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Swap Fad Diets for Healthy Living

February 24, 2015 5:03 am

(Family Features) If you recently committed to managing your weight or dieting, it may be time to change your approach. For long-term results, ditch fad dieting and adopt a balanced approach to eating with a focus on healthy foods.

Some fad diets fail to provide your body with the nutrients your body needs. In addition, sustained rapid weight loss can increase your risk of gallbladder problems, and heart problems can result from consuming too few calories for too long.
To maintain a healthy weight and healthier lifestyle, focus on establishing these healthy habits:
  • Choose healthy foods, with a diet rich in fruits and veggies.
  • Manage calorie intake and portion size. Keep on track by using a smaller plate, paying close attention to nutrition labels and weighing portions on a scale.
  • Make exercise part of your daily life. Even activities such as gardening or taking the stairs can make a difference.
Managing your metabolism – how your body uses calories – is another key to healthy eating. Eating foods that deliver plenty of protein and fiber are all keys to maximizing your metabolism.

Source: Great Grains

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Americans' Financial Security Highest Since Recession

February 24, 2015 5:03 am

More than half of Americans (58 percent) have more emergency savings than credit card debt, up from both 2014 and 2013, according to a recent report from Bankrate.com. Overall, Americans are feeling better about their debt loads than at any point since June 2013.

Just 16 percent of Americans say that their overall financial situation is worse than last year, representing a new low. Approximately one in four Americans (24 percent) have more credit card debt than emergency savings and another 13 percent have neither credit card debt nor emergency savings.

Improvement was also reflected in all five categories of Bankrate's Financial Security Index: savings, debt, net worth, job security and overall financial situation. The report concluded that more Americans feel secure in their jobs than they did a year ago (24 percent). People are feeling better about their net worth by a similar margin. Men and women both note improved financial security compared to one year ago. Men continue to feel better about their security than women.

Even savings, long the laggard of financial security, is closing the gap. Whereas the percentage of Americans less comfortable with their savings used to routinely outnumber those who were more comfortable by a 2-to-1 margin, the divide has narrowed dramatically.

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The 7 Most Common Tax Scams – and How to Avoid Them

February 23, 2015 5:03 am

Filing season means three things: taxes, refunds and scams. Taxpayers should know that they are legally responsible for what is on their tax returns, even if it is prepared by someone else. Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest for taxpayers, as well as possible criminal prosecution.

To avoid jeopardizing your standing with the IRS, steer clear of these seven schemes.
  • Phone Scams: Aggressive and threatening phone calls by criminals impersonating IRS agents remain an ongoing threat to taxpayers. The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent months as scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation, license revocation and other things.
  • Phishing: Taxpayers need to be on guard against fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS will not send you an email about a bill or refund out of the blue. Don’t click on one claiming to be from the IRS that takes you by surprise. Taxpayers should be wary of clicking on strange emails and websites. They may be scams to steal your personal information.
  • Identity Theft: Taxpayers need to watch out for identity theft, especially around tax time. The IRS is making progress on this front, but taxpayers still need to be extremely careful and do everything they can to avoid becoming a victim.
  • Return Preparer Fraud: Taxpayers need to be on the lookout for unscrupulous return preparers. The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service. But there are some dishonest preparers who set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers.
  • Inflated Refund Claims: Taxpayers need to be on the lookout for anyone promising inflated refunds. Taxpayers should be wary of anyone who asks them to sign a blank return, promise a big refund before looking at their records, or charge fees based on a percentage of the refund. Scam artists use flyers, advertisements, phony store fronts and word of mouth via community groups and churches in seeking victims.
  • Fake Charities: Taxpayers should be on guard against groups masquerading as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors. Contributors should take a few extra minutes to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate and currently eligible charities. Note charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally-known organizations.
  • Abusive Tax Shelters: Taxpayers should avoid using abusive tax structures to avoid paying taxes. The vast majority of taxpayers pay their fair share, and everyone should be on the lookout for people peddling tax shelters that sound too good to be true. When in doubt, taxpayers should seek an independent opinion regarding complex products they are offered.
Source: IRS.gov

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Steps to a More Organized Home

February 23, 2015 5:03 am

One mistake many would-be organizers make is trying to organize their entire household in one fell swoop. Even if your home is relatively neat, a project of that magnitude can be daunting – and lead to a serious case of burnout.

