Gadget of the Month: Ketra Natural Lighting Systems

Ketra natural lighting

Ketra natural lighting systems allow for natural and automatic day-to-night lighting transitions throughout your home. (Photo by Ketra)

By Drew Knight

Wouldn’t it be great if the lighting in your home adjusted naturally with the time of day? Plenty of light in the afternoon and a soft glow right around bedtime?

With Ketra’s natural lighting systems, that’s totally possible and that’s exactly why we decided to make it our Gadget of the Month.

So, how does it all work? Ketra’s bulbs and lamps can be manually and automatically controlled via a touchpad that can be installed in your wall, just like a light switch, or into your counter top.

Settings allow the Ketra lighting throughout your home to adjust naturally with the time of the day, so your bulbs shine bright and clear in the daytime and soft and warm at night. This way, the light throughout your home can help you feel active and alert when you need to be and help naturally prepare you for rest when the day comes to a close.

The X1 touchpad interface is fully programmable and customizable, allowing the user to create their own preferred presets among Ketra’s built-in settings for simple transitions on command or by a scheduled event.

These settings, created by Ketra lighting designers, were curated for the different things you do in every room of your home. Five special presets found on the touchpad — home, office, dinner, daytime and sunset — deliver lighting for any occasion or mood. Plus, an additional ability to dim each setting only adds to the versatility of this product.

See it all in action in the video clip below:

Drew Knight is a digital content associate at New Home Source.

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Summer Home Maintenance Tips for Your New Home

summer home maintenance

Looking for a few summer home maintenance tips to protect your new investment from the warmer months? We’ve got you covered.

By Drew Knight

With summer just around the corner, now’s the perfect time to start preparing your new home for the warmer months.

From saving money on your electric bills to giving your home’s interior a seasonal refresh, a lot can be done now to make sure your new home is in optimal shape for years to come. To help get you started, here are just a few summer home maintenance tips from the professionals:

Exterior

One of the best ways to shave the dollars off your electricity bill is to provide natural shade around your home. This can be accomplished with a quick trip to your local garden center.

Planting a well-developed bush near the living room window or a large tree near a second-story bedroom could help keep your home cool and save you money in the long run. Be sure to plant any shrubs, trees and other plants at the appropriate distance from your home to prevent any problems with your foundation and plants’ roots in the future.

While you’re in the gardening spirit, now’s also a great time to think about how you plan to maintain your lawn over the summer. The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) provides several tips in their seasonal guide to summer lawn and landscaping care.

For instance, many people believe hot weather means you should water more frequently, but the NALP actually advises to water your plants less often but more deeply. So increasing the length of time you expose your greenery to water will usually do the trick.

And to ensure the health of your grass, the NALP suggests having your lawn properly aerated to improve the flow of oxygen in addition to adding adequate amounts of fertilizer and frequently checking its pH levels.

For more tips on summer lawn maintenance, check out the full guide.

After your yard is in tip-top shape, it’s time to pay attention to the rest of your outdoor area. Summer nights are great for enjoying friends and family in the backyard, so why not make an outdoor oasis?

“Create areas around your yard that aren’t being used,” suggests Nicolle Nelson, a spokesman for Nadeau Furniture in Dallas, Texas. “And don’t be afraid to use furniture in a non-traditional way.”

For example, adding a fire pit and seating area can help prevent mosquitoes and create an intimate gathering area. Teak benches around the pool and buffets to house your grilling essentials are other great furniture pieces that really bring out the summer feel.

“By adding a piece of furniture to any corner of your patio or yard, you are inviting your family to use every inch of your space,” says Nelson. “That means more memories for your summer.”

Interior

Apart from the exterior of your home, there are also plenty of things you can do to get your home summer ready from the inside.

Since warmer weather brings thoughts of a well air-conditioned home, let’s start with the AC system.

“With spring allergies in full swing and warmer temperatures on their way, it’s crucial to be sure your air filter and AC system are working properly,” says Mike Clear, vice president of operations for American Home Shield, a home warranty company based in Memphis, Tenn.

