Owning a home means having a place that’s safe and secure to come back to after a long day at work, every day, forever, until you decide it’s time to buy a different home. In exchange for all this homeiness, all you have to do is keep all the broken bits together, maintain the grass and track home-related expenses.

Oh yes. If you don’t do a little bookkeeping, the tax man gets his and more. Might as well keep that cash as not, right?


Why You Should Track Home-Related Expenses


Your primary residence isn’t an investment, this has been said time and again (especially since the market crashed entirely), but that doesn’t mean that when you go to sell you have to take a loss. Far from it.

In fact, as of the writing of this article, you’ll likely qualify for a tax exclusion (meaning you won’t pay taxes on this amount of profit from your home sale) of $250,000 if you file on your own or $500,000 if you and your spouse file your taxes together. But, if you sold and there was more than the applicable amount in gains, you’ll have to pay taxes only on the profit above the mark. When you have all your ducks in a row, it gets a lot easier to see what side of that line you stand on.


Reducing Your Tax Burden is the Goal


When your gain from your home sale exceeds your tax exclusion, there are two ways to help improve the situation with all those receipts you’ve been saving (you have been saving them, haven’t you?). First, you can deduct expenses related to selling your home, provided these are not expenses that affect the house physically. Think closing fees, brokerage commissions, and some seller-paid closing costs.

The other way to reduce your capital gains burden is to produce records that account for your extensive remodeling. These are the kinds of projects you definitely need a hand with. They include, but are not limited to:

  •     Adding an additional room    

  •     Upgrading your kitchen    

  •     Replacing flooring    

  •     Having new landscaping installed    

  •     Putting on a new roof    


The best part? These don’t have to be from the same tax year as when you sold. If you added that bedroom three years ago, pony up the receipts and reduce your tax burden. Unfortunately, regular home maintenance isn’t included on this list of ways to save a few dollars. Make sure you keep those receipts separate.


Get a Little Help From Your Friends


Keeping track of your personal finances, let alone the expenses related to your home, can be a daunting task. There are so many ways to pay these days and so many different kinds of things to pay for. This is the very reason, though, that you must be even more careful when tracking home-related spending.

Everybody has their own system, to be sure, but some are clearly superior to others. For example, if your plan is just to toss a bunch of receipts in a bucket until you get around to sorting them and manually recording each one, you may want to look into something a bit more efficient.

Even an Excel workbook is out-modeled these days, but there are several different types of apps you can use to help track your expenses, including:
 

  •     Complete personal finance apps. Popular apps like Mint and Wally are essentially full personal finance packages that happen to store receipts. While you can give these apps permission to grab you bank information from a variety of banks all at once, you may end up with enough data that it’s a trick to find those old receipts down the road.
        
  •     Dedicated receipt storage. Shoeboxed, Receipts by Wave and Expensify are far more focused on the receipt part of your financial picture. All allow you to photograph and upload the receipts in question, can export the data you collect as a variety of reports and have a cloud-storage option, so you don’t have to worry that you’ll lose your receipts if you change phones or need to reload your operating system. PS. BTW, Shoeboxed will actually take that bucket of receipts and process them for you if you mail them in.
        
  •     Receipt storage designed for homeowners. Not to toot our own horns, but toot toot. HomeKeepr allows you to scan your receipts in and helps you track home-related expenses automatically. All you need to do is snap a picture of your receipt and the software does the rest. You can then sort your receipts by the service type or business so you can see at a glance how much you’re spending on your project. Unlike other receipt trackers, HomeKeepr can track and maintain records for related items like appliance manuals and maintenance tasks that are due for your home.


Are You Ready to Invest in Your Home This Year?


All this talk of bookkeeping and receipt scanning surely has you thinking about how much you’ve been wanting to redo the deck or hang new gutters. Well, today’s the day. Not only can you store those receipts in the HomeKeepr platform, your real estate agent can hook you up with some of the best contractors in your area. Just pop into your HomeKeepr community and check out who has been recommended for you. Your agent put their reputation on the line by providing these referrals, so you know they have to be good!

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It seems that everything is getting smarter these days. You’ve got your basic smartphone, your smart security system, your smart speakers and even smart refrigerators. It should come as no surprise that someone managed to make window blinds that are pretty smart, too.
 

On first glance, these things look like one of the least useful smart products out there. When you dig a bit deeper, though, it’s clear that smart blinds, much like smart thermostats, are actually a great way to save energy and make your home safer, all while you lounge on the couch conversing with Alexa and Siri.


What are Smart Blinds?


