Inside Santana Row’s newest luxury apartments

One of the community rooms at Misora, which includes a pool table. Click above to see more.

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Want fancy digs in Santana Row? The high-end retail/entertainment hub’s newest apartment complex is coming on line.

Misora’s first phase opens this October, with full completion of all 212 units this January.

Many of the smaller studios are already preleased, a spokeswoman told me.

Misora comes with plenty of high-end perks (which you can see in the slideshow). Those include a concierge in the entry lobby, a chef’s demonstration table with stove and bar, a pool and grill, a small community theater, a conference room and wine lockers for residents (with temperature control, of course).

Studios start in the mid-$2,000s, and a three-story penthouse will rent for about $10,000.

The project started in January of 2012 and wraps up January 2014. Counting Misora, Santana Row will boast 615 rentals and 219 privately owned homes.

Independent Research: The Age Of Customer Obsession Has Arrived

Integrated WCM/CXM technologies are best equipped to deliver rich customer experiences

Staying competitive in the age of the customer calls for organizations to know what their customers want and then to make sure they get it—every time. But marketing and IT still struggle to deliver exceptional customer experiences. A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of e-Spirit, “Climbing the Digital Experience Maturity Ladder Through An Integrated Technology Approach” describes why:

Companies struggle to embrace the proliferation of channels (e.g. Web, print, mobile, smart TVs, etc); implement tools that are IT-centric instead of marketing-centric; sit on a mountain of data and content that isn’t managed properly; and use siloed rather than integrated technology solutions to support customer experiences. With all of these challenges, organizations can no longer sustain these manually intensive processes. They need better solutions to properly create, deliver, and measure customer experiences in a timely and cost-effective manner.

The paper discusses how enterprises can embrace a more holistic and integrated CXM approach to better support rich, contextual, and multichannel experiences.
>>> Free Download Forrester Whitepaper

Optimizing Your Property Management Facebook Page for Search

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While you shouldn’t focus all of your efforts solely on Facebook, it does make sense to optimize the content posted on your property management Facebook page. Facebook search is linked to keywords within all public posts, profiles, pages, groups and applications but very few are utilizing this opportunity to increase their Facebook SEO (search engine optimization). Facebook, as a referring site, is a major source of traffic to websites. They strive to base results on relevance to the user, which is why they implemented Open Graph. The more information collected from external websites the more useful Facebook search will become.

The most important place to show up within Facebook search is the auto-complete box. The auto-complete box ranks the following pieces of information within a search first:

  • Your name
  • Events you are invited to
  • Friends with keywords within their names
  • Second degree friends (friends of friends) with keywords within their names
  • Questions with keywords
  • Applications you’ve used
  • Groups you’ve joined
  • Pages you have liked
  • Pages related to your interests
  • Pages a friend likes, including number of friends that like the page and total likes of the page

Here are six tips to help you reach the top eight results within the auto-complete box.

  1. Pick your page name and vanity URL wisely. Pick something that adequately represents your brand and that will be easily remembered.
  2. Use keywords in the “about” box and the “overview” section of the info tab. Completing these are very important because the information contained within the text is visible in Facebook search.
  3. Keep your Facebook content relevant and fresh. Automatically feed new blog posts to your Facebook wall. Use keywords within status updates, links, photo’s, video’s, and notes.
  4. Use a custom landing tab on your Facebook page to shape user experience, provide useful information, and implement a clear call to action to become a fan of the page. Utilize keywords within the text, images and links on these custom tabs.
  5. Add the Like button to your website. It is one of the most important social sharing opportunities for driving visibility and linking. The more links to your Facebook page, the better your page will rank in search results.
  6. Last, but most importantly, use the Open Graph API on your website to enable Facebook users to find your website within their search results. When you add Open Graph to your webpages, Facebook categorizes each page and customizes your listing within search results. This is the fastest way to appear closer to the top of Facebook’s search results today.

Not only should you utilize Facebook SEO tactics to increase web traffic and drive sales, but consider it an opportunity to protect your brand name on Facebook by appearing in the search results above fake pages or even ILS ads that frequently appear above a community name during search.

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Increase In Cash-Centric Renters

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Have you noticed fewer tenants wanting to pay rent in ways other than good old checks or direct withdrawal? You’re not alone, and it’s not just a trend in your area. The fact is, adults in more than 24 million U.S. households — one in five — are “un-banked,” with no bank account, or “under-banked,” with adults conducting some or all of their financial transactions outside of the mainstream banking system. The U.S. government’s FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) discovered these surprising numbers in its 2011 Economic Inclusion survey. They reported 8.2 percent of adults in U.S. households being unbanked reflects a significant increase from the FDIC’s previous 2009 study. Since that time, banks have become less essential and, the study reports, simply less desirable.

