In the News
How to Save Money on Utilities: 10 Easy Energy-Efficient Ways to Reduce Your Utility Bills
Excerpts from an article Written by Jacqueline Quach | September 2, 2022
Home is where the heart is, as well as the heart of our utility expenses…hidden savings in your home are waiting to be uncovered year-round.
With these super easy household hacks, you can cut costs on utilities and make your home much more efficient. In the process, you’ll use fewer resources, turning your home and lifestyle more eco-friendly while allowing you to increase your monthly and yearly savings.
- Keep track of your energy use, and use it outside peak hours.
One of the biggest ways to save money on utilities is to understand how you’re using your energy, and to use it wisely. Many electricity suppliers offer a discounted rate for energy use outside of peak hours, which typically run from late afternoon into the evening. Run a full load in your dishwasher or laundry before bed and save a considerable amount on your electricity bills.
- Use fans instead of air conditioning — and have them spin clockwise during the winter months and vice versa.
Hot summers may tempt us to run the A/C all day, pushing our electricity costs up. Instead, opt for good room fans to cool off, or check out home improvement retailers for a ceiling fan. And if you’re using the A/C, you can get more out of it using your ceiling fan.
- Keep all vents and filters clean.
Do your due diligence and clean the vents and filters in your home: replace the A/C filter every three months. The Department of Energy reports that this cuts down energy use by 15 percent.
- Upgrade to energy-efficient options.
If you have energy-guzzling appliances in your home, consider switching to energy-efficient appliances. Refrigerators tend to use a lot of energy, though newer refrigerator models carry major tech upgrades and use up to 30 percent less energy according to Energy Star metrics.
- Unplug unused electronics and appliances.
A simple but effective solution for saving on utilities: keep your electronics and appliances off when not in use. They tend to siphon energy even when you’re not using them.
- Keep seals and ducts tight.
This is a big one: check if the seals on doors and windows are tight, and that your heating and conditioning system ducts are properly sealed. Doors and windows often leak heat during winters and cool air during the summer.
- Make small adjustments at home.
Implementing little changes in your home can make a big difference. Refrigerators tend to use a lot of energy, so turn the fridge and freezer temperature up a notch for easy utility savings. Another quick tip that curbs utility costs is adjusting your thermostat by a few degrees. According to the Department of Energy, you can save around 10 percent on heating and cooling costs by turning the thermostat down seven to 10 degrees for eight hours a day.
- Save water in the bathroom.
There are simple fixes for bathroom fixtures that contribute to your water bills. While taking shorter showers can help, you can enjoy longer showers and cut down your water usage by installing water-saving shower heads and faucets. Also check for leaky faucets, shower heads, and plumbing; a shower that leaks 10 drips every minute can equal 500 gallons per year.
- Lighten the load on your water heater.
Water heating makes up about 18% of household energy use, and the average household spends $400 to $600 every year on water heating. Lowering a water heater by 20 degrees can save you 10 to 15 percent on your bills. You can also save on water heating costs by washing clothes in warm or cold water…washing your clothes only in cold water can save an average of $214 per year.
- Swap out old light bulbs for LED lights.
If you have old light bulbs, consider LED lights. They might seem like a more expensive investment up front, but you’ll save quite a bit in the long run. Save up to nine percent annually by replacing your frequently used light bulbs with more energy-efficient options.
The best ROI home improvements – get the biggest return on your investment
(Image credit: David Lovatti/Future)
By Anna Cottrell for Homes & Garden Magazine
published October 24, 2021
Want to make sure that renovation is worth it when selling? Real estate experts identify the home improvement areas that will give you substantial returns – and those that don’t
What are the best ROI home improvements, and will the home improvement you are planning give you a decent return on your investment? These are the questions every savvy home seller should be asking themselves, probably even more so than the more traditional question, ‘will it add value’?
While the best way to add value to a home include dozens of different ways to boost your home price, if you end up sinking substantially more capital than you will ever recoup through a sale, a home improvement will not be a good investment.
Conversely, a simple improvement that is inexpensive and requires a minimum of effort but will give you back 100 per cent is definitely worth it.
