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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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Hotel Amenities Travelers Can and Can't Do Without

December 13, 2013 4:27 am

TripAdvisor® has announced the results of the TripBarometer Truth in Travel Survey, which reveals the hotel amenities and services U.S. travelers find most and least important.

Free Wi-Fi, parking and breakfast are in high demand, but travelers are not as interested in the mini-bar or spa.

Most Important Hotel Amenities for U.S. Travelers
1. Free In-Room Wi-Fi (89 percent)
2. Free Parking (89 percent)
3. Free Breakfast (84 percent)
4. Free Personal Care Items (72 percent)
5. Free Lobby Wi-Fi (71 percent)

Least Important Hotel Amenities for U.S. Travelers
1. Mini Bar (21 percent)
2. Spa/Beauty Treatments (23 percent)
3. Business Center (34 percent)
4. Laundry Service (39 percent)
5. Free Pool-Side Wi-Fi (42 percent)

"Accept my credit cards" (59 percent) and "hire staff who speak my language" (34 percent) are the top things U.S. travelers wish their hotels would do, as compared to 12 percent who wish hotels would "include typical food from my country in the menu."

Meanwhile, there are some good signs hotels are answering the call. As a result of increasing numbers of guests from various destinations around the world, hoteliers have already put in place a number of measures to address the needs of international visitors. Fifty-two percent of global hotel respondents have made efforts to honor the credit cards that their guests prefer to use, as compared to 44 percent of U.S. hotels.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Appliance Safety in the Home: How to Prevent Tip-overs

December 13, 2013 4:27 am

In light of recent tragedies nationwide involving tipped over appliances, The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently completed a review of various tip-over hazards that can occur in the home.

Families must be aware of leaving children unattended in the kitchen, even if the stove is turned off. Many accidents occur when children attempt to climb on top of a stove door causing the appliance to topple over. With senior citizens, the same can happen when they are leaning on it for support. If the stove is on at the time of the incident, the heat will only make injuries worse and risk of death greater.

The CPSC recommends the following to prevent related tragedies in the future:

-Manufacturers should create better stability in their designs. Models should be able to support 100 pounds on an open oven door. Although this may require some major redesigns, the added safety bonus will benefit everyone.
-Manufacturers should design door hinges that lock in the open position, should an oven start to tip forward.
-Install anti-tip devices that prevent an appliance from working unless they are properly installed.
-Appliances should be programmed to automatically shut off the heat should they begin to tip.

Consumers should be aware that these types of incidents can occur in their home. To prevent this from happening to you or your loved ones, be sure to secure your stove with tip restraints provided by your manufacturer. New appliances made after 1991 should have shipped with them included, but may or may not be pre-installed. The CPSC reports that it is not aware of a single injury or death cause by an appliance with tip restraints properly installed.

For more information, visit http://www.cpsc.gov.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Three Questions to Ask Yourself before Adding a Pet to the Family

December 12, 2013 4:24 am

Whether it's a dog, cat, hamster, bird or other critter, a new pet is always an exciting addition, especially around the holidays when many families choose to bring a new pet into their home.

However, December is often a busy month when people do not have the time or energy to focus on a new pet. Before making this big decision, ask yourself some simple questions.

How much time each day can be committed to the pet? Work schedules, school schedules and other factors greatly affect how long people are home during the day. Some pets require more personal attention than others. For instance, larger, more energetic dog breeds, such as Boxers, will need to be walked at least two times a day.

For those who can't make that time commitment, small dogs or cats may require less exercise time, but still need quite a bit of one-on-one attention and toys to keep them mentally stimulated if the pet parent is gone during the day. Small animals like hamsters, guinea pigs and reptiles may be better suited for those who plan on being gone all day long.

Typically, these pets will be safe in their habitat during the day, provided the pet parent gives them all the requirements necessary to keep them happy and healthy. However, it is still important to nurture a connection with these pets, as many of them love to be held and handled. For those considering a puppy, it's important to consider the time commitment to properly potty train the dog.

What is affordable? Some pets cost more than others. In addition to upfront adoption fees, there are a number of factors that determine the cost of a pet. Large dogs will need more food, certain breeds require professional grooming services more often, young dogs and cats may require special training courses and reptiles can require specialized habitats and heat lamps.

Before deciding on a pet, be sure to research all costs associated with that pet, including costs that could come later in the animal’s life, rather than just immediately. For example, pet parents may not know that it is important to invest in their pet's oral health, which can help avoid costly dental surgeries down the line.

