Oct. 12, 2017

Backyard Bonfires: 7 Fire Rings You Can Build in a Day

The cool fall air has arrived and what better way to celebrate and extend your enjoyment of the outdoors than sitting around a fire? We've compiled instructions for seven different fire rings that can accommodate various-sized budgets, yards and abilities so you can get an idea of just how easy it can be to DIY a safe and contained fire into a new sweet spot for Autumn. Bust out the graham crackers and marshmallows, backyard s'mores are just a fire pit away!

  1. Convert a fireplace bowl into a permanent fire pit. Do you already have one of those small fire bowls from Lowe's or Home Depot that just sits in the yard looking lonely? The instructions and handy step-by-step photos on this page show you how to use that fire bowl as an insert into a landscaping block fire ring that not only looks professional, but creates a safer space for a small fire than a naked fire bowl.  
  2. Only four supplies needed. Similar to the first fire pit, this one uses landscaping blocks.  The instructions for this basic fire ring include only four supplies: landscaping blocks, gravel, a shovel and a rake.  It's an inexpensive but super nice fire containment ring that could also be easily disassembled, if needed.
  3. No yard space but still want a fire centerpiece? No problem with this page's DIY concrete fire bowl! Using simple materials and a bit of finesse (working with concrete takes some patience!), this fire bowl fits in a small space and doesn't burn wood but gel canisters. Better than a candle but sized right for smaller spaces (please still make sure you are allowing enough space for safety), you'll love the modern look and the mesmerizing flames!
  4. Repurpose an old Weber. This DIY fire pit is ingenious in its use of repurposed items. They use pre-fabricated concrete tree rings to build a "container" and then insert an old Weber grill for a quick and easy fire pit that can also be quickly moved or removed, when the time comes.
  5. Nothing but bricks & gravel. If you don't have a big budget or a lot of time on your hands, you can still make a super fire pit with just a few bricks and gravel. Bricks can often be found for free and depending on how large you make it, not much gravel will be needed either. The hardest part is digging the hole!
  6. Simple square pits are easy too. Have a few concrete blocks laying around and have the urge to warm your toes by a fire tonight? Follow this step by step tutorial to create a square fire pit that looks like you spent a ton of money!
  7. How much time & money do you have? Because this page links you to 31 MORE ideas for DIY fire pits that are anywhere from simple and easy to mega-WOW factor. 
Aug. 23, 2017

Agents: Do you want the perks of a virtual office without the isolation?

Did you get into real estate so you could work in an office from 9 – 5? Or did you love the flexibility it offered? Nowadays, real estate offers flexibility with the hours you work but also where you work. Virtual offices may be the latest trend, but they can often leave you hanging with no in-person support and no professional space in which to meet your clients.  Wouldn’t it be great to have the freedom of a virtual office with the conveniences of a brick and mortar office?
Are you looking for a real estate company that offers agents the technology of a virtual office with the in-person broker support and professional space you want for your clients? If you like the idea of a coffee house meets real estate office, consider making a Smart Move to SRE.
How does SRE offer the perks of a virtual office without the isolation? By offering agents:

  • User-friendly technology
  • Training and support
  • A boutique office space with professional appointments
  • Attractive commission caps
  • Full-time support from 3 experienced brokers

Our Sales Manager is happy to arrange a confidential meeting so you can see for yourself how the SRE atmosphere attracts successful agents.

Click here to take the first steps towards a Smart Career Move!

Aug. 10, 2017

Fannie Mae Makes Loan Qualification Easier

Fannie Mae recently announced new underwriting guidelines for debt-to-income ratios (DTI) that will help make it easier for some borrowers to qualify for home loans.

What is DTI?

DTI is an important risk measurement of a borrower's ability to manage monthly payments and repay debts. DTI is calculated by dividing total recurring monthly debt by gross monthly income.

What are the new guidelines?

The maximum allowable DTI will be 50%. Borrowers with DTIs between 45 and 50 percent will no longer be required to have certain additional compensating factors.

These changes apply to loans submitted via Fannie Mae's Desktop Underwriter on or after the weekend of July 29th, 2017. Previously submitted loans are not eligible to be resubmitted.

The good news is these new guidelines expand the potential eligibility for borrowers to purchase a home even if they have a relatively higher DTI.