To avoid throwing in the towel early, be realistic about your goals by focusing on the areas in your home that accumulate the most clutter each week. Get started with these steps.

1. Set up a paper storage system
– Designate an area for all papers close to an entrance or centrally located room, like the kitchen. When you notice documents accumulating, take time to go through your pile, shredding any that could compromise your identity, and recycle non-sensitive information.

2. Pare down crowded closets – Your closet may store everything and anything, but that doesn’t mean it has to be filled to capacity. Many seasonal items can be reduced significantly in size by vacuum sealing, and bed linens can be stored inside pillowcases. If you’ve got a hang-up about too many hangers, note which garments haven’t been worn as you take down and hang up frequently used pieces. If they haven’t been worn in a few weeks, donate, toss or sell.

3. Donate multiples
– Many homeowners actually own multiples of common household items, such as hand towels, umbrellas and pot holders. Pay it forward by donating the multiples you can do without. A good rule of thumb: if you haven’t had a need for it in a year or more, donate it.

4. Simplify your desktop – Disorganization can happen digitally, too. If your computer’s overloaded with files, consider purging your desktop. Give priority to programs you use daily and delete other shortcuts that aren’t accessed on a regular basis. Streamline your photo collection, saving only the ones you’d keep in an album. And to really free up space, consider uninstalling programs that haven’t been opened in six months or more.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Winter Home Safety Tips

February 23, 2015 5:03 am

(BPT) – Because freezing temperatures and snowfall continue to impact much of the country this winter, homeowners must ensure their property stays safe throughout the season and beyond. Note these safety measures to protect against:

Power Outages
Install back-up generators to power all of your home's critical systems including sump pumps, security and fire alarm systems and heating systems.

Fire Damage
While fire presents a year-round risk, certain causes of fire occur more frequently during the winter. Approximately 25,000 residential fires begin in a fireplace or chimney every year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Boilers and furnaces pose particularly high risks as well.

These fires are caused by a layer of unburned carbon-based residues (sometimes referred to as fireplace creosote) that builds up along the inside walls of your chimney and can eventually catch fire. The solution is to have a trusted, certified professional chimney sweep inspect your chimney annually and have it cleaned as necessary.

While home fires make headlines, water damage is also common and often just as severe. The most frequent cause is faulty or broken pipes. Be sure to insulate exposed pipes to prevent freezing or bursting.

Frozen Pipes

Whether you leave your home for warmer climates or spend a weekend on the ski slopes, always leave the heat on in your home with the thermostat set to at least 55 degrees. Don't let high fuel prices tempt you into going lower.

The pipes that come in through your foundation or run through external walls can reach temperatures much lower than the setting on your thermostat, so have someone check on your home periodically while you are away.

A foolproof way to protect your home from broken or leaking pipes at any time of year is to install an automatic water shutoff system. Attached to your home's main water supply line, these devices detect leaks as they happen and automatically shut-off the water to the home, thereby preventing further ongoing damage. Additionally, these devices can be integrated into a home's security or smart-house system to provide real-time notification when the shut-off valve has activated.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Creating the Ultimate Time-Saving Kitchen

February 20, 2015 5:03 am

Five to 10 minutes may not seem like much, but it can add up quickly when cooking a weeknight meal. According to a recent survey by Consumer Reports, the average difference between actual time spent in the kitchen and what respondents desired is eight minutes.

With that goal in mind, create the ultimate time-saving kitchen with these expert tips from chefs, designers, organizers and more.
1. Design for efficiency. The work triangle – connecting the sink, fridge, and cooktop – is still the baseline for maximum efficiency. But in two-cook kitchens, it often makes sense to have a second triangle, possibly designated around an island counter with a prep sink.

