Should You Buy A Home With A Septic System?

Septic systems are ubiquitous in Ridgefield and the surrounding towns and are simple enough to maintain that anyone can successfully navigate one. Often, the idea of a septic system may be unfamiliar – and even daunting – to new buyers, but in truth, following a few basic rules will keep your system healthy for years to come. Having a detailed home inspection – including checking the septic system – will ensure it is in good working order when you purchase the home. Here are 5 tips every septic system owner should follow:

1. There is a large financial incentive to maintain your septic system as yearly maintenance generally costs around $200-300 per year, while replacing a whole septic system usually costs up to $15000 or even more depending on the size and location of the system. An average system should be pumped every 2-3 years depending on the size of the tank and number of people in the house. Calling a reliable septic company will ensure your tanks are properly attended to.Poorly maintained septic systems can create hiccups in selling a home and may delay sale or require fixing to meet code.

2. Avoid introducing large amounts of water into the system at once. Draining a hot tub, for example, can disrupt the chemistry of the system and should be avoided or done slowly. The same goes for long showers, doing multiple loads of laundry in sequence, or any other water-heavy activity.

3. Do not send certain chemicals and materials down the drain. The rule of thumb to use is that only water, toilet paper, and waste should be flushed. Most house cleaning supplies are also okay when used in moderation and according to the product guidelines. Drain cleaners, though, must be universally avoided as they can destroy the delicate chemical balance of your septic system almost immediately. In addition, many products that you might have around the house, such as paint, varnish, or antifreeze can ruin your system’s chemistry and should not enter the system. Septic systems rely upon the health of their bacteria, so anything that will disrupt the lives of these simple organisms, even unexpected things such as chemotherapy drugs or large quantities of anti-bacterial soap, can cause problems.

4. You should know about your septic system’s location. If the system was constructed in the last 30 years, the town should have files that will show you the locations of each of the components. It is important to know where your leaching field and main tank are. Waste flows into the main tank, where materials that are lighter than water rise to the top and materials that are heavier than water sink to the bottom. In between is a layer of mostly water. Every time one gallon of water enters the system main tank, another gallon will exit out into the leaching field, which is a set of underground pipes that drain water into the ground. In a properly maintained system, only liquids will ever leave the tank. However, when certain elements are introduced into the system, it can fail, causing solids to either back up or enter into the leaching field. Fixing a malfunction such as this can be very expensive.

5. Your septic system’s health is not merely a function of what enters it. Most importantly, the leaching fields require special attention. Avoid planting plants directly above the leaching fields. Roots, for example, can enter the field and disrupt its functioning. Also try to avoid driving over the field as this can compress the soil and make it difficult for water to leach out. During the winter months, avoid shoveling snow off of the leaching field. Snow acts to insulate the ground, making the field less likely to freeze and fail. The leeching field can also be damaged directly, such as by accidentally severing one of the pipes or other physical damage. Knowing the location of each of the system’s components is vital to maintaining the system.

Although septic systems may seem difficult, in reality they are quite simple to maintain and own. Maintenance is as easy as keeping some simple rules in mind and calling a septic company to inspect and pump the system regularly. Although transitioning to a more rural suburban life might be tough at times, your septic system will be a breeze. For more detailed information about the maintenance and science of your septic system, you can consult the following in-depth sources from the New Hampshire DES and West Virginia University’s National Environmental Services Center.

7 Tips for Creating a More Energy Efficient Home

With one of coldest winter’s on record upon us, energy costs are a major concern for most home owners in Fairfield County. Not all homes were designed with energy efficiency in mind, but there are many simple ways to cut down on electricity costs and reduce your carbon footprint. Below are a few tips to get you thinking about how easy it is to help the environment and your pocketbook.

1. Find out where your inefficiencies are. Performing a Do-It-Yourself Energy Audit is one great way to find out how to make your home more efficient. These tests will find areas of inefficiency, among other things, which will allow you to understand the extent to which you’re wasting fuel and electricity on a daily basis. A Professional Energy Audit is another alternative if you are really looking for concrete solutions to an aging home, or one that is extremely inefficient.

