September 5, 2020
The Durham Region Association of REALTORS® (DRAR) President Vicki Sweeney reported 1,515 residential transactions in August, a significant 45 per cent increase from August 2019.
The number of new listings increased on a year-over-year basis by 19 per cent reaching 1,839 new listings in August.
“Our market has experienced a strong rebound as home sales continue to hit record results this summer,” said DRAR President Vicki Sweeney.
“There is an increased demand for housing and we’re seeing this activity reflected in the average days on market. In August, the average days on market reached 14 in comparison to the average of 29 days reported in August 2019.”
The average price in Durham Region reached $734,136 a 19.5 per cent increased compared to the same time last year. On a month-over-month basis the average price increased slightly by 3.5 per cent.
The MLS® Home Price Index Composite Benchmark was up by 15.06 per cent in August 2020. The MLS® Home Price Index Composite price in Durham Region reached $653,400. The benchmark price for a detached home in Durham Region reached $706,300 representing a 14.60 per cent increase from last year.
“As we continue to see a demand for homeownership, it is important our policymakers remain focused on bringing more supply to our markets,” said Sweeney.
“We have to focus on supply, the economic recovery and low interest rates coupled with the pent-up demand from the spring market will continue to drive sales. In Durham’s Clarington market, days on market reached 11 days with 103 per cent sales to new listing ratio.”
10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD USE AN AGENT WHEN SELLING YOUR HOME
For Sale By Owner
If you're planning on selling your home, you may have considered putting up a "For Sale" sign and doing it yourself but there are many potential pitfalls that could end up costing you far more than you’d save.
Just as it's not recommended to represent yourself in court, marketing and negotiating your biggest asset on your own can be a very risky move. Here are ten reasons why you should use a real estate agent to help sell your home:
1.) Mass Exposure
Your pool of potential buyers will be very limited, whereas an agent can expose your home to the masses which will dramatically increase demand and hopefully trigger a bidding war!
2.) Marketing Fees
Advertising fees can quickly amount to a small fortune but when you list your home with a real estate agent, they’re responsible for shouldering those costs.
3.) Time Is Money
Your time is very valuable so it may make more financial sense to spend it on other projects that will deliver a higher return.
4.) Carrying Costs
Selling privately usually takes longer which quickly drives up carrying costs such as mortgage interest payments, insurance premiums, taxes, utilities, etc.
5.) Stigma Status
The longer a home sits on the market, the harder it is to sell as its extended time on the market gives the impression that there’s something wrong with the house.
6.) Expert Advice
Real estate agents are experts when it comes to local market conditions so they’re in the best possible position to advise you on multiple and counteroffer scenarios.
7.) Qualified Buyers
If you sell your home on your own, you'll have to show it to complete strangers on short notice which can be inconvenient and also dangerous. Real estate agents on the other hand will only show your home to qualified buyers.
8.) Third-Party Negotiator
Buying or selling a home is an emotional roller coaster where just one wrong remark can cause a deal to fall apart. A third-party negotiator provides a buffer between the buyer and the seller to help ensure things go smoothly.
9.) Corona Crisis
The pandemic has added an extra layer of stress with safety protocols that must be adhered to. Staging and virtual tours are therefore more important than ever and if you don’t get it right from the get-go, you’ll lose out on a large pool of potential buyers.
10.) Splitting Headache
Most buyers are represented by real estate agents who are paid directly by the seller. That means you’ll be giving away half the amount you’re trying to save unless the buyer also chooses to go it alone. If that’s the case though, buyers will expect to pay less which also cuts your savings in half.
Selling a home privately can be risky which essentially means you're gambling with your biggest asset. Do-it-yourself jobs are great in certain situations but when it comes to selling your home, it's best to have a professional on your side who will look out for your best interests during this complex transaction.
FIRE PREVENTION WEEK: KITCHEN SAFETY
Fire Prevention Week
Fire Prevention Week begins on October 4th and this year’s theme is “Kitchen Safety”.
Kitchen fires are the leading cause of home fires and while they have the potential to take down entire homes, they’re almost always preventable. Here are a few simple precautions that will help you protect your family from a kitchen fire:
Never Leave a Stove Unattended
Monitor your stove at all times, especially if you’re cooking on an open flame. The single leading cause of fires in the kitchen is an unattended stove so don’t allow yourself to become distracted with other tasks.
Timing Is Everything
It’s easy to get distracted as life at home can sometimes get hectic, but leaving a tray of cookies or a roast chicken in the oven for too long can lead to disaster so it’s important to always set the timer.
Give Yourself Some Space
Make sure any rags, napkins, packaging or wooden spoons you’re using are well away from the stove. Also, too many cooks in the kitchen can lead to a crowded and confusing space where accidents are more likely to happen.
Clean Up As You Go
Grease is a particularly hazardous component of kitchen fires as water further spreads a grease fire. If you properly dispose of any excess grease and keep your area wiped down, you’ll limit the risk of this added danger.
Keep a Fire Extinguisher Nearby
Ensure you have a fire extinguisher that’s rated for kitchen use on hand in case of an emergency. Keep it stored under the sink or hung up behind a door so that it’s out of sight but easily accessible and make sure everyone knows where it is and how to use it.
