A Beginner’s Guide to Building Your Smart Home

There are many ways in which we can use modern technology and automation to improve our lives, and the ability to build a truly smart home is now more accessible and affordable than ever before. The idea is to grow your own smart home system that meets your individual needs, at your convenience, and within your own budget. Whether you’re looking to automate individual household items such as the door locks within your home, or are thinking of a fully connected system of intelligent devices, this basic guide to smart home technology will help you achieve your specific home automation goals.

1. What is a smart home?

At its core, smart home technology is about using automation to improve your home life. A smart home can mean any device or appliance connected to the internet that you can control using a smartphone or whose function you can automate. Most applications relate to lighting, home security, home theater and entertainment, and thermostat regulation.

2. What are the benefits of having a smart home?

The first and perhaps most obvious benefit of having a smart home is time management. Ordinary tasks such as setting the thermostat or closing the blinds, although mindless, can eat up precious minutes of your day. Secondly, the accessibility and convenience of having a smart home is a huge motivating factor for many people to make the switch. Smart technology can also end up saving you a lot of money in the long-term. In fact, smart home owners who use thermostat controls alone saved 10-30 percent on their energy bill. Consequently, you reduce your carbon footprint as you eliminate needless energy consumption.

3. How do smart homes work?

Any device in your home that uses electricity can be put on your home network and at your command. Whether you give that command by voice, remote control, tablet or smartphone, the home reacts.

4. What is a smart home hub? 

A smart home hub provides a uniform platform through which you can control and automate multiple smart home devices that otherwise wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other.

5. What can you connect to your smart home setup?

There are a myriad of different components that can make up a smart home, some of which include lights (all smart lights are LEDs), speakers (such as the Amazon Echo), smart plugs, locks, security cameras, thermostats, video doorbells, smoke detectors, robot vacuums, universal remotes, and garage door openers.

Home Warranties: What You Need to Know

Home ownership and all the responsibilities that come along with it can sometimes be difficult to navigate. First and foremost, it’s a good idea to get a home protection plan. A home warranty can provide peace of mind, defray unexpected costs, and protect your new investment as a homeowner. We met with Kim Dockins, an Account Executive at Home Warranty of America, to have her answer some of the most commonly asked questions regarding home warranties.

1. What is a home warranty?

A home warranty offers you protection against unexpected things that could come up after the purchase of a home – specifically big-ticket items that may breakdown or malfunction, thereby protecting you from costly repairs.

2. What is covered under a home warranty?

A home warranty will cover repairs and replacements on systems and appliances due to normal wear and tear. This typically includes plumbing, electrical, appliances (stove, oven, trash compactor, dishwasher, and microwave), cooling, and heating.

3. What is not covered under a home warranty?

Damage done to items outside of normal wear and tear are not covered under a home warranty, as well as any problems that predate the coverage or are due to lack of maintenance. This means if you were hoping to cover a particular item that has been on its last leg for a while, you’ll be disappointed. Items outside of systems and appliances that are not covered include, but are not limited to, sprinklers, faucet repairs, swimming pools, spas, and permit fees.

4. How is a home warranty different from homeowner’s insurance?

Unlike a home warranty, home insurance covers your home’s structure and belongings in the event of a fire, storm, flood, or other accident.

5. Do I have to have a home inspection before I can enroll?

Although an inspection report is not required, it is always nice to have. Be prepared for the vendor to ask for it if something looks negligent.

5630 Cheena Dr. Houston, TX 77096



Listing Price: $475,000

Subdivision: Mayerling Meadows
Bedrooms: 3 | Bathrooms: 2
Stories: 1
Square Footage: 2,536 Built Sqft.

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This beautifully renovated home in Mayerling Meadows is a must-see! The open floor plan feels both spacious and inviting, with fresh paint, tile and wood flooring throughout, and tons of natural lighting. The generously-sized living area features custom built-ins that serve as the focal point of the room.

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The sophisticated dining area is perfect for intimate meals with family and friends. With plenty of room for a large dining table, this space is the perfect setting for creating lasting memories.

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Imagine yourself creating chef-inspired delicacies in the gorgeous island kitchen equipped with a double oven, freestanding range hood, breakfast bar, and wine refrigerator that will come in handy when hosting parties and get togethers.

