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hoeting, Author at Hoeting Realtors

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Simple 5-Step Guide to Concrete Painting

Painting a concrete floor in a home's basement
Image: Carolyn Lagattuta/Stocksy United

Painting concrete surfaces requires more skill, tools, and time than throwing a coat on drywall. Here’s how to do it right.

Concrete painting is trickier than painting most surfaces: It breathes, transports moisture, and sucks up paint.

While you can paint drywall in a day or two, you’ll need a week or more to finish painting concrete. Continue reading below for tips — plus costs — on how to paint concrete surfaces:

1. Clean the Concrete

Cleaning concrete is a vital first step because the porous surface tends to trap dirt, grease, and oil.

1. Remove dirt and grease with trisodium phosphate ($6.30 per quart concentrate), or choose a more Earth-friendly cleaner like Krud Kutter’s pre-paint cleaner ($10 for 32 ounces).

2. Yank off vines and moss growing on the foundation. Use a pressure washer to finish off remaining roots and dirt.

3. Remove efflorescence, a white powder that forms on moist concrete. Try Krud Kutter Concrete Clean & Etch ($8.50 for 32 ounces); if you need more cleaning muscle, try phosphoric acid masonry cleaner ($27 per gallon).

2. Strip Old Paint

Strip peeling or blistering paint indoors with a wire brush ($3 to $5), a paint scraper ($10 to $20), and lots of elbow grease.

Outdoors, get rid of old paint with a power washer (rents for $40 to $75 per day).

3. Seal Interior Concrete

Water moves easily through porous concrete, so sealing interior walls is necessary to prevent moisture from seeping in, promoting mold growth and that cold, damp basement feel. Use a masonry sealer, such as ThoroSeal, that also patches cracks ($35 for a 50-pound bag).

Carefully follow directions for mixing, applying, and curing the sealer. ThoroSeal, for example, requires two coats; the manufacturer recommends curing for five to seven days before applying the second coat.

4. Prime the Concrete

Concrete primer, called block primer, fills pores and evens out the surface. For exterior foundations and walls, use exterior-grade block filler, such as Behr’s Concrete and Masonry Bonding Primer, which also is good for interior concrete ($17.98 per gallon). Primer dries in two hours; wait at least eight hours, but no more than 30 days, to paint.

5. Paint the Concrete

Masonry paint (also called elastomeric paint or elastomeric wall coating) is a good choice for concrete painting because it contains binders that contract and expand with the concrete. Exterior house paint can crack and peel on concrete.

Masonry paint ($20 per gallon) can be tinted and is much thicker than exterior paint. Apply it with a masonry brush ($5 to $8), a high-capacity (3/4-inch or higher) roller, or a texture roller ($5.50).

Some masonry paint is thicker than exterior paint and contains fine particles that can clog air sprayers. If you want to spray-paint cement, ask your local paint store for a product that will work well in a sprayer ($300).

No matter how you apply paint, let it dry for a day between coats. You’ll probably need two to three coats, so check the long-range weather forecast before you begin.

Related:

Author placeholder photo

PAT CURRY

Pat Curryis a former senior editor at “Builder,” the official magazine of the National Association of Home Builders, and a frequent contributor to real estate and home-building publications.

Home Improvements to Tackle Now

modern living room

The coronavirus has grounded many businesses, but the home improvement industry is thriving. Here are projects homeowners can take on safely to make their lives more enjoyable.

June 5, 2020

 

decorated bedroom

© Troy Campbell for Fein Zalkin Interiors

As homeowners continue to stick close to home, they’re spending a lot of time pondering their surroundings.

“After homeowners have been staring at their walls day in and day out, they’ve come to realize what they want to keep, redo, and buy new,” says Jenny Zalkin, partner at the Miami-based Fein Zalkin Interiors.

REALTOR® Magazine asked home professionals to recommend a variety of improvement projects and renovations that can be accomplished now, during the pandemic, without a lot of contractors or other design professionals working in close quarters. Their suggestions fall into four main categories that you can share with your clients.

Complete the work in progress. If your client already started work on their house but paused due to the coronavirus outbreak, they should focus on having it completed. With states opening back up—typically in phases for different types of businesses—tradespeople can return to finish jobs by putting extra safety procedures in place. Beatrice de Jong, consumer trends expert for Opendoor, says her builder has restarted work on a room in her Los Angeles home after putting up a temporary wall in her open floor plan so that they are never in the same space.

Corinne Corbett, a designer with Affordable Granite and Cabinetry, which temporarily shuttered its Fishkill, N.Y., kitchen and bathroom showroom, is now seeing clients by appointment only. “It’s a way to control the flow of foot traffic into the showroom. Staffing is still staggered, and some continue to work from home,” she says.

While work is proceeding, Corbett says clients should prepare for jobs to take longer than usual due to the backlog home product manufacturers and distributors are facing after being closed for several weeks.

To cope during the pandemic, professionals like architect Mark A. Sullivan with JZA+D in Princeton, N.J., became adept at conducting business without much in-person contact and the arts of social distancing, wearing masks and gloves, and following all requirements. Despite still having less work than usual, Sullivan’s firm continues to prepare for approval of permits and budgets, so they can quickly ramp up as COVID-19 cases go down.

in-ground swimming pool

© Jimi Smith for Howard Roberts Liquidspaces

Get exterior upgrades on the priority list. Almost anything that needs to be done outside a home or in a yard can be tackled safely, but it’s up to the professionals to decide what work they feel comfortable performing, whether they have staff to help, and if materials are available.

Howard Roberts, owner of Liquid Inc. and Liquidscapes, a full-service pool, landscape design, and build firm in Pittstown, N.J., has continued to handle large projects such as swimming pools during the pandemic. Interest has soared as people have been confined to their homes, he says. However, since mid-March, he started asking clients three critical questions: “Are you still comfortable proceeding with your project from a health standpoint? Are you OK with our company working on your premises but in a safe manner? Are you still comfortable spending the money to finance the project with the current economic conditions?”

