Buying a House: Pleasant Surprises and Details

I don’t know if there are actual statistics on this one, but I can tell you from experience that water heaters wait until the new homeowner moves in to fail. This is why home warranties are such a good idea.

What about pleasant surprises? We don’t hear much about those.

Jana Moy moved into her Wisconsin home during a bleak late winter. When spring rolled around, her new yard came to life, with plants leafing out and bulbs sprouting.

The showstopper occurred in mid-summer when at least 30 (she stopped counting) exquisite Stargazer lilies burst into bloom along the back wall in the garden. She had no idea the bulbs were snug underground when she bought the house and it was, most definitely, a pleasant surprise.

For some new homeowners, living in a home on a day-to-day basis brings on little surprises, such as the extra storage space you missed while touring the house or the way the living area flows just right.

While you house hunt, think about some of the little things that would be pleasantly surprising after you move in and put some of them on your “must-have” list.

Interior Design and Home Buying

One of the biggest surprises when buying a house is walking into a home that looks drab and uninteresting on the outside, only to find that the inside is a wonderful example of tasteful interior design.

While some elements of the interior – such as furniture and window treatments – may not be included in the sale, you may find structural design elements of the house that you like.

Of course, what qualifies as good interior design depends largely on your personal needs, interests and taste.

The Importance of Closet Design and Extra Space

Storage space is an important consideration for many people. There’s an old joke that people “expand to fit” their surroundings, gathering and storing possessions as the years pass.

Sure, good closet design isn’t as impressive as a whirlpool bath when you’re viewing a home, but over the long run it’s probably more essential. A walk-in closet or extra space for storage is almost always an advantage when buying a house.

Kitchens and Bathrooms

It’s well known in real estate circles that kitchens and bathrooms sell homes. An outdated kitchen or a cramped, dingy bathroom can easily break a deal.

Maybe you don’t need a heated towel rack or a steam shower system, but if you’re like most Americans, you don’t want a dinky bathroom. Lots of space is the name of the game for today’s homebuyers.

So, pay close attention to the bathroom in any home you’re considering purchasing. Look for the details that will turn out to be pleasant surprises when you move in.

The kitchen, for many people, is much more than a place to prepare food – it’s also a gathering place for family and friends, so an open, comfortable kitchen is a big plus in a home’s favor.

Americans have specific “wants” in their new kitchen and one of the most popular is a pantry, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. More than 80 percent of people polled stated that a walk-in pantry is a must-have, with double, side-by-side sinks and space for a dining table coming in not far behind.

Keeping Home Buying Surprises in Context

Pleasant surprises can be the difference between buying a home and continuing to house hunt, but do remember to keep them in perspective.

No matter how nice a home’s interior design, how lush its garden or how much extra space it has for storage, if the house itself isn’t structurally sound it isn’t worth buying.

Cosmetic defects, on the other hand, are fixable, so don’t let them dissuade you from an otherwise ideal house.

It’s important to take care of the basics when home buying before looking at a home’s little extras. However, a well-built home with extra closet space? Now that’s a nice surprise when buying a house!

Furniture arrangement 101: Welcome to your new home

If you’ve ever toured the model homes in a new home community, you may understand that interior decorating is an art. It’s not just the tastefully designed furniture and accessories, however, that create the perfect room. The placement of these elements has a great deal to do with the overall appeal of a design.

“Smart furniture placement can make a well-laid-out room even more appealing and functional,” claims Susan Yoder, a designer for Clayton Homes.

“Having so much space to work with can be intimidating, so it’s important to put some thought into how you’ll arrange things ahead of time.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your furniture arrangement.

Determine how you’ll use the room

What is the purpose of the room? Will the family use the living room to watch TV or will you save that room for more formal purposes and use the family room for the casual family get-togethers?

If you own a small home, without an alternative room, you may not have a choice. In that case, carve out zones in the room and arrange the furniture to delineate them.

