The winter months can closet you inside due to harsh weather. The frigid winds, torrential rain and snowy conditions hardly make it easy to accomplish the outdoor projects on your to do list. Instead, take this opportunity to get some projects done inside. There’s no reason the crummy weather should stop you there. Here are some ideas to spark your imagination.


PaintingTired of those off-white walls? A new tone can boost your mood. Make sure a window is cracked when you paint so the room doesn’t fill with fumes. Also, shop around to get low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint to minimize your exposure to harsh toxins.

Brighten Your House

New lamps and light fixtures don’t only update the style of your home, but they can also improve your mood. A space that is well lit can drive away those winter blues that sometimes creep in. While you update your lights, switch to LED bulbs, which save energy as well.

If you like themes, you might be surprised that steampunk, a mix of vintage and industrial, has grown in popularity and is a great way to add a unique style to your home.

Add Home Security

While home security systems were once only for the rich, with the advancement of technology, home security cameras are now simple to use and affordable for most people. For instance, with Lorex home security cameras, there are no costly installation fees or monthly subscriptions. In fact, Lorex cameras are wireless and come with an easy setup guide. These cameras link with your home’s Wi-Fi network, and with the corresponding mobile app, you can keep an eye on your home no matter where you are.

Update the Thermostat

The days of timed thermostats are over. Install a smart thermostat that lets you control the temperature of your house wherever you are. When you leave your home, adjust your thermostat using your smartphone or mobile device. Before you return, raise the temperature of your home so that it’s nice and toasty upon your arrival, a welcome refuge from the blustery weather outside.

Many smart thermostats keep track of your schedule and learn when you typically leave the house and when you come home. They automatically copy this pattern adjusting the temperature as you come and go. Smart thermostats aren’t only great tools that keep your home warm when you want it to be and cool when no one is home, they offer great energy savings, minimizing your carbon footprint and saving money on energy expenses.

Tune up Your Heat Center

Since we’re on the topic of heat centers and winter typically drives up the energy bill, now is a great time for a tuneup for your heat center. Thirty percent of a home’s energy is used by the furnace or central heating unit, according to Replace the filters before the cold season starts and then every few months when you run the furnace regularly. Keep in mind, the price of air filters is often indicative of their quality. A higher quality filter can provide better air quality throughout your home.

Homes for Heroes in Wisconsin!

Homes for Heroes is a national program dedicated to providing extraordinary savings to heroes who provide extraordinary services to our community each and every day, when they buy or sell a home.

HeroesInWisconsin.comWho Qualifies?
-Active Military
-Healthcare Workers
-Law Enforcement

What are the savings?
Savings will depend on the sales price of the home. As an example, a $300,000 house would receive over $3,000 in credits and discounts from all the participating affiliates and vendors involved.

What does it cost me?
Nothing because it’s FREE. There is no cost to you. All costs are covered by your local participating vendors.

Can I buy any home and in any area?
Yes. This is not a government program with limitations or restrictions. This is the private sector giving back simply as our way to say Thank You for all that you do every day.

Are there any other benefits or savings after my transaction is done?
Yes. Through the “Friends of Heroes” Network participating vendors will offer discounts on various other services such as moving, storage, pest, lawn care, plumbing, electrical, cleaning and remodeling to name a few.

Are there a lot of extra applications, forms or some future obligation?
None. The Homes for Heroes Promise is:
-No hidden fees
-No red tape
-No catch

How do I find out more?

Items that Repel Home Buyers

The seller’s market that was so prevalent a few short years ago seems to have shifted in favor of the home buyer. Thanks to an overall improvement in the economy and home prices that have risen by 10% or more for the past year, buyers are becoming a bit more selective about their purchase. Here are some items that scare buyers off and what you can do to fix it.

Foul Smells

Shocked Home BuyerCertain buyers may like fried food or indoor pets, but most people are turned off by unpleasant odors. This is especially true when the odor is noticeable when a person first walks in to the home.