Roberts requires payment up front to secure dwindling inventory due to manufacturer stoppages, even if the materials won’t be used for several weeks or months. Clients have been helpful, he says, by allowing his company to store materials on their sites. “Situations are in constant flux with many contractors, subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers affected in one way or another by the pandemic. It’s a roller coaster,” he says. “We approach each job and day knowing things may change.”

back of home with outdoor room and yard

© Marc Nissim / Harmony Design Group

Landscape architect Marc Nissim, owner of Harmony Design in Westfield, N.J., is working on residential exteriors but has his crew keep a 6-foot social distance from one another on site. Nissim’s staff also travels to jobs solo and wears masks if they need to be close, Nissim says. “It’s a good time for our firm to prune, edge, weed, plant, mulch—almost anything outdoors,” he says.

Like Roberts and Corbett, Nissim is facing challenges procuring materials. He’s also telling clients they’ll need to be patient when securing approvals and permits from building departments because many still have shorter hours.

Homeowners can always ask companies what they’re are doing to maintain safety. “When we meet with homeowners, I call or text when I arrive rather than knock on a door so there’s no physical contact,” Nissim says. “We maintain social distance if they want to come outdoors and meet. If they prefer to remain inside, we talk on the phone while I walk the yard and point out anything I want to explain.”

patio space with dining area and water feature

© Michael Glassman / Glassman & Associates

When the pandemic hit in March, most of landscape designer Michael Glassman‘s work stopped, and the staff at his eponymous Sacramento, Calif.–based firm stayed home. Glassman suddenly found himself with time to use his training in custom pruning of unusual plants, such as Japanese maples. “I sent out a letter, offered clients a reduced rate, and I was swamped. I booked nine in the first hour,” he says. He also found that many suppliers of hardscape materials, such as tile and stone and outdoor furniture, were offering discounts to attract business.

As of early June, Glassman and his staff are back at work fulfilling requests that have ramped up as homeowners invest in beautifying their yards for a staycation summer. “Many clients are now comfortable going to a nursery with me if we socially distance and meet outdoors,” he says. “Everyone wants work done yesterday.”

Start new interior projects with some adjustments. Real estate agent Barbara St. Amant with Atlanta Fine Homes, Sotheby’s International Realty in Atlanta, suggests that homeowners use the time to make their lives more enjoyable. Quick updates that add value and help with a sale include changing hardware pulls and knobs in kitchens, modernizing light fixtures, replacing worn carpet, and neutralizing wall colors.

hallway and dining room

© Van Inwegen Digital Arts for Kaufman Segal Design

Homeowners can get inspiration from interior design magazines and websites. Chicago designer Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design mails area publications such as Luxe Interiors + Design to clients to offer ideas “and relieve boredom,” he says. He provides some caveats. “I wouldn’t have a client select a chair or couch if they or I haven’t sat in it since comfort remains key,” he says. “But I can pick fabrics and wallpapers for a space I know.”

While many clients were hesitant about spending money at the beginning of the pandemic, Segal now finds that more are returning to their typical budgets. However, he says it’s harder to read clients’ reactions when working with them virtually. “If I show a $10,000 rug, I might see an eyebrow raised in person and know it’s too much, but I may not catch that online,” he says. This makes verbal and written communication more important than ever, Segal says, encouraging homeowners to be clear about what they like and don’t like.

Zalkin and her business partner Josh Fein have continued to work since the start of the pandemic, but they initially focused on clients whose homes they know. “I can’t make good choices without knowing a space’s scale,” Fein says. They suggest that clients take inventory of their home and write down notes on what they want to change. “What we continue to see is a lot of clients wanting to convert a room into a home gym or home office because they’re using their homes more during this period,” Zalkin says.

Since stay-at-home orders have eased in their Florida market, Zalkin and Fein are getting back out and visiting properties in person as long as clients are comfortable having them in their homes. “We wear masks and socially distance,” she says.

Corbett’s firm used social media outreach to take on new virtual consultations, and because of that, new clients are now reaching out to the firm to complete the work. “We looked at clients’ kitchens or bathrooms via FaceTime or Zoom and had homeowners take rough measurements. Then we looked at vendors’ websites together and developed a rendering that could be emailed,” she says. For those who now want to proceed, the firm is moving forward by conducting accurate field measures in their homes and finalize choices, she says.

Become a DIYer. Even if homeowners don’t consider themselves handy, they might want to try some easy DIY projects while they wait out the pandemic. Chicago sales rep Jennifer Ames of Engel & Völkers sees the silver lining in this time at home. “The market has slowed but it’s not shut down, and there’s never been a better time to get most projects done than now.” She suggests that homeowners go through their house and toss or give away what they don’t want since most nonprofits aren’t accepting donations right now because of the virus.

One project that might appeal to homeowners is painting a room, a piece of furniture, or cabinets. Experts say to start small and look at YouTube tutorial videos for help. Some explain how to measure walls and ceilings to calculate the right quantity of paint. Homeowners can also find websites that list supplies, such as The Crazy Organized Blog, which suggests brushes, tape, drop cloths, rollers, a ladder, and more. Most paint manufacturers offer color chips or bigger cards for purchase so homeowners can test colors on their walls, and many home improvement stores are open for business or offer curbside pickup.

Two DIY tasks that Fein and Zalkin suggest are to rearrange a gallery wall of artwork or photos or move around furniture that’s been in the same place a long time. Start with a room you feel is stale or move artwork from room to room and change it up to make a space feel different and fresh while bringing in new colors,” Zalkin says. “Even moving a chair can give it a fresh look.”

Outdoor work offers homeowners more DIY projects, particularly now that weather is warmer. St. Amant suggests pressure washing patios and walks and laying pine straw or other mulch in freshly planted gardens. Other easy projects that increase outdoor curb appeal include replacing house numbers and light fixtures. Painting a front door can add a new pop of color—and it doesn’t require much setup or planning, says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams, which offers how-to videos on its website. Good colors to make a door stand out, she says, are rich blues (such as the company’s Oceanside SW 6496) or corals (Begonia SW 6599). For a more classic, elegant look, she recommends navy (Naval SW 6244) or true black (Tricorn Black SW 6258).

stone backyard fire pit with seating area

© Belgard

More time-consuming but still doable DIY projects include edging borders, installing planter beds, or assembling a fire pit, says Joel Raboine, director of residential hardscape for Belgard, an Atlanta-based manufacturer that sells kits. “Many view the finished spaces as places they’ll now use day-to-day rather than reserve for company,” Raboine says.

