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(BPT) - Whether you're looking to sell your home soon or you just want to boost your investment, improving your home's curb appeal is the best way to increase its value. Another upside of working on your property? The enjoyment and sense of pride after you complete each project. Here are seven ways you can make your home look great that also increase your property's value. 1. Conquer the yardwork
Regular lawn maintenance makes a huge difference in the overall appearance of your property. And the beauty of this approach - in addition to the beauty it will bring to your yard - is that it's relatively inexpensive. If you're looking for a low-maintenance backyard, consider integrating synthetic turf with pavers to create a stylish space that requires minimal upkeep. Whether you tackle the yardwork yourself or you need to hire some help, a tidy and well-kept yard says a lot about a home - and homebuyers notice. 2. Improve your landscaping
For problem areas, you may want to consult a landscape professional. Increasing the variety of plant life can enhance your yard a great deal, while adding to your own enjoyment. Consider a raised garden, planter boxes or vertical gardens, if you live in an urban area or if your yard has a small footprint. However, before landscaping, a professional can also help you make the best choices for your particular yard and climate. Planting trees strategically adds shade, making your yard more livable and cooling your home during the summer. Trees offer shelter from winter winds and improve drainage in wet areas. However, if you have a tree that is ill or too close to your home, removing it can protect your home and increase its value. Consulting a licensed arborist is wise if you have questions about trees on your property. 3. Consider hardscaping features
Creating interest - and usable outdoor spaces - with hardscaping can transform the appearance of your property dramatically. "Hardscaping encompasses the nonliving elements of landscaping - like a paver patio, retaining wall or gazebo," says Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes at Belgard. "Hardscaping also includes boulders, edging, pathways or walls. Hardscaping can be designed in your preferred style, from traditional to modern. You can also consider water features like waterfalls, fountains or ponds." Outdoor kitchens are increasingly popular for elevated outdoor entertaining, while less ambitious but highly sought-after projects include fireplaces or fire pits surrounded by seating. Before breaking ground on a hardscape project, homeowners can get a feel for what their space will look like through Belgard's design resources. Belgard Design Studio takes a simple sketch with some dimensions and photos and turns it, using design software, into 3D animations and virtual reality experiences to give you a sense of the finished product in your backyard. 4. Improve the exterior
A simple coat of paint can improve a home's appearance quickly. For homes with siding, repaint wood trim, then clean siding and windows to give your house a refresh. Masonry veneers are a great way to update the look of your home to boost curb appeal. Making necessary repairs also gives the impression of a house that's well cared for, which is what homebuyers want to see. 5. Replace doors
Doors endure lots of wear and tear, but also provide the first impression of your home. Replace worn outer and inner doors to enhance the security, energy efficiency and appearance of your house. Garage doors also affect the impression your home makes from the curb, so if you can update them, do it. If not, at least give them a thorough cleaning. 6. Refresh your porch
If your home doesn't have a front porch, consider adding one, as most new homes offer porches. If your porch needs some TLC, this can also impact its value greatly. New paint, safety railings, installing a swing or screening the porch in - anything that enhances the space and makes your home look more welcoming is a plus. Check porches in your neighborhood for ideas or head to Pinterest for more inspiration. 7. Enhance the lighting
Improving outdoor lighting helps make your home look well cared for and improves your security. Using LED lights and motion sensors is an energy-efficient strategy that will impress potential homebuyers while making your home safer. In addition, string lights and built-in lighting - including paver lights, column lights and other landscape lighting - also make your outdoor living spaces cozy and inviting for your family as well as prospective buyers. Improving your home's market value and making it a pleasure to come home to every night is achievable, one project at a time. Prioritize what your home needs most and you'll start seeing the impact of your efforts right away. For more ideas to enhance your outdoor living space, visit Belgard.com/CurbAppeal

