Thursday, December 28, 2017

10 Ways to Make Your Home Green

What if I told you that during your entire life you could only own one car -- that's it! You would probably do everything in your power to maintain it, drive it very carefully and ensure each step you take is one that will prolong the life of it.

Our planet is our "one-vehicle" and we have to do everything we can to protect it and prolong it's life since our's are directly tied to it.

One simple way we each can help our environment out is by looking at ways to become more green within our household.  Recycling and decreasing the amount of trash we produce is certainly important, but its just one aspect.  Another aspect that may be overlooked is the home itself.

At SMK Realty Solutions, we take great pride in crafting our homes to be beautiful, but we also build with the environment in mind.  And today, we'd like to share some simple things, we have implemented, that you can also do to your home to make it more green.

Programmable Thermostats

Cost: $40-$100

An easy way to save energy and cut your power bill.  Half of your energy bill goes to heating/cooling your home.  You can automatically set certain temps throughout the day and night to maximize the comfort of your home while saving the earth and money.

LED and CFL Lighting

Cost: $2 more per bulb than a typical incandescent bulb

LED and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) offer incredible energy and cost savings over regular incandescent bulbs. Both options do cost more upfront, but they produce less heat, use less energy and last significantly longer than traditional light bulbs, so they're ideal green lighting options for your new home. CFLs cost only about $2 more per bulb than the incandescent variety, but offer an overall cost savings (including reduced energy bills) of more than $60 per bulb when compared to a 100-watt incandescent bulb.

Low Flow Toilets

Cost: $100-$500

There are many low-flow features you can add to your new home to conserve water and cut down on your water bill costs, including faucets, shower heads and toilets. Toilets are the most obvious starting point because they use 26 percent of the water in your home. Today's industry standard for toilets is 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf).  

So, what's the downside to low-flow toilets? Many consumers complain that less water per flush means more cleaning. However, manufacturers are listening to customer complaints, and are continuing to add new features to their water-efficient toilets.  Also, many eco toilets can be more expensive than standard models, but if you go with last year's high-efficiency model, you can usually snag one at a discount.

Energy Star Appliances

Cost: Depends on appliance, but similar to non-energy efficient.

ENERGY STAR is becoming a well-known symbol for energy-efficient appliances. While you probably are familiar with the symbol, you may not know ENERGY STAR is a government program that was started to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The result has been a well-trusted, easily identifiable system to help consumers choose the most energy-efficient appliances for their homes.

Energy Efficient Windows

Cost: $200 per window

Replacing windows on an existing home isn't always a good idea because it can be quite expensive and only offers an energy bill savings of 7 to 15 percent [source: ENERGY STAR]. But if you're building a house, choosing energy-efficient windows during construction provides enough energy savings to cover the added cost per window (usually $15 more than a generic window). If you decide to find a greener window option for your home, there are a few things to keep in mind. Most importantly, you need to understand thermal transmission (or U-factor, as it is commonly known) and solar heat gain ratings. These ratings measure the amount of heat that is lost in the winter months and gained in the summer months, respectively. The lower the rating for each, the more energy efficient your window will be. 

Sustainable Materials

Cost: Check your supplier based on the item

There are many different ways to use green and sustainable materials if you're buidling or upgrading your home.  For example, bamboo flooring is beautiful and sustainable.  For counter tops, you could go with recycled glass like Vertazzo instead of granite or some other type of stone that isn't renewable.    Be sure to ask your contractor or supplier for more sustainable options in terms of materials for your home.

HVAC System Upgrade

Cost: $2000-$6000 depending on size, make, etc.

Heating and cooling your home costs an average of more than $1,000 a year [source: ENERGY STAR]. So, it's clear that choosing an upgraded HVAC system will help you save energy and money. Choosing an ENERGY STAR-rated HVAC over a generic system could increase your home's energy efficiency by 9 percent [source: ENERGY STAR]. But even if you buy the most efficient HVAC system, it won't perform to its full potential unless it is properly installed. ENERGY STAR to the rescue again. They have developed Quality Installation (QI) guidelines to help ensure your HVAC system reduces your energy costs by up to 30 percent over non-QI installations by considering things like whether the size of the unit is correct for your home.

