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2013 to Bring Clean Ingredients, Juicy Treats and Bacteria for Home Cooks

January 23, 2013 6:52 am

Thanks to a partnership between Allrecipes.com and Meredith women's lifestyle brands, a new report entitled The Measuring Cup Trend Report: What American Families are Cooking and Eating: 2013 Trends concludes that healthier eating will continue to be a top priority for home cooks, whether it's incorporating probiotics, "clean" ingredients, or more fruits and vegetables in everyday meals.

"In the coming year, women will continue to place a heightened importance on making smarter food choices to influence their family's health and wellness through diet. We'll also see an increasing number of women rely on new technologies to simplify everyday meal planning, food shopping and cooking through the use of apps and sites on their smartphones and tablets, and connecting with their peers for mealtime inspiration on social sites such as Tumblr, Allrecipes and Pinterest," says Esmee Williams, vice president of Brand Marketing at Allrecipes.

The report also found that women are flexing their creative muscles in kitchen. Using whiskey as a flavoring is on the rise, while novelty cakes have taken the place of the traditional sweet treats. Home cooks continue to be mindful of saving money by recreating their favorite restaurant dishes at home rather than dining out. Below is a summary of 2013 trends:

Trend #1: Good-for-You Bacteria Goes Mainstream
Probiotic foods will become conventional refrigerator staples as one-third of home cooks have already "tried and liked them." The biggest probiotic food fans are women ages 30 to 39, with 40 percent earning 100k+/year.

Trend #2: It's a Piece of Cake!
Instead of a traditional birthday or holiday cake, 35 percent of women are creating novelty cakes for special occasions and holiday gatherings (think: ice cream cake, fun shape, unusual flavor).

Trend #3: Dinner Staycation
Home cooks continue to feel pinched by the economy. Survey respondents say they dined out less frequently in 2012 compared to a year ago (44 percent). However these same women still seek the variety and new flavors available through restaurant menus. To satisfy this craving, 61 percent of home cooks admit to having prepared a restaurant-inspired dish at home in the past year.

Trend #4: A Clean Sweep in the Kitchen
With more than 44 percent of home cooks trying to eat cleaner (no processed foods, more whole foods/vegetables), 21 percent eating organic foods, 29 percent cutting back on meat, and 48 percent eating more vegetables, the healthy habits of home cooks are sure to impact 2013. Leading the way in the clean-food frenzy are home cooks in the West and the younger generation (ages 18-29).

Trend #5: Shaken, Stirred or Seared—with Whiskey
Whiskey isn't just for cocktails anymore. The celebration of whisky/bourbon flavors is extending into home kitchens. Bourbon Balls, Bourbon Chicken, Bourbon Fudge, Bourbon Salmon, and Bourbon Meatballs were all among the fastest-moving recipe search terms in 2012.

Trend #6: First Eat with Your Eyes
The wildly popular photo and idea-sharing site, Pinterest, inspires 75 percent of home cooks to try new dishes based on inspiration gathered from friends, family, brands, and—complete strangers!

Trend #7: Increasing App-etites
Mobile phones continue their rapid growth as essential grocery shopping companions for family-focused women. Shoppers are most excited about mobile's ease of use, the variety of app choices, and the ability to make mealtime/purchase decisions while in-store. Shoppers aged 39 and younger are the most likely to seek in-store meal inspiration using a mobile device.

Trend #8: The Juicy Details
More than 56 percent of those surveyed prepared a smoothie or squeezed fresh juice at home last year. The majority trying this juicy option say their main incentive is, "it's delicious" (73 percent), followed by "health benefits" (64 percent).

Source: Allrecipes.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Finding Your Perfect Fit: Five Tips for Purchasing a Recliner

January 22, 2013 6:50 am

(Family Features) When it comes to choosing new furniture, it’s easy to get stumped when purchasing key pieces. Homeowners have to consider how each piece will blend with existing décor. While the word recliner may evoke images of your father’s favorite plaid-covered chair, recliners today are designed with comfort and style in mind.

