3 tips for dealing with grody grout on your tile floors

You know those gloomy weekend days when you just can’t stand the thought of heading outdoors and and Netflix has nothing new to offer? Have we got a job for you!

Take a look at the grout in your tile floors. Rather gross, right? Unless you suffer from ablutomania (we’ll wait while you go look it up), those spaces have seen better days.

So, take advantage of the downtime and get a head start on spring cleaning with these handy tips.

1. Clean it

Surf the internet for “how to clean dirty grout” and you’ll find enough different ways to keep you busy for the rest of the winter. So, we tried some of them on a grungy entryway tile floor:

  • Toothpaste
  • Nail polish remover
  • Barkeepers’ Friend (a cleanser)
  • Bleach
  • Vinegar
  • Soft Scrub
  • Magic Eraser
  • Vinegar and baking soda
  • Hydrogen peroxide and baking soda
  • A slurry of baking soda and water

The latter, allowed to sit for about five minutes and then scrubbed with a toothbrush was by far the most effective method. Try an old electric toothbrush if you want to use less muscle-power.

One method we didn’t try is that recommended by Tim Carter, owner of the website askthebuilder.com, in his column at the Washington Post.

He uses oxygen bleach powder, which he claims is “nontoxic, doesn’t produce harsh fumes, and is color- and fabric-safe.”

Soak the grout lines with solution of the bleach and warm water (no, he doesn’t give the quantity of bleach to water) and allow it to remain for 15 minutes. During this time, “the oxygen ions attack the stain molecules, breaking them into pieces that rinse away with little effort,” claims Carter.

As it’s absorbed into the grout, add more so that the lines are always flooded with the solution. Then, scrub the grout, adding additional solution as you scrub.

He also suggests adding oxygen bleach powder to your mopping water each time your mop the floor.

2. Hide it

If the sealant is old or wearing off you may lose some of the grout’s color when using abrasive cleaners – we even lost a bit with the baking soda/water slurry. And, you may end up with lingering stains, as did Sherry Petersik at Young House Love.

If so, it’s time to “cheat.” Or, skip the scrubbing all together and head straight for this solution.

Petersik used a product called Polyblend Grout Renew that she picked up at Home Depot. The manufacturer describes it as a “colorant” and, applied with a small paintbrush or toothbrush, its recommended use is to “restore or change grout color of cement grout joints.”

We shopped around for you and, although it comes in a wide variety of colors at Amazon.com, it’s less expensive at Home Depot.

We have seen similar products, in different forms. One comes in a marking pen-like form and in 33 different colors, and another in a hair color applicator-like bottle.

You’ll need to seal the grout after cleaning or coloring and there are a number of products at Amazon.com that, judging by customer reviews, seem to do the trick.

3. Start anew

Although it sounds a bit challenging for the novice DIYer, you can find instructions on how to remove and replace grout, online.

Just the list of equipment required to do the job, however, has us scanning the internet to find a pro to do the job.

  • A rotary tool with diamond blades
  • A large grout sponge
  • Scrub brush
  • Bucket
  • Rubber float
  • Dust mask
  • Shop vac
  • Safety glasses
  • Ear protection
  • Carbide hand tool and blades
  • Gloves
  • Bleach
  • Pre-Mixed grout
  • Sealer

Supplies and equipment for a 129 square-foot grout replacement job will run you from $220 to about $265, according to homewyse.com. Add in whatever you figure your time is worth because the job will take nearly 34 hours.

Then, you’ll need to wait a few days for the new grout to dry (keeping kids and pets off of it — easy peasy, right?). before applying the sealant.

To have a pro do the work for you, plan on spending between $253 and $574, according to homeadvisor.com.

Had enough of the cold? Thaw out in a tropical fishing village

More than 1,500 years ago, a double-hulled canoe full of Polynesians landed at Ka Lae, on the southern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.

If they came from the Marquesas Islands, as many archaeologists believe, it was a journey of 2,500 miles, using only the stars to navigate.

It’s a safe bet that none of these first settlers ever dreamed that the future would see more than 1.5 million people visit the island every year.

If you hope to be among them, you’ll find the Big Island, and Kona in particular, will deliver on even your most adventurous tropical vacation dreams.

And, thaw out, you most definitely will. 

Charter Fishing

Kailua-Kona is, at heart, a fishing village. Known as the Billfish Capital of the World, it is home to the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, held every August.

