Saving Energy = Saving $$$

We all want to save money and being smart with our energy usage in the home is a great way to do that and help the planet too! Here are a few key things you can do to conserve energy and lower your utility bills, in warm weather and cold!

Pools–did you know they often consume as much energy as the entire house??
Check your equipment. Be sure it’s in good working order, replace if necessary, and then adjust your pump schedule–no more than 12 hours/day in summer and considerably less in off-season.
Keep the filter clean–a clogged filter makes the pump work harder which means more energy use.
Pool cleaning devices (e.g. a Polaris)–run when/as needed, not necessarily on a set schedule. If you have a lot of trees around your pool, you’ll need to run it more often at certain times of year and less often in others.

Indoors–stop air leaks. Just like your mom and dad said, no need to air condition or heat the entire neighborhood!
Close your chimney flue in warm weather when the fireplace is not in use
Check your weather stripping around the doors–and remember the door into the garage too!
Kitchen/bath exhaust fans–check that the flaps close when not in use
Have your a/c ducts tested for leaks–no need to be sending hot or cool air into the attic!

Sun–block it!
If you have windows on the south and/or west sides of your home, shade them to block the afternoon sun. If you get strong sun in the morning, shade the east-facing windows too.
Roof overhangs and correctly-sized awnings help with shade, reduce glare and eye-strain, and help keep rain off windows so they stay cleaner and last longer.
Solar screens help as well. Even the regular bug screens help block sun.
During the sunniest parts of the day, close shades and shutters–not the most effective because the glass still heats up, but every little bit helps!

Outside–help block sun here too
Use lighter-colored paint and trim. If you have brick/stone/stucco, go for lighter colors as well.
Use lighter colors on the roof also–helps reflect the heat. Radiant barriers underneath the roof covering help too. Consult a roofing professional for other suggestions and advice on retrofitting an existing home.

Indoor lighting–it’s not just the bulbs!
Take advantage of natural light as much as possible–you don’t have to pay for it!
Open blinds, drapes, shutters on windows that are not where the sun beats the most.
Again, choose light colors. Light colors reflect the light to help you see what you’re doing and reduce the need for extra lighting/energy use. They reduce eye strain as well.
Use task lighting rather than overhead/recessed lighting. Less is needed when the lighting is closer to what you’re doing. Increased efficiency = lower cost
Use fluorescent and LED bulbs. They’re cooler and more energy efficient.

Appliances–Energy Star when possible.

Thinking about renovation?

Have you thought about doing some “work” around the house to update/improve your home?  If your home is more than 10 years old, and still has some or all of its original fixtures, finishes, etc., it’s probably time for some changes.  But where to start?  And how do you know what to do (or not do) that will be cost effective over the long term?  In other words, what projects will give you the best ROI–return on your investment?

A lot depends on whether you’re thinking about selling your home and want to show it to its best advantage, or whether you’re planning to stay put, but just want to update/upgrade your space to get maximum enjoyment out of it.  But there are several things that will add value to your home, give you pleasure and enjoyment while you’re living in it, and will be most appealing to potential buyers if/when you’re ready to sell.

Of course, there are other, less costly, changes and upgrades you can easily make.  New fixtures, new lighting, hardware, carpet, paint, countertops, etc., are all great things to install that will instantly change the look of your home and make it more appealing.  Many of these are cosmetic upgrades and appeal depends on personal taste.  If you’re considering some or all of these cosmetic updates and you’re going to be selling your home soon, be sure to choose more neutral items that will appeal to a wide variety of potential buyers.

But the items listed above will be attractive to most any buyer and will add value to your home that will stand the test of time.


Mortgage Rates and Home Values

Click on the link below to read how some experts are predicting the impact of rising mortgage rates on home values.  Basically, as rates rise, and they are and probably will continue to during 2017, some buyers will be forced out of the market.  With fewer buyers, sellers may see a slowdown in activity when trying to sell their homes.  This could have the impact of slowing down appreciation in home values and prices.

Bottom line–if you’re thinking of selling, don’t wait to get  your home on the market!  Demand, at least in San Antonio, is strong right now, so take advantage of it and get in the game!

Call me for an analysis of your home in today’s market and to get the ball rolling!

Sue Trautner, BHHS PenFed Realty



Homeowners and Civic Involvement

I think most people will agree that there is a financial benefit to being a homeowner.  Homeowners can deduct the interest they pay on their mortgage loan, they build their net worth with increases in the value of the home, and there may be other ways to deduct some of the expenses involved in home ownership.

But there’s also a social benefit to home ownership–being part of a neighborhood.  Homeowners have a stake in their neighborhoods, in their local schools, in helping maintain the value of their home by being involved in what’s going on around them.

