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A Guide to Homeowner’s Insurance

by The Hat Team


Becoming a homeowner for the first time can seem like a daunting task. There are so many details and many first-time homebuyers don’t know all the ins and outs of homeownership. It’s important to educate yourself and be prepared for what’s to come.  One aspect of being a homeowner is paying homeowner’s insurance. 

To understand how you pay for homeowner’s insurance, you need to understand your monthly mortgage payment and how it breaks down.  There are four parts to you mortgage payment: PITI. This stands for principal, interest, taxes and insurance.  The insurance part of your payment can vary depending upon your loan type.  There are some insurances that are required when you obtain a mortgage, and others that are not.  It’s up to you to decide what you need and to do so, you need to understand what they cover.

Mortgage insurance (MI) will usually be required if you are putting down less that 20% on your home purchase.  But not all loans require MI.  For example, a VA loan does not require the borrower to pay MI. It is replaced by an upfront VA funding fee. Even if you are required to purchase MI, once you have 20% equity in your home, it can be dropped. A Closer Look at the VA Funding Fee

Homeowners insurance is another requirement of getting a mortgage loan.  This is the insurance that protects your home in the event of fire, theft, or damage.  Depending on the insurance you choose, you may be covered for things like stolen jewelry and stolen or damaged electronics and/or furniture.  You must be able to provide proof of insurance to your lender before closing on your home.  This insurance not only protects you as the homeowner, but it also protects the lender in case of foreclosure or in the event of a disaster.  It is common for the lender to require you have at least enough insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding the home.

Another requirement is that you purchase title insurance. This insurance protects you by providing proof of legal ownership should someone else try to claim ownership of the property.  Should a title dispute arise resulting from a sale, the title insurance may be responsible for paying specific legal damages, depending on the policy you have. Title Insurance

There are additional insurances that are not required by your lender, but you may want to consider them for more protection.  Personal property insurance may cover personal belongings that your homeowner’s insurance does not cover, like art, collectibles, and firearms.  A home warranty is not insurance, but does offer further protection should something break. For example, you might want a home warranty for your HVAC system to cover the cost of service should it need repairs.  Purchasing additional insurance or a home warranty is a personal choice. You can talk to your mortgage banker and insurance agent regarding your options.

If you are thinking about selling your home this autumn, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with getting it on the market and sold for the best possible price!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: aisinsurance.com

Feel Safe at Home with These Security Tips

by The Hat Team


Let’s face it - it can be a scary world.  Your home should be a safe-haven for you and your family.  While safety can never be guaranteed, there are steps you can take to make your home feel secure.  Here are some tips for making your home as safe and secure as possible:

  • Light it up!  While there is no reason to fear darkness itself, it is true that when bad things happen to people, they often happen under the cover of darkness.  So, brightening up your surroundings can help discourage people from lurking around your home.  Install energy-efficient bulbs in your outdoor lights and keep them on when it’s dark, or have motion sensors so that lights come on when there is movement near or around your property.  At night, keep some lights on inside so your house doesn’t appear completely dark.
  • Close window coverings when it gets dark.  You may not be able to see what’s going on outside in the dark, but people outside can clearly see in your house if your windows are exposed.
  • Get to know your neighbors. You certainly won’t feel safe if you are surrounded by strangers!  Knowing your neighbors will provide you with the security of having someone to call on if you are feeling unsafe. 15 Ways to Get to Know Your Neighbors
  • Keep emergency numbers handy.  Many people use mobile phones exclusively these days, so it’s a good idea to create contacts for emergency numbers so all you must do is touch a screen or push a button to call for help.  If you haven’t gotten rid of your landline yet, you may want to consider keeping it for safety reasons.  With a landline call, a 911 operator will receive your location immediately, whereas it might take a bit longer to pinpoint your location with a cell phone.
  • Eliminate hiding spots.  Make sure your shrubs are trimmed and well-spaced so that they don’t provide hiding spots for burglars.
  • Don’t hide a key outside.  I’ve locked myself out enough times to know that it is a good idea to have a spare key somewhere, but people looking to invade your home will find it no matter how well you think you have hidden it.  Instead, leave a spare key with a trusted neighbor.
  • Make sure you have quality locks.  The lock is the weakest part on a door.  You will want a grade 1 or grade 2 dead-bolt lock that penetrates the door frame.  It’s important to have a strike plate that is made of solid metal or brass.  The 9 Best Door Locks of 2019
  • Use signage to scare strangers away.  Whether or not you have a security system (or a big watch dog) you can place signs in your yard or by your doors that say you do.  You can also have a no soliciting sign to discourage salespeople (or someone pretending to be a sales person) from knocking on your door.
  • Invest in a security system.  There are many options for home security systems. Do some research and choose the one that works best for your family.  Many security companies will come out and inspect your home to give you an estimate of what you will need and how much it will cost. Nobody wants an added household expense, but feeling of being safe in your home is priceless!