(BPT) - Outdoor living season means backyard BBQs, yard games and relaxing with a good book or good friends. If you own a wood deck, however, it also means considerable time and money spent on seasonal maintenance and deck repairs. While wood decks are aesthetically pleasing, properly maintaining them requires regular stripping, sanding and staining. The process is labor-intensive, time-consuming, messy and costly - averaging between $540 and $1,050 each time, according to HomeAdvisor.com. Consider this: For the same time and energy you would spend maintaining and repairing those old wood boards, you could replace them with a deck made of structurally superior composite material - and never again have to worry about upkeep. As long as the structural framework of your existing deck is intact and in good condition, you are a candidate for deck resurfacing. 'Resurfacing an aging or decaying wood deck with new composite decking is a doable DIY project that can be completed over the course of a weekend or two with just a little know-how and the help of a few friends,' explains Adam Zambanini, vice president of marketing for Trex Company. 'You get a brand-new deck for a lot less money than starting from scratch - and a lot less hassle through the years.' Designed for maximum durability and minimal maintenance, wood-alternative decking is resistant to fading, staining, scratching and mold and, unlike wood, requires no sanding, staining or sealing. Just an occasional soap-and-water cleaning is all that is needed to retain a 'like-new' appearance and durability for decades. Ready to resurface? Follow these simple steps to a new deck surface that you can spend less time maintaining and more time enjoying: Step 1: Examine the substructure Before removing any boards, check your deck's foundation. Start from the ground up by examining the footings, posts and joists. Pay close attention to the condition of the wood. Soft wood indicates rot and should be replaced before proceeding. If the existing framing and substructure are sound, you're good to go. Tip: To help ensure your substructure lasts as long as your new composite deck boards, use a protective tape, such as TrexProtect, to shield wooden joists and beams from moisture that can lead to rot and the loosening of deck screws and fasteners. Step 2: Remove old deck boards Remove any existing railing and begin prying up the nailed decking boards, leaving the substructure and framing in place. Start from the outside and move toward the house so you have a solid, safe platform from which to work. Step 3: Level it out To ensure a level surface for the new deck boards, make sure the joists are flat and even with one another. If any joists are bowed, you may need to plane or cut them. Step 4: Install new deck boards Begin laying out the new composite boards. Starting near the house, face screw the first board to the frame. Closely follow the instructions for spacing from the manufacturer's installation guide. As you progress, check the spacing between the house and the deck boards to make sure they stay parallel with the house. Correct variations a little at a time over several rows to avoid large, tapered gaps. Step 5: Complete with railing Measure for each post location, and cut placement holes with a jigsaw. Then, drop the posts into the holes and bolt them securely. Slide sleeves over the posts and assemble railing and balusters per the installation guide. Finish off by adding your choice of decorative elements, such as post caps and top rail caps. For more guidance on deck resurfacing, watch a step-by-step video from Trex at https://youtu.be/ZI8CYwI0MYM.

(BPT) - The real estate market is heating up, and if you're planning to sell your home in the future, you want it to sell quickly and for as high of a price as possible. By taking proactive action now, you can make a few strategic home improvements that can help you achieve both your goals. To boost your home sale and reduce time on the market, consider these top home improvement ideas to catch buyers' eyes. Garage door: When potential buyers visit your property, you want to make the best first impression before they even come inside. That's why it's wise to replace your garage door. It takes up a significant amount of exterior visual real estate and helps define the home's aesthetic. What's more, according to Remodeling Magazine's 2018 Cost vs. Value report, a garage door replacement recoups an astonishing 98.3 percent of cost upon resale. Bathroom addition: More bathrooms typically mean you can charge more for your home. Kitchen upgrade: A complete kitchen remodel is costly, but a few smart upgrades can make the heart of the home shine. Consider replacing worn laminate countertops and updating hardware for a fresh look. For extra 'wow factor,' add an island . Fresh flooring: You don't have to replace all your flooring, but focal areas like the kitchen or family room, as well as areas that tend to experience higher wear, such as the entryway, can benefit from a new floor. Forget expensive tile or hardwood replacements. Vinyl wood flooring looks incredibly similar to real wood, and modern luxury vinyl tile mimics the gorgeous look of stone or ceramic tile but is more durable and affordable. You may be able to simply add new flooring on top of old, making it a much easier DIY project. Neutral paint: Don't ever underestimate the value of a fresh coat of paint throughout your home. Walls get dingy and colors get dated. Repaint rooms with modern, neutral tones. As much as you love plum, buyers may not, so stick with whites, creams and grays whenever possible. Visit your local paint store and you'll see there are many neutral options to add excitement to interior spaces. Don't forget the ceiling, too! A fresh coat of white can do wonders. These five projects will enhance your listing so you get more attention and book more showings. You may even start a bidding war with enough interest, and that can really drive up the price. Take action now and these home improvement efforts are sure to make an impact.