Choosing a Recliner
Even with the ever-growing assortment of recliner styles available, choosing a recliner involves more than just aesthetics. You must consider the size, shape and fit of the chair. The best fit will provide the most comfort. Longevity is another consideration. Here are five tips to help you easily choose a recliner that fits your physical and aesthetic needs:

1. Choose a size. Keep in mind how much physical space you have allotted for a new recliner. Consider not only the space available in your living room, but also the size of recliner that will fit your shape as well. Recliners with attached ottomans will never fit your exact shape and size, so choose a chair with a feature that allows you to unlock the ottoman, so it tilts when you recline. This will take pressure off your knees and ensure a more comfortable position.

2. Seek comfort; consider longevity.
While you may be inclined to purchase a less expensive model, you want to ensure your investment is worth the cost of the recliner down the road. Be sure to consider the quality of fabrics, leathers, woods and metals from which each recliner is composed, as well as the comfort of the piece. Keep in mind that finding the proper fit will mean more comfort. While quality recliners may cost more up front, the right recliner will provide years of comfort and support. For example, according to Good Housekeeping magazine, the average recliner lasts about 10 years with regular use. Stressless recliners are built to last between 20 and 25 years.

3. Narrow down your style preferences.
For many, the idea of choosing a bulky recliner to complement existing décor may seem impossible. But recliners now come in a variety of designs and materials. Whether you’re searching for a modern and sleek chair, or a beautiful love seat composed of wood and leather, you can find a recliner to match your décor preferences.

4. Make a list of must-have features. Recliners now offer a variety of features, so keep in mind the features you most desire. For example, are you looking for a recliner that gives you total body support – including lumbar support – when you’re in the reclining position? New recliners, such as Stressless recliners offer added comfort features such as an articulating headrest, which cradles the head and neck in the reclining position. In addition, these recliners offer a sleep function to fully recline, and a dual support base, ensuring that the base of the recliner will provide even support whether you’re sitting, or in the full reclining position.

5. If you’re still stumped, go with a classic model.
If you have trouble choosing between several styles, consider this – if you’re purchasing a recliner that will last for two decades or more, you may want to keep in mind that your home décor preferences are likely to change in that span of time. Choose a classic piece that will complement any style evolution.

Source: Ekornes

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Upbeat Outlook for 2013 U.S. Real Estate Market

January 22, 2013 6:50 am

Confidence in a stronger real estate market in 2013 is growing among U.S. real estate professionals and homebuyers. Real estate agents in particular expect a more upbeat real estate market in 2013 while a high 71% of those surveyed predicted that home prices will go up or remain at the same level in 2013.

Home sale prices and sales volume are expected to rise
Almost 1,500 homebuyers and real estate professionals nationwide were surveyed in December 2012 on a number of aspects concerning the real estate market in 2013: sale prices, volumes and inventories evolution, and also the factors that will drive the market.

Home prices will stabilize or go up according to 71 percent of those surveyed. This opinion was shared by 59 percent of all agents and by 37 percent of the homebuyers.

Sales volumes in the U.S. real estate market are also expected to rise, according to 41 percent of the respondents. Once again, more real estate agents (52 percent) than homebuyers (41 percent) responded optimistically.

Inventories are expected to stay the same.

Californians are more optimistic than New Yorkers
Fifty percent of respondents in California predicted home prices will go up in 2013, compared to 44 percent of New Yorkers.

Regarding foreclosures, 21 percent of California respondents consider they will influence the market in 2013, compared with only 9 percent of the respondents from New York. This difference may be the result of higher foreclosures rates in California than in New York in 2012.

Number 1 factor to drive the market in 2013
Thirty-one percent of respondents think that mortgage rates will influence the market the most. This may be the result of the U.S. Federal Reserve's efforts to keep down borrowing rates. In second place was the ease of access to loans, followed by foreclosures in third place.

