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Ladder Dos and Don'ts for Fall Maintenance

September 17, 2013 2:36 am

With homeowners clambering up ladders to paint, clean gutters and perform other fall chores, the autumn months can be an especially dangerous time

Ladders play a big role in thousands of accidents around the home. A Consumer Reports analysis of data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission found more than 160 deaths and 170,000 injuries related to ladders in 2007, the latest year for which full data is available. And over the past five years, more than 500,000 ladders have been recalled "due to fall hazards."

The following dos and don’ts will help keep you safe while you are performing chores that involve the use of a ladder this season.

Inspection and maintenance
-Keep ladders clean and dry. Wipe the ladder off after each use to prevent deterioration.
Wear and tear can cause a ladder to fail. Check all types—aluminum, fiberglass and wood—for cracks, dents and missing components.
-Tighten reinforcing rods beneath steps and hinges, and check the lanyard on an extension ladder for deterioration.

Getting ready
-Set up your ladder on a firm, level surface. Use leg-levelers if necessary. Never stack objects, such as lumber or stones, beneath a ladder leg to level it.
-Lean a straight or extension ladder against a wall or other even, fixed object—never against a narrow tree or surface that cannot support both of the side rails.
-Set up an extension ladder with the base 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet the ladder reaches up- that's 3 feet at the base for a 12-foot ladder, or roughly a 75-degree angle.
-Use your stepladder only in the open, A-shaped position, never when folded. Make sure the spreaders are fully open and locked.
-Be sure that your extension ladder extends 3 feet beyond the roofline or work surface.
-When raising any extension ladder, be mindful of overhead power lines and other hazards.
-Before climbing, inspect the area where you'll be working for insect and bird nests. Check the area from below with a pair of binoculars.

Ups and downs
-Use the right ladder for the job. Always select a height that doesn't require you to reach up or out in a way that destabilizes the ladder; keep your belt buckle centered between the rails. Don't use a stepladder to get to the roof.
-When doing electrical work or working near an electrical power line, use only a wooden or fiberglass ladder. And remember that any ladder can conduct electricity when it's wet.
-Don't allow anybody else on the ladder with you.
-Climb and descend slowly, facing the ladder and holding the side rails with both hands (keep tools in a tool belt).
-Keep both feet on the ladder and center your weight between the rails at all times.
-Don't try to move the ladder when you're standing on it or try to "walk" it into a new position.
-Don't step above the labeled maximum height. Beyond that point, the odds of an accident increase significantly.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Routine Eye Exams Could Save More than Your Sight

September 17, 2013 2:36 am

(Family Features) Regular eye exams are crucial to more than just good vision. They can also aid in early detection of health problems, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. This is possible because the eye is a unique window into one’s overall health. It’s the only place in the body where, without surgery, medical professionals can see blood vessels, arteries and a cranial nerve.

During a comprehensive eye exam, your eye care professional will use drops to view the back of your eyes to check for damage or disease. There are several different eye conditions and diseases your eye doctor will be looking for during an exam, including but not limited to the following:

Diabetic Eye Disease: This disease occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina. It is the most common cause of blindness.

Dry Eye: This occurs when the eye does not produce tears properly. It can make it difficult to perform some activities, including reading or using a computer for an extended period of time.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration: AMD for people aged 50 and over in the U.S. has increased by 25 percent over the last decade. The disease causes dim images or black holes at the center of vision. AMD rarely causes complete blindness, but there is currently no cure.

While annual eye exams are critical to your overall health routine, if you’re among the 50 million households in the United States without access to vision insurance, it’s tempting to forgo when cost is an issue. For those without vision insurance, the only options were to work for an employer that offered vision coverage, pay out-of-pocket or simply go without.

Even if you think your vision is fine and your eyes are healthy, an eye exam is the only way to be sure. Annual eye exams are an important part of your overall health routine. Remember, vision care isn’t just about seeing well – it’s about being well.