(BPT) - Owning your own home is a life accomplishment for many adults, and keeping it looking sharp and adding your personal touches brings a sense of pride. It seems there are always things you want to improve, so don't let a limited budget or lack of know-how hold you back from dreaming. There are plenty of ways to enhance a room or remake a space without breaking the bank, along with many resources out there to show you how. With a little research and a weekend or two of elbow grease, your budget and your abilities are more than enough to take on many smaller jobs. When you're done, the satisfaction you'll experience from a successful DIY project will give you plenty of motivation to start the next improvement. Before you launch your plans, here are a few tips for an affordable and stress-free DIY project. 1. Map it out Prioritize the projects you'd like to tackle first. Whether it's painting the living room, replacing the kitchen countertops or retiling the bathroom, the project will be much less stressful when you have solid planning behind it. Set a realistic schedule, gather your supplies in advance and be sure and review instructions before starting. If you're making an improvement for a special event or out-of-town guests, give yourself ample time to complete it so you're not adding stress to the project. 2. Find creative ways to cover costs Make a budget for your project that includes a list of expected expenses and add padding for the unexpected. Assess what funds you have available, and if you don't have enough, consider a savings plan so you can avoid paying interest and fees on a credit card. To speed up your progress, grab your change jar and bring it to a Coinstar kiosk where you can select cash or a no-fee eGift card from retailers including Amazon.com, Lowe's, Home Depot and Sears. You'll be surprised at how quickly a jar of coins can add up to purchase needed supplies on your list. 3. Learn through many available resources If you're like most DIYers, you'll find online videos and home improvement websites are great sources for how-to tips and information. And if you're a novice, take advantage of the vast information that's available at your fingertips and review several sources so that you completely understand the process and are confident before your dive in. Don't be afraid to tap friends, family members and neighbors who have completed similar projects, as they can be good advisers and may even offer to help! You can reward them by inviting them back to your newly improved home to just relax and enjoy. 4. Keep it light Doing DIY projects with a spouse or a family member can be fun if you take the right approach. When working alongside each other, it's all too easy to take a frustration out on each other. Two-thirds of those surveyed in a recent Coinstar survey said they do projects with others in their household, and 65 percent said they got into a disagreement during a home DIY project. Minimize tension by creating clear expectations and give everyone a defined role. Take needed breaks and acknowledge accomplishments along the way. Keeping things calm and positive ensures everyone feels good about their contribution. 5. Permission to make mistakes Most homeowners are not professional contractors and projects can and do go wrong. If you make a mistake, do your best to correct it and don't beat yourself up. Focus on the fact you're making progress in getting your house just the way you want it and saving money by doing it yourself. Next time, you will be that much more proficient! According to the survey, 90 percent of homeowners say they feel a sense of pride after completing a DIY project. Pat yourself on the back and plan your next DIY endeavor! To learn more about how Coinstar can help you find the cash you need for your next DIY project, visit coinstar.com.