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with all your real estate needs! Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: bobvila.com

Listing Your House for Sale? Fix it Up First!

by The Hat Team


If you want the best price for your house, you may have to do some repairs before selling it. Potential buyers will be willing to spend more for a home that doesn’t need a lot of work.  Here are 5 important things to fix before selling:

  1. Exterior - When was the last time the exterior of your house was painted?  Is the paint faded and chipping?  Is wood rotting around the windows?  Is your front door dingy?  First impressions matter when it comes to selling your home and buyers will get their first impression when they see the outside of your house, whether in pictures or in person.  Don’t forget the landscaping.  A well-kept lawn and simple, but clean flower beds will go a long way toward creating an enticing aesthetic for your property. The Importance of the First Impression of a Home
     
  2. Interior Paint - If the walls are looking a bit shabby and the trim a bit grimy, painting is a quick and easy fix.  The same applies if you went through a crazy color phase a few years back and decorated with hues that might not appeal to everyone.  Choose neutral colors that will allow buyers to focus on the spaces without being distracted. Paint Colors that Sell Houses Faster in 2019
     
  3. Kitchen - The kitchen is one of the most important rooms people focus on when looking at a house.  So, if yours is looking run-down you will want to update it.  It will be worth the investment to replace appliances that are on their last legs or putting in a new granite counter.  Or it might be as simple as repainting cabinets and adding shiny, new handles.
     
  4. Bathroom - Nothing turns buyers off faster than an unsightly bathroom.  Sparkling, clean fixtures and a fresh coat of paint will go a long way toward impressing someone searching for their dream home.  Inexpensive touches like a decorative mirror or a lovely picture on the wall will add to the ambiance without breaking the bank.
     
  5. Flooring - If your carpets are stained or thread bare, it is worth your while to replace them. The same applies if your vinyl floors are in bad shape.  Hardwoods are always popular, but you may want to consider getting them refinished if they are looking old and scruffy.

It may seem counter intuitive to spend money on repairing or fixing up a house you are getting ready to sell, but at the end of the day, it will not only help you sell your house faster, but you will get a better price for it too!

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: realsimple.com

Saving Money 101

by The Hat Team


The best way to save money is to live on a set budget.  Whether you are living paycheck to paycheck or you have some “fun” money left over each month, knowing where your money is going will allow you to see how much you can save each month. If you are new to budgeting, managing your money may seem complicated and overwhelming.  You not only have to be organized, but you must make challenging decisions about how to spend your money.  But there is good news for you.  You don’t need fancy financial apps on your phone or extensive spreadsheets with dozens of categories of spending to see where your money is going.  You simply need to follow the 50-20-30 rule!

The 50-20-30 rule assists you in building a budget by using three spending categories. 

  1.  50% of your income should go to living expenses and essentials including rent, utilities, groceries and transportation.
     
  2.  20% should go to savings, investments and debt-reduction payments.
     
