Retirees, Transform Your House Using Smart Home Technology

Hank Norsworthy was tired of having to walk down a dark hallway to get to bed. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about 40 years ago, he uses a rollator (a walker with wheels) to get around. After several friends adopted smart home technology to automate certain features, he decided to give it a try.

A few months ago, he bought an Echo Dot as well as some smart lightbulbs and smart plugs to help automate his lighting. With these adjustments, he can now ask Alexa to turn his lights on or off without having to walk down a dark hallway. Norsworthy has been so happy with the results he’s considering getting a smart lock for his front door and more smart lights for his garage. “This beats the little motion detector lights I was using before,” says Norsworthy, 77, of Jacksonville, Fla.

With no small keypads to squint over or an intimidating selection of buttons to press, more older adults are discovering and adopting easy-to-use, voice-activated smart home technology because it relies on something all of them know how to do: speak. The percentage of adults 50 years and older that own smart home technology nearly doubled in just a year, from 10% in 2019 to 19% in 2020, according to AARP’s report “2021 Tech Trends and the 50+.”

Using the system may be easy, but the real challenge is choosing which one you want from the three tech giants — Amazon, Google and Apple — dominating voice activated smart home technology. Because it isn’t always interchangeable across platforms, consumers can get locked into buying only one company’s products and accessories. So think about which smart home features you want and why before investing in a system. “People need to make technology choices based on their use patterns,” says Tom Kamber, founder and executive director of Older Adults Technology Services, which trains people to use technology through its flagship program Senior Planet and is affiliated with AARP.

Deciding on a Smart Home Technology Brand

Those functions will be determined in part by which ecosystem you want to use. There are three main ecosystems or brands: Amazon’s Alexa Smart Home, Google’s Nest and Apple’s HomeKit.

Each company offers smart speakers — such as Echo for Amazon, Google’s Nest Audio and HomePod mini for Apple — that let you pose questions to a virtual assistant or give it voice commands. To do this, you start the question with what’s called a “wake word.” For example, for an Amazon device, you could say, “Alexa, what’s the temperature outside?” For Google Assistant, you would say, “Hey Google, what’s today’s date?” The wake word for Apple is “Hey Siri.”

Beyond these speakers lies an entire universe of smart home products, including thermostats, doorbells, lighting and locks. Each ancillary product comes with its own app that you can control through your smartphone. You can also control these products through the smart speaker.

Although using voice commands to control smart home technology is not required, many older adults find that feature helpful if they have shaky hands or declining vision, which makes a smartphone app harder to use, says Richard Caro, co-founder of Tech-enhanced Life, which looks at how aging intersects with technology, including smart home products for seniors. “They like it partly because it’s a different way to interact with things,” Caro says.

Not every ancillary product will work with each ecosystem. Typically, a product will work with Amazon’s and Google’s technology but not necessarily Apple’s. If you want a specific smart doorbell or lighting system, check if it’s compatible with the ecosystem you are considering.

If you already own one piece of smart technology, it’s best to stick with that ecosystem, says Wade Yarbrough, who teaches seniors how to use the technology through virtual classes at GetSetUp, an online educational community. Otherwise, it’s often costly to make the transition later.

With Google, Apple and Amazon all offering comparable products, the ecosystem is mostly a matter of personal preference, experts say. But Amazon does dominate the space. In February 2020, eMarketer estimated that about 68% of U.S. smart speaker owners would have Amazon’s Echo this year and about 32% would choose a Google-branded product. Almost 19% would use another brand, including Apple’s HomePod. (The numbers exceed 100% because some smart speaker owners use products from more than one company.)

Your smartphone may play a role in your decision, too. Google and Amazon’s products work on Android systems or an iPhone, whereas the smartphone app for HomeKit is only compatible with Apple products. “I’m biased toward Amazon because I have been using Alexa smart speakers for years,” Yarbrough says. “I think Alexa is a little better than the other two in terms of commands. But it’s more what people got started with and got used to. Some people like Siri better, and there is a strong loyalty in the Apple community.”

Smart Home Products Retirees Should Consider

Many smart home products have potential to help seniors age in place. For instance, Amazon last year launched its Care Hub, a free service “designed to help aging customers maintain independence and provide assurance and peace of mind to their family members,” says Nicolas Maynard, senior manager for Alexa for Everyone at Amazon. By connecting their Alexa accounts, a caregiver can check in on a family member remotely. One feature even includes an alert if the other person’s Alexa has not been used by a certain time. Google and Apple did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Experts recommend smart lighting for older adults because turning lights on and off with your voice or an app can help prevent falls. Philips produces a line of smart lightbulbs, whether it’s a single white bulb or a pack of three that change color.

You can also buy smart plugs that work with almost anything, such as lamps or coffee makers, and that let you control the appliance with your voice through a smart speaker. Because they’re fairly inexpensive and easy to use, smart plugs are a good way for a beginner to try out smart home technology without making a significant investment.