The process of buying a new home is stressful, even if you've already done it before. Looking at properties, researching areas, processing paperwork, etc., can all take a toll on your schedule and daily life. With all this going on, the last thing you should have to worry about is saving money when it actually comes time to buy the property. Use the following five tips for saving money on your next new home:   Always Use a Real Estate Agent One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to purchase a home without a licensed real estate agent. Not only can an agent help with paperwork, but they'll also know how to negotiate the price using fair market value, the actual condition of the home and other various factors. Try Not to Pay PMI Also known as private mortgage insurance, this is tacked on to your monthly payment if you buy a home with less than 20 percent. Some lenders will still offer standard mortgages with smaller down payments, but they're increasingly hard to find. Save money by trying to save at least 20 percent for your home, or purchase a home that fits into a slightly smaller budget. Reduce Your Property Taxes This is a very popular and often effective way to save money on a new home. If you think the assessed value of your home is too high, ask for a review. A different assessor will come out, perform an inspection and make any adjustments, if necessary. While this doesn't always work, it's worth a shot if you want to save as much money as possible. Find Better Insurance Rates Similar to auto insurance and health insurance, monthly property insurance premiums vary depending on the company that underwrites the policy. Spend time shopping around to different insurance companies until you find the one that offers an affordable rate that sufficiently covers your property. Make Additional Monthly Payments If your mortgage payment is low enough where you can consistently pay more each month, doing so could save you tens of thousands of dollars over the course of the mortgage and reduce the number of months you'll need to pay. There are a variety of methods consumers can use to save money, both upfront and during the course of their mortgage. To avoid financial issues in the future, always purchase a home that is within your set price range and never buy a home with zero money down; doing so will make it much harder for you to borrow against the property in the future. This post was originally published on RISMedia's blog, Housecall. Check the blog daily for top real estate tips and trends

(BPT) - Purchasing a new home is an exciting and sometimes stressful experience. Whether you're moving to a new town or looking to upgrade from your current space, finding a new home requires patience, expert guidance and a keen eye for detail. As a home seeker, the first thing you'll evaluate is location, space and amenities such as fireplaces, granite countertops, a finished basement, deck or a swimming pool. The next thing to consider is cost, shopping for the right mortgage, making your down payment and negotiating other fees. Finally, you look at the various features inside and outside the home that make it safe, convenient and energy-efficient for you and your family. To ease some of the stress of house hunting, here are a few top considerations to keep in mind throughout the process: Always start with an impartial home inspection. Home inspections can help potential buyers uncover the structural issues of a home, while also examining if electrical wiring and devices are up to code, plumbing lines are performing correctly and HVAC systems are running efficiently. In order to locate and properly evaluate any concerns, it is crucial that you research the best impartial home inspector in the area, be present during the inspection itself and thoroughly read the inspection report on the property. Sometimes issues identified are quick fixes which you can address yourself, such as replacing older electrical switches and outlets. You can evaluate if you're able to make these quick updates safely yourself by viewing sample installations at https://www.youtube.com/leviton. However, other conditions may require more labor-intensive repairs and outside contracting, which should be included in your budget or negotiated with the seller before purchasing your new place. Determine any value-add features you want that are already in the home. According to the National Association of Realtors' 2015 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, a home buyer's expected tenure in a newly purchased home is approximately 14 years on average. While it's not uncommon to change things the longer you live there, it's equally important to note the features that certain properties already have during your initial home search to avoid costly replacements and construction projects down the line. As you're searching, keep the long-term in mind and consider what you may want in the future. Be sure to ask a lot of questions during each walk-through. For example, are there enough bathrooms to meet your family's needs? Will your family grow? Does the kitchen have a gas line for appliances? Is there a properly-installed and updated heating and cooling system? Does the master bedroom have a walk-in closet? What amenities will make you and your family feel safe, happy and comfortable from the moment you walk in the door and for years to come? What measures have been taken to make the home safe? It's important to consider a home's safety features, especially if you're moving into a new residence with children or pets. So, what classifies as a safety amenity? Depending on the home and location, safety features should include alarm systems, working door and window locks, working carbon monoxide detectors, smoke alarms and Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) Outlets. Especially when it comes to electrical outlets in areas like the living room and bedroom, products like Leviton's SmartlockPro AFCI Outlet should be installed. These AFCI outlets prevent electrical fires in the home and are tamper-resistant, providing added safety for all members of the family. To see what other electrical safety and home products you should look for or look to install in your potential home, check out https://ift.tt/2cKisJY.