Anglers from all over the globe come to Kailua-Kona with hopes of bagging the big one. It’s five days of Pacific blue marlin fishing, weigh-ins, cocktail parties and fun.

If sportfishing is your hot button when you visit our 50th state, you’ll find numerous fishing boats available for charter. In fact, there are so many it may be hard to narrow down your choices.

Of the most-reviewed charter companies on Yelp.com, two are highly rated.

The first is Fire Hatt Sportfishing Charters, offering fishing from a fully outfitted 43 foot Hatteras Convertible, with a 35-year fishing veteran, Captain Chuck Wilson. Rates are listed on their website at firehattsportfishing.com or call them at (808) 987-0038.

Yelpers also highly recommend High Noon Sportfishing. Captain Dee Bradford and crew won the prestigious Award for Excellence from Trip Advisor.

High Noon specializes in live bait fishing on light tackle for mahi mahi, small tuna and spearfish and smaller tuna.

You’ll fish from a 34-foot recently refurbished Blackfin. Captain Bradford is happy to give you not only a rate quote by phone (808-895-3868), but a fishing forecast for the time you’ll be in Kona as well.

Top Snorkeling Sites

If you have only one day to snorkel, we recommend Kealakekua (“kay-all-uh-kay-koo-uh”) Bay, especially near the Captain Cook monument. This is the spot where Cook died and, aside from that sad note, the snorkeling here is nothing short of amazing.

Kealakekua Bay is designated as a Marine Life Conservation District so sea life in the area thrives.

The bay is populated with many honu, or sea turtles, and spinner dolphins ply the bay’s calm, shallow waters in the morning, where they feed and nurse their calves.

Tropical fish of every size and hue swim among the technicolor coral reefs. It’s an underwater wonderland you won’t want to miss.

You’ll need to take one of the many snorkel tour boats from Kailua town to Kealakekua Bay. Kona Ocean Adventures has a permit to use the bay as does Sea Quest Hawaii.

About 10 minutes south of Kealakekua Bay, you’ll find Two Steps, a nickname for the snorkeling spot in Honaunau Bay (“ho-now-now”). Although once a well-kept secret, word got out and it can be quite crowded (but well worth it).

Volcano Watching

Although Kilauea (“kee-la-oo-ay-ah”), the 4,091-foot-tall active volcano is still erupting, it’s not posing any danger to the surrounding communities.

This means that you may get a chance to get up close and personal to the fiery red-hot spots viewed from the Halemaʻumaʻu (Ha-lay-mah-oo-ma-oo) Visitor Overlook at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Get daily updates on volcanic activity by visiting the U.S. Geological Survey website.


Not counting Loihi, a submerged seamount forming off the southern tip of the Big Island, Hawaii is the chain’s newest island.  While Kauai, the oldest of the eight major islands, is estimated to be between 4 and 5 million years old, the Big Island crested the ocean only about 300,000 years ago.

Because nature has had less time to erode the lava into sand, there are far fewer beaches on the Big Island than on the neighboring islands.

That doesn’t mean you won’t find a spot of powdery white sand on which to park your okole in Hawaii – there are several areas that are popular with visitors and locals alike.

Magic Sands Beach (also known as White Sands Beach), located on Ali’i Drive, about 4 miles south of Kailua town, is a surfing hot spot but sunbathers enjoy the soft white sand as well – when it’s there.

When there is heavy surf, typically during winter, the sand washes away, leaving behind bare lava rock — thus the name “Magic Sands.” Have no fear, the sand returns when the wave action calms down.

Then there is Kahalu’u Beach Park, a bit further down Ali’i Drive. Although the sand isn’t quite as soft as that at Magic Sands, the beach is larger and the sea is a bit calmer.

Head north of town, toward the airport and, between mile marker 88 and 89, across from the veteran’s cemetery, make a left turn to get to Kua Bay.

You’ll need to take a short hike down lava rock to get to this amazingly beautiful white-sand beach. The park offers free parking, restrooms and showers, but no shade so bring an umbrella if you plan on spending the day.

The Big Island has some pretty amazing bragging rights – from being home to the world’s most active volcano and the world’s tallest mountain (Mauna Kea, measured from sea level) to providing the United States with its southernmost tip – and you can see it all on one amazing island.

Best of all? How does a temperature of 81 degrees sound right about now?

Are online real estate agent reviews reliable?

If you’re one of those people who won’t buy a product or use a service until you’ve checked the online reviews, then you are as pleased as we are with the proliferation of review sites.

