9 Steps to Help Decide on Solar Energy for a Home

Provide value-add for your green-minded clients and walk them through what they need to consider before installing solar panels.

3 Takeaways

  • A homeowner should make their home as energy efficient as possible before investing in a solar system so they don’t pay for a bigger system than they need.
  • A solar system is an investment with a typical payback period of eight years.
  • Your clients should know the warranty terms of a solar system and who will maintain the system when there are inevitable issues.

With federal tax breaks for solar panels ending in 2021, this could be time for you or your clients’ home energy independence. When it comes to deciding if an investment in solar will pay off, the homeowner has to do research and make smart decisions for their home and financial situation. Here are some steps to take along the way.

Step 1: Figure out the home’s solar potential.

To get an initial idea about a roof’s solar potential, you can enter the address at Google Project Sunroof or check out solar resource maps from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. One common misconception is that solar panels only pay off in hot, sunny parts of the country. To test this idea, a homeowner should look around their yard. Are there trees and other green plants? Plants use the sun’s energy to grow their leaves, so they are a good indicator of solar energy in your yard. Solar panels actually perform more efficiently in cooler temperatures.

Step 2: See what the home’s utility bills tell you.

Are the annual utility bills high enough that a solar investment will pay off in a reasonable period of time? For most homeowners, a utility bill tells you one basic fact: monthly usage. But a high monthly electricity bill can be caused by many factors ranging from old appliances to inefficient HVAC systems to poor insulation. Make the home as energy efficient as possible before buying a solar system so you’re not paying for a bigger system than you need.

Step 3: Plan ahead.

Will your clients be living in the same house in the next decade? A solar system is a big investment with a typical payback period of eight years. If the homeowner plans to move in the next couple years, buying or leasing solar panels could be a money-losing decision. If they decide to move after leasing, they’ll need to buy the system, persuade the new homeowner to assume the lease, or pay the provider to terminate the lease altogether.

Step 4: Establish an accurate baseline.

A home energy monitor like Sense will track energy consumption both before and after solar is installed. Get a couple months of data and use that information to calculate how much of the current bill can be offset with solar and how big an installation is needed. A homeowner in Oklahoma used Sense Solar to track down her energy hogs before installing her solar panels and it paid off in significant savings (see her story here).

Step 5: Consider financing and payoffs.

Solar panels are an investment that needs to pay off financially. A homeowner should take her or his time analyzing whether buying or leasing will be most advantageous. If you or your client decides to buy, most solar providers and websites like EnergySage will factor the 26% federal incentive into their estimates as well as any state incentives. Together, those incentives have a big impact on the final cost. If the homeowner needs financing, they should talk with their bank, mortgage provider, or a lender like Dividend Finance, which offers solar-specific loans and resources. A homeowner should do the math to figure out how much they’ll need to invest and when that investment will pay off.

Loan and lease options are attractive because they can be cash-flow positive as soon as the solar panels are installed without a cash outlay in advance, but with a lease, customers don’t benefit from the federal tax credit. But a homeowner shouldn’t view leasing as a short-term decision since most loans and lease agreements are for longer than 10 years. The monthly lease prices of a solar system in the U.S. vary depending on how much energy a house requires and can produce. The higher the electricity bill, the higher the lease cost will be since it will demand higher solar productivity. To get an idea, Tesla calculates solar panel rentals based on the home’s address and electricity bill.

Step 6: Decide on storage or no storage.

Energy storage is still a premium option, but prices are dropping significantly every year. To help a homeowner decide if they need storage, consider two factors: when they use electricity and how frequently it’s interrupted. In areas with rolling brownouts or downed power lines from storms, solar storage can get you through without an interruption and batteries can store solar energy to use at night or on cloudy days. Do the math to figure out the payoff for storage.

Step 7: Make a short list of providers.

Once a homeowner has decided to install solar panels, he or she should research providers online and check their reviews. Identify three or four companies that look promising and ask for online quotes based on remote solar audits, then, narrow the candidates down to two or three installers. Their construction experts will visit the house to measure and assess the roof, conduct a shade analysis, and check to see if the electrical panel will need to be upgraded. Their final quote will reflect all those factors. When evaluating proposals, be sure it includes any costs to update the roof or remove trees that create shade.

Step 8: Ask more questions before deciding on a provider.