Experts also like video doorbells, particularly for seniors. These doorbells allow the homeowner to see and speak with a visitor at the door without having to walk over and open it. Here, too, Amazon dominates with Ring, a brand that has captured about 40% of the video doorbell market, according to research from Strategy Analytics. Google accounts for only about a quarter of that same market.

But aging in place isn’t the only reason seniors adopt smart home technology. “Older people play too,” Kamber says. “They want to see these amazing new things.”

Technical Support for Smart Home Technology

Most of these products are fairly easy to install, experts say. There are also plenty of video tutorials online about setting up a smart speaker. Amazon has gone a step further with its “Certified for Humans” stamp of approval on any products it considers easy to set up, though you can always hire someone to do it for you.

Anyone can learn new technology, no matter their age, says Susan Corbett, director of the National Digital Equity Center, which provides technology classes to older adults. For instance, her organization taught an 80-year-old to use videoconferencing to attend board meetings during the pandemic. Now he uses Google Earth to “travel the world from his recliner,” she says. “If someone wants to learn, they can.”

Otherwise, local libraries, senior centers and organizations such as Senior Planet often offer technology courses. GetSetUp provides classes on a range of topics, including one on the basics of smart home technology and several on using Alexa. Norsworthy, who worked in IT before retiring, says taking a class about Alexa through GetSetUp “supplied the last bit of knowledge” he needed before buying his Echo. His advice for other seniors: “Just go for it.”

Source: kiplinger.com

15 Home Features Today’s Buyers Want Most

It’s a great time to sell your home. Demand is strong and sales are running above the pre-pandemic pace. Inventory is still historically low, but in June it began to rise as more owners listed their homes for sale. As they join the fray and builders bring more new homes to market, buyers will enjoy greater choice, and sellers will have to step up their game in a more competitive environment.

We’ve featured the top 15 features buyers surveyed by the National Association of Home Builders said they wanted in 2021. Some are small projects that you could do yourself fairly quickly and cheaply. Others require more time, money and planning to find and hire contractors and get materials, which can be a tough ask amid a remodeling boom and shortages of albor and materials.

As the housing market continues to rebound, would-be sellers should think twice before skipping out on updating areas of their home in need of serious upgrades. Home buyers are willing to spend big on homes with higher quality finishes in sought-after neighborhoods.  “After sheltering in place . . . people [are] ready for change in their homes — or looking for a new one,” says Brian K. Lewis, a real estate broker with New York City-based realty firm Compass. Make sure your home is in top condition to get the most attention and the highest possible price.

However, you’re unlikely to recoup all of your cost to remodel when you sell.  According to Remodeling magazine’s 2021 Cost vs. Value report, sellers were estimated to recoup 48% to 94% of the cost of the 22 projects considered. For example, the average cost of a mid-range bathroom remodel is $24,424 (up from $21,377 in October 2020). You’d recoup about $14,671 (60.1%) of that amount during a resale within a year. 

However, the cost of inaction can be far greater than the small loss you’ll incur on any home-improvement projects. “Getting stuck in time with your home isn’t a smart move and is rarely rewarded financially at sale time,” Lewis adds. In fact, it may cause your house to linger on the market longer. As a result, you’ll likely have to pay ongoing mortgage, maintenance and staging costs.

If you want to get the most bang for your buck, focus on features that most home buyers really want to see and that you’ll enjoy for as long as you live in the home. Consumer tastes can vary by region, so consult with your real estate agent to find out which home features are in high demand in your area, advises Dr. Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights for the National Association of Realtors.

We looked at the most recent What Home Buyers Really Want report from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) to assess the preferences of recent and prospective home buyers. We also used their Features Home Buyers Consider Essential survey, which identifies the most desirable home features among prospective first- and second-time home buyers. Estimated project costs come from HomeWyse.com and reflect the cost of materials and contractor labor, unless noted otherwise.

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Laundry Room

modern laundry roommodern laundry room
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 87%
  • Cost to install: $1,300 to $14,825, depending on location and finishes

More than anything else, homeowners want a dedicated laundry room where they can hide the dirty clothes and stack the clean ones until they get put away. A separate laundry room tops the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) list of most-wanted home features by buyers. “Having a separate room [to use for things such as folding or ironing clothes] helps to keep the mess out of your living space . . . Potential buyers will see it as a huge benefit,” says Paul Sullivan, founder and president of the The Sullivan Company, a Newton, Mass., remodeling and custom-building firm. 

If you don’t have an existing laundry room and want to add one, the basement is usually the easiest (and cheapest) place to put it, Sullivan advises. The utility lines are already there, and in many cases the basement is unfinished, so you won’t have to demolish anything first.

If you’re investing in a new washer and dryer, look for Energy Star-certified models that will save you energy and money. Add good lighting and a utility sink, where you can wash out or presoak heavily stained or dirty items. Depending on your budget and space, you can add stock or custom cabinetry, a folding table or countertops.