Do you ever wonder if a lot of the glowingly positive reviews are fake? Hey, we don’t blame you – skepticism is healthy.

And, thankfully, some sites, such as Yelp, have strict policies to ensure that the reviews are from real people who’ve actually used the product or service.

It’s not as easy to find reviews of real estate agents as it is, say, a restaurant, but they’re out there.

And, when it comes to something as complicated as a real estate transaction, it’s only natural to want to learn of others’ experiences with any particular agent.

But, again – are these reviews real?

A Zillow representative says “We do have published rules and guidelines around our reviews. In addition, our general Terms of Use is also applicable.

Having said this, we are certainly very aware of and keep a close eye on techniques used for submitting fake reviews . . . We take this very seriously. . .”

I think it’s safe to say that it would be quite difficult to submit a fake real estate agent review at Zillow.

The search for representation in a real estate transaction is something that shouldn’t be entered into lightly.

Understand that who you decide to hire will be the person/people responsible for steering your transaction to a smooth and lucrative closing.

Choose the wrong agent and you open yourself to stress, aggravation and, possibly, loss of money

So, how do you find the right agent for your needs?  Starting online, looking for social proof, is a good place to start.

So, yes, read the agents’ reviews on Zillow and Yelp, but don’t stop there. Check out agents’ websites, looking for evidence of their expertise and integrity.

I also recommend that when you narrow your choices to at least three agents to interview, that you ask each one for references from past clients.

Insist that you be given phone numbers so that you can call each one and ask the tough questions about the services they received.

Ask the right questions

Determine what type of agent you want to work with – what attributes are important to you.

We’ve found that most of our clients were looking for someone who was responsive – who actually returns their calls, emails and texts within a reasonable amount of time.

They also complained about other agents who didn’t listen to them. Make a list of what’s important to you and use it as you interview agents, looking for cues that they are actually listening to you.

While asking the right questions of the agent is important, listening to the types of questions the agents ask you is equally crucial.

If you are a homebuyer, did he or she inquire about your loan pre-approval status and explain its importance? If you are selling your home, did the agents ask you about your preferred timeline?

Pertinent questions, specific to your transaction, are important signs that you’re interviewing a good agent.

It takes money to make money

I don’t know who first said that “it takes money to make money,” but whoever it was, nailed it. And it is even more important when it comes to selling a home.

Naturally you’ll want to learn all you can about each agent’s marketing plan but it’s even more important to ask about their marketing budgets.

A new or part-time agent may be (but not necessarily) operating on a shoestring and you’ll receive the bare bones in marketing services.

To properly market a home requires pulling out all the stops

It requires a balance of both innovative and tried-and-true tactics.

Since first impressions are critical, the services of a professional photographer and, perhaps a stager are a must. Marketing to multiple platforms is also crucial.

Does each agent you interview have a marketing budget to cover these services or does he or she expect you to pay for them?

Finding the right real estate agent to sell or buy a home may seem like looking for the needle in the proverbial haystack, but it doesn’t have to be.

Choose an agent with good reviews on Yelp, on social media and at the big real estate portals, such as Zillow.

During the interviews, sellers should ask the tough questions about marketing and marketing budgets and remember to pay attention to each agent’s listening skills and the questions they ask you.

But, if you are still skeptical, ask agents you interview to supply you with additional reviews from clients along with phone numbers so you can call them.

3 home safety hazards and how to prevent them

We all get complacent when it comes to safety factors in our homes, so let’s make 2018 the year we look at our sanctuaries with an eye toward making them safer.

We’ve compiled some tips on how to prevent the three most common types of home injuries.


Falls are the most common accidents that occur in the home and can cause serious injury or death. The risk increases when it comes to the very young and the elderly.

Reduce the risk of falls with these tips:

  • Use anti-slip trips on stairs
  • Install non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower
  • Older Americans should consider installing a grab-bar in the bathtub or shower.
  • Protect young children from falls by using hardware-mounted safety gates to keep them off stairs.
  • Tape or tack throw rugs to the floor.
  • The experts at WebMD suggest installing “window guards with quick-release mechanisms (in case of fire) on upper floor windows.”
  • Examine each room in the home for potential fall hazards. Look for floorboards that stick up, cords that may present a tripping hazard and loose stairway handrails.
  • Increase lighting in dark areas and place nightlights in hallways, bedrooms, bathrooms and on stairways.
  • Wipe up spills on slippery surfaces immediately.


