced more moderately, you’re likely looking at saving more money on an overall basis.

Keep in mind that in general, property taxes tend to increase over time, so allow for some wiggle room in your budget when it comes to your housing budget; don’t tap yourself out by spending the max early on.

Federal Deduction for Property Taxes

You’ll be able to deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes combined if you itemize.

Property taxes may get a bad reputation, but the fact is they can go towards supporting some substantial needs in your community and they may provide you with some tax savings depending your circumstances. They’re going to be a factor no matter where and what type of home you purchase, so ensure you evaluate your budget and determine how they impact the amount of home you can afford.

Source: "Tips for Managing Property Taxes"

7 Painting Hacks to Get the Look of a Pro — Without the Pro Price

by The Schnoor Team

Like this easy hack: coat paint brushes in fabric softener to keep bristles soft.

A DIY painting job doesn’t have to equal crooked lines, besmirched floors, and ceramic sinks speckled with robin’s egg blue.

Use these easy painting hacks, to make the process faster and less messy — and ensure a fresh, modern look for your home.

#1 Soak Brushes in Fabric Softener to Keep Brushes Soft

Every DIY painter has been privy to the horrors of a day-old brush with stiff bristles that makes round two nearly impossible. Try this painting hack instead:

To keep paint brushes soft:

  1. Rinse thoroughly (no soap).
  2. Mix half a cup of fabric softener with a gallon of warm water
  3. Swish brushes in the mixture for 10 seconds or so.
  4. Lay them flat or hang them on a peg for overnight storage.

“That way, the bristles won’t develop a bend and will retain their usefulness for your next painting adventure,” says Artem Filikov, vice president of marketing and product development for home improvement website HomeYou.

Also, there’s no need to rinse before using. The softener actually helps distribute paint more smoothly.Sweet!

#2 Use Plastic Wrap to Prevent Mishaps

When painting around a large, awkward item you want to keep clean, like a toilet or a standalone sink, use this painting trick from the pros: surround it with plastic wrap to keep drips from destroying its finish.

For an extra tight wrap, choose a wrap with an adhesive backing — your hardware store will even carry special painter’s plastic wrap, if you really want to go all out — which will help it stick to the surface and prevent the odd drop from inching its way in. Once you’ve finished the job, just unwrap for a paint-free finish.

#3 Use Vanilla and Lemon Extracts to Reduce Paint Odor

Paint’s intense odor can get really old really fast. Overpower it with a little bit of vanilla.

Although there are vanilla-scented products specifically designed to use with paint, you can get the same effect with what’s in your kitchen cabinet.

For darker paints, add a couple drops of vanilla extract (artificial is fine) per gallon to reduce the nasty smell and keep your room smelling sweet for weeks to come.

Because you don’t want the tint of vanilla to ruin the color of your paint, swap it with lemon extract for light-colored paints.

#4 Repurpose Old T-Shirts as Rags to Reduce Waste

Painting’s a messy job, but using roll after roll of paper towels is neither efficient nor environmentally-friendly.

And while you could pick up a mega-pack of plain cotton towels to keep paint from splattering, why not use something you can find stuffed at the back of a drawer?

Geoff Sharp, the owner of Sharper Impressions Painting Co., recommends cutting up old T-shirts to use as rags, saving money and resources (not to mention a trip to Goodwill).

“If paint runs down your roller or brush, it gets really messy, really quick,” he says. “Always have a rag in your pocket so you and your brush or roller stay clean.”

#5 Keep Q-tips Handy for Mistakes

Oh no! A drop of Naples Sunset just splashed on your white window frame. You’ve only got a few minutes to clean up the mess before your mistake is sealed for eternity.

That’s where Q-tips come in handy. Just stash some in your pocket for these types of emergencies.

Here’s another use for that pile of cotton swabs tucked in your jeans pocket: Use them to touch up imperfections on newly-painted walls without dirtying an entire paintbrush.

#6 Put Petroleum Jelly on Small Spots You Don't Want Painted

A little bit of Vaseline can go a long way toward keeping your paint job clean.

Using a Q-tip (another reason to keep them handy), go over all the bits and pieces you don’t want painted, like screws or hinges. With the petroleum jelly applied, even an accidental slip won’t leave you heartbroken.

Here’s another tip for a hassle-free paint job: “Run petroleum jelly along the seals of your doors and windows to prevent them from sticking,” Sharp says.

#7 Use a Hair Dryer on Painter's Tape for Easy Removal

Painter’s tape is supposed to make your paint job easier and stress-free.

But when strips of perfect paint peel off along with the adhesive — or you just can’t get the darn tape to come off at all — you might feel like you wasted your effort.

To help stubborn painter’s tape get a move on, turn a hair dryer (low heat only) toward your handiwork.