Clear suggests checking filters regularly throughout the year to help prevent damage, inefficiencies and to keep air clean.

“Schedule annual maintenance on your AC now so you can be sure your unit is in top shape before being put to the test with summer’s high temperatures,” he adds.

He also advises to check in on the furnace and heating system while you’re at it. While a new home’s furnace is likely already quite clean, it’s important to make sure the area around air returns stays clean and unobstructed throughout the year to prevent fire hazards and inefficiency.

For more tips on preventative maintenance, check out American Home Shield.

Drew Knight is a digital content associate for New Home Source.

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Giving the Formal Dining Room Its Day

formal dining room with butler's pantry and wine bar

This formal dining room in the Wyndham Estate plan by Fischer & Frichtel includes a wine bar and butler’s pantry to make it easy to entertain and keep the room clean and cluttered free.

By Patricia L. Garcia

When San Francisco interior designer George Brazil styles a home, he makes every effort to give the formal dining room the attention that space deserves.

“Unfortunately, dining rooms seem to be getting smaller since most people don’t use them as often as they should,” says Brazil of SagreraBrazil Design, Inc. in San Francisco. “They end up being a staged room or an extra play room for the kids. It doesn’t have to be this way. When we design a dining room, we design it for daily use — family dinners, not just holidays.”

We agree with Brazil — formal dining rooms needn’t become long forgotten because casual living is the rule of the day. Here’s how to embrace your formal dining room so you can have your formal — and casual — cake and eat it too.

Drama, Drama, Drama

When it comes to formal dining rooms, bold is in.

“The formal dining room these days is all about drama and interest,” says Jessica Davis, owner and principal designer at JL Design in Nashville, Tenn. “Often one of the first areas you see in a home, this (space offers) an opportunity to accent the other areas of the house and draw the eye into an area that is set apart from the others with bold patterns and colors.”

Still unsure about making bold choices in your formal dining room? Don’t be, Brazil says. “Since the dining room is not used throughout the day, here is a place where you can be daring.” He suggests wallpaper and decorative paint treatments; using outdoor fabrics, greens and other vibrant color treatments and mixing pieces.

“Never go for the matching tables and chairs,” he says. “It’s more fun and approachable to see woods that don’t match and styles that complement each other. Same goes with fabric — the upholstery doesn’t have to be timid and match the drapery.”

The Heart of It All

No dining room would be complete without a dining table. If you have a formal dining room, it’s likely because you entertain – that means having a versatile table that can host small intimate meals, as well as large groups of guests

“It’s still standard to have a large dining room table that comes with inserts so you can expand into a larger table,” says Tracy Kay Griffin, expert designer at real estate investment company Express Homebuyers in Springfield, Va.

If you prefer a smaller table for everyday seating, Brazil suggests two small tables that can be pushed together for large gatherings. “Same goes for an expandable table: just because it can be expanded to seat 10 or 12, take out the leaves so a family of four or six can sit there comfortably.”

Other important pieces include a buffet, side boards and serving tables to provide storage for linens and serving pieces.

Let There Be Light

A well-lit dining room is versatile enough for formal dinner, Sunday brunch or casual weekday meals. One way to add drama is dramatic lighting piece. “Lighting is a huge component of the space,” says founder of Aidan Gray Home and interior designer Randall Weeks. “Chandeliers, sconces and even buffet lamps finish off a look in dining rooms. Lighting should always be on a dimmer switch to set the mood depending on the time of day.”

Weeks also says candles add ambiance to dining rooms, so don’t exempt those as a lighting option.

Another way to add more light (and perceived space) is to use a statement mirror or lots of smaller mirrors.

Entertaining Spaces

Because entertaining at home plays such a huge role in our daily lives, homebuilders are creating spaces that will make entertaining easier. In addition, keeping homes clean and clutter free is another aspect of owning a home. That’s why you’ll find spaces like wine and wet bars and butler’s pantries in or near dining rooms in newly constructed homes.