For instance, orient the sofa to face the TV and create a separate area with comfy chairs, a small side table and lamp for those solitary moments you spend reading or conversing one-on-one.

Determine a focal point

Where is your eye drawn when you enter the room? This is the room’s focal point. Typical spots to create this point include a fireplace or large window with a view.

If the room lacks a natural focal point, create one by painting a wall in an accent color or using a piece of artwork or furniture, such as a bookcase.

Whatever you choose as your focal point, accent it with attractive accessories and then position the furniture so that it faces it yet doesn’t block the view from the room’s entry.

Create traffic flow

Professional designers say that one of their pet peeves is homeowners that neglect natural traffic paths in rooms and have a tendency to block them. “These paths will go between any entries into the room to any other entry into the room. People will instinctively take the quickest route, that being a straight line,” say the experts at Verona Interiors in St. Louis, Missouri.

Make sure you don’t crowd the entryways to the room with furniture pieces. Make it easy to enter and exit the room.

Once inside the room, there should be enough room to walk through it without bumping into or having to maneuver around furniture.

Keep furniture to scale

Oversized furniture in small rooms not only disrupt traffic flow, but may obliterate the room’s focal point, thereby making the room feel even smaller than it is.

The same can be said for large rooms with dinky furniture. The size of your furniture should match the size of the room. Yes, that sounds obvious, but designers say it’s a common mistake among homeowners.

Need more tips on how to arrange furniture in your new home? Pinterest offers lots of ideas as does Better Homes & Gardens and HGTV.

Do these 5 things if you want to sell your house

There are throngs of homebuyers and not enough homes on the market for them to buy. Like last year, 2020 should see continued robust buyer demand, according to George Ratiu,’s senior economist.

This is wonderful news for any homeowner who is considering selling. But, despite the fact that demand is high and supply is low, there is still competition in the marketplace and buyers are still particular about the homes they agree to view.

Let’s make yours one that is high on their list by doing 5 things to get homebuyers out of their cars and into your home.

Hire the right real estate agent

There’s far more to listing a home for sale than for-sale signs and lockboxes. Even in the best sellers’ market, homes need to be professionally marketed.

Since your home is such a huge financial investment, now is not the time to feel you have to be loyal to your Aunt Martha or cousin Joe who happens to hold a real estate license.

You need an ace marketer. Ask for examples of how an agent has marketed homes in the past. Look for professional photographs, compelling presentations and a broad range of marketing venues.

Avoid trying to test the market

Unless you truly don’t need to sell your home and you’ve lots of time to allow it to sit on the market, list your home as close to market value as possible.

Yes, it’s tempting to list higher, testing the market to see if a higher price will fly. But the chances are that it won’t, and your listing will lose its most valuable marketing period. Lowering the price later sends a message to buyers and their agents that perhaps something is wrong with the home.

Listen to your listing agent. If you took our advice and hired wisely, he or she knows just where to price the home.

Grab them at the curb

It’s a known fact among real estate agents that homebuyers make their decision on whether or not to view the inside of a home while sitting at the curb, looking at the outside. We’ve had many clients who, despite the compelling interior photos of a home, decide not to tour it when they see the exterior.

Appearances do count, especially in real estate. Take the time to spruce up the exterior of the home, from landscaping to paint, if required.

Some inexpensive fixes that add star power include:

  • Fresh paint on the front door
  • Colorful plants in pots on the porch
  • New house numbers to match the new hardware on the freshly-painted front door
  • New mailbox
  • New front door mat
  • Clean windows
  • Fresh layer of mulch in the planting beds
  • Mowed lawn
  • Pruned trees

Do sweat the small stuff

It’s easy to overlook the small problems when you’ve lived in a home for some time. That dripping faucet, the wiggly banister or the rip in a window screen.

Homebuyers, however, will notice these problems and, if there are enough of them, your home will appear uncared for.

