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Keys to a Healthy Home on a Budget

April 21, 2014 3:33 am

The Healthy House Institute (HHI) has released Keys to a Healthy Home on a Budget, designed to inform both professionals and consumers alike about how to upkeep a healthy home on a budget.

"Most healthy-home factors involve a prevention or 'removal' strategy hence are inexpensive or free to apply if addressed early," said Allen Rathey, president of The Healthy House Institute (HHI). "While the steps to a healthful home are basic and well-known, they are frequently neglected, prompting us to reinforce awareness and application of cost-effective, simple measures."

Keep It Dry

Keeping homes dry helps prevent the growth of mold, other microbes, and related health problems. Mold and bacteria need moisture to survive and thrive. Lowering a home's relative humidity through proper exhaust ventilation (e.g., running bathroom and shower fans for 30 minutes after showering or bathing), controlled mechanical ventilation (often as simple as installing a box fan facing outward in one open window and opening another window elsewhere in the house), and dehumidification in basements and where excess moisture occurs (dehumidifiers are available from big box retailers for less than $200), while sealing up unintentional airflows (i.e., drafts and air leaks) using caulking and sealants; go a long way toward promoting dryer, healthier home environments.

Keep It Clean, Contaminant-Free

Floor mats are inexpensive 'cleaning tools' -- placing one inside and outside a home's main entrance helps reduce indoor contaminants such as moisture, pesticide dust, heavy metals from industrial processes, and other pollutants. Often, the larger the mat, the more soil is removed.

Also, mild soap or detergent, and water, are thrifty but effective ways to remove soil and germs without resorting to expensive commercial products. Microfiber cloths and mops often clean well with just water.

Removal of germs is as important (or perhaps more so) than poisoning them: For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, "Disinfectant/detergent formulations registered by EPA are used for environmental surface cleaning, but the actual physical removal of microorganisms and soil by wiping or scrubbing is probably as important, if not more so, than any antimicrobial effect of the cleaning agent used."

Still, there is a time and place for disinfectants, and non-chemical interventions such as steam vapor or UV wands may be helpful.

10 Healthy Cleaning Principles
1. Remove, do not add contaminants.
2. Remove, do not add or stir dust.
3. Remove, do not routinely poison germs.
4. Remove, do not add allergens.
5. Minimize chemistry, maximize results.
6. Disinfect touch points daily.
7. Use ergonomic tools.
8. Use fragrance-free products.
9. Use residue-free products and processes.
10. Use non-toxic methods.

Keep It Pest-Free

Keeping homes clean, dry and well-sealed prevents pests from finding harborage. This is part of Integrated Pest Management or IPM. According to NSF International, IPM "is an environmentally friendly pest management approach that emphasizes multiple methods of non-chemical pest control and prevention." Don't be afraid to call for professional assistance from companies with a strong IPM policy, but you can do a lot yourself by keeping kitchens and homes clean and dry, and not leaving dirty dishes around the home.

Keep It Ventilated

Fresh air is your friend, so be sure your home gets enough. Be sure every bathroom, shower, toilet, and utility area has a working exhaust fan to pull damp and/or unhealthy air out, and fresher air in. Use the exhaust fan over the stove to remove cooking smells and related airborne contaminants (e.g., natural gas stoves release carbon monoxide, so are especially important to vent well). Controlled mechanical ventilation can be as simple as using a box fan in a window, or as complicated as installing a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV), which exhausts stale air as it brings in fresh air, but saves energy by transferring heat or cooling from one airstream to the other using a heat exchanger.

Keep It Safe, Maintained

Remember to have your home inspected by a qualified expert every few years to find problem areas. Ask visitors to give your home a "sniff test" to detect mold, airborne contaminants, or general staleness. Visitors not acclimated to a home's "normal smells" can be more objective when detecting unwanted odors. This is not a substitute for professional inspection, but can help.

Be sure your bathtub has hand railings for elderly loved ones, and areas inside and outside your home are well-lit. Outdoor lighting is a deterrent to crime, and LED bulbs can stay 'On' all night without running up electric bills.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Will You Use Your Tax Refund on a Dream Vacation Like Many Americans?