Odors come in all shapes and forms. Various kinds of food, pets, and tobacco can leave behind distinctive smells. It is important to deep clean the home, the carpets and even the ventilation ducts to get rid of the odors.

Paper on the Walls

For 40 to 50 years wallpaper was quite the rage. Unfortunately, those days are gone. Since most people pick out a very particular wallpaper to go along with certain furniture and trim it is highly unlikely that the next person to buy the home will have the exact same taste. It is better to remove or cover up the paper with paint that is in a neutral tone. Wall paper on one accent wall can be a neat feature however. Using paint and stencils might be the best choice because it would be easy to paint over if it is not to the taste of the buyer.


Many sellers fail to realize how important it is to have the home looking as clean as a brand new home. Most buyers do not look past what they initially see in order to understand the potential value of a place. They simply want to walk through and imagine their furniture, heirlooms and personal belongings in various spots in the home. That is tough to do when the sink is full of dirty dishes; the living room is a mess and all the floors need cleaning. Go through every room and thoroughly clean everything.

Sellers Standing Around

The vast majority of buyers prefer to look at a home without the seller present. When a seller is in the home during a showing it presents a bit of awkwardness for the real estate agent and makes the buyer feel pressure. This is easy to remedy: do not be present when the agent shows your home.

Old Items

If the home looks like you stepped back in time 20, or 30 or more years then it will be tough to sell. Old plumbing fixtures and doorknobs that have lost their usefulness scream out “lack of maintenance” and it will make potential buyers wonder if other things in the home are in need of major repair.

Less than the Truth

Thanks to modern technology it is easy to put together a large number of digital pictures and even a video of a home. These items, along with descriptions, need to be as accurate as possible. Putting up a description that omits the fact that a home is mere feet away from a train track or a picture that misleads about the size of a room can turn off not only buyers but agents as well.

The real estate downturn of the mid-2000s is mostly over and the market is heating up, with prices rising in all over the U.S. In Wisconsin, the real estate market might be even healthier than in other locales, with new and existing home prices expected to rise 2.4 percent by early 2016. It might just be the perfect time to buy, but before you make any offers, you need to do a little planning to make sure you can pay out over the long run, especially if it’s your first home.

Get Your Financial Ducks in a Row

Get All Your Rubber Ducks In A RowDo you have good credit? Do you know what good credit is or the factors that affect your credit? Have you had late payments, bankruptcies, judgments or other liens? If the answer is yes, the first step is to work on your credit score and report. Up until just recently, access to your credit score and full report was granted after putting down credit card info for a “free trial.” that you would have to cancel right away to avoid a costly fee. Now, you can access your score and report for free, so there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s happening with your finances. Your FICO scores are ordered separately, usually for a nominal fee. Check it for discrepancies or old information. Much of the time you can contact the lender directly to resolve these issues. Or, contact the bureau and use their dispute resolution process. Most mortgage loan programs require a 640 score or higher, so fixing errors or having old information removed can make a big difference.

Do You Have Funds?

Do you have money for a down payment or closing costs? If not, how long will it take you to save? Start now. Make a commitment to stash funds away each month to help you meet your goal. Some loan programs are still available for 0% down but watch out for those; if the market should falter again you don’t want to owe more on the home than it’s worth. It also goes without saying that you want to refrain from big purchases that require credit, such as buying a new car, until after the home purchase process is over.

Are You Homeowner Material?

Owning a home is touted as a big factor in achieving the American dream, but it’s not for everyone. Ask yourself:

Am I prepared for expenses like home repairs and landscape maintenance? Am I at risk for job relocation? Am I able to stay in one place for three to five years?

Talk to a Lender First, Not a Realtor

Resist the urge to call your realtor first. Instead, speak with a lender or two to find the best program. There are many loan products and even more lending institutions so it’s worth shopping around for the lowest rate. A good lender will also advise you on the best ways to protect your credit while you a preparing to buy a house, which might include ID monitoring and credit report monitoring to ensure that someone else isn’t using your good credit or your identity while you working on purchasing your home.