I saw this first hand last night when I attended my local neighborhood homeowners association annual meeting.  I live in a smaller neighborhood and my association is managed by residents, not by a large management firm.  This helps keep my homeowner dues lower than they probably would be otherwise.  But it was interesting to see and hear from many of my neighbors who take an active role with our city councilman, with our local constable, with our local schools, with city departments.  We all have a common goal–to keep our neighborhood stable and protect the value of our homes.

Just like with any organization, there are a few who step up to volunteer, and many more who benefit from their efforts.  I appreciate those who are willing to give their time for the benefit of all their neighbors.  And it’s always nice to get to meet more people who live where you live, and who want what you want–a safe, attractive neighborhood that maintains its value and increases the value of my home.

Homeowners are much more interested in what’s going on in the city that affects their neighborhood.  They listen, they ask questions, and they VOTE!

Get involved!  I’ll bet you’ll be glad you did–I am!

Annual Checklist for Homeowners

We’re getting to the end of 2016–hard to believe! But 2017 is right around the corner and here’s a list of a few things you might want to check on as we move from one year into a new one.

1. Change your smoke alarm batteries. Many people, myself included, like to do that when we spring forward and fall back, but if you haven’t done it yet, please take a little time to change those batteries, especially now as colder weather is coming.

2. Chop up a bar of Irish Spring soap and scatter it around your flower beds to discourage deer. I wish I had known this trick when I lived in an area that had a lot of deer who visited my yard!

3. Renew your home warranty. If you have a residential service contract active on your home, check the renewal date and decide if you want to keep it active. If you don’t and you want to add one, let me know and I’m happy to send you some names to contact here in San Antonio.

4. Check your homeowners insurance. Be sure you have the coverage you need. And shop around for premium prices, but be sure you’re comparing apples to apples.

5. Check your house for wood-destroying insects. Consider hiring a pest inspector to check for signs of wood-destroying insects–termites, carpenter ants, and anything else prevalent in your area.

6. Check your tax appraisal. In Bexar county, you can go onto to check your appraised value and be sure you’re getting all the exemptions you’re entitled to.

Staying Safe for the Holidays


Decorating for the holidays is a tradition for many and fun for all!  I love getting those boxes down and pulling out all my holiday decorations.  It always brings back warm memories of where they came from, how long I’ve had them, how old my kids were when I got this or that.  Warm fuzzies all around!  And nothing gets me in the holiday mood quicker than putting things out, decorating the tree, seeing lights on houses, and smelling good smells coming from the kitchen!

But it seems like every holiday season there are stories on the news about families who lost their Christmas, their homes, or even loved ones because of simple safety rules that were overlooked or ignored.   Here are some reminders of things to be careful of and to be mindful of as you decorate for the holidays.

Lights and Electricity:

Be sure you purchase electric lights and equipment from a reputable vendor and check labels for safety certification–that UL assurance.  When you unpack last season’s lights, be sure to check cords and bulbs for any damage before you put them up and/or plug them in. If you find broken bulbs or exposed wires, toss that string!  Invest in a timer to prevent lights from staying on too long.  Be sure to unplug when you leave and before you go to bed.  And be careful about overloading plugs and/or extension cords with too many plugs–that’s a potential fire hazard and can also cause electrical damage that can increase your electric bill!


If you love the look and smell of a real tree, be sure to keep it well watered!  In warm homes, trees “drink” water a lot faster, so refill them daily to keep them fresh and soft–a dried out tree is a much greater fire hazard than one that is well-hydrated!  And if you have an artificial tree, be sure to choose one labeled fire-resistant and use non-flammable decorations and trimmings.


NEVER leave burning candles unattended!  Keep them out of the way and especially out of the reach of children and pets.  It goes without saying that candles should always be extinguished when you leave the house or go to bed.  And be careful that hot wax drippings don’t damage floors and/or furniture or cause burns.


Be sure that all exterior decorations, extension cords, lights are designed and approved for outdoor use.  Keep electric objects away from snow (not usually a problem in South Texas!) and water.  As with your indoor decorations, inspect everything for damage before you install, hang, turn on–and take appropriate precautions when using ladders to put up all the lights!  Remember also to check your GFCI plugs outside to be sure they’re working properly.

Also remember:

Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to be sure they’re working correctly–change batteries if you didn’t do it when Daylight Savings time ended in November.   And just to be extra safe, prepare and emergency plan and be sure family and houseguests know what to do in case of an emergency.  Keep fabrics away from heaters, candles, and other heat sources.  And if you have young children in your home–or visiting for the holidays–childproof electrical outlets!


