4 Tips for First Time Buyers

Are you getting ready to buy your first home on Whidbey Island? It can be a pretty exciting experience as you imagine the feeling of being ‘home’ at the end of every day, and building memories for many years to come. It’s also exciting to think about the kind of home you want – and the finishes that appeal to you.

Before you fall in love with every house you see, both online and perhaps in person, here are some issues that many first-time buyers find themselves experiencing, and ways to avoid problems.

Be realistic about your price range
These days it’s easy to find online calculator tools that can help you determine approximately how much house you can afford. Remember, however, that these are only estimates. It can be easy to find yourself falling in love with houses that, in reality, are way out of your price range.

The best bet is to meet with a lender at the very beginning of your search. A lender can help you determine how much you can afford, and how realistic that number is in terms of your other monthly bills and obligations. If they give you a range, consider sticking to the lower end if at all possible. That way, if your life circumstances change (and your budget does too), you’re more likely to still be able to afford your mortgage payments.

Be an informed buyer – and get inspections
In a hot real estate market (i.e. lots of buyers and not a lot of houses for sale), you may think that the only way to compete with other buyers is to buy a house without getting a home inspection. In most cases, that’s a foolish mistake for a first-time buyer to make. Any house with a bit of paint and staging can look great on the surface. But it’s what’s behind the walls, under the sinks, and in the crawl space that really counts. An inspection will give you a good idea of the kinds of things that you can fix in the future when you have time and money, and the kinds of things that you need to have corrected before you sign on the dotted line. Your real estate broker can guide you through the inspection process and help you determine what items must be corrected, and what items are less of an issue.

Expenses – it’s not always just your mortgage
Beyond your mortgage, there will be additional expenses that you’ll be responsible for. You’re going to pay closing costs when your transaction is finalized and you’ll be paying property taxes every year. And depending on the neighborhood you buy in, there could be homeowners dues and extra assessments through the years you’re in your home. Be sure to do your homework and factor in all the costs involved in homeownership.

It’s a big financial decision – trust your judgment
There’s nothing wrong with being nervous about buying your first home – most buyers are plenty nervous. But don’t let that nervousness turn into a revolving door of looking and looking … but never buying. If you’ve done your homework and followed the advice of your lender and real estate broker, you’re very likely making a sound business decision by buying a home. While your first home may not be perfect, or the home you someday dream of owning, it can be a solid investment that – over time – will help build your financial portfolio. Find a house that fits your needs for now, trust your judgment, and join the millions of people who, just like you, at one time were first-time buyers.

Ready to start looking for your first home? Our website has lots of information on homes for sale on Whidbey Island. And when you’re ready to start looking at homes in person – rather than just in photos – you’ll find our Windermere Whidbey Island brokers a terrific resource for finding just the right lender, qualified inspectors, and for helping you navigate the process of buying your very first home.

 

Here’s Your Fall Home Maintenance Checklist:

Fall is an ideal time to tackle maintenance projects both inside and outside. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Gutters top to bottom: Water in the wrong spots can do a lot of damage. Start by ensuring that gutters and downspouts are doing their job. (Don’t attempt this task yourself if you have a two-story house with a steep roof; hire a professional instead.) If your home is surrounded by deciduous trees you may need to clean out your gutters a few times a year, especially in the fall. Check to make sure your gutters are flush with the roof and attached securely, repairing any areas that sag or where the water collects and overflows. Clean out the gutters and downspouts, checking that outlet strainers are in good shape, and are firmly in place. Finally, check that your downspouts direct water away from your house, not straight along the foundation.

If you haven’t already, you may want to consider installing gutter guards. Gutter guards create a barrier so water can get through to your gutters, but debris cannot, limiting gutter buildup (and the time you spend cleaning out your gutters). There are DIY installation kits available or you can always hire a professional to install a gutter guard system.

If you have a sump pump under your house, now is a good time to test it. Run a hose to be sure draining water travels directly to the pump (dig small trenches if needed), and that the pump removes the water efficiently and expels it well away from the foundation. For more information about how sump pumps work go to howstuffworks.com.