Within the categories surveyed, a higher proportion of homebuyers consider that foreclosures will have the most significant impact on the housing market.

Source: Point2Homes

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Agencies Issue Final Rule on Appraisals for Higher-Priced Mortgage Loans

January 22, 2013 6:50 am

Six federal financial regulatory agencies issued the final rule that establishes new appraisal requirements for “higher-priced mortgage loans.” The rule implements amendments to the Truth in Lending Act made by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act). Under the Dodd-Frank Act, mortgage loans are higher-priced if they are secured by a consumer's home and have interest rates above certain thresholds.

For higher-priced mortgage loans, the rule requires creditors to use a licensed or certified appraiser who prepares a written appraisal report based on a physical visit of the interior of the property. The rule also requires creditors to disclose to applicants information about the purpose of the appraisal and provide consumers with a free copy of any appraisal report.

If the seller acquired the property for a lower price during the prior six months and the price difference exceeds certain thresholds, creditors will have to obtain a second appraisal at no cost to the consumer. This requirement for higher-priced home-purchase mortgage loans is intended to address fraudulent property flipping by seeking to ensure that the value of the property legitimately increased.

The rule exempts several types of loans, such as qualified mortgages, temporary bridge loans and construction loans, loans for new manufactured homes, and loans for mobile homes, trailers and boats that are dwellings. The rule also has exemptions from the second appraisal requirement to facilitate loans in rural areas and other transactions.

The rule is being issued by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the National Credit Union Administration, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The rule will become effective on January 18, 2014.

In response to public comments, the agencies intend to publish a supplemental proposal to request additional comment on possible exemptions for “streamlined” refinance programs and small dollar loans, as well as to seek clarification on whether the rule should apply to loans secured by existing manufactured homes and certain other property types.

Source: FHFA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Don't Get Burned By Furnace Repair Scams

January 21, 2013 6:50 am

By John Voket

I often write about improving your energy efficiency by selecting the right heating source and keeping it maintained in top performing condition. But this means possibly exposing yourself to furnace-cleaning scams, which are becoming a growing concern according to the Better Business Bureau.

While most furnace repair and oil company furnace maintenance services are honest, reputable and fair, others use fraud and scare tactics to get consumers to pay for new heating systems, even when they are functioning properly according to a recent report.

BBB offers these tips to help avoid getting fleeced by a furnace repair scam:

Always get a second or third opinion as to whether repairs or replacement are needed. All bids should be in writing and provide a full description of services provided and materials used.

When considering a bid, compare more than cost. Check the size and efficiency rating of the equipment each bidder proposes, and then ask how they arrived at recommending a particular sized system. If you are told your furnace must be replaced because it is too small, think back to whether it has ever failed to properly heat your home.

Check the warranty on your heating system. Many of them come with long-term warranties.

If you determine repairs or replacement is necessary, select a contractor with a solid reputation for dependable, reasonably priced work.

In some cases, a serviceman may claim that your furnace has cracks inside, or is leaking dangerous fumes, and may write a report or estimate that stipulates “System unfit for safe operation. Unit shut off and left off.”

Soot on surfaces, on carpets and around air inlets is an indication of a malfunctioning unit, but may be caused by an old gasket rather than cracks in the furnace itself.

Finally, ask friends, neighbors and family members for recommendations, and check out any company you’d like to hire at www.bbb.org for a Business Review.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Survey Reveals Pet Owners Are Confused about Dog and Cat Nutrition

January 21, 2013 6:50 am

A recent petMD survey on the topic of pet nutrition revealed confusion among pet owners regarding the nutritional needs of dogs and cats. While 57 percent of respondents rightfully look to pet food labels for information about the ingredients in their pets' food, what is written on the labels is often misinterpreted.
"Understanding how to feed our pets properly is critical to their well-being," states Dr. Jennifer Coates, a spokesperson for petMD. "This knowledge gap is worrisome, but also represents an opportunity for improving the health and longevity of our beloved companion animals."

