Hanging at Home – Backyard & Patio Ideas

We’re all likely spending a bit more time at home this summer. Here are some great ideas for the backyard / patio.

Smart Home Tech Ideas for 2020

So…You’ve Got Alexa (or Google Assistant or Siri). Now What?

If you’re like millions of other people out there, you recently got a new Smart Speaker like the Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod (or Google Nest Hub with the built-in display) and are getting the hang of the voice commands you can use to play your favorite tunes or videos, send messages, check the weather or news, or remind you what’s on your calendar for the day. Maybe you’ve even set up Alexa to allow you to quickly purchase some of your favorite products on Amazon. Boy…these virtual assistants can really be handy!

But, did you realize that all of these devices – combined with some other really amazing tech gadgets – can enable an assortment of automation, connectivity, and controls in your house? With the right products and know-how (or assistance from experts) you can really turn your house into a Smart Home.

Heating & Cooling Controls

More than just a “nice-to-have” option, using your Smart Speaker’s virtual assistant and connected systems to control your home’s thermostat can be a money-saver as well. On the heating/cooling side, if you’re up for an afternoon project, and depending on the age of your existing system, Google’s Nest Learning Thermostat is one that can be installed yourself and then controlled via your Google Assistant.

“Hey Google, what’s the temperature inside?”…or…”Hey Google, set the temperature to 72.” Done.

This smart thermostat can also be set up to turn your home temperatures up/down depending on your schedule – or to even sense when you are nearing home and adjust temperatures accordingly (via your mobile phone’s location settings). One caveat: the Nest Learning Thermostat works with only one “zone” systems, so it will adjust the temperature of your entire home with no individual controls to adjust different rooms to different temperatures. Check out options from Honeywell and Tado if you want to control a multi-zone system in your home.

Here’s a roundup of some of the best Smart Thermostats.

Check out this video showing how to do the Nest Learning Thermostat install:

In the Kitchen

The kitchen is often the hub for family activity where Alexa, Google and Siri get a lot of use. More and more, kitchen appliances are being enabled with Wi-Fi, allowing them, too, to be controlled by virtual assistants and other apps you can control via your smart phone. Great examples out there currently are smart kettles, coffee makers and the popular Instant Pot which all can be controlled via voice commands (which can be really handy when you want to start your coffee brewing, or your dinner cooking when you’re not actually in the kitchen.)

“Alexa, cook soup for 22 minutes on low on My Instant Pot”…or…”Alexa, COFFEE!!” It really can be as simple as that.

Learn more: Smart Kettles | Smart Coffee Makers | Instant Pot with WiFi

Lighting Control

If you’re constantly forgetting to turn lights off when you leave for work in the morning, if you’re tired of manually setting timers for your lights when you go on vacation, or if you want to really dial up some killer ambience in your home you might want to add a Smart Lighting System to your birthday wish list.

Smart Light Bulb systems from Philips, IKEA and others are easy to set up and can be controlled wirelessly from your smart phone or via virtual assistants from Amazon, Apple or Google. Most do-it-yourself Smart Lighting systems have just two main components: smart lightbulbs that can be controlled wirelessly and a “hub” device that acts as the brains to connect these bulbs to your smart speakers and other devices through your home Wi-Fi.

Want to enable a complete schedule to turn lights on/off across your home – or have different schedules and light levels for when you’re home or away? No problem. Want to use a voice command to turn off lights across your home as you’re headed to bed? Yep, you can do that too. Even setting the mood for gatherings or movie nights is possible with systems that offer variable color LED’s.

Try “Alexa, dim the lights.”…or…”Alexa, turn my kitchen lights green.”

Here’s a selection of some of the best Smart Lighting Systems.

Security Systems

Recent statistics indicate that roughly 25-30% of all homes in the U.S. have security systems. More and more, virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google can be connected into these systems to unlock all kinds of features through voice commands. Professional systems like those by ADT, when provisioned with Alexa Skills, allow voice commands that can inquire into current security status and enable certain devices.

Some examples: “Alexa, disarm ADT”…”Alexa, is the back door locked?” or “Alexa, turn on the patio light.”

More do-it-yourself systems like Ring (owned by Amazon) or Google Nest use wireless sensors, cameras and mobile apps to monitor activity at your doors or inside your house. These systems can use Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands to arm or disarm your systems as you leave or enter your house. With the Google Nest Hub Max equipped with a touch screen display, you can use voice commands like “hey Google, show front door camera” to view who or what is at your front door from wherever you might be in your home. If you’ve got a SmartTV or tablet tied into your Smart Home system, you can even have Google “show front door camera on my bedroom TV.” Pretty slick.

EXPLORE MORE:  Best Alexa Home Security Systems | Nest Secure Alarm System

Are Virtual Assistants Safe?