Understand who and where unbanked and underbanked adults tend to live, and you’ll have some valuable insight for planning your payment choices and marketing.

The 2011 FDIC report rolls up a few key trends:

  • Location: In the South a full 10 percent of the population is unbanked or underbanked. The West is second highest, where one in five (21.0 percent) are unbanked or underbanked.
  • Ethnicity: The study reports 55.3 percent of black households, 48.7 percent of Hispanics, and 41.3 percent of American Indians are unbanked or underbanked.
  • Income: Lower earners may simply not save enough to make an account worthwhile, given minimum balance fees. About 28 percent of households with annual income below $15,000 are less likely to have bank accounts.
  • Age: Younger consumers are more likely to handle their money outside of the traditional banking system than older people, perhaps as using banks is the norm or they have amassed more savings. In fact, about 34 percent of people 34 or younger are unbanked or underbanked.

How to Cash In On the Underbanked and Unbanked Trends
Just as consumers can tap into a new world of cash management options, so can property managers. Here are the pros and cons of a few non-bank payment options you might offer:

  • Money orders or cashier’s checks through services like MoneyGram and Western Union are especially useful for property management companies without a local office. On the downside, property managers have to contend with getting the checks deposited.
  • Offering a cash payment option at a convenience store through a service like PayNearMe  gives the tenant peace of mind with a receipt showing the amount they have paid.  Modern web-based property management software solutions (like AppFolio) integrate with PayNearMe making this type of cash transaction very simple for the property management company and the tenant – the property manager receives instant notification of the payment, and the money direct deposits into the property’s bank account.
  • Online rental payments via electronic bank charge (ACH) or credit card are another option. However, the under-banked population typically doesn’t have access to either of these payment methods.

Thinking, “Hey, where’s cash on the list?” It didn’t make the cut! Ironically cash is just too expensive. Consider that a property manager needs to be on hand to accept the cash payments, then safely store the money, manually record it an accounting system, and securely make bank deposits. On top of all this, banks may charge for you to deposit the cash. Being on hand to accept cash rent means longer leasing office hours, more time spent accepting payments and less time spent being able to rent open units and maintain the property.

Serving the Unbanked Serves Your Bottom Line
Here’s a short checklist to simplify evaluating new payment options:

  1. Schedule flexibility: Understand how much time you can dedicate to processing the new payment methods. Simulate a run-through of your process for accepting the rent with each method to find any time sinks.
  2. Ease of payment: The fewer barriers and steps for tenants to get you the rent, the fewer times you’ll hear late-payment excuses.
  3. Evidence of payment: Cash should be delivered in person and only when someone is on hand to receive the money. Be sure to give the tenant a receipt.
  4. Secure way to manage and deposit the receipts: Your goal should be to minimize opportunities for theft or fraud and cut down the time to deposit the rents.
  5. Overall cost effectiveness: Sum up both the “hard” costs and time to handle and process the payments as part of your evaluation.

As you can see, cash as a payment option fails most of these points!

The bottom line is if you do hear more requests for paying rent in cash, keep your ultimate goal in mind: more and easier net revenue from your properties. Offering a menu of payment options is step number one toward this goal.

If you need more details to back up your plans, data hounds will love the detailed charts and breakdowns on the FDIC survey website.

Investment Properties Save Money on Income Tax

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People frequently purchase investment real estate with the belief that they will save some money on their income taxes as a result of their property ownership. And this could be true, but in many cases real estate provides an owner with virtually no tax savings at all. In this article we’ll talk about rental properties and how you can figure out, with your tax advisor, if your real estate ownership will assist you to reduce your annual tax bill.

1040 Form
All annual personal income tax reporting ends with an individual filling out their two page IRS 1040 main tax form. In order to reduce one’s taxes as much as is legally allowed, taxpayers use deductions and losses to reduce their starting 1040 Form “Gross Income” to the lowest “Taxable Income” possible near the bottom of the 1040 form. One of those deductions or “losses” that helps reduce or shield your taxable income is related to real estate rental property operations that are calculated on the schedule E form and flow to your 1040 Form line 17.