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The open floor plan flows seamlessly from room to room, demonstrated by this charming space located just off the kitchen. Customize this area to your heart’s content!

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Enjoy evenings of pampering and relaxation in the private master, where you’ll find a spacious walk-in closet, dual vanities, and shower.

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The large backyard is ideal for entertaining with a patio, pergola, well-manicured landscaping, and tons of green space.

About the Area

Located just over 5 miles miles from Rice Village/West University, one of Houston’s most prominent destinations for upscale living inside the loop. The area is the perfect fit for both families and young professionals, with an array of homes nestled within some of the city’s most elite neighborhoods. Situated about a half mile west of Rice University’s campus is the Rice Village District, one of Houston’s oldest and most luxurious shopping destinations. There you will find something for everyone, with stores ranging from big name retailers to local boutiques. The area boasts some of the trendiest restaurants and happy hour spots in town, in addition to top-rated theatrical performances at Main Street Theater. Residents also enjoy an easy commute into to the Medical Center and Downtown Houston.

About the Neighborhood

Area Schools

This home is zoned to Houston Independent School District – Parker Elementary School (0.4 miles from property), Meyerland Middle School (0.8 miles from property), Westbury High School (2.0 miles from property). 

What’s Your Home Worth?

See the recently sold homes near you, and find out how your home compares. Get trusted advice about local market conditions from experts in the industry.

Top 5 Things to Know Before Buying a Home

When it comes to buying your first home, knowledge is power. Purchasing a home is a huge financial responsibility, and you should be equipped with as much information about the process as you can to ensure you’re fully prepared when it comes time to make the big decision. We spoke with Joy Hilado, a Buyer Specialist with The Loken Group, to determine the top five things to know before buying a home.

1. Buy the house that you know you can afford

Be honest about what you can and cannot afford – if you spend too much money on your mortgage you may not be able to meet your daily obligations or save for the future. Some other things to take into account beyond the mortgage are the principal, interest, and taxes.

2. Save for your down payment

On closing day, be prepared to bring your down payment and any closing costs you owe, in addition to the earnest money deposit, option fees, inspection costs, and appraisal fees.

3. Know what programs exist for first-time home buyers

There are many first-time homebuyer programs and grants in place that offer financial help, and you may be eligible for various types of assistance. However, when choosing which type is best for you, it’s important to keep in mind that each loan type comes with a different set of qualifications and benefits. The FHA is especially helpful for first-time home buyers and those who may not have the best credit history. FHA loans typically come with competitive interest rates and smaller down payments than conventional loans. Conventional loans are ideal for borrowers with good credit and pose fewer hurdles than FHA or Veterans Affairs mortgages, which may take longer to process.

4. Avoid making any major purchases that involve using your credit

Be cautious of making any big purchases prior to buying a home, as it could severely impact your credit score and negate the original decision of your lender to loan you money. If a major purchase is unavoidable, be sure to talk to your loan officer first.

5. Use a trusted realtor

Using a trusted realtor that is a true expert in their field and has a thorough understanding of the process can make all the difference in your home buying experience. There’s a lot that goes into a real estate transaction and it’s the agents job to keep abreast of the ever changing market. Finding a realtor who is a skilled negotiator and is knowledgeable about their market area will ensure that your home buying process runs as smooth and efficiently as possible. Most importantly, do not hesitate to ask your agent for help! If you have any questions or would like to start your home search, contact The Loken Group at 281-861-4624.

9919 Relissare Dr. Conroe, TX 77304


Listing Price: $249,000

Subdivision: Bella Vita
Lot Size: 17,494 Sqft.
MLS #: 26735026

Bring your dream waterfront home to fruition in the premier, gated community of Bella Vita on Lake Conroe. This 17,494-sq. ft. lot comes equipped with a boat dock, making fishing and other recreational water activities a breeze. With panoramic views of the lake, it’s easy to imagine starting your day watching the sunrise over the water. Don’t wait to own your very own slice of heaven on Lake Conroe – call The Loken Group at 281-861-4624 today to arrange your private showing.

About the Neighborhood

Bella Vita on Lake Conroe is a 54-lot gated community 4 miles west of I-45 North, located in Montgomery County. This luxurious community offers a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere, complemented by breathtaking views of sunsets and sunrises on the water.