The second largest cause of deadly accidents in the home is poisoning. In fact, according to USNews.com, it is the leading cause of home injury deaths for the middle-aged and young adults.

And, the leading causes of home poisonings include the unsafe storage of medications and the inadvertent and improper mixing of drugs.

“It’s kind of the Heath Ledger scenario, where people are perhaps on a prescription drug, or maybe more than one, and then they get a cold and they take a decongestant, and then maybe they add a drink to that,” the Home Safety Council’s Meri-K Appy tells USNews.com’s Luke Mullins.

Actor Heath Ledger, who suffered from insomnia and the common cold, died of combined drug intoxication.

Reduce the risk of poisoning in the home by:

  • Calling the Poison Help Hotline at 800-222-1222, before taking more than one prescription or over-the- counter remedy, or mixing prescription and OTC drugs. The hotline is staffed at all times and they can council you about specific combinations of medicines.
  • Placing the Poison Help Hotline number next to the telephone to use in emergencies.
  • Keeping all drugs out of the reach of children.
  • Storing toxic household products where children and pets can’t reach them.
  • Understanding that the fumes of certain household products may be lethal if combined (such as bleach and ammonia).
  • Not storing toxic materials in food containers.
  • Watching  your child even more closely when you are away from home, especially at a grandparent’s home where medicines are often left within a child’s reach.


When was the last time you checked the temperature on your water heater?

Since more than half of household burn and scald injuries occur in the bath, set your water heater to the temperature the water heater manufacturer recommends, or to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you have small children, who are able to play with the faucets, consider installing anti-scald devices to faucets.

Here are some additional tips to prevent burns and scalds in the home:

  • Never leave anything that contains hot liquid or food where a child can reach it.
  • Turn all pot handles toward the back of the stove while cooking.
  • Unplug all heated appliances when not using them. These include steam irons, space heaters and curling irons.
  • Extinguish candles before leaving a room, the home or before going to sleep.
  • Smoke alarms and fire extinguishers save lives.

You’ll find additional tips for parents of small children at Parents.com and for older Americans at aarp.org.

Negotiating with the buyer after the home inspection

Negotiating the successful close of a home sale begins with price and contract terms and doesn’t end until the deal closes.

One of the most frequently negotiated items, after the aforementioned price and terms, has to do with the home inspection results. They’re also among the most contentious negotiations.

Very few home inspections are “clean,” meaning there’s not a thing wrong with the home. And, many of the items mentioned in the reports are minor.

Your real estate agent will counsel you on how to deal with buyer requests for repairs. But, it helps to know why he or she is making certain suggestions.

When you know how to choose your battles, and why, you’ll understand this negotiating process.

The 3 most common types of requests

When homebuyers find items in the home inspection report that they want fixed, their agents typically counsel them to submit one of the following requests:

1. Ask the seller to make the fixes

This method may delay the transaction and, depending on the extent of repairs or replacements required, and the deal the buyer made over the price, the buyer runs the risk of the request being denied.

One thing you, as the seller, should know,  is that the buyer’s lender may require certain fixes before final approval of the loan. These include issues regarding the home’s safety, structural soundness and to remedy building code violations. Expect to make all of these types of repairs.

2. Ask the seller for a credit of the funds required to make the fixes

While an adjustment to the closing date may have to be made (depending, again, on what’s require to get the home where the buyer wants it), this method is quicker than the first one.

A good buyers’ agent, however will ask the buyers if they can trust themselves to make the repairs with the cash-back at the close of escrow.

Again, as the seller, be aware that certain fixes are required by the VA and by FHA, before the close of escrow.

Also, some lenders and some types of loans forbid a cash credit at closing.

3. Ask the seller to lower the price of the home

Buyer agents will suggest to their clients that they may want to request a price reduction to compensate for the cost of needed repairs.

What you should never agree to fix

It’s amazing to me how old, ugly and scary a home inspection photo of an electrical outlet wall plate can look. Each smudge, every crack and that itty-bitty- chipped-corner, when resized to enormous proportions, makes it look like it’s ready to eat the house.

The real estate agent for the buyer that insists that the seller replace that piece of plastic or that the seller buy and install a globe lightbulb in the outlet over the front porch, should counsel her client that

the inspection report is not a repair list for the seller

Typically, repairs to rectify cosmetic issues can be safely ignored. Lender-required fixes, on the other hand, should always be performed.

