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Don't Let a Fence 'Fence You In' When it Comes to Selling Your Home

October 5, 2012 4:46 pm

If you’re in the process of getting your home ready for sale, you know that in order to get the biggest bang for your buck, you have to be willing to put in the time to ensure that your home looks its best. While it’s crucial that you pay attention to both the interior and exterior of your home, be sure to take every facet of the property itself—including that fence that’s been neglected over the years—into consideration.

Getting the most for your home means making sure that it looks its best and fixing up that fence is an often overlooked way that you can get your home looking better than it has in years. While installing a quality fence may help improve the property value of your home, one in disrepair will most likely greatly diminish its worth.

According to estimates from fencing companies, installing a fence in an average backyard can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000, depending on the type of materials used and how fancy you want to get.

Agents will tell you that many homebuyers have fences on their wish list when shopping for a home. They may like the privacy a fence offers or want a safe and secure place for their kids to play. Fences are also a bonus for buyers who have pets that they like to let run out in the yard. Regardless of the reason, a nice looking fence is rarely going to be seen as a negative.

If you’re thinking of adding a fence to your property, what kind should you go with? People still dream of the white picket fence, but wooden fences are harder to maintain and even weather quicker. Because of this, vinyl has taken over as the popular choice these days. Not only do vinyl fences start out and stay white, they are basically maintenance free.

If you have a large amount of land, a chain link fence might be the best choice because of its price, however, they are visually unattractive and will eventually rust or warp. A split rail fence is another option. While these types of fences are typically found on rural properties, they are easy to climb over and may not provide the security you want.

Be aware that some communities have regulations about the height of fences, so make sure that any new fence adheres to the rules required.

For those who don’t want to pay for a new fence and need only minor repairs on an existing fence, there are several ways to clean up what’s already there. Start by replacing any missing or warped boards and then add a fresh coat of paint to restore it to its original color. Be sure to power wash the fence to get off all the wear and tear that has accumulated over time.

Remember, anything that adds visually to your property will add curb appeal, but anything in disarray or disrepair just looks like a future expense.

To learn more about preparing your home for sale, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


USDA Loans Help Buyers Take Advantage of Robust Rural Market

October 5, 2012 4:46 pm

When it comes to buying a house, location is key. If you’re looking to purchase a home in a rural location, now may be the time to do so in order to take advantage of the robust market. Buyers looking to purchase in a rural environment can even get some assistance with their mortgage, thanks to the USDA Rural Development Guaranteed Housing Loan program, insured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While USDA loans aren’t being advertised all over the place and only a small percentage of lenders even offer them, these loans (also called Section 502 loans) allow for 100 percent financing as well as some very friendly terms, making it a wise idea to try and secure one.

The requirements for obtaining a USDA Rural Housing Loan are simple: Obviously, your home must be located in a rural area, however, the USDA’s definition of “rural” is really quite liberal. Many small towns meet the USDA requirements, as do suburbs of most major U.S. cities.

While the USDA offers only 30-year fixed rate mortgages, there is no down payment requirement. In addition, USDA loans can be used by first-time buyers or repeat buyers. The rates associated with USDA loans are often as low as comparable conventional 30-year fixed mortgage rates and because mortgage insurance rates are lower, with a small down payment, USDA loans can often be a better deal.

This fall, the Rural Housing Program is undergoing a drastic change in that the loans will be entirely self-funded instead of taxpayer-subsidized. Because of that, the USDA is changing how it charges mortgage insurance.

The USDA Rural Housing Program also allows sellers to pay closing costs for buyers. These costs can include state and local government fees, lender costs, title charges and any number of home and pest inspections.

As of October 1, USDA mortgage insurance rates for purchases include a two percent upfront fee paid at closing, based on the loan size. For refinances, it will also be a two percent upfront fee paid at closing, based on the loan size. For all loans, a 0.40 percentage annual fee will be assessed based on the remaining principal balance.

Let’s say someone is taking out a $200,000 USDA loan. It would require $4,000 in mortgage insurance at the closing and $66.66 of mortgage insurance paid monthly.

Most lenders have already moved to the new mortgage insurance model, so if you’re in the process of buying a home via USDA, make sure to talk to your lender about the changes.