Most fires are caused by human error, not by malfunctioning devices or freak accidents. Your home is your zone of safety and security. It’s your space for building loving memories that’ll last a lifetime but in its most basic sense, it’s your place of shelter so it’s important to keep it safe for the protection of you and your family.
FALL PEST PREVENTION TIPS
It’s that time of year when the “fall crawl” gets underway!
As the weather cools and we spend more time inside, the last thing we want is for insects and rodents to follow and make themselves at home. Here are a few tips that will help keep unwanted guests away:
Seal of Approval
Inspect your home’s exterior for any potential access points and then seal any cracks or gaps with caulk and steel wool. Also, repair window screens and fill any gaps under the doors.
Wood Not Be a Good Idea
Never store firewood right up against your home as it provides a temporary shelter for rodents, termites and other insects to hang out at before they head in for winter.
Mice are great climbers who use vines, shrubs and overhanging branches to gain access to your roof so cut back any excess foliage so they're not able to get a leg up on entry points.
Food for Thought
Make sure all of your loose food items are properly stored. Pet food is also a huge draw for critters so store their food in a sealed container rather than leaving it in the bag.
When it comes to pest control, it’s important to be proactive because once critters make their way into your home, it can be very hard to get rid of them. Like any type of maintenance work, prevention is key as you don’t want these pests hunkering down and causing all sorts of chaos in your home this winter.
P.S. Please let me know if you'd ever like a hand finding your dream home or even if you're just curious about what the house down the street sold for. I'm always happy to help
August 13, 2020
Buying a home is a big deal, especially for those who have had credit problems in the past. The most common way to buy a home is with a mortgage loan, which requires both a credit score that the lender finds acceptable and enough cash on hand for a down payment (and usually some other costs). For some, this can be a barrier to home ownership because they either have previous credit problems or are unable to get the cash together to cover down payments and other costs. Fortunately, there are some alternatives available. One option that can put home ownership within reach is rent to own housing. As the name implies, this provides an option where the would-be homeowner can actually take possession of the house as a renter before the purchase is finalized. While this may not be available as an option for everyone, here are some details about rent to own housing in case you’re considering a rent to own purchase.
The basic idea behind rent to own housing may seem pretty simple. Instead of having to buy a house outright, you rent the home from the current owner instead, in much the same way that you would if you were only acting as a renter. The rental payments that you make typically cover both the cost of rental and pay a portion toward the asking price of the home itself. After a specified period of time has passed, you will either have paid off the balance of the property or (as is more common) will have a final lump-sum payment to make that finalizes the purchase of the house.
The Rental Contract
The lease that you sign when entering into a rent to own agreement is a bit different than your standard rental agreement. In most cases, you will agree to stay at the home for a longer period of time than your standard lease, and you may have an initial up-front payment to make that goes toward the cost of the house as well. The contract will detail exactly how much the owner wants for the home, what percentage of your rent will go toward that amount, and will also provide information about how you’re actually buying the house when the lease ends.
In most cases, a rent to own contract features what’s known as an “option to buy” which gives you the option to pay any remaining cost to finalize your home purchase when the lease ends. Depending on the wording of the contract, you may also have the option to pay off that balance early and finalize the purchase even if the lease isn’t yet set to expire. You do need to be careful and read and pay attention to the details of this, however. While a “lease-option” contract like this gives you the option (but not the requirement) to buy at the end of the lease, some contracts actually contain what’s known as a “lease-purchase” clause, under which you have a legal obligation to buy regardless of whether you can actually afford it.
When you rent a home, maintenance and other upkeep is generally the responsibility of the landlord. In a rent to own situation, however, the lease will sometimes specify that the would-be homeowner is responsible for some or possibly all of the upkeep and maintenance instead. You may even encounter sellers who gradually shift the responsibility to you the longer you stay in the property, though this is less common than some other setups. Still, it’s important to know from the start who is going to be responsible for things that come up before the lease expires.
Moving is hard but I'm here to help!
August 3, 2020
Durham Region Real Estate Market Update
The Durham Region Association of REALTORS® (DRAR) President Vicki Sweeney reported 1,583 residential transactions for the month of July, representing a significant 52 per cent increase from the same time last year.
The number of new listings in Durham Region reached 1,905 in July, a slight increase on a month-over-month basis from June. The days on market saw a large decrease compared to the same time last year from 23 to 16 days on market in July 2020.
“The real estate market in Durham Region is seeing an increase of activity during this summer market. The number of residential transactions increased significantly on a year-over-year basis in July,” said DRAR President Vicki Sweeney.
“The average price in Durham Region reached a record high for July at $709, 640. Although the market is busy and many areas are now in Phase 3, REALTORS® are encouraged to continue to practice safe measures and follow health official guidelines.”
The July 2020 MLS® Home Price Index (HPI) Composite Benchmark was up by 12.27 per cent compared to July 2019. The Benchmark price for a single-family detached home in Durham’s Clarington market reached $637,000 in July 2020.