Holding it about three inches from the wall will help soften the adhesive and ensure an even line, making removal a stress-free affair — and ensuring you keep that dreamy, crisp paint line.

Source: "7 Painting Hacks to Get the Look of a Pro — Without the Pro Price"


How Long Does It Take to Buy a House?

by The Schnoor Team

There are a lot of steps to buying a house, and that takes time: It takes 50 days on average to just close on a home.

How long does it take to buy a house? A lot depends on how much time you spend shopping for one. But once you have a contract, it takes an average of 50 days to close on a house.

There are a lot of steps to buying a house, and any of them could drag out the timeline, especially if you’re not prepared. Here’s the home-buying timeline, broken down step-by-step, so you can be in control:

1. Do Your Homework

Time: 1-14 days

Dreaming about owning your own home is one thing; making it happen is another. To get beyond the dream stage, you need to do some critical research to help you figure out what you do and don't want — along with how much can you afford.

It’s mighty disappointing to fall in love with a house only to find out you can’t afford it. A quick chat with your bank can help you avoid that heartbreak — it’s called pre-qualifying. But it’s no guarantee you’ll get a mortgage (that comes later), only an indication of how much you can afford.

2. Find An Agent

Time: 1-7 days

Finding an agent who suits you is key to the home buying process. They should be your most trusted adviser. Look for one with intimate knowledge of your desired community. If they know the inside scoop, they’ll know a great deal (or a bum one) when they see it.

3. Get Pre-Approved for a Loan

Time: 5-8 business days

Getting pre-approved for a loan signals you’re a serious buyer. Most agents recommend you have a pre-approval in hand before you make an offer, and they can offer reccomendations of lendrs. But pre-approval goes deeper than pre-qualification. It needs a ton of documents from you. A couple of tips to help make this a speedier process:

Get all your documents for mortgage pre-approval organized and ready to go.

Compare rates from lenders within a 14-day window: Credit bureaus will count all their checks as just one. (That’s good news for your credit score).

4. Shop

Time: A few days to a few months

 

Here’s where things really vary. There are so many variables. If you’re set on a particular neighborhood where the inventory is low, it could take longer… or you could discover “the one” on day one. It all depends on what you’re seeking and what’s available. But the typical buyer actively searches for 10 to 12 weeks and looks at a median of 10 homes.

5. Make an Offer, Negotiate, and Sign a Contract

Time: 1-7 days

Work with your agent on price, contingencies, and other terms of the deal. A couple of tips to help make this step proceed smoothly:

  • Include the pre-approval letter from your lender in the offer, and put down earnest money. (Commit 3% to 4% of the sale price instead of the standard 1% to 3%, and you might really put a fire under them.)
  • If you receive a counteroffer, respond ASAP. You don’t want to give another buyer time to jump in with a better offer.

6. Get Final Mortgage Approval

Time: A few days to 3 weeks

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage doesn’t automatically mean you get a loan on the home you have under contract. The lender has a few other requirements once the home is chosen, such as an inspection and appraisal. And they’ll want to see even more current copies of your financial documents.

From this point on, the steps to buying a house will often overlap, so you’ll have several wheels in motion.

7. Get a Home Inspection

Time: 3-7 days to schedule; 2-3 hours to inspect

As soon as your contract is accepted, contact an inspector to get on their books. The inspection itself will only take two or three hours, but unfortunately, they’re not quite Amazon. They seldom show up the next day.

However, they can get the report to you quickly. Many inspectors take pictures and fill out the report as they go, then send it to your inbox within hours of completion. But it can take up to a couple of days if they’re backed up.

If the inspection turns up issues, it can cause some delays. This can range from a day or two to renegotiate, or longer if, for example, you have an FHA loan that requires certain safety standards. A home with peeling lead paint may need to be repainted, which can take weeks.

8. Get a Home Appraisal

Time: Up to 5 days to schedule; a few hours to do the appraisal; up to 5 business days to get the report to the lender

 

The appraisal is key to getting a mortgage. If the home fails to appraise for the mortgage amount, you may have to put more down or renegotiate the contract. That’s why you want to line up an appraiser as soon as you have a house under contract. And unlike the home inspection, this report goes to the lender instead of you and takes longer because the appraiser has to do additional research on what homes are selling for in the area.

9. Get Title Insurance

Time: 1-3 business days for title check; 2 weeks for insurance policy

Your title company will perform the check, which means they’ll look at deeds and other documents to make sure you will own the home free and clear of any liens or former claims to the property.

10. Get Homeowners Insurance

Time: Up to 2 weeks

Your company may send someone out to assess the property for potential risks, which can take several days. And your mortgage lender may require other types of coverage, such as flood insurance.