Even if this particular buyer walks away, these fixes are now a disclosure item and other lenders will most likely demand them.

During a fiery sellers’ market, you are in the driver’s seat and can safely ignore most of the more trivial requests. In a buyers’ market, however, you may have to take a deep breath and carefully consider caving to the buyer’s wishes.

You don’t have to follow the buyer’s agent’s script

If the items on the buyer’s fix-list aren’t of a safety, structural soundness or building code violation nature, you are under no obligation to respond to the buyer’s preferred remediation method.

In other words, you don’t have to offer a credit, make the fixes or lower the price of the home. You have options, too. Some of these include:

Hold back personal property

If you won’t be taking your appliances with you when you move, don’t automatically include them in the sale. Hold them back to use as bargaining chips during the negotiating periods, such as over price and repairs, suggests Realtor.com.

Instead of lowering the price of the home or making non-essential repairs, offer to throw in the appliances.

Offering a home warranty

Offering a home warranty is a win-win way to address those requests for replacement of an item that, although it may be nearing the end of its functional life, still works.

An aging water heater, for instance, may concern the buyer. A home warranty might ease their anxiety and save you money in the process.

As always, consult with your real estate agent about all possible responses to a buyer’s request for repairs.

How to keep your windows from fogging up in the winter

All those gorgeous windows that allow summertime sunshine to stream through the home are useless to view the winter wonderland outside if the glass is covered in fog.

When that frosty outdoor air hits the heated glass of a window, it’s inevitable that the result will be condensation. There is a way to foil this natural process, however.

What causes window fogging?

Condensation is the result of temperature and moisture. The amount of moisture the air inside our homes can hold is limited and it depends on the temperature of the air.

When the air becomes saturated, it becomes warm and moist. When it then comes into contact with the cold glass of a window, it condenses into liquid, according to the United States Department of the Interior.

The process is similar to how your iced-tea glass begins dripping on the outside when the weather is hot.

There are solutions to foggy windows

The first solution to try is to get rid of excess humidity in the home. This is no easy task, considering even our breath adds to a home’s humidity level.

The everyday indoor activities of a family of four “can add more than 18 gallons of water a week into the air in the home”

according to the pros at Thermal Windows, Inc.

No, we aren’t suggesting that you stop breathing but there are steps you can take to reduce interior humidity:

  • Houseplants contribute to the humidity level inside the home. Consider moving them to one room during the winter.
  • Use the exhaust fan in the laundry room, in the kitchen while cooking and in the bathroom while showering or bathing. Allow it to run for about five minutes after you’ve finished.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Open some windows for a few minutes, several times a day, or in the evening.

Then, check the crawl space and basement for moisture and use a plastic vapor barrier to keep moisture to a minimum, suggests Tom Feiza, author of “How to Operate your Home.”

The Family Handyman offers an easy-to-follow walkthrough of the installation process.

In spring, check the yard for correct grading and drainage.

If all else fails, use a dehumidifier

Excess humidity in the home does more than fog windows. It can cause paint to peel, floors to buckle, wood to rot and insulation to deteriorate. It also attracts dust mites to your clothing, rugs, carpeting and — yup — your bed.

A dehumidifier removes “between 10 pints and 50 pints of water from the air each day,” according to the experts at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Not only is this good for taking in that view outside your windows, but for your health as well, especially for those who suffer from allergies and asthma.

One of the disadvantages of using a dehumidifier is that these machines require consistent cleaning to discourage mold growth.

Also, small units may not work on a larger home, so the University of Rochester Medical Center suggests larger capacity units, rated at 50 pints a day or more.

Do I Have to Use the Builder’s Lender and Real Estate Agent?

The real estate industry does a spectacular job educating first-time homebuyers. There’s so much valuable information out there that no buyer should go through the process uninformed.

Buying a home in a new community – a brand-new home that no-one has ever lived in – is not only first-time homebuying on steroids, but the industry has left the homebuyer behind in terms of offering information and sharing knowledge about the process.

From the home loan process to choosing your real estate agent, it doesn’t have to be confusing.

Read on to learn answers to the two most common questions we receive from our clients who are considering buying a newly-constructed home.

The preferred lender

Many potential new homeowners walk away from the model home tour under the assumption that they must use the builder’s preferred lender as a condition of the purchase.

Is it any wonder?

