The Commonwealth Blog

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Hosting the Ultimate Father's Day Barbecue

Be the Grill Master

If you like to barbecue, why not let Dad take a break from the usual grilling? Impress him with your own cooking skills and treat him to a meal you made yourself. Grill an assortment of your dad’s favorite meats, which you can serve with hearty potato salad, cookies, and his other favorite treats. Today is his day to indulge, so don’t be afraid to veer away from greens and lean foods (unless those are his favorite things, of course)!

Now, to the meat. If you’re wondering what to slap on the grill this weekend, or you want to try something new, check out these tasty options:

Grilled Espresso Tri-Tip Roast

Add a kick of flavor to your tri-tip with ground coffee beans, sugar, garlic powder, black pepper, and chili powder.

Spicy Orange and Jalapeno Grilled Shrimp

Maybe Dad’s a seafood lover. Mix jalapeno peppers, sweet orange marmalade, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, cilantro, and garlic with shrimp to serve him his new favorite seafood dish.

Beer Can Chicken

After applying a simple spice rub, set the chicken over Dad’s favorite beer. The beer’s aroma seeps into the bird as it cooks—yummy and fun!

Grilled Shrimp Tacos

This Mexican-style dinner is sure to please your papa. Use garlicky aioli, cotija cheese, and lime wedges to complement fresh shrimp and corn tortillas.

Grilled Italian Sausage Po’Boy

Treat Dad to a Louisiana-style po’boy sandwich—surround a tasty Italian sausage with sliced tomatoes, red onions, and shredded lettuce on a bun.

Of course, if Dad wants to do the grilling himself, make sure he has everything he needs to be the grill master. A gift of a customized chef hat or apron will make for many smiles and heartwarming photos.

Snacks and Drinks

Your dad probably has a favorite beer or two. Pick out his favorite drinks and place them in a large bucket of ice so the grown-ups can easily grab them at their leisure. Fill a separate bucket with Dad’s Root Beer for the kiddos.

Complement your drinks with a selection of tasty snacks. Mixing specialty ketchup with horseradish makes an excellent dipping sauce for shrimp. You can also include an assortment of nuts, chips, and crackers in separate bowls for guests to snack on as they wait for their barbecue.

Decorate for Dad

Set a festive, casual mood with thoughtful decorations. Find a simple canvas drop-cloth (you can find one at your local hardware store) to place over your table. Put greenery on the table to enhance the summer vibe, and bring lanterns out at night to keep your barbecue going after the sun sets. Include handwritten notes and drawings near Dad’s seat so he can open them for all to see.

Celebrate with Friends and Family

Great company makes a party even more fun. Invite Dad’s closest family and friends to let him know he’s loved by so many. With delicious food, thoughtful décor, and wonderful guests, your Father’s Day barbecue bash is sure to be a hit.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Reasons to Downsize Your Home

Downsizing allows you to move to a more manageable home: It will likely have less square footage, fewer rooms, and less surrounding land. It’s common for empty nesters and recently retired individuals to downsize their homes as they enter their next phase of life. Here are some reasons why downsizing may be right for you.

You’ll Save Money

When you downsize, your monthly mortgage payments should decrease, which means you can put more money away for retirement. If you’ve already paid off your current home, you can purchase a smaller one with cash from the sale, and you won’t have to make any more mortgage payments. You can also pay off debt or help fund your children’s education with the extra money from downsizing.

You Can Lighten Your Load

Downsizing forces you to go through your things. If you can’t fit all of your belongings in your new space, you’ll have to decide what furniture, clothing, and miscellaneous items are worth keeping. Measure your new home or look up the floor plan online to get an idea of what you can bring. If you're initiating a purge, we suggest starting early so you have plenty of time to go through your items before packing up the moving van.

Once you narrow down your belongings and move into your new place, you’ll find you don’t have as many chores or things to take care of. You’ll no longer have to worry about mowing a huge lawn, for example, or cleaning second-story floors. A smaller home affords you a simpler life, which is appealing to many homeowners who’ve spent years maintaining larger properties.