Once a homeowner has two or three final estimates based on in-person home assessments, they should ask the providers about how they’ll handle the installation. For instance, does the provider design and install the systems themselves, or do they subcontract to local companies? If the provider uses subcontractors, are the subcontractors licensed? Make sure the contractor can explain the components of the solar system they’re installing.

The homeowner should ask if they’ll file the necessary permits, including the electrical permit, building permit, and the dedicated solar photovoltaic permit. A reputable provider will help the homeowner file for rebates and tax incentives or do it for them. Make sure your clients know the warranty term and who will maintain the system when there are inevitable issues. And, finally, if the homeowner is leasing, they should ask the provider to disclose what the system is worth so they’ll have that information if they decide to sell their home.

Step 9: Patience required.

The homeowner should evaluate all the proposals to make sure they correctly address the home’s energy needs, then choose a provider they can trust. Once a contract is signed with a provider, the installation and permitting process can be surprisingly long as contractors file all the paperwork on behalf of the homeowner with the utility and municipality. It can take a few weeks to get permits sorted out before the installer can get the solar panels on the roof.

When the system is installed and connected to the utility, it will start producing energy whenever the sun shines. The homeowner will save money on their utility bill while relying on clean energy that’s good for the planet.

Most, Least Desirable Home Features Right Now

Most, Least Desirable Home Features Right Now

February 11, 2021

 

A quarter of Americans say the pandemic has changed their housing preferences, according to a newly released survey of about 3,000 recent home shoppers and buyers conducted last summer by the National Association of Home Builders. Growing demand for more square footage—particularly popular among those who work remotely—as well as home offices, touchless home entry, mudrooms, and flexible space are among the shifts in preferences.

Overall, 80% or more of survey respondents in NAHB’s 2021 What Home Buyers Really Want report indicate the following are the home features they consider most essential:

  1. Laundry room: 87%
  2. Exterior lighting: 87%
  3. Ceiling fan: 83%
  4. Energy Star-rated windows: 83%
  5. Patio: 82%
  6. Double kitchen sink (side-by-side): 81%
  7. Walk-in pantry: 81%
  8. Front porch: 81%
  9. Energy Star-rated appliances: 81%
  10. Hardwood flooring (in the living room on the main level): 81%
  11. Full bath on the main level: 80%
  12. Energy-efficient lighting: 80%

The survey also broke down desirable features by room. The five kitchen features survey respondents identified as most desirable are:

  1. Double sink (side-by-side)
  2. Walk-in pantry
  3. Table space for eating
  4. Central island
  5. Water filtration

The most desirable outdoor features are:

  1. Exterior lighting
  2. Patio
  3. Front porch
  4. Rear porch
  5. Deck

The most desirable accessibility features are:

  1. Full bath on the main level
  2. Doorways at least three feet wide
  3. Hallways at least four feet wide
  4. Non-slip floor surfaces
  5. An entrance without steps

The highest-ranked technology features buyers want:

  1. Programmable thermostat
  2. Security cameras
  3. Video doorbell
  4. Wireless home security system
  5. Multi-zone HVAC system

Meanwhile, home buyers also revealed features they consider to be turn-offs. Forty percent or more of survey respondents rated the following items as least desirable in a home or development complex:

  1. Elevator: 56%
  2. Glass walls: 54%
  3. Daycare center in the development: 50%
  4. Wine cellar: 48%
  5. Pet washing station: 47%
  6. Roof partially or completely covered by plants: 46%
  7. Golf course: 46%
  8. In-law suite: 42%
  9. Cork flooring (in the living room on the main level): 41%
  10. Dual toilets in primary bath: 40%

Looking to invest in your own home? Here are 10 home renovations with the best ROI

Looking to invest in your own home? Here are 10 home renovations with the best ROI.
Maurie Backman
The Motley Fool

Whenever you sink money into improving a home, there’s an opportunity cost. Spend $20,000 on a bathroom remodel, and that’s $20,000 you won’t have available for another project. As such, it’s important that you understand which home renovations offer the best return on investment. This holds true whether you’re flipping houses for a living or are trying to improve the property you live in to sell eventually. With that in mind, here’s a list of the home improvements with the best return on investment per Remodeling Magazine’s2020 Cost vs. Value report.

