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Best Apps for Homebuyers Looking to Find Their Dream Home

March 13, 2014 1:51 pm

Studies show that nearly 90 percent of all house hunters search online before ever stepping foot in a house. And in today’s technology-driven world, most prospective buyers are using mobile devices along the way.

It’s no wonder then that new apps geared toward helping prospective homebuyers find their dream home seem to come out on a daily basis.

If choosing the best app for your house-hunting needs has you feeling overwhelmed, here’s a look at six great apps that homebuyers should be utilizing to help ease the process.

1. Realtor.com®: The realtor.com® app provides up-to-date real estate listings in the U.S., including homes for sale, for rent or recently sold. Just like you would see on the website, the listings include photos of the house, all property details and price information. You can also easily send houses you’re interested in to others to get feedback before ever leaving the comfort of your own home.

2. Zillow: People already know Zillow for its spot-on home price estimates, but this app goes even further, providing information on not just the house you’re interested in, but an estimate for every house on the block. This can help you get a feel for the neighborhood and an understanding of the chance of the home’s value through the years.

3. Quicken Loans Mortgage Calculator: Your perfect home won’t wait. Reference favorite calculations instantly and determine your options in seconds with this great app. Calculate your estimated loan amount, interest rate, term, or monthly payment with confidence so that you know if you can truly afford a home.

4. GreatSchools:
If you have kids—or are planning to have children while you’re in your new home—you’ll want to check out this app which lets you examine all the school statistics for those schools that will be in the district of your new home. The app includes demographic makeup, teacher information and national rankings for each school.

5. AroundMe: Let’s say you’ve found the perfect home online but you don’t know much about the neighborhood. Simply put in the address and this app will tell you how close the nearest grocery store, coffee shop, gym—or just about any retail business—truly is.

6. Houzz Interior Design Ideas: Nicknamed the “Wikipedia of interior and exterior design” by CNN, this helpful app offers a huge database of home design ideas, with more than two million high resolution photos. Users can get plenty of ideas for their house by browsing rooms and creating a virtual ideabook that they can go back to anytime they like.

For more information about apps that can help you with the home-buying process, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Avoid Moving Day Woes by Getting a Jump Start on the Process

March 13, 2014 1:51 pm

If it’s been a while since your last move, you probably don’t realize how much stuff you truly own. There’s all your furniture, personal items, kitchenware, clothes, toys, tools, bikes, books and every little thing in your home. Not only does it take time to box up all your belongings properly, you’ll also want to be sure that you have the most reliable movers transporting your stuff.

Here are some things you can do to prepare for a stress-free move:

Eliminate Possessions: Like most people, you probably hold an inordinate amount of knickknacks and other junk that you don’t want to part with, but moving offers the perfect opportunity to do away with items you really don’t need. Start off on the right foot in your new home by eliminating all the stuff you don’t use before you even get to the house. Hold a garage sale, donate to charity or just simply throw it away.

Hire a Reputable Moving Company: Don’t hire a moving company simply because they offer the lowest price. More often than not, movers will charge more than they originally advertised and some aren’t too careful with your possessions. Before you make a final decision, ask friends and relatives—and even your REALTOR®—for recommendations. It’s also important to get a quote in writing and make sure the company is insured before hiring them for your move.

Change Your Address: This is something that people often think about too late. Not only do you want to file a change of address card with your local post office, you also want to make sure all your bills—and any magazines you’re subscribed to—are being sent to your new address. You can take care of many of these items online, or with a quick phone call.

Get Records: If you’re moving to a new city and will be seeing new doctors, make sure to get copies of medical and dental records for everyone in the family, including any pets. Prepare time to get your children’s school records as well.

Miscellaneous: Return any library books you may have and cancel any services that you might get on a weekly or monthly basis (such as a cleaning woman or dog walker).

Follow these guidelines and you’ll eliminate any unnecessary stress from the equation, leaving plenty of time to enjoy your new home.

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

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Housing Activity Delayed as Winter Weather Affects Early 2014 Sales

March 13, 2014 1:51 pm

The first few months of 2014 have been chock-full of miserable weather, record snowfall and bitter cold temperatures, all of which have kept people indoors. And the same holds true for those involved in the house-hunting process.

It’s no surprise then that the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) reported that existing-home sales fell in January to their lowest level in a year-and-a-half. And based on early predictions from industry experts, February sales have not been much better.

According to NAR, total existing-home sales decreased 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million in January from 4.87 million in December. This is 5.1 percent below the 4.87 million-unit pace in January 2013.

