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Four Quick Steps to a Guest-Friendly Home

December 18, 2013 4:36 am

Having extra bodies in your home overnight can be stressful at any time, but house guests for the holidays – when you are already deep into shopping and preparing – can seem like more than you want to take on.

The home and style editors from Better Homes and Gardens offer four do-ahead suggestions that should help to make your guests feel welcomed and comfortable and calm your last-minute jitters about hosting:

Clear the clutter – Keep an eye out for any knick-knacks or furniture you can store in the garage or closet in order to provide extra space for your guests’ luggage and belongings.

Prep the sleeping space – Whether it is a guest bedroom or a pull-out sofa in the den, place a basket nearby with extra linens, a few magazines or books, and a small alarm clock. If your guests will be spending some time on their own, include a map and/or guidebook for the local area. Try to make sure there is adequate reading light, and – somewhere on a small table or dresser top, place a small plant or a vase of fresh flowers with a welcome note propped up against it.

Prep the bathroom – Clean the guest bathroom, or a shared one, thoroughly, and consider replacing a tired-looking shower curtain or towels. Find a spot for a basket containing spare towels and personal items, such as lotion, shampoo, and toothbrush, or other items that might have been forgotten. Plug in a nightlight to help light the way from the sleeping area.

Prep the kitchen – Before your guests arrive, ask them about any food or snack preferences or other items they would like to have on hand. On a tray near the coffeepot, or on a counter, place a selection of coffee, tea and cocoa along with sugar and creamer so your guests don’t need to rummage through the cupboards. You may want to include some cookies or fruit for impromptu snacking anytime the mood strikes.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


31 Percent of Holiday Shoppers Have Yet To Buy a Single Gift

December 18, 2013 4:36 am

Despite the shorter-than-usual holiday shopping season, 31 percent of Americans who plan on giving gifts haven't even started shopping as of early December, according to a new Consumer Reports poll. Of those who have started shopping, 49 percent were less than half way done.

The Consumer Reports poll also revealed that with regard to their holiday preparations, 64 percent of shoppers felt they have things under control and will be ready. However, 36 percent were feeling at least somewhat stressed – including 6 percent who were so overwhelmed that they're unsure if they'll be ready in time, and 3 percent who said they almost certainly won't be ready for the holidays.

"Even though this year there's less days on the calendar to get their holiday shopping done, there are still quite a bit of procrastinators out there," said Tod Marks, Consumer Reports senior editor and resident shopping expert. "The 11 percent who told us they've completely finished shopping already have certainly saved themselves the stress of frantically searching for last-minute gifts."

The Consumer Reports poll also revealed which methods of sending holiday greetings are least likely to be well-received. When asked to rate the tastefulness of various ways people may send holiday greetings, 67 percent of Americans said group text messages were in poor taste, 65 percent said the same about all-purpose greetings posted on social media or the like, while 57 percent said  group emails were in poor taste. 

When asked which holiday gift recipient is the hardest to shop for, 30 percent said it was their spouse/partner/significant other, one quarter cited a parent, while 12 percent said it was the kids.

As for whom Americans will be spending the most money on for holiday gifts, the Consumer Reports revealed the following top responses:

Children (39 percent)
Spouse/Partner/Significant Other (29 percent)
Parent (11 percent)
Sibling (5 percent)
Friend ( 3 percent)

Most shoppers seemed to be doing a good job of controlling their holiday gift spending, according to the Consumer Reports poll. But 36 percent indeed were concerned about overspending – including 6 percent who were very concerned.

Other holiday tidbits from the poll included:

-82 percent would rather receive practical gifts vs. luxury gifts (18 percent)
-60 percent would rather receive cash vs. gift cards (40 percent)
-56 percent would rather host out-of-town guests vs. being a guest at someone else's home (44 percent)
-56 percent would rather have a fake Christmas tree vs. a real one (44 percent)

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Prepare Holiday Meals Safely

December 18, 2013 4:36 am

For many families, preparing a grand meal is a tradition they look forward to during the holidays, but it's no fun if someone gets food poisoning. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million people in the United States get sick each year from eating contaminated foods.

You can avoid foodborne illness by following these tips:

1. When buying food:

-Choose fresh items and check the expiration date for everything you buy.
-Foods that need to be refrigerated, such as meat, eggs and milk, should be the last things you buy at the store.
-Place meats (chicken, fish, pork and beef) in a separate bag. The liquids that spill out of these items can contaminate fruits, vegetables and other food in the refrigerator.
-If you'll be driving for more than an hour after you go to the supermarket, take a cooler to store the items that need refrigeration.

2. When handling food:

-Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling any food.
-Wash fruits and vegetables with a brush to remove any dirt or soil residue.
-Do not wash meats before cooking. This could cause bacteria to contaminate your sink and other kitchen surfaces.
-Defrost meats in the refrigerator or microwave. Defrosting them at room temperature can cause bacteria to multiply.
-Wash the knife and cutting board that were used to prepare meat before using them on other food items to avoid contamination.