For more information, the USDA website maintains a list of lenders in the Rural Housing Program at

Contact our office today for more information about USDA loans.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Positive Signs Abound in the Single-Family Sector

October 5, 2012 4:46 pm

In September, the Urban Land Institute released findings from its second semi-annual survey of the nation’s leading real estate economists and analysts. While the survey reveals scaled-back predictions for growth in the country’s economy, real estate capital markets and commercial real estate fundamentals, it also predicted healthy estimates for single-family housing as compared to estimates made six months ago.

“The predictions diverge from the previous forecast (from March) in that it is generally less optimistic regarding the economy and the performance of commercial real estate and more optimistic regarding the single-family housing sector,” said Dean Schwanke, Executive Director, ULI Center for Capital Markets and Real Estate, Washington, D.C.

The Real Estate Consensus Forecast surveyed 39 economists and analysts over the period of August 21 to September 14 and examined 26 economic and real estate indicators to come up with its predictions.

According to the report, single-family housing starts are projected to increase by 100,000 units in 2012 and 145,000 units in 2013. In addition, home prices are expected to rise 3.2 percent in 2012 and 3.9 percent in 2013.

“Finally, the single-family housing sector is experiencing a turnaround in 2012 that is expected to continue,” Schwanke said. “The ULI Consensus Forecast from March projected a stabilizing housing market in 2012, and the most recent numbers have been strong, leading forecasters to be even more optimistic going forward.”

Single-family housing starts, which have been near record lows over the past three years, are expected to rise from 430,600 starts in 2011 to 530,000 in 2012. They are projected to rise to 675,000 in 2013 and 800,000 in 2014. The 2012 and 2013 forecasts are up from the March forecast, while the 2014 forecast remains the same.

The average home price, which has declined somewhere between 1.4 percent and 3.9 percent over each of the past three years, according to the FHFA, is expected to increase by 3.2 percent in 2012, 3.9 percent in 2013 and five percent in 2014; all of these are well above the previous ULI Forecast from March.

Turning to the economy, the survey predicts employment will increase by 1.8 million jobs in 2012, 2.0 million in 2013 and 2.4 million in 2014. These numbers are also down from the last forecast, which projected 2.5 million new jobs in 2013.

For more single-family housing statistics, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: USDA Loans

October 5, 2012 4:46 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 the findings from the Urban Land Institute’s second semi-annual survey of the nation’s leading real estate economists and analysts. Other topics covered this month include the importance of creating a unique negotiating strategy when you’re ready to make an offer and how to prepare your home for winter. 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.


Parents Urged to Check Window Coverings for Child Safety

October 5, 2012 9:52 am

The Window Covering Safety Council (WCSC) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are urging parents and caregivers during October to check their window coverings for exposed or dangling cords that can pose a strangulation hazard to infants and young children, and to retrofit or replace them with today's safer products. WCSC and CPSC recommend that only cordless window coverings or those with inaccessible cords be used in homes with young children.

The October window-cord awareness campaign, known as National Window Covering Safety Month, is sponsored by the WCSC and the CPSC.

According to the CPSC, corded window coverings are one of the top five hidden hazards in American homes, with infants and children dying each year from accidentally strangling in window cords. Some of these incidents involve older products that are still in use but don't have the safety devices or designs instituted in the past decade.

In addition, the Window Covering Safety Council encourages parents and caregivers to follow these basic cord-safety precautions:

Move all furniture, cribs, beds and climbable surfaces away from windows. Keep all window cords well out of the reach of children. Install only cordless window coverings in homes with young children. Make sure tasseled pull cords are as short as possible. Continuous-loop pull cords on draperies and vertical blinds should be pulled tight and anchored to the floor or wall. Be sure cord stops are properly installed and adjusted to limit inner-cord movement. Parents who check their windows and window coverings for safety and replace their older corded blinds, shades and draperies with cordless products can feel more confident about their child's well-being.