Listening & Watching – While the control a virtual assistant can add to your living spaces might seem convenient, is it a good idea to allow these devices to listen to every single word of conversation in your household? Maybe not. There are ways to limit your interaction with your devices. Amazon Echo and Google devices have a mute button. Press the button when you don’t want your virtual assistant to be listening. Or, keep Alexa muted at all times, and use the voice remote: press and hold the remote’s talk button, wait for the sound, then give your command. You can also make sure that Alexa makes a sound every time she is triggered to execute a command. If you’re using an Echo with a camera, you can manually turn the camera and microphone on and off if you’re concerned that the device is watching you when you don’t want it to be. These devices have an LED light that will glow red to indicate the camera and mic are disabled. Apple HomePod users can also control when Siri listens by saying “Hey Siri, stop listening.” To un-mute the device you need to go into the “Home” app and re-enable Siri.

Your Data – Be aware: all of these virtual assistants save audio recordings of your voice commands to some extent. Amazon, Google and Apple claim that this process is necessary to make sure your device is learning your voice style and understands you better. Not convinced? Use the tip above and mute your device when not in use and visit your Google, Amazon or Apple settings regularly to review and control your device privacy settings.

Common Sense – Other good practices to follow:

  • Keep your device away from windows in your home to prevent an outsider from activating your device.
  • Limit the number of skills or connected devices to only what you use.
  • Keep your device software up-to-date and use strong passwords.
  • Make sure to have conversations with your family members about smart usage of your devices.

GOOD READS:  Amazon Echo Safety | Google Home & Google Nest Security Checklist | Hear & Delete Your Alexa Conversations

Need Help?

For those who enjoy exploring smartphone apps and adding new “skills” to their virtual assistants, many of the products mentioned above can be purchased online or at Best Buy and set up yourself. But, if you would like a REAL assistant to help get things connected let us know and we can connect you with a company we trust.


If you’re really just getting started with your new “virtual assistant” here are some great starting points that lead to all kinds of great things you can do with Alexa, Google or Siri.

If you don’t yet have a Smart Speaker in your home, here’s a great article from CNET comparing some of the best Smart Speaker options out there.

Here’s a New York Times that will help you Make Your House a Smart Home.



The Kim Pease Team can help ask the right questions that will assist you in navigating your next move.

Contact us if you or someone you know might need some guidance.

They’re All Associated

If your kids now have kids of their own, and your home and all that comes with it (yard, maintenance – and SHOVELING) is becoming too much, it might be time to consider a move to a condo, townhome or villa, where the costs and chores of home ownership can be shared – or even ignored, altogether! While these downsized “homes” and the idea of “shared ownership” might all seem similar, there are some differences worth noting.

Typically, in a condominium, what you own is really only the “air” inside the unit and your belongings. Your home is one of many in a building that is maintained through your association fees. You share walls with your neighbors and don’t actually “own” common areas and amenities, but have access to them. Significant updates to your unit, beyond paint, might require association approval. Overall property upkeep is handled by management – so you can sell that lawnmower!

Unlike a condo, owners of a townhome typically own both the inside and the outside of their unit. While you may share a wall with a neighbor, a townhome may allow more autonomy in how you update the structure – and you might also be responsible for some upkeep of your yard – or costs will be included in your association fees. Every owners’ association is different. Make sure you’re clear on your responsibilities.

While it might just be a more romantic name for a townhome, the term “villa” usually describes a unit in a retirement or warmer-climate vacation setting. One-level floorplans, patios – and even space for that golf cart – are common. Some villa communities specifically cater to retirees with community leisure programming and care assistance available.

Looking for more information? THIS ARTICLE does a great job of explaining the differences in these property types.


As the leaves fall and colder weather moves in, many experienced homeowners ask themselves that annual question “Is this Minnesota winter really for me?” We’ve had many recent conversations with people going through this decision-making process. If we move, do we sell first or buy? Should we downsize to a condo or smaller home? Should we get the heck out of here and head to warmer climate? When’s the best time to put our home on the market?

The Kim Pease Team can help ask the right questions that will assist you in navigating your next move, whether that be, to a smaller home, a condo, or a move to another state.

Contact us if you or someone you know might need some guidance.

Where Do Minnesotans Retire?

Most Stay Right Here in Minnesota

(It’s kind of a trick question.)

According to census data reviewed by Minnesota Public Radio earlier in 2019, more than 25,000 Minnesotans over the age of 50 have moved to Arizona in the past decade. 15,000 have moved to Florida. But, considering Minnesota’s fast-growing population of seniors, the vast majority of Minnesota retirees seem to stay right here in Minnesota – with Duluth being a favorite spot.

Considering a move to warmer climes, but not quite sure where to start? We’d be happy to sit down to talk through your potential move, how and when you should put your house on the market, and provide some guidance about the housing markets in other areas. We know many other realtors we trust in other parts of the country that we’d be happy to refer you to. SEND US AN EMAIL and we’ll be in touch.