April 21, 2014 3:33 am

To get the biggest bang for your buck, here are some strategies you can use to turn even a lean refund into your dream vacation.

1. House Rules
Book a vacation house over a hotel to make your vacation bucks go the furthest. Houses typically hold more people with fewer fees. Living like a local in a unique vacation house can often be a priceless experience.

2. Do Not Seek Peak

Avoid peak season dates to save hundreds if not thousands. Peak season varies tremendously by location, so be sure to closely study rate lists.

3. Mom Was Right - It Is Best to Share
Even though it’s fun to make friends jealous by posting your sunny vacation pictures on Instagram, it’s much savvier to bring your friends along and split the tab. Sharing a house can double the fun and halve the cost. For the biggest savings, organize a beach getaway for the girls or a golf trip for the guys so that you end up with many friends staying together in a larger vacation house. Splitting with couples or another family is also a win-win.

4. Dine In, Not Out
Look for a full kitchen, dining area with plenty of seating and nice outside patio grilling area. Make sure there’s a grocery store nearby and also a variety of reasonable takeout options. Assign everyone a day to provide easy buffet-style meals or treat the group to inexpensive takeout.

5. Be Greedy about Freebies
Why pay sky-high fees for Internet, parking and resort amenities at hotels when most vacation houses offer numerous amenities for free? Look for vacation houses that include beach access, private pools, WIFI, parking, premium cable channels and welcome gifts at no cost. When you find an attractive vacation house scoring high reviews with loads of freebies, book it fast!

Source: Beach Bound Escapes

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Creating a Positive First Impression - 4 Tips You Can't Ignore

April 11, 2014 2:30 pm

When a prospective buyer pulls up to a property with a For Sale sign in the front yard, the exterior of the home can either make or break a positive first impression. While sellers often spend a lot of time and money making sure their home’s curb appeal is up to par, one area they often overlook is the driveway/walkway. And real estate professionals tend to agree that a well-maintained asphalt blacktop and clean and clear walkway can set the mood for a positive house showing.

Here are four tips to help you make your driveway and walkway send the right message to a prospective homebuyer.

1. No Parking. When someone comes to see your home and they can’t even pull into the driveway because it looks like a parking lot, that’s a bad start. You don’t want to force them to park on the street, so make sure all cars at the property are gone before any showing. The goal here is to let prospective buyers imagine they are pulling into the driveway of their future home.

2. Cracking Up. Repaving the driveway is one of the least expensive home repairs you can invest in. If yours is looking shabby—and has a lot of cracks—a nice, fresh layer of asphalt may be just the thing you need to attract a buyer. For cracks in the walkway, concrete paint can usually do the job.

3. A Clear Path. A walkway is designed to get you from the driveway to the front door, yet some homeowners treat them more like obstacle courses with lots of things blocking a clear path. Take some time to remove all toys, acorns, leaves or gardening equipment that may be in the way of a safe walk inside. Driveways should also be free of clutter and debris. Most driveways have garbage cans sitting at the end, but even if they’re clean, you should make sure they’re out of sight. The same holds true for hoses. Put them away neatly, as they could inadvertently trip someone, or if they’re old and tangled, they may do more harm than good when it comes to leaving a good impression.

4. A Green Thumb. Once the walkway is clear, be sure to pull up any grass or weeds that are growing in the cracks. There are some great sprays that can help with this as well. It’s also a good idea to take the time to hose down walkways to remove all dirt and grime.

For more tips on creating a positive first impression, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Flood Insurance Bill to Positively Affect Home Sales Moving Forward

April 11, 2014 2:30 pm

One of the most talked about issues within the real estate industry as of late concerns the flood insurance premium increases that were granted following the passage of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which first went into effect last October.

With major storms like Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc on many parts of the country, these increases have gone even higher and have had a negative effect on home sales.

According to data by the National Association of REALTORS®, from October 2013 to January 2014, over 40,000 home sales were either delayed or canceled because of increases and confusion over flood insurance rates.

