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Household Financial Priorities Reflect Economic Improvement

November 21, 2014 6:46 am

According to a recent report by, Americans' feelings about job security, comfort level with debt, net worth, and their overall financial situation all showed improvement compared to one year ago.

For the third consecutive year, Americans' top financial priority is getting caught up on bills or staying current on living expenses. Nearly half of Americans say that they are most concerned with getting a handle on their bills.

Staying current or getting caught up on bills was the most common priority across all age groups, but highest among those ages 50-64. Americans age 65 and older were more likely than any other age group to say providing financial assistance to family members or friends was their top priority. Other commonly cited top financial priorities include paying down debt (22 percent) and saving (17 percent).

Savings, however, are still a weak spot for Americans, with nearly one-third of Americans saying they're less comfortable with the amount of contributions to their savings.

Source: Bankrate

Published with permission from RISMedia.


'Friendsgiving' Growing in Popularity

November 20, 2014 1:01 am

In recent years, enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving meal at home with family has given way to trends like ‘Friendsgiving’ and shopping in retail stores on Thanksgiving Day. Is this the new normal among young adults today?

Leading global app Skout recently conducted a survey that sheds light on the answer. The survey questioned more than 1,300 adults on their thoughts and plans for the holiday. The results aren't what most would expect.
- Eighteen percent of adults age 30-39 are planning to spend Thanksgiving with friends, compared to just 11 percent of adults age 18-29 planning to do the same.

- The majority of adults age 18-39 agreed that retail stores should not be open on Thanksgiving Day so that employees can enjoy time with friends and family.

- “Awkward conversations” topped the list of factors most likely to ruin Thanksgiving (46 percent).

- Nearly half the country will be holding a potluck-style meal this year. Forty-four percent of adults surveyed plan to share kitchen responsibilities with their host and celebrate the holiday with a potluck.

- Over half of males (59 percent) surveyed have faked a store-bought dish as homemade. Fifty percent of vegetarian responders admit they’ve also faked a homemade dish.

- Fifty-three percent of adults plan to tune in to a Thanksgiving Day football game.
Source: Skout

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Spruce Up Your Home for Holiday Entertaining

November 20, 2014 1:01 am

From tackling holiday stains to cleaning the crevices most commonly inspected by mothers-in-law, keeping a clean home around the holidays can seem like an impossible task. Between entertaining unexpected guests and hosting get-togethers with friends and family, having a clean home is never more important than it is around the holidays.

"The holidays are a fun, but often stressful time of year. People are busy shopping, cooking and volunteering, and have little time to keep a clean and tidy home," says Debra Johnson, home cleaning expert for Merry Maids. "The good news is that there are simple tips and strategies to getting a home in tip-top shape -- from being selective with holiday décor to having a laundry closet packed with your trusty cleaning solutions -- making cleaning easier and far less stressful."

Johnson’s secrets for a spic and span home include:

Double-duty holiday décor – Holiday décor is essential to giving spaces a more festive appearance, but it can also double the amount of housework you have each day. Give your holiday décor a second life – fill a vase or hurricane with sparkly tinsel leftovers that may have fallen to the floor and use it as a festive holiday centerpiece. Coal can serve as a great odor absorber, too.

Holiday stain fighters –While red wine, cranberry sauce and turkey gravy are real crowd-pleasers, they aren't so kind to upholstery and carpets. If you notice that one of your guests left the evidence behind, blot it right away with a white cloth until all of the liquid has been absorbed. If the stain's dry, whip up a quick solution of dishwashing liquid (1 tbsp), white vinegar (1 tbsp) and warm water (2 cups) to remove the stain.

Last-minute cleaning tricks – If your home needs tidying before guests arrive, set aside 15 minutes to make your home appear like you've spent a full day cleaning it.
  1. Grab a microfiber cloth and broom and set your kitchen timer.
  2. Sweep up the porch, fold the throws in the living room and fluff your throw pillows.
  3. Put a fresh stock of toilet paper in the bathroom, put away your toothbrushes and leave a festive box of tissues behind.
  4. Throw the dishes in the dishwasher and turn it on -- by the time dinner is ready, you'll have clean (and warm) dishes that are perfect for serving.
Source: Merry Maids

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Set the Stage for Comfort in Your Guest Room

November 20, 2014 1:01 am

Guest rooms are one of the more under-utilized spaces in any home, and homeowners are often at a loss when it comes to decorating them. With these simple and inexpensive additions, your guest room will become a home away from home for all of your out-of-town visitors.