Use a mortgage worksheet to keep track of the information you receive from various lenders. It can be a dizzying amount of numbers and differences so keeping them in one place is important. When you are within 60 days of purchasing, your lender will issue a pre-approval letter for the amount you qualify for. Now you can call your Realtor and look for your dream home.

What is the Purpose of an Appraisal?

A mortgage has many specific pieces involved in it. Obviously there is the money supplied by the lender to pay the seller for their asking price. There are also many other items such as the title report and title insurance, a survey (sometimes), proof of homeowner insurance policy and an appraisal. An appraisal is actually one of the more important pieces and yet it still brings questions from buyers and sellers alike.

Required by the Lender

First and foremost, if a home is being purchased through the use of a mortgage then the lender will require a formal appraisal. A licensed appraiser works independently of the real estate agent and the lender to ensure that there is no undue influence on the process. The appraiser’s report will indicate if the home is worth the asking price.

Appraisal ordered after a Selling Price has been negotiated

The appraiser is contacted after the real estate agent(s) and all associated parties have worked out a price for the home. The appraiser will look at the contract along with a host of other items such as

* Square footage of the home

* Local property taxes for the home

* When the home was built

* General shape and condition of the property

* Average sales price of similar homes in the area

The price for the appraisal depends on the area of the country. Sometimes the appraisal fee is paid by the borrower up front and other times it may be paid as part of the closing costs. Read the rest of this article

Finding that Elusive Starter Home

Starter HomeThe past few years have brought several changes in the real estate industry. The housing bust of 2006-08 led many people to either sell or walk away from their home. As the market is continuing to rebound, many investors have scooped up homes at affordable prices and are offering them as rental properties. In addition, other investors have bought homes at discounted prices with the sole intention of selling them at near-full value for a profit. So the question remains; how does a first time homebuyer find an affordable starter home?

Consider a Different Location

Too many times a young person or couple will buy a home in hopes of expanding their family. That leads to choosing a home that is convenient to good schools, nearby shopping and plenty of entertainment activities. However, for people that may be a few years away from starting a family, the location should be different. Buying a home within the city limits, for example, where the owners can be extremely close to work, could be a better fit.

Consider an Older Property

Younger people often get caught up in the dream of buying a new home and settling in with the smell of fresh paint and recently rolled carpet. However, new homes usually have a much higher price than older homes.

While it is true that an older home may either need a bit of repair before purchase or more maintenance compared to a newer home, the savings in purchase price can often offset the repairs and maintenance expense. In addition, young ambitious people may be able to tackle some, or all, of the maintenance and repairs on their own which can save them more money in the long run. Read the rest of this article

Common Mistakes of Wisconsin First Time Home Buyers

by Luke Skar January 19, 2015
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Baking a cake for the first time might turn out great or it may come out less than spectacular. Learning to drive a car with a manual transmission likely will not go as splendidly as you hoped. Likewise, spending thousands of dollars on your first home can lead to making one or two mistakes. Here […]

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Lesser Known Advantages of Wisconsin USDA Loans

by Luke Skar January 19, 2015
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An internet search of the term “USDA Loan” will likely yield a lot of the same information.  Websites, articles and blogs will discuss the great advantages of buying a home with no money down and the ability to borrow as much as 100% of the home’s value. But there are quite a few other advantages […]

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Can I Get Approved for a Wisconsin VA IRRRL Refinance?

by Luke Skar January 19, 2015
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Most homeowners agree on one subject; it seems easier to get approved for a home refinance than a home purchase. Among the different types of homeowners, Veterans feel that a refinance of an existing Wisconsin VA mortgage is almost a walk in the park.

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Benefits of the Wisconsin FHA 203K Program for a Purchase and Refinance

by Luke Skar January 19, 2015
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The FHA loan has been a staple of the housing industry for several years. Multiple Wisconsin first time home buyers have used the advantages of this program to make home ownership a very real possibility. The Wisconsin FHA 203K streamline program has made this loan even more attractive to a number of borrowers.

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