Nancy Judge | Newburyport Real Estate, Newbury Real Estate, Topsfield Real Estate

Photo by ErikaWittlieb via Pixabay

Storage is one of the biggest challenges when deciding how to decorate or plan a new home.  It's tempting to throw everything into bins and stack them someplace in your garage, their contents forgotten ever after!  If you do, though, there is a good chance you will waste money by purchasing things you already own -- and you may continue to add things until even thinking of tackling that stack of stuff you "might need someday" makes you break out into a cold sweat.

1. Sort your items.

Make a throw away, give away, and store pile for things you use infrequently or seasonally.  If you struggle to throw things away, seek a second opinion: bring a friend and promise them whatever they want in return for helping you out, whether that's leaf-raking, a batch of cookies or return the favor when they need a little help.  You can send your nicer giveaway items to a consignment shop if you wish, or head straight to a donation drop site, such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill.

2. Decide how much storage space you need.

After you're finished sorting, decide how much space you'll need for your storage.  Some options include a section of your garage, attic, one bedroom, a mudroom or under-the-stairs storage space.  Then, group your storage items by theme (seasonal clothing) or task (items for painting rooms).  Consider how many groups of items you have and how you will store that many groups.  Will you need more space for one type of item than another?  A little pre-planning goes a long way.

3. Make everything do double-duty to save on space.

Benches with flip-lids for storage are an excellent option.  Keep in mind that the seats should be comfortable without the addition of throws, pillows or pads -- you want it to be easy to get to your things, and that means no tugging throws or pillows on the floor to access your storage.  

A clever solution for a garage or larger storage space is to purchase two (or four) cube storage organizers.  Arrange these a few feet apart, place a tabletop between them and screw it in place: now you have under-table storage and a workspace!  A standing workspace would work especially well in a garage area.  Alternately, you can have a cube storage organizer on all four sides for maximum storage, if you place your table in the center of the room.

4. Make sure everything is within easy reach.

Use drawers, bins and stacked boxes: don't pile items and don't store things behind other items.  Everything should be removable, so that you can pull out a box, use that type of item, and put the box away.  Plastic boxes with snap-on lids are a good idea for garage storage, where there may be mice or dampness.

Another idea is to build shelving with depth and fill these with wicker baskets for storage. 

5. Place items together by the task they accomplish.

For example, if you or your family enjoy painting but do not paint every day, fill one basket with brushes, paint, a plastic cup for water, paper and everything else you'd need for the task, rather than having one drawer or basket with art supplies you'd have to hunt through or different boxes for paint versus paper.

Perhaps you need a measuring tape for construction tasks as well as for sewing.  Measuring tapes are inexpensive!  Keep a measuring tape in both boxes rather than making yourself hunt for one any time you need to accomplish a task that requires it.  

Only create such boxes or baskets for specialized tasks you perform at least a few times a year.

6. Choose your decor wisely.

There's nothing wrong with clean lines and elegant colors, but if you have a mudroom make sure that your floor is tile or vinyl so it can be wiped clean easily.  If you do choose carpet for a storage room, choose dark tans or grays rather than anything paler: otherwise you may spend your life cleaning it!  If you have white walls, keep a magic eraser nearby so you can wipe off scuffs as you find them.  Finishes on cabinetry should be shiny rather than matte, so that they are easy to wipe.  Avoid cloth and rustic, unfinished surfaces: they may look homey, but they are very hard to keep clean.

When faced with an organizational project, remember: a place for everything, and everything in its place!  

Photo by Steve Buissinne via


Most are familiar with the key components of a mortgage: how much you're borrowing, what your interest rate is, how many years you'll be paying your mortgage back. There are many, however, who do not understand some of the finer details, including what prepayment penalties are and how they may affect you when you're buying or selling a home. 

What are Prepayment Penalties?

In the simplest terms, a prepayment penalty may apply if you pay off your mortgage early. Prepaying can mean either making additional payments that bring down your balance quicker, refinancing your mortgage, or selling the home and therefore paying off the balance of the loan. The reason banks apply these penalties is to recoup some of their lost revenue when years of interest are not collected due to an early payoff. 