1. Manufactured stone veneer
When it comes to attracting buyers, curb appeal is huge. And the right exterior could really make a difference in sale price, too. Manufactured stone veneer is a great choice in that regard. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s fake stone that’s designed to look like natural stone, which can be prohibitively expensive. In fact, the average cost to put up manufactured stone veneer is $9,357, $8,943 iof which you can expect to get back in resale value. That means you stand to recoup 95.6% of your outlay.

2. Garage door replacement
New garage doors can add to your home’s aesthetic appeal and functionality. After all, no buyer wants to struggle with outdated garage doors whose mechanism fails every third try. The average cost to replace a set of garage doors is $3,695, $3,491 of which you should recoup at resale. That’s a cost recovery of 94.5%

3. Minor mid-range kitchen remodel
If there’s one room in the typical home that tends to see a lot of usage, it’s the kitchen. But believe it or not, you don’t have to go all out on a kitchen remodel to make a big difference when it comes to resale value. A minor, mid-range kitchen remodel will cost you $23,452 on average, $18,206 of which you can expect to get back in resale value. That means you’ll recoup 77.6% of your investment.

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What does a minor kitchen remodel entail? Generally, it means refacing or replacing cabinets, swapping out countertops, and putting in new fixtures, like your sink faucet. At a price point of $23,452, you may or may not have the budget to replace some or all of your appliances, too.

4. Fiber cement siding
We talked earlier about curb appeal, and fresh, clean-looking siding can make a difference in that regard. Fiber cement siding is siding that’s designed to look like wood, only it’s not – which means it’s not apt to warp and rot the same way authentic wood generally will over time. Fiber cement siding also has a more natural look than vinyl, making it a popular choice among homeowners and buyers. The average cost to install fiber cement siding is $17,008, $13,195of which you’ll add on average in resale value. All told, that means getting 77.6% of your investment back.

5. Vinyl siding
If your siding has seen better days, replacing it could improve your home’s value substantially. And in that regard, vinyl siding is an easy, cost-effective choice. Vinyl siding is low maintenance and comes in a variety of colors. The average cost to install it is $14,359, $10,731 of which you can expect to add in resale value. That means you’ll recoup 74.7% of your cost.

6. Vinyl window replacement
New windows can do a number of things for a home. Not only can they add aesthetic value, but they can also help improve a home’s energy efficiency, thereby lowering heating and cooling costs. The average cost to replace a home’s vinyl windows is $17,641, and the average cost recouped is $12,761. That means you’re looking at getting 72.3% of your investment back at resale.

7. Wooden deck addition
Decks are a great thing because they make it possible to maximize outdoor space. In fact, you’ll notice that when you install a deck, it’ll generally add to a property’s assessed value and property tax basis because it’s considered “new living space.” The average cost to install a wooden deck is $14,360, and that will generally add $10,355 of resale value to a home. That means your cost recovery is 72.1%

8. Wooden window replacement
Wooden windows cost a lot more money than vinyl, but some homeowners (and buyers) prefer the more natural look of wood. The average cost for this project is $21,495, and from there, you can expect to add $14,804 in resale value. That means you’re looking at recouping 68.9% of your cost.

9. Steel door replacement
A steel door is a great security feature for a home to have. Steel also does a good job of blocking out the elements, thereby helping a home retain cold air in the summer and warm air in the winter. The average cost to install or replace a steel door is $1,881, $1,294 of which you can expect to get back in resale value. That’s a cost recovery of 68.8%

10. Composite deck addition
Like a wooden deck, a composite deck can help homeowners maximize outdoor space. The main difference between composite and wood, however, is initial cost and ongoing maintenance. Composite decking (which is meant to look like wood but isn’t actual wood) costs a lot more, with the average price tag coming in at $19,856. But composite decking is virtually maintenance-free, whereas wood decking is not, so it may hold more buyer appeal. From a resale value perspective, however, you’ll get a little less back with composite decking. The typical job will add $13,257 in resale value to a home, which represents a cost recovery of 66.8%.

Put your money to work
Understanding which home renovations offer the best return on investment can help you maximize the funds available to you. At the same time, it’s also important to know which projects to potentially steer clear of.

An upscale master suite addition, for example, will cost you an average of $282,062, and you’ll only get 51.6% of your investment back, on average. Similarly, a major upscale kitchen remodel will cost an average of $135,547, with an expected cost recovery of 53.9%.