If you'd like to learn more or have a question about home loan products, please get in touch with me today. I'm happy to help!


July 19, 2017

Paper Clutter Be Gone! Tips for Organizing Your Kids' School Papers & Keepsakes

Back-to-school is a busy time of year for families and often coincides with the beginning of an avalanche of paperwork that piles up quickly. From deciding what to keep and what to toss (or recycle), to storage solutions and organizational hacks, busy parents could probably really use these tips (and maybe an adult beverage)!

Decide Ahead of Time What to Keep 

Let's not kid ourselves: you'll be proud of everything your child brings home. But does that mean you should hang onto it? Should it take up valuable space in your home? Do yourself and your kids a favor and keep only the important stuff - awards, achievements, programs of activities they participated in - and throw away the quizzes and daily flyers. Keep the volume manageable and remember it's a long race to the end of schooling - there are many years to accumulate papers!

When it comes to art and other creative keepsakes, consider a separate storage solution that takes into account the three dimensional nature of different keepsakes. 

Get as Much Done at the Beginning of the School Year as Possible

Being organized in August gives you a better chance of maintaining that system throughout the school year. Designate a space that is easy for the kids to reach and remember and show them how to put the papers for parents in that spot for at least the first two weeks of school or until it becomes a habit. Using positive reinforcement (read: a healthy snack) always helps too.

And being realistic about the time you'll devote to maintaining the system doesn't hurt either. Keep it simple and use self-limiting storage - aka commit to one hanging folder bin per child and one folder per year per child and then work within the defined space. 

Make Sure Everyone and Every Paper Has their Own Space

The type of paperwork and papers that any given person contributes to the home depends on a lot of different factors. Each person's routine and needs should be considered when designating their space. School kids have homework, paperwork that requires parent action, info on school events, etc. Ideally, each child or type of paperwork will have its own spot and parents work together with the children to commit to a routine. 

Which sometimes means parents have to be flexible. If the routine you lovingly crafted and have tried to implement for four weeks is just leading to frustration, it might be best to try something different that accomplishes the same goals.

Learn from Others

There's no need to reinvent the wheel every year just because last year's system was abandoned by November. YouTube has hundreds of videos of people sharing their lessons learned and ideas for organizing hectic family life and the paperwork that accompanies it. Pinterest is practically overflowing with organizational hacks and tips for any specific problem. And there's always your parents and friends, ready with advice! 


Posted in Tips and Tricks
July 17, 2017

Clearing the Air: 5 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality

It's hot out! And as a result, you're probably spending more time indoors. We often think the air inside is cleaner than the air outside, but the level of air quality in your home might surprise you. Anything from a new carpet to those little plug in air fresheners are releasing particles into the air you might not otherwise want to be breathing. Take the following five simple steps to improve the air quality in your home and breathe easier!

  1. Test It - You might be seeing signs of poor indoor air quality and not realize it. Runny noses, watery/itchy eyes, skin irritation can all be symptoms of an overload of allergens, but the signs can also be more subtle. Be safe and test the air quality in your home using a licensed contractor or DIY with a home test kit from Home Depot or Lowe's.  If nothing else, it will give you a good starting point for areas of improvement in air quality.
  2. Upgrade to a Vacuum with a HEPA Filter - If you're not using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, you're not doing your indoor air quality any good. A clean HEPA filter keeps the vacuumed dust in the vacuum and not swirling around the room. Increasing the frequency of vacuuming can help minimize allergens as well.
  3. Add Houseplants - One of the most effective ways to naturally clean indoor air is with the addition of houseplants. If you're intimidated at the thought of keeping houseplants, go for the low-maintenance spider plant or aloe vera.  The leaves, soil and roots all absorb and remove pollutants from the air and need very little light or attention to do their job. This article suggests 15 Plants that Improve Indoor Air Quality.
  4. Maintain the Humidity - Mold and dust mites thrive in environments with access to moisture. Be sure your home's interior isn't friendly to mold by maintaining an ideal moisture of between 30-50%, fixing any water leaks as soon as they're discovered, using a dehumidifier and venting areas that get exposed to high levels of humidity.
  5. Be Aware Of the Causes - Just because you don't have pets or don't smoke doesn't mean your indoor air quality is good. Air pollutants inside the home can also come from furniture, carpet, paint, and cleaning products. Be aware and take precautions. This slideshow explains the various common air pollutants and how best to mitigate them. 
Posted in Tips and Tricks
July 10, 2017

Fed Hikes Rates Again

For the second time in 2017, and the third time within seven months, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark Federal Funds Rate at its June 13-14 meeting. As expected, the increase was set at 0.25 percent, bringing the new target rate range to between 1 to 1.25 percent.