“Sales activity in the market has been very strong. We are seeing an increase of sales consistently and low interest rates,” said Sweeney. “Many buyers are feeling more comfortable with the reopening of the economy in Phase 3.”
The City of Oshawa has been setting building records this summer as economic development in Durham continues to experience strong growth. Oshawa set another building record in June amid the pandemic.
Year-to-date construction value issued in Oshawa has already exceeded last year’s total construction value by 8 million, with Oshawa setting yet another building record in June. During the month of June 2020, the City issued 96 building permits for a total of 82.5 million in construction value.
“Durham Region’s economic development has been growing rapidly this past summer. It’s no surprise the City of Oshawa has been setting building records,” said DRAR President Sweeney.
"As the workplace changes, more families and individuals are exploring the Region and moving further East. The July housing statistics reflect the demand in the Durham marketplace.”
How to Create a Functional Home Office
Many of us are now working from home as a result of the pandemic. Whether it’s working at a desk in a closet or converting the garage into an office, we’re quickly learning to appreciate the benefits of a functional workspace.
There are many advantages to working from home, but it also comes with a whole new unique set of challenges. Here are a few tips that’ll help you get the most out of your newfound home office space:
Standing Room Only
Consider purchasing an adjustable standing desk as it’s better for your posture. In the meantime, make sure your monitor, keyboard and mouse are at the correct ergonomic level.
Try to choose a space with lots of natural light as it’ll help reduce eye strain by cutting down the glare on your screen. Also, consider a SAD lamp to help lift your spirits on those darker days.
If you spend a lot of time on conference calls, you may want to think about soundproofing your space. Hard surfaces amplify sounds while carpets, rugs and curtains help absorb loud noise.
Try to make the most of your office space by hanging shelves on the walls or by maximizing the space underneath your desk.
Focus Your Flow
It’s important to separate work time from home life so try your best to avoid distractions. Putting on a load of laundry for instance can significantly affect your flow and focus.
Now that everyone on your Zoom calls can peek inside your office, it’s important to ensure that your background looks professional and doesn’t have too many distractions.
Make Some Green
Spruce up your space by adding a few plants in and around your office as they’ll help improve the air quality and increase your general level of happiness :)
A comfortable home office can make a huge difference to your productivity so it’s important to take the time to properly set up your space. It’s hard to say how COVID-19 will impact home design in the long run but if you’re thinking of selling any time soon, a well-designed home office will likely be high on many home buyer’s wish lists.
End of Summer Maintenance Tips
It’s important to regularly maintain your property inside and out as it helps protect your most valuable investment from falling into disrepair.
Although summer’s still in full swing and home maintenance is probably the last thing on your mind, it makes sense to take care of the following jobs before fall rolls around:
Pressure wash the driveway while it’s still nice and warm outside and repair any cracks to prevent further erosion when the colder weather rolls around.
Changing the furnace filter in the height of summer may seem unnecessary but it’s important as the air conditioning runs through your furnace vents and accumulate huge amounts of dust.
Brush Up the BBQ
The BBQ usually gets forgotten about as it takes a while to cool down after it’s used so give it a good clean and check for any cobwebs around your burner tubes.
Dust Ceiling Fans
Your ceiling fans have probably had a good workout this summer but you don’t want chunks of dust to fall to the floor when you clean them so put a pillowcase over the blades and pull it off gently so that the dust stays inside.
Regular home maintenance will help ensure small problems don't turn into big headaches that need professional attention on short notice. Once these jobs are completed, you’ll be able to get back to enjoying the lazy days of summer! ??
Handy Home Design Apps
If you’re redecorating or renovating your home, there are a number of apps out there that are designed to help make your life a lot easier! Here are a few ones to check out:
This ingenious app turns your smartphone into an easy to use and surprisingly accurate spirit level! It makes hanging pictures, mirrors or even cabinets a cinch!
Leave your tape measure at home as this handy app lets you take a picture of a room and then calculates and stores all of the measurements right on your smartphone!
If you’d like to paint a room but you’re worried that the colour might not be right then this app is for you! Just snap a shot of the room and it’ll let you try out different colours on your wall!
Whether you’re looking to hang a shelf, install new kitchen cabinets or paint your bedroom, there’s an “app for that”. Instead of lugging a bulky toolkit around to tackle a task, all you need to do is pull out your phone!
July 16, 2020
Your home’s a looker, so why aren’t you doing all you can to point all the attention at its best features? Maybe you’re afraid that drawing so much attention to the details will leave your friends jealous, or maybe you just need some ideas for how to make those interesting details even more obvious. Either way, there are plenty of tricks you can use to accentuate the positives in your home.
Painting to Perfection
Paint is just one way to make your home’s best features shine, and there are all kinds of methods to make this happen. You don’t have to be a professional painter to get a lot of mileage out of some basic attention-getting paintwork, though hiring a pro can certainly help you get exactly the effect you’ve got in mind. One easy way to catch the eye is to paint an accent wall, a wall or a section of a wall that’s a different color than the rest of the paint in a room. The accent wall’s location and color will really affect how well it does its job, but if you have a wall with a feature you want people to look at, it’s safe to assume that would make a good accent wall. In addition, painting the inside of a bookcase or alcove a different color than the main wall color can also get serious looks. Another way to make paint an absolute neon sign is to use it to draw out the details in interior or exterior trim. If your millwork is relatively simple, a basic white can really grab attention. If there’s extra fancy trim involved, try using different colors to offset the trim’s different levels of detail.