  3.  30% of your income should be used for flexible spending. This includes everything you buy that you want, but don’t necessarily need such as travel, going out to movies etc.

Top Ten Debt Relief Programs 2019

Remember that the percentages for essentials and flexible spending are the maximum amounts you should spend.  If you use less income in these categories, you will have more to put into your other financial goals.

Here is how to start the 50-20-30 budget.  First, determine exactly how much money you bring home each month. This will be the amount on which you will base your 50-20-30 split.  Then track your spending. Every penny of it, from your rent payment down to the coffee you stop for on the way to work in the morning.  As you are analyzing your spending, split it into the 50-20-30 categories.  Once you see what you are spending where, you can make the needed adjustments to ensure you are falling into the 50-20-30 parameters.  If you find you are spending too much on things that you want, but don’t need, that’s when it is time to cut back. The 8 Best Expense Tracker Apps of 2019

The 50-20-30- rule works because it provides a simple way to track your spending so that you can pay your bills, add to your savings and have money left over for fun stuff.  It keeps you on the straight and narrow so that you can begin to meet your financial goals.  If you stay the course, you will eventually achieve financial stability.

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: Kiplinger.com

When you have overnight guests, you want them to feel welcomed and comfortable.  Providing a place for them to sleep is the bare minimum. If you’re lucky enough to have a designated, full time guest room, there are a lot of little things you can do to create a space that your guests will enjoy.  Here is a list of essentials to have in your guest room so that it is ready for visitors any time:

  1. Comfortable Bedding - Since this bed is not likely to be used all the time, you don’t need to outfit it with top of the line bedding (unless you choose to), but you want it to be comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.  Some quality cotton percale sheets and a coordinating comforter or quilt will provide a comfy bed for your guests.  Use neutral colors that give a simple, clean look.
     
  2. Extra Blankets & Pillows - You want your guests to be cozy and comfortable, so, provide extra blankets for chilly nights.  Extra pillows cam be used to provide cushioning should your guests want to prop themselves up to read in bed.
     
  3. Lighting - Be sure to provide bedside lighting. Place a lamp on the bedside table that will allow your guests to have subtle lighting without having the overhead light on.  Try to find a lamp that has multiple settings so that they can choose how bright or soft they want the light to be. 
     
  4. Extra Toiletries - Sample sized toiletries are perfect for guests.  Arranged in a pretty basket with a new toothbrush, they will have them feeling pampered.  Speaking of toiletries, here are 10 Thoughtful, Welcoming Touches for Your Guest Bathroom.
     
  5. Bath Towels - A stack of fluffy, white bath towels on the bed will be a welcome sight for your guests.  Make sure you have a wash cloth, hand towel, and bath towel for each person that is staying with you.
     
  6. Wastebasket - A simple item that is often overlooked in a guest room is a wastebasket.  When your guests need to throw something away, they shouldn’t have to make frequent trips outside their room to find a trash can. Choose a small, attractive wastebasket that coordinates with your guest room style.
     
  7. Full-Length Mirror - Whether you have it hanging on the back of the door, or propped up against a wall, your guests will appreciate having a full-length mirror in their room.  They may be sharing a bathroom with others, so having a mirror in the guest room will allow them to get ready in there if the bathroom is occupied.

These are just a few essentials that will make your guests happy to stay with you.  You can take it step further and decorate the guest room as well. But keep it simple and remember that comfort is the top priority!  30+ Cozy Ways to Decorate Your Guest Bedroom

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: pinterest.com

Surprising Fire Hazards and How to Prevent Them

by The Hat Team


It is estimated by The National Fire Protection Association that over 47,000 home fires reported to fire departments are caused by some kind of electrical failure as a trigger to ignition.  But there are some other unusual ways that fires can start that we should all be aware of.