Source: VSP Vision Care

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Dealing with Fall Allergies

September 17, 2013 2:36 am

Many Americans associate summer with "hay fever," a popular term for allergy symptoms caused by pollen and other air-borne outdoor allergens. But if you think allergy season ends with the onset of cooler weather, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise. Allergy symptoms can last well into fall, often until the first frost occurs. And according to COIT Cleaning and Restoration company, it is important for people who suffer with fall allergies to minimize the presence of allergens in their homes.

"Plant pollens can persist well into fall, and ragweed pollen is no exception," said Bob Kearn, president and CEO of COIT. Ragweed is one of the most prevalent plant-related allergens present in our environment. "These pollens enter homes on clothing, footwear, and even pets, and can especially be a problem once we start closing windows, trapping allergens indoors and preventing the circulation of fresh air through the home."

According to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, approximately 75 percent of people who are allergic to spring pollen-producing plants are also allergic to ragweed. Ragweed typically begins pollinating in August, but the process can continue well into fall, which is why it is a problem for fall allergy sufferers. Ragweed pollen can travel hundreds of miles and cause problems even in regions where the plant's growth is less prevalent.

Mold, which thrives in damp areas both indoors and outdoors, can take hold in basements, bathrooms, and near leaky pipes. In the fall, piles of damp, raked leaves can become breeding grounds for mold, and mold spores, like ragweed, can become airborne.

Once ragweed, mold spores, and other allergens (such as dust mites) enter the home, they can be ground into carpets and furniture and can circulate through the indoor environment when the furnace is turned on in colder weather.

COIT recommends a number of steps to minimize the presence of fall allergens in the homes of allergy sufferers. Regular laundering of clothing (including outdoor wear) is critical. Bathe pets regularly, and ask family members and guests to remove footwear before entering the home. You can put a small sign near the door with a boot tray beneath it and provide clean slippers for use in the house. Wash bedding and towels at least weekly in hot water, and dispose of old pillows that might harbor dust mites.

Carpeting, upholstery, draperies and blinds are notorious for collecting dust and allergens. The beginning of fall is a good time to schedule professional cleanings to eliminate allergens that have collected in the house over the summer. Families with allergic individuals should consider scheduling additional cleanings at the end of fall. If you suspect mold in kitchen or bathroom tiling or grout, a professional Tile and Grout cleaning might also be in order.

Despite the prevalence of fall allergens, there are many ways to minimize their presence in the indoor environment and to help make family members who suffer from allergies more comfortable.

Source: COIT

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Can Schools Monitor Students on Social Media?

September 16, 2013 2:36 am

Are schools allowed to monitor their students on social media? Middle and high schools in Glendale, Calif. are doing just that. School officials have hired a company to track 13,000 students' online posts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and others, paying more than $40,000 a year for the service, CBS News reports.

Glendale's superintendent says the reason behind this somewhat drastic new measure is an emphasis on student safety. It also allows school officials to intervene if students are discussing suicide, violence, substance abuse, or bullying.

What are the legal implications behind this?

Government Action
The Fourth Amendment guarantees U.S. citizens the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures absent a warrant issued with probable cause. But it also requires government action and a reasonable expectation of privacy in what's being searched.

Government action doesn't apply when private persons are conducting the search. For example, if a friend is snooping in another friend's bag, this may be a violation of the bag-owner's privacy, but the Fourth Amendment wouldn't apply because the friend is not a government figure.

In the case of schools monitoring students' social media, however, Glendale's public school district does qualify as a government entity.

No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
But the "reasonable expectation of privacy" part is where the Fourth Amendment test falls short.

Students in Glendale can't be seen as having a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to their social media posts, because whatever students are posting can be seen by the general public. Unless the firm hired by the school district is hacking into students' accounts or using their passwords, then there is no Fourth Amendment issue here.

A similar argument can be made when it comes to trash that one leaves out on one's curb. Courts have ruled that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in trash left out by a curb for pickup, because the (former) owner of the trash knowingly put it out there in public.

So while it may seem invasive, the best way for students to approach this situation is to be informed about their rights. If they don't want their social media accounts to be viewed by certain people, they should set their profiles to "private" and limit the amount of information they share.

The social media lesson here: When you have a public profile, there really is no limit as to who can see this information.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Prequalification vs. Pre-approval

September 16, 2013 2:36 am

Prequalification and pre-approval may start with the same three letters, but there's a big difference between the two when it comes to your mortgage.