About the Area

This home’s location is truly unmatched, with shopping, dining, and entertainment in Montgomery and The Woodlands all within a 20 mile radius. The historical and charming Montgomery, TX, is home to antiques, wineries, boutiques, dining, events, and festivals. As one of the top master-planned communities in the nation, The Woodlands comprises over 200 specialty and family restaurants, Whole Foods Market, Waterway Square, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, and upscale shopping at The Woodlands Mall and Market Street. For those who value an active lifestyle, The Woodlands also offers miles of hiking and bike trails, neighborhood parks, golf, tennis, and 7,790 acres of green space.

Area Schools

This home is zoned to Willis Independent School District – A.R. Turner Elementary School (6.3 miles from property), Robert P Brabham Middle School (4.1 miles from property), Willis High School (5.1 miles from property). 

What’s Your Home Worth?

See the recently sold homes near you, and find out how your home compares. Get trusted advice about local market conditions from experts in the industry.

9802 Sabine Cir. Missouri City, TX 77459

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Listing Price: $395,000

Subdivision: Sienna Village of Shipmans Landing
Bedrooms: 4 | Bathrooms: 3 Full & 1 Half
Stories: 2
Square Footage: 3,653 Built Sqft.

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Experience the luxury and elegance of this well-appointed home with over $80K in upgrades. Guests are greeted in the foyer by lofty ceilings, wood and tile flooring, and crown molding. The entry flows into the spacious living area, which features bay windows, plantation shutters, and a gas log fireplace with adjacent built-ins.

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Create gourmet cuisines in the beautiful island kitchen, complete with a double oven, gas cooktop, breakfast bar, and updated appliances.

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The tasteful formal dining room is ideal for entertaining guests. Whether you’re hosting a large dinner party or intimate gathering, this space is the perfect setting to create special moments with friends and loved ones.

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Located just off the entry is a study with French doors,  custom built-ins, and sumptuous wood flooring. The flex room is extremely versatile and can be used to best suit your family’s needs.

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The private master suite is a true sanctuary with a his & her walk-in closet, dual vanities, updated cabinetry and tile, oil-rubbed bronze fixtures, a whirlpool tub, and separate shower.

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The upstairs game room is ready to be furnished with a Billiard’s table, arcade games, or other fun activities for the whole family to enjoy. Turn movie nights into the ultimate cinema experience in the media room, which offers plenty of room for plush theater seating.

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Step out into the large backyard featuring an extended covered patio and tons of space for the swimming pool of your dreams.

About the Area

Located 11 miles from Sugar Land Town Square, home to shopping (Charming Charlie, Jos. A. Bank, Ann Taylor Loft, First Colony Mall and across the street from Whole Foods Market), dining (The Cheesecake Factory, Baker St. Pub & Grill, Starbucks, Cafe Express, Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille and more), and entertainment at AMC First Colony 24.

About the Neighborhood

Area Schools

This home is zoned to Fort Bend Independent School District – Donald Leonetti Elementary School (2.1 miles from property), Billy Baines Middle School (2.6 miles from property), Ridge Point High School (0.8 miles from property). 

What’s Your Home Worth?

See the recently sold homes near you, and find out how your home compares. Get trusted advice about local market conditions from experts in the industry.

2018 TLG Gives Home Transformation


We are so grateful for the generous amount of support, volunteer work, and donations made to the TLG Gives 2018 Home Transformation initiative. Through this initiative, we were able to help the Monsivaes family by making needed repairs to the home. See what inspired us to help this family in need:


We were inspired by the Monsivaes family, who had recently suffered a tragic loss when patriarch Paul Monsivaes, passed away suddenly. Before Paul passed away, he was in the process of making repairs on the family’s house, which was in desperate need of improvement. We were honored to have the opportunity to transform their family’s home and give them the home that Paul had always envisioned for the family.

The home had many issues that needed to be addressed to make it more livable and comfortable for the family. This unfinished home is a daily reminder of what Paul never got to complete. Our main goal for this project was to fulfill the vision that Paul had for this home and for his family,” said Sydney Kempler, Chairman of TLG Gives.

TLG Gives Home Before

Our team, along with the generous donation of hours and contributions from our sponsors, was able to make needed repairs like replacing exposed exterior soffit around the home, repairs to interior walls, repairs to a window, updating the master bathroom that had been in the process of repairs due to mold, finishing the kitchen repairs and updates, as well as other updates to create a more comfortable living space for the family.