You’ll Change Your Lifestyle

When you finally decide to put your home on the market, your life will be open to new possibilities. If you want to move closer to your children or parents, now you can. Some individuals want to be close to communities or landscapes that offer fun recreational activities. If you’re concerned about mobility, moving to a cozy one-story home is a great option. Whatever lifestyle change you want to make, downsizing can pave the way.

Enjoy Your Next Chapter

Now that you’ve downsized, you may feel freer. You’re no longer attached to a bunch of belongings or committed to an unrealistic amount of housework. If you’re in the process of deciding whether you should downsize, consider these tips to make a thoughtful decision about where you’ll move to next.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

This Is How to Stage a Bathroom Before a Sale

When staging your bathroom for listing photos or an open house, you may wonder how to freshen up the space. Unlike other rooms in the house, the bathroom doesn’t call for an excessive amount of furniture and isn’t a place people spend most of their time. That being said, prospective buyers will at least peek their heads into your bathroom—here are some ways to make sure it shines when they do. 

First, Clean

It may seem obvious, but your bathroom should be spotless before anyone walks in to inspect it. On top of the normal bathroom chores, these deep-cleaning strategies will make a big difference: 

  • Disinfect tile in the shower with all-purpose cleaner, and use a grout brush with bleach to clean less-than-attractive grout stains.
  • Place a bag filled with vinegar and sealed with a rubber band around the head of the shower. This will remove buildup from the shower head and improve water pressure.
  • Remove calcium residue from shower doors with Lime-A-Way.
  • Get rid of mold with a solution made of white vinegar or 1 cup of Borax mixed with 1 gallon of water. 

Know What Repairs to Make  

Address any minor problem spots that may prevent buyers from making an offer, like old, crumbling paint or a leaky faucet. While repainting your bathroom, use high-quality semi-gloss paints—they’re easy to clean and resist moisture damage. In bathrooms that don’t see much use and aren’t exposed to heavy moisture, use eggshell paint or a satin sheen. Blue and periwinkle bathrooms sell for $2,786 more than expected, so you may want to consider one of these colors. 

Check your tub for stains or rust, too. If replacing the whole tub isn’t an option, re-glaze it for significantly less money. Lastly, replace noisy fans to get rid of constant rattle, and fix leaking faucets to save water. 

It’s Time to Decorate

Now that you’re through with the cleaning and fixing, you can get to the decorating. While the bathroom doesn’t have much room for furniture, you can add a stool, bench, or cabinet to provide an attractive seating area or extra storage. We also recommend using stylish wicker or wire baskets to store toilet paper and cleaning supplies and installing 100-watt soft-white bulbs or smart bulbs to provide enough light without being overbearing. 

In addition to storage and lighting, you can create a calming atmosphere for your bathroom with spa-like décor. Remove all personal items from sight and add folded white towels, candles, fresh flowers, and wrapped soaps for added appeal. You should also replace old shower curtains with new ones. With these decorations in place, buyers will feel more comfortable in a clean and tranquil space. 

A Beautiful Bathroom

Now that you’ve cleaned, made repairs, and decorated, you can rest assured knowing your bathroom is ready for its big debut. Prospective buyers will appreciate your work, and you may even sell your home more quickly.  

Monday, June 3, 2019

How to Find the Perfect Real Estate Agent

It takes work to buy or sell a home—oftentimes, more work than you anticipated. Real estate agents in the Boston area speed up the home-buying or selling process with knowledge of local markets and trends. Do the appropriate research ahead of time to find an agent who can help sell or buy your home quickly and for the best price.

Know What to Look For

Know what qualities to look for in an agent before beginning your search—you’ll save yourself time and money when you select an agent who understands your unique needs and preferences. Alongside finding a best-fit match, we recommend working with an agent who is responsive, knowledgeable, and highly qualified.

Responsive Agents

Responsive agents are more likely to answer their phones or respond to emails when you need them. This is especially important in hot markets like Boston where homes sell quickly. You’ll want to be kept in the loop by a responsive agent so you can place a bid before your competition does.  