Source: Window Covering Safety Council, Consumer Product Safety Commission

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Cooler, Shorter Baths Could be Better for Your Health and the Environment than Hot Showers

October 5, 2012 9:52 am

With winter on the way, people are starting to turn up the heat and look forward to hot baths and toasty showers to warm their bones. While nothing seems better in the winter than lathering up with a fragrant shower gel, or letting your troubles drift away in a relaxing aromatherapy bubble bath, according to a recent study, cranking up the heat too high could be less good for your skin than it feels, adding further weight to arguments that you should be using cooler temperatures to wash.

Hot baths and showers have traditionally been thought to boast numerous health benefits, helping you to relax mind and body and expel toxins. However, according to recent Japanese studies, long hot baths in confined spaces without sufficient ventilation can be linked to a range of health concerns. These range from those as easily remedied as simple dehydration, to the inhalation of chemicals often present in tap water that can become volatile when heated. Aside from fitting a water filter to purify your tap water, clinical toxicology specialists claim the intake of any such toxins could be significantly reduced by taking shorter showers and baths at lower temperatures.

It's also popular knowledge that taking cooler showers may be better for the environment than hot. With increasingly strong power showers using more than double the water it would take to fill an average bath, green specialists are starting to recommend that for some, a relaxing bath may actually be the more economical option. Alternatively, consider fitting a low-flow showerhead to save the environment as well as save pennies.

Conditions such as dry skin are also thought to be exacerbated by long, hot showers because hot water breaks down the lipid barriers. Using a rich moisturizer can help to nourish, rehydrate and restore dry skin, but it is recommended that you moisturize after cool as well as hot showers to keep your skin feeling soft and supple.

So, while you may spend your chilly journey home looking forward to a bubble bath that will turn your skin pink, before you turn up the heat consider that a small bath will still warm you up, but it may also be better for your environment, your body and your wallet.

Source: The Body Shop

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips on How to Prepare Your Vehicle for the Cold Weather

October 5, 2012 9:52 am

Each year winter rolls in threatening to blanket cities and streets with heavy snow, slush and freezing temps, or it has mercy and brings a few bitter-cold days and minimal snow. While last year's winter brought mild temps, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) predictions for the 2012-2013 winter calls for temperatures to be about 18 percent colder and above average snowfall is in the cards for cities such as New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Cold weather can wreak havoc on your vehicle's shine and performance. Waiting until the thermometer hits freezing is too late to begin preparing your car against the harsh winter elements, but taking the proper planning steps before winter hits will help protect your car from damage:

Wax On, Winter Off
– To keep your vehicle cleaner during winter months, make sure to give your car a thorough wash and wax before the cold weather hits. Wax will help prevent oxidation from dulling and damaging your vehicle's exterior. For best results, first use a product that will deep clean your vehicle's exterior and remove any stubborn dirt and stains. Then select a long-lasting car wax that can be applied to the entire exterior, including all metal, plastic and rubber surfaces, and will provide a protective barrier against road salt, snow and other inclement conditions.

Prepare the Interior – Winter elements can also cause damage to the inside of your car. To prevent tracked-in mud, slush and snow from staining your interior, prep your vehicle with protective floor mats and clean with an interior product that leaves behind a protective barrier against stains. Don't forget to remove any water based products, which can freeze and crack during winter, as well as any unnecessary items that can weigh down your car and lower your fuel efficiency.

Check Tires – Damaged tires are no match for sleek, slippery roads. Get tires winter-ready by first examining their tread for thin or uneven tread wear, which reduces traction and can be very dangerous in winter weather. Cut or damaged sidewalls are also weak areas that can collapse under severe weather conditions. Remember to check the air pressure in your tires before and during winter months to ensure the best traction and mileage. Once your tires are in good shape, apply tire cleaner and protectant to help repel winter elements.

Check Fluids – Maintaining proper fluid levels is critical to keeping your car working properly during the winter. A common mistake is forgetting to replace or top off summer windshield wiper fluid blends with winter blends that will not freeze when the temperature drops. Check your antifreeze and oil levels to prevent internal damage to your car, and keep your gas tank at least halfway full to help prevent gas line freeze. Winter prep should also include an oil change.

Always be Prepared – Winter can be unpredictable, so don't wait for the first snowfall to put the ice scraper and snow shovel in the car. Keep a winter emergency kit in the trunk in case of an accident or other bad weather situation. Recommended emergency items include a small first-aid kit, flashlight, blanket, gloves, road flares and cell phone or another communication device.