Check for roof leaks: The best opportunity to catch leaks is the first heavy rain after a long dry spell, when roofing materials are contracted. Check the underside of the roof, looking for moisture on joints or insulation. Mark any spots that you find and then hire a roofing specialist to repair these leaks. What you don’t want to do is wait for leaks to show up on your ceiling. By then, insulation and sheet rock have been damaged and you could have a mold problem too.

Don’t forget the basement. Check your foundation for cracks, erosion, plants growing inside, broken windows, and gaps in window and door weathering.  Make sure to properly seal any leaks while the weather is nice. This will ensure materials dry properly.

Pest Prevention: Rodents are determined and opportunistic, and they can do tremendous amounts of property damage (and endanger your family’s health). As temperatures cool, take measures to prevent roof rats and other critters from moving in. Branches that touch your house and overhang your roof are convenient on-ramps for invaders, so trip back branches so they’re at least four feet from the house. If you do hear scuttling overhead or discover rodent droppings in your attic, crawl space or basement, take immediate action. The website http://www.thisoldhouse.com has several helpful articles on the topic.

Maintain your heating and cooling systems: Preventative maintenance is especially crucial for your home’s heating and air-conditioning systems. Fall is a smart time to have your systems checked and tuned up if necessary. Don’t wait for extreme temperatures to arrive, when service companies are slammed with emergency calls. Between tune-ups, keeps your system performing optimally by cleaning and/or replacing air filters as needed.

If you have a wood-burning fireplace, a professional inspection and cleaning will help prevent potentially lethal chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Even if you don’t use your fireplace often, always keep a supply of dry firewood or sawdust-composite logs so you have a backup heat source in an emergency.

Insulate & seal: Insulating your home is a cost-efficient investment, whether you’re trying to keep the interior warm in the winter or cool in the summer. Aside from more major improvements like energy-efficient windows and insulation, there are some quick fixes that do-it-yourselfers can tackle. If an exterior door doesn't have a snug seal when closed, replace the weather stripping; self-adhesive foam stripping is much simpler to install than traditional vinyl stripping. If there is a gap under the door (which can happen over time as a house settles), you may need to realign the door and replace the vinyl door bottom and/or door sweep. Air also sneaks inside through electrical outlets and light switches on exterior walls. Dye-cut foam outlet seals placed behind the wall plates are a quick and inexpensive solution.

Looking for more fall maintenance ideas? Or perhaps thinking about buying your first home, or moving up or down in home size? Give us a call, or take a look at the Whidbey Island homes for sale section of our website. Our site includes lots of information on the current market - including all homes for sale on Whidbey Island.

 

We’re in GREAT Company!

Check out the August 2014 edition of Sunset Magazine … Whidbey Island is smack dab in the middle of an article about the West’s most wonderful islands. And we’re in great company – joining other famous and gorgeous islands from Alaska to Hawaii,  and from British Columbia to California.

We happen to be in a section called Your Island Match: For the Epicure (page 59) and our famous and oh-so-delicious Penn Cove mussels are highlighted. But in looking at the other sections, we could easily have landed on nearly every page (it’s hard to compete in the ‘miles of sand’ category):

 

1. For the Thrill Seeker: We’ve got Deception Pass Bridge (180 feet high and nearly a quarter-mile long). Awesome!

2. Own Your Own Island: Well, you can’t actually own Whidbey Island, but our agents can help you find the perfect San Juan island of your very own.

3. For the Loner: Whidbey has gorgeous stretches of countryside where you can be alone with your walking stick, a camera, and majestic views.

4. For the Short-on-Time: We’re just a short ferry ride away from the Seattle side, and Highway 20 across Deception Pass Bridge gets you from B.C. to Whidbey in a couple hours. A day-trip to Whidbey is easy!