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Exterior Lighting

A home at night in a forest with unique exterior lightingA home at night in a forest with unique exterior lighting
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 87%
  • Cost to install: $260 to $530

Illuminating a well-manicured lawn with exterior lighting can help grab potential buyers’ attention before they even set foot in the front door. In fact, exterior lighting is the most-wanted outdoor feature (patio was second), according to the NAHB report. Options include spotlights, walkway lights and pendant lights.

Aesthetics aside, exterior lighting also serves as an added safety feature for your home, says Daniel Hurst, owner and general manager of Hurst Design-Build-Remodel, a Middleburg Heights, Ohio-based home remodeling company. Motion-sensor lights, for example, turn on automatically whenever there is movement outside your house.

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Ceiling Fan

Unique Ceiling Fan Shot From BelowUnique Ceiling Fan Shot From Below
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 83%
  • Cost to install: $520 to $860 per fixture with light kit and remote control

In addition to improving a home’s aesthetic, energy-efficient ceiling fans (ranging in price from $60 to $1,890 at Lowe’s) can also help lower cooling costs when used in conjunction with or instead of an air conditioner during the warmer months.

Ceiling fans create a wind-chill effect that helps cool the people sitting in the room. Homeowners should be able to raise the thermostat level by four degrees without a reduction in comfort while the fan is in use with air conditioning, according to Energy.gov. 

Energy.gov also recommends that ceiling fans only be used in rooms with a ceiling height of at least eight feet. The fans work best at that height and when they’re hanging 10 to 12 inches below the ceiling.

If you use air conditioning, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4°F with no reduction in comfort. In temperate climates, or during moderately hot weather, ceiling fans may allow you to avoid using your air conditioner altogether

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Energy Efficiencies (Appliances and Windows)

A home with windows removed and replacement windows ready to be installed - an effective way to cut energy costs.A home with windows removed and replacement windows ready to be installed - an effective way to cut energy costs.
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 81%-83%
  • Cost to install: $660 to $1,020

Would-be buyers looking to limit utility bills will be drawn to properties with Energy Star-qualified windows and appliances. “Gone are the days when these types of features were an anomaly. Today’s home buyers expect energy efficiencies,” Compass’s Lewis notes. If you don’t already have these features, examine your remodeling budget and decide where you can afford to spend.

Energy-efficient windows can trim heating and cooling costs by 12% while individual appliances will reduce your energy and water bills. For example, an Energy Star-certified washing machine ($700 to $2,000 at Home Depot) uses about 25% less energy and 33% less water than regular washers. 

Replacing an existing clothes dryer with an energy-efficient version could save as much as $200 over the appliance’s lifetime.

Energy Star-qualified windows have two or three panes of glass with an invisible glass coating, vacuum-sealed spaces filled with air or inert gas between panes, sturdier weather stripping than regular windows and improved framing materials — all of which reduce undesirable heat gain and loss in the home. An Energy Star-certified dishwasher (ranging in price from $400 to $1,900 at Home Depot) uses soil sensors to assess how dirty your dishes are to minimize water use. 

Once installed, sellers should be sure to play up these money-saving features in their home listings.

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Patio

A general view of a sun terrace patio with brown rattan garden corner sofa and armchairs, fire pit and smooth stone slabsA general view of a sun terrace patio with brown rattan garden corner sofa and armchairs, fire pit and smooth stone slabs
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 82%
  • Cost to install: $1,660 to $4,320 for a concrete patio

It’s important for homeowners not to neglect the backyard area when prepping for resale, says Mike McGrew, chairman and CEO of McGrew Real Estate, a Lawrence, Kansas-based realty firm. 

In today’s housing market, outdoor living spaces have become the most coveted outdoor home feature.

“When most buyers see a house with a really nice backyard, they start to envision themselves sitting outdoors with friends having drinks,” McGrew adds. Also, outdoor areas offer more living space without the cost of a large-scale home addition.

With the popularity of home renovation reality shows, many buyers have come to expect the eye-catching features they see on TV in real life, the NAR’s Lautz says. Some of these shows, including DIY Network’s America’s Most Desperate Landscape and HGTV’S Going Yard, focus on outdoor living spaces. The more expensive the home, the more buyers desire such exterior features as an outdoor kitchen, fireplace or built-in grill, says the NAHB. 

Because patios are generally made of concrete or pavers, they tend to cost less than a wood deck or porch to construct and are generally easier to maintain, say, with powerwashing versus periodic staining and resealing or painting. However, their resale value will likely be less than a deck or porch, according to BobVila.com.