Another option to completely upgrading your system is to "zone" your HVAC system.  This allows you to split up your home into different heating and cooling zones to maximize comfort while minimizing energy consumption.  For example, at night time, you may only want to heat/cool the bedrooms only.


Cost: Totally depends on type of landscaping

Believe it or not, proper landscaping can add to the energy efficiency of your home by providing shade in the summer months and insulation in the winter months. The EPA suggests planting trees that lose their leaves on the western and southern sides of your home to support this phenomenon. In the summer, the trees will provide shade and block infrared radiation, keeping your house cooler. In the winter, when the trees lose their leaves, they will allow more sunlight to reach the windows and warm your home. Planting native trees is best, because they will thrive in your city's environment. Additionally, the plants and other landscaping can help support the environment and wildlife around your home. With a focus on the natural landscape and plants native to the area, you can actually save money on the cost of taking care of your lawn, as most natural landscaping requires less water and maintenance, which can add up to an average of $700 a year [source: EPA].

Tankless Water Heaters

Cost: $500-$1000 each

We've all done the little dance on a particularly cold morning waiting for the shower water to heat up. And, while you're waiting for the hot water, you're paying for all of that cold water escaping down the drain. You're also paying for your water heater to store, heat and reheat a supply of water in the tank. But imagine having instant hot water. You can with a tankless water heater. They heat only the water that is needed as it passes through an electric coil. This eliminates excess energy costs and wasted energy associated with a tank, often saving a reported 50 percent on your energy bill [source: Consumer Reports]. And as an added bonus, eliminating the hot water tank can free up valuable storage space. Sound too good to be true? Well, it might be for your home. Tankless water heaters are expensive and have limited hot-water flow rates, which means they may not perform to your liking, especially if you have a larger home that often has multiple showers running, or during the winter months when the water passing through the electric coil is particularly cold.

Proper Insulation

Cost: $2-$4 per sq/ft

Probably the most important green home upgrade to consider when building a home is proper insulation. Insulation can cost a considerable amount if you wait to install it at a later date, so it's best to take care of it during initial construction. As we've mentioned several times, heating and cooling account for nearly half of your home's energy consumption [source: Archer]. Proper insulation will ensure that expensive energy that's heating and cooling your home isn't escaping out the windows or through the roof. Unfortunately, there isn't anything you can do to completely prevent heat from escaping from your house in the cool months, or entering the home in the warm months, but properly insulating the walls and attics can slow the rate significantly.

While there are many different types of insulation to choose from -- fiberglass, foam and cellulose -- nothing is as important as choosing the right person to do the installation. The best contractors will use an infrared camera once installation is complete to ensure there aren't any gaps or holes where heat is escaping [source: Sachs]. To make your home even more of an insulated fortress, you may also consider upgrading your weather stripping and sealant around the doors and windows.

SMK Realty Solutions

We hope you have found this information useful for either upgrading your home, or building your forever home -- while keeping mother Earth in mind.  We take great pride in our projects and take into account our environment while we develop homes.

If you or someone you know is in need to sell their home, feel free to pass our information along.  We buy all types of homes.  With SMK Realty Solutions, you don't have to keep your home clean, have your home sit on the market for extended periods of time where various people trudge their way through your personal space.  And if there are aspects that need to be fixed, we'll purchase the home AS-IS and deal with the repairs ourselves.  

We also offer referral bonuses too.

Send us an email at or feel free to give us a call at (301) 329-6500.

Have a wonderful New Year!  And may 2018 bring you great joy and success.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Top ROIs for Renovations

Whether you're considering selling your home or creating your dream home, home renovations can provide many benefits.  But it is critical to do some research as to which aspects to prioritize when coming up with a renovation plan.

This sounds easy, but it's where most people go wrong.  Upgrades to certain areas, such as bathrooms and kitchens, can provide your home with the most value.  But adding certain other features may not be the best for your bottom line - for example, in certain areas of Montgomery County, MD - adding a pool may not be the best thing.  It could be that the area isn't a prime location for a pool.  Or perhaps you are surrounded with too many trees, and the terrain doesn't quite support having a pool.