Schedule E Mechanics
A rental property owner will fill out their Schedule E with all the property’s income and expense items for the year. The top number is the rental income, then they subtract expenses like maintenance, property taxes, insurance, mortgage interest, and depreciation. If the net number is a loss – which is common for the first bunch of years after a property is acquired – that loss generally goes onto the 1040 Form line 17 and is a reduction of one’s personal income.  That reduction flows through their entire 1040 form to reduce their taxable income and hence reduces the amount of taxes one would pay Uncle Sam.

And that’s how real estate saves you money on taxes; by allowing you to take a rental property deduction to reduce your gross income by the amount of any losses you incur on your real estate ownership. If you have a ($10,000) loss, you can shield $10,000 worth of your income from taxation which could save you $2,500 to $4,500 that year!

Limitations
Hold on though, guess what, there are some restrictions that the IRS enacted years ago to limit wealthy people from taking too much of an advantage of these tax saving measures.

These restrictions are generally called passive activity loss (PAL) limitations and most investors’ rental property operations are “passive activities” under the IRS code. The first PAL limitation restricts the maximum allowed net PAL that an individual can use to ($25,000) per year. So if one has a loss of ($35,000), they can use ($25,000) but have to carry the extra ($10,000) forward, probably for years, until it can be used down the road within the annual ($25,000) limit. Additionally, the ability to use any losses at all phases out as an investor’s Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) goes from $100,000 to $150,000 – at which point they can’t use the losses at all in the current year and would need to carry them over, possibly for decades, until their income drops below those levels.

So if you have huge losses, and/or your AGI is over $150,000 you’re probably out of luck on using significant losses to shield your income from taxation – discuss with your tax professional.

One last quirk in this law is that if the property owner is a real estate professional, check the tax code for qualifications, the ($25,000) PAL limitation might not apply. Now you might think that real estate professionals would be savvy enough investors to buy properties that don’t have huge tax losses, but I see investors do the darnedest things all the time! For yourself, try to buy good cash flow positive properties first, and then you won’t come up upon those PAL limits because your losses should be relatively small.

To summarize, if you are going to buy rental properties, and you are counting on the tax benefits to help your investment returns, make sure to get with your tax advisor beforehand to look at your entire tax picture. This will hopefully ensure you will actually earn some tax savings due to your real estate ownership; because, as with everything in real estate, tax savings are not as simple as just buying and assuming everything will work out to your favor!

Leasing Specifics Property Managers Need to Know

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Completing a leasing agreement with your tenants is the single most important task that you will undertake.  While completing a lease has likely become second nature to most property management professionals, you may want to take a little extra time and think about everything that needs to be in that lease; before it’s presented to your future tenants.  Here are a few things that property managers should make sure are included in any lease agreement:

  • Detailed information about monthly rent. While this may seem fairly straightforward, you will want to spell out the specific rent terms such as payment due date, grace period, if any, late charge amounts due after a specific date, and payment form accepted.
  • Legal entry to the unit or residence. It’s vital that a tenant lease spells out when unit entry is permissible. This includes how much of a notice is necessary (typically 24 hours), and under what circumstances. Obviously this clause can be overlooked during an emergency, but that exception should be noted as well. Bottom line is that it’s best to spell out exactly when you can enter the unit in order to avoid tenant complaints and potential litigation.
  • Consequences of illegal activity. While we all hope that our tenant screening process will weed out the possibility of illegal activity among tenants, it’s in the property manager’s best interest to spell out prohibited activities and the consequences. Stating that you have the grounds to terminate a lease upon evidence of illegal activity such as drug dealing will notify tenants of the consequences of illegal activity and allow you to start eviction proceedings promptly.
  • A detailed list of maintenance responsibilities. If your rentals are mainly single family homes, it’s vital that details on what tenants are responsible for are spelled out in the lease agreement. If your tenants are responsible for lawn maintenance and landscaping, it needs to be put in writing. If management prohibits major changes to property such as painting walls or installing a ceiling fan, it needs to be spelled out in detail.
  • Detailed information about security, cleaning, and pet deposits. Are tenants allowed to use their security deposit for their last month of rent? If not, it better say that in the lease. Do you charge a separate pet deposit, and is it refundable? Again, spell out the terms in the lease. Cleaning deposits? Non-refundable? Better mention that in the lease.

Taking the time to present a comprehensive lease agreement will likely result in less confusion for tenants and reduce the possibility of litigation later.

Brandywine Homes to Break Ground on Calif. Community

By Jessica Fiur, News Editor

Buena Park, Calif.—Though it usually concentrates on single-family homes, Brandywine Homes recently closed escrow on a multifamily community in Buena Park, Calif.

