The Year Ahead. What 2017 might mean to you, your home and your other real estate investments.

What are the experts saying about the new year and what you can take away from it.

First of all, let’s take a look at the value of your home. Now there, I have some good news for you. Prices in most parts of Texas and America are expected to keep rising in 2017. The reason is that there aren’t enough homes for sale. But there are still plenty of buyers out there. So the laws of supply and demand are in your favor if you own a home or plan on selling one. Now, it won’t be a huge increase. The National Association of REALTORS believes that by this time next year the median price of a home in the United States will go from its current point of $232,200 to $241,250. That’s an increase of 3.9%. Now it’s not a spike, but after all, up is up. That’s good news for owners who have even greater equity in their homes and investments. Also for sellers, who will see those profits at the closing table.

Now, that low inventory and rising prices are expected to create challenges for home buyers. Especially first time buyers. But, those buyers do have factors in their favor. For one thing, most mortgage lenders are allowing lower credit scores and lower down payments. Up to now, home buyers have enjoyed record low interest rates. Well that’s about to change. Interest rates have started to rise. Not by that much, but they are on the way up. They’ve gone up about half a point since the summer. By the end of 2017 they’re expected to be a half point higher than that. The days of record lows may be behind us, but even so, the rates will continue to be incredibly low and not a barrier to home ownership.

Experts believe there could be some really good news for buyers coming down the line in 2017. And that is more homes are expected to come on the market. That means more choices, less competition, and all that added inventory should help curb those rising prices. You see, the nations home builders are predicting that in 2017 they’ll finally be on tract to build more than a million new homes. That’s up there from after the slump they had after the downturn. Not up there all the way since the home builders ordinary would put up a million and a half homes. But again, up is up and new home construction is headed in the right direction.

So buyers who hang in there might do okay. Especially if they end up getting a home of their own. That would make 2017 a great year. And even better if they are moving from renting to buying because rents are expected to continue to rise throughout 2017.

So, what’s the bottom line? Well in prices, interest rates, mortgage rates, mortgage availability, and inventory we’re seeing positive changes on the horizon. Not massive, epic changes, but slow, steady movement back to be what could be considered a normal market. A balanced market in which buyers and sellers are on more equal footing without either being at a big disadvantage. You could call that a healthy real estate market. And that’s a pretty great outlook as we approach 2017, the year ahead.

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Staying Warm; All About You, Your Home, and Old Man Winter

Here’s an age old heating method, one that many people just love. But which many people also say it doesn’t really heat at all. That’s right, fireplaces. Not wood stoves, and not gas logs, but rather good old wood burning fireplaces.

Can they really heat your house?

Well, ask any 10 people and chances are all 10 will say, a fireplace is nice but it cannot heat your home. The Government agrees. The Federal Government says that the primary reason for using a fireplace is ambience. Since they are in the Government’s words “Typically very inefficient heaters”.

The reason is when you use the fireplace it draws air in from the room and then sends that air right up the chimney. Very little heat comes back into the room. But if a fireplace doesn’t really heat the room, then why is it that the room where the fireplace is located is always so toasty warm?

Well one reason is, in a properly built fireplace, the masonry box itself heats up. The bricks and the blocks that make up the firebox gets super hot as the fire roars. And that heat radiates back into the room. But the fire is still pulling air out of the room and putting it up the chimney.

Okay, so heating your home with a wood burning fireplace, that’s tuff. They’re just so nice. So with that in mind, let’s talk about how to use that fireplace as efficiently as possible.

Here’s what the Department of Energy recommends. First, since the fireplace pulls air out of the room, try to minimize heat loss by closing the doors leading to that room. Also, the DOE suggests you turn the heat down. So you’re not paying to heat air in your house which is just getting pulled out. Next, they suggest you crack open a window in the room where the fireplace is located. Open it about one inch so that the air that gets drawn into the fireplace is from the outdoors, not from the other rooms in the house.

By the way, the EPA has an excellent website called “Burnwise” (www.epa.gov/burnwise), which answers all sorts of questions about heating with wood. They recommend seasoning cut firewood for at least six months before using it. And its moisture content should be less than 20%. You can buy a moisture meter at the hardware store if you’re really serious about making sure the wood you burn is properly seasoned.

One more really important point. You should not see or smell any smoke if everything’s working well. The fireplace should push the smoke right up the chimney, not into the living room. So, if you do see or smell smoke, there’s a problem. In that case, douse the fire and have a chimney expert come in to take a look.

So again, to heat your home, a fireplace is not the best option. If you really want to heat with wood you’re much better off using a wood stove than a fireplace. Even a wood stove insert that can go into the existing fireplace box.

However, as we all know, fireplaces do create a wonderful atmosphere. They’re beautiful and there’s nothing like a rip roaring fire on a cold winter night. The perfect place to spend an evening toasting the Holidays or watching a movie on the couch.

Which by the way, could solve the fireplace heating problem altogether. Just turn on that big screen TV, go to Netflix or YouTube and search “High Definition Fireplace”. That roaring fire video will sparkle, crackle, and pop without wasting one bit of heat anywhere in your house.