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8 Simple Ways to Prepare Your Home for Winter

October 15, 2013 3:06 am

With autumn in full swing, now is the perfect time to prepare your home for the grueling winter months that lay ahead. With the increasing prices of oil, gas and electricity, winter heating bills are sure to be on the rise. Although we can't control these pricing factors, we can control a few things around the home to make sure we're conserving as much as possible. By following these simple tips, you can be sure to keep your bill low and house warm.

Installing a door sweep is a great way to ensure that the cold winter air stays out and that your warm heated air stays in. Don't neglect the space under your doors. If you aren't certain, get down on the floor and check for a gap. A door sweep will fill the space nicely and stop energy loss from occurring.

Installing electric outlet sealers can also save you money this winter. Cold air can sometimes be found coming in through electrical outlets on exterior walls. By buying inexpensive electrical sealers, you can further protect yourself from the weather in a matter of minutes. It's cheap and easy, and can gain you some additional savings on your bill.

Continue sealing your home by caulking around doors, windows and baseboards. This will catch leaks that you can't even see. Turn off all of the fans in the house and carefully move a lit candle around the windows, doors and floorboards. If the candle flickers, you know you have a leak. By spending $10-20 on caulk, you'll again save yourself lots of money on winter utility bills.

Fill cracks and holes with spray foam. Numerous holes are cut through your house in order to allow your utilities to enter your home. Many of these spots may have been cheaply insulated or have weathered over the years. By filling them in with spray foam, you are providing yourself with bonus insulation for a meager $5 cost.

Change your furnace filter because a dirty filter will cost you money. By blocking the air flow, a dirty furnace filter forces the blower to work harder to push air throughout the home. A clean filter will allow it to flow freely. Check your filter at least once a month and change it at least once every 90 days. If you’re not sure if you should replace the filter, hold it up to a light. If you can't see much light coming through, then it's time to be replaced.

Service your furnace every year before you turn it on to make sure it's in top operating condition. Regular servicing will also take care of smaller problems before they become bigger ones. Dust buildup and corrosion will weaken your furnace's power, while improper ventilation could allow carbon monoxide into your home, making it imperative that you regularly service your furnace.

A programmable thermostat can save you money year-round. Program it to keep your home at the temperature you desire while you're home and awake, and drop it when you're sleeping or at work. Choosing the right times to lower the heat is crucial toward saving on your bill.
Insulate your water heater if your heater is more than 10 years old. Older heaters are likely to not have enough insulation. By wrapping an insulation blanket around it, you'll lose less heat and the heater won't have to work as hard to keep water hot. A $20 investment will pay for itself in no time.

By heeding these tips for winter preparation, you will be absolutely sure that your home is well insulated and that you aren't wasting your money on pricey utility bills.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Most Common Fall Home Improvements for Homeowners This Season

October 15, 2013 3:06 am

With over half of all homeowners planning to make some type of improvement to their home this year, the question is, what exactly are they changing? Homeowners are choosing to wait until the high temperatures break and cooler weather hits to begin outdoor work, and home improvement companies are looking to unload new products to prepare for the new season, allowing homeowners to grab some great deals as autumn begins.

The most common fall home improvement projects include fencing, interior and exterior painting, window work, flooring, and roof repair, all of which are in preparation for the cold winter weather when home improvement projects are not at the top of your priority list. By getting these projects done before winter, you can put your home improvement projects to rest until spring without worrying about leaky roofs, cold air coming through cracks in the windows, and maintaining the value of your home with fencing and a fresh coat of paint.

"The cooler autumn temperatures make for the perfect time to focus more on the home and any remodeling projects," said Jeremy Floyd of Fence Center. "Such projects like adding in bamboo or aluminum fencing, not only increases your family's security, but the value of your home. Now that autumn is officially here, people are likely beginning to get these home improvement projects rolling."

According to Floyd:

• Projects such as flooring, such as wood, can only be done during certain months of the year because certain types of flooring employ adhesives that need temperatures inside the home to be within a certain range, usually between 70 and 80 degrees. Attempting to employ these types of flooring in the winter can make it difficult for the flooring to dry and bond, which will prove problematic down the road.
• Fall offers the perfect time to increase the security of your home, particularly for fencing, as the ground is not too hard to work with.
• Painting provides a pungent scent and sometimes toxic fumes, making fall the perfect time for painting. Without the humidity, paint can dry quickly, keeping the aromas of the paint to a minimum.

