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Catch up on Retirement Planning

January 14, 2015 4:45 am

(BPT) - If you're within 10 years of retirement and haven't done any appreciable planning, you're not alone. Nearly half of Americans age 50 and older expect to retire later than they hoped, citing financial concerns, according to a 2013 study by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. And while you may be part of that group, it's better to plan late than never.

A good benchmark on retirement readiness is the ability to replace at least 75 percent of your pre-retirement income at the age you qualify for full Social Security benefits, which is 66 or 67 for most people. Retirement income can come from a variety of sources, including Social Security, savings and a pension, if you have one.

"While people age 50 or older no longer have time on their side when it comes to retirement savings, there are strategies that can help you play catch up," says Elaine Sarsynski, executive vice president, MassMutual Retirement Services division. "Pre-retirees have some levers to pull that younger workers may not."

Make the most of your retirement planning by:

Taking stock of where you are. Meet with a financial professional who can evaluate your retirement resources and project how much income you can expect if you retire at a certain age. Many 401(k) plans offer online tools to help you determine where you stand and how likely you are to replace your income based on your current assets and saving habits.

Making the most of matching contributions. Say your employer matches contributions to your 401(k) plan up to five percent of your salary and you only contribute two percent – you're turning down free money. Make sure you save enough to at least get the full match.

Talking to your tax advisor about whether you should contribute to your 401(k) on a before- or after-tax basis. Pre-tax contributions may make it affordable to save a higher percentage of your pay by deferring some of your tax liability until retirement. After-tax contributions may reduce your tax liability in retirement.

Taking advantage of catch-up contributions.
If you're age 50 or older at the end of the calendar year, you are eligible to contribute up to an additional $6,000 to your retirement plan in 2015. That's on top of the $18,000 limit for younger employees. Matching contributions from your employer do not count toward your contribution limit.

Optimizing Social Security. You can begin taking Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. But should you?

"It depends on a lot of things - your health, medical history, current cash needs, and future financial obligations, to name a few," says Farnoosh Torabi, best-selling author and personal finance coach. "But one thing is certain: the longer you delay your application, the bigger your benefit will be."

The maximum benefit from Social Security starts at age 70. You can estimate your retirement benefit by using the Social Security Administration's Retirement Estimator at ssa.gov/estimator.

Not forgetting your pension.
If you are entitled to a pension, this is an important source of income that should factor into your retirement planning. Your pension pays you a benefit at retirement based on factors such as your years of service and salary. Your plan administrator will have specific information about your plan.

"When it comes to saving for retirement, don't let a late start dissuade you," Sarsynski says. "Becoming more financially disciplined and making the most of your resources can go a long way toward helping you retire on your own terms."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What Your Green Home Certification Really Means

January 13, 2015 4:45 am

Homes dubbed ‘green’ actually mean ‘well-built’ – no recycled countertops or bamboo carpets needed. If you’re truly seeking an environmentally-friendly experience as a homeowner, it’s important to take a comprehensive look at the performance of the home, according to the Illinois Association of Energy Raters (IAER).

Homebuyers are willing to pay more for proof of those green benefits – an average of 10 percent more, says the IAER. Green certifications earned by homebuilders incorporate checklists and testing to ensure a home will be comfortable, healthy, durable and low-cost, but certifications obtained by homeowners may mean something else entirely.

To learn the facts, consider consulting with a BPI- or RESNET-certified professional, who will test the enclosure (insulation and seal) and the HVAC system (heating, cooling and ventilation) to determine a home’s energy efficiency and pinpoint the most beneficial home improvements. This test will generally include an ENERGY STAR certification that can only be done by a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Rater.

Source: IAER

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Trends to Heighten Your Home's Style

January 13, 2015 4:45 am

Say goodbye to lackluster décor at home with help from renowned interior designer Taniya Nayak, who suggests heightening your design style with these tips.

Gallery Walls
“Hanging a variety of frames or objects in a well thought-out cluster on the wall perfectly showcases pieces that are important or meaningful,” Nayak says. “When people walk into your home, they’ll know exactly what you love.”

Create a room that’s uniquely yours by making a gallery wall with items of your choice. Display an array of mirrors, framed family photos, sketches or even postcards – the key is to be creative and make it personal.

‘60s Mod Inspiration
“[2015] is going retro mod – way back to the ‘60s, where design as about curvy forms, vibrant colors and eccentric patterns,” says Nayak. “Go full throttle with bright, loud elements typical to the mod movement.”

The retro panache of mid-century modern décor perks up rooms with soft, sculptural lines, woven upholstery and bright accessories in geometric shapes. Search for vintage furniture pieces like rounded chairs and button-cushion couches with short, tapered legs to add a sense of authenticity.