11. Arrange for Closing Funds

Time: A few minutes to a few days

Find out from your agent whether you need to bring a cashier’s or certified check or transfer funds digitally. Transfer the funds to the right account, and get your money ready to release.

If you ever receive wiring instructions by email, call your agent or lender to confirm one of them sent it. Call the phone number you have on record for your agent, not the one listed in the suspect email.

12. Conduct a Final Walk-Through

Time: 1 hour, the day of or day before closing

This is your chance to make sure the sellers made any agreed-upon repairs and left the property in as good (or better!) condition than the last time you saw it.

13. Close on the House

Time: 50 days on average; 1-2 hours to actually sign the paperwork

Each step after you’ve got a contract on a home is part of the closing process. And that process —  which includes getting the loan, inspection, appraisal, title, insurance, etc. —  takes the average home buyer about six weeks.

When it’s time for the main event, bring your photo ID, and stretch your hand muscles; you’ve got a lot of signing to do! But getting the keys? Takes hardly any time at all.

Source: "How Long Does It Take to Buy a House?"

In Closing: How to Seal the Home-Buying Deal

by The Schnoor Team

Sign that paperwork. Write those checks. Get those keys!

The closing. It all comes down to this. The grand finale. Once you have the keys, the house is yours. (Cue: Air horn sound!)

Nice work getting this far. You’re almost a homeowner! Let’s run through some questions you may have as you cross the finish line.

What Does "Closing" Mean?

The close or settlement is when you sign the final ownership and insurance paperwork and get the home’s keys.

The closing process technically begins when you have signed a purchase and sale agreement. That agreement should specify a closing date. Typically — from the signing date to the closing date — closing takes four to six weeks. During this time, purchasing funds are held in escrow, where your money is safe until the deal is officially done.

What's a Closing Disclosure?

Lenders must provide borrowers with a Closing Disclosures,  or CD, at least three days before settlement. This form is a statement of your final loan terms and closing costs.

You have three days to review the CD. Compare it to the Loan Estimate you received shortly after you applied for the loan. If you need a refresher on Loan Estimates, you can view a sample version here.

The point of this formal review process is to ensure there are no surprises at the closing table. If there’s a significant discrepancy between the Loan Estimate and CD, notify your lender and title company immediately. Depending on what the underlying issue is, the closing has to stop and a new closing disclosure must be sent out with a new three-day review period.

There are a couple things on the LE that can’t change by the time you get the CD — namely interest rate and lender fees. Some items can change by only 10% (fees paid to local government to record the mortgage might be one); and others can change without limit, like prepaid interest, because it can’t be predicted at the start of the loan process.

When Will the Final Walk-Through Happen?

Most real estate sale contracts allow the buyer to walk through the home within 24 hours of settlement to check the property’s condition. During this final inspection, which usually takes about an hour, you and your agent will make sure any repair work that the seller agreed to make has been completed.

During the walk-through, you’ll also double-check that everything in the house is in good working order. Be sure to:

  • Run water in all the faucets and check for leaks under sinks.
  • Test appliances.
  • Check the garage door opener.
  • Flush toilets.
  • Open and close all doors.
  • Run the garbage disposal and exhaust fans.

If the home is in good shape — woo-hoo! Your next stop is the closing table.

If anything is amiss, your agent will contact the listing agent and, in most cases, negotiate to get the seller to compensate you at closing — typically in the form of a personal check — for the costs of fixing the problems yourself.

Worst-case scenario: You have to delay closing to resolve problems. In the unlikely event that happens, your agent will help you address the issue.

Who’s Invited to The Closing?

Certain people will be there. Who, exactly, depends on your state. Typically, you will be joined by:

  • Your agent
  • The seller
  • The seller’s agent
  • A title company representative
  • Your loan officer
  • Any real estate attorneys involved in the transaction

The closing usually takes place at the title company, attorney’s office, or the buyer’s or seller’s agent’s real estate office. FYI: Some states, like California, don’t require an in-person, sit-down closing because they’ve enacted legislation that allows for electronic closings with remote notaries.

Nonetheless, as the home buyer, you’ll have to sign what might seem like a mountain of paperwork — including the deed of trust, promissory note (promising the lender you’ll pay back the loan), and other documents. That cramp in your wrist will be worth it once everything is done.

How Much Will I Pay for Closing Costs?

If you’ve heard people vent frustration with the process of buying a home, then you’ve likely heard complaints about unexpected costs at closing. Let’s unpack what you should expect so you’re not surprised, too.

Closing costs can vary widely by location and your home’s purchase price. Costs are split between you and the seller, but as the buyer you’ll cover the lion’s share. You can generally expect your closing costs to be 3% to 4% of the home’s sales price. So, on a $300,000 home, you can pay anywhere from $9,000 to $12,000 in closing costs. (Meanwhile, the seller typically pays closing costs of 1% to 3% of the sales price.)