Liven it up.
Since guest rooms are used less frequently than others, it makes sense to inject some vitality to the space. Before your guests arrive, pick up a fresh bouquet of flowers or a potted plant. They’ll appreciate the greenery while they enjoy the comforts of your home.

Pull out all the stops.
Create a hotel-like atmosphere with key amenities. Extra blankets and pillows, travel-size toiletries, a fluffy bathrobe, slippers or even a coffee maker with a selection of roasts will go a long way towards making your guest feel at home.

Make it a part of your home.
One of the easiest ways to make a guest room feel comfortable is to give it a “lived in” appearance. Add textural accents in layers (think pillows and area rugs) and arrange decorative accessories you already own on empty surface areas.

Source: Zillow

Published with permission from RISMedia.


10 Food Safety Tips for Holiday Meal Prep

November 19, 2014 1:13 am

As friends and family gather together during the holidays, you want to make sure that you keep out any unwelcome guests in the form of harmful food borne bacteria. The following tips will ensure food safety and a great time for everyone at your table.
  • Wash your hands and clean all prep surfaces and tools regularly during food preparation. Bacteria can survive in many places around your kitchen, especially on your hands, utensils and cutting boards. Unless you wash your hands, utensils and surfaces the right way, you could spread bacteria to your food and your family.
  • Soiled cloths are a hot breeding ground for bacteria. Wash them in the hot water cycle of your washing machine.
  • Keep raw foods and ready-to-eat foods separate. Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can still spread illness-causing bacteria to ready-to-eat foods unless you keep them separate. When juices from raw meats or bacteria from unclean objects accidentally touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods like salads, bread or cooked vegetables, cross contamination can occur.
  • When shopping, keep raw meats away from other foods in your shopping cart and in grocery bags.
  • Use separate tools and utensils. Never use the same utensils, cutting boards or containers for ready-to-eat foods that were previously used for handling raw meat, poultry or fish.
  • Keep hot food "hot" and cold food "cold." Use a properly calibrated food thermometer to be sure. Cooking foods to a proper minimum internal temperature kills harmful pathogens. Many people think they can tell when food is "done" simply by checking its color and texture, but there's no way to be sure it's safe without a food thermometer.
  • Always check the food temperature in the thickest part of the roast or turkey and check in two or three different spots for a rice dish or casserole.
  • Refrigerate leftovers quickly after serving to prevent bacteria growth and potential food poisoning.
  • Perishable foods cannot be left at out for longer than two hours at room temperature, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Never marinate or thaw foods on the counter at room temperature. These should be done in the refrigerator or in some other safe manner.
Source: Bart Christian

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Don't Let Hackers Ruin Your Holidays

November 19, 2014 1:13 am

With the holiday shopping season here, it's important to protect ourselves online. Major data breaches have been in the news regularly as thieves have made off with sensitive data from millions of consumers. By being aware and taking precautions, we can prevent ourselves from being victims of cybercrime, hackers, ID theft, viruses and more.

A survey by indicated that as data breaches exposing consumer credit, debit card and other personal information become more common, nearly half of cardholding shoppers say they're reluctant this holiday season to return to stores that have been hacked.

“You can’t depend on your favorite retailer to protect your information from cyber crime, hackers, big data marketers and identity theft,” says Vince Mazza, co-founder of Guard Street. “You must actively manage your security and privacy."

Guard Street recommends these five tips:

1. Shop securely and anonymously. Use a secure virtual private network to shield cybercriminals and hackers from tracking your online activity from your mobile device, desktop or laptop. Be wary of free Wi-Fi or VPN – it may cost you a loss of privacy. Use a disposable email address should you need to enter an email address to enter websites or gain access to information. Try

2. Stop and think before sharing information.
Don't provide information if you are unsure about the legitimacy of the request. Be careful of links taking you to sites that ask for your personal information. If an organization asks for your social security number to validate your identity, request another question.

