Is your waterfront home a cliché?

Whether you live in a condo with a water view or a multi-million-dollar beach house, there is an ever-present temptation to overdo nautical or other beach-related décor.

Wicker, white and blue ― if this describes any element in any room in your waterfront condo, you’re living a cliché, according to Phoebe Howard, with Mrs. Howard and Max & Company.

She tells Coastal Living magazine that there’s nothing wrong with “coastal touches” in your design scheme but keep them subtle.

Place “an antique sailor’s valentine over a bed, a sea star that hides amid the swirled pattern of a throw pillow. The result is a home with . . . trappings that accent, rather than exploit,” the views out the windows.

If you love the coastal look but have grown tired of your home feeling like an airbnb or VRBO tourist rental, consider a more natural, neutral beachy look.

Fabric

If you’re new to beach living, it’s easy to go overboard in a coastal decorating theme. Remember Howard’s words above and resist the cliché.

Instead, find subtle ways to work the coastal look into the home’s decor and one of the best is through your choice of fabrics.

From bedspreads to sofa and chair upholstery, eschew the bold floral prints for a solid, neutral color and use lightweight or nubby fabrics, such as anything linen-like. Then, go bright and bold on the accent pillows and artwork.

Wood

The heavy, dark woods are stunning in Mediterranean and neoclassic design schemes but they don’t offer the breezy feel you should aim for in your coastal décor. Homeowners seem to instinctively understand this and typically opt for bamboo or rattan.

Although lovely choices, they are best suited to furnish patios or sunrooms. Using them in the living areas makes it looks as if you’ve brought your outdoor furniture indoors.

Between the two extremes lies weathered dark wood, or even pine or maple, especially when upholstered with a cotton/linen blend fabric. Yes, it’s subtle, so use your accessories to add in the bolder colors.

An example of this is a sea-glass green for sofa throw pillows or, take a tip from the pros at Coastal Living and “use a color wheel: hues that sit opposite each other on the sphere, like purple and orange and pink and minty green, are guaranteed to look pretty when paired.”

If you decide you must have rattan, cover the upholstery with something nubby, such as burlap or linen. Get ideas for some heavily textured fabrics at etsy.com, perennialsfabrics.com and vintagefashionguild.org.

Color

As with any décor scheme, your aim should be to get the message across without clubbing visitors over the head with it. So, choose your colors carefully.

Tone down the typical coastal décor palette by taking a cue from the view. Consider neutral colors that you can pluck from the scene right outside the window: seaweed, sand, driftwood.

Keep in mind, however that “if not done right this look can seem plain and boring,” warn the experts at JustDecorate. Be mindful of the balance required between the dark and light neutral colors and keep the darkest colors in your accents.

Layer in a variety of textures as well, such as plumes of dune grass in striking vases, a sisal rug and woven roman shades.

Whether you’re decorating your new home or just looking for a fresh approach to the typical coastal decorating scheme, you’ll find all the inspiration you need right outside your window.

Should you sell your current home or rent it out?

There is no one answer and many, many things to consider when deciding about whether to sell or rent out a house that no longer suits you.

First, I urge you to speak with your accountant or financial planner before doing anything else.

He or she will be able to help you determine if keeping the home to rent to a tenant is a sound financial move – whether or not is will produce positive cash flow. If it won’t, and you’ll be looking at a loss every month, consider selling the home.

But here are a few other things you may want to consider while waiting for your accountant to get back to you.

Condition of the home

Selling a home as-is isn’t quite as easy as you may think. If there are significant problems, a buyer’s lender may require them to be remedied before proceeding with the loan.

Even smaller problems may cause a significant reduction in the selling price and a lengthier sale process. Tenants are far more likely to overlook a home’s flaws than a potential buyer.

If you don’t have the funds to make repairs, renting the house out may be the best option, provided your financial counsellor agrees that all other considerations point to renting as well.

Can you tolerate being a landlord?