Smart blinds, like most things that are considered “smart,” are literally window blinds that can be controlled remotely through a smartphone app, and, in this case, by the voice assistant of your choice. You can use the app to open the blinds, close the blinds or set them somewhere in between.

While this doesn’t sound like much, if you think about the regularity at which you perform these mundane tasks, having smart blinds take care of themselves is a huge time saver in the long run. But, that’s not really what’s so cool about them. Here are a few things that are, though:
 

  •     They help people with disabilities. People with a variety of disabilities are benefiting from smart homes in lots of ways. When it comes to blinds, it means making it easier for everyone to let the sun shine in or to shut the blinds at night for a little privacy.
        
  •     They increase safety. Whether you’re going on vacation or you’re just working late, having blinds that are able to shut on their own makes it look like someone is home, even when you’re not. It helps to deter crime, which is a good thing, for sure.
        
  •     They can save energy. By cleverly orchestrating the times that your blinds are open or closed, you can help reduce the use of your HVAC system all year long. More on this later.

     

There are few drawbacks to having smart blinds, if you can get beyond the price point. Many manufacturers are still treating these devices as luxury buys, pushing the cost of a single blind into the hundreds of dollars.

Ikea recently announced it would be releasing its own line of basic smart blinds in the US on April 1, 2019. They’re still not in everybody’s price range, but are far more accessible with units starting around $135.


How Do Smart Blinds Save Energy?


Before you rush out to buy smart blinds because your electricity bill is out of control, keep two things in mind: first, not all blinds will perform the same or have the same features, so make sure to read the packaging or ask a knowledgeable person about those energy saving functions. Secondly, smart blinds are only as good as the person telling them what to do. So, if you don’t tweak your programs a little bit to dial in your settings, you’re not going to get great results.
 

Like any blind, smart blinds can be used to help reduce the strain on your HVAC system. This is done largely by blocking the sun’s rays that warm up your home. Other types of smart window treatments can act as insulators against the cold. Neither is perfect, but they do work pretty well.
 

When it comes to saving energy, you will have to tell the blind what you want it to do. If you want the smart blinds on the west side of your home to close entirely around 1 pm and stay closed until 4 pm, set it in the app. Some blinds, like those from MySmartBlinds, can automatically determine when to open or close, but you’ll need to enable this feature if you want your blinds to close in response to solar radiation.
 

Smart blinds are a great investment if you plan to stay in your house for a while. Not only are they neat and gadgety for anyone interested in the Internet of Things, they can really reduce your utility bills. It could take a while for them to pay for themselves, though — shop carefully!
 

Making Homes Smarter Every Day


Upgrading your home to a smarter version of itself can be tricky, but you don’t have to do it by yourself. Check out your HomeKeepr community, someone knows a smart home pro that can help you choose the right smart blinds and install them for you, too! There’s a reason that pro was recommended by so many other home pros and real estate agents — they’re just that good.

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o/~ “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…. even though your windows are closed….” o/~

If that sounds disturbingly like your home in the middle of winter, we’ve got to talk. You may not want to admit it, but something is very wrong with your windows and doors. On cool, calm days you can’t really tell if it’s cold inside because you have the thermostat turned down a bit or if if that chilliness is cold air leaking in from your windows, but on windy days there’s no doubt.

Just looking at those windows makes you shiver. Don’t suffer needlessly from low indoor temperatures and high utility bills. Instead, do something about it! It’s time for weatherstripping.


What is Weatherstripping?


Weatherstripping is essentially any material you use to close up gaps between two surfaces of building materials located on an outside wall (generally). The act of installing weatherstripping is also commonly known as “weatherstripping,” so it can get a little confusing.

Even though it may look like your house doesn’t have any gaps between, say your window trim and the wall or the upper and lower portions of your double-hung windows, the chances are good that there are lots of small cracks you’re just not seeing. As a result, you’ll end up leaking climate controlled indoor air out into the outdoors. Sometimes this is really obvious. You’ll feel the air temperature differential or you’ll literally see bright light shining through the gaps when the room is darkened.

More often, though, you’ll find some of the gaps and miss a lot more because they can be very hard to detect. Homeowners and pros alike handle this issue in a few different ways:
 

  •     They perform yearly maintenance on the weatherstripping. When you’re positive that your home isn’t leaking air, there’s not really any reason to refresh the weatherstripping or recaulk everything that is nailed to something else. But if you’re not sure of your leak status or you simply don’t think you will be able to tell where leaks are forming, spending a day laying down new beads with the caulk gun and replacing any worn weatherstripping will ensure your home is ready for the coldest and hottest days.    