Not all mortgages come with penalties and those that do often specify when and how the penalties will apply. For example, many borrowers will not be penalized if the prepayment results from selling the home, but will apply from refinancing or from making additional payments. Others have a limit to how much can be paid early via additional payments during any given year. It's also common for prepayment penalties to only apply during the first several years.

Avoiding the Harshest Penalties

For first-time mortgage applicants, it pays to take the time to find your lender before you choose a home. That way, you'll have plenty of time to read all the documentation, ask questions, and consult an attorney to ensure you're getting terms you can agree to in good faith. Keep in mind, however, that mortgage contracts are not final until you've selected a home and have documents drawn up specifically for that purchase. You may want to have an attorney present during the closing to make sure all the final paperwork matches your expectations.

For sellers, it's best to understand whether prepayment penalties will apply long before contemplating the sale of your home. However, if you missed the opportunity to do your due diligence when signing the mortgage documents, it's not too late. Start by talking with your lender to understand which, if any, penalties you may be subject to. If the penalties are steep enough, now may not be the best time to sell or you may want to keep these expenses in mind when pricing your home. Others may be able to port their mortgage to a new home, or transfer it to a new property to avoid penalties. 

Getting Help

No matter which side of the deal you are on, a qualified real estate agent can help you navigate the process to make sure you're getting the most from the arrangement while also working around tricky situations. To learn more or to get started, feel free to send in your inquiries, so we can get started on your homebuying or home selling journey today.

Photo by Edgardo Lagmay on Unsplash

Nothing dates a bathroom like an old toilet. Not only have toilets advanced significantly in the past 10-15 years. Older toilets often develop hard water stains and porcelain scratches that show their age.

Fortunately, replacing a toilet is one of the most straightforward home improvement projects you can do. And it's relatively inexpensive for a DIY toilet replacement. Here's how it's done.

What You'll Need

  • A new toilet. *Pro tip* Read reviews and find one with the feature you like. Toilets are similar sizes, but you should measure from the wall to the bolt to ensure the bolts are in the right place for your new toilet.
  • Rubber work gloves
  • Putty knife
  • Sponge
  • Hacksaw 
  • Wrenches
  • Towel
  • Nuts/Bolts
  • Closet flange
  • Washers
  • Wax ring
  • Garbage bag
  • Some of these items will come with a toilet. So see what's in the box before you buy separately.

    Remove the Old Toilet

    Before you do, turn off the water supply on the wall behind the toilet. Flush the toilet to empty the remaining water. Then while wearing gloves, use your sponge and towel to sop up any liquid left behind in the bowl and the tank behind the bowl.

    If the toilet's tank can separate from the bowl, remove it first for a lighter lift. You only need the hack saw if the bolts are rusted solid. Otherwise, you just need a wrench. 

    Put the dirty toilet in a big plastic bag and take it outside for now.

    Remove Old Wax

    Stick an old hand towel gently into the mouth of the hole left behind to block sewer gasses floating into your house. *Pro tip* Don't use a washcloth. You may lose it. If it falls down your drain, you may need a plumber to get it out.

    Next, use your putty knife to carve out the old wax around the hole in the floor. It's soft, so this is easy on the hands, but it may take a little while to dig it all out.

    Remove the old closet bolts and the flange if needed. They're cheap to replace.

    Install the New Flange, Bolts & Wax Ring

    Lay down your new flange and place your bolts pointing up. These will secure the base of your toilet. Tightening down washers over the bolts holds the bolts in place, so it will be easier to slide your toilet over the top.

    Next, soften the wax ring with warm water. And then fit it around the drain on the underside of the toilet. Don't forget to remove the towel from the pipe before going further.

    Lower Your Toilet into Place

    Carefully lower the bowl of the toilet over the bolts. Press down firmly to strengthen the wax seal. Then fasten the bolts on the bowl and tank. Hook up the water, tighten, and watch as the tank fills ready to shut it off the hose leaks. Tighten it.