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Double Kitchen Sink (Side-by-Side)

A general view of a kitchen interior with a modern stainless steel twin sinks by a window with a view into the gardenA general view of a kitchen interior with a modern stainless steel twin sinks by a window with a view into the garden
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 81%
  • Cost to install: $450 to $540 to remove old sink and install new, excluding cost of sink

Throughout the pandemic, the kitchen sink has been getting a workout as homeowners have cooked more and done more dishes. A double, side-by-side sink—divided 50/50 or 60/40–gives you more options for organizing the work with, say, one side to hide dirty dishes until they make it to the dishwasher and another side for preparing food, using the garbage disposal or drying items you’ve handwashed.

When choosing a sink, look for one that’s deep enough to accommodate large pots and pans or cookie sheets. Builder-grade sinks are often too shallow to be most practical.

A porcelain finish is lovely, but is prone to staining, scuffing and chipping. Stainless steel is durable and easy-care. Most of today’s models are made of 16- or 18-gauge stainless steel that is thicker and less noisy than older models. To make installation easier and cheaper, match the size, shape, type of installation (drop-in or undermount) and number of holes (for faucet, sprayer and soap dispenser) of the new sink to the old one.

At Home Depot, drop-in sinks with two basins in 18-gauge stainless steel run $89 to $2,005 and undermount versions run $120 to $1,027.

When you’re replacing a sink, it’s a good time to replace the faucet. At Lowes.com, pull-down kitchen faucets in stainless steel run $47 to $1,158. Also, verify that the water shut-off valves work correctly—an item that will be checked in a buyer’s home inspection.

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Walk-In Kitchen Pantry

Organised Pantry Items In Storage Room With Nonperishable Food Staples, Preserved Foods, Healthy Eatings, Fruits And Vegetables.Organised Pantry Items In Storage Room With Nonperishable Food Staples, Preserved Foods, Healthy Eatings, Fruits And Vegetables.
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 81%
  • Cost to install: Varies based on design

A walk-in pantry is the second-most-coveted kitchen feature among buyers polled in the NAHB’s report. Why? Home buyers with families know that the kitchen can quickly become overcrowded when there’s not enough space to store the essentials (think: canned goods, condiments and food storage containers). And those who shop in bulk at warehouse clubs or big box retailers or online to avoid making frequent trips and face in-store crowds will need extra space in the kitchen area to store their goods.

Unlike reach-in closet pantries with sliding doors that offer limited space, walk-in versions allow homeowners to store larger quantities of non-perishable food items and other kitchen essentials just steps away from the food prep area, suggests Neil Parsons, a project designer for Move or Improve, a Matawan, N.J.-based home design firm. 

Walk-in pantries are typically 5×5 feet and have U-shaped open shelves or cabinets with a countertop, according to ThisOldHouse.com. Make sure the pantry is situated somewhere that is cool and dry.

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Front Porch

Young couple on a summer day relaxing on a front porch in South Carolina.Young couple on a summer day relaxing on a front porch in South Carolina.
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 81% (75% of buyers would like a rear porch or deck)
  • Cost to install: $4,600 to $22,000 for 200 square feet

A front porch provides a place between curb and front door where homeowners can relax, watch the world go by, and interact with friends and neighbors, socially distanced if need be. Because it’s covered, it’s an extension of your living space. It protects you from the rain, and if it’s screened in, you can avoid bugs, too. However, the overhanging roof will reduce the natural light your home receives through front windows (skylights in the porch roof will help).

According to ThisOldHouse.com, a porch should be at least 6 feet deep to allow for comfortable seating or 10 feet deep for outdoor dining. (Many newer homes are built with a shallow porch of say, 4 feet deep, more for looks than real-world use.) Make sure the style of the porch matches your home.

If you already have a porch, provide comfortable seating without overcrowding the space. Add pops of color with cushions, pillows and a rug meant for exterior use and containers of flowers. Add a ceiling fan rated for outdoor use to provide a cooling breeze when nature doesn’t.

If you want more privacy and less street noise or don’t want to reduce natural light in your home, a deck out back may be a better alternative than a porch.  Because a deck doesn’t have a roof, it’s lighter than a porch and will need less structural support, so for the same square footage, it will probably cost less than a porch, according to BobVila.com. (The typical range of cost is $4,080 to $11,260, according to HomeAdvisor.com.

As with any addition, make sure your project is permitted, conforms to building codes and doesn’t cause you to exceed lot coverage requirements in your area.

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Hardwood Floors in the Main Living Area

Father and daughter playing on the floorFather and daughter playing on the floor
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 81%
  • Cost to install:1,290 to $1,850 per 120 square feet to lay and finish hardwood floors

Hardwood flooring offers a natural look, is less allergenic, is easier to maintain and is more durable than carpet, which needs to be replaced every 10 years or so. It can be refinished periodically and lasts a lifetime.

Sellers on a budget may want to buy engineered wood flooring (which is a hardwood veneer on top of several layers of other types of wood that form a plywood core. You can expect to pay about $990 to $1,450 to install 120 square feet of engineered wood flooring.