The 22-unit community will include two-bedroom single-level apartments and two-story townhouses and will be located on 1.1 acres. The units, which will be designed by LSA Architecture, will include granite countertops, as well as washers and dryers. Amenities will include a tot lot and barbecue area.

The community will be located near the 91 and 5 Freeways. It will also be close to The Source, a 450,000-square-foot shopping center that is currently under construction. Additionally, the property will be close to Knott’s Berry Farm, Soak City, the Buena Park Downtown shopping center and Dad Miller Golf Courses.

“With the economy improving, the demand for rental properties is stronger than it has been in years,” David Barisic, vice president of sales and marketing for Brandywine Homes, says. “People who’ve been living with relatives or friends still may be reluctant to buy. But, increasingly, they’re looking for their own place to rent.”

Brandywine Homes has plans to build three additional multifamily communities in the coming year. It recently broke ground on two communities in Garden Grove: a 25-unit property and a 34-unit property, both of which include townhouses and apartments.

Construction of the Buena Park community is expected to be completed by the summer of 2014.

Living with Urban Wildlife: non-lethal control

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The human population has surpassed seven billion and continues to increase by a quarter of a million people every day. That’s 150 additional people every minute, all needing energy, water, food and space to inhabit. The inevitable and unrelenting urban expansion which results leaves precious few natural refuges for other species. No surprise then that habitat loss and degradation is the number one cause of global biodiversity loss.

Yet, some versatile species – such as foxes, rats, pigeons and gulls – manage to not only survive but thrive in our artificial landscapes. Sadly, few people see these animals as triumphant vestiges of the natural world but rather unwelcome scroungers who dare to live in our midst.

The irony is that we have created the perfect habitat for these adaptable species in our cities and suburbs. The 7.2 tonnes of food thrown away in the UK every year ensures they are never short of a meal; while many man-made structures provide safe places to nest or raise young away from natural predators. Many of us even go one step further – deliberately providing food and nesting sites for species we like, then bemoaning other animals that take advantage of the bounty.

Of course, some city dwellers relish encounters with all urban wildlife – feeding pigeons in the park or foxes in their garden is the only chance many get to engage with nature. But even the most tolerant animal ‘lover’ gets annoyed when a mouse chews through the electrical wiring or squirrels in the loft keep them awake to all hours. Just like with our human neighbours, sometimes conflicts arise and we must seek out a humane and effective solution.

Killing ‘nuisance’ animals is often seen as a simple way to solve human/wildlife conflicts. In reality, culling is rarely an effective long-term solution. Nature abhors a vacuum so removing the existing animals simply creates a vacant niche which new individuals quickly occupy. This means that culling must be done continuously; as soon as you stop you are back to square one, which may be great for commercial pest controllers, but is a colossal waste of time and money for homeowners and local authorities – and of course an unnecessary loss of animal lives.

Holistic solutions

Truly effective solutions require a more holistic approach that addresses the conditions which attract wildlife into conflict with us and even questions whether there is really a conflict at all. Devised by the Humane Society of the United States, and suitable for homeowners, businesses and local authorities alike, the following six-step evaluation provides a framework for finding humane solutions to human/wildlife conflicts:

1. Ascertain the problem-and consider whether it is a problem at all. For example, if a family of foxes moves into a back garden, how likely is it that they will attack a child or pet? Educating ourselves about the behaviour of other species often leads to the realisation that they pose no credible threat.

As Professor Stephen Harris of Bristol University’s Mammal Research Unit points out, every year in England around 210,000 people are attacked by dogs and 800 people are hospitalised due to insect stings, while bites from foxes are extremely rare.

2. If there is a credible problem, collect information that will help solve it. Identify the species involved, the kind of damage they are causing, how long it has been happening, whether there are young animals present, and what can be done to solve the conflict in a humane and permanent way. Photograph and record as much evidence as possible, including sounds (especially cries of young animals), footprints, tooth or claw marks, faeces left behind, etc.

3. Assess the seriousness and extent of the problem. Important considerations are safety or health concerns for people or pets, the likelihood that the conflict will happen again and whether the damage appears to be seasonal or ongoing. Many problems with animals last only a short time, or happen only during certain seasons. For example, jackdaws nesting in a chimney will leave once their young have fledged.

4. Take action, but only after all the facts have been collected. Action should be one of the last steps, and it should not involve killing animals. Exclusion, environmentally-friendly repellents, changing human or animal behaviour and habitat modification are all viable non-lethal strategies (see action for residents below).