    And you've just replaced your toilet. Don't forget to follow our blog for more helpful home tips.

    Once you’re a homeowner, you know that excellent finances are a necessity. You need to budget smartly and be aware of where your money is going. There are so many little things that drain our money that aren’t so obvious. Read on to see some places where your money is going right out the window and what you can do to control it.

    Food Spending And Consumption

    Not only do most people admit to overspending on food, they admit to wasting food as well. It’s a smart idea to have a weekly meal plan. Do you cherish pizza night? Write that into the plan. Set a week- or even a month of menus ahead of time depending on how motivated you’re feeling. Make sure you’ll have everything you need in the house to make these meals. Try not to stock up on too many items. The simple act of knowing what you’re eating can save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the course of a year. 

    Financial Fees

    Are bank fees and credit card late payment fees getting you down? All of those extra costs add up over time. Each time you overdraft your bank account costs you somewhere in the neighborhood of $25-$35. Every time you miss a credit card payment costs you another $25 or more. Make sure you’re enrolled in overdraft protection. You should also get alerts from your credit card as to when bills or due. If auto-pay is convenient, you can also consider that option to help you not miss payments. 

    Utility Costs

    Utilities can cost a significant amount of money, but these bills don’t have to be astronomical. Make sure you’re not wasting energy. Keep the thermostat either higher or lower depending on the season when you’re not home. A few degrees can make a big difference in your bill. Old appliances can also be energy suckers. When you leave the room, shut off televisions and lights to save even more on your utility costs.     

    Monthly Memberships

    Do you have a gym membership and never use it? That’s money going right out the window. If you subscribe to online services that you don’t frequently use, only keep the subscriptions that you need and use. You can save hundreds of dollars just by keeping track of where your money is going and if you use the products. Take a look at your credit card statements and notice any monthly charges that look unfamiliar.        

    Ready to sell that home you've sunk your heart, soul and savings account into? Hoping to get a great return on all those green upgrades you had professionally performed? Don't rely on chance to get the ROI you deserve. Take charge of the sale of your high-performance home, and make sure everyone from your sales team to your prospective buyers have the full picture before you settle.

    Prioritize Your Green Upgrades

    Some home improvements pack more environmental punch than others, and projects that lower the costs of heating and cooling your home are biggies. Consider upgrades that will save both you and your prospective buyer money down the road, including:

    • Installing solar panels 
    • Replacing drafty doors and windows
    • Upgrading to Energy Star Appliances
    • Updated Your HVAC system

     These will all net you a bigger return on investment than replacing existing hardwood with bamboo, for instance. Think long-term savings when investing in green upgrades, and buyers will love you for it. 

    Select Your Marketing Team Carefully

    Everyone on your marketing team, from the person who appraises your home to the real estate agent who shows it should have experience with selling high-performance homes. These are the professionals who will best appreciate the upgrades you've made and how they'll benefit buyers in the long term. Even if you've chosen your sales team wisely, don't rely on them to ask the right questions. Come prepared with the right answers instead. Walk with your appraiser and point out the improvements you've made and why, and then show them the documentation. 

    Be Prepared to Prove Your Claims

    One common reason many homeowners perform green upgrades, aside from adding to their own comfort, is to boost their home's resale value. Keep this in mind when performing a home improvement that has any kind of environmental impact. Keep receipts and consumer information when replacing windows and doors. Keep the manuals for Energy Star appliances and be able to prove the R-Values on that new attic insulation. Your real estate agent needs to be able to see the whole picture to market your home most effectively, and your appraiser needs it to increase your appraisal value. 

    Don't Pursue LEED Certification 

    It sounds impressive, having your home green-certified, but the hoops you'll have to jump through may outweigh the advantages. Simply making savvy upgrades in all the right places and in all the right ways may actually be more impactful to a prospective buyer than claiming certified status. It will save you money, too.

    Don't improve your home more than you need to make it safe, comfortable and cost-effective for your family. In most instances, simple upgrades like the ones listed here will be sufficient to help you claim excellent returns on your investments.