Thankfully, that’s all about to change, as President Barack Obama signed a new bill in March that states that homes in flood-prone areas will no longer be subject to sharp increases in flood insurance premiums when they are sold or when a new flood map places them in a higher-risk area.

“The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, S. 1926 is the timeout REALTORS® first advocated when dramatic flood insurance premium increases went into effect on October 1, 2013,” Steve Brown, president of NAR, said in a statement at the time of the passage of the bill. “This legislation will help homeowners nationwide who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of extreme flood insurance rates that are the unintended consequence of the Biggert-Waters reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program.”

The new law caps flood insurance premium increases and allows below-market insurance rates to be passed on to people buying homes in flood zones with taxpayer-subsidized policies.

Still, it’s not good news for everyone. People designated as living in older homes who enjoy subsidized flood insurance rates could still see annual increases in their premiums of up to 18 percent. Furthermore, homes in high-risk areas (labeled with codes starting with A or V on flood maps) will need to pay a new premium surcharge of either $25 or $250 per year to help offset the cost of the new bill. The surcharge applies to all properties that have national flood insurance, even those paying the full-risk rate.

Brown believes this is the first step in what he hopes is a retooling of the way Congress looks at the flood law and expects it to help with home sales going forward.

FEMA classifies flood risk as something unique to each structure and looks at factors such as the elevation of the property relative to predicted flood levels, the construction style of the building, and the flood risk zone. It also publishes flood hazard maps that show predicted flood levels and flood risk zones based on historical climate information and the best available science. Some common examples of Special Flood Hazard Areas include coastal floodplains, floodplains along major rivers, and areas subject to flooding from ponding in low-lying areas.

To learn more about flood insurance, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Keep Emotions at Bay as Moving Day Approaches

April 11, 2014 2:30 pm

Selling your home can be an exciting time in your life, however, once the sold sign is placed in the front yard, a lot of emotions are likely to come into play. While you’ll most likely be happy that you’re entering a new chapter in your life and moving on to a new house—possibly in a new town or state—it’s not always easy saying goodbye to those you’ll leave behind.

It’s a good bet that you’ve made some close friends in your neighborhood, and perhaps you’ve even served on the school’s PTA, were part of a book club, helped coach your child’s soccer team or were a regular at a local coffee shop or restaurant. It might not hit you right away, but many of these familiar faces will be gone from your life, leaving a hole you might not recognize at first.

Before you pack up your belongings and get on your way, make sure you take the time to say goodbye to everyone you’ve become close with. One simple way to bring everyone together is to host a neighborhood potluck party. Even if there are neighbors you haven’t spoken to in a while, a potluck party is the perfect opportunity to get together and share some memories, reflecting on all the great times you’ve had.

You’ll also want to head to your favorite restaurants for one last meal so that you can order everything you enjoy most. When you get to your new home, you may find that you’ll never have as good a pasta dish or homemade cupcake again, so you’ll want to savor the food one last time.

If you have children, organize a farewell picnic with all the families you and your children are close with so that the youngsters can have one last fun time together and you can say goodbye to the parents. Even if you aren’t too close, it’s a good bet that you went through a lot with these people in watching the kids grow up, so it will be nice to say goodbye.

Take a walk around your neighborhood and town and take photos of some of the places and faces you know best. Each member of the family should tell their favorite stories as you visit the different locales and you can make a fun scrapbook to take with you.

Remember, it’s always exciting to move to a new home, but don’t take for granted what you’re leaving behind. Make sure you take the time to say goodbye to everyone that’s important to you, as it’ll make the parting that much easier.

For more information about preparing for a move, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


FHA 203k Loans: What You Need to Know

April 11, 2014 2:30 pm

Whether you’re actively searching for a new place to call home or simply entertaining the idea of moving to a new location, you more than likely have a dream home in mind. However, if your dreams are out of line with your budget, getting into that dream home may seem next to impossible. But for those willing to do a little work, your dream home can be well within reach, thanks in large part to an FHA 203k loan.