Now, if your home is in pristine condition and you have even a small emotional attachment to it, you may not want to rent it out. Tenants are notorious for not caring for homes as a homeowner does, allowing problems to fester without notifying the owner, causing additional damage.

Let’s face it, the mere act of living in a home can cause damage, from scuffed baseboards to burnt countertops and dead plants. If the thought of any of this damage breaks your heart, perhaps you should reconsider becoming a landlord.

Then, there is the routine home maintenance that you’ll be on the hook to perform, despite not living in the house. Guess who pays for the plumbing bill when the tenant’s child tries to flush his toys down the toilet?

If the roof leaks, the refrigerator dies or the HVAC unit needs repair, the onus is on you to set things right. If you lack the energy, desire or the funds to make repairs or replacements, landlording is not for you.

Your tolerance for risk

Becoming a landlord is a risky endeavor. What will you do if the rent is late or if it isn’t paid at all? Will you have the money to make the house payment?

Will you have the time and money to spend on protracted and stressful eviction proceedings? If not, you either shouldn’t become a landlord, or find the extra money to pay a professional property manager.

State and federal income taxes

I’m not a CPA, so, again, I urge you to contact yours. Taxes are complicated and become even more so when you own an investment property. I do know that there are many tax deductions for investment property owners, from being able to write off the interest associated with the mortgage to depreciation.

“The cost of repairs to rental property (provided the repairs are ordinary, necessary, and reasonable in amount) are fully deductible in the year in which they are incurred,” claims Stephen Fishman, J.D. at nolo.com.

Your tax professional can let you know what, if anything, has changed in the tax laws.

Selling the home

If you sell the home, you’ll be taking advantage of one of the best seller’s market in history. You’ll no doubt be pleasantly surprised when you learn how much the home worth right now.

Since you don’t need the money to purchase the new home, why not consider investing it for your future? Or, maybe take that family vacation you’ve been dreaming about?

Impress at your next barbecue. Learn grilling tips and tricks from the pros  

Did you wonder if grilling season would ever get here? Finally – a chance to get outdoors and polish that pit master image you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

Even the pros seek out tips and tricks, however, so we’ve brought you some of their most brilliant.

Grill a better burger

Shopping for the right meat is half the battle when grilling burgers. “Ground beef that’s too lean will be tough and dry, so you’ll want to look for meat with a fat content of at 20-30%,” recommends the pros at Miami Beef.

“Hamburger patties about 5 inches across and ½-inch thick maximize surface area (and grill flavor) and ensure that the burgers cook through quickly and evenly,” according to Tony Rosenfeld, b.good burger restaurants co-owner and chef.

Then, before plopping them on the grill, use your thumb to make a slight indentation in the top of each burger. This avoids the “puff-up in the middle as they cook,” suggests Jamie Purviance, author of “Weber’s Way to Grill: The Step-by-Step Guide to Expert Grilling.”

You want the burgers to sear on the outside so don’t be tempted to flip them too early. Then, plan on flipping them only once. And, never press down on the patties as they cook.

“Pushing down on the burger presses out all the natural juices. Then people ask why their burgers were so dried out,” Eric LeVine, owner of New Jersey’s Paragon Tap & Table and Morris Tap & Grill.

LeVine also offered up a yummy-sounding recipe for the vegetarian in the group. “Make a patty using black and white beans, steel-cut oats, caramelized mushrooms and onions, roasted red peppers, and potato.

Top that with pickled scallions, red onions, egg-free roasted garlic aioli, and toasted chia seeds, all served on multigrain roll.”

Kabobbing?

While most any meat can be skewered and grilled, chicken seems to be the most popular. And, you may want to take a “cheat day” from your diet because the pros at seriouseats.com suggest that you choose thighs over breasts.

“Chicken breasts seem like a good choice because their thickness make them ideal for cubing, but their lack of flavor and tendency towards dryness totally undermines that one advantage,” they explain. Skinless, boneless chicken thighs, on the other hand, remain moist, making them ideal for grilling.