Dishwashers
While you may be aware that overheating dryers or ovens can cause fires, you might think dishwashers are safe because they have water. And water puts out fires…right? Wrong!  Dishwasher fires can be caused by liquids coming into contact with the machine’s wires.  Serious damage can occur when fires are ignited in dishwashers.  According to a 25 year veteran of the New York City Fire Department, any appliance that powers a motor, heating element, or both always has a higher risk for fire - and dishwashers are a common example.  He advises that they never be turned on when going to sleep or leaving the home. Tips to Prevent Dishwasher Fires

Jars and Other Glass Objects
According to survivalists, one of the best ways to start a fire is to use a piece of glass to refract sunlight onto dry wood.  Without proper care, that same scientific process can happen on your own kitchen table.  In 2015 a fire broke out in a southwest London home because of sun rays reflecting through an empty Nutella jar, the Associated Press reported.  While it may seem to be a freakish way for a fire to start, the fire brigade’s investigative unit confirmed that the glass jar was to blame.  The chances of this happening in your home are slim, but it is important to remember to never store flammable liquids like gasoline, cleaning fluids, paint thinners and even cooking oils in glass jars that you intend to leave out in the sunlight.  Metal cans for commercial-use flammable liquids and plastic containers for things such as cooking oils are safer options.

Rodents
Small rodents like squirrels and rats like to burrow into your attic insulation in cold weather and chew anything they can get their teeth on, including rubber covered electrical lines.  Unfortunately, if electrical wires become exposed due to their protective insulation being compromised, there is a likelihood of igniting a flame.  The key to preventing this from happening is to keep the critters out to begin with.  Before winter season, make sure all vents are covered, holes are patched and cracks are sealed. 4 Ways to Protect Your Wiring from Rodent Damage

Laptops
If you have ever had your laptop computer in your, well, lap for an extended period of time, you know that they get hot.  Because of this, it is a bad idea to leave one sitting on a flammable surface such as bedding, furniture or carpet.  But the real culprit behind laptop fires is the lithium in the batteries.  A poorly made battery can overheat and burst into flames.  Remember the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones that were recalled because they were catching on fire? It was the lithium batteries that were the problem.  Any device powered by lithium ion batteries should be shut off when not in use and stored away from any flammable items.

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with all your real estate needs! Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: metrofamilymagazine.com

Using Plants to Prevent Pests

by The Hat Team

This time of year, many of us enjoy spending time outside in our yards. Whether we are playing, dining, doing yardwork or simply relaxing, our time outdoors can be ruined by nasty pests.  There are many remedies for getting rid of annoying insects, but if you are looking for natural ways to do the job, here are several plants you can put in your yard that will repel unwanted insects.  While they will not guarantee an insect free environment, they will help!

BASIL

Basil repels house flies and mosquitoes.  Use containers for planting basil by your house doors or in any outdoor areas where you like to relax and entertain.  It will serve more than one purpose because you can also use the fresh basil in your cooking!

LAVENDER

This pretty plant repels moths, fleas, mosquitoes and flies.  Its pleasing, sweet fragrance appeals to humans, but the bugs hate it! You can place bouquets inside your home to keep flies away.  Outdoors, plant it in sunny areas or near the entryways of your house to keep those areas pest free.  Check out the Everything Lavender website to find out how you can use lavender oil to make your own mosquito repellent.

LEMONGRASS

Lemongrass contains the natural oil, citronella, which is commonly found in candles that are used to keep mosquitoes away.  Ornamental lemongrass can grow up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide in one season.  It is an annual that does well in a pot or in the ground in sunny, well-drained locations.  Its aromatic, narrow leaves can be used in chicken and pork dishes and to flavor soups and salad dressings.  Many Asian recipes call for lemongrass.