Because of the virus, Doug Santini, owner of Northern Dutchess Botanical Garden in upstate New York, advises homeowners to take a plant list with them when they shop to curtail time spent around others. His website offers all kinds of garden tips, but his most useful advice may be: “Don’t stop gardening. It helps center and relax people.”

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

Staging Tips for Small Rooms

By Justin M. Riordan, Spade and Archer Design Agency(link is external)

When selling a house, small rooms can lead to big problems. Staging can be the key to making a small room look functional and help entice buyers to put an offer on your property.

Living Rooms – Proving your living room can fit a full size sofa is of upmost importance. A love seat is an immediate red flag for most buyers as one cannot lie down on a love seat. To make a full size sofa fit in your small space opt out of using end tables. Instead consider floor lamps, which can be pressed right up against the side or back of the sofa. By removing the end tables, you can reduce the overall space needed for the sofa set-up by up to 48 inches.

Justin_livingroom

Photo credit: Spade and Archer

Bedrooms – Scale is the key here. Use the largest bed possible that still allows all the doors in the room to swing freely. Avoid pressing the side of the bed up against the wall. Instead, opt for a nightstand on each side of the bed. Use a “Hollywood” metal frame under the mattress with a wall-mounted headboard. By eliminating the footboard and side rails, the overall size of the bed is greatly reduced while still providing a good reference point on the scale of the room. A bedroom that could fit a full size bed with a bulky frame headboard and footboard can easily fit a queen with a metal frame and wall-mounted headboard.

Justin_bedroom Photo credit: Urban Outfitters

Never, ever use a platform bed in a small room. By lowering the bed and adding the platform, you actually can end up making the room feel smaller. This is most certainly not what we are looking for here.

Dining Rooms – We all know the kitchen is the heart of the house. If that is true, then dining rooms are the lungs. The kitchen is useless if there is no place to sit down and eat the wonderful food made there. The staging of the dining room is highly dependent on the size of the house. If a house has three bedrooms, you must include an eating area for a minimum of six people. Look at it this way: With three bedrooms, the potential buying family will have two adults and two children. They will also want to be able to entertain at least two other people at a time. Two kids plus two parents plus two guests equals six seats.

Justin_dining

Photo credit: Spade and Archer

The key here is using a dining set that is small enough so that people can walk around the set once it is in place. Using armless dining chairs makes this issue easier to deal with. Armless chairs can be placed three on one side and three on the other verses two on each long side and one captain at each short side. A larger piece of art can be placed on the wall over the table to anchor the dining set. This set-up would be similar to a booth layout in a restaurant.

Bathrooms – Most bathrooms are small. It is the very nature of bathrooms. They tend to be the smallest rooms in the house. The least expensive way to deal with a small bathroom is to paint the entire bathroom white with white fixtures, linens, and accessories. By removing contrasts from the room, it simply appears clean and functional. A single piece of colorful art placed preferably above the toilet can add a single focal point for the room and thus pull the eye away from the size of the bathroom and toward the art. Adding lots of color and contrast to any bathroom will serve to make it feel smaller and dirtier. Do not, ever, paint any bathroom green, yellow, brown or red. (Trigger warning… this is gross.) These are the colors of mold, urine, feces and blood, not the things we want to think about when we are shopping for our new bathroom in our new home.

headshot_JustinRiordan

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Justin Riordan, LEED AP, is founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency(link is external) based in Portland, Ore. As the creative energy behind Spade and Archer, Riordan fuses his formal training as an architect with his natural design savvy to create beautiful and authentic spaces for clients. Prior to opening Spade and Archer in 2009, Riordan practiced interior architecture and interior construction for 12 years, bringing an esteemed skillset and diverse background to home staging. Since founding Spade and Archer, he has personally prepared more than 2,100 homes for market.

More Homeowners Sprucing up their Gardens and Curb Appeal in the Time of Coronavirus

One positive thing that appears be to happening in the time of coronavirus sheltering /staying in place orders is that people are engaging in more home hobbies and creative activities that they may have not had time for before due to social activities. One can see a lot of articles about staying creative or why the quarantine can make one more creative.  One activity that Americans apparently have spent more time and money on is gardening, based on retail sales and employment data.  This is a good time for homeowners because gardening, yard improvements, and minor home renovation or simple do-it-yourself projects (deck) improve curbside appeal and reflect the kind of care and maintenance that homeowners put into their homes, both external and internal. Attractive gardens, a clean yard, freshly coated fences, mended pathways will make a home attractive to buyers, in the time of and after the coronavirus social distancing period.

Building materials/gardening store sales and employment are up compared to retail trade

Retail sales data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that retail sales of building materials, garden equipment, and supply dealer stores (NAICS 444) increased 1% in March from February and was up 7% on a year-over-year basis. In comparison, retail sales and food services fell 9% on a month-over-month basis and 6% on a year-over-year basis.  Other industries that had higher sales in March were grocery stores (+27% m/m and +29% y/y); health and personal care stores (+4% m/m, +4% y/y), and general merchandise stores that includes department stores and other general merchandise stores (6% m/m, 7% y/y).

Line graph: Building Materials, Garden Equipment, Supply Dealer Sale Buck Decline in Retail Sales & Food Services, 2017-2020

In 2019, Americans spent nearly $380 billion (retail sales) on building materials, garden equipment, and supplies. Building materials and supply stores (paint and wallpaper stores and hardware stores) sold $334 billion (so $41 billion is garden supplies).

Line graph: Sales of Building Materials Garden Equipment and Supply Dealers, 2000-2018

While brick-and-mortar retail stores have shed about 300,000 jobs since January 2017, the employment in brick and mortar stores has remained relatively flat at 1.3 million. In March 2020, it is one of the few sectors that posted year-over-year employment gains, of 11,500 jobs. However, employment did fall by nearly 4,000 from February to March.

Bar chart: Change in Seasonally Adjusted Employment March 2020

Impact of landscaping on home values

What’s the impact of projects that improve a home’s curb appeal on the likelihood of selling a home and home values? According to NAR’s 2018 Remodeling Impact Report: Outdoor Features,  “74% of REALTORS® suggested sellers complete a landscape maintenance program before attempting to sell, and 17 percent said the project most recently sealed a deal for them, resulting in a closed transaction.” The cost in 2018 was $3,000 and 100% was recovered when the home was sold.