5. Evaluate the results. Did the action resolve the conflict or merely address the symptoms? The solution should get at the underlying cause of the problem if it’s going to be effective over the long-term.

6. Seek help – you may not be able to solve the problem by yourself. Contact a professional non-lethal wildlife solutions company (listed at the end of this article) for help and advice.

Action for residents

While you may not be keeping close tabs on the condition of your house, the animals in your neighbourhood certainly are. Deteriorated soffits and fascia boards, holes in loft vents, open chimneys, ridged roof tiles and cracks in walls all provide opportunities for animals to enter your house in search of a warm, dry nesting site and reliable source of food. Permanently preventing animals from entering buildings is the only long-term solution to wildlife problems.

Before closing, sealing, or capping any potential entry points, make absolutely sure there are no animals present inside. Plug suspect entry points loosely with insulation, paper or cloth that animals which may be using the space inside can easily push aside. For a few days, check to see if the material has moved; if not, the opening can be sealed.

Regardless of the season, it is always possible that young animals are present. Squirrels can have two litters a year; one in early spring and one in late summer/early autumn. Be careful not to separate mother from young, doing so will not only cause the inhumane death of the young, but can result in the mother tearing her way back in to retrieve her young. Be tolerant and wait a few weeks until the family has vacated, then make repairs to prevent animals from moving in again.

If you can’t wait for the animals to leave on their own, the next best strategy is humane eviction-gently harassing the animals so they’ll move to an alternative location. Wild animals have detailed knowledge of their home ranges and alternative places of refuge will be known. A combination of unpleasant smells and sounds can often persuade unwanted wildlife to move to another refuge. Rags soaked in a strong smelling substance such as cider vinegar or citronella (but not ammonia), bright lights and a loud radio left on during the night will make your home a much less attractive place to live.

Other tips for preventing unwanted wildlife visitors:

– secure rubbish bins with cords, ropes or weights;
– put bins out the morning of collection, not the night before;
– keep branches trimmed six feet away from your house and outbuildings to limit access for wildlife and prevent damage to the roof that may allow animal entry in the future;
– cover and secure compost piles; never compost meat scraps;
– do not try to hand-feed wildlife; it’s in their best interest to maintain a healthy scepticism of humans.

These suggestions are general guidelines only. Recommended methods for resolving conflicts with wildlife may depend upon additional aspects of the situation and the species involved (bats in particular). When in doubt about the best course of action, get professional advice.

Live-trapping and relocation

Well-meaning people often resort to what they see as a humane solution to wildlife conflicts – live-trapping animals and releasing them in a near-by park or other natural area. While it sounds like a good idea, the truth is that live-trapping and relocation rarely ends well for wildlife, nor is it a permanent solution. Wild animals often do not adapt quickly to new surroundings, no matter how inviting that habitat may seem to humans.

In fact, the odds are heavily stacked against any animal which is released in a strange area. They will likely have been dumped in another animal’s territory and may be chased out or attacked; they don’t know where to go to escape from predators; they may not know how to find food or water in this landscape; and they may be desperate to find their young who could still be back at the original location.

The perils of relocation are demonstrated by a 2004 study of grey squirrels in the USA. A staggering 97 percent of animals who were live-trapped and relocated from suburban areas to a large forest either died soon after release or disappeared from the release area.

Tolerance is the way forward

At both a local and national level, the traditional reaction to human/wildlife conflict i.e. culling, is becoming increasingly unpalatable to a wide cross section of people. Finding non-lethal ways to co-exist with our wild neighbours is a more compassionate and cost-effective option that will become increasingly important as our own species continues to grow unchecked.

Moving Home Can Be Stress-Free With A Little Forward Planning

If you ever decide to move properties in the future, there are some tips that you can take into consideration to ease the stress whilst saving you money. Whether you are moving to a new city or moving abroad, there is a way to remove this stress by hiring a professional removal firm. It is pointless to pack the night before a move as a good moving experience requires planning and preparation.

Things to Consider if Moving Abroad

There are many things to consider when you move overseas, especially if you plan to drive abroad. For example, you will have to cancel your current car insurance policy and register a vehicle abroad. In addition, you must learn about how bank accounts run abroad, as some checking accounts charge a fee. Ensure that you research each of these points thoroughly before your move abroad.