Designed for people who want to buy a home that needs renovations or major upgrades, the FHA 203k loan program allows one to borrow the purchase price of the home, plus receive money for renovations, all with the convenience of a single loan and closing.

While most mortgage financing plans provide only permanent financing where the lender will only close on the loan and release the mortgage if the condition and value of the property provide adequate loan security, if you’re talking about purchasing a home as-is, the money probably won’t be coming to you until the improvements are made. But that’s not the case with a 203k loan.

FHA 203k loans are designated for houses that are damaged or sorely in need of rehabilitation. The loan covers not only the cost of the property, but also the cost of necessary home repairs. It’s especially beneficial to those who cannot afford a finished home and are willing to take on a fixer-upper.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the 203k loan program is an excellent means for lenders to demonstrate their commitment to lending in lower-income communities and to help meet their responsibilities under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).

There are two types of FHA 203k loans: regular and streamlined. Regular 203k loans are for homes that need structural repairs, and streamlined loans are for those that need non-structural repairs.

The extent of the rehabilitation may range from relatively minor work (starting at $5,000) to major reconstruction on the home’s structure. Categories for work allowed include modernization and improvements to the home’s function, elimination of health and safety hazards, adding or replacing roofing, gutters, and downspouts, enhancing accessibility for a disabled person, making energy conservation improvements and changes that improve appearance and eliminate obsolescence.

Repairs can include numerous items, such as plumbing, roofing, room additions, providing disability access, adding new siding, site grading or even kitchen remodeling.

When a 203k loan closes, a repair escrow account is set up and renovation can begin. Repairs must start within 30 days of closing and be completed within six months.

To be eligible for the FHA 203k mortgage program, homes must be owner-occupied, must be only 1-4 units and must be at least one year old. New homes are not considered.

For more information about FHA 203k loans, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top 5 Apps to Take the Stress Out of the Home-Selling Process

April 11, 2014 2:30 pm

With hundreds of new apps being introduced on a consistent basis, it’s often difficult to stay on top of the latest and greatest to ensure you’re getting the most out of your mobile device. While there have always been great apps available for house hunters, more recently, some wonderful apps for sellers have come to fruition.

Here are five apps that will make your life easier if you’re in the process of selling your home.

1. Handyman Calculator. Before putting your home on the market, you’re most likely going to want to fix up a few things around the house, and this app is the perfect tool to make sure your home improvement is done right. Whether you’re repainting the walls, retiling the bathroom or hanging photos, this app will help you figure out the proper measurements and material you’ll need to get the job done. Not only will the Handyman Calculator calculate the proper square footage of a project, it will get you one step closer to becoming a home repair expert.

2. DecorPad. If you’re looking to catch the eye of a potential buyer, this interior design app is the way to go. Browse photos from top designers to inspire your own home decorating and create a look even a stager would be jealous of. DecorPad can be used for any room in the house, and also offers a “steals and deals” section where sellers can find furniture and other home décor on sale.

3. Breathe2Relax. Selling a home can be a stressful time with house hunters coming and going, bids falling through or just the agonizing waiting that often accompanies the process. Breathe2Relax is the perfect stress management tool, providing numerous ideas on how to relax. Breathing exercises have been documented to decrease the body’s stress response, and help with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management—all things that can come into play during a home sale.

4. Remember The Milk. The list of things you need to accomplish when selling a house is myriad. There’s decluttering, making small repairs, doing paint touchups, tending to the yard and making sure the house is always presentable. Staying organized can be tough, but thanks to this handy app, you can create lists and schedules that will get everyone in your family on the same page so everyone knows what their responsibilities are. Users can set tasks, organize them into lists, and get reminders via email and text when something is due.

5. iMoving. This innovative app will help a seller through the moving process once a bid is finally accepted and it’s time to move out. Not only can the app gauge how much stuff you have in each room, it can also provide tips on the best way to pack. This handy app offers a room by room guide so you don’t forget anything in your packing details, and it can also calculate the approximate price it’ll cost to move by providing estimates in weight and cubic feet. It’s the perfect way to make moving hassle-free.