“Disruptive and prolonged winter weather patterns across the country are impacting a wide range of economic activity, and housing is no exception,” Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said. “Some housing activity will be delayed until spring. At the same time, we can’t ignore the ongoing headwinds of tight credit, limited inventory, higher prices and higher mortgage interest rates. These issues will hinder home sales activity until the positive factors of job growth and new supply from higher housing starts begin to make an impact.”

If you’re looking to put your home on the market this spring, now’s the time to make any small repairs that may have moved to the bottom of your to-do list. It’s also a great time to remove clutter from inside your home and search the Internet for new decorating ideas that could ultimately help you sell your home.

It’s also a good idea to spend some time looking around various social media sites to see what real estate professionals are posting when it comes to homes in your area and what people who are seeking a new home are interested in. Maybe there’s a new trend out there that you can easily incorporate into your home to attract more buyers.

As you wait for the weather to warm up, take some time to clean those ‘extra’ areas that you don’t always get to. This includes cleaning the inside of the kitchen cabinets, dusting the light fixtures, polishing doorknobs, etc.

While spring is right around the corner, house hunters will soon be out in full force. Get ahead of the game by making sure you’re always prepared, regardless of the temperature outside.

For more housing statistics, contact tour office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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In this Edition: APR

March 13, 2014 1:51 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 impact that disruptive and prolonged winter weather has had on home sales since the start of the new year. Other topics covered this month include the six best apps every homebuyer should be using to help find their dream home and how to keep your home in tip-top shape for last-minute showings. 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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Revitalize Forgotten Furniture with a Simple DIY Transformation

March 13, 2014 4:12 am

(Family Features) Putting your own flair into an old piece of furniture or thrift store find is a creative and budget-friendly way to transform unused items into personal treasures.

Refinishing old tables, chairs and other wooden items can instill new life, making these pieces functional and contemporary once more. Whether you’re repurposing a piece entirely, or simply updating the look, there are a few things to keep in mind:

• Color: Do you have a specific room in mind to use your selected piece? If you have a place already chosen, consider a colored stain to match the room’s décor. If not, a versatile wood tone may be a better choice.
• Product: Is this your first project? If so, water-based products can be a simpler, DIY friendly alternative to oil based stains and finishes. Will your “new” furniture be in frequent or casual use? To protect from wear and tear on daily-use items, be sure to finish your project with an appropriate sealant or protective coat. Interior stain and sealers offer a protective element built into the product, such as Cabot Premium Wood Finish, which provides rich color and tough, durable results.
• Preparation: Although you may be anxious to put your new treasure to use, taking time to properly strip and prepare your wood for its new finish will ensure the best results.

This DIY project, created by Beth Hunter, author of the blog “Home Stories A to Z,” shows you how to take a tired, outdated coffee table from attic to amazing in three simple steps.

Supplies:
Chemical stripper
Hand-held paint scraper
Tack cloths or lint-free rags
Rubber gloves
Safety glasses
Orbital sander with 60-, 120- and 220-grit discs
Interior wood stain and sealer product, such as Cabot Premium Wood Finish (in the ready-to-use or custom-tinted to your color of choice)
Painters’ tape
Paint brush
300 grit sand paper

1. Use a chemical stripper to remove heavy layers of paint, stain or varnish. Follow the label’s directions, allowing the stripper to sit for the designated amount of time and then gently scraping and wiping away the residue (tack cloth or lint-free rag is important, so you don’t leave particles behind).

Tip: Remember to wear gloves approved for chemical handling and eye protection, and be sure to set up your project in a well-ventilated area. A respirator may be necessary to ensure you don’t inhale too many powerful fumes.

2. Once your piece has been stripped, wiped clean with a damp rag and allowed to thoroughly dry, you are ready to sand. Although for some small projects sandpaper sheets will do, you’ll get the best results using a quality orbital sander (there are many options in the $50 to $100 range, well worth the investment if you’ll be doing more projects in the future).

Using the sander, start with a low-grit, coarse sandpaper (60 grit) and work up to the high-grit, fine paper (220 grit). The low grit takes off any remaining finish quickly and roughens the wood, while the finer grits smooth the wood and create a pristine surface. After sanding, use a tack cloth to wipe down your piece and remove the dust.

3. Now you are ready to add color. For this project, a series of colors in the new Cabot Premium Wood Finish line were used, including Mussel Shell, Stormy Teal, Riverbed and Coffeehouse. The products in this line are water-based stain and sealers so they dry quickly, and are good choices for a DIYer because they stain and protect at once while providing high-quality, beautiful results. These finishes also offer smooth application without the need for a primer or conditioner and a simple soap and water clean-up.