Copper Touches
“Each year, we see a particular metal rise to the top of every designer’s list, and this year, it’s all about copper,” Nayak says.

Copper is a metallic that adds modern edge to even the simplest design scheme. Small pieces make a big statement, so pepper in copper pieces through light fixtures, planters or table settings. Display copper cookware in your kitchen - it's a great way to add a touch of glamour without going over the top.

Organic Elements
“It’s easy to bring nature into your home,” Nayak assures. “Leave linear styles out of the equation. Instead, think of free-flowing shapes, colors found in nature and the peaceful serenity associated with the outdoors.”

Mount antlers above your mantel or create centerpieces with shells, metallic leaves or branches. Juxtapose earthy components against woodsy furniture and ivory tones for an outdoorsy aesthetic.

Source: ShurTech Brands

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Guard against Cold Weather Injuries

January 13, 2015 4:45 am

When the temperature dips below freezing, it's critical to protect your skin from cold-weather health risks. Amy J. Derick, MD, clinical instructor of dermatology at Northwestern University, urges people to dress appropriately for outdoor activities, stay dry and follow these guidelines:

1. Dress in loose, light, comfortable layers. Wearing loose, light layers helps trap warm air. The first layer should be made of a synthetic material, which wicks moisture away from your body. The next layer should be insulating. Wool and fleece are good insulators and hold in more body heat than cotton. The top layer should be windproof and waterproof. A down parka and ski pants can help keep you dry and warm during outdoor activities.

2. Protect your feet and toes. To protect your feet and toes, wear two pairs of socks. The first pair, next to your skin, should be made of moisture-wicking fabric. Place a pair of wool or wool-blend socks on top of those. Your boots should also provide adequate insulation. They should be waterproof and cover your ankles. Make sure that nothing feels tight.

3. Protect your head. To protect your ears and head, wear a heavy wool or fleece hat. If you are outside on a bitterly cold day, cover your face with a scarf or face mask. This warms the air you breathe and helps prevent frostbite on your nose and face.

4. Protect your hands. Wear insulated mittens or gloves to help protect your hands from the cold.

5. Make sure snow cannot get inside of your boots or clothing. Before heading outdoors, make sure that snow cannot easily get inside of your boots or clothing. While outdoors, if you start to sweat, cut back on your activity or unzip your jacket a bit.

6. Keep yourself hydrated. Even if you are not thirsty, drink at least one glass of water before you head outside, and always drink water or a sports drink before an outdoor workout.

Source: AAD

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Things You Should Never Do to Your Home

January 12, 2015 4:45 am

New homeowners can be overwhelmed with the list of things they should do to their homes on a regular basis – clean the gutters and replace the furnace filters, for example. But, say the Wall St. Journal’s home advisors, there are at least seven things a homeowner should never do—and here’s why:

Don’t do your own plumbing chores—No matter how handy you think you are, leave the plumbing to the pros, experts say. The risks are high if you mess up, and homeowners may not have a good grasp on building codes and safety requirements.

Don’t do electrical work
—The same caveats apply here—and the greatest risk of all is electrocution!

Don’t be too quick to remove a wall
—It may seem like a great idea to give yourself a little extra space. But don’t do anything until you check with a contractor or an engineer to be sure the wall you want to remove is not a load-bearing wall.

Re-think a bump-out
—In the same vein, think twice about moving a wall only slightly to gain a little space. Contractors say these little bump-outs are too costly. You’ll get more bang for your buck by opening the new space on a bigger scale.

Don’t remodel too much—By the same token, give plenty of thought before you start remodeling. If you want the best return on your investment, keep remodeling costs in line with what other homes in your neighborhood are worth.

Don’t neglect your yard—Bad front yards anger the neighbors and bring down property values. Don’t be the one who doesn’t get around to cleaning up and caring for the yard.

Don’t forget not everyone loves your pets—even if the pet smells, hair and stains don’t bother you, they likely bother your guests—and they will certainly bother potential buyers, so keep the carpets clean and open the windows when you can.

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Painting or Re-carpeting? Match Room Colors to Lighting

January 12, 2015 4:45 am

When it comes to most basic DIY projects—interior painting and replacing carpeting—I was surprised to learn how often folks wade in, carefully plotting color and pattern schemes with little or no attention paid to the type of light or lighting that will illuminate the 'finished product.'