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A Full Bath on the Main Level

A beautiful modern bathroom, fullA beautiful modern bathroom, full
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 80%
  • Cost to install: Varies with the project

A full bath incorporates sink, toilet, and tub and shower. Families like one on the main floor it because parents can supervise bath time of older children while cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. 

Mature people like it because of the potential to live on one floor, especially if an adjacent room could be converted to a bedroom. An existing powder room could be converted to a full bath by incorporating space from an adjacent closet, room or hallway.

The typical space required for a small bathroom, with a tub-and-shower combination, is 40 square feet (typically 5 feet by 8 feet), according to Improvenet.com. Mature folks may want a separate, walk-in shower, which requires a bit more space (45 square feet, or 5 feet by 9 feet). Consider swapping a swing door for a pocket door and adding features to enhance accessibility, such as a wider doorway, nonslip flooring and grab bars.

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Energy-Efficient Lighting

A young woman sitting on the sofa in her living room, holding her newborn baby in her arms while turning on the standing lamp using her phone.A young woman sitting on the sofa in her living room, holding her newborn baby in her arms while turning on the standing lamp using her phone.
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 80%
  • Cost to install: Varies with the project, but more if you hire a handyman for hard-to-reach locations

LED light bulbs that are EnergyStar-certified use at least 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than old-fashioned, incandescent lighting. Because they cast light in one direction, LED bulbs are great for recessed down lighting or task lighting, and because they emit very little heat, they work well in the kitchen, which may already be hot enough. They’ll save you money for as long as you live in your home and you won’t have to worry about changing a burned-out bulb while your house is for sale.

To start, switch to LED bulbs in the most-used or least accessible fixtures in your home.

LED bulbs come in a variety of models. Although their brightness is measured in lumens, packaging is generally marked with familiar watt equivalents, such as 60 or 100 watts. You can select from a range of color temperatures, too, warm to cool, including, for example, soft white or bright daylight, depending on where the bulb will be installed and your preference. For example, you might not want a cool bulb that emits a bluish cast in the kitchen. Many models are dimmable.

At 1000bulbs.com, you can buy a four-pack of standard, 60-watt equivalent, Energy Star-certified LED bulbs for from $1.32 (in a four-pack) to $6.56 apiece.

To take it a step further, you could install a few smart LED bulbs that you can operate from an app on your smart phone. For example, you can get a Philip Smart Wi-Fi Wiz 60-watt equivalent bulb for $9 apiece or a four-pack for $40 at Home Depot. Install them in key locations, so that you can turn lights on as needed when your home will be shown.

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Eat-In Kitchen

Eat-In Kitchen Interior Design with Lake View, Hardwood FloorEat-In Kitchen Interior Design with Lake View, Hardwood Floor
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 78%
  • Cost to install: Varies by design and structural needs

Eat-in kitchens—that is, table space for eating in a kitchen—are a must-have for second-time home buyers who were polled by the NAHB. They’re especially attractive to families with children. It’s a space not just for eating, but also for doing homework, crafting and more. Such flexible spaces proved more important then ever during the pandemic.

Removing a non-load-bearing wall to create space for a small table and chairs in your kitchen is relatively inexpensive (as little as $1,000, according to HomeAdvisor.com), but that price can quickly escalate if your demolition reveals plumbing, duct work and electrical wiring that needs to be removed, Move or Improve’s Parsons says. (If the wall is load bearing, you’ll pay up to $3,000 in a single-story home or up to $10,000 in a multiple-story home.)

If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to knock out a wall to create more space for a table and chairs, consider adding a center island with room for bar stools, Parsons suggests. You can purchase prefabricated kitchen islands with space for seating. For example, at Wayfair.com, you can get an island with seating for $152 to $2,850.

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Dining Room

Woman serving family members at dining room table during celebration mealWoman serving family members at dining room table during celebration meal
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: 70%
  • Cost to install: $5,890 to $6,870 to remodel a 200-square-foot existing space.

In recent years, formal dining rooms (and closed floor plans) have taken a backseat to open floor concepts in today’s home models. While these layouts help maximize space, there are still home buyers who desire the charm and unique features that come with older homes. This includes a separate dining area distinct from the kitchen. 

With open floor plans, “many people have seating at their kitchen island and will have a quick bite to eat informally,” says Shannon Lynch, a real estate agent with Savvy + Co. Real Estate, a Charlotte, N.C.-based realty firm. “Sitting down in a dining room has a sense of importance to it . . . It makes your guests feel special,” she adds. This is especially true during holiday gatherings or sit-down family dinners. If you have an older home with a closed floor plan, it may be time to modernize your dining room area to help attract buyers. The cost listed here for a small-scale remodel includes installing new flooring, doors, switchplates, decorative hardware and recessed lighting. Many of these features come standard in newer home models.

