In my household, Spring is more than only about cleaning. I also reevaluate ways that we use energy and water, and take steps to minimize our carbon footprint. One website that I came across recently that helped me operate our systems more efficiently is one that comes from eco architect Eric Corey Freed. His website offers great advice to help everyone to reduce the utility bills in their home.

Eric Freed’s advice for us addresses five areas: 1) Wrap Your Home in Insulation, 2) Install a Programmable Thermostat, 3) Conserve Water through Smart Technology, 4) Cool Your Roof, and 5) Upgrade Your Lighting. I am happy to report that the Neighborhood Energy Retrofit Program that is being offered in Durham also touches on many of these same energy-reducing techniques.

Eric Freed, LEED AP (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional), is a Principal of orgaincArchtect. This is an architecture and consulting firm in California, and he has nearly 20 years of experience in green building.

Happy Spring everyone, and Happy Savings for you and yours!

Alright everyone, mark your calendars, if they are not already properly highlighted – March 19-26 is Durham’s Third Annual Creek Week 2011! This focus on our watersheds is extremely important because it is imperative that we keep the water in our creeks fresh and clean. Heck, Durham County’s own Falls Lake is the main water source for the capitol city of Raleigh. Also, our body is between 53 and 70 percent water, depending on whose research one believes.

In order to see the myriad possibilities that are available to anyone who is fortunate enough to take in one of the events during Creek Week, please visit the Keep Durham Beautiful website. There are over 30 activities that are scheduled during the week through which one may experience wildlife available to only those who spend an Evening of Canoe Paddling on the Lower Eno River, take a Wildflower Walk at Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve, or go on a Turtle Trek along the Pea Creek Trail.

For those whose taste tends to be more altruistic in nature, there are thirteen chances where you can clean up after the more selfish that have traveled before you. It seems that all the waterways of Durham are represented in these Creek Cleanups, so please choose the nearest creek to your neighborhood and come prepared to practice the mantra of backpackers – “Leave the scene cleaner that you found it.” Durham’s flora and fauna will thank you for your efforts.

Make Sure Your Home Stands Tall in a Competitive Market

Home sellers today must convince a new era of buyers returning to the market that their homes stand for value and quality.

The time-honored open house event remains a terrific way to expose your property to many consumers and gain distinction from the competition. While your real estate professional will advertise and manage the event, it is up to you to ensure that your home is seen in the best light possible. Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression, so approach your open house event as your property’s showcase. Here are several ways to make your property shine, inside and out.

Start with the outside. Do a visual check of the front of the house from across the street. Does your property have curb appeal? It should look inviting, with a trimmed lawn and flowerbed and a freshly painted front door. Polish door handles and knockers and replace worn items such as a rusty doorbell. Consider adding a new doormat and flowering plants at the entrance. Don’t forget to wash your windows and clean any oil or rust spots from the driveway.

Be sure to inspect the side and back yards. Add some flowering plants to the back as well. Clean and rearrange the outdoor furniture to look inviting. Put away gardening tools, and tidy around the grill area.

Now focus on the inside of the home where cleanliness, space, smell and lighting are vital. First get your house in tip-top condition by cleaning and clearing away clutter. Steam clean and vacuum the carpet. Make sure your floors are waxed and shiny. Touch up nicks on walls and make sure the porcelain sinks and tubs and metallic fixtures shine.

Be conscious of any lingering odors such as smoke, pets or strong-smelling foods. You may need to air out your home prior to your open house event. Consider grinding fresh lemons in the garbage disposal. And don’t forget to empty all trash containers.

Look at your countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms and the tops of your bureaus. Do they seem cluttered? Clear away and store as much as possible. You want your home to seem spacious.

Next, set the mood. Let your prospective buyers picture your home as their own. Rearrange the furniture so that rooms look more spacious, or consider removing furniture and accessories.

Lighting is also important to creating a desirable atmosphere. Bright lights provide a cheerful environment and make a small space appear larger. Pull back all the drapes and open the blinds. Turn on all the lights. Make sure all light sockets have fresh bulbs. Use softer lights for rooms in which you want a warm, cozy feeling.

Don’t forget little touches such as fresh flowers, lighted candles in the bathrooms, new logs in the fireplace, or a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter. You may even want to set your dining-room table with color-coordinated table settings.

Home buying is steeped in emotion. Sellers shouldn’t rely on buyers to use their imagination; they must capture buyers’ imagination. Remember that buyers may see seven or eight homes in a single day. The most memorable home will be the one that seemed the brightest, the most spacious and the most cheerful.

Our own DPAC has vaulted to the national top-10 in sheer attendance levels for US Theaters for 2010. The high-quality shows that will continue though this year can be found on their website.

The coming attractions include:  comedians Jerry Seinfeld, Wanda Sykes, Brian Regan, and Carol Burnette; musical performances by John Mellancamp, the Celtic Women, Diana Ross, and the multi-talented Steve Martin with the Steep Canyon Rangers; stage productions Avenue Q, Hair, and Monty Python’s Spamalot; and spoken-word artist Garrison Keillor.

With a lineup like this, I see the DPAC rising to an even more prominent position for 2011.

Home Sellers: Five Tips to Make Your Bathroom Stand Out

Every homebuyer has a vision of their perfect house and the rooms that are most important to them. Because of their relatively small size in comparison to the rest of a home, bathrooms are often overlooked in the staging process, but for many, it could be the most important room in a buying decision.