Patricia L. Garcia is content manager for NewHomeSource.com.

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Gadget of the Month: Ring Video Doorbell

Ring video doorbell

With the Ring video doorbell, you can answer your door, even when you’re at the beach. Photos via Ring.

By Patricia L. Garcia

Picture it: someone rings your door bell and you answer — by video.

No need to get up from the couch or peek out the window because you don’t answer the door unless you expect company. In fact, you don’t even need to be home. Answer your door from the comfort of anywhere and via your smartphone, tablet or computer with the Ring video doorbell ($199).

Is this the ultimate in laziness? No! The smart doorbell is just another way to protect your home — and your family — from burglaries with smart home tech. Ring is easy to use: simply install the video doorbell, connect it to your home’s Wi-Fi and install the app on your smartphone, tablet or computer and you’re set to welcome guests or scare off would-be burglars and other unwanted guests.

A Smart Doorbell

Ring video doorbellThe doorbell has built-in motion sensors will send mobile alerts when it senses movement around your home. You can then see and speak with whoever is causing the alert (maybe it’s just a raccoon, so you can safely yell at it to scram). If it’s a delivery person, you can simply ask them to leave the package in a hidden spot (and ultimately, verify that the package was indeed delivered). If it’s unexpected company — particularly at night — you can safely verify that it’s someone you know and want to allow into your home. And, if it’s a would-be burglar, you can scare them off by answering virtually or fool them into thinking you’re inside — even if you’re at work or out shopping. If they’re still persistent about getting into your home, the app will record a video of the person, so you’ll at least be able to give this to police to help catch thieves.

Ring provides 720p HD video, a built-in rechargeable battery, night vision and lifetime purchase protection. Separate accessories for the Ring video doorbell system include a stick up cam, which you can put on your back or side entrance for enhanced security around your homes perimeter and Chime, a chime that lets you know when someone’s at the door, even if you’re phone is in another room. Ring works with many smart locks and smart home devices, including Kwikset’s Kevo, Lockstate smartlocks and wink.

Across the country, the Ring video doorbell has been credited with thwarting would-be burglars and catching package thieves (and even reuniting families with lost pets), making the investment well worth the money in order to protect your family and home and to provide peace of mind when you are home — and especially when you are away.

Patricia L. Garcia is content manager for NewHomeSource.com.

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Creative Ways to Save for a Down Payment on a Home

Down Payment Ideas

These creative ways to save for a down payment might make the difference in getting you the keys to your new home.

By Drew Knight

One of the biggest obstacles deterring hopeful home shoppers from buying a new home is the down payment. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Once you’ve figured out how much of a down payment you really need, the only step left is to find out how you’re going to start saving.

For those who don’t have an overflowing piggy bank, below are a few creative ways to save for a down payment.

There’s an App for That

Just like there is with ordering your pizza and hailing an Uber driver to get you downtown, there are smart phone apps and other online services to help you monitor your savings — and also make it fun. Joe Saul-Sehy, co-host of the award-winning personal finance podcast “Stacking Benjamins,” suggests the following:

  • Simple: This online tool can tell you how much money you have that’s available to spend or save after taking your goals and bills into account, so you don’t blow your budget.
  • Digit: An app that can track your spending and automatically move money you won’t need into a savings account.
  • TipYourself: You tip your servers, so why not tip yourself when you do something awesome? Little by little, you can add some cash here and there to your tip jar to save for that down payment.
  • Tiller: This amped-up spreadsheet service makes it easy to see where money opportunities are hiding.
  • YNAB: An acronym for “You Need a Budget,” YNAB is an app and personal finance system adored by its fans that aims to give you total control of your money.

“These tools can rock your down payment,” says Saul-Sehy. “The banking stuff is important so that you can easily stay on track with your down payment and not accidentally spend money meant for the house.”

Try Strategic Saving

A former financial advisor, Saul-Sehy introduced clients to his own savings strategy.

Firstly, Saul-Sehy would help his clients find out how much more the payment and escrow costs were going to be each month than their current bill. Then, they would use direct deposit and automatic transfers to “practice” saving this money every month.