Source: Fence Center

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Avoiding and Handling Fire Emergencies

October 14, 2013 3:06 am

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), on average, seven people in the U.S. die every day in house fires. In 2011, fire departments responded to 370,000 home fires, resulting in $6.9 billion in damage. With Fire Prevention Week underway, the experts from Rave Mobile Safety, creators of the national public safety service Smart911, are offering the following tips to help individuals and families prevent and handle fire related emergencies.

• Cook with Care: Cooking is the foremost cause of home fires and unattended cooking is the leading culprit. Stay in the kitchen when frying, broiling and grilling. Use a timer as a reminder that a stove is on, and if you need to leave—even briefly—turn the appliance off. Don't put things that can catch fire on a stovetop, including wooden utensils, oven mitts and food packaging, and keep curtains away. Always keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Have a lid on hand to smother small grease fires, and if there's an oven fire, turn it off and keep the door shut. Don't try to fight larger, uncontrollable fires - leave the premises, shut the door to contain it and call 9-1-1.

• Candle Caution: The NFPA notes that, on average, home fires caused by a candle are reported every 40 minutes. More than one-third of these fires start in the bedroom, half of them when potentially flammable items are placed close to a candle. Always use candle holders that won't tip over, and, extinguish the flame before it burns down and gets too close to the holder. Keep candles on uncluttered surfaces and never leave them unattended or in the care of children. Avoid the use of candles in the bedroom and never light them if medical oxygen is used in a home.

• Where There's Smoke, There's Fire: The leading cause of fire deaths are smoking materials. If you smoke, smoke outside. Remain alert; never smoke in bed and be aware that medicine, drugs and alcohol can make a person drowsy. Keep cigarettes, lighters and matches out of reach of children. Dispose of cigarettes properly by dousing them with water or sand.

• Heat Risks: Fires from heating sources pose risks, particularly during winter months. As a general rule, keep anything that can burn a minimum of three feet from these sources. Children should also be kept the same distance away. An oven should never be used for heating purposes and always turn portable heating devices off before going to bed or leaving the house.

• Be Proactive, Plan & Practice: Do a proactive safety check of your residence. Test the function and batteries of smoke alarms. Make sure outlets are not overloaded with multiple plug-extenders or extension cords. Look at electrical wires and cords on appliances, devices, lamps, etc. to ensure they're not damaged or worn. Develop and practice a fire-escape plan, marking two ways out of each room, such as a door and a window. Select a spot outside and in front of a residence where all family members should meet in the event of a fire. Also, discuss fire dos and don'ts, including never exiting a door if it feels hot and staying low to avoid smoke inhalation.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Celebrate Pizza: Fun, Easy Ways to Enjoy a Family Favorite

October 14, 2013 3:06 am

(Family Features) Pizza is one of America’s favorite foods, as it is easy to prepare and fun to share. Families are often looking for ways to enjoy this tasty dish and still feel good about staying on track with enjoyable, mindful eating.

With the help of the Nestlé Pizza Portion Guide, you can feel even better about serving this family favorite.

“It’s all about how much you eat and what else you eat with it,” says registered dietitian Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., R.D., author of “The Portion Teller Plan.”

It’s easy as pizza pie
While assisting in the creation of the new Pizza Portion Guide, one of Young’s goals was to help people “legalize” pizza in their mind, while helping them stay committed to a balanced diet.

“One of the best ways to do this is to be mindful of portion size,” says Young. “When you learn ways to eat what you love in appropriate portions, you can continue to enjoy your favorite foods (in appropriate portions) and keep your meals enjoyable and your eating plan on track.”

Pizza is what’s called a mixed dish, combining several food groups such as proteins, vegetables and grains all in one slice. By pairing pizza with nutritious side dishes, such as steamed vegetables and fruit salad, you create a complete meal.

For a mindful approach to enjoying pizza, Young recommends these tips:

• Top it your way: Select your favorite kind of pizza. Consider adding your own various vegetable toppings.
• Nutrition facts check: Read the nutrition facts label on packaged pizza you prepare at home (shown per “serving size”).
• Show of hands: Portion size can be based on what you have eaten in a day or what you plan to eat. One fun way to determine the best portion size of pizza is to picture your hand as a pizza slice. Plan to enjoy only one or two hands’ worth. A child or small woman’s hand is smaller, and so are their portions.
• A side of healthy, please: Fill half of your plate with a salad, steamed or roasted mixed vegetables and seasonal fruit for a complete meal.
• Savor your selection: Enjoy your selection knowing you are eating your favorite foods in the right amount for you. You’ll leave the table fully satisfied, but not overly full.