MINT

Another plant that mosquitoes don’t like.  It’s best grown in pots rather than in the ground because it spreads aggressively.  Once established in a garden, it can be difficult to remove.  The leaves can be used to flavor minty iced tea. Containers of mint strategically placed in the garden or on the patio will assist in keeping nearby plants insect free. Fresh Mint Iced Tea

ALLIUMS

If you have a vegetable garden, beautiful, tall alliums will help keep insects out of it.  Considered a broad-spectrum natural insecticide, plants in the Allium family repel several insects that plague vegetable gardens, including slugs, aphids, carrot flies and cabbage worms.

CHRYSANTHEMUMS

The ingredient in chrysanthemums that makes them so effective as an insect repellent is pyrethrum.  Roaches, ants, Japanese beetles, ticks, silverfish, lice, fleas, bedbugs, spider mites, harlequin bugs and root-knot nematodes all will avoid chrysanthemums.  Pyrethrum is used in America’s most commonly available home and garden insecticide sprays. You can make your own bug spray using chrysanthemum oil, but make sure you know the risks of using it first. Uses of Chrysanthemum Oil

PETUNIAS

These whimsical beauties repel aphids, tomato hornworms, asparagus beetles, leafhoppers and squash bugs.  Some people think of them as “nature’s pesticide”.  Popular because of their availability in a variety of bright colors, they require minimal maintenance and can be grown in numerous locations including beds, containers and hanging baskets.

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo credits: Pinterest


Congratulations!  You’ve just moved into your new house!  It’s exciting, but it’s also a huge transition.  It takes time to make a new house feel like home. Here is a guide to help you get started:

  1. Be active.  If you have moved to a new area where you don’t know anyone, you may be tempted to isolate yourself.  After all, you have unpacking to do and maybe a new job to start. But try to resist that temptation.  Staying socially, physically and communally active triggers significant feelings that create the sense of home.  Make sure you take time to exercise; join a community such as a church, the school PTA or a book club and shop locally to get to know your surroundings.
     
  2. Surround yourself with living things.  A move can be difficult, especially if you are grieving the place you left.  It’s not uncommon for people to become depressed after moving to a new home.  Combat those feelings by cultivating relationships with living things. Start a garden, spend time with your children and pets or volunteer in the community.  Volunteer Opportunities in Montgomery
     
  3. Comfort yourself with colors.  Decorate with a palette of colors that lift your mood.  Choose colors that promote calm, happy feelings.  For example, earth tones create a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere that evokes feelings stability, reassurance and ease, while light pastel colors stimulate feelings of peacefulness, calm and cleanliness. 14 Calming Paint Colors
     
  4. Surround yourself with the familiar. Even before you are completely settled into your home, placing familiar items such as family pictures and heirlooms in your new space can make it feel more like you.  Some other ways to make you feel at home: cook favorite meals, burn candles with favorite scents and/or play your favorite music.
     
  5. Unpack. This may seem obvious, but it’s not unusual for people to still have boxes cluttering the house months after moving in.  Take your belongings out of the boxes right away and begin decorating and arranging furniture. The sooner you do this, the sooner this once strange place will feel like home! The Best Way to Unpack After Moving

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals assist you with all your real estate needs! Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: pinterest.com

April Showers Bring May Flowers

by The Hat Team

Spring seems to fly by so fast. Especially in years when the temperatures stay cool longer.  Before you know it the end of April is here and you haven’t even started your spring planting.  But even if you miss the early spring planting period, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a yard full of fragrant, colorful flowers in late spring and through the summer. There are several types of plants that grow in the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8-10 that thrive in the summer months when planted in April.  And luckily, Montgomery falls right within those zones! Plant Hardiness Zone Map - Alabama

Here is a handy list of plants that are ideal for planting in late spring:

Bare Root Perennials

These plants are perfect for April planting because they are fast growers and will fill your landscape with radiant color during the summer.  Bare root perennials are sold by nurseries and online catalogs after they have grown for a year and had their growth trimmed to about an inch above the crown.  When purchased they are ready to be transplanted outdoors after removing soil from the roots.  Some examples of bare root perennials are: Daylily Plants, Astilbe, Clematis

Daylilies

Photo Credit: burpee.com

Annuals

There are several, easy to grow, summer-blooming annuals that can be planted in April. Sunflowers are quite sturdy and don’t require a lot of attention once planted.  They will thrive in a variety of soil conditions and they include short ones that grow a few feet tall, to tall plants that can grow to be 8 feet and taller.  Cosmos are easy to grow flowering plants as well and provide brightly colored blooms for your garden.