Before that first homebuyer tours your home, do your own tour, checking each room from ceiling to floor. At a bare minimum, do the following:

  • Remove cobwebs near the ceiling
  • Check that all the light fixtures are in working condition
  • Check the windows for cracked glass and torn screens
  • Do any of the baseboards need repair, replacement or a coat of paint?
  • Inspect the floor coverings for signs of wear

Inform the appraiser

Appraisers aren’t mind readers and many welcome a homeowner’s input. Gather up any documentation you may have on home improvements you’ve performed or had professionally performed, any major purchases or replacements (such as a new HVAC system, roof replacement, major plumbing overhaul, etc.) and organize them in a folder.

Also, if you have information on any neighboring home sales that the appraiser may not be privy to, write about them and include the document in the folder.

For instance, Joe down the street sold his home for $50,000 less than market value. You know that he took the low offer because he needed to quickly move to take a job transfer. This is important information for the appraiser to have, so by all means, document it and include it in the folder.

Don’t hover over the appraiser while he or she is working, but do mention that you have a folder of information you’d like to pass along.

Don’t take anything personally 

It’s hard to set your emotions aside when you’re selling a home. This is, however, a business transaction so you may need to keep reminding yourself of this fact.

Don’t be insulted by lowball offers, suggestions for improvements, attempts to negotiate repairs or snide remarks you may overhear from potential buyers.

Divorce yourself from the home – treat it as the commodity it now is and you’ll be able to negotiate like a pro.

Reverse Mortgage vs. Home Equity Line of Credit

If you’re short on cash, you’ll be glad you made that decision to buy instead of continue renting, because you can borrow money against the equity in your home.

Now, however, you’ll need to make another big decision: Which “dip” into the home equity pool offers more bang for the buck?

For older Americans, that decision typically comes down to a choice between a reverse mortgage or a home equity line of credit. While both offer a way for you to get your hands on your home’s equity when you need it the most, one is less expensive but the other is safer.

There are other differences between the two solutions as well. Let’s take a closer look at some of those.

  • What is a reverse mortgage?
  • What is a HELOC?
  • Eligibility requirements
    • How to qualify for a reverse mortgage
    • How to qualify for a HELOC
  • Costs
  • A quick look at the pros and cons of each

What is a reverse mortgage?

You may hear the reverse mortgage referred to as the HECM, which is short for Home Equity Conversion Mortgage. While there are other reverse mortgage programs available (such as the proprietary or “jumbo” reverse mortgage for expensive homes), the HECM is by far the most popular, and accounts for the bulk of reverse mortgages granted.

This isn’t to say that the HECM is popular. In fact, “While about a million homeowners retire every year, fewer than 60,000 HECMs will be written this year,” according to The Mortgage Professor.

He chalks up the lack of interest in the program to a healthy skepticism on the part of those who it is designed to help—older Americans.

In a nutshell, the HECM is a creation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and it is overseen and insured by the FHA.

Although it’s considered a loan, there are no payments required until the borrower either moves out of the home or the last borrower passes away.

Borrowers will still need to pay their property taxes, hazard insurance premiums, HOA dues (if applicable) and for upkeep on the home.

Unlike the HELOC, however, the funds borrowed can be delivered in a number of ways, from a lump sum, to a line of credit or monthly draw. You may even receive a combination of these methods, at your discretion.

What is a HELOC?

While a HELOC (pronounced “hee-lock,” and short for home equity line of credit) is a loan, it doesn’t offer the borrower a lump sum, such as you might receive if you take out a personal loan. Instead, the borrower receives a line of credit, similar to a credit card.

In fact, when making a draw against your loan, you’ll use a dedicated credit card or check.

HELOCS carry a time limit, known as the “draw period,” set by the lender and it varies, depending on lender. For instance, the lender may offer you a 10-year draw period. Upon expiration of the period, you will no longer have access to the HELOC and the repayment period begins.

Repayment can consist of either a balloon payment of the total amount due or monthly payments for a specific time period.