What does the family want to get out of the pet? Being a pet parent is a benefit to both the human and the animal and many pet parents say that their animal does more for them than they ever expected. It's important to ask what the family wants to get by adding a new pet to the family.

Perhaps it's having a cuddle buddy; maybe it's teaching kids responsibility, it could be the thought of having a pet help encourage someone to get physically fit, or perhaps it's having an independent animal who can cheer others up. Whatever it is, consider this feedback before getting a new pet. For those who decide a new puppy is best for their wants and needs, make sure the dog is well socialized before taking them out and about.

Sometimes waiting until after the holidays to add a new pet to the house may be the best option. Getting kids a habitat to unwrap during the celebrations and letting them choose their own pet after the holidays can turn one special day into two.

Source: http://www.petco.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Tips for Winter Storm Safety

December 12, 2013 4:24 am

As Old Man Winter approaches, millions across the nation are threatened with heavy snow, ice storms and power outages. To help homeowners prepare for the iciness ahead, Kohler Generators shares expert tips for storm safety.

1. Assemble a dedicated storm box or bucket. Having items on hand like batteries, candles, matches, flashlights, AM radio, water and even extra cash can be useful if your area loses power. If told by officials to evacuate your home, leave well in advance. Make plans for a safe route and destination where someone will be expecting you at a predetermined day and time.

2. Create a storm to-do list. This list reminds you of the important things you need to do before the storm hits. Things like getting prescription drugs, filling propane tanks, going to the bank and filling your car with gas can be essential.

3. Compile a list of important phone numbers. Essential phone numbers to have on hand can include: utility companies, insurance company, bank, doctors, radio stations and local police. Also, have at least one hard-wired landline phone in the house.

4. Protect your chilled and frozen food supply. Before the storm hits, pack your most commonly consumed items like milk, cold cuts and leftovers in a cooler with ice. Turn your refrigerator/freezer settings to the highest levels to chill remaining food as much as possible. Keep your refrigerator door taped closed to prevent unnecessary opening during a power outage.

5. Store water if you are on a well system. Store plenty of drinking water in clean containers. Also, store water in your bathtub so you can flush the toilet with a bucket of water when needed.

6. Inspect your basement sump pump system before the storm. During a major storm, heavy rains can flood your basement, so make sure your sump pump is plugged in and fully operational. Inspect the pump switch float ball on your sump pump to make sure it is operating smoothly. Also, make sure the drain line is not blocked and extends at least four feet away from your home's foundation. Finally, get a battery backup for your sump pump in case of power loss.

7. Look into an automatic standby generator system. A standby generator is permanently installed outside your home and hooks up to existing gas lines (propane or natural gas). If power is lost, a standby generator will automatically start up and restore power to your home. It can power lights, heating/cooling systems, refrigerators, sump pumps, home security systems, computers and more. With the addition of a standby generator, most issues you face during a storm can be eliminated.

Source: Kohler Generators

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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50 Percent Increase in Homeowners Using Smartphones for Home Remodeling

December 12, 2013 4:24 am

Planese, Inc. released its latest survey of U.S. homeowners about their use of technology to help plan and complete their home remodeling projects. In the survey, homeowners were asked about their past use of smartphones and PCs for remodeling and their planned usage for future projects. More than one out of four (27 percent) reported using their smartphones in the past for a variety of tasks to help with remodeling their homes. The percentage jumped to 40 percent when they were asked if they planned to use smartphones for future remodeling projects.

"This dramatic increase in smartphone use to help with remodeling is driven by a variety of changes: greater use of mobile devices, a need for homeowners to get better results from their remodeling investments and better apps," says Dan Fritschen, founder of www.remodelormove.com, author and homeowner advocate. "Mobile devices are a great compliment to the PC. Smartphones enable regular and frequent communications that are critical to improving collaboration between homeowners and contractors."

Detailed findings from the Planese survey show that for future remodeling projects, respondents plan to:

Find remodeling design ideas
• Use a smartphone (65 percent)
• Use a PC (95 percent)

Get remodeling cost estimates
• Use a smartphone (27 percent)
• Use a PC (66 percent)

Search for a remodeling contractor
• Use a smartphone (56 percent)
• Use a PC (80 percent)

Research products/services
• Use a smartphone (67 percent)
• Use a PC (67 percent)

Do background checks
• Use a smartphone (25 percent)
• Use a PC (50 percent)

Fritschen also noted their studies have found better communication and more collaboration is key to improving the low level of customer satisfaction in the home remodeling industry. "While constant communication in everyday life may be too much for some people, a constant flow of communication is one of the four elements that ensures a successful remodeling project."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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