The best part of this article is that it highlights the many reasons why island living is so special – in the words of those who love their islands. Living on Whidbey means a quieter, simpler way of life, but with a city twist that keeps this island humming. People want to live here (and visit here!) because, as the article puts it,  ”Islands appeal to the imagination more than any other geographic feature …”

Starting to think island life might be just what you’re looking for? Our website has lots of resources, including the most up-to-date information on Whidbey Island homes for sale. Want to talk to islanders about why we love living on Whidbey? Give us a call and one of our brokers can show you around. If you’re still in the ‘curious’ stage, keep tabs on what’s new through our Windermere Whidbey Island Facebook page.

Having Trouble Staying On Top Of The Clutter?

When a home gets unorganized and cluttered it can feel like an overwhelming task to clean it back up. But with the following tips and storage ideas, you can organize your home—and keep it  that way.

Sort through your stuff

The first step to getting organized is to get rid of clutter and unnecessary things. Start by going through one room or closet at a time, sort everything into three groups: keep, maybe, and toss. Keep items in the “maybe” group in a basket, and then once every few months or so go through it and decide if they are worth keeping. It’s easier to judge if you need to keep something once it has been out of sight for a while. Chances are if you haven’t thought about those items  or used them after a few months, you don’t need them anymore. Items you’ve decided to toss can be recycled, thrown away, donated to charity, or sold in a garage sale or online. Items you've decided to keep should all have a place in your home where they belong. There are a plethora of great storage solutions available to help you organize these items in a way that makes sense for your home.

 

Look for unused spaces

Think of spaces that you aren't making the most of in your home. Chances are there are a lot of hidden areas that you wouldn’t think to store things in. For example: the space next to the refrigerator could be a great pull-out spice rack or canned good storage. In the garage, consider storing things in boxes on the ceiling. Awkward nooks in walls can become desks or shelving units.

 

Vertical Storage

A great way to add more storage space to your home is “storing up”. There is a lot more wall and air space in your home than floor space, so building up, with high shelves or stacking can get things off your floor and organized. Adding extra shelves to your wall or putting baskets on top of existing cabinets or book cases can also create additional storage space.

 

Put things on display

When you store things on display you keep things organized and easy to find, while adding decoration to your home. Wrapping paper, ribbon, and other colorful craft supplies mounted on the wall or in the open can create an attractive, space-efficient crafting/work area. Hanging jewelry on display, in a frame or on the wall, makes getting ready easier, and adds to the decor.

 

Double duty furniture:

Consider buying furniture that doubles as storage. Furniture with storage within it takes up the same amount room as regular furniture, but gives you the ability to store much more. A bed with drawers can house linens, a bench by the mudroom is perfect for shoe storage, and try storing quilts in an ottoman in the living room.

 

Keeping it clean

Once everything in your home has a place, upkeep is not hard work. Just keep on top of everyday messes and clutter and continue sorting things in your home into keep, toss, or maybe categories. Identify where the clutter in your house comes from, and you can better avoid it in the future.

If you're finding that you have optimized your storage and your house is still too small, it may be time for a move up to something larger. Give one of our Windermere Whidbey Island offices a call and we'll be happy to help you look at new home options, and assess the current market opportunities for selling the home you now live in.

Got Documents to Shred? Join us September 13 in Oak Harbor

While you may think that ‘dumpster diving’ is the pastime of our local critter population, you may not realize that it’s also an easy way for thieves to obtain a lot of sensitive information about you, your family, and your financial habits. According to a 2014 CNN Money magazine article, there is a new victim of identity theft every 42 seconds. Although that statistic includes cyber-theft (hackers getting into big business websites), it also includes identity theft by obtaining access through paper documentation.

On Saturday September 13, Shred-It  will be onsite at our Oak Harbor office from 10am-1pm to help you shred sensitive documents that you no longer need, but should never just toss into the garbage can or dumpster. Bring your document boxes – and add in a food donation for Whidbey Island Help House or school supplies for our local kids.