2. Think ahead. One of the top cooking gripes in Consumer Reports’ survey was that it takes too much time to plan. A slow cooker is handy for make-ahead meals. Most have nonstick interiors that help with cleanup, saving you even more time after the meal.

3. Minimize maintenance. Some materials and finishes are harder to care for than others. Stainless-steel appliances remain popular, but if fingerprints are a concern, consider installing a model with a smudge-resistant finish. As for flooring, vinyl held up best in Consumer Reports tests against scratches and dents.

4. Contain the clutter. In the kitchen, try to store things close at hand. For example, dishes and flatware should be kept in a cabinet next to the dishwasher; cutting boards and sharp knives belong near the food prep counter. Creating a separate landing spot, ideally just off the kitchen or along its perimeter, for mail, school papers and the like will help keep counters clear.

5. Make it a family affair. Look for ways to enlist other members of the household. If kids are present, designate a lower cabinet for everyday dishes or flatware, allowing young ones to help set the table.
Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Organizing Finances to Buy a Home

February 20, 2015 5:03 am

Buying a home is a major life decision. You’ll want to do everything in your power to make sure you’re financially secure enough to tackle the investment. If you’re planning to buy a home in the near future, organization is key.

“Buying your first home can be a complicated and intimidating process, both emotionally and financially,” said Steve Trumble, ACCC. “Buying a home is one of the largest investments consumers will ever make, and it’s critical that they prepare financially before they take the leap.”

The ACCC suggests the following:

Pay your bills on time – Your credit history plays an important role in the homebuying process. This includes rent and bills. If you have a history of paying credit cards, utilities, student loans and other bills late, it can damage your ability to secure a mortgage. Create a schedule and budget so that you can pay bills on time as they are due.

Pull your credit report – It’s critical that you know what your credit score is since it is one of the first and most important items a bank looks at when determining whether to grant a mortgage. When examining the report, make sure to look for inaccuracies or mistakes. If there are any, you’ll have to address that with the credit bureaus. If your score is lower than it should be, spend the time necessary to improve your score long before you are going to buy.

Trade lines – Most lenders prefer if you have three or more trade lines (credit cards, student loans, car loan, etc.) that have been open for at least a year. It’s also important to avoid closing these trade lines because it will negatively affect your credit score.

Save as much money as possible – A larger down payment (20 percent) or more can save you hundreds in additional insurances and give you more buying power.

Do your research – There are many other factors you have to consider when buying a home in addition to the purchase price of the house. Property taxes, homeowners insurance, utilities, maintenance, condo fees and repair can add up very quickly. Make sure to research interest rates to determine the best time to buy.

Source: ACCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Moving? Choose a Safe Self-Storage Facility

February 20, 2015 5:03 am

The Self Storage Association (SSA) notes that 1 out of every 10 households in the United States currently rents some kind of storage unit, including portable on-demand storage (PODS). That represents a significant increase from 1 in 17 U.S. households in 1995.

If you’re considering renting storage space when moving, look for a safe facility that meets these guidelines:

The facility is clean and well-maintained. If a storage facility is not routinely and thoroughly cleaned, there is a good possibility no one is monitoring for pest infestations. Verify that the facility has a permanent, reliable extermination contract in place before you trust them with your belongings.

The facility is secure. Ensure the facility has minimum security measures, like fencing that secures the entire property and access control. Ideally, the storage building should also have onsite features like 24-hour video surveillance cameras and coded security pads. Find out about the facility’s procedures in cases of fire or flooding.

The units are climate-controlled.
Very high or low temperatures, as well as dampness, can quickly cause damage to appliances and furniture. Make sure that rising groundwater from snow or rain is unable to penetrate the unit.