3. Stay on top of your statements. Review credit card statements every month for any unauthorized charges and make sure to keep an eye on the smaller charges. Thieves will charge smaller amounts to test to see if you notice and then change larger amounts later.

4. Beware of email scammers. Some emails from scammers may mention big retailers who were hacked including Home Depot or they may offer free credit monitoring -- never click on these links! Many are fake sites that try to steal bank information or passwords. If an email looks creditable from a retailer, go to the retailers site directly instead of clicking on links.

5. Keep a clean machine. Having the latest security software, web browser and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware and other online threats.

Source: Guard Street

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Save Big Bucks This Winter with an Energy Audit

November 19, 2014 1:13 am

(BPT) - If you are winterizing your home to protect against the headache of frozen pipes and potential water damage, conducting a quick, three-step energy audit now can help prevent nasty surprises when the heating bill arrives.

It's human instinct to increase the heat during the coldest winter days, but this comes with increased heating costs that can stretch the household budget. Air leakage contributes significantly to home heating costs – the U.S Department of Energy suggests that floors, walls, ceilings and windows account for 41 percent of air leakage in homes. Air escaping from the home's envelope means the furnace has to work overtime to compensate and maintain a comfortable living temperature. As a result, energy consumption remains high, monthly bills continue to climb and any efficiency achieved through other methods is fruitless.

A simple energy audit can help you better understand your home's performance and ensure your heating bills don't break the bank this winter.

Start by thoroughly cleaning all vents, filters and ducts. Use a vacuum to remove any dust and debris around your furnace's filters. Then, have a professional clean your ductwork. Cleaning can noticeably improve the performance of your home's heating system, allowing it to run more efficiently.

Having a home energy auditor complete a "blower door" test will allow you to better understand how air flows through your home. This comprehensive test measures how much air is moving through any cracks around doors, windows and other potential problem areas. A well-sealed home should have no leaks. The energy auditor will also use equipment such as a "smoke pencil" and infrared camera to further assess the home's overall performance and identify problem areas that need to be addressed.

Finally, have an insulation professional assess your existing insulation's performance. Gaps, cracks and inconsistency of insulation coverage can significantly impact your home's energy performance, as well as your monthly heating bills. A licensed insulation professional can make recommendations as to how to address air leakage effectively with a better-performing insulation material. Spray foam insulation works well in all climates to fill cracks and gaps, stop air leakage and help reduce the strain on your heating and cooling equipment. This insulation material both insulates and air seals the home helping to noticeably reduce monthly heating and cooling bills.

While air leakage can cause your heating bills to jump significantly this winter, completing a quick energy audit and having a well-insulated home can help you get through the cold winter months.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Mortgage Tips for First-Time Buyers

November 18, 2014 9:04 pm

With numerous options to choose from, deciding which mortgage is best for your personal situation can be an overwhelming process. Whether you’re buying your first home—or even your third or fourth—the last thing you want to do is fall in love with a house you can’t afford.

While you may have gone online and used a mortgage calculator to figure out that you can afford a home close to $350,000, it’s important to take your full financial picture into consideration.

One way to determine exactly how much you can borrow is to consider three times your annual household income and subtract your debts (college loans, car loans, etc.). You’ll also want to meet with a mortgage professional before you begin looking at homes to get an accurate reading in regard to what you can truly afford. Knowing this figure ahead of time will save you heartache in the long run.

Lenders consider a variety of things before deciding your qualifications on a mortgage, including one’s employment history, credit history, FICO score and debt. You should know going into the meeting what these figures are to make the process smoother.

You’re also going to need to know the type of mortgage you want. Most first-time buyers will opt for a 30-year loan, but if you have the money, there are benefits to getting a 15-year-mortgage. A fixed-rate mortgage is for those concerned about where rates may go, but adjustable-rate mortgages are popular these days because of the low interest rates. Just be wary that interest rates can rise at any time, and your payments will rise with them.

Another factor to consider is how much of a down payment you want to place on the home, as this number will affect your mortgage. There are special mortgages available for those who qualify that allow for a buyer to put little to no money down, but this will cost you more in interest payments in the long run. For some buyers, this may be necessary because they may not have the equity needed to make a down payment.

There are also special loans available for those in the military, so keep this in mind if applicable.