Light It Up!
There’s no easier way to highlight something specific than by putting an actual spotlight on it. Got a great mantlepiece? Point a spotlight on it so you can really draw attention to it, especially after dark. Spotlights are great for art, murals, alcoves and other good features in your home. Just be aware of their location and proximity to things like windows that might make a spotlight a little less wow. You could also install other accent lighting, such as LED strips, on the underside of a floating cabinet, around a particularly interesting mirror or trim piece or within a cutout in your room. This can bring a little more focus on the things you’re doing with that space. When in doubt, light it out… err… up.
Make Some Space
It may sound simple, but one of the best ways to draw attention to the great stuff in your house is to get rid of a bunch of other stuff in your house. When you have too many interesting things in one room, it gets visually overwhelming quickly! So instead of storing all your collectables in one exceptional built-in, for example, just pick a few of your best to display so you leave plenty of negative space for contrast. Eliminating bulky furniture, excess accent pieces and even pictures can also help the eye move to the architectural details. There’s a lot to be said for decluttering if you really want your house to stand out. Keep pieces that mimic or have features or styling in common with what you want to accent, and move out those that seem to clash with the details in question.
July 9, 2020
When it comes time to list your home, you’ll want to come up with a list of small repairs and other tweaks that you can do to try and get the most out of your property. If you don’t make a list, you might miss things that could bring down what potential buyers are willing to pay for your home. While there might be a lot of things to consider depending on the specifics of your home, here are some items that you should definitely double check before putting up a listing for your property.
How do the walls in your home look? If it’s been a few years since they’ve seen a coat of paint you should probably consider giving them a fresh coat. This is especially true if previous work was done in a hurry or has obvious spots where patches were done and covered up with newer paint. A sloppy or mismatched paint job will turn off a lot of potential buyers since they’ll likely see it as a task they’ll need to undertake as soon as they buy the house.
Roofing and Siding
While you’re considering things that might be a big red flag for possible buyers, step outside and take a look at the siding, brickwork and roof. Even if you only have a few problems out there, to someone looking at the house, that could raise questions about leaks, insects and other issues the buyers might face in the future. If you want to get the most out of your home, then it’s worth replacing broken shingles or fixing bits of damage or discoloration on your home’s exterior.
Faucets and Plumbing
Leaks, drips and other plumbing issues are pretty common, and it’s easy to get used to them over time. If someone is shopping for a new home, however, a notable drip from a faucet or evidence of a leak can be big warning signs. Nobody wants to pay full price for a home if they might be facing water damage in the near future, so taking care of any drips or leaks, as well as stains that they might have caused, is a great move to make before you list.
Sometimes it’s tempting to not worry too much about the landscaping when listing your home. If the landscaping has obviously been ignored, though, it may leave potential buyers wondering what else hasn’t been taken care of. Even if you just spend a little time trimming up the shrubs and eliminating some unsightly weeds, you can make a big difference on the first impression made to someone considering a purchase.
Clutter and Trash
Just as with landscaping, having clutter or other trash around can make a really bad impression when someone is looking at your home. There may be good reasons why things look a bit cluttered, but a potential buyer isn’t going to know what they are and quite likely won’t bother to ask. Take the time to straighten up and get rid of the garbage before your home goes on the market.
There are many other small repairs that are worth making before your home gets listed. Any little bits of damage or discoloration should be evaluated to see if they can be repaired. While you may not have the time or budget to fix everything, you should still attempt whatever repairs you can. Your home obviously doesn’t need to be perfect, but the better it looks the higher the eventual closing price will be.
April 30, 2020
DIY projects are a great way to keep yourself busy during social distancing while also giving you a chance to hone certain skills or take care of a few things around the house. With some DIY projects you’ll already have everything you need at home, making it a simple matter of getting everything together and actually doing it. With other projects, though, you’ll have to venture out to pick up a few things. This can be stressful during a period of social distancing.
You need to be conscious of both exposing yourself or others to the virus, so it’s important that you follow CDC guidelines and guidance from your local government for your community. You’re also going to want to make sure you’re ready with a list of everything you need before you head out the door.
The goal here is to make sure that you can get everything you need in as few trips as possible. After all, the fewer times you have to go out, the less chance there is for you to accidentally expose yourself or others to sickness. To that end, here are a few suggestions that can help you make your DIY shopping list and get everything you need in a single trip.
Build Your Project List
The first thing that you’ll need to do is figure out exactly what it is that you’re hoping to get accomplished. Think about more than just the project that you’re currently working on and look at your overall DIY slate. Not only can taking all of your projects into account help you cut back on trips for supplies, but it can also make it easier to see where supplies can be used for more than one project. You don’t have to list every single project that you might conceivably do, but at least create a list of the next few projects that you hope to tackle.