Some builders’ representatives use carefully-chosen words to make buyers believe this

When, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, the builder may require you to obtain loan pre-qualification from the preferred lender but, in the end, you can borrow money for the home from whichever lender you chose.

These lenders often offer good deals, though. They may offer to pay your closing costs or entice you with a specific amount, such as $10,000, if you obtain your mortgage from them.

Others will reduce the price of the home or throw in attractive upgrades as an inducement to use the preferred lender.

These are a bit more challenging to put into monetary terms so you may need to do some research. You’ll need a dollar figure to work with when comparing this lender’s offer to others.

Incentives, however, may turn out to mean nothing if not compared against other terms, such as the interest rate and points charged

By the way, go ahead and allow the builder’s preferred lender to pre-qualify you for a mortgage – you are in no way obligated to use their services in exchange for loan pre-approval.

You’ll be given a Loan Estimate that you can use to compare this lender’s offering against others. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a sample of the form, with explanations, on its website.

My best advice to my clients is to go loan shopping before you step one foot into a new home community’s builder’s office. Have facts and figures in-hand, ready to compare to what the builder’s lender will offer.

If you don’t have this backup,  there’s a good chance you’ll get swept up in the excitement of buying a new home, perhaps falling in love with one of the model homes, and your emotions will take over.

Armed with hard facts (offers from other lenders), on the other hand, you’ll be able to react logically instead of emotionally, and that’s a good thing when making a financial decision.

About the builder’s real estate agent

Just as it’s never a good idea to use the homeowner’s real estate agent when buying an existing home, it’s unwise to use the builder’s agent, and here’s why:

The owner’s agent, whether a homeowner or a builder, has one overriding aim: to get the owner the most amount possible for the home

The buyers’ agent, on the other hand, seeks to help his or her client spend as little as possible for a home.

See how the two duties conflict?

Regardless of how congenial, knowledgeable and eager the builder’s agent is, you need your own representation.

In fact, you’ll be asked on your first visit if you’re working with a real estate agent and your answer should always be “yes”

To be safe, we recommend that you ask your agent to accompany you on the first visit. If that isn’t possible, register your agent when you sign in.

Now, instead of using an agent with divided loyalties, you have your own representative who will go to bat for you in negotiating upgrades and extras, guide you during the inspections and assist you in taking care of all those details during the transaction.

Critical winter home staging tips

Winter home sales don’t have to be as challenging as you may think. Sure, the sun isn’t always shining and you may be contending with snow and ice in your landscaping, but we’ve got some hacks to help cozy up your home, making it über-inviting to winter house hunters.

It may be winter, but curb appeal still matters

What will your potential buyer see when he or she drives up to the curb in front of your home? This is known as curb appeal and it’s one of the most important aspects of home staging.

Curb appeal is, after all, what will either encourage the buyer to get out of the car or to drive off to the next listing.

While there’s not a lot you can do if there’s snow on the ground, there are several, subtle updates you can make that will appeal to buyers.

  • Purchasing a new set of house numbers will make a big difference, especially in winter. Bigger is better so your house is easily recognizable.


  • Invest in new door mats. Consider a seasonal option, and you may want to have a second mat ready for showings in case the daily one looks a little worse for the wear as a result of the weather.


  • Ensure that the porch, driveway and walkways remain clear of snow and ice.


  • Paint the front door an eye-catching color. Zillow’s 2017 Paint Color Analysis finds that

“doors painted in shades of dark navy blue to slate gray sold for $1,514 more.”

  • Add life to the front porch in the form of plants in attractive pots.


  • Consider adding additional outdoor lighting. When they consider lighting, most sellers confine their efforts to the home’s interior. While it’s crucial to have good lighting indoors, don’t neglect your outdoor lighting strategy.


Home sellers tend to ignore backyard home features when readying their homes for the winter market. After all, they’re typically only used during the balmier times of the year. Don’t let winter discourage you from showing them off, though.

Create a vignette as if it were 70 degrees and the sun is shining. If it’s not snowing, scrub the grill and leave it open. Set the patio table for an outdoor barbecue. Leave the hot tub running during showings.

The entry way

If you have time to do nothing more before dashing off to work in the morning, tidy the entry way. After curb appeal, the portal to the rest of the home sets the tone for the entire visit.

It should be clean, of course, and free of clutter. Remove the keys and other items that tend to get dropped on the table, the boots that get kicked off at the door and anything else that tends to end up just inside the front door.

Run the vacuum or a mop over the floor and consider adding fresh flowers or a live plant to add a pop of life to the area.