To ensure the entire process is as smooth as possible, meet with a mortgage professional early in the process so that you understand your options and have a good sense as to what’s available. By collecting all the proper paperwork ahead of time and knowing one’s true worth, it can make the mortgage process much easier for everyone involved.

For more information about mortgages, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Buying New Construction

November 18, 2014 9:04 pm

Searching for a home can be a frustrating process. You might love the kitchen but hate the bathroom. The master bedroom might not have the walk-in closets you desire, or maybe you were hoping to install a home theater room, but none of the rooms in the houses you’re looking at have enough space.

If you find yourself running into these types of problems, it may make sense to purchase a newly constructed home, or one that you can help shape so that in the end, everything is just the way you like it. Your real estate agent can help you find your dream home if you let him or her know upfront that you’re willing to consider buying new.

While not all new construction provides buyers with the opportunity to help with the planning—it depends on the development, how far along things are and other factors—more often than not, the buyer does have a say. So that state-of-the-art kitchen or aforementioned theater room can become a reality. When purchasing new construction, buyers also get to have a say when it comes to the types of appliances that are installed, the materials used (tiles, fixtures and finishes) and even the paint colors.

In some cases, house hunters will first explore a model home to get a sense of what the new home will look like. But keep in mind that things in the spec house aren’t always carried over automatically. Model homes normally contain all the upgrades and bells and whistles, so it’s important to talk with the builder and your agent to understand exactly what your newly constructed home will and won’t contain. The last thing you want is to not have your dream house because you forgot to ask for it.

When buying a home of this kind, it’s vital that you get some sort of warranty, the same way you would when buying a new car. Since the home has never been lived in before, you have no way of knowing if the basement fills with water on rainy days or if things were built properly. Having a warranty (usually available for one year) will give you peace of mind when moving in.

And just like you would do when buying any home, an inspection is still an important part of buying a newly constructed house. Not only will an inspector be able to ensure that things are up to code, they’ll also check to see that no damage occurred during the build.

Newly constructed homes typically cost more than “used” homes, but there aren’t usually any problems with appraisals, and you can also take part in creating the home of your dreams.

For more information about newly constructed homes, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Living in a Staged Home: Simple Tips to Keep It in Tip-Top Shape

November 18, 2014 9:04 pm

In today’s competitive market, many sellers are pulling out all the stops when it comes to positioning their home above the competition. Not only are they upgrading certain areas and amping up the curb appeal, many are hiring stagers to come in and rearrange their home so that it’s in tip-top shape.

While the new arrangement put in place by the stager was conceived to attract buyers to your home, it can be difficult for sellers to adapt, especially if they continue to live in the house months after a home is originally staged.

Not only do sellers need to get used to the new furniture and décor, they must also try to keep their home looking at its best and in the staged light. That means no rearranging things or coming in the door and leaving your stuff on the counter, keeping the drapes closed or moving furniture to different rooms. To give your home the best shot at selling, you need to keep the space as close to its initial staged look as possible for any buyers who may be coming by to see.

One of the easiest ways to live in a staged home is to declare some rooms off-limits to the family. That extra bedroom probably doesn’t need to be slept in, and unless you have a big get-together, plan to eat your meals at the kitchen table so that the staged place settings can be left intact in the dining room. If you have multiple bathrooms, try to keep people out of one if possible. In the end, the less people you have going in and out of these rooms the better, since you’ll have less to do when it’s time to show the property again.

While living in a staged home may be stressful, it’s also a great time to start packing. If your stager had you put things in the garage, or out of site somewhere else, start packing them up now. Go through your closets as well and pack up any clothes you won’t be needing this season. You may also want to get a cheap storage unit so you have a place for anything that’s being packed ahead of your home selling.

To be sure you’re presenting your home in its best light each and every time, consider taking pictures of the rooms within your home as soon as they are staged so you know exactly how they’re supposed to look. If you move a pillow off a couch or have added items to the bathroom counters, be sure to take the time to change the appearance of the room back to the way it looked in the picture.

And when a showing comes up, have a plan in place so that everyone knows what they need to do to get the home back in picture perfect shape.

Living in a staged home isn’t easy—you almost have to think of it as staying in someone else’s home for a while—but with a plan in place and some attention to detail, you can successfully live in the space until it sells.

For more information about staging, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.