The same goes for sellers: You need to know of impressive bids as they arrive so you can seal the deal before a buyer potentially changes their mind. Agents should maintain excellent communication with sellers and prospective buyers to ensure fast, effective sales and purchases. Make sure your agent doesn’t take responsiveness for granted.

Knowledgeable Agents

Look for an agent with knowledge of your local real estate market. They likely have more experience buying and selling homes in your area than you do, which helps take the guesswork out of things. Agents help buyers avoid spam listings and properties they won’t like. They also determine market conditions and pricing to help buyers and sellers with their financial decisions.

Real estate agents in Boston and have extensive knowledge of the city’s many communities and surrounding neighborhoods. They’re prepared to help you buy your dream home or sell your house quickly because they’re well connected to the area: They likely have buyers lined up to see your home, and they probably know of a few properties you’d love to move to.

Agents with Credentials

You have a right to size up your agent’s record as a buyer or seller—and you should if you want to save time and money on a sale or purchase. Use the following tactics to investigate your agent’s qualifications (if they don’t flat out tell you) and know you’re working with an industry professional.

  • Check for Licensing: Find out whether your agent is licensed or has received complaints through your state’s regulatory body.
  • Ask about credentials: Agents may be CRS (Certified Residential Specialist), ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative), or SRES-certified (Seniors Real Estate Specialist), meaning they’ve completed additional training to become experts in their respective fields. An agent who is a Realtor has pledged to support the code of ethics outlined by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
  • Look at Current Listings: Their current listings indicate the kind of properties they help clients buy or sell. Check to see if they match your own property or dream house.

Ask the Right Questions

After completing a bit of research, you probably have a handful of agents in mind you’d like to work with or at least interview. Zillow recommends asking the following questions while meeting a prospective agent for the first time.

  • What’s included in your services?
  • Is your fee negotiable?
  • What’s your experience in the neighborhood?
  • What are your hours?
  • How do you plan to market the home?
  • Do you have references?
  • Does this contract include a cancellation clause?

Go Forth with Confidence

With a bit of preparation and investigating, you’ll find an agent prepared to help you buy or sell your home. Browse our list of qualified agents in the Boston area to confidently move forward in the right direction.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How to Buy a House Before You Sell

Locals and transplants agree: Boston is a great place to call home. More people are moving to this beautiful East Coast city to take advantage of its attractive job market, higher learning institutions, and superior healthcare providers (and let’s not forget about Boston’s beloved sports teams, famous baked beans, and fresh seafood).

It’s safe to say Boston is a seller’s market, with a large buyer population and fewer available homes. If you’re looking to snap up a house in the Boston area before you can sell your current home, consider these strategies for making the process more manageable—our friends at Zillow offer excellent advice.

Some Handy Tips 

Sale and Settlement Contingency

Make an offer on a new house with a sale and settlement contingency to communicate that you’ll only buy it after you’ve successfully sold your current property. The seller can still sell to someone else if another offer comes through first, but you’ll have the option to either close the deal early or decline if your home still hasn’t sold. 

Extended Closing

Ask to extend your new home’s closing date past the traditional 30- to 45-day time period if you’re sure you only need a little extra time to sell your property. This can be tricky in a seller’s market where other buyers might make more appealing offers without conditions, but it’s a tactic worth trying. 

Use Your Savings

Use your savings for a down payment on a new home if you’re able to do so. Waiting for cash flow from your own sale to make a purchase will limit your opportunities. 

Find Tenants for Your Old Home

If you’ve already moved into your new house, rent out the old one to continue making mortgage payments before it sells.  This allows you to delay selling if you don’t need the money from your old home for a down payment. 

Pros of Buying Before You Sell

There are several benefits to buying a new house before selling yours: You have a place to move without delay, you’ll save money by not having to pay for temporary housing or storage units, and you’re less pressured to make a buying decision when you have the option to stay in your current residence. 