The survey's key findings include:
Misunderstood Terms: A majority of survey respondents said they believe that animal hair, teeth and hooves are included in meat by-products, when in fact, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) expressly prohibits these body parts from being included in a by-product used in pet food.

The Importance of Feeding Trials: While the majority of pet owners look to the label to learn about ingredients, they fail to look for other key quality information. According to the petMD survey, only 22 percent of respondents check to see if the diet has undergone a feeding trial. All AAFCO approved pet foods must display a statement indicating how the pet food manufacturer determined that particular diet would meet the needs of pets. This can be done in one of two ways: via a computer program or by actually feeding the food to dogs or cats. According to Coates, "feeding trials are a far superior method for determining whether or not pets will thrive on a particular diet."

Misidentifying Potential Allergies: More than 40 percent of respondents cited grain ingredients as the most common allergens in pet food, with more than 30 percent specifically implicating corn. However, some studies have shown that the protein or meat source in pet food is far and away the biggest culprit.

An Under-appreciation of Balanced Nutrition: Sixty-nine percent of respondents recognized that protein is a key nutrient for pets, yet only two percent named fats, three percent named carbohydrates, and less than 25 percent named vitamins and minerals. "To satisfy all the nutritional needs of dogs and cats, pet foods must provide all of these ingredients in the right balance," states Coates. "Too much of one or too little of another can be harmful to a pet's health.

Skepticism of Label Accuracy: More than 70 percent of pet owners surveyed believe pet food labels do not list all of the ingredients; however, AAFCO regulations mandate that every ingredient contained within a pet food be included in the ingredient list, in order from the biggest to the smallest contributor, by weight.

Misconceptions surrounding pet food and canine and feline nutrition can lead owners to make ill-informed choices about what to feed their companions. Veterinarians are the best source of information about what to feed pets. They can take into consideration a pet's unique combination of life stage, lifestyle, and health to make individualized diet recommendations.

Source: petMD

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Emergency Tactics to Get Rid of Your Home

January 21, 2013 6:50 am

Sometimes life throws you curveballs that put a chink in your plan—a job transfer, divorce, major illness or other unexpected urgency that needs attending. If you need to get rid of your home in a hurry, Bankrate offers these three suggestions.

A short sale or deed-in-lieu is the first option. A short sale allows the homeowner to sell for less than the amount owned on the mortgage. This may make your property appealing to homebuyers, but the downside is that your lender must approve it and transactions like these typically aren’t fast. A short sale could even take up to a year or longer.

If you are still struggling to sell, but don’t want to put your house on the market, you can try to negotiate a deed-in-lieu with your lender. With a deed-in-lieu, you sign over your ownership of the house to the lender to avoid foreclosure, but again, the possibility of this depends on the details of your situation and the lender’s permission to do so.

Both of these will hurt your credit score, and the lender may still be able to force you to repay some of the unpaid loan, even after the sale or loss of the house.

A strategic default occurs when a homeowner abruptly decides to stop payments because the home’s value has fallen dramatically below the loan balance. However, if time is a factor, a strategic default probably isn’t the answer. This option could also take a year or longer, depending on state laws and how quickly the lender is able to sell the repossessed home. The option is not without consequences though—tax consequences, ruined credit and difficulty getting a new mortgage loan are all inevitable.

You can also simply give the house away. The easiest and fastest way to unload your property is to give it away as a gift. The most common scenario is to give it to another family member. An attorney is still recommended, as is an appraisal, but gifting your house is a much quicker alternative than a short sale. This way, the entire extended family can still enjoy the property and it gets you out of your emergency bind.

By using one of these three options, you can unload your property in the most efficient way possible and move on with your life. Consult a professional real estate agent in your area to discuss what makes the best sense for you.

Source: Bankrate

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Top Problems Caused by Winter Weather

January 18, 2013 6:48 am

Winter is in full swing, and because of it, some homes may need slight repair. Here are five problems generally caused by harsh winters and tips for how you can help alleviate the issues.