Eligibility requirements

How to qualify for a reverse mortgage

  • The reverse mortgage is available to homeowners who are at least 62 years of age.
  • You must either own the home outright or have a significant amount of home equity. There must be no debt against the home, so if you choose this route you’ll need to pay off the current mortgage from the proceeds of the reverse mortgage.
  • The home must be the borrower’s primary residence.
  • There is no minimum credit score requirement for the HECM, but the lender will look into your ability to pay the taxes, HOA fees, insurance premiums and upkeep of the home.
  • The borrower must not be in arrears on any debt owed the federal government (such as a government-insured student loan or tax payments).
  • HECM applicants are required to attend a housing counseling session.

How to qualify for a HELOC

HELOC eligibility varies, according to lender. Typical requirements include:

  • A credit score of 760 or more, although it may be possible to obtain the loan with a lower score.
  • Your equity must be at least 15 percent of the home’s value. The lender will require an appraisal of the home to verify its current value.
  • The borrower must have a debt-to-income ratio of 43 percent, although some lenders may consider a DTI as high as 50 percent.
  • A history of paying debts on time.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both programs – something we’ll take a look at in the coming weeks.

We are not mortgage professionals, so please speak with yours before proceeding with any mortgage product.

3 Reasons not to Buy THAT House

Falling in love with a house is a lot like falling in love with a person. It’s almost impossible to see any flaws, even if they’re apparent. When so many other aspects seem perfect, it’s easy to fall into denial about the possibility that there may be problems.

Down the road, when the initial blush wears off, the negative aspects become more apparent. By now, though, it’s difficult to reverse any decisions you’ve made. This is why it’s important to keep emotions out of the home purchase process. Yes, it’s difficult, but it’s also imperative that you do so.

Although there are many so-called “red flags” to look for when touring a home, let’s take a look at the top five that – if you see them — should make you reconsider submitting an offer without a contingency for further inspection.

Sloppy Maintenance

So, the gutters are full and grass is growing in them. Maybe the homeowner is a busy person and hasn’t had a chance to clean them.

If this sounds like something you might think, adjust your expectations. If the homeowner is too busy, too broke or too lazy to perform routine maintenance, what else might be wrong with the home? Look for the following telltale signs of sloppy home maintenance and neglect:

  • Peeling paint and cracks in plaster
  • Low water pressure (may be an indication of plumbing problems)
  • Missing roof shingles or signs of roof wear
  • “Spongy” feel to the floors around toilets and bath tubs
  • Torn window screens and cracked window glass
  • Ceiling stains

To check the home’s water pressure run water in the bathroom sink and, while it’s running, flush the toilet. If the flow from the faucet decreases, water pressure is low, according to Pat Mertz Esswein of Kiplinger.

Of course these aren’t the only signs of deferred maintenance but, if present, they should set off alarms and prompt you to place a call to the appropriate contractor for an inspection.

Foundation Problems

If the yard is sloped toward the house instead of away from it, there could be a water intrusion problem, which is pricey to repair. The condition is known as “negative grade,” and it directs rainwater right to the home’s basement and, worse, its foundation.

Since 99 percent of foundation problems are caused by water, according to

Chris Elliot of Homeland Inspection Services in Colorado, this is a condition that the homeowner should remedy, or pay to have remedied, before you purchase the home.

Check the foundation for cracks larger than 1/3 inch, those that zig-zag diagonally or bulging of the foundation. Determine if the floors slope.

While this may be normal in a historic home, in a modern home it may be a sign of a defective foundation. One other sign of foundation problems are horizontal cracks or jagged cracks that run diagonally across a wall.

Foundation repair bills can run between $900 and $10,000, although the average American homeowner spent $4,447, according to a survey conducted by HomeAdvisor.

That’s a hefty amount of money for a homebuyer who just had to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for a down payment and closing costs so if anything looks unusual, and you love the house, call an engineer for a professional inspection.