To help you get on the right track, here’s a list of the Top 15 Home Updates that Pay Off, their average return at resale, and their average costs for a middle-of-the-road renovation:

Minor Bathroom Remodel 102% $10,500
Landscaping 100% $4,967
Minor Kitchen Remodel 98.5% $14,913
Exterior Improvements 95.5% $7,239
Attic Bedroom Conversion 93.3% $39,188
Major Bathroom Remodel 93.2% $26,000
Major Kitchen Remodel 91% $43,000
Basement Remodel 90.1% $51,000
Replacement Windows 89.6% $10,000
Family Room Addition 83% $54,000
Bonus Room Updates 72.8% $1,400
Living Room Updates - D├ęcor 66% $2,340
Bedroom Updates 52% $2,340
Living Room Updates-Walls and Floors       40%            $3,000

As you can see, some of them are great but each have their own different cost.  And depending on the level of renovation, the cost will increase or decrease.  Not to mention, the amount of time it'll take out of your busy schedule to manage the project and ensure it gets done.

You don't always have to fix up your home to sell it.  If the project seems that it may be too much for you to take on, consider SMK Realty Solutions.  We provide zero obligation consultations as we buy homes just like yours!  We can provide you a fair offer and close on your time line, and the best part is that the home does not have to be cleaned, renovated, etc.  We take care of all of the headaches associated with home renovations.

We also provide referral bonuses (up to $3,000) for homes that we close on -- so if you know anyone that might be interested in selling their home, definitely let us know!

Send us an email at now for more information.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Home Renovations Are Costly - 5 Ways To Accomplish Your Goals

Your home is a place of rest, a place of peace and most important a place for family.   It truly is one of the biggest purchases many of us will make, and keeping it up can be costly and time consuming.  Whether you need to make improvements because you need to fix many things, or you simply want to create your own dream home, it's important to know your options.  Here are five ways (in no particular order) to help/pay for home improvements assuming you don't have the cash for it.

1. Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Limited 203K Loan

FHA's Limited 203(k) program permits homebuyers and homeowners to finance up to $35,000 into their mortgage to repair, improve, or upgrade their home.  Check out the details here.

2. Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

A home equity line of credit (often called HELOC, pronounced Hee-lock) is a loan in which the lender agrees to lend a maximum amount within an agreed period (called a term), where the collateral is the borrower's equity in his/her house (akin to a second mortgage).   The main difference between a HELOC and a Home Equity Loan is that a HELOC is more like a credit card -- you are granted a line of credit and get charged for what you use.

3. Home Equity Loan

A home equity loan is a type of loan in which the borrower uses the equity of his or her home as collateral. The loan amount is determined by the value of the property, and the value of the property is determined by an appraiser from the lending institution.

Most home equity loans require good to excellent credit history, reasonable loan-to-value and combined loan-to-value ratios. Home equity loans come in two types: closed end (traditionally just called a home-equity loan) and open end (a.k.a. a home-equity line of credit). Both are usually referred to as second mortgages, because they are secured against the value of the property, just like a traditional mortgage.

4. Refinance Your Mortgage

This may be a very good option as the loan rates are typically the best in this option.  Similar to Home Equity Loans/Line of Credit, to be able to leverage a ReFi effectively, you'll need to have equity in the home to draw additional funds from.

5. Borrow from Your 401K

There are certain restrictions to this loan, but generally, you can borrow a certain amount of your 401K and will need to pay it off in 5 years.  The interest charged on this type loan is paid back to you, so in this sense, not a bad option.  However, there are a few things to consider: 1) If you quit your job, the loan is due immediately, 2) The money taken out is not earning anything until it's paid back -- so this could impact your retirement nest egg potential.  Check out more info here.

OR, Just Not Deal with the Hassles of Renovations

The easiest and simplest way to resolve your renovations is not to deal with them at all.  If you are considering renovations to be able to sell your home, consider selling to a real estate investor.

There are numerous benefits to this as you don't need to worry about marketing the house, negotiating difficult contracts with realtors, cleaning/organizing the house to be shown, keeping it clean and organized for months, and lastly waiting, waiting and waiting some more for offers.