(BPT) - Call this the age of personalization. You can customize practically anything these days, from the kind of information you get on your favorite news feed and the offers you receive from your bank to the icons, background and sounds on your smartphone. Personalizing something really makes it feel more 'yours,' so of course you want to be able to do that to your first home. If you're shopping for your first home, you may already know what you want to do to personalize it. However, you may not be aware that certain features can make a home easier and more affordable to customize after you've moved in. For example, if you think you'll need room to expand for a growing family down the road, it will be cheaper in the long run to buy a home with an attic or basement that you can finish into living space than to try and build on an addition from scratch. As you're shopping for your first home, keep in mind these elements that will help make it easier and financially feasible for you to make your new home truly your own: Architectural bones that are right for you What's your personal style? Do you favor a mid-century modern look? Art-deco? Craftsman? Colonial? It's important to choose a home in a basic architectural style you love, because while you can affordably change the color and landscaping, it's much harder to create a whole new look. Look for exterior features that play up the home's architectural style, and then think of ways to customize them down the road. For example, simply painting the gingerbread trim on your Victorian style home in a different color can celebrate the look you love while making it your own. Energy efficient lifestyle features Green considerations and energy efficiency are top priorities for many of today's first-time homebuyers, so it's important to look for a home that has conservation-minded features like a high-efficiency water heater or low-flow showerheads. The best eco-conscious home features, however, will also enhance your lifestyle. Upgrades like Energy Star-qualified, solar-powered, fresh-air skylights like those from Velux America provide natural light plus passive ventilation, helping to cut energy costs while reducing dependency on artificial light and ventilation sources. If you buy a home that already has skylights, you can personalize them by adding energy efficient blinds in designer colors and patterns. And if you add solar powered skylights to the home, it's easy and cost-effective since there is no cost for electrical work to operate the units. Solar skylights, blinds and installation costs are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit. A programmable touchpad remote allows you to adjust the amount of light entering through the venting skylights and also to adjust the blinds with the touch of button. The skylights close automatically in case of rain. You can also easily and affordably add more natural light to interior spaces like hallways and closets with Sun Tunnel tubular skylights, which can be installed by a handy DIYer in a few hours. Visit www.whyskylights.com to learn more. Room to grow More Americans are living in multi-generational homes. Whether you plan to grow your family by having kids, moving your aging parents in with you, or adopting as many pets as you can fit in your house, you may find you'll need more space in your new home before you're ready to move out of it. Homes that have unfinished basements and/or attics will be easier to customize for your growing space needs. Converting an attic or basement into living space can cost much less than having an addition built on your home and attics are perfect spaces to easily add light and fresh air with skylights or roof windows. A price that lets you add value Popular renovation and fixer-upper shows make it easy to understand the idea of finding a home at a price that will allow you to add value. A home that needs some renovation and upgrading will likely cost less than a comparable new home, but it also affords you the opportunity to extensively personalize your space. If you buy a home that needs work for a price well under your budget limit, you can use the extra money to invest in renovations that put your personal stamp on your home. In addition to customization for additional enjoyment, those upgrades will also allow you to instantly add value to your home.