You can try to predict closing costs with calculators like Nerdwallet;s, which lets you plug in your mortgage details to get a rough estimate of what your costs will be.

Closing fees often include (but are not limited to):

  • Commission for the buyer’s agent and seller’s agent
  • A loan application fee
  • An origination fee, which lenders charge for processing your loan
  • The appraisal fee
  • A fee for pulling your credit report
  • An underwriting fee, which covers the lender’s costs of researching whether to approve you for the loan
  • A title search fee
  • Property taxes, which are due within 60 days of the purchase
  • A recording fee for filing a public land record with the courthouse

These fees are a bummer. The bright side: Almost all of them are one-time deals.

What Should I Bring? (Other than Champagne?)

At the closing you should have:

  • A government-issued photo ID
  • A copy of the ratified sales contract
  • A homeowner’s insurance certificate
  • Proof of flood insurance, if you’re buying a home in a flood zone
  • A cashier’s check, or proof of wire transfer,  to cover the remainder of the down payment and your closing costs

Also, talk to your attorney about anything else you might need to bring depending on your state or personal circumstances (such as a separation or divorce decree, should your relationship status affect the closing).

What Is Title Insurance and Why Do I Need It?

Every lender requires borrowers to purchase title insurance — a policy that protects you and the lender from outside claims of ownership of the property. Wait, you may be asking, some random person could show up and claim they own the house? Sounds crazy, but it happens.

Let’s say a previous owner didn’t pay all of their property taxes. Because those taxes remain against the property, the taxing entity could potentially take your home if you don’t have a “clean” title. Title insurance also protects you from ownership claims over liens, fraudulent claims from previous owners, clerical problems in courthouse documents, or forged signatures.

The title company will perform a comprehensive search of deeds, wills, trusts, and public records to trace the property’s history and verify that you’re becoming the rightful sole owner of the property.

Typically, lenders have a preferred title company they work with, but it’s ultimately the buyer’s decision as to which title company to use. Your agent could offer a few referrals.

Title insurance comes in two forms:

  1. Lender’s title insurance, which (no surprise) protects the lender. It’s required.
  2. Owner’s title insurance, which protects you. It’s optional but recommended because it covers your interest in the property. If the insurance company loses a battle over the title in the future but you purchased owner’s title insurance, you’re fully protected. Owner’s title insurance will also cover your legal fees if you have to defend your ownership rights in court.

Unlike most insurance policies, such as homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, and life insurance, title insurance is paid as a one-time fee at closing. The average cost of title insurance is about $544 for the lender’s policy and about $830 for the homeowner’s policy, according to ValuePenguin data. However, costs can vary significantly depending on the home you’re buying, where it’s located, and how much legwork the title company has to perform.

What If There are Last-Minute Issues? Should I Panic?

For your loan to be approved, it has to go through underwriting. The underwriter’s job is to validate all of your financials - confirming that your income, credit, and debt haven’t changed since you were pre-approved for the loan —  as well as to review the property’s characteristics and appraisal. If everything checks out, your mortgage will be approved.

If something goes wrong during underwriting though, you’ll have to address the problem before you can close on the home. Let’s say your credit score dropped because you recently purchased a car with an auto loan, or maxed out your credit cards.This isn’t necessarily dire, but you may need to delay closing as you work with your lender to take steps to raise your score. (Also, for that reason, it’s a good idea to hold off on big purchases, avoid overusing a credit line, and doing really anything that could result in a credit inquiry until after the closing.)

OK — Can I Celebrate Now?

If you’ve made it through close … YES! Once you’ve climbed that mountain of paperwork and have those keys in your hands, you now officially, finally own a home.

Congratulations! You put in a lot of hard work — including to build relationships with your agent, your lender, and other experts along the way.

Now it’s time to start investing in other relationships. Like with your new neighbors :)

Source: "In Closing: How to Seal the Home-Buying Deal"


8 Staircase Makeovers That Most Any DIYer Can Tackle

by The Schnoor Team

For when you want to exercise your imagination, not just your legs.

Unless you get an unusually deep thrill from doing calf exercises, climbing your staircase is typically more about function than fun. But a little DIY can change that (and maybe boost your home’s future desirability).

These eight DIY staircase projects can get you started.

#1 The Look of Tile Using Stencils

There’s no look as classic or as crisp as black and white — and no material more dignified than tile. You could take out a second mortgage to cover each riser in custom, monochrome tile, or you could grab some paint and a stencil for the same effect. But much thriftier.

If you have a longer staircase, consider following the lead of this homeowner and stencil every other riser. You want to delight climbers, not make them dizzy.

