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Tips for Keeping Your Children Safe on Halloween

by The Hat Team


When caught up in the fun and excitement of Halloween festivities, it’s easy to overlook safety issues. There may be ghosts, vampires and witches on every corner, but what is truly frightening is the number of preventable accidents that occur each year on this night. You will enjoy this spooky holiday more if you know your children are safe. Here are 5 safety tips for Halloween:

  1. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should not cross streets alone before they are ten years old. Maturity, danger awareness, and traffic savvy are all required for navigating street crossings and research cautions that even some ten-year-olds might not be ready for that.  In a Wall Street Journal article, author Andrea Peterson stated, “Research has found that young children walking to school often don’t look for traffic to stop at the curb before stepping into the street.”  And the AAP's Policy Statement on this topic is that parents “are likely to overestimate their children’s ability to safely cross the street.”  So, if your little princess or superhero is under ten, make sure there is a trusted adult with them to guide them across streets.  Teach them that looking left, then right, then left again is the best way to be sure no cars are coming.  Remind them to listen for traffic as well. If your children are trick or treating in a city with busy streets, always use designated cross walks for crossing.
     
  2. Avoid visual impairments, like masks.  Face paints are a great alternative for masks for trick or treaters.  Incorporate bright colors into the face paint to make your child more visible in the dark. It’s also a good idea to add some reflector tape to dark costumes so that your child can be seen in the dark.
     
  3. When trick or treating in an area that does not have sidewalks and you must walk on roads, be sure to walk FACING oncoming traffic.  This makes it easier for you to spot cars coming and for drivers to spot you.  It’s a good idea to carry a flashlight and point it forward and down. It will not only give you more visibility, it will make you more visible.
     
  4. Nothing says Halloween like a candlelit jack o’ lantern, but unfortunately, it’s also a fire hazard. Long capes and costumes with trailing material on crowded doorsteps are disaster waiting to happen when exposed to an open flame.  Be sure to purchase flame-retardant apparel for your little ones.  And to be extra safe, go over the "Stop, Drop, and Roll" procedure with them.
     
  5. Set some rules for candy consumption.  Don’t allow your child to eat while out trick or treating.  It’s too hard to inspect candy properly in the dark and you want to be sure packaging isn’t punctured or previously opened.  Don’t let them eat anything homemade unless it’s from a friend or neighbor that you know. Wait until you child is home and you can inspect their loot in a well-lit room and set guidelines for how much they may eat and when. Last thing you want is a tummy ache at the end of a spooktacular night…especially if it’s a school night! How to Check Your Kids' Candy for Potential Hazards This Halloween

Follow these tips and use common sense and Halloween night will be festive but not frightening!

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: slate.com

Enjoy the Advantages of Downsizing

by The Hat Team

 

Have you recently become an empty nester with a home spacious enough for a large family?  Maybe it’s time to consider downsizing.  There are numerous perks to downsizing to a smaller home:

  1. SAVING MONEY. You will not only save on your monthly mortgage payment in a smaller home, you will also save money on frivolous living.  One of the advantages of downsizing your home is that you can stop wasting money on furniture and home décor that are used to fill space rather than to fulfill a function.  Filling a smaller space will allow you to prioritize what items are important and necessary for you.
     
  2. LESS STRESS. After working hard all week to pay the bills, it’s no fun to have to spend your weekend doing chores.  A smaller home equals fewer chores and less upkeep. This will free up time to enjoy leisure activities and relaxation.
     
  3. SAVE ENERGY. If you live in a large home, you know that energy costs can be expensive.  Smaller homes will not only save you money on heating, cooling and water costs, it will also allow you to reduce your carbon footprint.
     
  4. FREE TIME FOR TRAVEL. With additional disposable income and less upkeep needed, a smaller home will afford you the time and cash for travel and adventure.  Weekend getaways or even long trips are less of a hassle now that you don’t have to worry about being house-poor.
     
  5. A NEW BEGINNING. Downsizing can be the beginning of a new chapter in your life.  If being an empty nester has you feeling down, a lifestyle change might be just what you need to start focusing on how you want to spend your time, money and energy. 

If you are ready to downsize, let professional Realtor Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team help you sell the house you’re in and find a new home to better suit your needs!  Contact us today at 334-834-1500!