Source: Turtle Wax

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Turkey Safety Reminders

October 4, 2012 3:50 am

Cooked turkey is a central part of many holiday celebrations throughout North America - especially Thanksgiving. To ensure your family's health and safety, here are some steps you can take to help make your turkey feast a safe one.

Following the four key steps to food safety - clean, separate, cook and chill - can help reduce the risk of getting sick from undercooked turkey and stuffing, and from cross-contamination during preparation.
To help keep bacteria from ruining your family's celebration:

-Store your turkey in a leak-proof bag or container in the refrigerator or freezer immediately after you buy it.
-Thawing your turkey at room temperature is discouraged. It's better to thaw turkey in the refrigerator or in cold water.
-If you thaw your turkey in cold water, keep the turkey in its original wrapping and change the cold water regularly to ensure that the water remains cold.
-Don't rinse raw turkey. This can spread bacteria everywhere the water splashes, creating a safety hazard.
-Wash your hands carefully with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry.
-Clean and disinfect surfaces and kitchen utensils touched by raw or thawing turkey and its juices.
-Use a digital food thermometer, and cook turkey until the temperature of the thickest part of the breast or thigh is at least 85ºC (185ºF).
-Cook stuffing separately in its own oven dish or on the stove top. If you do stuff your turkey, stuff loosely just prior to roasting, and remove all stuffing immediately after cooking. Cook stuffing to a minimum internal temperature of 74ºC (165ºF).
-Refrigerate all leftovers within two hours of cooking. Use leftover turkey meat, stuffing, gravy and other cooked dishes within two to three days or freeze right away for later use.
-Foods such as fully cooked turkey and potatoes can be eaten cold. Gravy should be reheated to reach a full rolling boil and other leftovers should be reheated to at least 74ºC (165ºF).

Turkey poses particular food safety challenges because it can be contaminated with bacteria such as Salmonella, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Many illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.

Source: Healthy Canadians

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The Top 10 American Brewery Tours

October 4, 2012 3:50 am

For beer fans nationwide, Oktoberfest is upon us! If the Fall season has found you extra thirsty, TripAdvisor has revealed their top 10 brewery tours in the U.S. These tours show lager lovers how the beverages are crafted and provide tasty samples from some of the country’s top breweries.

New Belgium Brewing – Fort Collins, Colorado

Located 65 miles north of Denver, this sustainable, wind-powered brewery was the first of its kind in the United States. Beer lovers can enjoy one of their frothy beverages at the Liquid Center tasting room or take the 90-minute Tour de New Belgium where travelers will have the chance to learn about the brewing process and sip on some suds. Complimentary tours operate Tuesday through Saturday.

Allagash Brewery – Portland, Maine
Since 1995, this New England brewery has crafted Belgian inspired ales often using the finest wheat rather than barley, combined with a unique blend of spices. Thirsty travelers can take a free, hour-long tour of this coastal brew house while enjoying a refreshing taste of their seasonal specialties or year-round brews. Free tours operate Monday through Saturday.

Anheuser Busch Brewery Tour – Saint Louis, Missouri

During this hour-long tour, travelers will see and learn about the iconic Clydesdale horses and explore the architecture and history of the oldest Anheuser-Busch brewery. Hop fanatics interested in learning more about the brewing process can check out the acclaimed Beermaster Tour. Complimentary tours operate seven days a week.

Samuel Adams Brewery – Boston, Massachusetts
Located in the Hub, hop-enthusiasts will learn about the brewing process from start to finish during this 60-minute tour. Guests will also taste the special malts used to brew the beer and smell the aroma of the Hallertau hops. Free tours operate Monday through Saturday; a $2 donation is suggested to benefit local charities.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company – Chico, California

Known for its flagship pale ale, this northern California brewery offers a 90-minute tour offering travelers the inside scoop on how the ales and lagers are crafted using select malted barley, whole hop flowers, brewer’s yeast and pure water. Complimentary tours operate seven days a week.