Save Money by Moving Fewer Items

Moving home gives you the chance to evaluate what is important to you and what no longer interests you. Examine your furnishings, clothing, ornaments, kitchenware, gardening tools and more to decide if you want to take them. Many individuals hoard items that are not of interest to them and even though they are never used, still form an attachment to them. Use moving to break free of items that you could give to charity, sell at a car boot sale or auction it online before your move. Larger items like wardrobes, designer clothing and furniture can be sold to an auction house. If you can detach from those items that you have never unpacked or used then you will save money.

Obtain Multiple Estimates

The area in which you plan to move to can factor greatly in the estimate you receive from a removal firm. Time is money to removal companies, and if the van has to travel a greater distance, the quote is likely to be higher. Do you know the total weight of your possessions, as removal firms will factor this into the estimate? Unless you are organised, a removal firm can be expensive but a worthwhile investment. A stress free option would be to pay for a professional removal service that will do everything for you, but if the packing is done beforehand, the estimate will be much lower. Large packing boxes can be a good investment, as they strong and the removal company has nothing else to do but to transfer the box to the new location.

Proper Packing

It can be tempting to throw all of your fragile ornaments and kitchenware into a box without proper care, but if your fine china arrives broken, there will be no one to blame but yourself. Ensure that you have a lot of newspaper and bubble wrap handy. Professional removal firms know how to pack fragile items without any risk of damage and if an item is damaged then the firm is held liable.

Find Free Supplies

Many supermarkets or bookstores have strong boxes that you could use for packing. Ask if you can take them. In addition, ensure that you stock up on packing paper and packing tape. Browse the internet for websites who offer free or discounted removal boxes and other supplies.

Negotiate the Expenses

You can negotiate a great deal with a removal firm. For example, ask that they supply the boxes and you do all the hard work of packing. Removal firms have a large supply of heavy use boxes and packaging so it will be cost effective for them to provide these free, if they obtain the business of moving your items.

Taking time out to plan for your move, obtaining several estimates and saving money by negotiating expenses can ease the stress of moving home.

Aimee Coppock is a writer who believes that with a little forward planning and preparation, you can move house with ease. When researching companies who specialise in removals, Edinburgh experts suggest looking for professionals who offer great customers service.

How To Invest In A Home Automation System Without Breaking The Bank

metz-mecahome-home-automationHome automation has been the stuff of myth for years. We read about high-tech smart houses that belong to movie stars and people like Bill Gates in magazines, but the price tag attached to these houses is so big we assume automation is well outside the reach of our pocket books. In fact, automation has become increasingly affordable thanks to increased options and the invention of the smartphone. If you want an affordable way to automate your home, here are four options.

1. DIY Install Individual Devices

You don’t have to buy an entire system to get started with automation. In fact, many companies have come out with products that connect with your smartphone that you can install yourself. A programmable thermostat takes about 15 minutes to install and can do everything from learn your usage patterns and automatically set itself to monitor energy usage. The thermostat also connect to your phone, so you can control it from anywhere.

For less than $100, you can purchase a light automation system from Lutron that is controlled by infra-red remote. Install the system yourself, and then dim the lights with the push of a button at movie night.

Ready for one less chore throughout your day? Install some automated window shades. The ones created by Lutron run on batteries and install in about 10 minutes. With a range of $300 to $1,000 per window, the shades will automatically draw in the morning to let in the natural light and go down at night for privacy.

Switch out the old bolt in your front door with a keypad or an automatic lock that opens up with the wave of your smartphone. All you need is a screwdriver.

2. Affordable Starter Kits

Packages of integrated automated systems have become much cheaper over the years and can even be found at retailers like Home Depot. Control4 offers an affordable processor that acts as a remote for your entire system. For around $2,500 you can get the processor, a smart thermostat, a smart door lock and six light dimmers complete with programming and installation costs.

3. Rig Your Own

Many startups are working on providing the tools for homeowners to rig their own system by using motion sensors and other detectors to control their appliances the way they want to. SmartThings offers an app, a hub, a cloud service, a development environment and a maker’s toolkit. The toolkit allows people to “hack” their appliances and connect a wireless smart chip to everyday things that were never meant to be controlled by a phone. The price: $174.00. The company will also sell a wide range of sensors, from motion sensors to moisture sensors.

4. Find a Good Company

Going through a reliable company is also a good way to find a deal on home automation. Do your due dilligence by researching a number of companies to find someone who will be able to provide exactly what you need. It’s also recommended to talk to people who have home automation and get their opinion about their personal provider. The leading home automation companies in the USA right now are Vivint, Protect America and Life Shield. Check out their reviews, perks and packages to find the best deal for you.

David Glenn is a home improvement expert. He occasionally freelance writes about home security and DIY home repair.