Instead of dealing with this undesirable experience, we can purchase your property under your terms at a time most convenient for you. We are confident that after a quick chat with us on the phone, you’ll be relieved to hear that we can give you a fair offer for your house.

Call us today at 301-329-6500 and we will be happy to speak with you about your home. We wish you and your family the very best during these holidays!

SMK Realty Solutions

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Focus In A Distracted World

From the moment we wake in the morning, we’re tempted and perhaps distracted.
We reach for the phone. We check texts. We read email. Scroll through social feeds. Add a few clicks to news stories and before long, you’ve logged what will likely be the first of more than 76 daily interactions with your mobile device.
Even though mobile devices have increased our access to information and ability to communicate with others, they’ve also introduced barriers that could negatively impact our work.
By understanding how to distance ourselves from distractions and improve time management, we have a better chance to dive deeper into our thinking and reach new heights of productivity.

Battle for our attention

Today, we are engaged in a battle for attention—from a cascading waterfall of social streams, news articles, chatter, and digital noise. We unlock our iPhones an average of 80 times and rack up more than 4.7 hours actively engaged with our mobile device each day.
Thirty percent of our daily media consumption is spent surfing the internet. It’s not just social noise, either. The average American watches 35 hours of television a week, and our viewing habits have taken a dramatic tilt from televisions to devices.
In the ultimate sign that change is afoot in response to our shifting spans of focus, the National Basketball League (NBA), a stalwart of the American sports scene, is exploring ways to speed up the end of games to satisfy shrinking attention spans.
According to a recent survey commissioned by Microsoft, we lose our focus faster than a goldfish. The glaring takeaway was a quote in the report by Microsoft chief Satya Nadella, who signaled the trait most essential to modern employees seeking success: “The true scarce commodity of the future will be human attention.”

Deeper connection to our work

The idea of ‘deep work’ is nothing new. The term was recently coined by Cal Newport, a professor, scientist, and author of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.”
According to Newport, deep work is classified as ‘professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limits.’
It’s been practiced in some ways or another by everyone from Carl Jung to United States President Barack Obama.
  • President Obama, a well-known ‘night guy,’ logged time deep into the evening from his office, reading, writing speeches, preparing memos, examining documents, and thinking. He’d be able to finish things during the late night hours that drew constant focus from the leader of the free world during the day. “Everybody carves out their time to get their thoughts together. There is no doubt that window is his window,” said Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s first chief of staff. “You can’t block out a half-hour and try to do it during the day. It’s too much incoming. That’s the place where it can all be put aside and you can focus.”
  • Carl Jung was so passionate about decoupling from the trappings of the world, he built a stone complex in Switzerland he could retreat to when he needed to reflect, think, and write. In his memoir, Jung credited the escape as being important to helping him be satisfied, sufficient, and restful.
These two examples seem almost contradictory. In fact, they are classic illustrations of escaping to a place of comfort as a way to get stuff done. If deep work is a vehicle for concentration and thinking that produces work, it can happen in the Oval Office or in the mountains of Switzerland. It’s the ritual, scheduling, and location of the work that matter.


Newport examined the cognitive impact that social media and office distractions have, and the importance of undivided attention in completing meaningful work. By removing distractions, he argues, we can move beyond “shallow work” to reach new levels of productivity and produce a substantial amount of work.
Of course, social media is not bad, and we’d be silly to suggest otherwise. Most of us have an irrational fear of missing out, (FOMO)—so we’ve become dependent on social media, groomed to alwayscheck in. But, if we understand that distraction can negatively impact our deep work, then we can start to take steps to help us focus on complicated cognitive functions. What do we get out of that? We’re rewarded with mastery of complicated tasks, better information processing, and producing more in less time.
“We have a growing amount of research which tells us that if you spend large portions of your day in a state of fragmented attention—where your regular workflow is constantly broken up by taking frequent breaks to just check in with social media—that this can permanently reduce your capacity for concentration,” said Newport.
Much of social media is specifically built to fragment your time. Not unlike a slot machine, it rewards you with “shiny things”—likes, hearts, re-tweets, comments, and other positivity in exchange for time. Before long, your day becomes disrupted as you push, pull, and swipe for updates and notifications.
Even a quick glance at Twitter or reviewing an email has a negative impact on your ability to focus on tasks. In fact, that one quick glance costs you about 15 to 20 minutes of attention loss. Our brains are simply not wired for that level of distraction. The barrage of the social media world is changing the landscape of our brain’s reward centers. In addition to impacting our cognitive ability to get work done, it also concerns medical professionals, who are seeing increased rates of anxiety other psychological issues among college students.
Distractions are a growing part of interruptions knowledge workers experience in the office on a daily basis. It’s not just self-imposed interruptions from social media. In the office, we’re bombarded with instant messages, chat and communications from colleagues using collaboration software, email notifications, co-worker “drive-bys,” last-minute meeting requests, and even distractions caused by open floorplans designed to bring us closer together.