(BPT) - Why do you want to remodel your kitchen? Sure, the cabinets date back to the disco era, but the doors and hardware all still work. Your stove may be older than your college senior, but you can still bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies in it. So why invest the time, money and emotional capital in renovating the most-used room in your home? If you're like most Americans, you'll undertake a kitchen renovation to make your life easier and happier. In a Houzz survey, 79 percent of homeowners who planned a kitchen project said they were doing it to improve the look and feel of the room, while 59 percent wanted to improve functions. The popular home improvement website Homeadvisor says that people incur, on average, $11,300 to $28,900 on kitchen remodeling projects. However, you can improve the look and functionality of your kitchen with a much lower investment. Here are three simple changes you can accomplish in a single weekend with a modest outlay of cash: * Upgrade your faucet to touchless A kitchen faucet is a critical tool for numerous kitchen tasks, while also having a major impact on the overall look of your kitchen. A new faucet can improve the beauty and functionality of your kitchen, and touchless options fit the bill perfectly. Hands-free kitchen faucets are easy to use for kids, seniors and people with mobility issues. Plus, they allow you to operate your faucet without spreading germs — even if your hands are messy from food preparation and cooking. Touchless faucets like the sleek, high-arc Beale Selectronic Kitchen Faucet from American Standard offer advanced flexibility to make common kitchen tasks feel effortless. You can operate this electronic faucet with a wave of your hand, or switch to manual operation by simply sliding an innovative movable door to cover the sensor when guests are visiting. Two spray patterns, plus a convenient pause feature, provide optimum functionality for casual users and home chefs alike. * Hush those cabinets and drawers Anyone who has been woken from a deep sleep by a drawer or cabinet door closing loudly in the kitchen will appreciate the idea of a device that prevents slamming. When the quiet-close feature first appeared on the scene, it was considered a luxury upgrade, and one generally available only by installing completely new cabinets and drawers. Now, a variety of kits are available to turn ordinary cabinets and drawers into ones that close softly and quietly. Enhancing kitchen drawers to soft-close is as simple as emptying them, sliding them out, and replacing the standard slide hardware with a quiet-close apparatus. Silencing kitchen cabinets is even easier to do — simply add sound-dampening hardware, which is available at any home improvement store. * Organize your storage Perhaps your kitchen storage space is simple, with a few basic cabinets on hand. Or it may be substantial, encompassing numerous cabinets, drawers and even a generous pantry. No matter the size, cluttered kitchen storage areas can seem inadequate and inefficient, especially when they spill over onto counters, where you end up storing things that don't fit into drawers and cabinets. Fortunately, a variety of budget-friendly kitchen organization solutions are available for homeowners. From cabinet racks that hold dishes, pots and pans, lids and bakeware to over-the-door racks to contain spices, soup cans, and more in your pantry. Make finding things in cabinets easier by installing pull-out racks. Under-shelf baskets allow you to use every available inch of space in cabinets, and are great for storing dish towels, place mats, measuring cups and more. Most of these organizers require little or no expertise to install. No need for a major renovation budget to achieve maximum impact with kitchen upgrades. By focusing on key areas like the faucets, cabinets and storage, you can greatly improve the look and function of a kitchen with a modest investment of time and money.

(BPT) - Finally! The economy is improving, interest rates are low and many consumers now find themselves in a great position financially to become a first-time homeowner. There's a small problem though for some locations around the country — the booming real estate market is resulting in rising home prices and increased competition for the most desirable properties. The S&P/Case–Shiller national home-price index recently estimated that 2016 prices are within four percent of the peak in 2006. In some areas, low inventories around the country are making the situation even more challenging. These conditions are introducing first-time buyers to common challenges and frustrations while searching for their dream home. "Don't get discouraged," says Travis Peace, executive director of mortgage at USAA Bank. "Buying a home requires some fortitude and the process intimidates many —not just those doing it for the first time." As a result, Peace says it's easy to concentrate too much on home buying "can'ts" rather than "can-dos," and he offers this advice on how to overcome some common barriers. "I Can't" No. 1: I can't figure out the home-buying process. Peace notes that it's essential to do research and to be equipped with basic information, but also be willing to ask for help when needed. For example, an experienced real estate agent can keep a buyer apprised of everything from area sales trends to the latest changes in state and federal laws that could impact a mortgage application. "This is where experienced, licensed professionals can help," Peace says. "Real estate agents can be an advocate for the buyer throughout the entire process." "I Can't" No. 2: I can't find the perfect home for my family. Finding the perfect home may not be realistic, but shoppers can find the right home. Personal situations will dictate buyers' ability to wait for a home in a particular neighborhood or design style to come on the market, but not everything has to be left to chance. Peace says the key is to set realistic expectations and not fixate on negatives that can be changed. "Whether it's the number of bedrooms or distance to work or school, it's alright to have some non-negotiables. However, buyers should be willing to be flexible on things that can be relatively easy to change, like paint colors or landscaping." "I Can't" No. 3: I can't afford a 20 percent down payment. Putting 20 percent down on a home has become more of a guideline than a rule. Today, not being able to put 20 percent down does not mean buying a home is out of reach. Peace notes that depending on a buyer's financial situation, there may be a responsible way to get into your new home without putting 20 percent down. Government-sponsored loan programs from the Federal Housing Authority, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide loan options that require down payments as low as three percent. Veterans Affairs (VA) loans don't require any down payment. While those programs are often great options for consumers who qualify, Peace notes that buyers should keep an eye on their potential total monthly payment. "Some of these loans include fees and private mortgage insurance (PMI) that could significantly impact your overall cost," Peace says. Even private lenders are offering more competitive loan options. For example, USAA Bank's Conventional 97 loan allows borrowers to acquire a mortgage with only three percent down and the bank pays the PMI costs. Scott McEniry, a USAA member, recently moved into his new home with the help of the Conventional 97 loan. "It felt like a lifeline had been thrown to me as suddenly a house purchase was within reach again," McEniry says. Whether a house-hunting novice or seasoned expert, Peace underscores that being informed, getting the right help and having a healthy dose of determination are the best ways to turn a dream home into a reality.