If you will be using multiple colors, as with this project, tape off areas to make crisp lines. Use a brush to apply the product, and allow to dry as described on the package directions. Use ultra-fine grit sand paper, such as 300 grit, to lightly sand the first coat. Finish with a second coat.

Tips: For a richer color, use the finest sand paper possible to remove as little stain as possible between coats. Apply more layers for a darker look, or only one coat for a distressed look.

For additional DIY project ideas for your home, including tips and how-to videos, visit www.cabotstain.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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8 Tips for Pet Parents on Suitable Etiquette for Pets

March 12, 2014 4:00 am

In preparation for getting outdoors this spring, Petco is helping pet parents refresh their manners with eight proper "pettiquette" tips for weather of all kinds.

1. Keep barking under control:
The pet parent with the barking dog is most likely not the most popular neighbor. Although barking is not always preventable, ensure pets receive proper training so they don't bark incessantly. Avoid leaving dogs alone for long periods of time, especially outdoors. Making sure pets have enough exercise and plenty of toys to provide mental stimulation will help curb barking.

2. Don't let cats wander: Although cats can exhibit very independent behavior, the outdoor cat that is always wandering into their neighbor's yard, may not be welcomed with open arms. Keep cats from visiting the family next door by providing them a cozy space inside the home with enough toys to keep them mentally stimulated throughout the day.

3. Keep the hair and smell at bay: When dining out with pets, ensure dogs are properly groomed to keep shedding to a minimum. A smelly dog shedding its winter coat is never pleasant near food so bathe pets regularly and use a shed control shampoo. When entertaining at home, make sure guests want to return by removing pet hair from furniture and smelling of the animal. Be sure the cat's litter box is scooped daily. Keep small animal and reptile habitats clean.

4. Clean up waste: Walking into the front yard and stepping in a pile of poop from a neighbor's dog can be upsetting. It may sound simple, but be sure to pick up waste when walking a dog. Products, like the eco-friendly Earth Rated Poop Bags, easily hook to the dog's leash making it simple to carry along on a walk.

5. Obey the rules
: Keep dogs leashed at all times while at parks and in other dog-friendly public places. Excited dogs who are off-leash may run and jump on people or children or hurt themselves by running away from their pet parent. Only take a dog off-leash at a dog park that allows it. Remember to obey all marked rules at the dog park and don't forget to close the gate behind you so other dogs can't escape.

6. Positive reinforcement is key: Barking orders is not the way to encourage a pet to behave, especially when it is done in public. Disciplining pets in front of others can make people uncomfortable. Instead, train pets by reinforcing good behavior with loving attention or a treat. Keep a calm tone and never raise your voice, especially when in public.

7. Use table manners: Never feed pets from the pet parent's lap or plate. Not only can certain people food be dangerous for pets, but this behavior can encourage pets to beg. Always feed pets from their own food bowl away from human consumption.

8. Not everyone loves animals: It may be hard to believe, especially since pets are such a part of family life, but not everyone is an animal lover. Some people may be allergic to dogs or cats and some can even fear animals. To avoid an unpleasant run in, never let pets run up to a stranger. When taking out other types of pets like birds, reptiles or rabbits, keep in mind that others may feel uncomfortable around these animals. On the other hand, these pets may attract more attention since they are not seen in public as often, so keep them safe by always encouraging strangers to ask before petting or handling them.

Source: Petco

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Freshen your Closet this Spring with These Tips

March 12, 2014 4:00 am

Spring is the perfect time to give your home a fresh start, and one of the best places to begin is with your clothes closets. Admit it: There are items lurking there that haven't seen the light of day in a very long time. Follow these tips from the cleaning experts at The Maids to rejuvenate your wardrobe and your storage spaces.

1. It's time to be ruthless and save only the items that you are excited to own and wear. Alternately, follow the one-year rule (or the two-year rule if you are a softie) and get rid of everything you haven't worn in that time period. The only exemptions should be for garments that hold special meaning for you. Gently worn items can be sold or donated to charitable organizations. Or, gather friends together for a clothing swap.

2. Some people might prefer to take everything out of the closet to begin the cleaning process. But if that sounds overwhelming, plan to break up the cleaning task over a few days. Sort out shoes one day, pants and skirts on another, and so on until you have examined everything. Launder any items that need it.

3. Organize the space in a way that makes sense to you. For instance, place warm-weather clothing on one side and cool-weather items on the other. Place like items together: all pants in one area, all jackets in another. Or you can group items by color.

4. Use containers to extend your space. See-through boxes are perfect for scarves, belts and jewelry. Hat boxes and old suitcases add personality to the space.