3. When cooking food:

-Cook meats after defrosting them. Don't leave them out of the refrigerator for too long.
-Make sure the meats are cooked well inside and out. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature.
-Don't put freshly cooked items next to raw foods.
-When cooking meat, do so all at once. Avoid partially cooking meat and refrigerating it with the intention of completing the cooking process later.

4. When storing food:

-Once you've cooked your food, make sure to store it promptly in the refrigerator.
-Remember to eat leftovers like meats, eggs and pastas within the expiration date, which can generally vary between one and five days.
-Check the food storage guide for extra precautions.

Get additional health tips and other relevant information at and

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Living in a Staged Home - Tips to Keep the Clutter at Bay

December 13, 2013 6:36 pm

Hiring a professional stager to get your home in tip top shape before it hits the market is often at the top of the list among real estate professionals when it comes to good investments that can’t be overlooked. In fact, stagers will be able to add some pizzazz to the space, creating a unique look that will separate your home from others on the market, which may lead to a quicker sale.

However, it’s important to remember that once your home has been cleaned up and staged for mass appeal, you still have to live in the space until all the dotted lines are signed. And that means you’re going to have to work hard to keep your home in showcase condition.

The key to keeping that staged look is to have a strategic plan in place when calls come in to see the house. That means hiding your personal items, putting away any papers and other clutter that will ultimately distract prospective buyers and making sure everything is polished and shiny.

Cleanliness is the most important thing here, so make sure the kitchen looks especially sparkly clean. Clean the countertops, clear the sink and wash the floor. Put all dishes in the dishwasher and all food neatly away in the fridge. Keep the pantry clean and neat as well, because potential buyers are going to want to open any and all cabinets within the space to see what food storage options there are. You’ll also want to make sure there are no lingering smells within the home. Fresh baked items are a great way to mask the odors of other unpleasant smells.

When it comes to the bedrooms, remedy the clutter by putting items in a closed cabinet or nightstand. Or place items in a storage container that you can hide under the bed. Be sure to leave nothing out on the furniture, including glasses, tissues and any beauty products. While a stager may want you to keep a few books on the nightstand, be sure you keep what they asked for, as there may be reasons for the specific titles they choose.

For the bathroom, use a small container to store items such as your toothbrush, toothpaste and other personal items. This will allow you to remove everything from the bathroom quickly without causing too much of a disruption in the home.

Last but not least, the best tip for every room in the house: don’t move the furniture. If you’ve invested money in a stager, be sure to take their suggestions.

Living in your home while it’s being staged may not be the easiest thing in the world, but hopefully, it will all pay off and you’ll soon be living in your new home.

For more information about staging your home, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Update Your Place: Rugs Add Visual Interest, Dimension to Any Space

December 13, 2013 6:36 pm

Prospective buyers run the gamut when it comes to what they’re looking for in a home. While some may be interested in hardwood floors throughout, others prefer carpeted rooms. If you’re in the process of getting your home ready to sell, and want to attract a larger audience of prospective buyers, incorporating rugs into your space can do wonders.

Not only do rugs help warm a dreary room, they also go a long way toward adding a splash of color to a dull space and creating a new look within almost any room in the house. Plus, rugs provide a quick fix when it comes to floors that may need to be replaced.

It’s also important to keep in mind that prices can range anywhere from less than $100 for a small area rug to more expensive Persian rugs that can cost thousands of dollars. Plus, there are many varieties that fall in between.

Just as prices vary, so too do rug styles, making it easy to find the exact look you’re going for. For instance, a leather rug can add depth to a room and is a great choice for traditional and rustic style spaces. Wool rugs, on the other hand, are warm, sustainable, and a great way to add a natural accent to your home. And shag rugs are perfect for adding dimension to a flat room, providing an extra cozy feel.

It’s also important to note that different style rugs need to be treated differently. For instance, pricey oriental rugs need to stay out of direct sunlight or they will fade, and they need to be specially cleaned. But they are a great eye-catcher when prospective buyers come to see a home.

High-volume walking areas are a great place to incorporate patterned rugs as they’ll show stains less than a solid rug. Also, wool rugs are easier to clean than non-wool rugs.

With many of today’s homeowners taking advantage of their enclosed patios and outdoor rooms, a jute rug is a perfect fabric option for indoor/outdoor use. The same holds true for the bathroom, where rugs are gaining in popularity.

If you’re looking for a quick and relatively inexpensive way to dress up a room, you may want to think about adding an area rug. In addition to the design elements, area rugs provide physical warmth, comfort and can help absorb sound in a room. An area rug should take up two-thirds to three-quarters of the floor space of an area with no furniture on the rug, or else you risk having the rug look lost.