The Home Transformation project for the Monsivaes family is just one of the many ways in which TLG Gives helps deserving individuals and families in the greater Houston area in times of need. Our next project is our 2018 Angel Tree effort, where we provide additional support and gives during the holiday season. If you would like to learn more about the TLG Gives Angel Tree effort and how you can help, visit

Preparing for Hurricane Season

After last year’s devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, it is imperative that you are equipped with all knowledge regarding disaster preparation. The 2018 hurricane season officially began on June 1st and will continue through November 30th. Typically, hurricanes arise unexpectedly, with little time to prepare. Just a few inches of water can cost thousands of dollars in damage; therefore, it is critical that your home and personal property are insured in the event of a major flood. We consulted local expert Jeff Sutherland with Sutherland Insurance Agency, LLC, who offered valuable insight regarding flood insurance and hurricane preparedness.

1. What insurance should l consider to protect the investment I have in my home?

The first type of insurance to consider is homeowners insurance, which protects you from most damages to your home, with the exception of flooding. Most policies in the Greater Houston area have a separate deductible (the part you pay when damage is done) for wind, hail, and hurricane claims. Additionally, because the risk of hurricanes is higher in the Gulf Coast area, insurance companies tend to charge more for coverage. Flood Insurance,however, pays for the damage done by rising water that comes in your home. The National Flood Insurance Program covers direct physical damage by flood to your building and/or personal property. To see the full list of what is and is not covered under the NFIP, click here.

2. When can I buy flood insurance?

You can buy flood insurance at any time, but you must keep in mind that all policies have a 30-day waiting period before coverage begins. For this reason, it is important to not wait for a storm to be reported before you decide to buy coverage, as it likely won’t pay for any damage that occurs during the waiting period in which the policy is not yet in effect. Therefore, if you’re buying a new home, you should purchase flood insurance at least 30 days prior to closing to ensure you have coverage on the first day of owning your home.

3. How much does flood insurance cost?

Most homes qualify for the preferred flood insurance program, which can range in cost from $275 to $450 per year. However, homes that are in a higher risk flood zone will have higher premiums. Coverage for these homes begins at $800 and up.

4. What conditions are necessary for flood insurance to cover damages?

Flood insurance covers overflow of inland or tidal waters and unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source. However, the flood must be a general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or of two or more properties (at least one of which is yours).

5. What happens if my home floods but I don’t have flood insurance?

If the federal government decides to list the area as a Federal Disaster Area, then you would be eligible for federal disaster assistance. This comes in the form of a loan from the Small Business Administration to help pay for repairs to your home, which is typically paid back over 30 years with very low interest. As part of the loan process the government will require that you first file a claim with your homeowners insurance and be denied for any assistance – this is an important first step to helping your loan move quickly.

For more information on hurricane preparation, click here.

Landscaping 101

Well-tended landscaping is critical in giving your home the curb appeal that it needs. Whether you’re a first-time homeowner or just want to freshen up your landscape, there are several key components that are essential in creating and maintaining a healthy, beautiful yard. We spoke with landscaping professional Chris Helms from Helms Landscape Design, LLC regarding all things lawn maintenance. These basic tips will help you create landscaping that is both practical and aesthetically pleasing.

1. How often do I need to water my grass?

Watering your lawn is dependent upon a variety of factors, including soil type, sunlight, grass type, and regional climate to name a few. On average, most lawns need 1 to 1.5 inches of water a week to stay lush and green. If you have a new lawn, it is recommended to water it every day for 10 minutes so the root systems can get established. After that, you can taper off to twice a week for 20 minutes. To prevent the water from evaporating too quickly, it is best to water your lawn in the early morning before the sun comes up – ideally between the hours of 4:30-5:00 AM – when the air is at its coolest and wind is at a minimum.

2. What do I need to know about the soil in my raised flower beds?

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when filling your raised flower beds is using only potting soil or compost – this will cause your soil to drain too quickly, washing away necessary water and nutrients. It is best to use a mixed soil for your raised beds that is rich in organic matter and nutrients. A good rule of thumb is to add fresh mulch at least twice a year so the plants have the best opportunity to retain soil moisture. This also improves the appearance of your beds and suppresses weed growth.