To achieve the colors you really want, Sarah Cole of the Farrow & Ball paint company, Cole, advises:
  • Paint squares of primed drywall with samples of the colors you're considering, and then move them around the room during the day. Apply at least two coats.
  • Evaluate samples of carpet during different daylight conditions.
  • Most contractors won't hang lights before you paint, but you can get a color approximation by placing a bulb you'll be using in a floor or desk lamp.
  • Natural and artificial light will work together during certain times of day, especially in summer when dusk lasts a long time. So turn on artificial lights even during daylight to see what your colors will look like.
  • Glossy finishes will reflect light and change the way the color looks, whereas flat finishes are less reflective and allow colors to look truer under bright light.
  • Light-colored walls can reflect the colors of bold carpets: A bright blue rug, for instance, can cast a bluish tone on a white wall.
Homeowners also need to take into account how sunlight affects colors. Cole reminds remodelers that as the amount and angle of the sun changes, so will your colors.
  • Light in north-facing rooms is cool and bluish. So bolder colors show up better than muted colors; and lighter colors will look subdued, says Cole.
  • Lots of high-in-the-sky light in south-facing rooms brings out the best in cool and warm colors. Dark colors will look brighter; and lighter colors will virtually glow.
  • East light is warm and yellowy before noon, then turns bluer later in the day, Cole says. These are great rooms for reds, oranges and yellows.
  • While evening light in west-facing rooms is beautiful and warm, while scant morning light can produce shadows and make colors look dull.

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Clear the Clutter with These 5 Tips

January 9, 2015 8:24 pm

Keeping your home tidy throughout the selling process can be a challenging proposition for those who have too many things and not quite enough storage space. If you’re at the point where you’re being bogged down by your stuff, the following ideas will help you clear the clutter once and for all.

1. Put Things in Storage. An obvious solution is renting a storage space during the selling process, an option that offers numerous advantages in terms of staging. It’s also a great step toward keeping your closets organized. If you decide to rent a storage space, fill it with off-season clothes, boxes containing photos and other mementos and stuff you don’t use. You can even store packed boxes to make your eventual move easier.

2. Organize Your Space. While you most likely don’t want to take on a major closet renovation during the home-selling process, there are some simple things you can do to organize the closets within your home. If you’re looking for an easy, affordable way to get your closets in tip top shape, invest in some shelving units and shoe storage racks. And organize your clothes so that certain items are grouped together, making things look organized and visually appealing.

3. The Right Use for the Right Closet. As any homeowner can attest, we accumulate a lot of stuff over the years. And it’s easy to get in the habit of putting things in less-than-ideal spaces, so take some time to put things away in the proper location. For example, if you have clothes hanging in your family room closet, get them into the bedroom closet. Likewise, if you’re keeping a vacuum cleaner or tools in the master bedroom closet, find a place for them somewhere else.

4. Toying with Toys. If you have kids, you probably have a lot of toys around the house. Take stock of these toys and get rid of the ones that aren’t being used (consider donating unused toys that are in good condition or hold a garage sale). Be sure to organize board games neatly in a family room closet and consider buying a toy chest.

5. Clean the Garage. Diligent buyers look at everything, including the garage, so be sure your garage is in good shape—rather than a dumping ground for things you don’t know what to do with. To clear the clutter in your garage, put your holiday decorations in boxes, organize your garden tools and find a space for your lawnmower. If you have a workbench in the garage, organize it. You’ll also want to be sure there’s space for a car.

Following these tips will not only showcase your home’s storage potential, they’ll also go a long way toward putting you on the path to making the most of your home’s storage space.

For more tips on organizing your home, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Simple Tips for Incorporating More Light into Your Living Space

January 9, 2015 8:24 pm

If you want to give your home the best chance of selling at the price you want, put a little light on the subject. After all, poor lighting can make a room look gloomy. And it’s well known in the real estate industry that buyers look for excellent lighting when shopping for a place to live. That means displaying the right combination of natural night, lamps and other sources of light.

This may seem obvious, but sunshine is a great way to light a room, so take down drapes and curtains and let the light shine in. Not only will this brighten a room, it will also help with your staging by making it easy for potential buyers to imagine what curtains, drapes and blinds they want to bring into each room. Also, be sure to clean the windows as they’ll be more prominent when curtains are taken out of the equation. Cleaning windows will also let the light shine brighter.

Lighting can also be used to showcase aspects of your home that you want to emphasize. While spotlight lamps are great for showcasing fireplaces or paintings, if you have dimmers, use them to create the right mood from room to room. If potential buyers look at your home when it’s darker outside, make the playroom bright and cheery and dim the lights in the dining room to set a more romantic mood.