 Maximize light

The right lighting in a home helps draw attention where you want it, creates mood and ambience, alleviates shadows and highlights textures, according to the American Lighting Association (ALA).

Even during the sunniest times of the year, real estate agents recommend that home sellers maximize the light inside the home. Typically, this involves leaving the window coverings open and turning on all the lights in the home.

Of course, you’ll want clean windows to allow what little sunlight there may be to reach the interior of the home. In winter, however, there is less sunlight, so you’ll need to get creative with your lighting.

Do an inventory of your home’s artificial light sources. Lighting professionals recommend “layered lighting,” which includes overhead, task and accent lighting. Include all three in your lighting scheme.

Aim for a higher wattage for your light fixtures. HGTV experts recommend “100 watts for each 50 square feet.”

Strategically placed mirrors will reflect nearby light so consider adding some to your decorating scheme.

Subtle accessories make a difference

Drape a throw over the arm of the sofa or the back of a chair, add a fluffy comforter to the foot of the bed and scatter richly-colored area rugs to create a cozier ambiance.

Keep in mind that excessive holiday décor will take the buyers’ focus off of the features you want them to notice, so keep it to a minimum. Some twinkly lights, vases of winter greenery and bowls of sparkly tree ornaments set the mood without distraction and without alienating buyers.

Winter doesn’t have to be a challenging time to sell a home. Think like a decorator and your home will be the belle of the winter real estate market.

4 quick and easy winter home maintenance tasks

Winter hibernation – that feeling that we should burrow our heads under the covers until spring — is typically fruitless.

Since scientists warn us to “keep moving” to release endorphins which will help us keep “winter tiredness” at bay, we’ve come up with “exercises” that offer a bonus. They’re quick, they’ll get you moving and your home will look incredible when you’re finished.

Attack the refrigerator

How’s yours looking after the Thanksgiving festivities?

More important – when was the last time you pulled it away from the wall to clean behind it?

If you have pets, especially, the coils should be cleaned at least twice a year if you hope to prolong the appliance’s life.

So, move it away from the wall to give yourself room to work and unplug it. Then, use the vacuum to clean the coils.

Depending on how much fuzz and other grime has accumulated on the coils, you may want to pre-clean them by brushing with a paintbrush. Then, use the vacuum, with the brush attachment, to get the rest.

When you’re finished, sweep and mop the floor, plug the refrigerator back in and move it to its original location.

If your refrigerator’s coils are on the bottom, you can access them through the grill cover at the bottom of the front of the refrigerator.

Appliance manufacturers are now offering refrigerators with condensers enclosed in a compressor casing so they never need cleaning (in fact, GE calls theirs NeverClean™ Condensers). This location also allows for more efficient airflow.

Dishwashers don’t clean themselves

It’s amazing that a contraption that can clean so many things (silicon oven mitts, tools, toys, makeup brushes, golf balls and more) doesn’t clean itself.

In fact, to keep it running efficiently, you should clean your dishwasher once a month, according to Bob Vila.

Unplug the dishwasher and remove the bottom dish rack. Locate the drain filter at the bottom of the tub. Unscrew the center cylinder, remove it, wash it under hot water and replace it.

The spray arms can be either unscrewed or pull off, depending on the model. You may need a toothpick to get to any small pieces of food stuck inside the holes.

If your dishwasher has a vent on the inside of the door, remove the cover and attack that awful gunk that tends to accumulate there. A stiff toothbrush dipped in vinegar and a bit of scrubbing should remove it.

Clean the showerhead

If your showers aren’t what they used to be, the showerhead may be the culprit. Scaly mineral deposits build up and eventually clog the tiny spray holes. Fortunately, there are several methods you can try to rid the showerhead of the deposits.

Let’s start with the easiest – it doesn’t require removal of the showerhead.

  • “Slip a rubber band over the top of the showerhead,” suggests Better Homes & Gardens.
  • Pour your preferred liquid cleaning solution (vinegar, CLR, etc.) in a plastic sandwich bag.
  • Place the bag over the showerhead and wrap the rubber band around the top of the plastic bag to secure it.
  • Allow the bag to remain for about an hour (or according to the product’s instructions).
  • Remove the bag and turn on the shower to flush the solution from the showerhead.

If the easy method fails, you’ll need to remove the showerhead and scrub it with an old toothbrush and the cleaning solution.