A Neighborhood in Decline

There is an old adage in the real estate industry that when one home in a neighborhood goes on the market, two others will follow. Then, there is the one that says if you notice more than two or three homes for sale in a neighborhood, be suspicious.

In a recovering housing market it’s normal for homeowners who have been sitting on the sidelines to jump into the market. In a normal market, however, when many homes in a neighborhood are up for sale, it’s time to do some investigating.

There are various reasons that homeowners may decide to leave a neighborhood en masse.

The relocation of a sex offender to the neighborhood, for instance, not only causes families to flee but home values to drop by as much as 15 percent. Other causes of neighborhood decline include:

  • An increase in crime
  • Urban decay
  • New zoning restrictions
  • Businesses fleeing the area
  • Traffic rerouting
  • Bad (noisy, messy, etc.) neighbors
  • Local government action, such as closing a nearby school

Red flags need not kill a real estate deal, but they should let you know that something isn’t right and needs inspection by a professional.

Lead-based paint: What’s the big deal?

Every year, thousands of American children suffer from lead poisoning. In fact, 1.2 million children have lead poisoning, according to researchers at the Public Health Institute.

Surprised? Aside from sporadic recalls of toys that are found to contain lead, we don’t hear much about the dangers of lead that still exist in 2019.

Dust from lead-based paint, whether in the form of chips from peeling paint or “on surfaces that rub together, such as windows and doors” can pose health hazards, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

So, federal law requires that homebuyers must be warned that homes built before 1978 may contain lead-based paint on the walls.  

A little history on lead-based paint

From the 1920s until 1978, lead, which is found naturally in the earth’s crust, was used in a wide range of American products, such as pottery, gasoline, plumbing supplies and even women’s cosmetics.

As the toxic effects of this heavy metal became apparent, the U.S. government banned its use in paint. That was in 1978, so homes built after that are free of lead-based paint.

About 75 percent of homes built before that, however, contain at least some lead-based paint, with those built before 1950 containing the most.

Why you should be concerned

Because children’s bodies are growing, they absorb lead more readily than do adults. Their nervous systems also react more strongly to lead than ours do.

The EPA says that children suffering from lead poisoning show:

  • Lower IQ
  • Behavioral or learning problems
  • Delayed growth
  • Anemia
  • Hearing problems

Does your current home have lead-based paint?

Not all homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. If you are concerned that yours might, purchase a DIY lead-testing kit. offers advice on which tests are best and a walk-through of how to correctly use them.

If you prefer to have a certified inspector check your home, use the EPA’s online search function to find one near you.

If the tests are positive for lead, don’t freak out. If the paint isn’t peeling or otherwise rubbing off and creating dust, you may choose to leave it alone. Removing lead paint requires a professional and the services tend to be expensive.

If you choose to leave the paint in place, inspect the surfaces at least twice a year. Look for paint chips and dust on the floors and window sills.

Other tips include:

  • Repair water damage immediately.
  • Mop floors at least once a week with warm water and TSP. Experts recommend that you wear safety equipment during the job and use two buckets (one for the TSP solution and one with clear water for rinsing).
  • Wipe window sills weekly.

Home seller requirements

All home sellers with homes built before 1978 must provide potential buyers a pamphlet with information about the hazards of lead-based paint. You can view the EPA-authored pamphlet at

The seller must also divulge any information about the paint in the home – whether it contains lead. This is typically accomplished with a lead-based paint disclosure form.

Finally, buyers of homes built before 1978 must, by law, be given 10 days to inspect the paint in the home. The buyer can waive the inspection and the 10-day period is negotiable.

If you have any concerns regarding lead-based paint in a home, we urge you to hire a certified inspector before committing to buying the home.

3 Inexpensive (and Fast) Upgrades for Your Condo

We’re willing to bet that your single-family-home-owning friends are a bit envious of your condo-living lifestyle. After all, owning a house comes with an almost never-ending list of maintenance expenses.