2. Replace home utilities with more efficient versions. Tankless water heaters, for example, are considerably more efficient than those with tanks. Replacing just one light bulb with an LED light bulb could save up to $125 over the course of the bulb’s life. Alternately, Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFLs) provide smaller but comparable savings to an LED bulb. Large appliances such as refrigerators, ovens, and stoves usually constitute 20% of a home’s energy usage. Upgrading to new Energy Star appliances can result in considerable savings to you in the long run.

3. Improve the efficiency of the fixtures already in your home. Replacing air conditioning and heater filters is one easy way to increase the efficiency of these high-energy systems. Another simple way of reducing energy costs is installing more efficient shower-heads and other water infrastructure. Using less water generally means heating less water.

4. Increasing the efficacy of your insulation can also be a moderately easy fix. Exposed insulation, as is likely to be found in your attic, will often visually demonstrate the problems that it may have. Look for darkened areas in the insulation. This may indicate that there is a leak or hole near this area of insulation, which not only reduces the efficiency of that area, but may indicate that outside air and/or water is penetrating into unwanted places. Any part of your home that is not insulated is money out the door and should be addressed.

5. Sealing cracks and areas where warm or cool air can escape to the outside is a definite energy saver. Adding weather-stripping around your attic opening can increase the efficiency of your home. Around doors and windows, check to make sure that the areas between your home and the outside are properly separated. Your baseboard, attic hatches, mail slots, and window frames are all likely suspects for inefficiencies in your house.

6. Installing double-paned skylights is another great way of reducing energy usage while also increasing the beauty of your home. Replacing a few hours of light per day with sunlight is good for both your energy costs and resale value. Also look into light shelves, clever installations that can move natural light deep into your home where it would otherwise would not go.

7. There are also high-tech options for reducing your home’s energy usage. Some modern thermostats can be controlled by a number of devices such as smart phones, and can be programmed to help your energy usage become more transparent. For example, the Nest Learning Thermostat can learn your schedules and habits to automatically adjust your home’s heating and cooling to be more efficient. As heating and cooling your home is one of the largest energy expenditures, products such as geothermal heat pumps now have strong tax incentives and can keep your home comfortable for a fraction of the cost of heating oil.

Although making major changes to your home can be difficult and initially expensive, the savings you earn in the long run and during resale can justify many home improvement costs. If you have made specific green improvements to your home, be sure to tell your realtor about them when listing your home for sale. Don’t forget to sign up below to receive more informative articles, listings and community happenings.

Ridgefield Market Report : 2013 Year In Review

The Housing Recovery

After the worst housing downturn since the Great Depression, we are back in full force. After 8 years of correction as a result of the “housing bubble”, it is safe to say all the characteristics of a normal real estate market have returned. Prices remain stable, median selling prices are improving and overall market activity is the highest it has been in 5 years. Consumer confidence has increased, which has brought more buyers into the market, and sellers are feeling more confident that they are not selling their home in a sliding market. All price segments posted positive gains, while homes valued up to $800,000 continue to dominate the market. The popular price category of $900,000 – $1,000,000 tripled in volume when compared to 2012. The market for homes priced over $1 million grew 46% – a strong indicator of buyer confidence.

Connecticut’s #1 Town.

Ridgefield unit sales were up 45%. This demonstrates confidence that Ridgefield is a destination for many new buyers, while some sellers are also trading up or down to stay here. Buyers see the outstanding value Ridgefield has to offer – quality lifestyle, cost of living, top rated education and a vibrant community. In fact, Ridgefield experienced the highest increase in annual unit sales when compared to all towns in Fairfield County.

The Road Ahead.

We saw buyers react to the uptick in interest rates this summer, though interest rates are still low by historic averages. Since values are on the incline, we expect the buyer pool to increase in a last ditch effort to catch the market before prices and interest rates rise. Sellers are feeling more confident as they prepare for the Spring Selling Season, but realize that certain fundamentals still apply. Homes in “turn-key” condition will continue to outpace the competition in terms of achieving the maximum selling price and lowest days on market. A fair number of sellers who used this strategy had multiple offers on their home – from wonderful starter homes to sophisticated properties priced in excess of $1 million. Supply and Demand will continue to drive the Real Estate market.