What does this mean ... and how could this impact you?

The Fed Funds Rate is the short-term rate at which banks lend money to each other overnight. So while a "rate hike" may sound negative, it's important to remember that long-term consumer products like purchase and refinance home loans are not directly tied to the Fed Funds Rate. This means consumers should not expect home loan rates to rise as a direct result of the Fed's actions.

Instead, home loan rates are tied to Mortgage Bond market performance. When Mortgage Bonds improve, home loan rates tend to improve as well. The reverse can also be true.

Following the meeting, Fed Chair Janet Yellen noted that in addition to forecasting one more increase to the Fed Funds Rate this year, the Fed also plans to reduce its $4.5 trillion balance sheet, which it expanded in order to fight the housing crisis. The news had a positive impact on Mortgage Bonds temporarily. Then, Stocks, Bonds and home loan rates steadied.

The bottom line is that now is a great window of opportunity for anyone considering a home purchase or refinance because home loan rates are still near historic lows.

If you have any questions about current rates or loan products and how they might benefit you, please don't hesitate to call. I'm here to help!


Posted in Melinda Movick
June 20, 2017

Agents: Are You Ready to Be Done with Franchise Fees?

Isn’t it annoying when you think you know how much something costs and then find out about a bunch of add-on fees? Airlines are a good example – they post a low-price fare and then tack on fees for choosing your seat, boarding priority, checked luggage, carry on luggage and even in-flight WiFi. What you thought was a good deal turns out to be twice your budget! The same thing happens with some real estate brokerages that are part of a corporate empire.  Franchise fees eat away at your bottom line and go straight into the pocket of some high paid CEO.  In some cases, there are even mandatory fees charged to your clients or you pay the difference!

If you are looking for a brokerage that rewards you with a more generous commission structure and fewer fees, consider SRE a Smart Move.

Need more reason to check out SRE? How about:

  • The full time support of 3 brokers
  • 40+ years of experience in the local Metro area
  • As much training as you want or need
  • No franchise fees!

Check out our list of agents here. SRE Agents come from all backgrounds and have the same real estate goal: to help our clients make a Smart Move

Our Sales Manager is happy to arrange a confidential meeting so you can see for yourself how the SRE atmosphere attracts  experienced agents. Click Here to take steps towards a Smart Move!

June 5, 2017

Agents: Are You Ready for a Better Bottom Line?

Isn’t it annoying when you think you know how much something costs and then find out about a bunch of add-on fees? Airlines are a good example – they post a low-price fare and then tack on fees for choosing your seat, boarding priority, checked luggage, carry on luggage and even in-flight WiFi. What you thought was a good deal turns out to be twice your budget! The same thing happens with some real estate brokerages that are part of a corporate empire.  Franchise fees eat away at your bottom line and go straight into the pocket of some high paid CEO.

If you are looking for a community brokerage that rewards you with a more generous commission structure and fewer fees, consider SRE a Smart Move. 

Need more reason to check out SRE? How about:

 • Any time support from 3 full-time brokers

• 40+ years of local St. Charles County experience

• As little or as much training as you want

• No franchise fees!

Our Sales Manager is happy to arrange a confidential meeting so you can see for yourself how the SRE atmosphere attracts  experienced agents. Click Here to take steps towards a Smart Move!

June 2, 2017

Dress it Up! DIY Art Ideas Anyone Can Do

Not everyone is an artist, but that doesn't mean you can't decorate your home like one. From minimalist to rustic to modern, whatever your aesthetic you can find ideas for making your own art to adorn your walls. Art and decor help to make a house a home and allows you to put your own distinct style on display. Check out these ideas that anyone can do with just a few supplies, a little investment of time and a sprinkle of creativity!