  •     They take advantage of infrared camera technology. Infrared cameras are really cool. Or, at least, they can show you where things that are really cool happen to be located. Although they’re not fool-proof, if you want to give this tech a try, you can pick up a model that will attach to your smartphone for a lot less than the units the pros tend to use. When an area turns up icy blue (or another color, depending on your camera settings), you can then manually inspect that area for unexpected air flow.    

  •     They enlist the help of a energy specialist for an energy audit. Many utility companies have an energy specialist on hand to help with energy audits. Even those that don’t will keep a list of independent home pros that can perform the same service. They have all kinds of neat tools in their bags and will not only point out the drafts, but can help you deal with these and the other energy losers in your home.


You may be surprised (or even alarmed!) at how much of your home’s indoor air is leaking in from the outside and the other way around. But you can’t efficiently weatherstrip your home until you know where the leaks are, so it’s a painful, but necessary first step Again, if you’re just really in love with the caulk gun, a refresh never hurt anything, but you probably have other things you’d like to be doing.


Do You Need an Energy Audit?


While you can perform a sort of DIY energy audit on your own, if you want a detailed analysis of where the weather is getting in, plus all the other hints and tips for saving energy that come with a formal energy audit, you don’t have to look any further than your HomeKeepr community! Your real estate agent has already made the connections with the best home pros in the area, their experiences and recommendation can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.

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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.

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The word “attic” conjures up images of dark, dusty relic storerooms that just happen to be hidden in plain sight. For plenty of homeowners, their attics are full of treasure, just not the kind you might think. Their treasure comes in the form of square footage.


Renovating an attic into living space can be a complicated process, but it adds real living space to a home that may already be perfect in every other way.


What’s This About Hidden Treasure?


Your unfinished attic has a secret that it’s never been able to really own up to. It’s hiding treasure — lots of it, too. Most people look to remodel their attics simply for the added convenience and elbow room that more space provides families with growing needs. What they don’t realize in the moment is that an attic remodel can increase the value of the house, too. According to Remodeling Magazine, in 2015 a newly constructed midrange attic bedroom returned 77.2 percent of its cost in value.


If you’ve never set foot inside your attic, it’s probably nothing like you might imagine. There’s not going to be a lot to work with, expect your remodel to be a big deal. But anything worth doing is worth doing big, right? One of these days that big budget attic project will be your game room or the kids’ bedrooms or even just a quiet place to get away from the world for a while. And those are things you can’t really put a price tag on, though your appraiser and your bank may try.


Attic Renos: Before and After


Knowing what you’re facing, it’s worth showing you what the reward can be. Your attic won’t necessarily yield identical results, but to give you a general sense of how much you can do with an attic space, take a look at the photos below. On the left, you’ll see an attic space that’s probably much like yours: unfinished, sparse and dark. On the right is what could be an after photo: a beautifully designed, well lit, interesting and funky space.


 

Making That Attic Your Own


Obviously, you already own the attic, so technically it’s already your own, but semantics aside, an attic remodel is a really good opportunity to create something beautiful. Many attics are so divorced from the rest of the house that you can pretty much get away with anything without messing with the flow of the main house.


When you’re planning your attic remodel, consider these three ways to make that space unique, inviting and, most importantly, yours:


Include striking elements. You can look at the angles and cutouts in your attic as obstacles or you can take them and use them as opportunities. Framing repeating design elements that mirror the more difficult to work with parts of your attic can make it really shine. Old, unused flues standing between you and success? Rather than wall them in or remove them entirely, design with them! Add some similar-looking pillars with false brick to create a more industrial loft feel.


Build in custom furniture. Nothing says “unique” like something that is actually unique. Attics can be tricky to find furniture for. Either it’s too tall, too deep or too heavy and ultimately you just abandon the space all together. Don’t let your attic become a really fancy place to store the Christmas tree: have custom furniture built (or DIY it!). Your furniture needs to fit the space and do the job it was intended for, nothing more unless you want more. Window boxes, built-in storage, daybeds and so much more can make great additions!


Don’t Skimp on the Project. You know what it’s going to cost to remodel that attic space, take that number very seriously. No pressure, but you basically only have this one chance to get this right. You’re essentially designer-in-chief of the attic space for generations of buyers to come, so it’s pretty important that you bring your vision to life in full 3D.


Trying to decide if a bathroom makes sense in your attic space? The answer should be yes. Always yes. Although it can be a headache to put a bathroom in an attic, there are lots of creative ways to make it work. You’ll seriously regret not having added that bathroom when you have guests next and they keep running up and down the stairs to use the bath in the main hallway.


You’ll probably also regret it if you were going to install incredible skylights (like the ones in the bathroom images in this article) and then backed off because it just seemed like too much work and time to invest. This is your canvas, you get to pick the new structural elements that will forever change your home.