A bathroom is more than just a place for grooming; it’s a sanctuary. It’s a place one can relax in a hot bath and escape the stresses of daily life for a few moments at a time.

Updating a tired-looking bathroom is one of the best things you can do to increase a home’s resale value and the fixes are not too costly or labor intensive.

Easy fixes include adding new, luxurious-looking towels, replacing the shower curtain and adding candles around a bathtub. However, with a little more money and effort, your bathroom can become a talking point of the house.

Here is a look at five great ways to upgrade a bathroom.

1. Beautify: By adding decorative glass, stone tile or accents to the bathroom, it will stand out among the other houses in the neighborhood that are for sale. Extra-wide wall tiles are popular these days and wood cabinets can be beautifully embellished with intricately carved wooden inlays.

2. Lighting: Add more lighting options around the room, especially around the vanity to reduce shadows and glaring. This is something that isn’t too expensive and can really highlight the positive features of a bathroom. Mood lighting around the tub area is also increasing in popularity.

3. Bath/Shower: It’s not too often you hear someone complaining about a bathtub being too large, and that’s because there’s nothing better than coming home from a hard day’s work and relaxing in a big soothing tub. By putting in a new tub and creating more of a spa-like atmosphere, you will have buyers imagining themselves washing their cares away. Adding a massage element to the showerhead or one that replicates rain showers is also something that will appeal to buyers.

4. Update Fixtures: Not as costly as some of the other tips, changing out the fixtures in a bathroom can add a great deal. From cabinet handles to faucets, the addition of brushed nickel or other metals that are polished and elegant are always a huge hit. And if space permits, add a second sink.

5. Think Green: The bathroom is a prime place to start putting those environmentally friendly devices to work. Installing fixtures that save water, such as a low-flow showerhead, a low-flow faucet aerator, and a dual-flush toilet, can save thousands of gallons of water each year. Adding energy-efficient windows is another easy option, since the size of bathroom windows are relatively small. Another fix that is both decorative and energy efficient is the addition of natural stone flooring, which helps keep cool in during the summer, and heats the bathroom longer during the winter.

When buyers walk into a renovated bathroom that exudes quality and offers an intimate, contemporary feel, it’s one of the top things that people will remember about a home.

There are many reasons that Durham’s revitalization has been touted by impressed visitors, but it is really something to see us listed by The New York Times as one the “The 41 Places to Go in 2011.”

Here is the text from the Saturday, January 8th edition of this great newspaper:

“A decade ago, downtown Durham was a place best avoided after sundown. But as revitalization has transformed abandoned tobacco factories and former textile mills into bustling mixed-use properties, the city has been injected with much-needed life. In the heart of downtown, a crop of standout restaurants and cafes has recently sprouted around West Main Street, where low rents have allowed chefs and other entrepreneurs to pursue an ethos that skews local, seasonal and delicious.

The farmers’ market favorite Scratch Bakery has a brand-new storefront for its seasonal homemade pies that include chestnut cream pie and buttermilk sweet potato pie. At the cafe-cum-grocery Parker and Otis, the menu features sandwiches made with freshly baked bread from nearby Rue Cler and locally roasted java from Durham’s Counter Culture Coffee. And at the sophisticated Revolution, squash tamales, mascarpone gnocchi, and tuna with wasabi caviar rotate through the seasonal menu.

Home Sellers: Cut to the Chase in Home Repairs and Enhancements

2011 opens as a strong buyer’s market so home sellers must be on their toes to give their homes maximum appeal. Not only should sellers complete the home repairs they know must be made, they should also hire a certified home inspector to thoroughly and impartially evaluate their properties.

If this inspection results in a fix-it list, review the list with your real estate professional to establish necessities and priorities. Depending on your budget and objectives, you may want to repair only items that could cause significant deterioration to your property, such as a leaky roof. Ideally, the closer you can get your home to “move-in-ready” status, the more likely you are to attract today’s cautious and discerning buyers.

Among the most common repairs and enhancements yielding immediate buyer appeal include:

• Paint inside and outside in neutral colors

• Steam clean or replace carpets

• Polish or replace hardwood floors

• Clean or re-grout kitchen and bathrooms

• Replace light fixtures

• Change light bulbs throughout and replace wall-switch covers

• Repair dripping faucets

• Fix sticking doors

• Repair broken fencing

Home sellers wanting to do more should consider the findings of Remodeling magazine’s 2010-’11 Cost vs. Value Report, released in December 2010. The survey used input from REALTORS in 80 cities to rank home remodeling projects according to those that bring the greatest cost recovered at sale.

Many of the top projects focus on exterior replacements, as replacements are generally less expensive than other types of projects and they add all-important curb appeal – essential for today’s competitive market or any other.

The Top Five projects in the Cost vs. Value Report include:

No. 1 – Entry door replacement (steel)

No. 2 – Garage door replacement (four-section door, reuse existing motorized opener)

No. 3 – Siding replacement (fiber-cement siding)

No. 4 – Kitchen remodel (minor: new cabinet doors, drawers and hardware, plus new energy-efficient appliances, flooring, counters, sink and faucet)

No. 5 – Deck addition (wood)

When the dust clears and projects are complete, be sure that you and your real estate professional document your repairs and enhancements, and share the report with prospective buyers. Walk prospects through the enhancements and include their costs.

A home in good condition demonstrates pride of ownership. Taking the time to make enhancements helps ensure your home is presented in its best-possible light, primed for sale.