Boston’s population has grown every year since 2004, with a current population of around 700,000. As more and more people move to the city, it’s likely you’ll be able to sell your own Boston property quickly—buying another one may be a different story. Use some of these strategies to get a leg up on finding a property in the area you love before vacating your current one.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Will You Live in Boston or Beyond?

Boston, a city celebrated for its history and academia, is appealing to new and longtime residents alike—but so are the city’s many surrounding suburbs. Take a look at the landmarks, schools, and other traits that make both the capital and its nearby communities excellent places to live.

Boston’s Many Attractions

Boston has it all, from Revolutionary War-era buildings and parks to a tech scene booming out of the local universities. If you move to Boston proper, you’ll never run out of things to do. Here are some reasons why city dwellers love Beantown.

History Is All Around You

Bostonians take pride in living where early Americans fought for our independence. Walk along the Freedom Trail, visit the Paul Revere House, or explore the area’s many museums to live and breathe U.S. history.

Innovation and Collaboration

Boston is nicknamed the Athens of America because of the more than 20 higher learning institutes that call it home. MIT, Harvard, and Tufts provide world-renowned education and research and support the work of the city’s many CEOs and entrepreneurs. Brilliant minds from all over the globe come to Boston to share ideas, and the city’s residents are lifelong learners committed to supporting research, academic enrichment, and the arts.

It’s a Healthy City

Boston makes exercise easy. There are plenty of sporting events (like the Boston Marathon) to keep Bostonians entertained and in shape, and beautiful parks are all over the city—for instance, Middlesex Fells Reservation, which contains over 100 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and running. Living with the city limits also puts you in close proximity to some of the country’s top-rated doctors and hospitals.

Surrounding Suburbs

It’s true that Boston’s city center provides endless opportunity for the enthusiastic city dweller, but what if you’re looking for some peace and quiet? Boston’s surrounding suburbs are just as charming and full of history without all the metropolitan buzz.

Newton

This collection of 13 villages west of downtown Boston will entertain the whole family with its museums, antique shops, and hiking trails.

Quincy

More affordable than other cities, Quincy attracts young people from across the state who enjoy its redeveloped downtown and proximity to Boston proper. Quincy has a small-town feel, and it’s 27 miles of coastline appeal to lovers of the sea.

Wellesley

Almost half of Wellesley’s households have kids, making it one of the most family-friendly neighborhoods. Wellesley is also known as the home of Wellesley College, Babson College, and a campus of Massachusetts Bay Community College.

Natick

This MetroWest suburb, only a 43-minute drive from Boston, provides a close-knit community for both new and familiar residents. The Center for the Arts in Natick hosts concerts, open mic nights, and film screenings. Century-old homes and the shops that line the streets make Natick a picturesque place to live.

Concord

A 45-minute drive to Boston, this quaint town recently upgraded its West Concord Village District, a pedestrian-friendly shopping area that attracts locals and visitors alike.

The Choice Is Yours

Whether you’re looking for bustling energy or a peaceful retreat, you can’t go wrong with moving to the Greater Boston area. Choose the town that complements your family’s lifestyle and goals for the future—either way, you’ll be surrounded by history, culture, and quite a bit of charm.     

  

Monday, May 20, 2019

How to Be a Good Neighbor

Applying the Golden Rule to the neighborhood goes a long way: Treat your neighbors as you’d like to be treated so everyone feels welcome and happy. Of course, there’re many ways to be a good neighbor, but a few common practices communicate your eagerness to develop long-lasting, positive relationships with new and old folks on the block.

Extend a Welcoming Hand

When families first move to the neighborhood, they probably don’t know many people around them. Be cordial and welcoming by knocking on their door and introducing yourself. You can always bring a fresh batch of cookies or flowers from your garden to extend a warm welcome.

We also recommend exchanging contact information at some point during your neighborly courtship—you never know when you may need someone to take in your mail while you’re on vacation. Be upfront about your willingness to lend a helping hand, and your new neighbors will more than likely do the same for you.