Landscape Maintenance

Source: NAR’s 2018 Remodeling Impact Report: Outdoor Features

 

Home Furnishings Trend: Brass is Back

Brass kitchen faucet

© John Keeble – GettyImages

For years brass has been on the sidelines, but it’s making a comeback. Here are ways homeowners can incorporate the finish to add glamour and help homes stand out.

March 27, 2020

 

brass overhead light fixture with crystal accents in library room

© Van Inwegen Digital Arts

After years of chrome, stainless steel, and nickel being the shining stars of interior metals, brass is back and starting to steal the show.

As with many home furnishings trends, the comeback was inspired by what’s occurring in fashion. In this case, gold and rose gold watches became influencers a few years ago, says Chicago designer Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design, who thinks that home furnishings styles tend to be cyclical. Now he’s adding small brass details to rooms in the same way a gold watch might peek out of a shirt cuff.

Using brass now is an easy, affordable way for homeowners to customize and stay on trend.  “Many people want a warmer look, which is also visible in fabrics as warmer colors return,” Segal says.

Erin Imhof, showroom supervisor at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery in Lansdale, Pa., has noted an increase in brass finishes. She attributes it to how they complement a wide range of colors and other finishes. “Many of today’s top color trends for kitchens and bathrooms, including all-white, blue, and black, pair beautifully with brass fixtures,” she says.

twin brass light fixtures over kitchen island

© Capital Lighting Fixture Company

Others concur that brass is a universal mixer. “Our designers like to integrate brass into their designs, whether it’s an accent like a decorative bowl, object of art, light fixture, or metal base on an end table,” says Julie Sprouse, design sales manager at Ethan Allen, the home furnishings chain based in Danbury, Conn.

Caitie Smithe, a design coordinator and stylist at the Walter E. Smithe Furniture + Design retailer based in Itasca, Ill., also considers brass a material that can be used throughout a home, including light fixtures, hardware, and even light switches and vent controls. Other good places to use brass include bathroom hardware, plumbing fixtures such as sinks, and accessory details like candleholders or picture frames.

Here are five tips for using brass that you can pass on to your clients.

1. Use sparingly. Brass works best when used in small doses. Too much can create a “too matchy-matchy” look, according to Smithe. Overuse can make it start to look cheap, says Segal. “Moderation is key,” he says.

coffee table with brass accents

© Ethan Allen

2. Mix finishes. Brass appears more timeless rather than trendy when it’s matte, brushed, or aged, which helps soften its sheen, Segal says. But be careful, Smithe says, when mixing brasses in a single space from different manufacturers. “There is a huge range in color and brightness. Some take on a bright yellow color while others can be more of an aged gold,” she says.

3. Combine warm metal colors. Brass, gold, and bronze can work well together since they share similar warm values versus shiny nickel, which leans toward the colder side, says Sprouse.

mixed metals used in kitchen

© Walter E.Smithe Furniture + Design

4. Mix metals. Some designers also think brass, satin, brushed nickel, stainless steel, and oil-rubbed bronze can be used together. But Imhoff still offers some caution. “Go with similar warm, muted undertones for some consistency,” she says. Chicago designer Summer Thornton likes mixing metals, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms where she might use brass, nickel, and steel combinations.

5. Consider longevity. How long brass will stay fashionable is unknown. When it becomes too ubiquitous in retail stores, shelter magazines, and on design websites, it may be time to move on. The good news is that brass touches are easy to add in and switch out.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

The Sun is Shining on Solar

The market for photovoltaic installations is hot, creating opportunities for home sellers and buyers.

 

How much value does a solar installation add to a property? It’s a question increasingly on the minds of consumers who are interested in the cost-benefit analysis of residential solar installations, also known as photovoltaic systems. If you haven’t already sold a property with solar panels, you probably will soon, so it’s important to understand the industry pitches and the potential gains for homeowners and investors.

Currently, the U.S. has 2 million solar PV residential and commercial installations, up from 1 million three years ago, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The total is expected to reach 3 million by 2021.

The growing interest in solar installations is easy to understand. “A lot of people like the idea that, number one, they’re going to be paying less for electricity, and number two, they’re locking in the price for electricity; they know exactly what they’re going to pay for electricity for the next 20 [or] 30 years,” says Vikram Aggarwal, CEO of EnergySage, a website that screens PV system installers and allows homeowners and businesses to request competitive quotes.

Once a system is installed, a homeowner typically pays a small monthly charge to be connected to the utility. This means they can divide the cost of the system by the monthly cost they have been paying for electricity to find out how long it will take to break even; after that, the savings continue indefinitely. For example, if homeowners have a monthly $215 electric bill, and $15 of that is the connection to the utility, they can install a PV system costing $15,000 to save $200 per month and pay off the cost of the solar installation in just over six years.

In parts of the country where power outages are common, solar installations with battery storage have an additional appeal because homeowners can store electricity for times when the grid is down. Battery storage is growing in popularity in California, the top state for solar installations, where concern over wildfires has caused utilities to repeatedly shut off power, and in Florida and Texas, where hurricanes led to power outages.

Comparison Shopping

But how do you help buyers and sellers assess the value of a solar installation for a home on the market? The dollar value depends on several factors, including the size, location, and age of the system, and the local cost of electricity. Until recently, that made assigning a value to a residential system difficult, but the free online PV Value tool, developed by data scientist Jamie Johnson, allows real estate agents, appraisers, and mortgage lenders to put a number on the current market value of a residential system, even if a seller no longer has the original contract with the system’s specifications. “We have a data set of almost every solar installation nationwide to help agents and appraisers know the value,” Johnson says. “We’re now at a point in the industry where you can do the sales comparison.”

Buyers are demonstrating they find the extra cost of solar panels worth it. “Home buyers are consistently willing to pay PV home premiums across various states, housing and PV markets, and home types; average premiums across the full sample equate to approximately $4/W or $15,000 for an average-sized 3.6-kW PV system,” according to “Selling Into the Sun,” a 2015 study prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Survey Findings

Buyer interest in features that promote energy efficiency, like solar, was born out in a 2019 sustainability survey by the National Association of REALTORS® in which 69% of REALTORS® said energy efficiency promotion in listings was very or somewhat valuable, and 77% said a home’s utility bills and operation costs were either very or somewhat important to clients.