Prequalification takes about an hour and is conducted by a licensed loan originator or broker working for a particular lender. To obtain prequalification, applicants need to provide an application and have their credit pulled. Once this information is obtained and reviewed by the lender an applicant is awarded with prequalification status. Although this can be helpful for buyers to know where they stand, it does not necessarily lock in their rate or guarantee a particular loan at a given price point, says Chip Poli, CEO of a Massachusetts-based mortgage lender.

Pre-approval is different than prequalification in that your information has been underwritten by an authorized Underwriter. Mortgage lenders often provide in-house Underwriters because they can approve you for a home loan quickly and efficiently. Upon receiving a valid pre-approval, your next step is finding the right home for the right price. Once you find that home and it appraises for the agreed upon price or higher, you should be able to close your loan in a short period of time.

To get pre-approved for a home loan, be sure to fill out your mortgage application in its entirety. Leaving parts blank or incomplete will only make the process harder on yourself, says Poli. You will also need to provide certain documents concerning your assets, income and employment.

In order to ensure your home purchase goes as seamlessly as possible, consumers are better off applying for a pre-approval because it helps them truly have an idea as to what their budget is and protects them from hidden surprises once they find a house and apply for the loan. If you have a pre-approval in hand, it shows your real estate agent and the seller that you are a serious home buyer; in this market it is extremely important to the sellers that their prospective buyers have been pre-approved.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Protect Your Home - A Maintenance Checklist

September 16, 2013 2:36 am

Moisture intrusion is a leading cause of home maintenance issues and repairs. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) encourages homeowners to identify potential maintenance issues now before they become major repairs.

“When it comes to water intrusion, it’s not often a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the moisture will take its toll," says Dan Schuerman, owner of Schuerman Inspections, LLC. "A maintenance inspection is the best way to safeguard your greatest investment from potentially costly repairs.”

Home Maintenance Checklist

A typical home inspection should include an evaluation of the roof to identify curling, shrinking, broken or missing shingles that may lead to costly leaks; an assessment of the perimeter of the home to look for signs of settling and for voids that will allow rain to enter through the home’s foundation; as well as a thorough inspection of the air conditioning system.

“While we don’t recommend that homeowners conduct inspections themselves due to safety precautions, there are several areas of the home that homeowners should pay close attention to,” adds Schuerman.

Schuerman encourages homeowners to visually inspect hose bibs (the threaded end of the outside water tap or faucet where a hose can be attached) for signs of frost damage; pipes for separated joints or splits; window and door screens for tears and holes; gutters for broken or loose pieces; and surfaces for cracking or peeling paint and caulking.

Before hiring an inspector, Schuerman advises homeowners to interview inspectors to understand what the inspection will cover and to verify the inspector’s experience. Below is a list of questions homeowners should ask their prospective inspector.

What does the inspection cover? Make sure the inspection and the inspection report meet the customer’s needs and complies with the ASHI Standards of Practice (available online at

How long have you been a home inspector and how many inspections have you completed? ASHI Certified Inspectors are required to have completed at least 250 paid professional home inspections and pass two written exams that test the inspector’s knowledge of competency. ASHI Members have passed the same exams and have performed a minimum of 50 fee-paid inspections verified by ASHI to be in substantial compliance with the Standards of Practice.

Are you specifically experienced in residential inspection? Related experience is helpful, but is no substitute for training and expertise in the unique discipline of home inspection.

Do you encourage your clients to attend inspections? This is a valuable educational opportunity. Purchasing a home is probably the most expensive purchase people will make. Taking the time to attend is well worth the time and effort.

How long will the inspection take? The average for a single inspector is two to three hours for a typical single family house; anything less may not be enough time to do a thorough inspection. Some inspection firms send a team of inspectors and the time frame may be shorter.

Will you prepare a written report? Asking to see sample report forms ensures the customer will be comfortable with the style of an actual finished report.

For more information, visit

Published with permission from RISMedia.