Position the chicken pieces on the skewer so that they slightly touch one another. This allows them to retain their juices better, according to Purviance. Don’t cram them together, he warns; a slight touching is all that’s needed.

Grill a killer steak

Don’t take your steaks directly from the refrigerator to the grill, cautions Jan Birnbaum partner and former chef at San Franscisco’s Epic Roasthouse. “Always allow meats to rest at room temperature for up to two hours; depending on the size of the meat,” he explains to nydailynews.com.

He suggests putting steaks “on the grill at an internal temperature of 50 to 55 degrees.”

Before that, however, consider adding your salt, pepper or even rub to the steaks as they come to room temperature.

“My secret is coating the meat with a liberal amount of rub an hour before cooking and [leaving] it out so it comes to room temperature,” John Bracamonte, Pitmaster and co-owner of Brazen BBQ in San Diego suggests.”

Use a digital, instant-read thermometer to check the temperature of steaks both before grilling and while they’re still on the grill. Steaks are rare at 125 degrees Fahrenheit, medium at 135 degrees and well-done at 145 degrees, according to World BBQ champion Chris Lilly.

“Remember that steaks will continue to cook after they’re removed from the grill,” he cautions.

Once off the grill, give the steaks time to rest. “I prefer to let my meat rest uncovered, because the covering causes the food to steam and can make the golden brown crust or skin soggy,” said Elizabeth Karmel, author of Taming the Flame.

How long should they rest? About 10 to 20 minutes, suggests John Rivers, owner of 4 Rivers Smokehouse in Florida.

Mmm … RIBS

The tenderest ribs come from long (several hours), slow cooking. “Spikes and valleys of heat will tighten and dry out the meat, but consistently low temps will produce soft and succulent meat,” promises Purviance.

He goes on to caution grillers to wait until the last 30 minutes of grilling to sauce the ribs.

For added flavor, Bracamonte suggests sprinkling on “brown sugar during the last hour of cooking … and let that caramelize over the top.”

Gettin’ saucy

The biggest no-no when it comes to saucing your meat is to do so before you put it on the grill.

“Brush on barbecue sauce during the last part of cooking. Because most contain a lot of sugar, the sauce will burn if added too early,” said Lee Ann Whippen, chef/partner, Chicago q.

If you don’t make your own sauce, check out the results of thedailymeal.com’s taste test of store-bought barbecue sauces before you go shopping.

 

Another real estate term defined: “Agency”

When you list your home for sale or buy a home with the help of a real estate agent, get ready to sign a whole pile of paperwork.

In most states, one of the first you’ll be asked to put your pen to is called the Agency Disclosure and we often see our clients sign it without reading and understanding it.

It’s rather boring, but you need to know what it means

In contract law, “agency” is a word used to describe the relationship created when one party, the principal, grants permission for another party, the agent, to act on his or her behalf (but under the principal’s control) to deal with a third party.

I see those eyes glazing over.

Here it is in English: You are the principal and your real estate agent’s broker is the agent.

“Wait, what about my real estate agent; isn’t he the agent?”

Yes, but not your agent. He or she is the broker’s agent.

Confused?

When you hire a real estate agent to help you sell or buy real estate, he or she is acting on behalf of the broker. You may never meet the broker, but she is, in reality, your agent.

Agents have duties

Agency relationships are fiduciary, meaning that they are based on trust and confidence. Your agent has a fiduciary duty to you to never breach your confidence.

One of the agent’s primary duties is loyalty—he or she is obligated to always act in your best interests, to the exclusion of all other interests. Keep this one in mind as we explore types of agency relationships, later on.

If you are buying a home, your agent has a duty to disclose the following, if it is known to her:

  • If the seller will accept less than the asking price
  • Why the homeowner is selling the home
  • Her estimation as to the value of the property
  • Whether the property is owned or co-owned by the broker or any of her relatives
  • The number of days the home has been on the market
  • Any information she has on other offers presented to the seller

As you might imagine, the seller’s agent has similar duties to his client.

