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What Says Vacation in Any Language? A Perfectly Packed Suitcase

April 22, 2014 3:45 am

Summer is around the corner and many across the country will be jet-setting off on wonderful and warm adventures. But what should you bring and what can you do without? Here are a few steps travelers can take to make packing perfect.

Step one: Weight, size…
Understand limitations. Traveling by car, with an empty trunk to fill? In this case, the more the merrier! But for those traveling by air, it is worth looking into weight and size restrictions to eliminate those last minute surprises when checking it at the airport. Most airlines enforce a 50 pound weight restriction for checked bags. Find out what the maximum weight is for your chosen airline and pack accordingly.

Step two: The essentials
Make a master list of everything needed, every day. This list can include all the basics, like a toothbrush and toothpaste, and all personal must-haves, like special face cream or hair straightener. Keep this list and re-use it for the next trip!

Step three: Mix and match
Forget total outfits. First, consult the local weather forecast. Then, choose a basic color theme and stick with it – blacks or navies, whites or creams – so that you can pack a set of mix and match basics. Pack familiar items – now is not the time to experiment with new pieces. Leave behind articles which wrinkle too much or show wear too easily. And take multifunctional pieces like a blazer or cardigan to coordinate with pants or a dress. With the space saved, there is room for one or two extravagant items – or for souvenirs picked up along the way!

Step four: Shoes, shoes, and more shoes!
Oh, the agony! Again, sticking to a color theme will make decisions so much easier. Take a comfortable pair of shoes, as traveling always involves a lot of walking. Then take one pair that can dress anything up for the evening. And finally, wear the biggest pair while travelling. As for purses, the same rules apply – take one for the day, which can possibly double as a second carry-on bag, and a little bag for the evening, which can easily slip into the suitcase.

Step five: Toiletries
Searching for a little piece of home away from home? For many people, that comes in the shape of toiletries and cosmetics. Always remember the 100 ml rule – anything larger than 100 mls can only be packed in checked luggage. And collect samples of favorite brands to use during the trip. This will drastically reduce the volume of toiletries required.

Step six: Accessories
If there is one area people can pack a few outstanding items in, this is it! Pack all the basics, and sneak in a few extras just in case. Those sparkly earrings? Check. A bangle bracelet? Why not?

Step seven: Packing vs. unpacking
One last rule? The less you pack, the less you have to unpack!

Source: DELSEY

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Most Americans Incorrectly Believe Wind Speed Determines Hurricane Evacuation

April 21, 2014 3:33 am

A national Harris Interactive Survey commissioned by the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® has revealed some frightening perceptions regarding hurricane evacuation. The survey found that a vast majority of Americans, 84 percent, mistakenly base their life or death evacuation decisions on the hurricane category and/or wind speed. In fact, hurricane evacuation boundaries are based on the threat of water, not wind, and nearly all evacuation orders are issued due to threat of inland flooding and storm surge.

"Most people think of wind with a hurricane, but in recent years, water from storm surge and inland flooding has done the most damage and killed the most people," said Rick Knabb, Ph.D., Director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center (NHC). "Families need to find out if they live in an evacuation zone today, have a plan in place and immediately follow evacuation orders when issued."

Tropical storms, Category 1 and 2 hurricanes, post-tropical cyclones and even Nor'easters can all cause life-threatening storm surge. In 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane, bringing storm surge of 15 to 20 feet above normal tide levels. In 2012, Tropical Storm Debby produced storm surge of seven feet in the Florida Panhandle. Often, heavy rains from hurricanes and tropical storms cause flooding well inland from the initial strike zone.

"People underestimate the force and power of water," said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. "During Superstorm Sandy, the Sochacki family of Union Beach, N.J., lost their home when it was broken apart and swept out to sea. In the middle of the storm, they were forced to take shelter in an elevated, concrete home next door."

New evacuation resources available
Beginning this hurricane season, the NHC will issue an experimental Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map for areas along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States that are at risk of storm surge from a tropical cyclone. These real-time maps will show areas where storm surge could occur and how high above ground the water could reach in those areas. The interactive map will be available at www.hurricanes.gov when hurricane or, in some cases, tropical storm, watches or warnings are in effect.

Additionally, FLASH has compiled available online resources on evacuation zones and storm surge mapping for the 222 coastal counties, parishes, and regions from Texas to Maine to help families determine if they reside in an evacuation zone.

Other myths revealed
The annual Harris Interactive survey tests homeowners' hurricane beliefs regarding safety and property protection. Some of the other widely held myths included:

MYTH: It costs more than $10K to make a home stronger against hurricanes
FINDING: 69 percent of Americans believe this to be true
FACT: There are affordable methods and products that minimize damage and the need for costly repairs, including:
• Garage doors are often the most vulnerable opening on a home in a hurricane, but they can be braced for as little as $150.
• Windows and sliding glass doors can be protected from flying debris with temporary plywood shutters for $275 to $750 or with corrugated steel or aluminum shutters from $7 to $15 per foot.
• Roof uplift resistance is critical in high wind and it may be tripled by applying a 1/4 inch bead of APA AFG-01 certified wood adhesive along the intersection of the roof deck and roof rafter or truss chord on both sides of the beam.
• Water intrusion through the roof deck joints is a common source of damage; however, peel and stick water barrier can be applied during re-roofing for as little as $750.

MYTH: Taping windows helps prevent hurricane damage
FINDING: 54 percent of Americans believe this to be true
FACT: Taping windows wastes preparation time, does not stop windows from breaking in a hurricane, and does not make clean-up easier. In fact, taping windows may create larger shards of glass that could cause serious injuries. Masking tape, duct tape, window film and specially marketed "hurricane tape" are insufficient and potentially dangerous. Use tested and approved hurricane shutters or other opening protection instead.

Source: Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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