Most designers agree that you should never cover the entire floor with an area rug; it’s important to leave nine to 12 inches of the floor around the edges of the rug exposed. And keep from blocking any floor vents.

Be sure to avoid too tiny a rug, or you could create a chopped up looking space and the room will instantly appear smaller. Visually divide a large living space by using rugs to identify what each space is. This is especially important when staging a home as prospective buyers need to get a vision of how to lay out such an open space.

If you’re not sure what type of rug(s) to incorporate into the various spaces within your home, it’s best to consult with a home stager or designer. You may even be able to rent the more elaborate-looking rugs to give your home a splash of color and lay the groundwork for a successful sale.

To learn more about incorporating rugs into your space, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Preparing Your Home for Winter - Simple Tips to Ensure Your Home Survives the Season

December 13, 2013 6:36 pm

For potential sellers, making the decision to keep their home on the market throughout the winter months is often a challenging proposition. However, if you’re ready to take advantage of all the season has to offer—including serious buyers—it’s important to make sure the house itself is ready to survive the winter cold.

The first thing you’ll want to do is ensure that the heating system works by getting an annual maintenance check and furnace cleaning. You don’t want a blocked vent or broken coil causing a problem at a critical time. You should also clean out your air ducts at the same time. All of these items will be relayed to the buyer eventually, which can only be a positive step in the right direction.

Winter is also a great time to put new batteries in all your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

Check that your fireplace’s chimney and vents are clean and in good repair. Not only will this prevent chimney fires, it will also ensure that carbon monoxide doesn’t creep into your home. You should also inspect the chimney’s exterior for cracks.

In addition, check your roof for cracked tiles or damaged shingles. If something looks out of place, get it looked at before it develops into something more serious. The last thing you want is a leaky roof as you’re trying to sell your home.

You’ll also want to check the gaps between your siding and windows or doorframes. If they’re bigger than the width of a nickel, you should reapply exterior caulk and get them ready for the cold. Silicone caulk is best for exterior use because it won’t shrink and it’s impervious to the elements.

Be sure to clean out your gutters so prospective buyers don’t overlook crucial elements of your home because of leaves and debris. Water can back up against the house and damage roofing and siding, which can lead to leaks and ice dams.

If you have a crawl space, verify that the conditions are dry underneath. Also check the crawl space under all sinks, showers, and tubs for leaks.

For those who live in a really cold area, turn off any exterior faucets to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. Disconnect all garden hoses and drain the water that remains in faucets. You should also turn off the shut-off valve inside your home.

Have a welcome mat outside and something for people to wipe their snowy or wet shoes on inside. This will protect your floors and rugs from additional wear and tear.

It’s also important to reverse any ceiling fans—if they have a reverse switch—so that the fan’s blades are running in a clockwise direction after you turn on your heat. Energy Star notes that a fan will produce an updraft and push heated air down into the room from the ceiling. This is especially helpful in rooms with high ceilings.

Even if you decide to take your home off the market, the winter season provides the perfect time to make fixes and repairs to get your home ready for prospective buyers.

For more information about preparing your home for the cold winter months, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


American Dream of Homeownership Alive and Well This Winter

December 13, 2013 6:36 pm

While the number of people out shopping for a home tends to decrease during the winter months, the shorter days and colder weather often bring out prospective buyers who tend to be more serious about purchasing a home. In fact, some real estate professionals argue that since there’s less competition, you might actually have a better chance of selling your home during the cold winter months.

The following tips will help you prepare your house for sale this winter while making prospective buyers that much more eager to offer a bid.

Real estate agents will tell you that a cold house is a major detriment to a house hunter in the winter. If prospective buyers come in and are freezing as they roam from room to room, they’re not going to want to stay for long. Be sure to turn the heat on—and even raise it a few degrees—to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. This will ensure that anyone interested in your home sticks around to soak up the nuances of the house.

Do you have a beautiful garden or a picturesque view of the trees? How about a pool or swing set for the kids? While these features may not be so noticeable in the winter, especially with a layer of snow coating the ground, be sure to offer a takeaway brochure of what your house looks like during each season. Let a buyer imagine themselves and their family living in the home year-round.

Speaking of the outside, make sure to prune the trees and eliminate any broken branches that could fall from the weight of snow or ice. Even though it’s cold, prospective buyers will want to take a quick walk around the home, and you don’t want to create an unsafe or unsightly environment.

If a big storm happens to hit around the time of an open house or a private showing, be sure to get outside and shovel the driveway and walkway well ahead of time. The last thing you want to do is to keep a serious buyer from being able to get a complete view of your home because snow is blocking their path.

If you have a fireplace, potential buyers will more than likely want to see it in action, so it’s a good idea to have plenty of logs and paper on hand, along with a fire starter log. You should prepare everything ahead of time so all the agent has to do is light one section.