If you have holiday plants in the house, such as holly, poinsettias, mistletoe, be sure to keep them away from your pets.  Many holiday plants are not safe for kitties and dogs who may injest them.  And that goes for little ones too–keep plants up and away!  And remember not to feed your pets all the holiday goodies!
Use common sense and follow these precautions and you’ll have a safe, happy, and decorative holiday!  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to you and yours!


Time to Winterize!

It has finally cooled down here in San Antonio, and it looks like we may be done with hot weather for awhile!  Finally!  Now that fall seems to have arrived (the South Texas version!), winter is right around the corner.  Time to get things ready for cooler/cold weather!  To protect your home (and your investment), here are a few routine and seasonal maintenance items to keep your home in top shape and make sure everyone in it stays warm and comfortable.

Have your furnace or heating system serviced by a qualified service company.  Have someone come in and check your pilot light (for gas heaters), turn on the system to be sure it’s working correctly, and clean it up so it works efficiently.

If you have a fireplace, this is a good time to check your chimney for any obstructions like bird nests.  If it’s been awhile since you’ve had your chimney cleaned, this would be a good time to have that work done as well.

Check and clean/replace air filters so that air can flow freely and cleanly.

Be sure bathroom and range hood exhaust fans are operating properly.

This is a good time to check and/or replace batteries in all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors!

Check the weatherstipping around doors, windows, skylights.  Keep your warm air in and the cold air out!

If you have a door from the house into your garage, check to be sure it closes tightly.  Do you have a self-closer on that door?  Be sure it’s closing the door completely.

Outside–clean leaves and debris from gutters.  Drain and store hoses.

Wrap your hose bibbs if you anticipate freezing temperatures in your area.

Get your plants ready by giving them some extra mulch to protect their roots.

Store outdoor furniture or cover it.   If you have window air conditioners, cover the outside portion.

By taking these precautions now, you’ll save yourself money and hassle when Old Man Winter comes visiting!

Value vs. “Saleability”, part 2

So, if you read the previous post, the question was what is an appraiser looking for to help him/her determine the value of a home?  The appraiser looks at “the big picture”–how a home compares to others in the area that have recently sold.  It doesn’t matter what the guy down the street has listed his home for, or what you paid for the home 5 years ago–what matters is what other people have been willing to pay for a similar house in the last few months!  Appraisers consider recently sold properties and also the condition of your home relative to others around it.

Very often, a REALTOR® like me finds that a homeowner who wants to sell his home and an appraiser have a different idea of what’s valuable about a home.  There are many things that are “valuable” to a seller that don’t matter much to an appraiser!   These kinds of features may make a home more “sellable” but they don’t necessarily make it more “valuable”.  There’s a difference!  Here are a few areas where “saleability” may not add to “value” for an appraiser:

1.  A new roof.  No question that a new roof improves the “saleability” of a home.  It’s important to the function and it’s expensive to replace, so a home with a new roof adds appeal to a buyer, but to an appraiser, not so much.  Every home has to have one so the fact that yours is newer than the house next door doesn’t really matter.  However, if your roof  is older than what’s in the area and obviously in need of repair/replacement, that can definitely decrease the value for the appraiser.

2. The outside, i.e. curb appeal.  How does your home compare to the neighbors’?  If their homes and yards are nicely landscaped, well-maintained, and show no obvious signs of neglect (chipped paint,dead or overgrown plants and bushes, unkempt yard, etc.) and yours doesn’t, that can have a negative effect on the value for an appraiser.  Curb appeal is very important–it sets the expectation for the condition of the house as a whole.  If the yard looks neglected, that could indicate a lack of maintenance inside the home as well.

3. Remodeling projects, especially those that follow a current trend.   Those types of projects can actually decrease value.  What looks modern and stylish today will look dated and old in 5-10 years.  Think about your wardrobe–are you wearing what was “in” 5 years ago?  Probably not!  However, classic pieces never go out of style and can be updated with minor adjustments and accessories.  The same goes for your home.  Built-in entertainment centers were all the rage a few years ago–now, not so much.  Or what about cabinets?  What’s in, what’s out?  Dark wood, light wood, heavy carving, sleek and modern?  For permanent and expensive projects, stick with classic designs and save the trendy stuff for things that can be easily changed, like paint and accessories.

4. Swimming pool–this is a tricky one!  If most of the homes that the appraiser is comparing to yours have pools and pools are common in the area, then the fact that your home has one will not make it more valuable.  If pools are not common and  you have one, that also will not necessarily make your home more valuable.  Pools are not for everyone!  They increase your homeowners insurance premium because they’re considered an attractive nuisance.  They mean extra time and expense for ongoing maintenance.  They can definitely pose a safety risk for a family with children.  So a pool can (maybe) increase “saleability” for a seller, but not necessarily “value” for an appraiser.