Family pizza night
Celebrate this family favorite with a pizza night. Young recommends keeping the night fun by allowing family members an active role in crafting pizza portions tailored to their tastes and needs. Mix and match the following possibilities for a fun and flavorful pizza night:

• Line up small bowls, each filled with different toppings to bring color and variety to pizza.
• For a fun and unique choice, add in pineapple, strawberries or blueberries.
• Add canned beans, cooked chicken, turkey or shrimp to cheese pizza for more protein.
• Pizza can be excellent for leftovers. Keep your pizza crispy and bubbly by reheating in a large skillet, toaster oven, oven or grill, instead of the microwave.

Source: nestleusa

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Finding a Builder for Your New Home: Hire a Professional

October 14, 2013 3:06 am

Contracting the right builder is a critical first step in the construction process of your dream home. Some homeowners liken it to hiring an employee, while others compare the experience to a marriage—you have to spend a lot of time together, make a lot of big decisions and ultimately trust each other to build something that lasts.

“This is the biggest purchase you make, period,” new homeowner Amy Greene said.

Don Ghiz also has recent experience in hiring a contractor. He’s in the middle of a construction project and said he spoke to several candidates before making his selection.

Before picking a contractor, Ghiz evaluated a number of builders based on their level of experience, competency, style of house they were comfortable building, method of accounting, communication skills and willingness to stay positive.

Following is some helpful advice on what to look for when choosing a builder:

1. Ask for recommendations. Greene said she found her builder by asking her friends. Having a recommendation helps. “I’d definitely do my homework and look at a lot of custom builders,” she said. “Then go look at their houses and spend time talking with them.”

Get to know the builder. Get to know who they are and what they stand for – are they passionate about building homes or are they all about the money?

2. Get lost in the details. Greene said that her builder’s detailed bid sealed the deal for her. She explained that costs can go up if builders do not give all the information up front.

“Without details, prices can skyrocket,” Greene said. “You want a builder who has a really good idea of what things will cost.”

Ghiz noted that customers need to assess the builders’ choice of quality materials and be assured that contractors will not cut corners to save expenses without discussing the options.

“In my case, I looked for a builder with genuine concern that I get what I want at a fair price,” he said. “I looked for a person who would say, with honesty, ‘I don’t think you’ll like that, and here’s my reason for saying it.’”

3. Talk it out. As in any good relationship, communication is key. Greene and her builder spent hours talking before they began to work together, discussing every detail of the project in full before starting construction.

4. Trust your instincts – and back it up. For Ghiz, it all came down to trust.

“When all is said and done, your builder will spend many months on what you may live in for the rest of your life, so consider the choices carefully and don’t ignore your gut,” he said.

5. Use your resources. If you aren’t sure of something, don’t hesitate to seek advice from others or get a second opinion.

Source: The Custom Builders Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Updated Appliances Go a Long Way Toward Attracting Prospective Buyers

October 11, 2013 6:09 pm

From upping a property’s curb appeal to decluttering the space and staging it to attract a wide range of prospective buyers, preparing a home to be listed on the market can be a time-consuming process. However, if you’re in the early stages of preparing for a sale, it’s crucial that you take the time to ensure that the major appliances within the home are in good, working condition.

This may mean replacing appliances before even putting your house on the market. A good rule of thumb is to update any kitchen appliances that are more than 10 years old—especially if they do not offer energy-savings. You don’t need to buy the most expensive appliances available, but new ones will always make a better impression among prospective buyers than outdated ones.

When it comes to replacing appliances, replacing just one can do more damage than good. For instance, if you bring in a new dishwasher, that old oven is going to be an eyesore. Therefore, if you only have the money to buy one new appliance, most agents recommend going with a new refrigerator.

If you’re thinking about updating any of the appliances within your home, be sure to consider the cost of the house when making decisions, as the price of appliances should be in line with current comparables. For example, a $200,000 home would not necessarily warrant a Sub-Zero refrigerator, while a million dollar home should not have a lower-end dishwasher and range.