You, on the other hand, can use what you would’ve spent on lawn service, pool cleaning and roof repairs for the more enjoyable stuff – like cosmetic upgrades for your home.

The good news is that you don’t need to save up big bucks to breathe new life into your condo before you put it on the market or just for your own enjoyment. These three upgrades are quick, easy, inexpensive and most of all, potential buyers will notice them.

1. Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinets

As tempting as it is to entertain notions of replacing the facings on your cabinets, it isn’t easy and it’s far from cheap. There are other ways to refresh them, though, that won’t break the bank.

New pulls, knobs, and handles on those cabinets will completely transform their appearance. Plus, they’re typically inexpensive, although you can buy ultra-high-end pieces. Best of all, installing them is a suitable task for homeowners without too much DIY experience.

Just be sure to unscrew one handle to see what’s underneath it before heading off to the store. And, watch Better Home & Garden’s handy video on how to change cabinetry hardware. You’ll find the video at

Cabinet hardware is available from a variety of sources including the big home improvement stores and online retailers, such as and If you’re short on cash, try visiting your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

2. Window Treatments

Curtains and blinds tend to be one of those things that you handle once and then forget about forever. After all, once they’ve proven themselves to regulate the light (and your privacy) efficiently, why change them?

Except, that means your window treatments may give your rooms an outdated appearance. And, they may not work as effectively as you think.

Take time to browse alternatives and you may just find some that will transform the mood of every room in your house. You’ll find inspiration online at and

3. Lighting

New lighting will always make a room feel newer and brighter. If you can afford to replace outdated fixtures completely, you should consider it now.

Since the rooms in condos tend to be a bit smaller than those in a single-family home, you’ll need to keep scale in mind when buying new lighting.

Before you shop for new lamps and fixtures, learn some tips on how to choose the right one for each room. and both offer up helpful information.

You’ll find a large assortment of lighting at the big home improvement stores, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Online, check out the assortment at, and

If you can’t buy new lighting, a little change in lamp shades or brighter bulbs may just do the trick.

Want to do something more drastic, like painting? It may be best to wait until later in spring so you can open the windows and doors of your condo while you do it. But fresh paint on the walls is one of the best investments you can make before putting the condo up for sale.

How to buy a condo with a FHA-backed loan

Shopping for a condo with a pre-approved FHA-backed loan? Here’s a tip: don’t look at even one condo in a community that isn’t approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Since an estimated 90 percent of the U.S. condos communities are not FHA-approved, there’s a good chance that you could fall in love with a home only to find out that FHA won’t guarantee a loan on it.

Thankfully, if you’re working with the right real estate agent, you’ll know which communities are approved before you start condo hunting.

FHA requirements for condos

There are a number of reasons a community may be considered too much of a risk for it to qualify for HUD approval and most of them can be traced back to the homeowner association.

Some of the problems HUD considers too risky include:

A high number of rentals

HUD wants to see no more than half of the units occupied by tenants. There is a way to get around this, however.

If the association can show at least three years of stable finances, has a current Reserve Study and shows low delinquency rates, HUD may ok a loan in complexes with up to 65 percent rentals.

Too much commercial space

If part of what attracts you to the community is the Starbucks and grocery store on the bottom floor, ensure that the space devoted to these and other commercial concerns doesn’t exceed 50 percent of the community’s total square footage.

If it does, the community won’t be HUD-approved and FHA won’t back a loan for one of its homes.

Too many deadbeats

If too many homeowners aren’t up-to-date on their fees, HUD won’t approve the community. How many is too many? Anything more than 15 percent of homeowners, delinquent for more than 60 days.

One individual owns too many of the units

Often, investors will snatch up multiple units in a community. Whether it’s one individual or a group of investors, if they own more than half the homes, HUD will take a closer look.

If the remaining homes are owner-occupied, it will pass this part of the inspection. If not, the community won’t be approved.