Unless you’re selling a home in a higher-end market, you’re generally better off spending money on mid-range renovations that appeal to a wide range of buyers. And while you don’t want to skimp on the quality of the materials you use, you also don’t have to go to the opposite extreme – for example, buying the most high-end stone you can find for a new set of kitchen countertops.

Either way, always do your research when contemplating home renovations, and also, shop around for quotes if you’re not doing the work yourself. Hiring the right people for the job could result in serious savings, thereby letting you score an even more impressive return on investment.

3 Trends Driving Hyperactivity in the Real Estate Market

REALTOR® Magazine Live
Three for sale signs in a row
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3 Trends Driving Hyperactivity in the Real Estate Market

December 11, 2020

Melissa Dittmann Tracey
Ali Wolf
Ali Wolf
Lawrence Yun
Lawrence Yun
Despite the economic uncertainties continuing to surround the pandemic, one fact has become crystal clear: Americans are ready to buy a new home. Low inventory, bidding wars, and record-low mortgage rates are giving consumers a new sense of FOMO—fear of missing out—and spawning a hot housing market, Ali Wolf, chief economist for real estate analytics company Zonda, said Thursday during the National Association of REALTORS®’ virtual Real Estate Forecast Summit. “To our surprise, the housing market has not only recovered but roared past pre-pandemic levels,” added NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, who presented a consensus real estate forecast based on a survey of 30 leading economists.

For some Americans, soaring home equity and gains in the stock market are padding the financial impact of a pandemic-fueled recession. Pending home sales are up 20% from a year ago, buyer traffic is up 32%, and mortgage applications are up 27%—all indicators that this winter may be the best ever for the housing market, Yun said. Mortgage rates also remain at record lows. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.71% for the week ending Dec. 10, according to Freddie Mac.

NAR Consensus Forecast chart
Sellers, Builders May Ease Inventory Crunch
Inventory remains constrained as buyer demand surges. Potential sellers who are hesitant to list their home during a pandemic may not be aware of the housing market’s strength, said Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com®. Sellers are often buyers, too, and they may not want to face the challenge of finding a home amid low inventory. These realities have limited the number of homes on the market during the pandemic, panelists said.

10 Thriving Markets to Lead Post-Pandemic Rally

Why can’t builders construct more housing to meet demand? Labor shortages and escalating prices for building materials have held many builders back, with 80% saying they had to raise their new-home prices last month due to higher expenses, according to Zonda research. Further, most new-home construction in recent years has occurred near expensive urban cores.

Now that more buyers want to live farther from the city, builders are snatching up land in far suburbs and exurbs, said John Burns, CEO of John Burns Real Estate Consulting. Builder sentiment indexes are running at record highs, Burns said. “Builders have never been more optimistic, so we’ll see more construction—but it’s still going to take a while.”

Suburbs Grow, But Cities Aren’t Dead
While the suburbs are in a growth phase, not all buyers are giving up on city living. “The popularity of the suburbs is real, but [the housing market] is not reflecting a full-fledged urban flight either,” Hale said. “Real estate is booming everywhere. The suburbs have bounced back relatively quicker than the urban areas nationwide.”

The suburbs were growing before the pandemic as millennials started migrating away from cities to form households. That trend has only accelerated, Wolf said. “The work-from-home environment has really fueled the ability for more people to migrate,” he said. “Home has become a focal point” as people hunker down during the pandemic.

Demand from investors also is surging, panelists said. Build-for-rent subdivisions are popping up as investors see a growing appetite from renters for single-family homes. Investor groups also are crowdsourcing funds to buy properties together, and home flippers are reemerging to turn around fixer-uppers for a quick profit, Burns said.

Assistance Programs Boost Affordability
Low mortgage rates can help buyers offset higher home prices, but not when prices are soaring into double-digit annual increases like they are now. First-time buyers are particularly in danger of being priced out of the market. “Affordability is going to be a key challenge in 2021 for first-time buyers,” Hale said.

Wolf added that education on down payment assistance programs will help would-be buyers find a purchase path amid higher prices. One positive sign: 60% of millennials are saving more money this year than last year despite the economic downturn, according to Zonda research. Millennials also say part of their increased savings will go toward a down payment.

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