It’s also important to keep in mind that most buyers have a fondness for stainless steel kitchen appliances, so if you’re going to upgrade, you should consider incorporating these types of appliances into your home. If you choose to go with a specific color instead, try to match everything and create a unified look in order to maximize eye-appeal. In the end, selling your home is all about getting potential buyers to become emotionally attached, which may prove to be more difficult with non-functioning and/or mismatched kitchen appliances.

While some say that bringing in new appliances is a waste of money because more often than not buyers have their own vision and plans for the kitchen, it doesn’t hurt to take one thing off their to-do list.

In the end, a small investment of a couple thousand dollars—or even less—on appliances can do wonders in creating a kitchen that house hunters will clamor over. New appliances can make an older kitchen fresh and exciting and can even distract from cabinets, floors and tiling that might be unattractive and ancient.

To learn more about the benefits of incorporating new appliances into your home, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Pros and Cons of Selling during the Holidays

October 11, 2013 6:09 pm

The holiday season is right around the corner, and with it comes the age-old debate about whether or not it’s a good idea to try and sell your home between now and the end of the year. While some real estate professionals believe the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is too busy for people to concentrate on house hunting, others are adamant that those looking to buy during the holiday season tend to be more serious and more likely to make a decision quickly.

If your house is priced right and fits what a buyer is looking for, there will be a market for it no matter what time of year it is, holidays included. Plus, thanks to the Internet, buyers can still look at properties while holiday shopping or attending parties, so the time element isn’t as much in play as in the past.

One plus of keeping a home on the market throughout the holidays is that people who relocate for jobs often do so in January, so November and December become important house hunting months for them, especially since they may have more time off to look at homes in person.

People may also want to take advantage of the tax benefits that come from buying a home, and purchasing in December is a great way to do so.

Holiday decorations also go a long way toward creating a festive elegance that will work in your favor when it comes to attracting buyers, invoking the holiday spirit that may compel someone to buy.

On the other hand, one downside for sellers is that with parties, decorating, cooking and buying presents, the last thing you want to worry about is getting your house ready if you need to make it available for a showing.

Another reason to consider taking your house off the market during the holidays is that if your home doesn’t sell, the all important days on market number will continue to tick away while your home loses the luster of being a new listing. However, it can come back on the market in January as a new listing, making it more attractive to house hunters. Of course, you’ll also be competing against a slew of other homes that waited until the holidays were over to hit the market.

In the end, it’s important to remember that there’s no right or wrong answer, but you should discuss both scenarios with your agent and choose the option that makes the most sense for you.

For more information about selling during the holiday season, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Pets and Home Sales: How to Keep One from Hampering the Other

October 11, 2013 6:09 pm

According to a recent report conducted by the American Humane Society, Americans own approximately 75 million dogs, 90 million cats, 16 million birds, 12 million reptiles and around 20 million small mammals, such as rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters. While these numbers go a long way toward proving that people love animals, prospective buyers don’t often share that same love as they’re more interested in finding a clean, odor-free home.

While your pet may be gentle and loving around you and your family, when strangers enter into the equation, animals may not be as predictable. Dogs bark, cats scratch, snakes frighten people, birds squawk and most homes with pets generally have a distinct odor that’s often hard to mask. It’s also important for pet owners to take allergies into consideration when trying to sell their home. If someone with an allergy to a cat or rabbit enters your home and immediately starts sneezing, they’re going to want to leave fast, killing the chance of a sale.

If you’re in the process of preparing your home to be listed on the market, real estate agents will often advise that you find a new place for your animals to live while you go through the process. However, if you can’t bear the thought of being separated from the family pet, there are some practical things you can do to promote a clean, odor-free home when prospective buyers visit.

Most important is getting pets away from the house during showings. Take your pet to the park or an animal daycare facility, but never let them roam free in the house when you know prospective buyers will be dropping in. While you might think keeping a pet in the backyard or locked in a cage is a solution, this could work against you as it may scare people away—especially those with small children—and keep them from admiring the positive aspects of your home.

It’s also a good idea to try to remove any and all signs that a pet lives in the house. This means putting away food and water dishes, hiding the toys in a closet and making sure you clean out the litter box. You may even want to hide it in the garage as well.