Ready for That Attic Remodel? I Know a Contractor…


A lot of people are probably saying that very thing to you right now. After all, they want to help their friends, it’s only natural. But you need a professional that is just that: a pro, not someone’s long lost cousin or brother’s neighbor’s kid. Join us at HomeKeepr and see how the power of hard work and great service pay off day after day.


All you need to do is log in, ask your real estate agent for a recommendation for your project and you’ll be supplied with a list of contractors that they trust enough to stake their reputation on. That’s serious business. No matter what kind of pro you may need for your attic job, you can find them in the HomeKeepr community, ready and willing to get you on your way to your very special attic space.

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You’ve been renting for a while now and it feels like the timing is right to make the leap to homeownership. After all, your friends are all buying houses and your job feels pretty stable, how many more hints that it’s time to settle down could you really need?

Well, if you’ve given it considerable thought, are certain you can cover emergency costs like unexpected roof replacement or furnace repair and you have a realistic expectation of what you can afford, then full speed ahead. Buying a house is a trying experience, only made significantly worse by credit mistakes.


Top Credit Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Home


Everybody makes mistakes, especially when it comes to their credit. The process by which your credit score is generated has long been veiled in shadows, making it doubly easy to misstep without even knowing it. However, there are certain mistakes that homebuyers make again and again, including these items that are obviously impactful to your credit score:
 

1. Not knowing what’s in your credit file to begin with. The last thing you need is a bit of a surprise when you go to apply for a mortgage. If you have collections that you’re unaware of, judgements that were never served to you or just plain bad information in your file, these items have to be handle now. It can take a while to completely erase the effects of any negative information in your credit file, so you need to get started right away.

Go to annualcreditreport.com for your once a year free credit report, download that thing and print it out. Check it line by line for accuracy and contact any collection agents that may be listed so you can work out a payment plan on that cable bill you left behind in your college apartment and totally forget to pay.
 

2. Applying for mortgages over a long period of time. Sure, it makes sense to pull your credit file six months to a year ahead of when you plan to purchase, since there might be surprises that will require time to fix. If you pull your scores yourself, it’s not as big of a hit to you as it would be it you had a lender checking your scores, say, monthly. When you are definitely ready to buy, do all your mortgage shopping within a 14 to 45 day window (depending on the scoring model and version). Ask your lender how long credit inquiries for mortgages will remain grouped, only being counted as a single credit pull. Otherwise, so many hard pulls will ensure that you don’t move forward to purchase.
 

3. Opening new lines of credit in anticipation of closing. Did you give any thought to skipping the line and buying a new couch today, rather than after your closing? How about doing that while maxing out a brand new credit line? This is a huge and terrifyingly common mistake that people make. It makes sense, it really does, you just want to be ready to get your move over with quickly once you get the keys.

The problem with a new inquiry is sort of a double whammy. First, it’s a hard pull on your credit, which will reduce your score slightly. Secondly, if you use that credit line, your debt to income will increase. In fact, depending on how much of that credit line you use, your utilization rate may also increase.

TL;DR: don’t take out new credit. Your credit score, debt to income ratio and possibly your credit utilization will take a big hit and your loan may be cancelled at the last minute when underwriting is re-verifying your application.
 

4. Maxing out existing credit lines. Moving is really expensive, even if you’re just moving across town. The moving truck alone can cost hundreds of dollars, and that’s if you do the job yourself. There’s nothing wrong with renting a truck, hiring a mover or even hiring a whole lot of movers, just do it after closing. If anything changes to the negative about your credit score, credit utilization and your debt to income ratio, as stated above, your loan can be cancelled. This is not a drill.
 

5. Failing to forward your bills. After closing, you could still make a few credit mistakes problems related to your move. Did you remember to pay the last utility bill at your old place? How about the broadband? It may seem like an obvious error to avoid, but when you’re in that moving stress haze, sometimes it’s all you can do to grab a pot of coffee and get moving again. Your credit is pretty good right now, don’t forget to pay those final bills.

Buying a house with a mortgage can feel like an exercise in paperwork collection, but the truth is that all of it is necessary for you to get the very best price from your lender. After all, what they’re really doing is trying to ensure your success with their loan. When you succeed, they succeed.


Looking for a Lender for Your Next Purchase?


Look no further than the HomeKeepr community. Local lenders are waiting for you to contact them, based on your real estate agent’s recommendations. And if something is wrong with your credit file, you’ll find credit repair specialists here, too! At HomeKeepr, we have all the home pros you might ever need, collected up under one umbrella — and you know they have to be good, your real estate agent is staking their reputation on it.

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