Download Ridgefield Market Report 2013 Year In Review

New On Our Website – Real-Time Real Estate Market Reports

Being informed about the real estate market in your chosen town is crucial when determining pricing, or reviewing purchasing options. I believe that constantly examining and interpreting what’s going on in home sales allows me to gain much needed insight into how real estate is trending, so I’m very excited to announce the availability of a new tool for your complimentary use – “Know My Market“.

This great resource allows you to search towns or zip codes in Fairfield County, and provides you with a comprehensive snapshot of what the local real estate market is doing. Using charts and graphs, it allows you to gain insight into:
1. Median sold price
2. Average days on market
3. Properties that opened escrow
4. New properties for sale
5. Months of supply of inventory
6. Closed sales

To use Know My Market, simply start typing in the town or zip code you want to research, click on the drop down menu when you see it listed, and choose what type of home you’d like to see reports for. Then scroll through the graphs to gain a clearer picture of what’s going on in that local market. You can even save the report and print it out.

Whether you’re a first-time home buyer, seller, investor, or in the market for a luxury home, starting here will help you gain valuable information. To learn more about my interpretation of the Ridgefield and area real estate market, view my comprehensive Mid-Year or Year In Review Market Reports.

To get a copy of the 2013 Year In Review Real Estate Market Report delivered directly to your inbox, sign up below or contact me directly.

What Rising Mortgage Rates Mean For Buyers

When purchasing a house, a buyer’s chief concern, besides living in the home, is paying for it. Although mortgage rates are at historic lows, the gradual recovery of the economy and an increase in home sales may cause a rise in both rates and home prices. As the economy improves, investors generally stop buying bonds in favor of higher risk investments with greater returns. Because mortgage rates are in direct correlation with bonds, as the economy continues to improve, rates are likely to increase.

In addition, mortgage rates are trending toward their 2009 and 2010 levels. The fact is, a 30-year fixed rate conforming mortgage with 4% interest may become the future equivalent of the previously standard 3.25% mortgage. This new rate, however, is still extraordinarily low. The difference between these rates would amount to around $175 per month on a $417,000 (the threshold for conforming loans) mortgage. In other words, the change in rates would result in a buyer’s purchase affordability, decreasing the loan size by about $40,000.

Among the changes that have occurred in the market recently are that qualifications are stricter, reducing the loan size a borrower can qualify for versus 2003 underwriting guidelines. Including income, credit score, and credit history, etc., approvals are considerably more thorough. Because of these changes, getting into the housing market without pre-approval can create destructive difficulties for buyers. Whereas a rough approximation based on self-reported information had often been sufficient, the new, stricter standards mean that everything must be documented. Even minor differences between one’s hypothetical and official incomes can permanently disrupt closing. Similarly, inconsistent incomes such as bonuses may not be considered in year-to-year income, just as entrepreneurs’ incomes and taxes may not pass the financial litmus test. Essentially, a comprehensive underwritten pre-approval has become de facto mandatory – entering the market without one is foolish.

The sum of this information is that rates have increased ½ point since May 1st and housing prices have risen 8.8% May 2012 – May 2013 and are expected to continue to rise. For consumers, now is the perfect time to buy a home, as both prices and rates are still the lowest they’ve been in decades.

Article written by Richard Duffy

Make Perennials Pop

The exterior of a home is the first impression buyers have. Whether in a magazine, a website, or a tour, it is inescapable that exteriors are among the chief hooks for buyers, and one of the most effective ways to easily add curb appeal is through gardening. Through the addition of perennial beds, mulching, and variety of plantings, any home can receive a great boost in appeal with relatively little expense.

Before beginning your garden, ensure that the soil has good drainage and aeration. Remove any extraneous plants, such as grasses and weeds. Enclosing the space with edging or another visual demarcation not only adds an attractive visual element, but can help to stop the spread of unwanted plants into the garden, as well of mulch out of it. While planting, allow ample time for perennials to become established before their winter dormancy. However, planting can occur during any season, except winter. A layer of mulch is not only good for plants, but provides an additional visual marker for the borders of the garden.