If your home has an open floor plan, there are still ways to create a dining space that feels separate. You can add an over-the-table lighting fixture or incorporate a tray ceiling to help define a particular area of the main living level — perhaps just off the kitchen. Another option: Install decorative columns instead of a solid wall (with an installed cost of $1,149 to $1,643 for two, according to Homewyse.com.

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Walk-In Closet (Master Bedroom)

A well stocked walk in closet with all clothing and shoes organized withinA well stocked walk in closet with all clothing and shoes organized within
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: N/A
  • Cost to install: Varies by design

While walk-in closets aren’t among the top demands of all homebuyers, they’re highly sought after among second-time homebuyers, according to the NAHB.

If you live in an older dwelling with a reach-in closet, it may be time for a revamp if you’re considering putting the house on the market. Couples generally want a closet with more space, because they’ll be sharing it.

Meanwhile, singles might desire the flexibility of being able to store their personal belongings — from clothes and shoes to jewelry and other accessories — in one place, while keeping them organized. “Homes without a walk-in-closet in the master bedroom are more of a challenge to sell and generally attract less buyers,” says Cande Green, in Dallas, whereas Agnes Seminara-Holzberg, in Scarsdale, N.Y., says it’s neither a deal maker nor breaker.

For would-be sellers with older homes that have less space, a full closet renovation in the master bedroom may not be practical. However, you still have options that will help make your property more appealing. Update an existing reach-in closet by installing an organization system complete with shelving units and hanging rods for clothes. You can purchase a prefabricated Elfa system from The Container Store, which range in price from $380 to $1,770 (in white). ). To save some cash, you can go the DIY route and install it yourself or hire someone, say from TaskRabbit, to do it for you. You can also hire a consultant from a custom closet design firm, such as Closet Factory, to assess your space and design an organization system that fits your needs. The cost will vary based on your requirements.

If you’re an empty-nester, you could even turn a nearby smaller room into a custom walk-in closet. Depending on the quality of the materials used (for example, solid wood shelving vs. wooden veneer shelving), this type of project could range in price from $1,000 to $6,500, according to HomeAdvisor.com.

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Garage Storage Space

An organized residential garage with no vehicle insideAn organized residential garage with no vehicle inside
  • Percentage of buyers who want this feature: N/A
  • Cost to install : $2,025 to $2,363

Buyers with growing families need lots of storage space. Would-be sellers should keep in mind that “streamlined living equates to more dollars in your pocket at sale time,” Compass’s Lewis says. Carving out some space in your garage to help keep clutter out of the main level could help your bottom line. “Make sure the bonus space is easily accessible and wonderfully organized,” Lewis advises.

The installation cost listed here includes adding storage, electric circuits and lighting, plus peg wallboard for tool storage.

Source: kiplinger.com

The Best Home Insurance Companies in Florida of 2021

The best homeowners insurance company in Florida is an individual decision, but in general, we found that State Farm is great for home insurance in Florida. When assessing home insurance companies, we looked at price, value and customer service. But we’ll get into that in a bit.

America’s top-rated home insurance

  • Policies starting at just $25/month
  • Sign up in seconds, claims paid in minutes
  • Zero hassle, zero paperwork

You might wonder, how can you get a Florida home insurance quote that has both adequate coverage and is affordable?

While location in the state is obviously a huge factor because of weather events like high wind and hurricanes, there are other concerns that decide your rate, including age of the home and the roof’s condition.

We’ve researched the top six homeowners insurance companies and compared them using our SimpleScore methodology to help you find the right company and coverage for your needs.

Methodology

To arrive at our choices in home insurance companies, we reviewed coverage options, available discounts, customer satisfaction, support and accessibility to make recommendations for the best home insurance companies in Florida. This allows us to create our SimpleScore.

We also referenced Bankrate, Insurance Information Institute, Consumer Reports, J.D. Power and other authoritative organizations to arrive at our decisions.

In this article

The best homeowners insurance in Florida of 2021

Great overall – State Farm

State Farm is a great insurance provider for homeowners who want a reputable company with good customer service, flexible coverages and low premiums.

J.D. Power Rating

3/5

AM Best Rating

A++

Standard & Poor’s

AA

SimpleScore

4 / 5.0

SimpleScore State Farm 4

Discounts 2

Coverage Options 5

Customer Satisfaction 3

Accessibility 5

State Farm is a nationwide insurance company with a long-established history of top-notch customer service. There are 19,000 independent agents, so you have a good chance to find a State Farm agent with the right coverage in your area.

State Farm’s exact insurance rates vary by state and individual situation, but the company offers a few discounts to help homeowners save money on their insurance.

Additionally, State Farm stands out for its customer reviews. In J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Home Insurance Study, State Farm was rated 7 out of 24 for overall customer satisfaction. The company has also proven financial stability with an A++ rating from A.M. Best.

Great for damage amount – USAA

USAA received some of the top scores with Consumer Reports, including 5 out of 5 for damage amounts and timely payments, due to satisfaction from customers in both categories.