What Do You Have on Hand?
Figure out everything that you’ll need for the projects on your list, then start looking at what you already have available. Maybe you already have some lumber, wires or fasteners on hand; do you have enough to get through all of your projects? If you don’t have the exact materials that you’d planned on using for a project, do you have anything similar that could be substituted? Be sure and take things like paint, sealer and similar materials into account as well. Knowing what you already have will help you narrow down exactly what you do need, which will keep your costs down and make your shopping trip go faster as well.
What Do You Still Need?
Take into account everything that you’ll need to finish your projects, including any additional tools you’ll need to pick up and anything you’ll need for maintenance or decoration. Organize your list as best you can by items that should be located in the same area, reducing your back-and-forth time and keeping your contact with others in the store at a minimum. Be sure to check this list twice, as anything you miss will mean another trip to the store at some point.
Planning for Multiple Stops
One other thing to consider is that you may not be able to get everything that you need in a single stop. If this is the case, organize your list so that you group everything at each stop together. This means that if you need to hit the hardware store, all of your hardware purchases are in that part of the list. Any big-box specific purchases would be in another part of the list. Once you have these divisions in place, you can use the same tactic from above in regard to sub-grouping items that are in the same part of each store. You should also use this time to plan other necessities for your trip as well. Make sure that you have a mask or other protection gear, hand sanitizer and anything else you might need and that you’ve made preparations for each stop.
It’s also a good idea to come up with a timetable for your trip, figuring out what time everything opens so you can go as early as your schedule allows to avoid crowds. It’s important to be conscious of how social contact can potentially expose you to illness, as well as how you might inadvertently spread it to others; proper social distancing, protective gear and other preparations are as much a part of your preparations to shop as your list is.
Making Your Shopping List
One last thing to consider: While you may be used to keeping shopping lists on your phone or through a digital assistant, if you’re in an area where you really want to minimize potential contact with germs or other contagions then individual paper lists could be a better option. This reduces the possibility of your phone getting contaminated while you look at it or touch it, and the lists themselves can be disposed of once you’re done with them. It can also help with your organization since you’ll just have a single list to work from with each stop that you make.
April 27, 2020
Buying or selling a home can be stressful even under ordinary circumstances. Unfortunately, the current state of the world is far from ordinary. The housing market is feeling the crunch, as fewer buyers want to get out and shop for a home, and fewer sellers want to take a risk with selling. This isn’t to say that nobody’s buying and selling, of course; the market is just going through some changes.
One of the biggest changes revolves around how buyers and sellers are handling social isolation and social distancing. If you’re thinking of selling, or are in the market to buy, here are a few new “rules” to keep in mind when entering the real estate fray in the era of self-isolation.
Increasing Online Presence
One of the big changes to the real estate process is an increased dependence on online resources instead of in-person shopping. This includes lots of pictures and videos of properties being posted online, but many sellers are taking things even further than this. Recorded virtual tours, online conferences to allow buyers to ask questions about the property, and even livestream walkthroughs with a seller or agent showing the property are all increasingly popular options to supplement or even replace in-person showings and conferences.
Fewer Open Houses
Open houses are a popular way to show off a property to many potential buyers, but in the current crisis these events are a big no-no. In many locales, open houses aren’t even allowed under state and federal guidance. In states where they haven’t been specifically banned, many sellers are still hesitant to hold an event that would bring multiple people into close contact with each other. Online “virtual open house” conferences are popping up as one option to adapt to this, letting multiple potential buyers come together on Zoom or a similar video conference service at the same time to get a better feel for the property that’s being sold.
More One-on-One Time
As convenient as online access and virtual tours are during the current isolation period, few if any buyers would sign on the dotted line without getting a chance to see a property in person. To accommodate this, many sellers and agents are meeting with potential buyers by appointment only. This lets a potential buyer get a good look at the property in question while also restricting the size of the meeting as much as possible. Many of these appointments are made with the understanding that if any participant feels the least bit under the weather on the day of the meet-up, then it will need to be rescheduled for another time.
Respecting Social Distancing
Even when buyers and sellers do meet up, the process is usually a little different than it used to be. Social distancing rules are usually respected, meaning that everyone involved should stay at least six feet apart at all times to prevent potential infection. Discussions about the property and general Q&As are more likely to occur outdoors in the open air, and any greetings or introductions skip out on traditional handshakes. Masks, gloves, shoe covers and hand sanitizer are commonly available on site, and many sellers go through and open all of the doors and windows to both maximize airflow and to allow interested buyers access to the entire house without having to touch doorknobs or other surfaces in order to see inside.
Remote closing negotiations are becoming much more common, taking advantage of video conferencing to bring everyone together without actually having to be in the same room. There may be some instances where people have to meet up to actually sign paperwork, but digital signing is more common because it removes that point of contact. Even when people do come together for closing and signing, it’s much more likely that everyone will utilize social distancing and that both parties will use their own pens instead of sharing.