What happens, then, if you go to a Sunday open house, fall in love with the house and you aren’t currently working with a real estate agent?

Will you sign up with the agent at the open house? If you do, this situation is known as dual agency – legal in some states, illegal in others. The agent must disclose to both buyer and seller that he or she is representing both of them.

Dual agency (in some states it is known as “designated agency”) can also occur when two agents from the same brokerage represent both the buyer and the seller.

The bottom line with this form of agency is that the agent’s duties are divided. Acting in his clients’ best interests, “to the exclusion of all other interests,” becomes challenging.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t enter into such a relationship. Take the time to check the agent’s qualifications. Seasoned, professional real estate agents are more likely to be able to handle the challenges inherent in dual agency situations.

When your agent passes the Agency Disclosure form across the table for your signature, take the time to read it and do ask questions about anything you don’t understand.

Learn more about the different types of agency relationships in real estate at realtor.org.

5 DIY landscaping projects you can do over the weekend

Summer is almost here! Grilling, swimming, or just lazing away the day in a hammock with a good book or a snooze — some of the best ways to spend a summer day. Read on if your backyard could use a bit of summer sprucing to make it more conducive to relaxing.

Install edging for a tidier look

If that spot where your garden beds end and the lawn begins is beginning to look a bit blurred, it’s time to install a barrier between the two. That barrier is called “edging,” and it’s easier to install than you may assume.

While faced with the mountain of choices at your local garden center, the simplest to install and most subtle are “4-in.deep strips of steel, aluminum or plastic,” according to the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine.

Want something a bit sleeker and sexier? Consider painted aluminum or steel. Although they cost about the same, those experts at Family Handyman recommend aluminum for the DIYer because it’s lighter and easier to work with. If you insist on plastic, buy the most rigid edging you can find.

Edging, according to the pros, should be installed so that the top of it ends up 1/2-inch above the soil.

Home Depot offers an easy-to-follow walkthrough on the installation process. 

Install drip irrigation

There’s no more efficient method of delivering water to your landscape than with a drip irrigation system. The best part? It’s surprisingly easy to install and maintain. You’ll find instructions all over the internet. We like the video produced by sprinklerwarehouse.com.

Large gardening centers and home improvement stores sell kits to get you started and all the supplies you’ll need to maintain add on to your system.

Mulch your garden beds

Garden mulch is undoubtably the workhorse of the landscape. Not only does it help discourage weeds, but it helps the soil retain moisture, adds nutrients to the soil and acts as a temperature regulator for tender roots.

Mulch is manufactured from a variety of materials and comes in different textures and colors. Here are just a few of the types of mulch you’ll find in gardening centers:

  • Rock
  • Gravel
  • Bark
  • Rubber
  • Straw
  • Cocoa bean shells (toxic to pets)

Whichever material you choose, you’ll need about 2 to 3 inches of mulch, spread over the soil, but kept at least 6 inches from the base of the plants.

For additional information on mulch, how to apply it and why, watch the landdesigns.com video.

Light it up

You don’t need to hack your electrical system to add lights to the landscape. Spotlights, pathway lights and even strings of lights to hang over your patio or across the top of a fence all come in solar varieties. Stick them in the ground and let the sun replace electricity.

The pros at Pegasus Lighting offer a few tips on what to look for when you shop for solar landscaping lights:

  • Choose lights that use LEDs for the light source. Not only do they tolerate harsh weather conditions better than other light sources, but “LEDs require less energy to produce light, so they are much more dependable,” according to the experts at Pegasus.
  • Shop from among the most recent models to ensure that the photovoltaic cells (the part of the light that captures the sun’s energy to charge the batteries) are durable. Speaking of batteries, newer models contain “next generation batteries,” according to Lynn Coulter at HGTV.com. These batteries “can hold up to 2 ½ times the charge as older types,” she claims.