Plumbingsupply.com offers a handy walk-through of the removal process and how to guard against damaging the showerhead.

Use a small, sharp object, such as a pin or toothpick to dislodge stubborn particles. You may need to soak the showerhead in the solution overnight.

Bob Vila recommends that since you have the showerhead dismantled, you should clean the filter as well. Use the showerhead manufacturer’s instructions about how to locate and detach the filter screen.

It is typically located “near the point where the shower head attaches to the water supply pipe, according to Vila. To clean, use the toothbrush to scrub it under running water.

Clean your computer

If you use your computer as much as we do ours, you’ll agree that digital maintenance is just as necessary as home maintenance. Heavily-used machines take a beating and invariably end up with a lot more than dust to contend with.

Refer to your owner’s manual first.

Not all of them contain information on cleaning but if yours does, because it’s specific to your device, it’s the best advice to follow.

Work from the outside to the inside by cleaning the shell first. Consumer Reports recommends using a small drop of liquid dish soap in a small bowl of warm water. Dip in a sponge, wring it well and wipe down the exterior of the case and the mouse.

Keyboards are like flypaper – they attract anything that happens to float by, from dust to hair to crumbs. Consumer Reports recommends using a portable vacuum cleaner to get at the detritus. Lacking one of those, use a small brush to clean around the keys.

If you use a detached keyboard, give it a couple of gentle shakes and then turn it over and pat gently along the back of it. You may be surprised what falls out of it. Then, wipe the keys with a damp cloth. A cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol is ideal for cleaning the spaces between the keys.

Use a soft brush to wipe the dust from the computer’s vents and then spray condensed air to dislodge any stubborn debris. Consumer Reports recommends that you hold the compressed air can “at an angle so that you’re not blowing the debris deeper into the machine.”

Use care when cleaning the monitor.

Start by using a dry, micro-fiber cleaning cloth to remove as many of the smudges and other grime as possible. If it requires additional cleaning, Matt Elliott with cnet.com recommends using a soft cloth, dipped in a solution of warm water and a drop of dish soap – well-wrung – to gently wipe the screen.

Use a clean, damp cloth to remove the soapy residue and the micro-fiber cloth to dry it.

Selling a luxury home? 4 qualities to look for in a real estate agent

Selling a luxury home is unlike any other real estate transaction. The marketing is different, the potential buyers are different and the entire sales process is as well.

We hear from our luxury home clients that they found locating the right real estate agent to handle the sale the most challenging part of the process.

So, we came up with four qualities you should look for when choosing an agent to assist you in the sale of your luxury home.


Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus nailed it when he said that “You cannot create experience, you must undergo it.”

Agents experienced in the luxury home market are the only ones who understand the nuances of this market

Everyone else guesses and sadly, often miss the mark. That’s something no homeowner can afford.

When shopping for an agent, whether you plan on buying, selling or doing both, look for one that has experience with luxury homes and with high-end clients.

Marketing expertise

Cookie-cutter marketing plans don’t work with expensive real estate. While online advertising is critical to a marketing campaign, luxury home marketing sometimes requires more extensive and focused marketing.

Beautiful, full-color brochures and placing ads in certain magazines where they’ll be seen by the affluent are sometimes called for.

When selling an expensive home, look for an agent that uses all of the marketing tools at her disposal.

Marketing budget

Regardless of experience, if the agent you’re interviewing runs his business on a shoestring, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to afford the extensive and expensive marketing strategies required to sell a luxury home.

Remember, attracting the affluent buyer requires more than a listing in the MLS

It may require buying advertising in high-end publications. One Silicon Valley expert we know frequently advertises in Elite Traveler, a magazine for those who own private jets.

Ad rates vary, but start at $5,000 

Other luxury agents prefer a broader audience, such as that of the Robb Report. Here, ads cost from nearly $14,000 (for 1/3 page) and more than $39,000 for a full-page ad.

Don’t be afraid to ask not only how the agent will advertise your home, but how he or she will pay for that as well.

Local experience

Another challenging aspect of listing a luxury home is setting the appropriate price. Since prices are based on the sales price of homes in the same general area, it’s vital that your agent is familiar with the market.

A good luxury home listing agent not only knows what has sold recently, but has seen the interiors of the homes personally. She is also familiar with homes currently on the market.

This familiarity is the agent’s best tool when determining a list price for your home

Don’t trust the sale of your luxury home to any agent that can’t provide details of his or her experience, marketing know-how, budget and local market familiarity.