The best ROI home improvements
- A kitchen remodel
This probably will surprise no one, but remodeling a kitchen remains one of the home improvements with the highest levels of return on investment. Jennie Berger has over 20 years’ experience redesigning properties with the maximum ROI (return on investment) in mind. She estimates that a kitchen remodel, although costly, ‘will return anywhere between 50-75% (or more).
If you’re deciding between a kitchen and a bathroom remodel, go for the kitchen. The reason, Jennie explains, is that ‘even if the bathrooms are older, a retail buyer perceives a full kitchen remodel as more valuable and convenient. Buying a house with a newer kitchen (and older bathrooms) means the new homeowner can tackle the bathrooms if/when they’re ready, one bathroom at a time.’
Buyers simply do not want the hassle of a kitchen renovation – ‘If you’ve ever lived through a kitchen renovation, setting up a makeshift kitchen and having to actually use it, can be a total (dusty) nightmare!’
And even if you don’t want to completely remodel a kitchen, there are other ways to make a big difference when selling. Jennie especially recommends ‘refacing your existing cabinets, swapping old countertops for new quartz or granite, changing out the hardware, and adding a fresh coat of paint, new stainless-steel appliances, and more modern, trendy plumbing and electrical fixtures.’
- Refinished hardwood floors
This is another great home improvement that can give you a very high ROI – 70-80 percent in many cases. Jared Barnett, a Licensed Real Estate Salesperson and Co-Founder of The Barnett-Bittencourt Team at Compass in NYC, is confident that painting and refinishing hardwood floors ‘can make an apartment feel new again, which will ultimately make a buyer willing to pay more money. A buyer‘s first impression is critical to how they perceive an apartment, and doing these projects will have a huge impact.’
- The small details
If you really don’t fancy a huge DIY project, don’t worry – there are plenty of smaller changes you can make that, cumulatively, will give you a good return on investment when selling.
Real estate investor Deb Cleveland, founder of Small Town Dynasty, has 32 years of real estate investment experience and has renovated more than 400 properties in upstate New York.
She recommends going through your entire home and making strategic replacements; for example,’’if your budget will afford it, picking light fixtures that all have the same sheen that goes with the look of your home.’ Metallic accents catch the eye, so ‘installing new doorknobs and kitchen cabinet pulls to match the sheen on your light fixtures ties your look together giving it a high-end decorator look on a budget.’
- A fresh coat of paint
Exploring fresh paint ideas is one of the easiest and most impactful ways to prepare your home for a sale. According to a HomeGain 2012 Top DIY Home Improvements for Seller survey, if you get it right, just repainting the interior of your home could give you a 107 percent ROI.
Glen Pizzolorusso, a Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker with Compass in Fairfield County, Connecticut, highly recommends a fresh coat of paint: ‘I cannot tell you what a fresh coat of paint does to the interior of a house. If you are thinking of selling your home, paint the interior before listing it. A fresh coat of light (think whites, light grays and creams) paint to main living spaces can create the feeling of a larger, warmer space.’
- Garden landscaping
Finally, don’t forget your outdoor space and its huge potential to give you great returns for not very much investment and effort. Marina Vaamonde, Real Estate Investor and Founder at PropertyCashin, told us that in her experience, ‘the best ROI for home improvements are modest backyard landscaping ideas. The average ROI for landscaping upgrades is 100 per cent.’
What is meant by modest? Simply landscaping updates that are easy to maintain and won’t require your buyer to do lots of gardening. Think a general tidy-up, a few low-maintenance plants, and a neat driveway. Deb adds that as a minimum you can
‘mow the lawn, pick up the twigs, trim the hedges, weed the flower beds and put down some fresh mulch.’
Home improvements and ROI: what not to do
When is a home improvement not going to give you a good ROI? Glen recommends thinking sensibly about the ratio of your projected spend and the value of your home – ‘If your house is worth $250,000, then doing a $200,000 kitchen remodel is a surefire way to lose money. A good rule of thumb is to spend 10 percent of your home’s value to remodel a kitchen, and 5 percent to remodel a master bathroom.’
Glen also cautions against adding swimming pools unless you are ‘prepared to lose money. A concrete pool could cost $100-$200k but it may add $10k to the value.’
Finally, what is considered desirable by buyers is always relative and depends on what the general expectations are in your neighborhood. Glen points out that ‘adding luxury updates to a home in an area that isn’t considered a luxurious area is another way to lose money. Be mindful of recent sales in your neighborhood, and when in doubt, consult with a local realtor before starting your project.’