House On the Market? Avoid Over-the-Top Halloween Decor This October

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

With Halloween right around the corner, the last thing you want is to scare away potential buyers with a spooky decorating theme. However, just because you’re in the process of getting your home ready for sale doesn’t mean you need to give up on the decorating altogether. In fact, thinking outside the box and taking advantage of a few unique decorating ideas will provide a festive feel, rather than one that keeps prospective buyers at bay.

As a seller, if you’re planning on decorating your home for Halloween, one of the best ideas is to hang orange and green exterior lights. Not only will this provide a festive feel, it’ll help your home stand out at night. Additionally, exterior lights go a long way toward creating an inviting atmosphere.

Curb appeal is still very important, so don’t overdo it when it comes to the outside of your home. A bale of hay on the porch accented with a few pumpkins can make a festive display. Or, create a little pumpkin patch in the corner of your yard with a cut-out of Snoopy and Linus. This creative touch will bring a smile to any prospective buyers who come to tour the property.

Lining your driveway or walkway with interesting carved-out pumpkins can also go a long way toward making your home memorable. Try to stay away from ghoulish images and focus more on interesting characters and shapes (like a local sports team logo), or pumpkins carved to look like famous individuals.

It’s also essential to keep in mind one of the most important rules associated with selling a home: de-cluttering as much as possible. With this in mind, you’ll want to stay away from placing Halloween-themed items all around the home. Instead, use your decorations to play up specific aspects of your home. For instance, a monster prop or hanging ghost on a window or door may bring more attention to new windows or an ornate door that the potential buyer may have missed.

In the end, it’s best to avoid really scary, gruesome decorations, especially those that are designed to give an unsuspecting person (or prospective homebuyer) a shock. That means no bloody zombies, no realistic haunted house special effects and no scary animatronics.

To learn more about attracting prospective buyers through the use of holiday decorations, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Preparing for a Home Purchase Begins with Understanding Your True Financial Commitment

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Buying a home is an expensive proposition, therefore, it’s crucial that you prepare yourself ahead of time for the amount of money that’s required as you make your way through the process.

Making a list of what your monthly expenses will be is a good first step toward fully understanding your true financial commitment before signing the dotted line.

Here are some of the expenses you can expect.

1. Property Taxes.
Taxes can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly mortgage payment and can increase depending on school and town budgets. Remember that a home is normally taxed on its assessed value, an amount equal to a fraction of its appraised value.

2. Homeowner’s Insurance.
A necessity with any home purchase, you’ll want to insure the value of your new home against fire, theft and perhaps even flood damage. While flood insurance must be purchased separately, it’s important to shop around for the best price, no matter what type of insurance you’re seeking. Keep in mind that the cost of insurance can go up each year.

3. Private Mortgage Insurance.
If you put less than 20 percent down for your mortgage, you’ll have to pay PMI, which protects the lender against your defaulting on the loan. Again, you could be looking at hundreds of dollars each month.

4. Exterior maintenance.
You may love a property because of its large yard and beautiful landscaping, but unless you have a green thumb—and the time to commit to keeping the yard in top shape—you’re going to need someone to come in and mow, weed and take care of those flowers and shrubs. The last thing you want is for that picturesque outside to begin looking like a jungle.

5. Utilities. For those used to living in an apartment—or even at home with mom and dad—things like water, gas, electricity and oil may not have been a concern. But when you move into a new house, you need to pay for all of these things, plus cable, phone and Internet service. It’s always a good idea to ask the seller for their average monthly cost over the last year so you know how much you should be putting aside for utilities.

Also, don’t forget that you’re most likely going to want to make some changes or upgrades within the home, so make a list of all the projects you’re considering—such as adding new carpeting, drapes or appliances—and leave room in your budget for some of these costs each month.

For more information about the costs associated with purchasing a home, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Money Matters: Simple Tips to Save for a Down Payment

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Recent studies have shown that the No. 1 reason keeping people from moving forward with a home purchase is the fact that they don’t have enough money saved up for a down payment. Even though there are lenders who require less for a down payment—although at a higher mortgage rate—many people still have a hard time coming up with the necessary funds.