If the carpet throughout your home is littered with pet stains, spend some money and bring in a professional cleaning company to get rid of these problem areas, as prospective buyers will most likely form unfavorable opinions about the rest of the home if they spot numerous pet stains.

While pet owners may have a hard time understanding that not everyone loves animals as much as they do, these strategies will go a long way toward ensuring that a pet doesn’t hamper your home sale.

For more information about preparing your home for sale when there’s a pet involved, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Flu Season Doesn't Have to Put a Damper on Home-Selling Process - Why a Contingency Plan is Your Best Bet

October 11, 2013 6:09 pm

With flu season right around the corner, it’s never too early to come up with a contingency plan should you become sick while your calendar is jam packed with home showings. While the first few days of the flu—or any other malady—are usually when you’re most likely to spread germs among others, the last thing you want is to be responsible for getting prospective buyers who have come to see your home sick.

It’s not just being contagious that you need to worry about either. You’ll also need to consider the level of stress involved with cleaning your home so that it’s ready to be shown, as well as the interruption to the rest you should be getting.

If you’re lying in bed with tissues all about and pots of soup on the stove and someone calls to see the house, racing around to clean everything up will put unneeded stress on top of an already stressful situation. In addition, not allowing yourself to get adequate rest may set the stage for getting even sicker, as your cold or flu may develop into bronchitis or even pneumonia. Therefore, it’s important to keep your health in mind, even when your home is on the market. And if you’re feeling under the weather, concentrate on getting yourself better rather than trying to wrap up a home sale.

While it’s not always possible to avoid getting sick during flu season, if you or someone in your family happen to come down with something this winter while your home’s on the market, the first thing you should do is alert your agent and let them know that you don’t want any showings for the next few days. This also means no phone calls, emails or texts so that you can fully focus on getting healthy.

It’s also important to not worry about missing an opportunity for a sale. Anyone truly interested in your home won’t mind having to reschedule.

Once you’re feeling better, don’t forget to give your home a thorough cleaning with disinfectant and remove any signs of illness (such as medicine bottles and tissues in the garbage) and create a nice, fresh-smelling and healthy environment.

For more information about setting up a home showing contingency plan as winter approaches, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Simple Tips for Hiring a Reputable Moving Company

October 11, 2013 6:09 pm

Moving into a new home is the beginning of an exciting adventure. If you recently completed a home purchase—and have a move on the horizon—ensuring a smooth transition begins with doing your homework and choosing a reputable moving company to safely transport your belongings.

While it’s easy enough to use Google and find dozens of moving companies within your area, you shouldn’t take the hiring decision lightly. After all, we’re talking about all your possessions and you certainly don’t want to entrust them to a company that doesn’t have experience.

A great way to get recommendations? Talk to friends, co-workers and even your real estate agent. You should also look for reviews online and be sure to ask any moving company you may be considering for references.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to your top few choices, have a representative from each company visit your home and give you an estimate. This meeting provides a great opportunity to discuss your expectations and clarify what the moving company is ultimately responsible for transporting. The representative can also explain if there are any materials they’ll need to provide.

If you’re looking for a moving company to help transport items across state lines, the company should have a USDOT number, a unique license number issued by the United States Department of Transportation. This information can easily be found online.

You should also verify that the company is licensed and insured—again, information that can be easily accessed via the Internet. The website also provides links to every state’s moving regulations, so be sure to check that out as well.

Another thing you’ll want to pay attention to is the cost. Be sure to keep in mind that the initial rate you were quoted may not reflect the final amount. Do your homework ahead of time by checking to see if gas is included, or if it’s an extra expense calculated once the move is complete. Also pay attention to when you’re planning to move, as weekends and holidays are often more expensive. You’ll also want to establish whether you’ll be paying by the pound or square footage and whether or not there are extra fees if the mover doesn’t arrive on time. When it comes to fees, everything should be worked out in the contract beforehand.

If you have fragile or valuable items that need to be transported to your new home, ask about insurance and replacement policies. And make sure the company you end up choosing is aware of any heavy or unwieldy items, as these ultimately affect the price. If you wait until the day of the move, it’ll be too late to do anything regarding any extra fees that may creep into the equation.

When it comes to hiring a moving company, it’s crucial that you don’t wait until the last minute to begin looking as many movers are often booked months in advance.

For more information about hiring a moving company, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.