Sunflowers

Photo Credit: pexels.com

Flowering Shrubs and Citrus

Choose drought-tolerant shrubs to plant in April and they will do well through the summer.  Ceanothus, otherwise known as the California Lilac, produce blossoms of delicate, tiny blue and purple flowers.  Because there are so many, the entire bush looks like it is blue or purple.  Another good bush to plant in April is the Common Flannel Bush.  Also a California native, this bush produces vibrant yellow flowers that bloom all at once.  Rosemary Bushes have fragrant leaves that can be used for cooking and little blue or purple flowers for color.  Citrus Trees come in many varieties that have sweetly scented blooms.

California Lilac

Photo Credit: pinterest.com

So, if you didn’t get a chance to plant flowers in early spring, it’s not too late to add a garden full of vivid colors to your landscape!

If you are in the market to buy or sell a home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of professionals assist you with all your real estate needs!  Call them today at 334-834-1500!

Fabulous Front Porches

by The Hat Team


When driving around looking at houses one of the first things you will notice are the front porches.  They are a reminder of the “good old days” and evoke feelings of nostalgia and comfort.  Front porches foster a sense of community, enabling neighbors to spend time out from behind closed doors where they can get to know each other.  There’s nothing better than summer evenings spent on the shady front porch with an ice-old beverage, listening to the crickets chirp and enjoying the gentle twinkling lights of fireflies.  Big front porches are great gathering places, providing an “outdoor living room” where neighbors can join you and impromptu parties can take place. But they can also be private; the perfect spot to snuggle into a comfy chair and read a good book…or even take a nap out in the fresh air.  And if you’re planning on selling your home, a well-appointed front porch provides fantastic curb appeal and is a big draw for potential buyers!

Perhaps you have a front porch that needs a little update, or maybe you are looking for a home that has one. Either way, here are some ideas for creating your own personal outdoor haven or gorgeous gathering place on your front porch:

  • Use a Bold Color Palette

Bold tones and bright hues can brighten up a dreary front porch and turn it into vibrant, delightful space. Outdoor rugs, painted furniture, or colorful cushions are all items that can add a pop of color to your front porch. 34 Colorful Porch Ideas

  • Think “Comfy”

It’s nice to have a beautiful front porch, but if it’s not comfortable, you probably won’t spend much time there.Use overstuffed cushions, add extra pillows, and be sure to have tables close to seating so you have a place to set your drinks.

  • Add a Lighted Ceiling Fan

Ceiling fans pull double duty on a front porch. They not only provide the much-needed function of moving air, but they also provide illumination as the sun goes down and dusk turns to dark.Add to the charming aesthetic of your porch by choosing a unique fan/light fixture. Outdoor Ceiling Fans

  • Hang Artwork

Most porches offer a lot of wall space that often goes unused; the perfect spot for some artwork.Use your imagination and add paintings, framed photos, or sculptures that bring you joy.

  • Decorate with Flowers

Flowers and plants serve multiple purposes when used on a front porch.They provide color with beautiful blooms, create a soft transition from landscape to house, and if you plant the right flowers and plants, they will help to keep pesky insects away.Use window boxes on your railings, containers on your floor, and/or hanging baskets from the ceiling. 12 Plants that Repel Unwanted Insects

Spring is the perfect time to update and decorate your front porch so you can enjoy it during the warm seasons.  If you’re looking to purchase a home that has a desirable front porch contact Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of professionals and start your home search today. Give them a call at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: pinterest.com

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