Not sure what to shred or how often? There are lots of resources available, including information on the Washington State Attorney General website. Many documents you need to save long term (Investment, IRA’s etc) and some you need only save for a year or less.

Take a look at the list below and make sure you are correctly disposing of any document that might give a thief information on you.

  • Address labels from junk mail and magazines
  • ATM receipts
  • Bank statements
  • Birth certificate copies
  • Canceled and voided checks
  • Credit and charge card bills, carbon copies, summaries and receipts
  • Credit reports and histories
  • Employee pay stubs
  • Employment records
  • Expired credit and identification cards including driver’s licenses, college IDs, military IDs, employee badges, medical insurance cards, etc.
  • Expired passports and visas
  • Legal documents
  • Insurance documents
  • Investment, stock and property transactions
  • Luggage tags
  • Medical and dental records
  • Papers with a Social Security number
  • Pre-approved credit card applications
  • Receipts with checking account numbers
  • Report cards
  • Resumés or curriculum vitae
  • Signatures (such as those found on leases, contracts, letters)
  • Tax forms
  • Transcripts
  • Travel itineraries
  • Used airline tickets
  • Utility bills (telephone, gas, electric, water, cable TV, Internet)

 

Need more information on our shredding day? You can contact our Oak Harbor or Coupeville Windermere office, or give your Windermere broker a call.

Western Washington I 2014 Second Quarter Market Update

Windermere Real Estate is proud to partner with Gardner Economics on this analysis of the Western Washington real estate market. This report is designed to offer insight into the realities of the housing market. Numbers alone do not always give an accurate picture of local economic conditions; therefore our goal is to provide an explanation of what the statistics mean and how they impact the Western Washington housing economy. We hope that this information may assist you with making an informed real estate decision. For further information about the Whidbey Island Real Estate Market, give us a call and we'll talk about how our local statistics impact our local market.

Regional Economics

The post-recession job recovery continues unabated in Western Washington, with all of the counties contained within this report either exceeding their pre-recession peak or approaching it. Washington State added just shy of 84,700 jobs over the past 12-month period, representing a very respectable annual growth rate of 2.8 percent. In total, all of the counties covered added 64,190 jobs (also a 2.8 percent increase over a year ago). If there was a spring bump, it certainly came in the second quarter, with the area adding 52,180 jobs.

The tri-county area of King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties still dominates in terms of total growth, adding 42,400 jobs in second quarter—an increase of 60,300 jobs compared to a year ago. King County employment is now four percent higher than its pre-recession peak; Snohomish is one percent higher, and Pierce County now matches its 2008 peak employment numbers.

Looking more closely at the county figures, King County (+4.0%) maintains its top position in terms of employment growth; this is followed by Pierce County (+3.5%), and Cowlitz County which continues to outperform with the addition of 800 jobs (+2.2%).

In Western Washington, losses were seen only in Grays Harbor County which shed 180 jobs over the past year. That said, this county added 720 jobs in second quarter indicating a quite substantial turnaround. Employment in Jefferson and Kitsap Counties matched that seen a year ago but, again, both counties added jobs in the quarter.

Turning our attention to unemployment rates in the region, I am not surprised to see all counties showing improvement in total unemployment. This is particularly important because the labor force grew over the past year, albeit modestly. What this means is that the drop in the unemployment rate is a function of job creation and not a slowdown in people looking for work.

When compared to June of 2013, the greatest declines in the unemployment rate were in Cowlitz County where the rate dropped by 3.4 percent to 7.1 percent. This was followed by Grays Harbor County where the rate dropped from 11.8 to 8.5 percent. Unemployment dropped by 3.2 percent in Mason and Lewis Counties. The unemployment rate in counties throughout Western Washington also improved when compared to last quarter.

Thus far in 2014, employment growth has exceeded my expectations; however, the growth is still bifurcated with very solid expansion in the core central Puget Sound area, but not necessarily across the entire state. Because of this, I am maintaining the “B+” grade that I have given the employment situation for the past year.