“This was a great plan on two levels,” Saul-Sehy says. “First, it helped us know ahead of time if the budget was going to be too tight or not. Second, when people could afford the payment easily, they were able to use the extra money accumulated by ‘practicing’ to either meet the down payment more quickly or purchase furniture, landscaping or updating costs.”

Your local lender or financial institution is a great resource to help you find a strategic savings plan that works for you.

Talk to the Bank

And that’s why you should talk to the bank, not just for savings plans, but for more information on direct deposits, information on down payment assistance programs and to help you discover what type of loans are available in your area.

“The cool news is that the two best tools to save money aren’t an app or online specific, it’s direct deposit and automatic transfers,” says Saul-Sehy. “Every bank has these so that you’re able to hide money from yourself.”

TD Bank, a financial institution based on the east coast, is happy to sit down with homebuyers to answer questions and find programs that work for them.

“I would start with talking to a couple lenders, get an idea of what they have that are lower down payment options,” says Chris Copley, regional sales manager for TD Bank in the Philadelphia area. “The most important thing is educating yourself before you get involved in the process.”

For instance, TD Bank’s Right Step loan program is designed specifically for first-time buyers with flexible options and substantial savings every month.

Copley also advised to go with the direct deposit route once you find out your monthly number and have it deposited so that it’s out of sight and out of easy reach.

“Find out what that number is, sit down with you monthly budget and look back at the past two or three months,” suggests Copley. “Where did you spend money and how much of that did you spend on stuff that wasn’t a need or don’t mind giving up?”

Drew Knight is a digital content associate for NewHomeSource.com.

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Smart Home Technology: Survey Says It’s Hot

smart home technology

What makes a home a smart home? Smart home technology! Our panel of home shoppers told us what they really think of this new frontier of tech.

By Drew Knight

As more devices out there are being labeled as having “smart home technology,” we came up with the question: Just how interested are new-home shoppers in this technology and would they actually use it in their new homes?

We worked with the New Home Source Insights panel, a panel of new-home shoppers with varying demographics and at various stages in their home search, to see what they had to think about this ever-changing field of tech.

The survey results are in!

So what did they have to say? Smart home technology is a hot commodity.

Who’s Interested in Smart Home Tech?

The panelists were asked a series of questions regarding smart home technology. When asked, in general, are you interested in smart home tech, 91 percent of panelists said yes and only 9 percent said no.

Thus, it’s clear smart home technology is something worth considering.

Who Owns Smart Home Tech?

For the purpose of this survey, smart home technology was broken into seven categories: temperature (thermostats and other temperature-monitoring devices); entertainment (TVs, music systems, etc.); security (door locks, alarm systems, etc.); safety (smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and other safety devices); lighting (lightbulbs, control systems, etc.); appliances (refrigerators, ovens, etc.); and other.

When asked if they owned any of these smart home technologies, 38 percent of panelists said yes, while 62 percent said no, proving smart home tech is still quite a new idea for buyers.

Of those who said yes, the amount of each category owned is as follows:

  • Temperature — 66 percent
  • Entertainment — 53 percent
  • Security — 50 percent
  • Safety — 42 percent
  • Lighting — 42 percent
  • Appliances — 32 percent
  • Other — 3 percent

Who Plans on Purchasing Smart Home Tech This Year?

Which brings us to the next question, do you plan on purchasing smart home technology at some point this year?

A staggering 71 percent of panelists said yes, while 29 percent said no.

Of those who said yes, panelists were asked to specify their price points:

  • Under $50 — 0 percent
  • $51 to $100 — 12 percent
  • $101 to $499 — 50 percent
  • $500 to $999 — 24 percent
  • $1,000 or more — 14 percent

What Devices Make a Home “Smart”?

Because the term “smart home” might be relative to some, we were curious which of the categories is most important to home shoppers in defining “smart” for them.