There are some caveats in a transaction to keep in mind: If the solar equipment on a home is leased, not owned, that can add complexity to the sale of the property. If this is the case, a potential buyer should calculate whether it would be better to assume the lease or to have the seller buy out the lease and add that to the price of the home. “When you merge it in your mortgage, the incremental cost is barely anything on a monthly basis and you get peace of mind and resiliency,” Aggarwal says.

But making the immediate financial savings of a solar installation clear to buyers may assuage concerns about their upfront costs. “If you’re an agent trying to sell a home with panels on it, put the savings in real numbers,” says Nick Liberati, communication manager for EnergySage. “Show the buyer utility bills, the savings before and after the system was installed. It helps them understand the value of paying a little extra on the cost of the house.


Talking Taxes

It’s tax season, and homeowners who purchased and installed solar photovoltaic systems last year can look forward to filing their returns. That’s because they can claim a 30% federal tax credit, on top of whatever state incentives they qualify for, for the full cost of their PV systems. (The federal tax credit goes down to 26% in 2020, still a strong incentive.)

The federal Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit (also known as the Investment Tax Credit) covers not only the cost of solar panels but also the installation of the system, so homeowners who spent $20,000 on a PV system for their home in 2019 can deduct $6,000 from their 2019 federal tax bill. If the credit exceeds what they owe, they can roll the remaining credit over to 2020.

One caution: Some solar companies try to sweeten the incentive by claiming that homeowners who have a new roof installed as part of this process can claim a tax credit for that cost as well. IRS guidance is unequivocal that only solar roofing (tiles or shingles that generate electricity), not standard roofing, qualifies for the credit. Moreover, a solar installation must be owned, not leased, to qualify for tax incentives.

The market for photovoltaic installations is hot, creating opportunities for home sellers and buyers.

How much value does a solar installation add to a property? It’s a question increasingly on the minds of consumers who are interested in the cost-benefit analysis of residential solar installations, also known as photovoltaic systems. If you haven’t already sold a property with solar panels, you probably will soon, so it’s important to understand the industry pitches and the potential gains for homeowners and investors.

Currently, the U.S. has 2 million solar PV residential and commercial installations, up from 1 million three years ago, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The total is expected to reach 3 million by 2021.

The growing interest in solar installations is easy to understand. “A lot of people like the idea that, number one, they’re going to be paying less for electricity, and number two, they’re locking in the price for electricity; they know exactly what they’re going to pay for electricity for the next 20 [or] 30 years,” says Vikram Aggarwal, CEO of EnergySage, a website that screens PV system installers and allows homeowners and businesses to request competitive quotes.

Once a system is installed, a homeowner typically pays a small monthly charge to be connected to the utility. This means they can divide the cost of the system by the monthly cost they have been paying for electricity to find out how long it will take to break even; after that, the savings continue indefinitely. For example, if homeowners have a monthly $215 electric bill, and $15 of that is the connection to the utility, they can install a PV system costing $15,000 to save $200 per month and pay off the cost of the solar installation in just over six years.

In parts of the country where power outages are common, solar installations with battery storage have an additional appeal because homeowners can store electricity for times when the grid is down. Battery storage is growing in popularity in California, the top state for solar installations, where concern over wildfires has caused utilities to repeatedly shut off power, and in Florida and Texas, where hurricanes led to power outages.

Comparison Shopping

But how do you help buyers and sellers assess the value of a solar installation for a home on the market? The dollar value depends on several factors, including the size, location, and age of the system, and the local cost of electricity. Until recently, that made assigning a value to a residential system difficult, but the free online PV Value tool, developed by data scientist Jamie Johnson, allows real estate agents, appraisers, and mortgage lenders to put a number on the current market value of a residential system, even if a seller no longer has the original contract with the system’s specifications. “We have a data set of almost every solar installation nationwide to help agents and appraisers know the value,” Johnson says. “We’re now at a point in the industry where you can do the sales comparison.”

Buyers are demonstrating they find the extra cost of solar panels worth it. “Home buyers are consistently willing to pay PV home premiums across various states, housing and PV markets, and home types; average premiums across the full sample equate to approximately $4/W or $15,000 for an average-sized 3.6-kW PV system,” according to “Selling Into the Sun,” a 2015 study prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Survey Findings

Buyer interest in features that promote energy efficiency, like solar, was born out in a 2019 sustainability survey by the National Association of REALTORS® in which 69% of REALTORS® said energy efficiency promotion in listings was very or somewhat valuable, and 77% said a home’s utility bills and operation costs were either very or somewhat important to clients.

There are some caveats in a transaction to keep in mind: If the solar equipment on a home is leased, not owned, that can add complexity to the sale of the property. If this is the case, a potential buyer should calculate whether it would be better to assume the lease or to have the seller buy out the lease and add that to the price of the home. “When you merge it in your mortgage, the incremental cost is barely anything on a monthly basis and you get peace of mind and resiliency,” Aggarwal says.

But making the immediate financial savings of a solar installation clear to buyers may assuage concerns about their upfront costs. “If you’re an agent trying to sell a home with panels on it, put the savings in real numbers,” says Nick Liberati, communication manager for EnergySage. “Show the buyer utility bills, the savings before and after the system was installed. It helps them understand the value of paying a little extra on the cost of the house.


Talking Taxes

It’s tax season, and homeowners who purchased and installed solar photovoltaic systems last year can look forward to filing their returns. That’s because they can claim a 30% federal tax credit, on top of whatever state incentives they qualify for, for the full cost of their PV systems. (The federal tax credit goes down to 26% in 2020, still a strong incentive.)

The federal Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit (also known as the Investment Tax Credit) covers not only the cost of solar panels but also the installation of the system, so homeowners who spent $20,000 on a PV system for their home in 2019 can deduct $6,000 from their 2019 federal tax bill. If the credit exceeds what they owe, they can roll the remaining credit over to 2020.

One caution: Some solar companies try to sweeten the incentive by claiming that homeowners who have a new roof installed as part of this process can claim a tax credit for that cost as well. IRS guidance is unequivocal that only solar roofing (tiles or shingles that generate electricity), not standard roofing, qualifies for the credit. Moreover, a solar installation must be owned, not leased, to qualify for tax incentives.