(BPT) - Smart homes make life easier and more convenient. Who wouldn't love being able to control lighting, entertainment and temperature from their couch — or from anywhere for that matter? Whether you're at work or on vacation, smart devices alert you to what's going on at home and help you stay connected and protected. "Since inventing the world's first residential smoke alarm, First Alert has been at the forefront of advancement in home safety technology," says Tom Russo, president of First Alert. "Our Onelink portfolio of smart products goes beyond traditional perceptions of safety products and ushers in a new era of interconnectivity between a home's comfort level and people's safety and lifestyle preferences." According to the experts at First Alert, the following are just a few of the many benefits of giving your home a "smart" makeover: Safety and security Having the ability to monitor your home from wherever you are is one of the biggest benefits of a smart home. Devices that deliver notifications about everything from intruders to water leaks help homeowners react quickly and avoid major disasters. For families with children, smart devices can provide parents with added peace of mind. You can safeguard doors and drawers, such as the liquor cabinet or gate to the pool, with connected contact sensors. With smart locks and cameras, you'll know when your kids get home from school, and can ensure their safety when the doorbell rings with mobile access to live video. There are even smart safes with motion detecting technology and access notification that are ideal for keeping weapons and medications safely locked away. Convenience and customization Convenience is one of the most common reasons people purchase smart devices. These high-tech products streamline common tasks by giving users remote access to everything from heating and cooling systems to multimedia devices, kitchen appliances, security features and even a forgotten garage door. You have the ability to program devices to your family's specific needs and preferences, and the flexibility to choose which features to integrate into your smart system to create a connected home custom designed to cater to your specific lifestyle. Ease and expansion Unlike their complicated predecessors, many of today's smart home products can be easily installed, and you certainly don't need to buy everything all at one time. One of the best places to start building a smart home system is with essential devices like a thermostat, or smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. To make things as simple as possible, the Onelink by First Alert Wi-Fi Smoke + CO Alarm is designed to work with most existing interconnected hardwired alarms, so users do not have to replace all of their existing alarms at once. The Apple HomeKit platform makes it easy to add new alarms and other devices to expand a smart home system. The alarm can be easily tested or silenced using the Onelink Home app on an iOS device (iPhone, iPad and iPod touch) or Apple Watch. In the case of an emergency, the Onelink Alarm will instantly alert the homeowner via a notification on their mobile device, allowing the user to assess the situation and alert authorities if needed, or silence the device in the event of a false alarm, like burnt toast. Energy efficiency and cost savings A major part of what makes "smart" devices smart is their ability to save users money through improved energy efficiency. Lights can be programmed to turn off automatically when no one is in a room. A thermostat can be set to let the indoor temperature drop during the day before returning it to a more comfortable level just before residents arrive home in the evening. You can even track energy usage and expenditures to determine ways in which your family can reduce consumption. In addition to all of these benefits, automated home products are fun to use. Whether setting lighting and music from your iPhone for a surprise romantic evening at home, or keeping an eye on your house from a tablet while lounging on an exotic beach, you'll find home automation easy and enjoyable. For more information about Onelink by First Alert, visit https://ift.tt/1F54vg0, and for more information about Apple HomeKit, visit https://ift.tt/1NF8BnT.

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