#2 A Rainbow on the Stairs

If you love color, why choose just one? This soothing spectrum adds interest to an otherwise neutral space, and the pastels keep the effect soft, so it doesn’t take away from the soft, farmhouse aesthetic.

With the natural light from the window above the stairs, this look is like a constant ray of sunshine.

#3 A Pretty Pattern With Chalk Paint

You can like the idea of a personalized staircase without needing it to be the focal point of the whole house.

This soft, subtle look was pulled off with chalk paint and a stencil. The pretty pattern is unique enough to feel custom, but the light colors and chalky finish prevent it from overpowering the room.

And here’s a tip for any time you’re painting a staircase: Consider leaving the banister unpainted for a nice pop of contrast.

#4 Ombre Effect Going Up the Stairs

A short set of stairs can be the perfect place to try an ombre look (if you haven’t read a design magazine in the last decade, it’s a progressive shading effect).

The homeowner who did these stairs recommends starting by painting the darkest shade first and gradually going lighter and lighter by adding white.

Make sure you make each batch large enough to cover a full step — and all the necessary coats.

#5 Classic Black and White (With a Useful Chalkboard Wall)

Another classic black and white pattern, along with a chalkboard wall, gives this short set of steps a modern, inviting update.

This DIYer used painter’s tape and a v-shaped template made of foam board to prep the chevron pattern — and paint, patience, and very slow tape peeling to execute it.

#6 A Way to Show Off Your Reading Obsession

Have a specific obsession? Decals are a great (read: easy) way for your staircase to share your fandom.

Peel-and-stick decals can be customized with your choice of words or images. Bibliophiles can choose book titles like these, but thanks to the wide world of available decals, you can also find favorite sayings, patterns, characters — you could even create a “The Walking Dead”-themed staircase if zombies are more your thing.

When working with decals, just make sure to read the fine print. These decals, for example, are just the lettering of the book titles, so painting the risers is a project you’d need to take on first.

#7 An Eclectic Look With Real Tile

We’ll say it again: There’s just nothing like tile. It’s incredibly durable — great for hardworking staircases.

Creating alternating sets of pattern and complementary colors on each riser makes for a one-of-a-kind staircase that’s anything but redundant.

While trimming tile to fit stair risers might be above some DIYers’ pay grade, this personalized look could be worth flagging down an expert to pull off.

#8 A Stair Runner Out of Floor Runners

Standard stair runners are as snooze-worthy as the stairs they cover. Don’t settle if you can’t find one that makes your heart dance.

One clever homeowner found a floor runner she loved, bought four of them, and installed them one after the other to make this wild look shimmy up the whole stairway.

It took some creative trimming and rug positioning to make this alternating pattern look seamless, so to replicate it, order more length than you think you’ll need.

Source: "8 Staircase Makeovers That Most Any DIYer Can Tackle"


FAMILY FUN & KIDS

by The Schnoor Team

Albuquerque is possibly the best family vacation destination, with something for all interests. The city has been voted among the top 10 cities for families several times. Every visitor to Albuquerque is encouraged to be a kid at heart. From nature centers and museums to amusement parks and sports venues, families are guaranteed to have plenty of fun options to choose from. The little ones might be interested in seeing the animals at the zoo, while the older ones may want to try hands-on science experiments. If your family is looking for outdoor activities, there are many opportunities for hiking, biking and even ballooning.

As far as kid-friendly vacations are concerned, Albuquerque has many options. Plus, it's so affordable that you'll find your travel budget goes far. If you’re looking for the very best family vacation destination, with everything from dinosaur exhibits to outdoor fun, look no further than Albuquerque.

FAMILY FUN ATTRACTIONS IN THE ALBUQUERQUE AREA

Tinkertown Museum- http://tinkertown.com (505) 281-5233 9am-6pm daily, 7 days a week Adults: $3.50   Seniors (62+): $3.00   Children 4-16: $1.00 “Fantastic, funky Tinkertown Museum is an enchanted assortment of miniature, animated Western scenes. The gift shop alone is worth the visit.” - Sunset Magazine

Albuquerque BioPark- http://www.cabq.gov/biopark The Albuquerque BioPark consists of the Albuquerque Aquarium, Rio Grande Botanic Garden, Rio Grande Zoo and Tingley Beach. The BioPark is a great place for kids. Marvel at animals from all over the world at the zoo, learn how the waters of the Rio Grande change from Albuquerque to the Gulf of Mexico at the aquarium, and the kids will love the 10,000 square foot glass conservatory housing native and exotic plants at the Botanic Garden

National Museum of Nuclear Science and History- www.nuclearmuseum.org 9:00am - 5:00pm Daily Adults: $8.00 Seniors (60+), Veterans, Youth (6-17): $7.00 Kids Under 6 Free The nation’s only congressionally chartered museum in its field, and an intriguing place to learn the story of the Atomic Age, from early research of nuclear development through today’s peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum- www.balloonmuseum.com (505) 822-1111 $4.00 Adults ($3.00 for NM Residents with valid ID) $2.00 ages 65+ / $1.00 ages 4-12 / under 3 FREE The museum tells the history of ballooning, from the first flight in France in 1783, with a rooster, sheep, and duck as passengers, to the use of balloons in military, science, and aerospace research.