Read more:

Why Arizona is a Top Choice for Ex-Minnesotans

Arizona is Tops for Snowbirds

Here’s another interesting article you might enjoy:

The Best Cities to Retire to in each State

As the leaves fall and colder weather moves in, many experienced homeowners ask themselves that annual question “Is this Minnesota winter really for me?” We’ve had many recent conversations with people going through this decision-making process. If we move, do we sell first or buy? Should we downsize to a condo or smaller home? Should we get the heck out of here and head to warmer climate? When’s the best time to put our home on the market?

The Kim Pease Team can help ask the right questions that will assist you in navigating your next move, whether that be, to a smaller home, a condo, or a move to another state.

Contact us if you or someone you know might need some guidance.

Inspection Insights – Fireplaces, Radon and Sewer Lines

Buyers are increasingly adding more items to the inspection process. Sewer line and fireplace inspections have been added now along with testing for radon. A savvy seller might have these items looked at and mitigated before they go to market to help speed the process.


In older homes, fireplaces and their chimneys tend to raise red flags in inspections – and can lead to insurance issues if problems are not remedied. Particularly if your home was built prior to the 1960’s, having your fireplace inspected in advance of beginning the selling process is important. Weather-proofing, cleaning, sealing and securing existing brickwork are basic necessities for safety. If an old fireplace is meant to be used again for burning wood – or to one day be converted with a natural gas burning insert – installation of a flexible chimney lining may be the solution that leads to the least negotiation during the selling process.


Radon is a naturally-occurring, odorless, radioactive gas that can’t be seen and may lead to lung cancer over prolonged exposure. Minnesota and other northern states are often recorded to have high levels of naturally-occurring radon in soil around homes. Conducting a radon test is the only way to determine its presence. Do-it-yourself test kits are available as well as professional services who may monitor the air quality in your basement over a number of days. If your tests indicate your radon levels are above recommended levels (4 pCi/L) and you hope to sell your home, preparing your home by undergoing mitigation efforts may help to speed your selling process. Solutions may include sealing any openings in old foundations or installing a fan that pulls air from your soil around your foundation and pushes it outside. Read more at Radon.com.

Sewer Lines

Sewer lines are a part of a home that are just expected to work and are often overlooked. In older neighborhoods–and particularly those with large trees and roots that may interfere with sewer lines–inspecting in advance of selling may identify the age of the line and the need for cleaning or even replacement in worst case scenarios. Many plumbers have remote cameras that can be used for the inspection. Cleaning a clogged or partially obstructed sewer line is a fairly easy remedy. Replacing a failing or crumbling sewer line is more serious, but new “trenchless” methods can be employed in some circumstances where new sewer lines are pulled through the old line rather than digging up the entire yard.

If you are thinking of selling, being proactive and identifying and remedying possible red flags before getting too far in the process can lead to a quicker sale with fewer surprises.

Contact us if you’d like to chat through any of these ideas or would like a referral to a service who can assist.

Choosing the Right Builder

When considering a remodeling project selecting the right builder for the job is critical. Here is a list of questions and helpful tips to keep in mind when going through the interviewing process and collecting bids:

How long has the builder been in the business? Ask for photos of recent projects that might be similar in style so you can see their work.  Better yet ask if you can visit a current job site.

Does the company have a designer or architect they work with, and if so is that service included in the overall cost of the project or separate?

Is the company familiar with the city you live in with respect to permits, code and process?

How long have the builders had relationships with their subcontractors and how long have the subcontractors been in business?

Ask for a sample contract. Contracts should be as specific as possible and include the following:

• Specific materials that will be used—make/model/brand

• Labor that will be performed

• Estimated timeline including start and finish dates

• Payment schedule

• Warranties

How would communication work? Who is the point person? How often will there be phone or face to face meetings?

Is there a sense of rapport? Does the builder seem excited about the project? Does their personality fit with yours?

Remodeling Financing

Whether you are looking to buy a new home to remodel, or renovate an existing home, here are two important questions to consider: 

  • Can the location support the new value?
  • How will you pay for it?

As real estate agents we help our clients navigate this process and make knowledgeable decisions based on location and market trends. The best place to start is to explore different financing options associated with remodeling a home. Here are three of the most common:

Home Equity Line of Credit –  A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) allows you to borrow funds against the equity in your home. A HELOC allows you to draw funds as you need them, up to your credit limit and are typically set at an adjustable rate. Many plans have a fixed time period. Interest paid may be tax deductible

Home Equity Loan – Like a HELOC, a Home Equity Loan (HEQ) is based on your home’s equity. You will receive the entire loan amount at closing. HEQ’s are generally a fixed-interest loan with terms up to 15 years. Interest paid may also be tax deductible.

Refinancing Your Existing Mortgage – For many, refinancing is still a great option, and with today’s historically low interest rates, it’s an even better way to finance a remodeling project. For those who haven’t built up a lot of equity, yet, many lenders offer future value loan programs which set a loan amount based on the future value of the home after remodeling.