So, we asked our panelists which category of smart tech a home must have to be considered a smart home. They ranked them as follows:

  • Temperature — 85 percent
  • Security — 79 percent
  • Lighting — 67 percent
  • Appliances — 61 percent
  • Entertainment — 46 percent
  • Safety – 42 percent

It’s also worth noting that of those surveyed, more than 84 percent said that the inclusion of smart home tech would increase their likelihood of purchasing that home.

How Useful Is Smart Home Tech?

Finally, panelists were asked to rank each category in order of usefulness. Here’s what they said:

  1. Temperature control
  2. Smart appliances
  3. Security
  4. Lighting
  5. Safety
  6. Entertainment

Interested in joining our panel? Head to www.NewHomeSourceInsights.com for more info.

Smart Homes Infographic

Drew Knight is a digital content associate for New Home Source.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Tax Credits and Deductions for Homeowners

tax credits & deduction info for homeowners

It’s tax time and if you’ve purchased a home, there are a few things to know about tax credits and deductions for homeowners.

By Seve Kale

If you’ve recently purchased a home in 2015 or 2016, you’ve probably heard about the tax credits and deductions available for homeowners.

“Tax-wise, this is a good time to buy – homeownership offers tax breaks that renters do not have,” says Yvette D. Best, CEO of Best Services Unlimited LLC, an income tax preparation firm in Fayetteville, Ga.

Though the thought of itemizing your taxes and figuring out what you qualify for may be intimidating, we’ve talked to the experts to come up with this helpful guide.

Mortgage Interest Write-Off

Let’s start with the basics: mortgage interest deductions.

According to TurboTax.com, the biggest tax break for most homeowners comes from deducting mortgage interest.  If you itemize, you can usually deduct the interest on a mortgage used to acquire a main or secondary home.

Mortgage Points

“In addition to the commonly known write-off for home mortgage interest, there are other deductions and credits for new homeowners,” says Amanda Kendall, president of True Resolve Tax, based in Northglenn, Colo. “In some instances, when buying a new home, you pay what is known as points (origination points and discount points), that the IRS views as being prepaid interest. They can be written off along with your mortgage interest,” Kendall says.

This deduction may be worth thousands. “The return on your investment is two-fold — you get to deduct the cost of the points and the amount paid in interest in the same year as the home purchase,” adds Best.

First-Time Buyers

“As a first-time buyer, the IRS will allow you to withdraw an amount up to $10,000 from an IRA (traditional or ROTH) penalty-free to help with the purchase of a home,” says Kendall. If you’re married, you and your spouse can withdraw a total for $20,000 penalty-free. You are also allowed a $10,000 withdrawal to buy or build for a spouse, kids, grandchildren or parents.

Property Taxes

You can also write off property taxes as an itemized deduction. However, if you’re using an escrow account to pay your taxes, you can’t deduct payments into that account as real estate taxes. “Homeowners often make the mistake of deducting the wrong year’s property taxes — this deduction is allowed in the year the taxes are actually paid,” says Kendall.

Energy Incentives

If your new home is built with energy-efficient appliances and/or energy-efficient technology, you are likely eligible for a tax credit. Green technology such as geothermal heat pumps, small wind turbines and solar energy systems make you eligible for a tax credit of 30 percent of their cost, while a credit of up to $500 is available for energy-efficient HVAC systems, windows or doors.

Home Rentals or Improvements

If you’ve done any renovating, keep your receipts. All improvements will be added to the purchase price of your home. If you track your home-related expenses, you can reduce the capital gains amount you must pay tax on when you decide to sell. “These days, with AirBnB, homeowners may rent their home out or rent a room, in which case all expenses related to the house can be deducted against rental income,” says Ryan Saltz, a licensed tax professional at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Tax Defense Network, LLC.

This guide only covers a few of the deductions available to homeowners, so sure to do your research. “If you take a credit you’re not allowed to take, the IRS is going to make you pay it back, but not before they add interest and penalties,” says Kendall. She recommends consulting with a tax professional.

Seve Kale is a contributor to NewHomeSource.

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