Why Staging Matters

Dining, Living Room Condo

© windy Li – AdobeStock

In its early years, staging was occasionally used in vacant and hard-to-sell homes. Nowadays, more listings are staged than ever. Here’s why.

March 5, 2020

 

Selling a home these days can be tough. Buyers have become more particular. Few people care that a seller spent decades collecting snow globes, colorful Fiestaware, or mugs from around the world. Instead, they’re looking for fresh, thoughtfully furnished rooms where they can create their dream setting rather than buy into the seller’s life.

This is why staging has become so important.

Fiona Dogan with Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty in Rye, N.Y., is a diehard staging advocate who recommends the strategy to all her clients. “You can’t list a house without staging it, unless it’s going to be a teardown,” she says.

The prime reasons staging has become commonplace is due to consumer demand and the proliferation of online home shopping, says Amanda Wiss, a professional organizer and owner of Urban Clarity in Brooklyn, N.Y., who added staging to her skill set.

“Most buyers first see a home online, so photographs matter,” she says. “If it’s too cluttered, they might not go look at it in person.”

While staging may have attained its popularity in higher-priced and vacant listings, it now appears in all segments of the market. As a result, more savvy real estate pros like Dogan recommend sellers have their homes staged before they list, no matter the price, size, condition, or location.

The goal is the same for all listings: to help the seller achieve the highest sales price in the quickest time, says Adelaide Mulry, an agent with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty in Locust Valley, N.Y., also a professional stager and designer. The good news is that the number of people available to stage a home has increased dramatically in recent years, with 28% of listing agents staging sellers’ homes before listing, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2019 Profile of Home Staging report.

Sellers can take their pick of whom to hire. There are full-time professional stagers, real estate professionals who have jumped in to learn, and professional organizers like Wiss. Some home owners like to do staging themselves, motivated by reality TV shows and Marie Kondo–style decluttering books.

There’s a growing list of courses as well, such as the three-day program offered by stager and designer Kristie Barnett of The Decorologist in Nashville. Other accreditation programs and industry designations—such as the Accredited Staging Professional or the Designer Society of America’s Certified Home Staging Professional—give a stager the chance to tout their expertise. Companies that offer staging resources have also become more plentiful in the form of attractive rental furnishings, artwork, and accessories. Some stagers and real estate pros prefer to buy merchandise, which Dogan has done.

Staging Works

After Wiss staged a two-bedroom condominium in Brooklyn, the owners received four offers at an open house that sparked a bidding war. The property sold for 25% more than the listing price.

Sellers who don’t stage a home before it’s listed risk losing out to comparable staged homes, says Christopher Barrow, co-managing partner and broker with Foundation Homes Property Management in California’s Marin County. “Nobody wants a home with Venetian plaster from the ’80s,” he says.

Staging first emerged in the 1970s after real estate pro Barb Schwarz, who has a background in theater, developed the concept and trademarked the term to help show her listings. It originally involved simple decluttering, making basic repairs, and arranging furniture; nowadays, it’s used to completely transform rooms and sometimes entire homes, so they look new. It can even go beyond adding furnishings; some use luxury towels, designer shoes, and handbags to suggest a lifestyle, says Lynn B. Telling, an agent and luxury specialist with Illustrated Properties in Palm Beach, Fla.

The number of rooms staged in a listing typically depends on a home’s overall condition, market competition, and listing price. But usually staging a few main rooms will suffice. “You can always leave a few spaces to a buyer’s imagination rather than do the entire house,” says Marcie Barnes, director of strategic growth at Prevu Real Estate, a New York–based real estate company that focuses on buyers.

Buyers consider the living room the most important to stage, followed by the master bedroom and kitchen, according to NAR’s staging report. In each staged space, the goal is to create a universally appealing, updated, clean setting—what Dogan calls “today’s staged aesthetic.” Common denominators include neutral colored walls and hardwood floors (a rug is OK as long some flooring shows), a few pieces of comfortable, modern furniture to hint at a room’s use (perhaps a laptop on a table), mostly empty countertops and bookshelves, good modern lighting, a few accessories, and some art or a bit of color to add a pop so the space isn’t devoid of personality.

Fresh greenery offers a bit of warmth, says Barnes. Often, the desire to show some creativity is reserved for a small space, such as a wallpapered powder room. Barnes also likes to include a seasonal reference—a beachy vibe come spring and summer or cozy feel in the fall and winter—and at least one hot trend, such as a smart-home tech device.

Sometimes, however, more work is required to make a listing showing-ready because of the home’s condition or the market it’s in. Agent Barb St. Amant with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty recently had a listing in an Atlanta suburb that required interior and exterior paint, wood rot repair, kitchen and master bathroom renovations, and property landscaping to compete in that area. The home sold for 96% of its list price, went under contract within a month, and closed 30 days later. “There were nine to 11 months of inventory in that area, and typical days on market were from two to three months,” she says.

Although staging often calls for a spare look, in some areas complete household settings are making inroads—at least in trend-setting Los Angles. There, luxury staged homes are displaying more furnished interiors that are so complete, some buyers purchase what’s featured after they buy the house, says Meridith Baer. Her 30-year-old eponymous firm, Meridith Baer Home, in L.A., is hired both by agents and developers to stage their listings. The firm routinely stages 30 properties a week. “We want buyers to fall in love, and we do a variety of looks, from more minimal to very layered,” she says.

The Cost Breakdown

What a seller typically spends on staging is proportionate to the home size and condition, listing price, estimated return on investment, and competition. Sometimes sellers may not have to spend funds at all since some agents offer their time for decluttering, rearranging furnishings, and making suggestions. That’s the approach Kati Baker takes, a luxury home staging specialist with Downtown Realty Co. in Chicago. She rearranges furniture, bookshelves, and art and removes anything in the house that may cause an off-putting smell.

Dogan always works with sellers to determine the level of staging needed to best show off their home and within their budget. She covers the cost of a staging consultant to assess the home pre-listing. If the seller wants to use the stager, Dogan hires the person, but the seller pays for the services and any related costs. Dogan will also tap into her own inventory of items for some stagings. Typically, her sellers’ costs range from $2,000 to $5,000, which might involve a simple paint refresh or furniture rental, she says.

However, staging a large vacant house may cost significantly more, upwards of $30,000 for some of her listings. But Dogan says the return on investment can be $50,000 or greater in her New York market. On average, sellers see about a 5% return on investment nationwide, according to the 2019 NAR report.