5. Vacuum or mop the floor; use a disinfectant to wipe down metal shelves and handles; and line drawers with paper.

6. If your closet is still full when you are finished cleaning, promise yourself that nothing new will go in until something old comes out.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Sowing the Seeds of Spring: How to Start your Garden Indoors

March 11, 2014 3:54 am

(BPT) - While cooler temperatures slowly fade, gardeners across the country eagerly await the arrival of spring - and the chance to get outdoors and grow something. If gardening is your passion, you don't have to wait until the weather is perfect to get started. In fact, working ahead by growing your own seedlings is a great way to ensure your garden is successful throughout the warmer months.

"Planting seedlings indoors before transplanting them into the ground is a great use of time and money," says Darin Brockelbank, owner of Metro-Greenscape, landscape design and outdoor specialists, and members of the Porch.com home improvement network. More than 1.5 million professionals participate in the network, offering services for more than 90 million projects. "Growing seedlings is something homeowners can easily do on their own and save their money to hire professionals for larger projects."

Starting your own seedlings offers many advantages, including the ability to get a jump-start on spring planting. Growing your own plants from seed is less expensive than buying small plants and provides access to a much wider variety of plants. The pros at Porch.com offer these tips for starting seedlings to get your garden growing:

* Selecting seeds

Some seeds can be planted and started indoors, while others need to go directly in the ground outdoors. As you're choosing seeds for your garden, read the packets thoroughly to ensure the seeds you're buying are appropriate for indoor planting. Be aware that many vegetable seeds need to be planted directly in the ground.

Most packages will also include information on what time of year to plant, so follow the guidelines for best results. In general, start seeds about six weeks before the last frost date. Check the Farmer's Almanac Frost Date Calculator to find out when that is in your area.

* Choosing containers

Seed starter kits are available for easy planting, but any container will do as long as it is about 2 to 3 inches deep and has drainage holes. Egg cartons and paper cups are inexpensive and easy options; be sure to poke drainage holes in the bottoms. Fill your containers with a good soil mix - never use regular soil from your yard. Seeds need just the right texture and mixture of nutrients to succeed. Covering your containers with plastic wrap or plastic lids will help keep soil and seeds moist.

* Setting the environment

In order to germinate, most seeds need a steady temperature of about 78 F. You can create localized warmth for seeds through use of electric heaters or heat mats placed under containers. You can also try placing containers atop warm appliances, such as a refrigerator, as long as they will also receive ample light in the location. Once seedlings push through the soil, you can move them to a windowsill where they'll get more natural light.

* Caring for seedlings

It's important to provide seedlings with constant moisture, but don't let the soil get soggy. If you used plastic wrap or covers, remove them from containers once seeds have sprouted. When leaves appear, begin fertilizing with a liquid fertilizer. Pay close attention to the dosage amounts recommended on the fertilizer packaging; seedlings are fragile. Check on seedlings daily until you're ready to plant them outdoors.

"If your plants begin to bud before you transplant them to the outdoors, wait to move them until they are fully bloomed,"-Brockelbank says. "If you transplant them while they are buds and cool weather hits, they could get frost bite and die. When it's time to transplant the seeds, make sure the soil is no cooler than 60 degrees."

Of course, not everyone with the urge to grow a garden has the time to invest or the green thumb to achieve it. If you find yourself lacking the resources to plant and care for seedlings, Porch.com has plenty of professionals who can help you get - and keep - your garden growing.

"The hardest part of planting seeds indoors is caring for them before they are transplanted," Brockelbank says. "Once they are transplanted, the plants should be very low maintenance."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Daily Tactics to Defy Aging in 10 Minutes or Less

March 10, 2014 3:45 am

(BPT) - Determined, vivacious, passionate - a lot of words describe America's estimated 78 million baby boomers. This spirited group is redefining their golden years, staying active by working, traveling and enjoying the great outdoors. They know that in order to live life to the fullest, they must make their health a priority, and many are dramatically affecting their personal well-being with a few key activities that take 10 minutes or less a day to complete.

Tavis Piattoly is a sports dietitian, expert nutritionist and co-founder of My Sports Dietitian. He stresses that small daily activities can have a cumulative effect on health, and therefore, encourages baby boomers to consistently stay active and eat well.

He suggests five ways boomers can keep their health on track in 10 minutes each day:

1. Quick exercises

"Exercise should be enjoyable, so whether it is a brisk walk, strength training or participating in a sport, enjoying what you do will increase your chance of sticking with that activity," says Piattoly.