Donald Olhausen Jr, Owner of We Buy Houses in San Diego, also urges buyers to put any planned home improvements in context: ‘It’s easy to say, upgrade the kitchen and bathroom. Although ordinarily true, this will be utterly dependent on what condition your house is already in and what finishes are selling in your neighborhood.’
Do your research, figure out what sells well where you live, and go from there.
Anna Cottrell is Consumer Editor across Future Plc Home titles. She has a background in academic research and is the author of London Writing of the 1930s. She writes about interior design, property, and gardening .On H&G, she specializes in writing about property – buying, selling, renting, mortgages – sustainability and eco issues.
5 Benefits of a Reverse Mortgage
By Eric Rosenberg
Reviewed by Dorthea Clemon
Fact checked by Mrinalini Krishna
If you’re on the fence about a reverse mortgage, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons this loan would have on your financial situation. The following are among the top benefits of a reverse mortgage loan.
Regular Retirement Income
Getting regular income without working can be a significant benefit if you own a home but don’t have extensive retirement savings and investments. You can use a reverse mortgage to supplement Social Security, pensions, and other retirement income sources, or as a sole source of income.
For someone with a valuable home that’s mortgage-free and little other income, this type of loan can act as a critical lifeline to maintain their standard of living past their traditional working years.
The proceeds of a reverse mortgage are not considered taxable income. That’s a benefit over taxable income sources such as Social Security, qualified withdrawals from a 401(k) or traditional IRA account, or work.
Interest accrued on a reverse mortgage is generally not deductible because interest on home equity debt is not deductible unless the loan is used to buy, build, or improve the home.4
Cash Out Equity Without Selling Your Home
Some retirees think the only way to get cash out of their home in retirement is to sell, but that’s not the case. With a reverse mortgage, you retain title to your home, which means you remain the owner of the house, and can tap into your home equity without moving or selling your home.5
No Monthly Payments
If the loan has any monthly payments, they’re going to you, the borrower. The lender does all the paying (outside of interest and fees), and cash should only go out to the borrower.
The loan doesn’t require monthly repayments, but must be repaid if you sell the house or all borrowers pass away.
Protection From Loss
A reverse mortgage offers some protection if the value of your home declines and your loan value exceeds what your home is worth. If you sell your home for the appraised fair market value, the difference is paid by reverse mortgage insurance..
After the death of all borrowers, the reverse mortgage is required to be repaid. Typically, heirs do that by selling the house and using the proceeds to pay off the loan. Your heirs will have to repay the entire loan balance or 95% of the home’s appraised value, whichever is less, to keep the house after you pass away. If the value of the house is lower than the loan balance, mortgage insurance pays the difference.6
The Bottom Line
While reverse mortgage loans have benefits, they have plenty of costs. Depending on your financial situation and what you want for your estate when you pass away, a reverse mortgage may or may not be the right choice. When in doubt, consult with a trusted financial professional who can guide you through the right choice for your unique needs.
If you decide on a reverse mortgage, be aware that reverse mortgage borrowers are frequently the target of scams, and some reverse mortgage terms may be a rip-off for borrowers. Do your due diligence and understand what you’re getting yourself into before signing any contracts.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you pay back a reverse mortgage?
A reverse mortgage is paid off by selling the home in most cases. As a secured loan, the lender has the right to be repaid from the proceeds, and you can keep anything leftover. If you have a reverse mortgage and pass away, your heirs can repay the loan using the loan’s proceeds, or find other means to repay the balance if they want to keep the home.
Who owns the house in a reverse mortgage?
With a HECM loan, or reverse mortgage, the borrower retains the title to the home. That’s a fancy way of saying that the borrower who lives in the home is also the owner. When you move out, sell the home, or the last surviving person listed on the loan passes away, the bank can seek repayment.
When is a reverse mortgage a good idea?
A reverse mortgage may be a good idea in some situations, but it isn’t for everyone. If you’re not sure if a reverse mortgage is a good choice for your finances, consider working with an approved reverse mortgage counselor. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers information on finding an approved counselor at 800-569-4287 or online at HUD.gov.