Create an outdoor dining oasis

Whether you’re grilling or dining on take-out or kitchen-prepped cuisine, dinner on your own patio or balcony can be heavenly after a long day of work. If you already own a patio dining set, give it a fresh coat of paint.

If you need to shop for a set, and you’re on a tight budget, consider buying a used set and refurbishing it. Shop garage sales, craigslist.org or offerup.com.

 

Location: The 3 “Rules” of Real Estate

Real estate has three primary rules:

  1. Location
  2. Location
  3. Location

When something has to be repeated three times for it to sink in, you know it’s an important issue. And, when it comes to determining a home’s value – now and in the future – location is king.

When real estate agents, lenders and appraisers talk about location, however, they aren’t just referring to whether the home sits on a sandy beach. There are many aspects they take into account when determining how a home’s particular location impacts its value.

Commute times

Studies in California show that the most expensive housing markets have the longest commute time.

In San Francisco, for instance, homes in and near “The City” are exorbitantly expensive, so most homebuyers need to buy in the surrounding suburbs in other counties. The average commute time there is “between 45 and 59 minutes,” according to RealtyTrac.

If you want a cheaper home in an expensive market, plan on a long commute, because this aspect of location – proximity to business and retails centers – makes for higher home values.

Proximity to schools

Parents of school-age children naturally gravitate to neighborhoods near quality school districts. These “in-demand” neighborhood homes, in turn, boast higher values than homes located near lesser-quality schools.

Quality, when it comes to local schools’ impact on home values, is typically determined by student test scores. In fact, “economists have estimated that within suburban neighborhoods, a 5 percent improvement in test scores can raise prices by 2.5 percent,” according to the New York Times’ Quoctrung Bui and Conor Dougherty.

The flip side, however, is that studies have found that the closer to the actual school the home is located, the lower the value. This is only natural when you consider the amount of noise and traffic generated by most schools.

The bottom line is that a decent home in a good school district will hold its value better than a comparable home located in a poor school district.

Homes located near open space are worth more

A few years ago, Katherine Kenyon Henderson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill submitted the results of her study of how open spaces impact home values. These spaces include parks, golf course and more.

She found that “open spaces have a statistically significant effect on a home’s sale price,” especially in areas where the homes have smaller backyards. Furthermore, the larger the space, the more value it adds.

The neighborhood’s proximity to commercial amenities

Contrary to popular belief, a new shopping center developed within a community does not negatively impact the value of the homes in closest proximity.

In fact, although a new commercial development does cause an immediate drop in value for homes closest to it (within a .75-mile radius), those values tend to rise by 1.3 percent each year.

Within four years after development, those homes have regained the lost value and more, according to Jonathan A. Wiley, Ph.D. with the Department of Real Estate at Georgia State University.

So, don’t let news of an impending commercial development in the area scare you away from the home of your dreams.

Other location attributes, such as crime, jobs and housing inventory all impact an area’s home values, but location is chief.

How to lower your monthly house payment

Your monthly mortgage payment, which includes the loan’s principal, interest, property taxes and homeowners insurance, no doubt takes a large chunk of your take-home pay. Most homeowners just live with the pain, despite some concrete steps they can take to lower the payment.

It’s not easy, and it does require effort on your part. But, you can lower your monthly house payment.

Dump the high interest rate

Although mortgage interest rates have been at historic lows, many homeowners bought their homes during periods of high interest rates. And, yes, rates are rising, so you’ll need to take advantage of this tip soon.

By refinancing the home with a mortgage that carries a lower interest rate, your monthly payments will naturally go down. For instance, if you bought your home in 2003, you are most likely paying 5.83 percent in interest.

Lock in today’s rates, 4.625 percent as of this writing, and your house payment will be reduced significantly.

There are aspects of refinancing that need to be considered before jumping into it so run the idea by your accountant or financial planner first.