For more information about apps available for home sellers, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: FHA 203k Loans

April 11, 2014 2:30 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters, brought to you through our company's membership in RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN), examines the best apps for today’s sellers. Other topics covered this month include how changes to the flood insurance bill will affect home sales moving forward and four ways to create a positive first impression among prospective buyers. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Trouble Spots for Water Damage in Your Home

April 11, 2014 1:54 am

Your home is your sanctuary, but everyone has had issues with their home in the past. Whether scratched floors, faulty electrical wires or water damage, issues come up and it’s all part of being a homeowner. Here are a few trouble spots in your home that may be susceptible to water damage. The most logical place to start in your home, is where issues would be most problematic: the bathroom.

The bathroom has the single greatest chance of any area of your house to create the problem of water damage. There is generally a multiple of three factors in that one particular area because you have your bathtub/shower, sink and your toilet, all of which can be powder kegs for disaster. Your bathroom tub could have a small little crack in it that you may not realize. If could create far larger damage to the internal structure of the house through pooling underneath, which compromises the wood. Over time, your toilet can become weak and the bowl might snap off spilling large amounts of water everywhere. The sink in the bathroom may have a leaky pipe, which will inevitably lead to damage caused by water. Be aware of these potential problem areas and inspect them regularly.

The kitchen is another prime example. A common denominator between the bathroom and kitchen is the sink. A leaky pipe at the kitchen sink is a problem, since it can create a bigger mess than one might expect. Another common issue is dishwasher overflow, when the dishwasher sealant goes and the water gushes outside. This is generally caused by the erosion of sealant over time caused by the acidities of the food we eat and the chemicals in the soap. The refrigerator, if it is attached to a water source, can cause water damage if the hoses are not connected properly or if it breaks.

Another place in your house that may have issues with hoses is the laundry room. The washing machine can be overloaded with clothing and could tip over and spill water across the floor. The hoses on the back can deteriorate because they are made of rubber, and slowly, water could leach into it rotting them from the inside. The pipes that lead to the main line can leak and create more problems.

The basement is already a damp area in your household, but it’s also the nerve center of many of your home's water-based functions. These functions include your water heater and the main water control for your house. If your water heater breaks, it can lead to a large mess in the basement area. Also, if your main bursts, not only will you have a problem with not having water in your home, you will also have a pool in the basement of your home.

All homeowners, especially first-timers, should be aware of these potential problem spots and inspect these rooms and their pipes regularly. Preventing water damage before it occurs can save you many headaches down the line.

Source: SI Restoration

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Warm Weather Energy Efficiency Information and Safety Reminders

April 11, 2014 1:54 am

As customers across the country eagerly await the arrival of consistently warmer temperatures following a record-breaking winter, homeowners are reminded about how they can help save energy and money, and encourage safety around the home. Here are some warm weather energy-savings tips:

• Set your thermostat on the highest comfortable setting. If you're leaving for the day, turn it up a couple of degrees.
• Change your air filters regularly. A dirty air filter makes a cooling system work harder, which uses more energy.
• The arrival of spring means that summer is around the corner. Make sure your HVAC system is ready to keep you cool by having it checked by a qualified heating and air conditioning contractor.
• Close blinds, drapes and shades during the hottest part of the day to keep the sun's rays from heating your house.

Customers should also remain diligent against scams targeting utility customers across the country.

Call Before You Dig
Spring gardening and home improvement projects can be fun, but can also present safety challenges. One of the most potentially hazardous situations in residential areas is accidental contact with underground electric power lines, natural gas lines, community lines and other utility services. To ensure you're working safely, call an underground line locating service by dialing 811. There is no charge for the service and the call is free.

Storm safety reminders

Warmer weather also brings with it the potential for unpredictable weather. Customers should:

• Check your supply of flashlights, batteries, bottled water, non-perishable foods, medicines, etc.
• Ensure a portable, battery-operated radio, TV or NOAA weather radio is on hand.
• Determine now what actions to take for family members, friends and neighbors who have special medical needs or who are elderly to ensure they have necessary emergency plans in the event of an extended power outage.

Source: Duke Energy

Published with permission from RISMedia.