3. What should I know about re-potting my plants?

When plants outgrow their containers, the roots are no longer able to receive proper nutrients from the soil and the health of the plant will suffer. Every time you move your plant from a small container to a larger one, place the plant in the new container and fill it in with fresh potting soil, gently pressing the soil in. Generally, you should replace your potting soil at least once a year, or when you notice the soil becoming compacted and dry. It’s also important to not overwater your plants, as this can cause the plant to slowly suffocate and become wilted.

4. What are the benefits to using artificial turf/grass?

There are several benefits of using artificial grass for those who are interested in drought-tolerant landscaping. Artificial turf allows you to cut back on the time required to maintain your lawn, including time spent mowing and watering. Additionally, it’s more environmentally friendly. It doesn’t require the use of fertilizers, pesticides, or other potentially harmful chemicals, and cuts down on carbon monoxide emissions from weed eaters and mowers. Most importantly, it’s safe for kids and pets!

5. When is the best time of year to “scalp” my grass?

Lawn scalping refers to cutting your grass low enough that the stems of the grass blades are exposed. Scalping helps to clear away any winter debris from your lawn and exposes the soil to more sunlight, which helps warm the soil and promotes growth. If you wish to scalp your lawn, it’s best to do it once a year right after the winter has passed (either late February or early March) to allow the grass the entirety of spring to recover.

6. How do I secure the drainage from my home?

If left untreated, standing water next to your home’s foundation can be problematic. The space in between two homes is typically where you get a drainage area. You first want to make sure that you are not overwatering the area. In most cases, just a few minutes for the side of the home is plenty. If the area does not receive enough sunlight, another option would be to put in underground French drains to move the water out onto the street.

What You Should Know About Home Appraisals

Are you thinking about renovating your home, but not sure where to begin? Despite so many television programs making the home renovation process appear hassle-free, there are many things to consider before making improvements to your property. We spoke with Mariella Massa from Appraisal MC to determine which home upgrades are worth the investment.

1. What isn’t worth the money when upgrading a home?

When upgrading your home, you must first make sure that you’re not over-improving your property for the market area. To check what’s available in your market area and make comparisons on upgrades, visit Features such as swimming pools, decks, outdoor kitchens, and other costly upgrades generally do not yield a return on investment.

2. What do buyers want most in a home?

The kitchen and master suite are usually the major focal points for home buyers. More specifically, buyers are looking for move in ready homes with features such as remodeled kitchens and baths, as well as updated flooring.

3. Which home renovations yield the most return?

The number one thing to consider when making renovations is what buyers are willing to pay for those extra items. While more intensive renovations such as bathroom or kitchen makeovers tend to yield the highest return, cosmetic upgrades like hardwood flooring and stainless steel appliances can also yield a profit if they are consistent throughout the property.

4. Will putting in a swimming pool and/or hot tub add value to a home?
Although swimming pools may sound appealing to some, many people consider it a liability rather than a luxury. Safety-conscious parents are often wary of pools, which could mean an increased risk of not selling your home. Additionally, pools can be extremely expensive to install and maintain. The average cost to install and equip a pool starts at around $30,000 and can go up to as high as $100,000 with all the bells and whistles included. What’s more, this doesn’t include the cost of regular filtration and upkeep. A pool might make more financial sense if you live in a higher-end neighborhood or in a warm climate. Lastly, you should consider the fact that you won’t always get dollar for dollar value. The return on investment for a pool is relatively low, so it’s important to remember that you will likely get back only a fraction of the money you put in.

5. What steps should I take to perform a major home upgrade project?
If you’re looking to do a major upgrade, you should first go to to see if your home is comparable to others in your market area. You can also contact a local realtor to get suggestions on upgrades. If you do decide to take on a home upgrade project, it’s important to prepare a bid and have a local appraiser do a “Subject To” appraisal on your property so you can know if the proposed improvements will actually add value to your home.

6. Is it more beneficial in the long run to put your money into cosmetic upgrades or more basic home maintenance?
In order to preserve the value of your home, it is absolutely essential to invest money in routine home maintenance, such as inspecting the siding or replacing an old roof. When considering cosmetic upgrades, it’s important to assess what will go well with the home and market area. While adding certain features can do a lot in the eyes of buyers, it won’t necessarily yield a lot on the appraised value.