Lower your property taxes

Depending on where you live, paying your “fair share” to help fund our schools and local government can add a hefty amount to your monthly house payment. In fact, according to the Census Bureau, the average American homeowner pays $2,197 in property taxes every year.

This adds more than $183 to your house payment each month. If you live in a high-tax state, such as Illinois or New Jersey, you may pay close to twice that amount.

Your first step to lower property taxes is to dig out your current assessment and check to ensure that everything in it is accurate, from the home’s square footage to the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. If you do find errors, or if you know of homes in your area that are more expensive yet the homeowners pay less in taxes, you may be able to dispute your tax bill.

Most county assessor’s offices have procedures to file disputes.

Are you paying too much for homeowners insurance?

The average American homeowner pays about $1,083 each year (a bit less than $100 per month) for homeowners insurance, according to ValuePenguin.com.

And, many may be paying too much, according to a Consumer Reports study. Among respondents to the survey, “About 9 percent switched insurers in the previous three years, and more than half reported finding a better price,” according to Jeff Blyskal at consumerreports.org.

He goes on to claim that homeowners “can save hundreds to more than $1,000 per year in premiums by shopping around.”

Insurance companies use your credit score when determining your premium, so work on raising your score to get better rates.

Blyskal explains that “an insurance premium for a 45-year-old homeowner with a fair credit score would be 36 percent higher than if she had an excellent score, on average nationally. If the homeowner had a poor score instead of an excellent one, her premium would be 114 percent higher.”

Get rid of PMI

Private mortgage insurance (PMI) or the Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP) if you have an FHA loan, is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it helps Americans who might not otherwise be given a mortgage to finally become homeowners.

The flipside, however, is that the premiums are tacked onto the house payment every month. With a conventional loan, PMI is removed when the homeowner obtains 20 percent equity in the home.

FHA’s MIP, however, remains for the life of the loan. But, if you’ve hit that magical 20 percent equity mark (and 80 percent loan-to-value), refinance into a conventional mortgage and do away with the MIP payment every month.

Here’s what to kick to the curb and what to keep before you sell your home

If you’ve chosen your listing agent wisely, he or she will determine the most likely buyer for your home and then laser-focus the marketing materials to that pool of buyers.

Various studies of what different types of buyers are seeking in a home help the agent figure out which of your home’s features will attract them.

Now, there’s one more survey to add to the arsenal and it was published at builderonline.com.

Overall, if your home offers better energy efficiency than your competition, expect it to be popular with potential buyers. Other turn ons for buyers include floor plans that can be personalized and a home that is easy to maintain.

All of these features are more in-demand than a home with the latest technology, according to the survey.

Interior features that repel homebuyers

When asked what they dislike most about their current homes, the majority of homebuyers report that the outdated features drive them nuts. In fact, these are the most common features they are fleeing:

  • Linoleum floors
  • Popcorn ceilings
  • Wood paneling
  • Ceramic tile countertops in the kitchen
  • Shag carpet
  • Avocado green appliances

Yes, I’m sure you love that wallpaper you put up in 1988, but buyers will hate it. The same goes for the “gold” bathroom faucets or those with plastic faux crystal handles.

Features buyers love

Wood flooring is still the overwhelming favorite among buyers, with 65 percent of those surveyed showing a preference for it. Internet connectivity (ethernet and USB ports) came in second, with 44 percent of respondents.

Surprisingly, 56 percent said they were willing to give up square footage in a home if it meant having a larger yard. And, across all demographics, the most important exterior feature of a home is “distance from neighboring homes.”

Broken down by generations, here are the home feature preferences:

Millennials

  • Whirpool tub
  • Home theater
  • Wine refrigerator or cellar
  • Dining room
  • Darker, richer wall color

Gen Xers

If you have a larger home in the suburbs, members of this cohort may be your buyer. Gen X homebuyers are seeking:

  • A detached single-family house.
  • A home with lots of square footage (the average, according to study respondents, is 2,315 square feet).
  • A single-level home, or one with the master bedroom on ground level.
  • A home near trails or other amenities to help them keep fit.