St. Amant offers sellers a free two-hour consultation with a stager. Most stagers in her area charge $125 to $250 an hour. The goal, she says, is to spend the least amount of money and get the greatest return. And some sellers invest significantly. A client of St. Amant, who lived in a neighborhood with $1 million homes, recently spent more than $100,000 getting the house ready to list, half of which went toward deferred maintenance.

“With advice from the stager, we made necessary changes to the 30-year-old home and quickly got an offer that was nearly $200,000 over what we might have if it hadn’t been updated and staged,” she says.

Not all sellers can afford to do this, so it’s important that agents work within a budget.

Mulry reminds sellers that the cost of staging is nominal compared to a possible price reduction they’d have to make if the home sits on the market, unstaged, with little interest from buyers.


10 Questions to Ask When Hiring A Stager

Help clients do their staging homework. First, find out what comparable homes look like and whether they’re staged. Then interview potential stagers with these questions.

  1. Can I see before-and-after photos of jobs you’ve handled? Can you explain what you did and why?
  2. Do you usually stage all the rooms in a house or condo, or just a few key rooms? Which ones?
  3. Do you recommend taking down artwork and curtains and removing most accessories?
  4. Do you have access to a staging inventory that you own or rent? If the furnishings will be rented, how long is the rental period?
  5. Can any of my client’s furnishings be used for staging, and if so, which ones?
  6. Do you recommend other improvements, such as painting, polishing floors, or resurfacing kitchen cabinets if you believe it’s required?
  7. Do you offer expertise concerning the property’s exterior?
  8. How will the seller will be charged? Is it by the number of rooms, hours on the clock, or a flat fee for the entire project?
  9. What’s your average return on investment? How much might my seller might realize if the home is staged versus not staged?
  10. Can my client get the specifics of your staging proposal in writing?

Source: Christopher Barrow, Foundation Homes Property Management, Marin County, Calif.


staged baby nursery

© Kati Baker

The Anatomy of Staging

Staging should celebrate a property’s features while attracting a large pool of potential buyers. Here are two before and after examples.

The Before and After of Two Homes
The key to staging is showcasing a home’s best features without making it look like a furniture showroom lacking character, says Kati Baker, luxury home staging specialist with Downtown Realty Co. in Chicago. These before-and-after photos help reveal the staging process in two different properties.

Living Room: Before
Professional organizer and stager Amanda Wiss, owner of Urban Clarity in Brooklyn, N.Y., worked on the living room of a home that included two cluttered etageres, heavy window treatments that concealed light and views, and dark wallcovering that made the room appear smaller. The walls were lined with artwork and the room had too many furnishings, so it didn’t encourage sitting and conversation. A dated rug covering most of the floor.

Living Room: After
Wiss decluttered the two etageres and moved them along one wall. She added a large, neutral rug that expands the space and defines the seating area while still leaving the flooring exposed. She improved the arrangement with a few pieces of comfortable furniture and a good walk-around space that’s still close enough for conversation. Pops of color complement the room and a trio of mirrors creates the illusion of depth and makes the area feel bigger. The piano in the corner adds a handsome focal point, expressing refined taste and adding warmth with its wood case. The neutral background of crisp white paint also makes the room appear larger and brighter in an easy, affordable way. For more light, windows were left uncurtained. “Curtains are fine as long as they are not fussy,” Wiss says. “But in this room, the lack of them adds a clean, modern focus.”

Dining and Living Room: Before
Real estate agent, designer, and stager Fiona Dogan with Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty in Rye, N.Y., staged a dining room and living room that was overrun with dark colors and grains. The windows had old-fashioned patterned valences that made the room look dated. It also included an outdated table lamp, dark walls, a dark, old-fashioned wood table and chairs, and dark fabrics on the sofa and other upholstered pieces in the living room. The busy patterns on two Oriental-style rugs were distracting and covered a large area of the floor.

Dining and Living Room: After
Dogan had the walls and fireplace painted white to freshen and lighten up the space. She added a contemporary pendant light for a big accent and replaced the table lamp with a floor lamp in the corner for a more modern vibe. She replaced the heavy wood table with a glass dining room table and modern chairs for style and lightness with one simple, modern objet d’art as a centerpiece. The left deck is without furniture to open up the space. Dogan also removed the patterned dark furniture and replaced it with white upholstered seating for a contemporary look. The rug under the table was removed to show off the flooring, while another contemporary area rug was added by the seating area.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

A Vision for the Greenest Homes Ever

This year’s New American Home, an annual concept build at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, reflects the most technologically advanced methods of achieving energy efficiency.

February 20, 2020

 

It’s not new-fangled gadgetry that makes the New American Home, a model reflecting the latest in construction and design standards, so cutting-edge. The 6,428-square-foot, five-bedroom property, which was unveiled at January’s International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, doesn’t spare technology—check out the “transitional” outdoor entertainment space with a custom fireplace and “vanishing edge” pool. But it’s the multitude of ways the home slashes energy costs that’s most noteworthy.

Located in Henderson, Nev., overlooking the Las Vegas skyline, the home was constructed using the industry’s most advanced building products and techniques to optimize energy efficiency, according to the National Association of Home Builders. The property is expected to achieve LEED Emerald-level status—the National Green Building Standard’s highest efficiency rating.

New American Home

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The home features spray-foam insulation, high-quality solar panels, automated LED lighting and green appliances, and the most energy-efficient doors and windows, according to Drew Smith, a Florida energy and green building consultant who worked on the project. While the average new home has a HERS rating of 100, the New American Home scored –16. “That’s tied for the lowest for a New American Home,” Smith says. “Solar made a difference. Without it, [the home’s HERS rating] was 49. And for a house that large, that’s the lowest HERS index we have ever seen. The calculated energy savings is about $4,000 a year because of the solar and total design of the home.”

The building standards of the project reflect how home builders across the country are prioritizing high-performance construction practices, NAHB officials say. A new study from the association shows that 91% of builders are incorporating energy-efficient practices—including tight building envelopes and high-performance ventilation systems—and 69% do so on a majority of their projects. “These findings complement the results of a recent study where home buyers ranked high-performance products and practices among the top features they want in a home,” says John Barrows, chair of the NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building Subcommittee. “This shows us that the value of home performance is increasing among builders and consumers.”