One thing many sellers don’t think about is emphasizing the positive aspects of the home, the neighborhood and its location that are truly beneficial during the winter months. For instance, is your home close to public transportation? Does the town come quickly to plow the streets? Are there lots of kids in the neighborhood knocking on the doors to shovel the snow? Make sure potential buyers are aware of these additional benefits.

Selling a home during the winter isn’t impossible, and by taking advantage of the season—and not letting it take advantage of you—winter could wind up being your favorite time of year.

To learn more about selling your home during the winter months, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Mortgage Market Update: GSE Loan Limits Remain Steady as We Head into New Year

December 13, 2013 6:36 pm

After much debate and worry in the industry, the Federal Housing Finance Agency decided that the 2014 maximum conforming loan limits for mortgages acquired by the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, will remain at $417,000 for one-unit properties in most areas of the country.

In its simplest explanation, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008 establishes the maximum conforming loan limit that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are permitted to set for mortgage acquisitions and requires annual adjustments to these limits to reflect changes in the national average home price.

Policymakers were contemplating a reduction in the maximum size of home loans that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were allowed to acquire, trying to lessen the government’s footprint in the mortgage market. Many are glad that didn’t occur.

Steve Brown, president of the National Association of REALTORS®, was among those championing the decision, stating that NAR opposed lowering the ceiling on loans due to it increasing costs for consumers and reducing access to conventional mortgages.

“In September, when reports surfaced that FHFA acting director Edward DeMarco was considering using conservator authority to lower loan limits, NAR cautioned that such an experiment would jeopardize homeownership for many creditworthy buyers, especially first-time homebuyers who are often less likely to meet the 20 percent minimum down payment requirement,” Brown says. “There is already enough turbulence in the regulatory environment for mortgage lending. Lowering loan limits at this time would create even more confusion and uncertainty, and we would run the risk of reversing the progress that’s been made in the economic recovery.”

HERA provisions require that FHFA set loan limits as a function of local-area median home values. Where 115 percent of the local median home value exceeds the baseline loan limit ($417,000 in most of the U.S.), the local loan limit is set at 115 percent of the median home value. In Washington, D.C.—and all U.S. states except Alaska and Hawaii—the highest possible local area loan limit for a one-unit property is $625,500.

In determining the 2014 HERA loan limits in high-cost areas, the FHFA did not permit declines relative to prior HERA limits. Therefore, while it did not explicitly prohibit declines in high-cost area loan limits, that approach is consistent with the statutory procedure for responding to changes in prices on a national basis.

For more information about GSE loan limits, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: Home Staging

December 13, 2013 6:36 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 current GSE loan limits. Other topics covered this month include the importance of preparing your home for the winter season and how incorporating rugs into your space can do wonders when it comes to creating mass appeal 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.


Consumers to Increase Their Holiday Shopping at Convenience Stores

December 13, 2013 4:27 am

Harried consumers seeking to complete their holiday shopping say that they will rely more on convenience stores this year for quick snacks, stocking stuffers, party items and cash from ATMs, according to a consumer survey released by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

One in three consumers say that they plan to buy snacks and other food items from convenience stores more often (32 percent) and that they plan to buy coffee and other beverages from convenience stores more often (31 percent) while shopping this holiday season.

Younger consumers, those 18 to 34, are most likely to grab a quick snack or beverage at convenience stores, with a majority expecting to buy snacks (52 percent) or drinks (51 percent) more often at convenience stores while shopping this holiday season.

In addition to purchasing quick snacks and drinks as part of their holiday shopping excursions, consumers say that they will be increasingly using convenience stores to purchase holiday gifts or related items. More than one in five consumers say that when it comes to making purchases at convenience stores, they will be buying more gift cards more often (23 percent), small presents or stocking stuffers more often (21 percent), and more small items like tape and batteries more often (22 percent). Younger consumers are most likely to purchase these items at convenience stores: more than one in three of those 18 to 34 say that they will be buying gifts cards (38 percent), small presents (38 percent) and small items like tape and batteries (37 percent) at convenience stores more often this holiday season.

"Lottery tickets are always a popular stocking stuffer or office gift, and with the current Mega Millions jackpot now at $400 million we are definitely seeing an increase in sales for what could potentially be an amazing holiday gift," said Lenard.

Convenience stores also will be a popular destination for those planning holiday parties. One in five consumers (21 percent) say that they will be shopping more often at convenience stores to pick up items like wine, beer and snacks that they need for parties that they are attending or hosting. More than one in three consumers age 18 to 34 say that they will be buying more items from convenience stores for parties this holiday season, with 39 percent stocking up for parties that they are hosting and 37 percent buying items for parties that they are attending.

Source: National Association of Convenience Stores

Published with permission from RISMedia.