You can’t count on a lower down payment, either. Lenders remain risk averse and prefer to loan money to borrowers who share as much of the risk as possible. A recent Federal Reserve Senior Loan Officer Survey found that only 8 percent of banks loosened mortgage credit conditions in the first half of 2013, and the larger down payment option remains the industry-underwriting staple.

For those dreaming of buying that perfect home, coming up with a down payment is inevitable. While saving a large chunk of money may seem next to impossible, a few key tips will have you on your way toward owning that dream home.

The first thing you should do is write up a budget so that you can see where your money goes each month. Knowing exactly what you’re spending—and where—makes it easier to cut costs.

By seeing where your hard earned dollars are going each month, you may be more inclined to put your daily coffee money or gym membership dues into a savings account. Another simple way to save money is by making a conscious decision to bring your lunch to work on a daily basis, in addition to trading restaurant meals for home-cooked food.

Another simple way to earn a little extra money that can ultimately be used toward a down payment is to clean up all the “treasure” you’ve been holding onto and host a garage sale. Now’s the time to get rid of that lamp you haven’t used in years or even that collection of comics you’ve been hanging onto since you were a kid. Not only will you be able to bring in some extra cash, you’ll also get a jump start on de-cluttering your place.

Additional ways to save money include spending nights in instead of going off to the movie theater, a concert or an expensive dinner. Cancel your newspaper and magazine subscriptions and read everything online. Stop buying music and books for your tablet and visit the library instead.

You may even want to think about getting a second job, especially as the holidays roll around and you can take advantage of extra hours. This doesn’t have to be a permanent thing, but sacrificing a little free time for a year or so will be worth it when you can start relaxing in your own home.

For more money saving strategies, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Questions You Can't Afford to Ignore When Choosing a Real Estate Agent

September 13, 2013 6:06 pm

Choosing a real estate agent to represent you through the home-selling process is just as important as staging the space to attract prospective buyers and listing it for the right price so that it sells in a timely manner. While you may have heard nothing but good things about an agent from your friend down the street, it’s still a good idea to put in some time interviewing agents so that you end up choosing one who’ll have your best interests at heart throughout the process.

Before agreeing to hire an agent, here are five questions you should ask.

1. Do you work alone or with a team? Nowadays, many agents work as part of a team, therefore, you’ll want to know going into the process if the person you hire will be the one doing the work or if the support team will be showing the house and handling the marketing of your home. You may like a particular agent because they have a trustworthy quality that you think will help when it comes to getting your home sold, but if they farm the work off on people you haven’t met—who may not have as much of an interest in your particular transaction—it might put a damper on the process. On the other hand, having more people working for you is never a bad thing, as long as everyone is sticking to your agreed upon game plan.

2. What is your marketing plan for selling my home? This one question will provide an in-depth look at what your agent plans to do in order to get your home sold. In today’s competitive market, just holding an open house and placing the home in the MLS isn’t enough. You’ll also want to ask about their online presence and whether or not they’ll be incorporating videos into their marketing strategy. In addition, find out if there’s anything unique they’ll be doing to get the word out about your house. Try to find someone with a diversified approach who does what it takes to get the home sold while maintaining a clear vision for getting what you want out of the relationship.

3. How does your compensation work? Before hiring an agent, you should understand the percentage they’ll get when they sell your home. This percentage will vary depending on location and market trends, and sometimes you can even negotiate a smaller number. In a hot market, commissions might dip lower because homes are easier to sell. Conversely, in a weak market, an agent might be less likely to budge on their fee. Along with commission, it’s also important to discuss an agent’s cancellation policy.

4. How often will you communicate with me? Some sellers like hearing from their agent all the time via phone calls, while others would prefer just a quick text to update them on the progress. Let your agent know what you want and see how well they communicate back. They should have the tools to communicate on your terms, whether that be every day or not quite as often. Just make sure you express your wants and needs.

5. How many listings do you currently have? You may find an agent who has everything you’re looking for, however, be sure to take into account that they may have a dozen other properties in your neighborhood that they’re representing. If this is the case, how certain are you that they will be putting your home above the others? It’s not to say that a good agent can’t handle multiple listings, but you should decide if this is something that’s important to you. In the end, you’ll want to work with the agent who will put your home at the top of their list.

For more information about choosing a real estate agent, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.