Perennial gardens are not only relatively easy to maintain, their reoccurrence creates year-over-year value. Within your garden, plant taller plants toward the least-accessible part of the space. Gradually plant shorter plants to allow for each element of the garden to be visible, though occasional changes in orientation can provide visual texture.
In addition to varying the size of plants, tasteful variation in color and texture are also effective for increasing curb appeal. By using a continuous but matching palette, variety may be introduced without over-stimulating the viewer. Placed into small clusters, groups of matching plants can act as focal points throughout, thereby disrupting potential monotonies. Interspersing these groups throughout the garden can create a satisfying continuity while maintaining variety. For experienced botanists, a consideration of the approximate blooming times of each plant can be magnificently employed, potentially allowing for a successive series of bloomings throughout the season. Gardens can benefit from basic geometry as well. By planting groups in triangular or scattered spaces, the volumes of plants blend together more effectively.

Throughout the season, be sure to remove weeds as they appear and provide irrigation. Remember that effective set-up can cut down on maintenance later.

Finally, the addition of paths, stones, and other inorganic elements throughout can add additional visual interest without becoming overwhelming. By integrating the aesthetic of the garden and adding these secondary elements, a relatively simple combination of colors and textures can sum to great design and powerful curb appeal.

Article written by Richard Duffy

Fairfield County Schools Are Making The Grade

The most recent ranking by the U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools places many Fairfield County public high schools among the Top 10 schools in Connecticut, with Wilton, Redding, Westport, Weston and Ridgefield – the real estate markets I service – making the cut. This year’s rankings within Connecticut place Weston, 3rd; Ridgefield, 4th; Wilton, 6th; Westport’s Staples High School, 7th; and Redding, 9th.

Although Fairfield County has a reputation for academic excellence, these schools constitute an extraordinary example of high standards. The rankings were assigned based on the level of proficiency in reading and mathematics, as well as the students’ performance on standardized tests and the performance of minority students.

This year’s rankings continue a well-established trend in our county. Ridgefield, for example, has maintained its ranking to within one position for a number of years. Among its 2013 graduating class are over a dozen students headed to Ivy League institutions, as well as a number of students who will matriculate to similarly impressive schools, among them the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, West Point, and the University of Chicago. Ridgefield has also had major athletic success, with students moving on to Division I sports at universities such as Princeton, Brown, and Columbia.

Ridgefield, though impressive, is not atypical. Our other towns have also performed historically well. Between the bucolic charm of historical Fairfield County and the draw of the excellent schools, our towns are all perfect choices for raising children and living well.

US News & World Report

Get It Sold: Quick Tips For Home Staging

So, you want to sell your home quickly? Then you’d better get staging. One of the most important parts of getting your home ready for the market is making it look like it just stepped out of the pages of a Pottery Barn catalogue. Stop looking at your home through your sentimental eyes and start thinking like a buyer. Would you want to see a picture wall full of kids you don’t know, or a fresh coat of neutral paint that allows you to imagine what a great picture wall you could hang in that space? Here are some quick ways you can spruce up each of the most important rooms in your home and make buyers say “how much?”

Overall – one of the most common problems we encounter is that there is simply too much ‘stuff’ in the home. In general, we recommend moving excess seating, toys, clothing, tables, and personal items to the garage or basement.

Bathroom – it needs to be spotless. Ensure that towels are crisp white and that you clear all of your everyday bathroom necessities off the countertops. Beautify the room with coordinating candles, soaps and flowers.

Bedrooms – whether it’s the master bedroom or the kid’s rooms, the bedding needs to always look freshly laundered. Invest in puffy, decorative pillows and place them on the bed over an inviting comforter. Remove nightstand paraphernalia, and organize and declutter closets.

Kitchen, breakfast areas, and the dining room table – remove everything from the countertops except for a couple of stylish items. Set the table and breakfast areas in an inviting way by laying centerpieces, candles, napkins, place settings and stemware.

Living room – when it really comes down to it, minimalism is the way to go. A couch, coffee table and beautiful floors are enough in most homes. If you have a very large room, an additional couch or loveseat, end tables, and a rug may be in order. If you have a wall unit, mantle or built-ins, make sure to treat each shelf as its own showpiece.

To find out more about how staging affects the perceived value and emotional impact of your home, contact me.