Too many lawsuits

HUD will check to ensure there is no outstanding litigation going on. Believe it or not, this is one of the more common problems that condo associations run up against when attempting to become HUD-approved.

These are just a few of HUD and FHA’s requirements for condos and they are always subject to change. You can find additional items at

Being approved has additional advantages

When buying in a managed community (one overseen by a homeowners association), the homebuyer is presented with a pile of paperwork to read and approve.

These documents include just about everything you need to know about the community, including:

  • CC&Rs, short for Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. They let you know what you can and cannot do in the community, such as noise rules and pet restrictions.
  • The budget and other financial documents
  • HOA meeting minutes
  • Articles of incorporation
  • Bylaws
  • Rules and Regulations. These include anything not mentioned in the CC&Rs.

The advantage to buying a condo with an FHA loan is that you’ll have an additional set of eyes poring over these documents – the government.

This doesn’t mean you can shirk your due diligence, however. If you don’t understand anything in the paperwork, run it by your attorney.

But the biggest advantage is that the HUD approval process weeds out communities with shady financials or other problems. And, communities must be re-approved every two years.

Find out if that condo you have your eye on is FHA approved on HUD’s website. Then, contact us for a private tour.

Coolest home tech ideas from 2020’s CES convention

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held last month in Las Vegas and, as usual, innovation abounds.

We scoured the home-oriented tech that’s coming out soon and found some we thought you might be interested in learning more about.

We just want to know, which one is Alexa?

Neon, the artificial human chatbot, was unveiled at January’s CES convention and to say it’s amazing would be an understatement.

Neon’s purpose is to put a face and body to the faceless, bodiless virtual assistants we now use in or homes – you know, Alexa and Siri and the like.

It’s better explained in a YouTube video we found online, posted by Good Tech.

The narrator of the video is spot on when he says it’s impossible to tell the difference between Samsung’s computer-generated “people” and the real deal.

It turns out, none of them is Alexa. Neon isn’t an AI assistant, according to Shara Tibken at

Unlike AI assistants, Neons do not know it all, and “they are not an interface to the internet to ask for weather updates or to play your favorite music,” Tibkin quotes from a company spokesperson.

Learn more about Neon, when it is expected to be released and more at

 Take a shower with Alexa

Kohler showed off its new Moxie Showerhead at the 2020 CES in Las Vegas and picked up an Innovation Award in the process.

Built in to it is Amazon’s smart speaker and the voice behind it, Alexa. We don’t know about you, but we do some of our best thinking while showering and now you can have Alexa right there to take notes for you, set reminders, set alarms, etc.

You can also catch up on the news, check the weather, get a stock update and use other Alexa skills you have enabled.

There are actually two showerheads, one is Blue Tooth enabled and the other A.I. (Alexa). Learn more about it at


Winner of the 2020 CES Innovation in Sustainability, Eco-Design, and Smart Energy award, Hydra Loop “promises to help you conserve water in the home.” How?

By “recycling and cleaning about 85 percent of water use at home,” according to John Breaux at

What this means for homeowners is that they’ll most likely recoup the $4,000 price tag for the Hydraloop:

  • Reducing the amount of water used by 45 percent
  • Reducing the amount of “sewage emission” by 45 percent
  • Reducing energy bills

Learn more about Hydraloop and how you can order one (later this year) at

Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight Camera

If you’re keen on home security, you’ll love this one. Presented by Arlo, it’s an outdoor smart camera “with a massive floodlight slapped on the front,” according to Hugh Langley at In fact, this “massive floodlight” provides 3,000 lumens.

Recordings are in color (unusual for basic night-vision smart cameras) and you control the timing, the brightness and whether the light flashes when something triggers it.

Langley says that in addition to this, “you’ve got a 160-degree field of view, two-way audio, and six months of battery life.” Available this spring, it’ll retail for $249.99. Learn more about the Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight Camera and sign up for availability notification at

4moms® mamaRoo sleep™ Bassinet

While it isn’t cutesy, it is incredibly innovative and something that moms and dads of especially fussy infants may love. The bassinet snagged CES Innovator Honoree award.