He recommends boomers incorporate strength training into their workout routine to prevent loss of muscle tissues - a concern that increases with aging. Here are three simple exercises:

Chair squats - Use any chair and perform 10 to 12 repetitions standing up and sitting down. To increase difficulty, hold a light dumbbell to add resistance.

Wall push-ups - Place arms against a wall and perform 10 to 12 push-ups. If this is too easy, get into the push-up position on the floor, using your knees for support.

Dumbbell curls or soup-can bicep curls - Use a light to moderate weight dumbbell (2 to 10 pounds) and perform 10 to 12 bicep curls. Don't have dumbbells? Substitute soup cans.

2. Nutrient-dense foods
It takes only minutes to eat a snack or a meal, and what's on your plate fuels your overall health. Piattoly recommends starting with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables.

"As we age, our immune system is not as strong as it once was to fight off infections and illnesses, and fruits and veggies could play a big role in fighting off heart disease, cancer and age-related diseases," he says.

Next, Piattoly recommends eating lean protein like farm-raised eggs, extra lean beef or omega-3-rich salmon at every meal. "Since we lose muscle mass at a rate of around 1 percent per year starting at age 35, a diet rich in protein may minimize the rate at which we lose muscle," he says.

Piattoly also suggests a balance of healthy fats. "Focus on a mix of healthy fats from sources like olive oil, avocados, almonds, sunflower seeds, pistachios and natural peanut butter."

3. Select supplements
"Omega-3 fatty acids, especially from fish oil, are beneficial for both brain and cardiovascular health," Piattoly says, noting that multiple research studies have demonstrated that fish oil supplementation is linked with lower levels of beta-amyloid protein, which may lower your risk of Alzheimer's disease.

In addition, research shows fish oil supplementation can reduce arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death, improve triglyceride levels, and increase HDL (good cholesterol). "I recommend taking between 2000 and 3000 mg per day of triglyceride-based fish oil. I personally take and recommend Nordic Naturals. They're the leading manufacturer of omega-3 supplements and all their products are tested for purity and safety."

Additionally, because between 50 to 75 percent of the population has a vitamin D deficiency, Piattoly recommends a vitamin D supplement. "Optimal levels of vitamin D may reduce your risk for cancer and heart disease, as well as improve bone health. Shoot for 2000 IU per day but be sure to speak with your doctor to determine how much you should take," he says.

4. Embrace technology
Numerous applications for smartphones and tablets make it easy to track your exercise progress, stay motivated and eat healthy. Best of all, most apps are free and only take a few minutes a day to use.

"I'm a big fan of MyFitnessPal, a nice fitness and nutrition app where you can track your activity and what you eat. You can visit www.myfitnesspal.com or download the app to your smartphone."

5. Be social
"One of the best things boomers can do is form a social network of friends who enjoy living a healthier lifestyle," says Piattoly. "Surrounding yourself with active people increases your opportunities for healthy activities. Habits are contagious, so associate with people who enjoy regular exercise."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Latest Trends Heat Up Barbecue Industry

March 10, 2014 3:45 am

As the May-September peak outdoor cooking season approaches, consumers can expect to see grills, smokers and outdoor living products in high demand. The trends that will drive sales during 2014 and beyond include:

Wood Pellets on the Rise: Made from compressed sawdust, wood pellets are heating up grills and smokers across the country. An all-natural product, wood pellets produce a strong, slow-burning source of heat that gives a unique, smoky flavor to foods. This year, new wood pellet grills and smokers are making it easier to cook outdoors no matter what time of year. Wood pellets grills and smokers use a variety of pellet forms to create different smoky tastes, all with a simple and easy cleanup process.

Portability: Whether tailgating for the big game or cooking on the beach, portable grills and smokers make it easy to cook delicious foods wherever you want. Industry manufactures are making it easier to take the party anywhere—from parking lots to campsites—by making light-weight and durable grills and smokers. Collapsible, small portable parts and all-terrain features make it simple to cook and smoke foods on-the-go.

Ovens in the Outdoors: New innovations are making it easier to do anything you can do inside, outside. With outdoor gas and wood-fired ovens, cooking enthusiasts can make a pizza, roast vegetables, bake desserts, and more all from the convenience of the backyard. Outdoor ovens provide an extra cooking space during the holidays, and allow families to cook their favorite dishes while enjoying the outdoors any season of the year.

Keeping Accessories Organized: When entertaining in the outdoors, it's important to have everything you need right at your fingertips. New innovations such as countertops with drawer storage and drink coolers make it easy to enjoy any party outside. With full sinks, refrigerators and lighting, you can bring all the amenities of your indoor kitchen, outdoors.

Source: Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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