The facility offers insurance. If your renters or homeowners insurance does not provide off-premises coverage, you may want to opt for one of the company’s coverage options. Keep in mind that any facility should have its own insurance to cover damages to the property or injuries that occur on the premises.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Stand Out from the Competition with a Staged Home

February 19, 2015 8:27 pm

Staging your home is a surefire way to help your home stand out from the competition. While the kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms are three areas that shouldn’t be overlooked, the remaining rooms in your home are just as important.

Take the dining room for instance. While it’s true that many millennials might prefer to give up the room altogether for a larger entertainment room or office space, for other prospective buyers, a dining room is an important component of a house.

After all, the dining room is where most of the family meals are eaten, and the space where guests are entertained. Plus, the dining room can act as a wonderful showcase room for your china, glasses and other flatware.

The best way to stage a dining room is to showcase it as if it’s being decorated for a fancy dinner party. Put out your best place settings, use fancy linens, add some decorative candles, and play on a buyer’s emotions. Give them the chance to envision what it would be like to host their own elegant dinner in the room.

Chairs should be pushed completely under the table so people aren’t blocked from walking around. Paying attention to this simple detail will also give the room a larger feel. And the dining room table should be cleaned and polished so that it shines.

Depending on the size of the dining room, additional furniture can be added, especially if there’s an opportunity to show off a nice china cabinet. However, be sure to avoid having extra chairs or a wine rack in the corner, as this will only make the room look smaller.

Most dining rooms are lit by chandelier, an item that can go a long way toward attracting a prospective buyer’s eye. If your current chandelier is dingy or doesn’t give off much light, now’s a good time to think about an upgrade. Chandeliers don’t cost too much and a new one can make a world of difference. Plus, you could always take it with you (as long as the buyer knows it’s not part of the package). If you don’t plan on incorporating new lighting into the area, make sure whatever lighting you have in place works properly. You’ll also want to ensure that it’s clean, and that it doesn’t hang too low.

And last but not least, consider your window treatments carefully. If your dining room features heavy curtains that block the window, be sure to tie them back before prospective buyers visit. If you’re willing to throw the curtains in with the house, make that clear up front.

For more dining room staging tips, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Lockboxes and Their Role in the Real Estate Process

February 19, 2015 8:27 pm

Selling a home can be a time-consuming process, but as any real estate professional can attest, making sure the space can be seen at all times—and ensuring agents have a way to enter—are two crucial ingredients that can ultimately go a long way toward helping the home sell faster. And one way to achieve this is by installing a lockbox.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a lockbox is a small metal box that’s fastened to the front door (or another secure part of the home). Housed inside the lockbox is another box that contains the key to the home. A code is required to get the key, providing a safe and secure way for real estate agents to enter the home and show it off to prospective buyers.

In fact, real estate professionals will tell you that installing a lockbox will not only result in more views by qualified buyers, they can also play a major role in speeding up the selling process. After all, your house isn’t just being shown by the agent you listed with. Instead, it’s available to real estate agents from all over. And, in the end, if they don’t have an easy way to show your house to their clients when you and/or your agent aren’t available, you’re more than likely going to miss out on showings.

While lockboxes are designed to allow access to your home 24/7—depending on the lockbox hours you and your agent set—making the process easier for everyone involved, it’s important to keep in mind that you ultimately have control over when someone can and can’t see your home.

If you’re still not sold on the lockbox idea, keep in mind that by not utilizing this technology, you’re making it so that both you and your agent need to be available when someone comes to see the house.

It’s also important that sellers not overlook lockboxes simply because they used them in the past and had a less than stellar experience. Today’s lockboxes are much more technically advanced than they used to be. Unlike the lockboxes of a decade ago, lockboxes today have a tiny microprocessor inside in order to record the time, date and which agent showed your home. Taking this one step further, the lockbox then notifies your listing agent so that they can quickly get to work on your behalf.

Remember that there’s nothing to fear about an uninvited guest breaking into the box and stealing your key. Not only does a lockbox require an electronic key to open it, but the only way to get a key is to become a member of the local MLS. Each key has a unique identifier and agents are forbidden to let other agents use theirs.

For more information about lockboxes, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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