Explora- www.explora.us (505) 224-8300 Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm Sunday 12pm-6pm Adults $8.00 / Children (1-11) $4.00 / Seniors (65+) $5.00 “I can't say enough about how awesome this place is. It isn't just a science center or a museum... it is a fun house! The kids cheer when I tell them we may return. From the visitor-controlled water fountain art to the living room-sized elevator, we love it!” – Yahoo Reviews

New Mexico Museum of Natural History - www.nmnaturalhistory.org (505) 841-2800 9am-5pm daily, 7 days a week Adults $7.00 / Children (3-12) $4.00 / Seniors (60+) $6.00 The Museum's permanent exhibit halls illustrate a "journey through time", covering the birth of the Universe (≈13.6 billion years ago) to the Ice Age (≈10000 years ago).

White Sands National Monument - Located outside of Alamogordo, about 1.5 hours south of Albuquerque, the White Sands National Monument is open seven days a week from 7am to an hour after sunset. The park admission fee is $3.00 per person over 16 (15 and under are free). Guided sunset strolls and full moon hikes and biking are available for an additional fee.

Source: "FAMILY FUN & KIDS"

8 Ways New Homeowners Accidentally Trash Their Yards

by The Schnoor Team

Avoid these rookie mistakes to keep everything beautiful.

You’ve done it. You own a house with a yard. The great outdoors. Amber waves of grain. OK, maybe not grain, and ideally you want it green, not amber.

But now that you have it, how do you keep from screwing it up? By avoiding a few common gaffes that landscaping experts say new homeowners make waaay too often.

“They end up buying the wrong fertilizer, they have no clue what weed killer is, they kill their entire lawn, they kill their bushes — and then they call me,” says Dean Granat, who runs D&D Landscape & Sprinkler Services Inc. in Buffalo Grove, Ill.

Here’s what the pros say newbie homeowners often do wrong with their lawns and yards:

#1 Not Following Product Instructions

Peter and Leah Lenz, two bright, educated people (data scientist and attorney) were thrilled when they bought their Westchester County, N.Y., home — only to have their lawn undone by a little bugger known as the Japanese beetle.

“When we looked at the house originally, we weren’t even looking at the yard because it was March, and it was covered with snow,” says Peter. “But when we moved in, we noticed the previous owners had patched holes where the beetles had already hit.”

Once Peter identified the problem, he launched “full-out chemical warfare.”

Sadly, he did not read — nor heed — the instructions for his “weapons,” and the beetles won the first round.

“There are different granulated chemicals you can put down in the spring and the fall, and I discovered there are different formulations for the different seasons,” Peter says. “One of the mistakes I made the first year was using the spring formulation in the fall, and it didn’t do a damn thing.”

Today the lawn is lush and green thanks to the proper use of anti-beetle products the second time around. “I smile when I see the backyard,” Peter says.

#2 Misusing Fertilizer

The No. 1 problem new homeowners have with fertilizer, says Eric Groft of the landscaping firm Oehme van Sweden, is overdoing it.

“Instead of putting in the correct amount of fertilizer, they put in more — and more is not more.”

Too much fertilizer adversely affects plant growth, can burn and even kill grass and plants. And, if it runs off into waterways, can cause toxic algae bloom.

To avoid those awful outcomes, prep and apply fertilizer with care. Use only the amount of recommended fertilizer — or less.

And don’t skip a single prep step. Most powdered or liquid fertilizers need to be mixed with water.

Timing is important, too. Different species of grass have different needs. Warm-season grasses (Bermuda and St. Augustine) need to be fed when temperatures are warm. Late spring is usually good. Cool-season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue) prefer feeding in cooler temps, such as late fall, but before frost sets in.

#3 Not Watering Grass Deep Enough

Brown and dry, dehydrated grass is ugly. it invites weeds to set up squatting rights. But it’s not just about the ugly.

“If you’re thinking about a future resale, a good lawn is what gets people in the front door,” says Valerie Blake, a REALTOR® in Washington, D.C. A sad lawn just turns them away.

But novice homeowners often think watering a little bit here and a little bit there will suffice. If the grass is wet, it’s watered, right?

Not quite. It’s really a matter of how moist the soil is underneath. Ideally, you want the soil to be moist 6 inches deep.