Baby boomers

  • A home with 2,000 to 2,999 square feet of living space.
  • Planned community with amenities and a resort-like vibe
  • A community with a diverse age range, or “stroller-to-walker,” Tammy Barry, director of marketing for a marina resort master-planned community near Chicago tells newhomesource.com’s Camilla McLaughlin.
  • Boomers seek low-maintenance homes with large rooms and plenty of storage. 

Even homeowners on tight budgets can make minor changes to the home to attract more interest.

Small changes, such as changing out dated kitchen and bathroom faucets, buying new panels for the front of your appliances and replacing dated flooring with something attractive yet inexpensive can make a world of difference.

How to shop for a new grill for your summer cookouts

There’s a reason grilling takes center stage in summer. The weather demands it ― who wants to be cooped up indoors with all that glorious sunshine outside?

Aside from that, I doubt there’s a barbecuing man or woman in town who doesn’t feel that his or her barbecue prowess kicks hiney over even our best barbecue eateries.

To do it right, though, you need the right equipment and, if you’re in the market for a new grill (or even your first), read on for some shopping tips.

Gas or charcoal?

Or, maybe both? It’s not unheard of for the serious griller to own one of each. If, on the other hand, you don’t have a preference, maybe it’s time to learn about the differences.

Gas grills are faster and easier. You won’t need to deal with the charcoal, the fluid and then waiting for the coals to heat up. You will, however, need to ensure you have a full gas canister before the cookout begins.

Charcoal-cooked food, on the other hand, tastes better. The charcoal smokes, adding the barbecue flavor we all crave.

Consumer Reports claims that most of the gas grills we buy cost less than $300 and we use them for an average of three years. When it comes to replacing parts, expect to replace the burners. They wear out the quickest.

While charcoal grills are typically less expensive than gas grills, you can end up spending a couple hundred dollars for a large one with all the bells and whistles.

Now, charcoal and gas aren’t your only choices. George Foreman makes a lean, mean electric grill (as do other manufacturers) and there are even wood-burning grills on the market.

For the casual griller, gas or charcoal are the typical choices. If you want ease-of-use and have a need for speed, choose gas.

Which features do you need?

Of course, your budget will dictate the features you’ll find on your new grill, but there are some that are must-haves, at least for some chefs.

These might include a rotisserie (for cooking whole turkeys, chickens or roasts), lighted knobs for nighttime grilling and even alarms that let you know you’re on the verge of burning your meal.

Some are a bit extravagant but there are many features you might find quite useful. Shelving is indispensable for the serious griller. They’ll hold all of your ingredients so they are within easy reach as you cook.

A built-in thermometer is nice as well. If you really want to go all out, look for a gas grill with an infra-red burner. It’s ideal for searing meat to give it that crusty exterior and for locking in the juices.

If you’re just interested in turning out a juicy steak or burger, you don’t need all the fancy and expensive features. A basic charcoal grill will do the trick. The classic Weber kettle-style grill costs about $80 at the big home improvement stores and you can often find them on sale for even less.

Other things to think about

Don’t buy a grill without a decent manufacturer’s warranty. “This should keep you from having to spend money on parts that shouldn’t have broken in the first place,” cautions Chef Tony Matassa at BBQGuys.com.

He suggests looking for a gas grill with a 10-year burner warranty. And, speaking of the burner, Matassa reminds us to ensure that the burner size is proportional to the overall size of the grill.

“A lot of grill manufacturers make a large, impressive looking casting with a little burner – that means lots of hot and cold spots.”

Finally, he suggests that if you grill a lot of steaks, and insist on using gas, look for a gas grill that heats to at least 600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Barbecue season gets underway soon, so get out there and fill that empty spot in the backyard with a new grill.

Retiring and thinking of downsizing your home?

When the last time you bought a home was far enough back that your mortgage is paid off, or nearly so, can we give you some advice? A lot has changed in the real estate industry since the 1980s, in both the selling and buying process.