If you already own the mamaRoo infant seat you’re familiar with some of the tech-enabled motions (that mimic “natural motions of parents,” according to the company) you’ll find in the bassinet:

  • Car ride
  • Kangaroo
  • Wave
  • Tree swing
  • Rock-a-bye

In addition, the bassinet offers five vibration speed options and four choices of white noise, all controllable with the 4moms app.

The retail price is $329.99 which is a bargain for parents of colicky babies. They also offer a payment plan. Check it out, watch the different motions and more at

What to consider when you inherit a home

Over the next decade or two, members of the silent generation and older baby boomers will be leaving their children and grandchildren $68 trillion, most of which will be in the form of homes.

“More than half of all existing-homes are owned by baby boomers and the silent generation,” according to Mark Fleming with First American Title.

Heirs have several choices as to what to do with these assets. The three most common include:

  • Move into the home and live in it
  • Rent the home to tenants
  • Sell the home

Many of our clients decide to sell the home, splitting the proceeds among the heirs.

Last year when Louise Bishop and her brother Frank Becker inherited their childhood home in a Minneapolis suburb, they entertained all three options.

Going through their dad’s paperwork they learned that he’d fallen behind on payments and the home was in pre-foreclosure. Working with the bank’s attorney, they were able to secure a hold on the foreclosure so that they could sell the home.

Sounds easy, right? There is a lot to consider when deciding to sell an inherited home.

Will your pocketbook stretch?

Dad was a bit of a hoarder, which Becker and his sister learned as they sifted through their late father’s belongings. Faced by more than 50 years’ accumulation of that they’d need to somehow dispose of was challenging enough.

Two inoperable trucks, a salvaged boat on a trailer and odds and ends from Dad’s old plumbing business littered the property.

Hiring the professionals required to remove all the “junk,” clean the home and perform needed upgrades was expensive. Thankfully, Louise and Frank had the funds between them to pay for it.

We’ve worked with other families whose bank accounts aren’t as flush, in which the home sale may involve a lower asking price for the home to compensate the buyer for having to perform the removal.

Then, there may be liens on the home. Those will need to be paid off before selling the home. Your best bet is to hire a highly experienced real estate agent to help you walk through your options.

There’s often an emotional toll to pay

Cleaning out a lifetime of memories, in a home that you may have grown up in, while still grieving the loss of a parent is something nobody should have to go through.

But we do, and it can be quite emotional. Be ready for it, in yourself and other family members.

Take it a step at a time

Other family members swore that Louise and Frank’s father didn’t leave a will (known as dying intestate). This means that state law will determine how and when the property can be disposed of.

Louise, however, clearly recalled her mother telling her that her did, indeed, have a will. Within 30 minutes of rifling through paperwork, the will was found, with clear instructions as to the division of Dad’s property.

The best first step then is to locate any paperwork having to do with the house. This includes loan paperwork, letters from the lender, tax information and deeds.

When you hire an attorney (another expense, but necessary), he or she will want to know how title was held, among other things.

Why an attorney?

Check state probate rules to determine if the home will be included in the probate of the deceased’s will.

Probate is a legal proceeding that determines the legitimacy of the will or, lacking a will, identifies the deceased’s legitimate heirs (according to state laws regarding inheritance).

It’s a long and often expensive process. Thankfully, Becker hired an attorney who agreed to take the bulk of her fee at the close of probate.

Speaking of probate, if you’re facing the procedure, it’s important to get familiar with it. Don’t dispose of anything of value before probate. Anything that might be considered part of the estate must be included in probate.

We aren’t lawyers

The information we’re providing is from a layperson’s point of view. We are not lawyers and cannot dispense legal advice.

We can tell you that you’ll need professional legal and, perhaps, tax advice and assistance if you plan on selling an inherited home.