Here’s how to make sure your lawn gets enough water:

  • Use a shovel to check that the soil is moist 6 inches deep.
  • The first time you water, check every 15 minutes.
  • Keep track of how long it takes to get moist.
  • Water that same amount of time the next time.

How often should you turn on the sprinklers? Do your homework, and, if the Joneses do in fact have a beautiful lawn, note how often they water and follow suit. (We won’t tell.)

#4 Cutting Grass Too Short

If mowing isn’t your idea of weekend fun, you might be tempted to skip a round or two by cutting the grass extra short.

And while cutting the grass shorter may save you from mowing so often, it ends up starving the plant, as sunlight is collected via the leaves. Hello, brown lawn.

“Grass should never be cut lower than two and a half to three inches,” says Granat.

#5 Overusing Weed Killer

“People will buy weed killer thinking it’s for dandelions and clover and will spray it over their whole yard,” Granat says.

“I had a customer who sprayed his whole lawn with weed killer. It killed everything and cost $8,000 to resod the lawn.”

So, only use the weed killer on small, isolated areas, OK? Non-chemical solutions work, too, such as pulling weeds out by hand or dousing them with boiling water.

But prevention is best. Smother them with mulch (add newspapers for an extra layer of protection) before they can take root.

#6 Trimming Limbs and Branches the Wrong Way

Out-of-control bushes can block windows and give insects (and burglars!) a direct path into the house. The solution? Cut them back.

But know where to cut. “Don’t saw it off in the middle of the branch,” says Groft. And don’t cut it flush with the trunk either.

You want to leave the “branch collar” — usually a small bump where the trunk and branch come together.

That bump contains special cells to help a tree or shrub recover from its wounds. Leaving the branch too long or cutting it too short prevents the branch collar from doing its job, which means instead of losing a branch or two, you could lose the entire tree or bush.

#7 Putting Plants Too Close Together

Impatience is really the culprit here. You want a lush yard fast. So you buy more plants and plant them closer together.

That’s a costly mistake. First, you’re buying plants you don’t need. And second, those plants will lose their looks really soon — or even die.

By planting bushes, shrubs, trees, annuals, or perennials closely together, you’re not giving them room to grow. And you’re forcing them to compete with each other for sunshine and nutrients in the soil. You won’t be happy with those results.

Nurseries usually include recommendations on how far apart to plant, but to give you an idea, here are a couple of guidelines:

  • Trees usually need to be planted as far apart as their mature width.
  • Perennials should be 6 to 36 inches apart, depending on their mature size.

It’s also OK to remove existing plants you don’t like. “If you have 30-year-old evergreens crowding a walkway, don’t be afraid to be subtractive,” Groft encourages.

#8 Letting Your Pet Urinate Wherever

It’s so tempting to let Fido go where and whenever he feels like it. But after awhile, you’ll notice yellow grass. Then dead grass. And that bush you planted a couple of months ago? Yeah, it’s half dead, too. They’re being burned alive by your dog’s urine. Not good.

But there are things you can do, such as training Fido to go in one special area. You could even make it a spot without any grass to kill at all.

“I’m starting to install a lot of dog runs for people. They’re all fenced in and we use some kind of stone on the surface,” Granat says.

Source: "8 Ways New Homeowners Accidentally Trash Their Yards"


Tax changes for 2019 change the landscape for homeowners.

Tax season is upon us once again, and to make it even more interesting this year, the tax code has changed — along with the rules about tax deductions for homeowners. The biggest change? Many homeowners who used to write off their property taxes and the interest they pay their mortgage will no longer be able to.

Stay calm. This doesn’t automatically mean your taxes are going up. Here’s a roundup of the rules that will affect homeowners — and how big of a change to expect.

Standard Deduction: Big Change

The standard deduction, that amount everyone gets, whether they have actual deductions or not, nearly doubled under the new law. It’s now $24,000 for married, joint-filing couples (up from $13,000). It’s $18,000 for heads of household (up from $9,550). And $12,000 for singles (up from $6,500).

Many more people will now get a better deal taking the standard than they would with their itemizable write-offs.

For perspective, the number of homeowners who will be able to deduct their mortgage interest under the new rules will fall from around 32 million to about 14 million, the federal government says. That’s about a 56% drop.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll pay more taxes,” says Evan Liddiard, a CPA and director of federal tax policy for the National Association of REALTORS® in Washington, D.C. “It just means that they’ll no longer get a tax incentive for buying or owning a home.”

So will you be able to itemize, or will you be in standard deduction land? This calculator can give you an estimate.

If the answer is standard deduction, you’ll be pleased to know that tax forms are easier when you don’t itemize, says Liddiard.

Personal Exemption Repealed

One caveat to the increase in the standard deduction for homeowners and non-homeowners is that the personal exemption was repealed. No longer can you exempt from your income $4,150 for each member of your household. And that might temper the benefit of a higher standard deduction, depending on your particular situation.