April 9, 2020
The world we live in is significantly different than the world we knew just a year ago. Around the world, people face self-isolation and quarantine as we attempt to stop the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. This can be scary, especially for those who live alone or who have distant loved ones that they’re worried about. Fortunately, we also live in a world where technology can bring us closer together even as we must stay apart.
There are a number of ways that modern technology can help us stay connected. While some of these depend on you having the right pieces of hardware, others are software solutions that almost anyone can use. If you’re feeling lonely, here are a few tech solutions that might help bring you closer to friends and loved ones.
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and VoIP-like phone services are seeing increasingly widespread use around the world. These services allow you to make voice and even video calls over the internet, letting you stay connected without the need for a landline phone or cellular service. Many of these services allow for text chat as well, and most are available both on a computer and as a smartphone app.
Software When you need something a bit more robust or sophisticated than what a VoIP solution offers, video-conferencing options like Zoom and GoToMeeting can help. Video conferencing software lets you connect people from multiple locations into a single chat. Most of these solutions allow for video, voice and even text chat, ensuring that people won’t be left out if they lack a webcam or have slow internet service. Some of these options even allow the use of virtual backgrounds, so you can set a favorite photo or other image as a backdrop for your video call as an added bit of fun.
To help people around the world have something to do, many zoos, museums and other public spaces have taken to streaming video or offering up other virtual options while they are closed. A family trip that might have been out of the question otherwise can now be simulated by starting up a conference call between multiple households and embarking on the same virtual tour together so that everyone can experience it at the same time.
A lot of people already use social media to keep in touch with friends and family who are far away. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, people are turning to sites like Facebook and Twitter to stay connected even to close friends. By setting up private groups or interacting on specific posts, isolated friends can still share stories and humor, post pictures and share status updates, and generally stay up to date on everyone’s well-being.
The Rise of eSports
One thing that got a lot of people to pay attention and start taking COVID-19 seriously was when various sports organizations started cancelling their usual events and seasons. In the time since, people have started paying more attention to online gaming competitions and eSports. There a wide range of games that people can watch online and then talk about with friends and family, and some professional athletes have started playing and streaming their games as well. Some race car drivers have even taken to having online races using various video games.
There are an increasing number of options available to help families stay in touch with seniors. In addition to VoIP software and similar solutions, there are also dedicated hardware devices such as tablets that are designed with senior ease-of-use in mind. These devices coordinate with apps placed on the phones or other devices of family members, giving seniors one-touch access to their families so everyone can stay connected. This also helps families check in with their senior friends and relatives to calm fears that they might be under the weather.
In It Together
As you can see, there are several options available to keep in touch even while we have to stay physically distant. This isn’t an exclusive list; you may have additional options available that aren’t covered here. Just remember that no matter what you use, check in with friends and loved ones periodically both to get that much-needed social contact and to ensure that everyone is okay.
March 30, 2020
Social isolation can be difficult, especially if you’re not used to it. It sounds easy on the surface: Just stay home! If you’re cut off from the social contact and day-to-day routines that you’re used to, though, this can have a significant negative impact on your mental (and sometimes physical) health. If you’ve been struggling with isolation, here are a few things to keep in mind as you develop a routine for your “new normal.”
Assessing Your Needs
As with most things, the very first thing that you need to do is stop and look at what you actually need in your day. Make a list, check it twice and see exactly what you need to include in your day-to-day activities while you’re in isolation. Be sure to include not just those tasks you do every day but also things that need to be done less frequently, such as refilling pill planners or getting the laundry done. Once you have a list, plan out your schedule a week at a time on a calendar for easy reference.
If you’re having to work from home for the first time, you might be surprised at just how unproductive you are when working from home. Some people flourish in the work-at-home environment, while others discover that the problem with working from home is that home is where you keep all your favorite distractions. Establish office hours for yourself, both to keep others from bothering you and to keep yourself from wandering off in the middle of the work day. For ease of reference, place your office hours on your calendar too.
Add Some Activity
Just because you can’t get to the gym doesn’t mean that you’ve got to give up your exercise routine. Lift weights at home, go for walks or jogs (while maintaining social distancing), check your streaming services for workout content, or buy dancing or exercise-related video games for your favorite console. While you probably won’t be able to replicate the same experience that you get at the gym, even a little bit of activity every day will still do you a ton of good. For that matter, even if you just set an alarm every hour to remind yourself to walk around the house you’ll still be doing yourself some good.
Get Out of the House
Just because you can’t go anywhere doesn’t mean you have to sit inside all day. The weather’s getting nicer, so you should definitely spend some time outside if you can. This could be a great time to prep a garden, get your yard in shape or order the supplies you need to put up some bird feeders. Some sunlight and fresh air every day will do wonders for your well-being, both mentally and physically.
You’re Not Hungry, You’re Bored
Don’t fall victim to the “Quarantine 15.” It’s easy right now to sit around the house and eat more snacks than you normally would because you don’t have much else to do. Take a stand against overeating by finding better things to do with your time. You can also add healthy snacks and other better-for-you alternatives to your next shopping trip, replacing processed chips and candy with fruit and vegetable options.