Regional Real Estate

In my first quarter report, I suggested that I was disappointed with the number of homes for sale and hoped that we would see improvement in inventory levels as we moved further into the spring selling season. Well, I am happy to report that my hopes were met, with a 33 percent increase in housing inventory compared to last quarter—and a 7.7 percent increase over a year ago.

The greatest growth in listings year-over-year was seen in Snohomish County, registering a 36 percent increase in homes for sale. This was followed by Thurston County where the total number of homes for sale was 25 percent higher than a year ago, and Pierce County rounded out the top three with a 21 percent increase. Only three counties reported an annual decrease in listing activity during second quarter. The largest decline was seen in Jefferson County (-13%), while Island and Lewis Counties both dropped by 10 percent.

When comparing first and second quarters of this year, every county reported more homes for sale. The greatest increase was seen in Kittitas County where inventory levels grew by 50 percent. This was followed by Whatcom (+44%), King (+41%), and Thurston (+40%) Counties. The smallest increase was seen in Lewis County at a still respectable 14 percent increase over first quarter of this year.

When we look at sales activity, 29,885 homes sold in the first half of 2014—a modest increase of 1.3 percent over the first half of 2013. However, during second quarter, sales growth followed the rise in listings, reporting a substantial 51.8 percent increase compared to first quarter. In the second quarter, there were over 18,000 home sales—compared to 11,870 last quarter.

Year-to-date, home sales grew the fastest in San Juan County (+69.7%), possibly suggesting that the vacation home market may have recovered. This was followed by Grays Harbor County (+34.5%) and Mason County (+28.1%).

There were four counties where home sales fell compared to the first half of 2013: Clallam County (-2.7%), Whatcom County (-2.4%), King County (-2.3%), and Skagit County (-1.5%). I believe these numbers to be due to the low inventory levels.

As mentioned earlier, when compared to the first quarter of 2014, home sales were solidly higher. This growth was most pronounced in San Juan County where sales were up by a substantial 85 percent. This was followed by King County (+61%), Skagit County (+58%), and Mason County (+54%). The slowest sales growth was seen in Grays Harbor County (+9%).

The average home price in Western Washington in the first half of 2014 was $355,335—up by 4.6 percent over the first half of 2013. As is seen in the chart below, all but four counties saw average sales prices rise compared to a year ago. Price growth has been tapering over the past year, but remains generally positive.

When we look at individual counties, the strongest annual gains were in Lewis County where prices rose by 9.7 percent. There were also significant gains seen in Snohomish County (+7.9%), Island County (+7.3%), King County (+7.2%), and Clallam County (+7%).

Compared to the first quarter of 2014, home prices were also higher in all but one county. The greatest growth was seen in Jefferson County (+14.7%), followed by Mason County (+13.8%) and Cowlitz County (+12%). There were an additional three counties that saw double-digit gains in sale prices. Home prices fell in just one county, and this was the always-volatile San Juan County, where prices for the quarter were down by 3.9 percent.

Even though rising home prices slowed in the second quarter, I am very pleased to see the growth in listing activity. As such, it’s time to up the grade for the housing market to a “B+” from the “B” grade given last quarter.

Conclusions

The economy in our region continues to improve. The ongoing low-interest rate policy of the Federal Reserve has helped fuel a turnaround in the housing market. Even with the increases in mortgage rates last summer, financing costs remain well below historical averages, with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaging 4.2 percent in the second quarter of this year. Rates have dropped through the quarter and I do not expect to see any form of rapid rise through the summer months. That said, I do anticipate that interest rates will start to climb modestly through the balance of this year and into 2015.

Shifting to the new construction housing market, I have a cautiously optimistic view for economic growth in the next few years. With the exception of multifamily rentals, the new home sector remains well below potential, and will likely persist in that state for a couple of years, but continue to doggedly improve. Interestingly, the lack of new home construction bodes well for the resale market, as I expect that we will start to see additional demand coming from new households moving out of rental housing and into homeownership. This will lead to additional demand for single-family homes.