There are many other considerations for an appraiser to weigh when determining the value of a particular home, but I hope this gives you some insight into the difference between what makes a home more “sellable” and what adds or takes away from its value.  If you have questions, by all means contact your REALTOR®, or me!

Getting Ready to Sell Your Home

By now, you’ve read/seen/heard lots of people, including me via this blog, tell you all about de-cluttering, cleaning, staging, etc. in preparation for putting your home on the market.  But what about repairs and other things that might give a potential buyer second thoughts?  Here are a few items you can and should look at prior to listing your home for sale and before a buyer’s inspector comes through–a few interior “hot spots” that can be easily fixed and give a buyer peace of mind.


1. Leaks–Check every faucet and hose bib, inside and outside, for leaks and fix them.  It’s usually an easy and inexpensive thing to do and will pay off by not alerting a buyer to potential problems.  And remember to check inside cabinets also to be sure everything’s tight and drip-free.

2. Sinks and Drains–Be sure every sink and tub is draining properly and and that lines are clear.  To make sure, run water in several sinks and flush several toilets at the same time.  If things aren’t running smoothly and well, call the plumber!  Get those lines cleared.

3. Water pressure–While the plumber’s there, have him or her check your water pressure.  Or try running the dishwasher, washing machine, a sink, and the shower all at once.  If the water pressure is too low, you may need a bigger hot water heater.  Get one now, before you put your home up for sale.

4. Water heater–Speaking of the water heater, take a good look at yours and look under it.  If you see rust or leaks, replace the hot water heater now, because you can be sure a buyer will want that done as soon as his inspector reports that it’s leaking and/or rusty!

5. Septic tank–If you’re on a septic system, have the tank emptied and serviced at least 2 weeks before you put your house on the market.  In Texas, you’ll have to report on the last time the tank was emptied, and you certainly don’t want to have to have it done while your house is being shown!

   You’re probably not going to be doing a lot of electrical work, but take a few minutes to locate your main electrical panel and just brush out the cobwebs and dead bugs, and wipe off rust and/or mildew.

Heating and Air Conditioning Systems:
Have your heating and air conditioning units serviced before you list your home.  Check for any problems that may be there or even potential problems and take care of them before a buyer’s inspector comes in.  Replace your filters, clean ducts, and make sure everything is clean and running smoothly.
Test thermostats and if they need to be replaced, do it now!
If you really want to check for problems, have your home pre-inspected.  Hire your own inspector (your REALTOR® can give you a list of names) and have your home inspected before you list it.  Then, you can take care of small things first and get estimates for any major repairs.  You will have to disclose the inspection report, but by doing so, you can point out the items that have been repaired and have an idea what a buyer’s inspector may be reporting.  Some buyers may even choose to accept your report and not hire their own inspector to save some extra money.

Being proactive in this area could strengthen your negotiating position and/or save you from the stress of unexpected problems.  Potential buyers will be confident that your home has been well-maintained.  Reducing everyone’s stress level leads to a smoother transaction and less hassle for everyone!  Everyone comes out happy!!

Go Green–Affordably!

If you’re selling your home, or thinking about doing so, you should know that most buyers these days are looking for energy efficiency.  New homes are being built with more energy-efficient materials and appliances, but older homes may not have some of the features that help lower utility costs.  Installing some of these features can make your home more attractive to potential buyers and save you money too!  Here are some easy things you can do to increase your home’s appeal in today’s competitive market.

Replace regular light bulbs in light fixtures with CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs).  They use about 1/5 the energy of regular bulbs and last about 12x longer!

Install low-flow showerheads that will save on water heating and use.

Install an ENERGY STAR qualified programmable thermostat.  This helps you regulate heating and cooling so your units don’t have to work so hard when no one’s at home.

Insulate your hot water tank.

Close the damper on the fireplace.  People forget this during the summer, and it will help prevent energy loss.

Repair water leaks.  Not only do these small leaks waste water, they also make a buyer think the home has not been well-maintained.  A big turn-off!

Add insulation to an attic.

Seal ducts.  Did you know that 20% of the air moving through your ducts can be lost due to leaks, holes, and poor connections?  Do you really want to heat and air condition your attic???

These are all simple things you can likely do yourself to save energy and lower those utility costs!

You can also contact CPS Energy in San Antonio (or your local utility if you’re not in San Antonio) to conduct an energy audit of your home.  Here in San Antonio, go to and check out all the ideas there.  You can do a self-audit and get $5 off your next CPS Energy bill!  I did that and I have someone coming to my home next week to do an energy audit!  CPS has a number of rebates available for installing more energy efficient appliances, windows, etc.  so check that out while you’re on the site too!

There are lots more small changes we can all make to help lower utility costs and reduce our energy use.  Hope these will get you started!