  1. The Gallery Wall - The supplies are easy enough: dollar store or thrift store frames, spray paint and cherished photos are all you need to make a basic gallery wall. Tutorials for laying out the gallery wall abound but here is a good one to get you started.  For added visual interest, try incorporating non-photo items, like wooden arrows, wrought iron pieces or anything that can hang on the wall.  A gallery wall can be the focus of any room and lets guests know what's most important to you: family and style!
  2. Wreaths: Perfect Anywhere - Almost anything can be turned into a wreath - and we mean ANYTHING! From clothespins to flip flops, if you can figure out how to arrange it in a circle, you can make a wreath out of it.  The supplies are inexpensive and there is no limit to the creativity afforded by making your own wreath.  And they're not just for the front door anymore, either.  Over a headboard, at the top of the stairs and over the fireplace, wreaths warm up any wall instantly. 
  3. Easy Canvas Art - Just because your high school art grade was a C (or worse) doesn't mean you aren't a talented artist deep down. Looking at this tutorial or this instructional video, you can see just how easy it can be to decorate a canvas and have it look like you spent hundreds of dollars on art that perfectly matches your decor! 
  4. Repurposing Old Furniture - Don't throw away old furniture before you visit Pinterest to get a million and one ideas for reusing and repurposing it. From step-by-step tutorials for refinishing a beat up wooden dresser to repurposing the drawers as shelving, the creative people using Pinterest have a plan for that old dresser!
  5. String Light Accents - Doesn't everyone have twelve extra strands of Christmas lights that they don't know what to do with? If you're like me, you never considered how many ways there are to use those strands of light to create beauty in your home. Most of these ideas are relatively easy too!
  6. Mason Jars & Pallets Oh My! - You would not believe how many things you can build with an old pallet.  And mason jars aren't just for canning anymore! While these ideas may be a bit more advanced and take some specialized tools, they can quickly transform a table, a room or an entryway into a statement. 
May 8, 2017

Turn Up the Heat: 8 Ideas to Spice Up Your Kitchen

It's common knowledge that kitchens sell homes. Guests always congregate in the kitchen and you probably spend more time in the kitchen than any other room in the house, so it makes sense. Renovating a kitchen is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking that may not be in the cards. Whether your kitchen is in need of a full-fledged overhaul or just needs a few updates to spruce it up, these eight ideas are budget-friendly and DIY compatible - and they'll give your kitchen that high-end look everyone wants!

  1. Freshen Up the Hardware - Punch up boring cabinets with cool new hardware. You'll be surprised how changing out drawer pulls and cabinet handles impacts the overall look of the kitchen. Be smart about it and get hardware whose holes match up with the current hardware.
  2. Incorporate Color & Texture - High-end kitchens often follow similar color palettes and there's a reason for that: they appeal to a wider audience and allow the designers to play with texture, which adds depth and richness. Pops of color should come in with fruit bowls and other items that can be moved and switched out easily.
  3. Let There Be (New) Light - Replace dated light fixtures with modern-look pendants or track lighting (which is much easier to install than it used to be). Add task lighting under cabinets and in low-lit corners and brighten up the whole mood of the kitchen!
  4. Fix Old Fixtures - Unless you're going with a retro look, ditch the old faucet and replace it with a hands-free model, or one with the sprayer that pulls out.  The sink is a focus of the kitchen and a newer faucet fixture will make a big splash.
  5. Incorporate Modern Luxuries - It's not that hard to install a pull-out trash and recycling bin or pull out drawers in lower cabinets and kits are sold in your favorite hardware store. These small improvements to the kitchen reap big dividends in terms of functionality!
  6. Add An Island - Not every kitchen can accommodate a fixed island but many can be improved by the addition of a mobile island. Space-saving options abound and the added prep surface and flexibility they bring are worth the minor investment.
  7. Create a Command Center - As the hub of your home, it makes sense to allocate a small part of the kitchen to organizing the family. Some chalkboard paint, a little added trim and a dry-erase board or bulletin board quickly transform the side of a cabinet or a blank wall into your Family Command Center.
  8. Kill the Clutter - Think about your mental image of your dream kitchen.  Know what is central to almost everyone's mental picture? Clean countertops. Keep clutter out of sight with organized shelves, cabinets and drawers to take your kitchen up a notch instantly.