J.D. Power Rating

5/5

AM Best Rating

A++

Standard & Poor’s

AA+

SimpleScore

4.6 / 5.0

SimpleScore USAA 4.6

Discounts 3

Coverage Options 5

Customer Satisfaction 5

Accessibility 5

USAA has industry standard coverage options like dwelling, personal belongings, liability, loss of use, other structures, home sharing and earthquake. And there are also military-specific perks for active duty and deployed members like coverage for uniforms if lost or damaged.

The company ranks high among insurers for its customer satisfaction. USAA earns top marks from third-party surveyors for its communication, billing process, claims, cost of service and policy offerings. You can find similar perks and service quality with its other insurance policies like auto, life and more niche insurance like pet, small business, travel or special events.

Great for bundling – Allstate

Allstate’s bundling options make it a strong choice. With auto, home and motorcycle insurance available, you can maximize your discounts.

J.D. Power Rating

3/5

AM Best Rating

A+

Standard & Poor’s

AA-

SimpleScore

4.4 / 5.0

SimpleScore Allstate 4.4

Discounts 4

Coverage Options 5

Customer Satisfaction 3

Accessibility 5

Floridians looking to save money have the great opportunity with Allstate. Discounts include a 10% welcome discount, 5% for setting up autopay and for being over the age of 55 and retired. You can also find policy discounts for remaining claim-free, installing fire protection devices, purchasing a new home, being a smoke-free home and having protective features like storm shutters.

Allstate might grant members 10% off an auto policy and 25% off home premiums for bundling auto and home insurance. You can bundle your policy with life insurance as well at varying discounts. We recommend calling a local agent for specific opportunities.

Florida’s best regional home insurance companies

Great for low rates – Universal Property & Casualty

If you’re looking for home insurance discounts with a lot of options, consider Universal Property & Casualty.

J.D. Power Rating

N/A

AM Best Rating

A-

Standard & Poor’s

N/A

SimpleScore

4.3 / 5.0

SimpleScore Universal Property & Casualty 4.3

Discounts 4

Coverage 4

Customer Satisfaction N/A

Accessibility 5

Despite being a subsidiary of the largest insurance provider in Florida (Universal Insurance Holdings), Universal Property & Casualty’s online presence isn’t as strong as some of the other companies that dominate the Florida home insurance market. However, it makes up for that by offering some of the lowest rates depending on your specific circumstance.

Universal prides itself on its superior customer service, and it offers assistance from a real person. During times of natural disaster or catastrophe, Universal still allows policyholders to file claims 24/7 by rerouting them through an efficient automated system and having representatives reconnect with them.

Universal Property & Casualty may be a great choice for Floridians who are on a budget. The company offers discounts for having home protective equipment, being claims-free, being a loyal customer, having a new roof, bundling policies, having windstorm-protective features, and being over the age of 65.

Great for customer service – St. John’s Insurance

St. Johns offers standard home insurance, with limited coverage. However, the company stands out for its personalized customer service and friendly agents.

J.D. Power Rating

N/A

AM Best Rating

N/A

Standard & Poor’s

N/A

SimpleScore

2.3 / 5.0

SimpleScore St. John’s Insurance 2.3

Discounts 2

Coverage 1

Customer Satisfaction N/A

Accessibility 3

St. Johns is a privately held Florida company that specializes in homeowner’s insurance products. In addition to home insurance, St. Johns also sells condo, landlord and personal umbrella insurance. We chose St. Johns as a great home insurance provider in Florida because of the top notch customer service.

Though you can expect a high level of expertise from a company with such a specialized focus, policyholders are unable to benefit from multi-policy discounts that larger, more diversified companies can offer. However, St. Johns boasts an A rating in financial stability from Demotech, Inc., excellent customer service and competitive pricing for its policies, making St. John a top provider of Florida home insurance.

Great locally based provider – Florida Peninsula Insurance

If you’re looking for local coverage, consider Florida Peninsula. The company has good coverage, excellent financial strength and great reviews across the board.

J.D. Power Rating

N/A

AM Best Rating

N/A

Standard & Poor’s

N/A

SimpleScore

3.3 / 5.0

SimpleScore Florida Peninsula Insurance 3.3

Discounts N/A

Coverage 5

Customer Satisfaction N/A

Accessibility 2

Experience handling hurricane claims is a selling point for Sunshine State property owners. Policyholders can file claims not just by phone but also online and take advantage of a robust learning center on the company website. AM Best gives Florida Peninsula an A on its Financial Strength Rating (FSR).

One potential drawback is that the company serves “just about” every Florida city, which doesn’t guarantee that coverage is available in your area.

Average cost of homeowners insurance in Florida

The average cost of homeowners insurance premiums in Florida was $1,960, the Insurance Information Institute found for 2018, the most recent year for this data. That compares to the national average of $1,249 for the same year.