Maintain Curb Appeal  

To be a respectful neighbor, you also need to upkeep your home’s exterior. No one wants to look out their window at trash bins overflowing with waste or a brown, decaying lawn. Do what a good neighbor would do, and clean up after yourself. Maintain the same level of cleanliness as the rest of your neighborhood by routinely mowing your lawn, taking out the trash, and painting over your home’s moldy or worn façade.

Practice Good Manners

Establish respectful relationships with your neighbors by being friendly and maintaining healthy boundaries. Your fence is there for a reason, but you should still know when it’s time to be a pal. If you’re hosting a large party, invite them over. They don’t have to attend, but at least they know they were welcome to participate in the festivities. You should also instruct your guests to park in your driveway or on the street near your home, ensuring they don’t take up too much space. 

Speaking of parties—don’t bother your neighbors by ignoring noise ordinances. Keep it down between the hours of 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. to ensure everyone can enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep without waking up to loud music. The same goes for noise in general: Revving your engines at 7 a.m. probably won’t settle well with your neighbors.

Lastly, practice good manners by returning things you’ve borrowed for yard work or home maintenance projects. If you get into an argument, be mature and shake hands after trying to come to an agreement, instead of gossiping around the block.

Enrich Each Other’s Lives

Follow proper etiquette to help everyone in the neighborhood feel happy and comfortable (yourself included). You’ll be content knowing you are part of a community that looks out for each other by being respectful and kind neighbors.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

How Trends Affect Home Value

Square footage may be the main factor that determines your home’s value, but it’s far from the only one. Part of the sale price comes down to what’s currently popular. Keep up with the latest trends in home décor and hip locations to get more money at the time of sale.

This Upgrade, Not That Upgrade

The preferences that influence your home’s marketability are more particular than you might think. For example, painting kitchens blue increases your home’s value—homes with blue kitchens sold for a $1,809 premium in 2017 compared to homes without blue kitchens. This may coincide with the rise of open kitchens, which buyers believe communicate a level of seriousness and sophistication as the centerpiece of the home. Quartz countertops are a popular choice for kitchens because they’re sturdy, luxurious, and come in a variety of colors, patterns, and textures.

Bathrooms can be trendy because of their texture as much as their color. Modern bathrooms use rough tiles in cool grays, tans, and mixed colors to cover showers, countertops, and floors alike—a change from the simple, smooth tiles of years past. Fashionable bathroom storage is also on the rise, as sophisticated cabinets replace old racks standing over toilets.

Other popular (and profitable) trends include installing barn doors and farmhouse sinks. Incorporate these features in your home and listing to see your home sell quickly and for more money.

Location Can Be Trendy

Location is factored into your home’s final sale price. Buyers have always paid close attention to the quality of nearby schools, employment opportunities, and proximity to recreational centers and activities, but their offers may change depending on which activities are “in” in the moment. One study found that Starbucks continues to be a sought-after neighborhood status symbol—homes residing within a quarter of a mile of this famous coffee house increased in value by 96% between 1997 and 2014. If you love your morning coffee and your home is near a Starbucks, you’ll likely pay more to live there.

Trends Buyers Love

Buyers in your market ultimately determine your home’s value by deciding what they can and cannot live without. Proximity to entertainment and popular chains like Starbucks make your property more valuable, but even if your home isn’t close to cool coffee shops, incorporating on-trend design features will help increase its value. Today, bold, luxurious kitchens and bathrooms are worth more money. If you have the time and capital, get strategic with your upgrades to see a larger return at the time of your sale.

  

Monday, May 13, 2019

Prepping a Pristine Lawn

Now that spring is in full bloom, it’s time to take a good look at your lawn and start any necessary maintenance before the hot summer months arrive. Pick a pleasant day to examine your lawn, noting opportunities for improvement so it can stay well-kept and beautiful all year long. 