Heinzelmannchen Brewery – Sylva, North Carolina

Travelers visiting the Great Smoky Mountains can enjoy tasty beverages at this microbrewery run by a German-born “brewmeister”. Guests are encouraged to stop in for a tour where they will sample a variety of Deutschland-style beers and non-alcoholic sodas, including sweet and tasty root beer and red autumn birch beer. Free tours operate Monday through Saturday.

New South Brewing – Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

This Myrtle Beach microbrewery offers travelers a tour through the entire brewing process and the chance to taste four frothy samples. Once a draught-only brew house, this beachside brewery now allows guests to purchase a six-pack of their favorite batch. Complimentary tours operate Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Boulevard Brewing Company – Kansas City, Missouri
With its 150-barrel brew house, this Kansas City company is the largest specialty brewer in the Midwest. During the 45-minute tour, beer lovers will learn about the brewery’s unique history and crafting processes and will finish the tour in the Tasting Room where they’ll sip some hoppy creations. Free tours operate seven days a week; the “Unfiltered Tour” is $20 and offered on Saturdays.

D.G. Yuengling and Son Brewery – Pottsville, Pennsylvania
Known as America’s oldest brewery, this Schuylkill County establishment has been brewing since 1829. Travelers can step back in time as they explore the hand-dug fermentation caves used to store beer before modern refrigeration. Thirsty travelers can also savor some samples in the basement tavern built under the former Pottsville city hall. Complimentary tours operate Monday through Saturday.

Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. – Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
This Wisconsin brewery blends tradition with innovation to create a fascinating tour where travelers learn about five generations of the Leinenkugel family history while they’re guided through the bottling factory. To cap things off, travelers can quench their thirst with complimentary samples of award-winning beers at the recently opened Leinie Lodge. Free tours operate seven days a week.

Source: TripAdvisor

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Got Furniture? A Dining Table Buying Guide

October 4, 2012 3:50 am

A dining table is one of the most widely used items in any home, and with wood dining tables costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars, consumers need be aware of what they are really buying. Why do prices vary so greatly, and what should one stay away from when shopping? For an item used as much as a table, it is about far more than just the look; one must also strongly consider core material, construction, finish, maintenance and care to name a few. Here are some important factors to help consumers make a purchasing decision.

Tip 1 - Buy 100-percent Wood: Remember the dining table is one of the most used pieces of furniture in your home. It will need to be more durable, and most often times child resistant. For this reason, go with 100-percent wood, specifically pine, which is very durable, relatively inexpensive, and its style and charm is universal for any home. Alternatively, oak, chestnut and walnut are also highly durable woods, however, heavier than pine, so expect extra costs associated with these denser wood types. The trick here is to not be fooled into buying a table that looks like 100-percent wood, but is actually made with veneers, medium density fiberboard (MDF), or particleboard. The reason to stay away from these lesser quality materials is that they are far more prone to chips and scratches, thus a shorter life span than tables made from 100-percent solid wood. In addition, cleaning solutions, such as water, can often damage veneer and particleboard if not cared for properly. A well-built, solid wood table should last generations. Prepare accordingly by buying one made from the longest lasting materials.

Tip 2 - Ensure Durable Finishes: The finish will be paramount to the table's longevity and charm, as this is the frontline defense against dings, scratches and chips. For this reason, stay away from veneers as they can easily separate or chip, which inevitably will happen with an item as widely used as a dining table. As a result, this will lead to a shortened life span for your table. It is recommended to choose a dining table with multiple coats of stain, or paint finishes. Specifically, the more layers of finish that are applied, the more of a barrier you will have to protect your investment. It is the finishing process, and multiple layers, which are your true defense against scratches, stains, and water marks, which in turn will maintain your table's charm, and keep it looking like new. A true farm table is American made, built from reclaimed wood, and thus, eco-friendly. For authenticity purposes, ask where the manufacturing and finishing take place, and if their materials are eco-friendly.

Tip 3 - Check Maintenance and Care: Always ask what the cleaning and maintenance instructions are for your table. This can be a tell-tale sign of the materials used and the steps taken during the finishing process. As a buyer, this should raise questions about both materials and finishes being used. A well-made and durable wood dining table should not stain, should be resistant to both wet and dry marks, and should be able to be cleaned by only water or a dry rag.

Source: eCustomFinishes

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