The housing market is starting to get more balanced, thanks to slowing price growth combined with somewhat greater choices for buyers. That said, we still have a long way to go. To give you some perspective, there were 33,258 homes for sale in Western Washington in June of 2009, and in June of 2014, there were just 20,670!

I expect that the summer will continue to be good to us with higher levels of inventory leading to further increases in sales activity. Mortgage lending has started, at long last, to become modestly easier, which will also do its part to add to the continued improvement of the housing market and the overall economy.

About Matthew Gardner

Mr. Gardner is a land use economist and principal with Gardner Economics and is considered by many to be one of the foremost real estate analysts in the Pacific Northwest.

In addition to managing his consulting practice, Mr. Gardner chairs the Board of Trustees at the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington; sits on the Urban Land Institutes Technical Assistance Panel; is an Advisory Board Member for the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington; and is the Editor of the Washington State University’s Central Puget Sound Real Estate Research Report.

He is also the retained economist for the Master Builders Association of King & Snohomish Counties. He has twenty-five years of professional experience in the U.K. and U.S.

He has appeared on CNN, NBC and NPR news services to discuss real estate issues, and is regularly cited in the Wall Street Journal and all local media.

 

New Listings Via Our Facebook Page

Did you know that along with our website’s daily Multiple Listing Service (MLS) updates on homes for sale on Whidbey Island, you can also see all of our new listings on our Windermere Whidbey Facebook page?

When you become a fan of our page, you’ll see all of our new listings in your news feed – click on the link and you’ll have access to the photo gallery and contact information for the listing broker. From there you can also access additional information on the listing, and even forward the listing to friends and family that might also like to see the home.

Ready to talk to a broker about helping you sell your home or find a new home? Give us a call today! The market’s hot on Whidbey and we’d love to work with you.

 

Three Mortgage Tips for Home Buyers

The vast majority of today’s home buyers will need help financing their purchase. If you’re one of them, here are several tips that will help you obtain the right mortgage for you.

Know your credit score

It’s important to know your credit score because lenders use this measurement as an indicator that you will be able to not only handle a mortgage, but have the financial maturity and track record to make your mortgage payment every month. They also use your credit score to determine what kind of interest rate you will qualify for. It’s important to check your credit score once a year to check for errors – which happen more often than you might think. Click here for a good resource guide for learning more about your credit score.

Before house hunting get pre-approved (not just pre-qualified)

There is a difference between getting pre-qualified and pre-approved. Pre-qualification means a lender has had a quick look at your personal finances and believes, without looking at details, that you would perhaps qualify for a home loan. Pre-approval means that the lender has taken an in-depth look at your finances (based on your actual income, debt and credit history) and can give you parameters on how much home you can afford. When negotiating with sellers – especially when there’s a good chance your offer might be one of several offers on a home – having a pre-approval from your lender puts you in a strong negotiating position.

Shop for lenders and ask for referrals

Buying a home is an expensive purchase – it’s important to not only find the right home for you, and at the right price, but to find a lender that will work with you to obtain the best loan for you based on your finances and lifestyle. In the old days, lender options were limited to the bank on the corner. Today, you’ll find loans through traditional banks, through individual mortgage brokers and even through online portals. The right lender can completely transform your mortgage-buying experience, so it’s important to talk to several lenders. Additionally, be sure to ask for referrals and testimonials from your real estate broker and your friends/family. Just because a lender quotes you the lowest interest rate and loan terms does not necessarily mean that you’ll receive the best customer service. And when possible, personally meet with lenders to see who you feel the most comfortable with. Mortgages can be complicated and you want someone on your side who you trust is working hard for you.

If you’re thinking about buying a home – and you’ll be looking on Whidbey Island – be sure to visit our Whidbey Island Windermere website. Our site has tons of information and resources to help you including a ‘homes for sale on Whidbey Island‘ search function, market information and sales data, information on our communities, and a contact page where you can reach out to one of our knowledgeable and experienced brokers.