The New Economy

A new competitive information economy is here. And Newport argues that it’s one that will reward workers who understand that the currency is work that produces ‘unambiguously rare and valuable output.
“Our work culture’s shift toward the shallow … is exposing a massive opportunity for the few who recognize the potential of resisting this trend and prioritizing depth…:” Newport writes in Deep Work.
The rarest commodity of all is the employee who’s able to devote significant time to deep work and its byproduct — high-quality material that is incredibly difficult to automate or to replicate by a machine, an algorithm, or globalization.
“Anything a six-year-old can do with a smartphone is not something the market will reward,” Newport says.
Deep work is a tool you need to build and produce things like a craftsman. Think of the time it takes a glassblower to perfect a beautifully-sculpted vase, or how a master woodworker uses both art and craft to create furniture worthy of display in a museum.
Computer programmers, visual designers, academics, and writers all have a huge competitive advantage because of this ability to concentrate and turn out that rare and valuable commodity—the craft that drives the information age.
“If you can write an elegant algorithm, write a legal brief, write a thousand words of prose, look at a sea of unambiguous data—If you can do these types of activities to produce outcomes that are rare and valuable, people will find you—regardless of how many Instagram followers you have.” —Cal Newport

How to create meaningful work

Deep work does not have to be tedious. In fact, it can be enjoyable, creative, meditative, and thought-provoking. Here are some tactics to integrate the principles of deep work into your schedule:
  1. Work deeply. It takes great patience and practice to get to the point where you can integrate long stretches of deep work into your schedule. Newport created an equation to explain the intensity required of deep work and compared it to students who pulled all-nighters in college.
Work accomplished = (time spent) x (intensity)
Work at a high level with dynamic and intense intervals that increase over time to produce a desirable outcome. Get in the zone for at least 90 minutes and build up to periods that last anywhere from two to four hours, or more.
  1. Protect your time. Maintain a set of rituals and routines to ease deep work into your day more easily. Try implementing scheduling tactics into your workflow like:
Tallies – Keep a tally of the hours you spend working, or when you reach important milestones like pages read or words written.
Deep scheduling – Try scheduling deep work hours well in advance on a calendar, like two or four weeks ahead of time.
Scheduling and tracking time has a huge benefit of giving time back. Many academics, authors, and scientists have been able to produce ample amount of work while working normal hours and having time for personal pursuits or family on evenings and weekends.
  1. Train your brain to do nothing. Try for a moment, to sit still and do nothing. How long do you find it takes until the social stimuli and buzzing signals of your mobile device prove too much? If you can embrace sitting quietly meditating or thinking, or even staring into space, then you can train your brain to spend more time in deeper work.
  1. Quit swimming upstream. Decide for yourself what restrictions you can place on email and social media by removing it from your work week altogether, or by logging out and staying off for an entire day. Evaluate your personal and professional life and experiment where social fits and where it doesn’t. Your result may be a month-long digital detox, or completely cutting the cord on social.
  1. Cut the shallow work. Endless meeting requests and instant email responses are turning knowledge workers into ‘human routers’ that create the shallow work that defines many of workplaces. We’ve been groomed to reply and respond because it feels like we’re accomplishing something, when in reality, we’re not.
“Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness,” Newport warns, “and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.”
How are you diving deeper into your work and avoiding distractions?   Comment below!

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