Mind Your Mental Health
Isolation is very stressful, especially if you live in an area that’s experiencing a large outbreak of COVID-19. All that stress, prolonged over weeks or even months, can have a substantial negative impact on your mental health. Add in the loneliness and depression that can occur as a result of social isolation and you could be looking at some very rough times mentally. Find friends or relatives to call or video chat with to talk about your issues, and don’t be afraid to seek out tele-health options for mental health as well.
Maintaining Your Routine
Don’t assume that things will be the same from week to week. Take some time every weekend to go over your routine from the previous week, figure out what worked well and what didn’t, and adjust your routine for the upcoming week accordingly. This is new to all of us, so it’s ok if you need to change things up every week during your isolation. Just take things a week at a time and remember that even if you have a bad week now, you’ll always have an opportunity to try again next week.
June 24, 2019
Air filtration is an important part of your home’s ventilation system. Without an air filter in place, dust and other airborne particles would be distributed throughout your ductwork. This could aggravate allergies, build up on your vents to reduce airflow and possibly even create bigger problems over time.
This doesn’t mean that you can just grab any air filter and slap it in place, of course. Choosing the right air filter for your home is important if you want to get the most life out of your heating and cooling system. Stop for a moment and think about your HVAC system; do you really know what sort of air filter you need to keep things running in top condition? If you don’t, here’s what you need to know.
Where Is My Air Filter?
The first thing that you need to know about your air filter is exactly where in your house it’s located. This may seem kind of obvious, but some air filters are difficult to find. While the most common air filter location is behind a grate on one of the walls, some of these grates are in odd locations or are designed to somewhat blend in with the look of the surrounding wall. Filters may also be placed in the air handler unit (AHU) or rooftop unit (RTU). Buildings with split ventilation systems may even have multiple intakes that each have their own air filter. Depending on how your system is designed, it may take a bit of hunting to locate your filter.
Choosing an Air Filter
Once you’ve located your filter, it’s important that you choose the right one for your needs. Part of this involves finding the right size filter; different HVAC units are designed for different filters, and if you get one that doesn’t fit then you’re going to have trouble getting it (or keeping it) in place. Measure the dimensions of the area where the filter is mounted or look at the old filter and find the dimensions listed on it. Choosing an air filter is about more than just finding the right size, however; one other big consideration is the MERV rating (which stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value.)
The MERV is a number that tells how good of a filter you’re buying. A low MERV of around 6 provides you with 35 to 50 percent efficiency at capturing large particles like dust, mold and pet dander. A MERV of 8 increases this to over 70 percent efficiency, capturing those particles as well as slightly smaller particles like pollen and dust mites. A MERV of 11 captures large particles with a greater than 85 percent efficiency, as well as medium particles like those found in auto exhaust with 65 to 80 percent efficiency. You can even go higher than that, with a MERV of 13 capturing large and medium particles with over 90 percent efficiency and small particles like smoke, bacteria and even odors with up to 75 percent efficiency.
There are other options available as well, such as HEPA filters (which you might hear referred to as high-efficiency particulate arrestance filters or high-efficiency particular air filters) that have an even higher standard of particle removal. HEPA filters must remove either 99.95 percent (in Europe) or 99.97 percent (in the United States) of all particles of size “small” or larger. Depending on the filter, this translates to a MERV value of around 17 to 20.
Air Filter Maintenance
There’s more to keeping your system running well than just installing a filter, of course. Most air filters should be changed monthly, though some may have different recommended use periods that should be listed on the packaging. Periodic cleaning of grates and vents may also be required to keep the filters clean and the system running efficiently. Failing to change your filters can reduce airflow and system efficiency, and over time, it can even reduce the life of your unit.
April 15, 2019
Spring is a time of beginnings. You get a chance to start over, to try something new and to get your air conditioner ready for the hot summer to come. It might not be as romantic as the budding of trees and blooming of flowers, but having your air conditioner in tip-top shape is arguably far more useful.
When you start your spring clean, don’t forget your air conditioner. In just a few minutes, you can improve its efficiency while helping it continue to run well for years to come.
First, A Basic Explanation of Air Conditioning Technology
Your air conditioner isn’t magic, but it’s pretty close. These devices were actually invented in the early 1900s as a way to reduce indoor humidity in paper plants. It just so happened they have a side effect that we rely on even today.
Air conditioning systems depend on the expansion and contraction of gasses to pull moisture out of the air by cooling it down. This is basic physics at work — warm air holds more water, cool air holds less.
When air is pulled into your air handler (for many, this is a furnace) through your warm air return, it’s forced over a tent-shaped coil that uses refrigerant to cool the air as it passes. A blower then blows that cooled air back into the house.
So What Does the Outside Condenser Do?
The air conditioning condenser that most people consider to be “the air conditioner” is actually a giant heatsink. See, when the air is cooled inside your air handler, the refrigerant is what’s absorbing most of the heat. It then gets pumped to the condenser, where the heat collected inside your house is released to the environment.
It’s really a pretty simple idea that has made a huge change to how we live, play and work.