First, you’re no longer looking for areas with good schools for the kids or a strong job market for Mom and Dad. So, your priorities have changed as well and you have far more freedom now to live where you want and how you want.

It’s liberating, isn’t it?

If you’re considering downsizing your home, read on.

Right now, half of the “most viewed” articles on AARP’s website deal with romance, sex and vacations. Retirees — or those contemplating retirement — don’t have a one-track mind though.

When they aren’t reading about hooking up, or the birds and the bees, they think about their finances. And downsizing a home isn’t just a way to save on home maintenance costs but also a way to free up all that equity you’ve built up to use during your retirement.

Whether you’ll be shopping for another, albeit smaller, single-family house or a condo, downsizing doesn’t really differ that much between the two. Since it’s a major life event, however, it’s a bit scary, “like having an empty nest after the children leave,” says gerontologist Karen Owen-Lee.

Be that as it may, baby boomers are a hardy bunch and it takes a lot to frighten them off what they truly want. In fact, of the 14 percent of Americans age 65 and older who say they plan on moving in the next five years, 67 percent say their priority is to move to a smaller home.

My best advice to you is to first consult with your accountant or financial adviser before taking any concrete steps toward that new future. Armed with his or her good advice you’re in a far better position to make this move, sans the emotions.

Then, you’ll need to consider whether you want to try to time the sale of your current home with the purchase of the new one. It’s a tricky process but we’re happy to walk you through it.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages

With the home paid off, you’re in a far better financial position than many retirees but you should still consider the costs of selling a home. You’ll pay real estate fees, perhaps concessions to the buyer and mortgage fees. These can add up to a big chunk of money.

The advantages to downsizing, however, may just offset those costs

First, if you don’t pay cash for the new home, you’ll have a mortgage payment. Since you’ll be buying a smaller home, however, your payments may be far lower than they were when you had a mortgage on the current home.

And, because the home will be smaller, you’ll save money on utility bills and, if you choose a condo, home maintenance chores may be picked up by the HOA.

But, before you can make a plan for the future, you’ll need to consider both sides of the issue, the good and the bad.

Yes, there are disadvantages

In a perfect universe there would be perfect timing in all that we do. Selling your current home would coincide with a hot sellers’ market which would magically morph into an equally fiery buyers’ market when you look for the new home.

Ah, that dratted universe – nothing is perfect

And, the late Steven Hawking agrees. “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist … without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist,”

The upside to this, however, is that one of the markets will prevail so you are ensured of saving money on at least one of your transactions.

Next, consider that condo living offers many advantages (low maintenance, amenities you might not find in a single family home community, etc.) but it has drawbacks as well. Chief among these are the HOA fees and any special assessments which may crop up in the future.

It’ll work with a good plan

My advice is to plan on selling your home as soon as possible. We are still in one of the best sellers’ markets we’ve seen in decades, but interest rates may hike again this year, locking many buyers out of the market.

To make the most money possible on the sale of your current home, get it on the market soon

Then, to really get the most bang for your home-buying buck, consider moving to a less expensive community. AARP’s Shelley Emling compared the “best places to retire” cities from both Forbes and USA Today and found that both lists had three cities in common:

  • Iowa City, Iowa
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Columbia, Missouri

Both publications’ rankings used a variety of criteria, but of the three, the city for retirees on a tight budget appears to be Iowa City.

There, you’ll pay no state income tax on your Social Security income and receive a tax break on what your pension brings in. The median home price there, by the way, is $204,000, according to Emling.

Downsizing, coupled with a move to a less expensive city or even a cheaper community right here in our hometown, may just mean all the difference, financially, during your retirement.

When considering downsizing, it’s important to consider not only the type of neighborhood and home in which you want to live, but the financial aspects of the move as well.

Again, I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to seek counsel from your financial planner or accountant before making any decisions. Then, call me and we’ll get started on the real estate part of your plan.