Lawn Maintenance 101

Performing routine mowing, irrigation, and feeding practices is the best way to prevent an overgrowth of weeds. If you keep a healthy lawn maintenance routine, you might not have to wrestle with any wild, unwanted plants. Use the following techniques to ensure weeds don’t become unmanageable and spread throughout your lawn:

  • Use herbicide to prevent weeds from sprouting in the warmer months—don’t even let them try to grow!
  • Remove weeds from nearby gardens to prevent them from traveling to your lawn.
  • Fill in your lawn’s bare spots with sod or seed to make sure weeds don’t take hold in these areas.

Weeds also develop in overgrown thatch (the layer of organic material that accumulates around the base of the grass). While a thin layer of thatch is healthy, thatch that reaches an inch in height creates room for weeds. Allowing for aeration in thickly developed thatch will help—mow or rake it to let more air reach the soil. Appropriate aeration fosters the development of organisms that work to break down excess thatch, helping you say goodbye to unruly weeds.

Check Your Machines

A well-maintained lawnmower runs much more smoothly than one that’s lived in your shed for the past four months without seeing the light of day. Perform routine maintenance on your engine to ensure it mows like a pro. Replace the oil and gas, spark plugs, and air filters, and sharpen the blades to make sure the grass cuts evenly. Thoroughly clean your mower to improve its performance and to prevent it from falling apart prematurely.

Stay on Track

A large part of good lawn maintenance is following a routine schedule. Plan out when you will water and fertilize your lawn throughout the week so you don’t forget to keep it nourished and healthy. Getting into a habit of mowing more often also helps you stay on track and prevents weeds from growing in thickets of unkept grass.

To help yourself stay on track, find ways to make springtime gardening and lawn maintenance a priority. Open windows and curtains to remind yourself of yard work while you’re lounging inside. You can also plan outdoor chores with the family and share tasks with your kiddos. After all, creating a beautiful yard is something the whole family should be proud of and enjoy doing together on warm, beautiful spring days.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Making Tiny Spaces Look Bigger

If you’re selling or moving into a home with small rooms, you’ll want to create the illusion of having more space. Why? Open and spacious rooms (especially closets) are more appealing to prospective buyers who may have a ton of belongings to bring with them. Making bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, bathrooms, and closets appear larger than they are is possible with easy DIY tips.

Declutter Everything

No matter how large your rooms are, they’ll look smaller and feel claustrophobic if items are scattered about everywhere. Declutter your home every six months to get rid of things you no longer need, use, or want. This is especially important if you’re putting your house on the market. Do a thorough sweep of every room before your showcase to help put the “open” in “open house.”

Using multi-purpose furniture is one strategic way to create less clutter year-round. For example, a window seat with built-in storage underneath could save you from needing another bulky bookcase or dresser. You can also maximize the space of particularly small closets with closet organizers to keep extra clothes from piling up or falling on the floor.  

The Essentials

Make small living rooms or bedrooms ”bigger” by painting them with light or dark colors. Medium shades make spaces feel more cramped and confined. Instead, opt for white or very dark colors to visually expand the space. Bedrooms are great places to experiment with color because they’re more private and tucked away. Why not paints the walls a bold version of your favorite color? The room will feel larger and reflect your unique style and taste.

You’ll want to be more intentional with the furniture you place in your rooms, too. Although it might seem counterintuitive to highlight open space with large furniture, drawing attention with statement pieces like big beds and dressers will prove that pieces of their size still fit comfortably in the room. Filling your rooms with too many small pieces of furniture can make them feel cluttered, even if the items themselves take up less space than something larger.

Also, select chairs and beds with exposed legs. Seeing the extra room beneath furniture creates a feeling of openness, unlike looking at beds and chairs with skirts that touch the ground.

Decorate Strategically

Use mirrors, lamps, and curtains to make your room feel and look bigger. Floor-to-ceiling curtains do a good job of drawing your attention to the length of the wall, ultimately making the room seem taller. You can also place mirrors in dark spaces to reflect light around the room. Placing several lamps around the room will have a similar effect.

Open-House Ready

Now that you've made your small rooms look bigger, you've got more space to relax and more opportunity to impress potential homeowners—a win-win for owners and buyers alike.

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