It’s also important to take a good look at your fixtures and the shape they’re in. If they’re cracked, worn-out or just out of date, take the time to replace them. And go with something simple in order to appeal to the widest range of potential buyers. Incorporating simple fixtures into the space will also help you keep more money in your wallet while making it easier for buyers to imagine what fixtures they’d like to install. Don’t overlook light switches either—they can get worn out and stained after years of hands touching them. Make sure they’re clean, and buy new ones if necessary.

You’ll also want to be sure to pay particular attention to the kitchen and bathroom. Add high-wattage bulbs in the kitchen, particularly in cooking areas. If your bathroom needs a little sprucing up, the right light can go a long way toward creating a bright space.

If you’re simply looking to bring the lighting up a notch in your home, there are some simple, inexpensive ways to achieve this goal. Whether it’s buying bulbs with a higher wattage, cleaning your lampshades (or buying new ones), trimming trees/shrubbery or cleaning curtains and drapes, incorporating extra light into your home doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

For more tips on bringing light into your home, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Selling to the Masses: Appealing to Millennials

January 9, 2015 8:24 pm

As we make our way through 2015, the millennial generation (those between the ages of 24 and 32) will continue to move the real estate industry forward. Since they’re just about the perfect age for buying their first home, it’s important to think about these buyers when preparing your home for sale.

Many millennials are often turned on by the latest and greatest technology, so incorporating smart technology devices into your home will go a long way toward impressing them. A small investment in home automation may also be worthwhile, as this generation wants to be able to turn the lights on/off—and the heat up/down—through their mobile devices.

A recent survey by The National Association of REALTORS® revealed that millennials accounted for slightly over 28 percent of all home sales, trailing Gen Xers by a very slight margin. In addition, the report showed that the median age of millennial homebuyers was 28, their median income was $66,200 and they typically bought a 1,700-square-foot home costing $165,000.

When it comes to the inside of the home, millennials are impressed with entertainment rooms over dining rooms, and offices over extra bedrooms. They care about technology and environmentally friendly fixtures, so be sure to highlight these features.

If your neighborhood is getting younger and hipper, make sure you leave some information out about trendy restaurants, new stores and local hotspots. It’s also a good idea to compile some information about nearby pre-schools for those who may be thinking about starting a family in the not too distant future.

In terms of staging the home to attract millennial buyers, be sure to incorporate unique and cool looking furniture into the space. In addition, replace old curtains and carpets with something a little more hip. If you want to be sure you’re heading down the right path, ask any millennials you know for their honest opinion. If there are things they feel are old-fashioned, it’s a good bet that their opinion will be shared by others.

You may think your home won’t appeal to a millennial buyer because the neighborhood skews old, with a lot of families and high school-aged kids in the area, however, this signifies that there will most likely be a big turnover in the next decade. With so many millennial buyers entering the market, sellers shouldn’t dismiss the possibility.

To learn more about appealing to millennial buyers, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Home Automation and Its Value in Today's Tech-Driven World

January 9, 2015 8:24 pm

Smart homes are all the rage these days as technology continues to infiltrate the industry. In fact, smart home automation is not only set to continue to rise, it’s expected to become a $15 trillion industry in the next decade. And it’s quickly becoming one of the most asked about features among prospective homebuyers.

However, many people are still confused about these automated systems. While they may have seen them on TV, heard people talking about them on various social media sites or know someone who has already implemented some of these smart features into their home, until they have personal experience with these systems, they don’t truly understand the value.

When it comes to incorporating smart features into a home, connectability to a central system is key. This means that you’re able to control all of the home’s systems and appliances with the click of a button.

Today’s automated systems can control all sorts of things within the home—HVACs, appliances, lights, locks, electronics and even the security system. Making it even more convenient, all of this can be done through apps on a smartphone or tablet, so even if you’re away, you can call or click-in and lock the doors, shut the blinds, turn on the dishwasher, dim the lights, record your favorite TV show, turn on your sprinkler system or control the temperature.

Smart refrigerators are another popular feature in many homes today. Not only do these refrigerators allow you to create a list of groceries, they also add items to the list automatically. And if you happen to forget the list when you head out to the store, a simple call will have it delivered to your mobile device.

More advanced smart homes may have security systems complete with cameras, motion sensors and even a link to the local police station or security company.

If your home is equipped with these types of systems, it’s important that you talk with your agent so that they’re not only aware of these features, but so they can use them to their advantage when meeting with potential buyers. The last thing you want is for a prospective buyer to walk away because they see these systems as a nuisance.

A home with the latest gadgets and smart technology will pique the interest of a homebuyer and may lead to a quicker sale at a better price.

For more information about smart technology, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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