Leaky roofs are a huge problem for many homeowners every winter season. Search your home for signs of water damage or discoloration. Be sure to check all ceilings in addition to the siding under roof eaves. Inspect rafters for stains and check in the roof, around chimneys and also near skylights. Fixing leaks is a job best left for professionals. If you choose to hire a pro, have them inspect for missing shingles or other roofing issues you may be unaware of. Fixing a roof is critically important if you're planning on selling soon. If the damage is severe enough, look into your homeowner's insurance policy and see if some of that damage can be covered.

Clearing out gutters is a less severe, though just as important task. Make sure that water can properly flow through and out of your gutters. Also, check for areas of separation or corrosion. These spots will need to be fixed immediately. Gutter guards can be added for the most extreme cases.

In relation to damaged roofs and leaky gutters, decks should also be checked for safety's sake. Look for stains or other areas where wood may be decaying. Decaying wood weakens the deck's structure. Examine the area where the deck connects to the house, and remove any moss or mold. If there is any sort of extensive wood damage, a pro should be hired to repair the issue. Depending on the age of your deck, a replacement may be warranted. Either way, confirming the structural integrity of your deck is imperative for your family's safety.

Cracked foundations can also be a result of a rough winter. Cracks should be marked and observed over time. If the area worsens, then it's time to call for help. Make sure that the ground around the foundation slopes away from the house. For minor repairs, an epoxy injection could do the trick. For holes in siding and foundation walls, expandable foam might be the better choice. A structural expert would know the best solution.

Re-evaluating your home and searching for needed repairs is a great way to keep your home in tip-top shape, and the safety added as a result will be invaluable.

Source: Consumer Reports Home & Garden Blog

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Drivers Could be Stuck in an Emergency if They Only Have Junk in their Trunk

January 18, 2013 6:48 am

Finding yourself stranded in your car due to treacherous conditions only to discover you have junk in the trunk can place you and your family in jeopardy. According to a new survey by State Farm® and KRC Research, more than 60 percent of drivers had some sort of “junk” (non-emergency supplies) in their trunk ranging from extra clothes and shoes to used food or drink containers. While 99 percent of drivers had at least one emergency supply in their vehicle, such as spare tire or jumper cables, a mere nine percent carried all the essential emergency roadside supplies, including:

-Jumper cables
-Spare tire
-Hazard triangle/road flares
-Flashlight
-First aid kit
-Water
-Blanket

“Even on a relatively short trip, you can find yourself stranded for several hours. From icy waters splashing up on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago to fog covering the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, it’s important to be prepared,” said Robert Medved, safety expert, State Farm. “These new findings highlight the importance of having the right emergency equipment so people can safely get back on the road faster.”

Medved also recommends drivers check at least twice a year to ensure the equipment is in working order. This means spare tires are properly inflated, first-aid supplies are current, all other supplies are fully stocked, and the cell phone charger is compatible with either a power outlet or an USB port in your car. Communication capability can be the number one lifeline in some roadside emergency cases.

How Your Junk Stacks Up:

New survey findings also revealed that sedan drivers (63 percent) are less likely to carry emergency supplies compared to SUV and truck owners (75 percent and 73 percent respectively). Also, only two in five drivers said they check that the emergency supplies in their vehicle are working at least twice a year, in line with what State Farm recommends.

If you are stranded on the road, follow these tips:

-Pull off the highway (if possible), turn on your hazard lights and use a road flare or reflectors to signal attention.
-If you have a cell phone, call 911 and describe your location as precisely as possible. Follow any instructions from the dispatcher.
-Remain in your vehicle so help can find you.
-Run your vehicle’s engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm.
-Open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and clear snow from the exhaust pipe to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
-Don’t waste your vehicle’s battery power. Balance electrical energy needs – lights, heat and radio – with supply.
-At night, turn on an inside light when you run the engine so help can see you.
-Keep emergency supplies like road flares, a flashlight, blanket, windshield scraper, jumper cables, spare tire and a first aid kit in your vehicle or trunk at all times.
-Keep your fuel tank at least ½ full at all times during bad weather.