 

 

Thank You

We don’t often get a chance to thank all the people that make our Whidbey Island real estate offices so wonderful, nor do we often get the chance to thank all of our clients who have purchased or sold real estate through us. So today’s the day.

We recently won Best Real Estate Agency on Whidbey Island, courtesy of Whidbey News Group’s readers choice awards.

And we couldn’t be more proud!

Wining this award really is about the people who come in and out of our office every day … our smart and talented staff, our amazing brokers, and the buyers and sellers who put their trust in us to help them with complicated real estate transactions.

Our goal has always been – and always will be – to exceed your expectations for client services and to give back to the island that we all call home.

On behalf of everyone here at Windermere Whidbey Island … THANK YOU!

Indoor Air Quality Basics

Most of us tend to think of air pollution as something that occurs outdoors where car exhaust and factory fumes proliferate, but there’s such a thing as indoor air pollution, too.  Since the 1950s, the number of synthetic chemicals used in products for the home has increased drastically, while at the same time, homes have become much tighter and better insulated. As a result, the EPA estimates that indoor pollutants today are anywhere from five to 70 times higher than pollutants in outside air.

Luckily, there are many ways to reduce indoor air pollution. We all know that buying organic and natural home materials and cleaning supplies can improve the air quality in our homes, but there are several other measures you can take as well.

How pollutants get into our homes

Potentially toxic ingredients are found in many materials throughout the home, and they leach out into the air as Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs. If you open a can of paint, you can probably smell those VOCs. The “new car smell” is another example of this. The smell seems to dissipate after a while, but VOCs can actually “off-gas” for a long time, even after a noticeable smell is gone.

We all know to use paint and glue in a well-ventilated room, but there are many other materials that don’t come with that warning. For instance, there are chemicals, such as formaldehyde, in the resin used to make most cabinets and plywood particle board. It’s also in wall paneling and closet shelves, and in certain wood finishes used on cabinets and furniture. The problems aren’t just with wood, either. Fabrics—everything from draperies to upholstery, bedding, and carpets—are a potent source of VOCs.

The good news about VOCs is that they do dissipate with time. For that reason, the highest levels of VOCs are usually found in new homes or remodels. If you are concerned about VOCs, there are several products you can buy that are either low- or no-VOC. You can also have your home professionally tested.

How to reduce VOCs in your home

Make smart choices in building materials.

~ For floors, use tile or solid wood—hardwood, bamboo, or cork – instead of composites.
~ Instead of using pressed particle board or indoor plywood, choose solid wood or outdoor-quality plywood that uses a less toxic form of formaldehyde.
~ Choose low-VOC or VOC-free paints and finishes.

Purify the air that’s there.

~ Make sure your rooms have adequate ventilation, and air out newly renovated or refurnished areas for at least a week, if possible.
~ Clean ductwork and furnace filters regularly.
~Install air cleaners if needed.
~ Use only environmentally responsible cleaning chemicals.
~ Plants can help clean the air: good nonpoisonous options include bamboo palm, lady palm, parlor palm, and moth orchids.
~ Air out freshly dry-cleaned clothes or choose a “green” cleaner.

Fight the carpet demons.

~ Choose “Green Label” carpeting or a natural fiber such as wool or sisal.
~ Use nails instead of glue to secure carpet.
~ Install carpet LAST after completing painting, wall coverings and other high-VOC processes.
~ Air out newly carpeted areas before using.
~ Use a HEPA vacuum or a central vac system that vents outdoors.

Prevent Mold.

~ Clean up water leaks fast.
~ Use dehumidifiers, if necessary, to keep humidity below 60 percent.
~ Don’t carpet rooms that stay damp.
~ Insulate pipes, crawl spaces, and windows to eliminate condensation.
~ Kill mold before it gets a grip with one-half cup of bleach per gallon of water.

If you would like to learn more about VOCs and indoor air quality, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/.