Your Air Conditioner Spring Cleaning Checklist
There’s no time like spring to do a little air conditioner tune-up. A lot of the heavy lifting will have to be performed by HVAC professionals, but there are things you can do to keep your system running longer as a homeowner. Generally, these items should be done at least once in the spring before you start using the A/C and again in the fall when you’re ready to put it away for the year.
- Change your furnace filter. Whether it’s on the ceiling, on the floor or inside your furnace or air handler, a clean filter is a filter that can let the most air through for cooling. And the easier it is for the system to pull air in and cool it, the more comfortable you’ll be with the least amount of cost. Investing in an electrostatic filter that you can wash and reuse is a smart move for the long term.
- Flush your condensation line. There’s a pipe or tube that comes out of your furnace or air handler and runs to a drain somewhere. This is the condensation line. All the moisture your system is pulling out of that warm air has to go somewhere, you know? That somewhere is a pan that empties via this tube. Just open it up from the top (which tube it is should be obvious, but if you can’t find it, ask your HVAC professional), slowly pour in about a cup of vinegar or bleach. If the liquid moves, you’re gold. If not, you may need to spend some time investigating the issue. More often than not, it’s algae growth in the tube or mineral deposits, both things you can flush out, but require some patience to remove.
- Clean your a-coil. That tent shaped coil mentioned above is called the “evaporator coil” or the “a-coil.” It can get dirty, which makes it a lot less efficient at removing moisture and cooling the air. If you feel brave, and you’re careful, you can wipe the coils clean or use a shop vac. They’re very similar to the coils on the back of your refrigerator, treat them the exact same way.
- Comb the fins on the condenser. If you look closely at your outside condenser, you’ll notice that the part that’s inside the cage is made up of a whole bunch of teeny fins. These little guys can get damaged by accident, causing them to be less efficient because they’re not really in an optimal configuration anymore. All you need to fix this is a fin comb. This simple device lets you straighten bent fins, restoring your unit to its former glory.
- Spray the condenser down. Last, but far from least, you’ll want to spray your air conditioner’s condenser down with a hose. Start by wetting all the fins with a garden sprayer, then go back around and spend some time slowly flushing out the dirt, one section at a time, working top to bottom.
March 21, 2019
It’s finally spring! Time to break out the grill and the patio set and spend your evenings cooking out under the stars. Except, you don’t have a patio, you have a backyard that’s currently a soppy, muddy mess from spring rainstorms. You’d love to get outside, but it’s just so mucky and sticky out there.
This year, you’re resolved to install a patio once and for all. There’s a lot to consider when planning your shiny new patio, but don’t worry, we’re here to help make it simple.
Patio Planning: The Basics
If this is your first major home improvement project, you’ve picked one that should give you a real sense of satisfaction when it’s done. But you’ve also chosen to tackle a multi-part effort that’s not very cut and dry. Before you go out and rent a Skid Steer and hire three guys to pour cement, make sure you’ve checked these items off your pre-patio checklist
- Location, location, location. Although many patios are constructed as a transition from the house to the rest of the yard, there’s not a rule saying this has to be the case. Choose your favorite flat spot on your lot and try to imagine what it would be like having dinner there.
- Materials. Many patios are poured concrete slabs, but there are also some fantastic stones and pavers out there that would make excellent patio surfaces. And don’t forget the brick. Patios are great because they can really stand the test of time when the right materials are chosen. Consider the weather in your area when you’re shopping.
- Size and shape. Like there’s no required spot for your patio, there’s also not a standard size or a standard shape for them. You want a 10×16 rectangle? Poof! Done. What about a 15 foot long kidney shaped patio? No problem. Design the patio of your dreams, not the patio that other people think should be your dream.
Bringing It All Together
Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of what your patio will be made from and where you’re going to put it, it’s time to take the next step and put that pencil to paper. It can help to draw your entire lot on grid paper, adding buildings, plants and other noteworthy features in their correct spots (you’ll need to measure all of this for best results) will ensure that your patio plan doesn’t run into pesky problems from real life colliding with your perfect patio.
That handy drawing of your patio can become a map to something a little bit more impressive than a simple slab in your backyard. Consider drawing in (and including!) these user-friendly elements so you can make it do even more:
- Pergolas. There’s nothing like a pergola to create a semi-shaded spot in your yard. If your patio is attached to the house, adding a pergola is just a natural step. If not, you can still anchor one in cement so it can be freestanding and won’t blow away. Pro tip: grow your favorite vines on that pergola and they’ll help shade you all summer long.
- Built-in seating. Sure, you have a patio set, but sometimes it’s nice to have some extra benches in case you’re wanting to sit, but not at a table. Like deck builders put benches around the outside of decks, or use them to separate areas on a very large deck, you can do the same with benches made from the same materials as your patio.
- Water features. Look, no one said you need a fountain or pond near your patio, but wouldn’t it be pretty cool? Small fountains add interest and ponds not only give you a place to keep impressively large koi, birds and other wildlife can use them for water.
- Outdoor kitchen. This is the ultimate patio upgrade. Adding an outdoor kitchen, even if that’s just a built-in grill and a small sink, can make your home easier to sell down the line and possibly even increase your home’s value.