Source: State Farm

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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New Increase in FICA Tax Hitting Americans' Paychecks, Perfect Time for a Refinance?

January 18, 2013 6:48 am

As wage earners in the United States begin to receive their first paychecks in 2013, they'll likely notice their net pay has gone down. That's because a two-year payroll tax holiday expired on December 31, 2012, and was not renewed as part of the fiscal cliff deal, explains Barry Habib, chief market strategist of a nationwide mortgage lender. How can the average American offset the loss in take-home pay?

Refinancing a home mortgage is one strategy definitely worth thinking about, Habib says.

Every worker will see a two percent FICA tax increase now that the rate has reverted from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent. The increase in the FICA tax, which is deducted from workers' paychecks, will cause take-home pay to decrease by $600 per year for workers with an annual income of $30,000. Workers with an annual income of $50,000 will bring home $1,000 less per year, while workers with an annual income of $100,000 will bring home $2,000 less per year.

"While two percent may sound like a modest increase, the toll it takes on discretionary spending is much greater," Habib adds. Consider a couple in which each partner earns $45,000 per year, earning $90,000 combined. They will likely pay $26,000 in taxes, and their living expenses may be in the range of $46,000 a year, he explains. "That leaves a couple earning $90,000 in combined income with $18,000 in discretionary spending. A two percent tax hike resulting in $1800 less per year will feel more like a 10 percent reduction, as they're losing 10 percent of their discretionary income," Habib says.

One practical solution to offset the decrease in income is to refinance a home mortgage, Habib notes. With rates at historical lows, many Americans could benefit by refinancing to a lower interest rate, he says. "Of course, not everyone is qualified to refinance, or is in a position where it makes sense. However, for many homeowners, refinancing their mortgage could more than offset the loss homeowners will feel from the increase in the FICA tax," Habib says.

Habib offers the following tips to consumers considering a refinance:

Know the Current Value of Your Home
A drop in your home's value may prevent you from being able to refinance if the equity in the property isn't enough to meet lenders' criteria. Speak to a couple of real estate agents on what similar homes in your neighborhood have been selling for to get an accurate valuation. Doing so allows you to make a well-informed decision about whether refinancing is feasible and makes sense, before you spend money on an appraisal or pay any of the other additional fees associated with refinancing.

An Assumable FHA Mortgage Will Make Your Property More Valuable and Easier to Sell
Homeowners may want to consider refinancing to an assumable Federal Housing Authority (FHA) mortgage, Habib says. With an assumable mortgage, the home buyer has the ability to take over the existing mortgage of the seller. An assumable mortgage typically raises the value of your home, and will certainly make it more sellable should you decide to sell, he notes.

Instead of Giving the Bank Money in Points, Pay Yourself
Think twice about paying points on a refinance, Habib advises. "It's tempting to see how low a rate you can get by paying more points, but you need to consider the cost of the money you're spending today," he says. Instead, Habib suggests homeowners think about using the money to reduce the principal on their mortgage. For example, on a $200,000 mortgage, rather than paying three points or $6000, the homeowner could pay their mortgage down to $194,000. "While your rate will be higher, your payment is based on a smaller principal amount, so you'll spend less on your mortgage in the long run," Habib says.

Refinance to a 15- or 20-Year Loan
Strongly consider refinancing to a 15- or 20-year mortgage. "With today's low interest rates, you may find that your mortgage payments are pretty darn close to what you're paying now," Habib says. "With a shorter loan term, so much more of your payment is going toward principal, that even after a couple of months, you're realizing a benefit. "Homeowners who are able to refinance to a mortgage with a shorter term build a much greater amount of equity in their homes as time goes on, he adds.

Source: Residential Finance Corp.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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