But while builders credit consumer demand for prompting increased eco-friendly construction, they say even higher demand is necessary to influence more meaningful growth in the green-home market. Only a third of builders—still an impressive number—identify as green, according to Donna Laquidara-Carr, industry insights research director at Dodge Data & Analytics, which conducted the NAHB study.

A majority of builders and remodelers say their customers perceive green homes to be more expensive than traditional homes, Laquidara-Carr says. Still, about 70% of single-family home builders believe their customers will pay more for a green home, she adds.

Other Emerging Building Trends

The NAHB released a separate study naming the home trends, buyer preferences, and must-have features for 2020, including energy efficiency. Efficient lighting, programmable thermostats, and Energy Star–rated appliances are the green features most likely to be included in new homes this year, according to Rose Quint, the NAHB’s assistant vice president of survey research.

Additionally, the study shows that the average home size continues to decrease after peaking at 2,689 square feet in 2015. It has fallen four years in a row to its current 2,520 square feet and is at its smallest since 2011. The majority of both first-time and repeat buyers say they would rather have a smaller home with high-quality amenities than a bigger home with fewer features, Quint says. The percentage of homes incorporating four or more bedrooms, three-plus bathrooms, and garages for three or more cars has also dropped to levels not seen since 2012, she adds. “This points to an industry trying to meet the demands of the entry-level home buyer. Builders are struggling to meet these demands because of factors such as restrictive zoning regulations and lot prices, with the price of a new lot in 2019 averaging $57,000.”

The NAHB also highlighted home design trends coming in the future, including:

  • Colorful kitchens incorporating aqua, dark woods, and new, colored textures.
  • Crisp colors paired with warm woods.
  • Expansive, large-format windows.
  • High-quality signature front entries and improved streetscapes.
  • Nontraditional storage solutions. Instead of cabinetry, designers are opting for shelving, both as a storage solution and a design element.
  • Seamless indoor and outdoor connections.
  • Increased use of mixed metals, materials, and textures, including wallpaper, to add depth to designs.
  • Wood detailing to create texture.

Prefab Technology Evolves

Japan’s largest home builder, Sekisui House, and its American subsidiary, Woodside Homes, used the backdrop of January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to unveil its prefabricated homebuilding technology, which can speed up construction, address a shortage of skilled labor, and build homes more resilient to natural disasters.

The companies provided tours of a multimillion-dollar concept home in a luxury Vegas enclave as part of the unveiling. The companies’ leaders say the two-story, 7,200-square-foot home, with four bedrooms and five-and-a-half baths, showcases design and construction systems and techniques that are unlike any the U.S. homebuilding industry has ever used.

The model home was built using a technique called Shawood, in which lumber, with the aid of computers and automation, is precision-engineered, cut, and drilled in a factory near Tokyo and shipped to the U.S. The pieces were put together in the field using number sequences on a blueprint as a guide. It’s a holistic system that has been used in Japan for more than two decades, covering the home’s framing, foundation, and flooring, the companies’ officials say. That enables a simpler, faster, and more precise building process, including fire-resistant porcelain siding that also helps protects the home from earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, says Joel Abney, vice president of operations at Woodside Homes.

“The goal is to showcase how the trends are changing in housing and what the future can look like,” Abney says. “There hasn’t been much technological advancement overall in single-family home construction because we’re building the same way in the U.S. as we were 20, 50, and 100 years ago. This is looking at advancing it to that next level. The home provides U.S. companies with a template for how to build houses that are significantly more resistant to Mother Nature’s forces than the traditional American stick-frame structure.”

Buck Wargo is a real estate reporter and writer based in Las Vegas.

The Ultimate Smart Home: Wireless Outdoor Security Cameras

© eyecrave – GettyImages

Homeowners can easily set up their own home security systems. Real estate pro and smart-home expert Brandon Doyle gives an overview of three options you can share with your clients.

February 6, 2020

by Brandon Doyle

With the advances in cameras and in wireless and cloud-based technology, it’s now very affordable for homeowners to set up their own home security camera system and monitor them remotely.

Many manufacturers now offer affordable cloud hosting, often at a fraction of what it would have cost for a similar system in the past or even free. High-powered batteries and wireless communication allow owners to place cameras at entrances and corners of the home without the hassle of hiring an electrician to run wires. Battery life on these new cameras can range from six months to two years depending on the model, settings, and amount of activity in the area. However, I wouldn’t trust the life expectancy on the box. The Blink XT2 camera claims it’ll last two years using two AA lithium batteries, but I did not find that to be the case when I tried it out myself. After only two months the batteries were depleted to around 25%.

Arlo and Ring both offer solar panel add-ons for their cameras that help keep the batteries charged. However, the camera needs to be plugged in to allow continuous recording. Both cameras can detect motion and provide real-time notifications to your phone. Users can also view past footage. Some companies, such as Ring, require a subscription to review older footage, while Arlo provides 30 days of video playback with its Arlo Smart Plan. The Arlo Ultra camera comes with a one-year subscription, and Blink gives you seven days for free.

Each company has upgraded plans that are available month to month, but you’ll save money by paying for a year at a time. The Arlo Ultra can also record locally to a micro SD card in a smart-home hub, giving the homeowner a copy of the video even if the internet connection is down or if the camera is stolen. Arlo also offers a theft replacement program for cameras purchased within the last year.

The Arlo Ultra, Blink XT2, and Ring Spot Camera all have speakers and microphones allowing for two-way communication and start recording when they detect motion. Arlo can detect if it’s a person, package, animal, or vehicle by using artificial intelligence, which is included in select subscriptions, and the activity zone being monitored by the camera can be adjusted. Ring security cameras also allow adjustment of activity zones if they are hardwired or plugged in. With the battery-operated version, you’re only able to adjust sensitivity. During testing, I found that the Ring camera was often set off by passersby, insects, and even the reflection of headlights.

Overall, if you’re looking to setup a multicamera system with remote monitoring, Arlo’s Ultra is my top pick. The Ring Spotlight is a good alternative if you’re already paying the subscription for their video doorbell and want to add a couple more cameras. But the Ring Spotlight is best-suited for locations where power is available. While Blink XT2 is a cheaper alternative, the video quality is lower and it’s only able to record a maximum of 60-second clips.