For example, a single person might still come out ahead. Her $5,500 increase in the standard deduction is more than the $4,150 lost by the personal exemption repeal. 

But consider a family of four with two kids over 16 in the 22% tax bracket. They no longer have personal exemptions totaling $16,600.  Although the increase in the standard deduction is worth $2,420 (11,000 x 22%), the loss of the exemptions would cost them an extra $3,652  (16,600 x 22%).  So they lose $1,232 (3,652 – 2,420).

But say their two kids are under 16, giving them a child credit worth $2,000. That offsets the loss resulting in a $758 tax cut.

The takeaway: Your household composition will probably affect your tax status.

Mortgage Interest Deduction: Incremental Change

The new law caps the mortgage interest you can write off at loan amounts of no more than $750,000. However, if your loan was in place by Dec. 14, 2017, the loan is grandfathered, and the old $1 million maximum amount still applies. Since most people don’t have a mortgage larger than $750,000, they won’t be affected by the cap.

But if you live in a pricey place (like San Francisco, where the median housing price is well over a million bucks), or you just have a seriously expensive house, the new federal tax laws mean you’re not going to be able to write off interest paid on debt over the $750,000 cap.

State and Local Tax Deduction: Degree of Change Varies by Location

The state and local taxes you pay — like income, sales, and property taxes — are still itemizable write-offs. That’s called the SALT deduction in CPA lingo. But. The tax changes for 2019 (that’s tax year 2018) mean you can’t deduct more than $10,000 for all your state and local taxes combined, whether you’re single or married. (It’s $5,000 per person if you’re married but filing separately.)

The SALT cap is bad news for people in areas with high taxes. The majority of homeowners in around 20 states have been writing off more than $10,000 in SALT each year, so they’ll lose some of this deduction. “This is going to hurt people in high-tax areas like New York and California,” says Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and expert for TurboTax in California. New Yorkers, for example, were taking SALT deductions around $22,000 a household.

Rental Property Deduction: No Change

The news is happier if you’re a landlord. There continue to be no limits on the amount of mortgage debt interest or state and local taxes you can write off on rental property. And you can keep writing off operating expenses like depreciation, insurance, lawn care, and utilities on Schedule E.

Home Equity Loans: Big Change

You can continue to write off the interest on a home equity or second mortgage loan (if you itemize), but only if you used the proceeds to substantially better your home and only if the total, combined with your first mortgage, doesn’t go over the $750,000 cap ($1 million for loans in existence on Dec. 15, 2017). If you used the equity loan to pay medical expenses, take a cruise, or anything other than home improvements, that interest is no longer tax deductible.

Here’s a big FYI: The new rules don’t grandfather in old home equity loans if the proceeds were used for something other than substantial home improvement. If you took one out five years ago to, say, pay your child’s college tuition, you have to stop writing off that interest.

4 Tips for Navigating the New Tax Law

1. Single people may get more tax benefits from buying a house, Liddiard says. “They can often reach [and potentially exceed] the standard deduction more quickly.” You can check how much you’re likely to owe or get back under the new law on this tax calculator.

2. Student loan debt is deductible, up to $2,500 if you’re repaying, whether you itemize or not.

3. Charitable deductions and some medical expenses remain itemizable. If you’re generous or have had a big year for medical bills, these, added to your mortgage interest, may be enough to bump you over the standard deduction hump and into the write-off zone.

4. If your mortgage is over the $750,000 cap, pay it down faster so you don’t eat the interest. You can add a little to the principal each month, or make a 13th payment each year.

Source: "Tax Deductions for Homeowners: How the New Tax Law Affects Mortgage Interest"


Closer To Wild

by The Schnoor Team

Whether you crave a week of camping in a backcountry wilderness area, a day of singletrack mountain biking, a weekend rafting trip, hitting the links for a round of 18, or discovering where the Rockies begin, the Land of Enchantment has you covered. Adventurers and explorers, welcome to the Southwest’s best outdoor recreation.

AT A GLANCE:

  • New Mexico is the fifth largest state by land mass and 37th in population.
  • The state is home to five national forests, 17 national parks and monuments, 35 state parks (20 of which have lakes), and 25 wilderness areas.
  • Wheeler Peak, near Taos, is New Mexico’s highest peak 13,161 feet.
  • Elephant Butte Lake State Park, near Truth or Consequences, is home to the state’s largest lake.
  • The Rio Grande, which ribbons through the state from north to south, is the fourth longest river in the U.S.
  • With over 300 days of sunshine, any season is golf season in the Land of Enchantment.
  • New Mexico's ski resorts are exceptionally family friendly, with affordable skiing and lodging packages to suit any budget.

​​Source: "Closer To Wild"

 

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