Photo Credit: aarp.org

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

Thinking of Selling Your House? You Don’t Have to Wait!

by The Hat Team


With autumn fast approaching, you may think that you should wait until next spring or summer to sell your house.  While it is true that the warmer months are popular for home sales, that doesn’t mean autumn is a bad time to sell.  Some buyers, such as empty nesters and millennials, prefer shopping for a home when there is less competition from people trying to move before the beginning of the school year.  So, if you would like to sell your house before winter, here are some tips for making it attractive to buyers during autumn:

  1. Keep the exterior of your home neat and clean.  Curb appeal matters…a lot. It doesn’t matter how pristine the interior is if prospective buyers never walk through the front door.  The first impression is made when they first see the property and if it doesn’t look good on the outside, they may not want to look inside.  There are unique challenges to keeping your yard looking nice when the weather is cooler and the days shorter. If you have a lot of trees dropping leaves, raking will be a full-time job.  You want buyers to see your grass!  Any dead or dying plants and flowers need to be removed or cut back.  Use a fall maintenance checklist to make sure you have your property in the best shape possible.  And if you really want to impress, plant some fall flowers in bold hues to add pops of color to your yard. Fall Home Maintenance Checklist
     
  2. Stage your house for the season, but don’t go overboard.  There are holidays to look forward to during the autumn season.  Potential buyers will enjoy seeing your home decorated accordingly. It will help them picture celebrating the holidays with their own families there. Keep it simple though, because you don’t want to take the focus away from the home itself.  You risk having your house look cluttered if you have too many decorations.  Embrace autumn and the warmth and coziness it exudes.  The smell of a freshly baked apple pie, the crackle of a fire in the fireplace and tasteful autumn décor might be all it takes to seal the deal on a sale!
     
  3. Make sure lighting is sufficient.  There will be prospective buyers who want to see your house after work and with the days being shorter, it might be dark outside when they get there.  You are not going to want them walking into a dark, unlit home.  Turn on the lights inside and out. Exterior walkways and entertainment areas, such as patios and decks, should be well lit.  If you know your house is going to be shown, leave lights on in every room.
     
  4. Price your house appropriately.  It’s important to know what homes are selling for in your area and to price yours accordingly.  Utilize the current market analysis to determine the value of your home.  A professional Realtor can help you set the right price for your home taking into account the season and market in which you are selling.  You don’t want to scare buyers away by overpricing your house. Montgomery Home Prices & Values

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!

Helping Your Parents Move in Their Golden Years

by The Hat Team


There comes a time in everyone’s life when a large family home is no longer needed.  Some people choose to downsize when they reach the empty nest stage, but others stay on until they must move due to circumstances beyond their control. This can be very challenging when it entails moving senior parents out of a home they have lived in for many years.  Even as an adult, it is difficult to see your parents in a vulnerable position of having to leave behind a home filled with memories.  But there are some ways to make it a little easier and less stressful. Here are some tips to help you successfully move your senior parents with as little drama as possible:

  • Focus on one or two mementos to represent your best memories.  When you are packing up your parents’ home, you are likely to come across many items that remind you of your childhood.  It will be tempting to take it all home with you.  Stop and remember that you have likely already gone years without seeing these items.  Create a “keep” pile and after you have sorted through everything, go through that pile and choose a couple of items that are most meaningful to you.  If your parents are downsizing to a much smaller place, help them do the same thing so that the new home will not be overflowing with stuff.
     
  • Use technology to save things.  While it may be emotionally challenging to get rid of items, you don’t have to get rid of them completely. You can take photos of them.  Take pictures of the interior and exterior of the home before you start packing. As you go through boxes, take photos of the many things that have been saved over the years like concert tickets, programs, school reports, children’s artwork, etc.  Then create a photo album that your parent can look at any time. This makes a lot more sense than transferring boxes of treasures from one home to another where they will only be looked at the next time there is a move. 5 Ways Technology is Helping Us Preserve Family Memories
     
  • Don’t seal the boxes until you are done packing up every room.  The best way to make the “move-in” easier is to organize everything during the “move-out”.  For example, pack everything that will go in the new living room into boxes labeled living room. This will obviously include items from the current living room, but it might also include items found in other places in the house.  If you find some photos packed away in the garage that your parent wants to hang in the new living room, you will want to put them in the living room boxes. You don’t want to have to open boxes that have already been taped up and sealed.  So, leave some boxes open until every room has been organized and packed and then when you are sure everything is in the right place, seal them up for the move. A Room-by-Room Guide to Packing Your House for Moving
     
  • Consider trading in the old for the new.  It’s easy to hang on to old furniture that has been in your house forever when you have remained in the same home the whole time, but sometimes it makes more sense to get new things for a new home.  Maybe the old furniture is worn and scratched, or maybe it’s simply too big for the new place. Whatever the reason, a fresh, new look might be just the thing your parent needs to help let go of the past and enjoy a new home where a whole new set of memories will be made.

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: andrewsmoving.com

What You Need to Know About Selling a Home When Divorcing

by The Hat Team


Moving is one of the top five most stressful life events. Divorce ranks in the top five as well.   Put those two together and you have a meltdown in the making.  If you and your spouse own a home together and you are divorcing, you are going to have to figure out what you’re going to do about the house.  This can be challenging under the most amicable of situations and can be devastating when there is bitterness and fighting.