(These figures are based on the HO-3 homeowner package policy for owner-occupied dwellings, 1 to 4 family units. It provides all risks coverage (except those specifically excluded in the policy) on buildings and broad named-peril coverage on personal property, and is the most common package written.)

Florida ranked second for average homeowners insurance premiums, behind only Louisiana. The lowest? It was Oregon at $706 a year.

Rank State Average premium
1 Louisiana $1,987
2 Florida $1,960
3 Texas $1,955
4 Oklahoma $1,944
5 Rhode Island $1,630

Choosing a national or a local Florida insurance company

Florida is one state in particular that has a lot of regional insurance providers to choose from, like the Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, in addition to the usual big-name companies like State Farm and Allstate.

Pros and cons of Florida home insurance companies

Pros Cons
Personalized service Not available everywhere
Local access Can offer more dated technology
Regional expertise

Pros and cons of national carriers

Pros Cons
Can provide more services Lack of regional coverage
Usually has a greater service area More difficult to receive personal assistance
Better technology and growth

Things to know about home insurance in Florida

Keep in mind that homeowners insurance rates in Florida will be heavily impacted by geographical location. Coastal areas of Florida may see higher rates than inland areas due to the increased risk of hurricane damage. For example, a property in the Keys could face much higher insurance premiums than a city located in the middle of the state.

What type of home insurance coverage do I need in Florida?

Coastal insurance agencies may encourage specific coverage for hurricane-related damages. Your insurance agent may also recommend adding flood insurance to your policy.

Hurricane insurance in Florida

If you include hurricane coverage as part of your Florida homeowners insurance coverage, you may have a standard deductible and a hurricane deductible. A hurricane deductible will only apply if you file a claim for hurricane-related damage.

Deductibles usually cost between 2% and 5% of the value of your property. In Florida, you also have the option to get a $500 deductible, but your annual premium may be much higher. You need to decide if you’d rather pay a higher rate on an ongoing basis, or take your chances and pay a higher deductible before reimbursements kick in when you file a claim.

Also, your agent may discuss with you “wind-driven rain.” Having this extra line item may protect you from rain that causes damage because wind pushed it in an opening.

Flood insurance in Florida

Although flood insurance does not come in a standard policy, adding it to your policy in states like Florida is popular.

Flood insurance may protect you in the event of water overflow caused from things like hurricanes, landslides and earthquakes.

[ Read more: Understanding Your Homeowners Insurance Declarations Page ]

Florida home insurance requirements 

Home insurance isn’t required in Florida, but your mortgage lender may still require some form of it until your home’s loan is paid off to help cover your mortgage.

Even though home insurance isn’t required, many opt for it in case the unexpected happens. Your policy coverage can help cover repair costs if there’s ever a break-in or severe storm. Overall, home insurance might cover property damage, belongings and repairs in specific situations.

Types of home insurance policies in Florida 

There are different types of home insurance for Florida residents. Your policy depends on your home’s structure and your personal needs. Some policies will cover the home’s structure, while other insurance choices have a few exceptions. It’s best to speak with your insurer to find the best coverage for your Florida home.

Mobile home: Mobile home insurance protects a manufactured or mobile home from damage. Most mobile home policies also cover your valuables. If your insurer doesn’t offer mobile home insurance then dwelling insurance coverage is an alternative that can cover your home and belongings.

Renters: Renters insurance can cover the tenant’s belongings and liability, but this policy doesn’t usually cover damage to the rental apartment, townhouse or condo.

Dwelling form: A dwelling form is usually included in your homeowner’s insurance. It can cover damage in areas that are attached to your home such as a deck or attached garage. This form covers risks or other areas of your home that aren’t already included in your policy.

Owner-occupied: This insurance is typically for an owner’s primary single-family home. Owner-occupied insurance is better known as “homeowner’s insurance” to cover the home structure and valuables listed in the policy.

Condo unit: Condo owners usually get condo insurance to cover what your homeowners association (HOA) won’t cover including unit damages, liability and stolen valuables.

Florida home insurance FAQs

Home insurance in Florida is not mandatory, but mortgage lenders may require it. You agent may recommend home insurance If you’re going to live in Florida where the risk of natural disaster is high.

Under a replacement cost homeowners policy, your home is covered for the amount it would cost to replace your home and home contents at current costs. Under an actual cash value policy, your home is covered for replacement cost minus depreciation.

Most standard policies do not include coverage from hurricanes or other natural disasters. Speak with your insurance agent about adding coverage to make sure you have protection from the disasters most likely to happen in your area.

Home insurance rates in Florida are based on a few factors, and each insurer has different coverage options at different rates. As you shop around you’ll find that most rates take into account the home’s location, age, construction and square footage. You may also get credit for systems that help reduce damage such as a professionally monitored security system to reduce the risk of theft.

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We welcome your feedback on this article and would love to hear about your experience with the home insurance companies we recommend. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

Source: thesimpledollar.com

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