Since your home is likely the greatest asset that you share, selling it is often necessary when parting ways.  Sentimental value may entice one or the other of you to want to keep the home, but financial implications may keep you from doing so.  Understanding how divorce affects the sale of a home is crucial.  The emotional aspect of splitting up your family can sometimes impair your judgement but making a poor decision regarding your home can have lasting ramifications, long after the divorce is finalized. 

Whether one spouse wants to buy out the other and keep the home or both want to sell and split the equity, selling a house while getting divorced is a rocky road that needs to be navigated intelligently.  When two people are willing to deal with each other in a peaceful, respectful way, it certainly makes the whole process easier. But often this is not the case in these situations.  Division of a home is not simple. 

When each spouse contributed to purchase the home - even if one paid more than the other - you are both going to want your fair share out of it.  Ideally, you will be able to work with an attorney or mediator to come to an agreement out of court, but if you can’t, a judge will decide for you.  This can be a very unpleasant experience for all parties involved.  If both your incomes were factored in the purchase of the house, chances are when you split that in half, neither of you can afford it on your own. If that is the case, the best solution is to sell the home and divide the assets.  There are also tax implications that should be considered when you are trying to decide if you should sell before you divorce or after. Capital Gains Tax and Divorce: How to Preserve Your Biggest Home Sale Tax Break

Should one of you decide to stay in the home, there are a couple of different ways to make that happen.  First, if you have the financial means to do so, you can take over the mortgage by refinancing.  This means you must qualify for the loan and be able to make the monthly payments on your own.  Your ex-spouse will be completely out of the picture.  Another way is to continue co-owning the property.  Perhaps you have children and want to keep them in their home. While this is the least disruptive option, it is precarious and requires a lot of trust.  It would have to be a very civil and friendly divorce for this to work because both parties will be responsible for the mortgage and upkeep of the house.  The bottom line is that if you plan to stay in the home, you better be sure you can afford it.  It would be prudent to work out a budget before you make the decision. 5 Simple Steps to Create a Successful Budget

With all the financial and emotional issues that get wrapped up in the sale of a home during divorce, it’s crucial that you know what you want prior to meeting with your Realtor. It is best for you to meet with your attorneys for them to guide you through the process of deciding how to split the equity. Once you have that done, seek out an experienced Realtor like Sandra Nickel, who will gently guide you through the process with as little stress as possible.

Photo Credit: quickhomeoffers.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

5 Tips for Selling a Home Out of State

by The Hat Team


Best case scenario – you sell your old home and buy your new one at the same time. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out that way. Chances are you might find yourself in your new dream home while still having a house several states away that needs to be sold.  Selling a house from out of state has its challenges, especially when you are unpacking a new home, settling into a new job and establishing your routine in a new place.  But making a successful sale is not impossible.  Here are 5 tips to help you sell your home from out of state:

  1. HIRE A PROFESSIONAL REALTOR WHO IS EXPERIENCED WITH OUT OF STATE SALES

When hiring a Realtor to handle the sale of your home in your former city, you will want to find someone who has experience with out of state sales.The right listing agent will be experienced in communicating with clients remotely and will be able sell your home quickly.You are going to want to find someone that will keep you up to date with what is going on with your property; someone you can rely on to respond to your phone calls and emails in a timely manner.

  1. FIND A PROFESSIONAL TO STAGE YOUR HOME TO SELL IT FASTER

Since you have already emptied out your former home for your move, staging your home will need to be left in the hands of someone in your previous city.Hiring a professional stager (your Realtor can recommend one) will go a long way toward getting your house sold for the best possible price. Per a study conducted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), homes that are staged sell faster and at higher prices than those that are not staged. Staged Homes Sell Faster

  1. BE SURE THAT CLOSING FROM OUT OF STATE IS AN OPTION

Before you move, take the time to think about how you are going to close on your current house from out of state.Many attorneys require you to be at the closing table in person, so it’s important that you seek one who is willing be more flexible.The cost and inconvenience of having to go back to your previous city for a closing can be avoided if you find someone who will allow youto sign the closing documentsin your new city with a local notary present.

  1. BE THE LIASON FOR YOUR TEAM MEMBERS

Unnecessary back and forth between the people involved in the sale of your house can be avoided by making sure your team has all the documents/paperwork they need throughout the process.You will also want to provide contacts for all your team members so that they can communicate without you as the go-between.

  1. LET YOUR TEAM DO THE WORK

Now it is time to hand over control to your Realtor and the rest of the team so they can handle the sale for you.Some people may find it difficult to relinquish control, but when you are in your new home in another state, you need to place trust in your team to get the job done! 4 Signs You Can Trust Your Agent to Sell Your Home

If you are moving away from the Montgomery area and need a trustworthy, experienced Realtor to sell your home, let Sandra Nickel and her Hat Team of Professionals do the work for you!  Give them a call today at 334-834-1500!

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

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

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