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Creating Universal Design in the Kitchen

August 7, 2012 2:44 am

As the term implies, universal design is the creation of products and environments that are accessible to as many people as possible. The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making areas widely accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

Homes that feature universal design not only enhance their owners’ daily lifestyle, but add to the property’s resale value as well. As the hub of most homes, the kitchen is a critical area in which to incorporate universal design. According to Lowe’s, a few simple design changes can make the kitchen more functional today and accessible well into the future.

Here are some tips from Lowe’s for making universal design part of your game plan for cabinets and counters:
  • Build countertops at varying heights for different tasks. Lower levels allow the ability to sit while preparing and cooking meals. The best height is 28" - 32". The usable counter space for a seated person is about 16".
  • Create pullout work surfaces such as counters, breadboards and cutting boards for access from a chair. Drawers with fully extendable glides are easier to get into.
  • Build or install wall cabinets closer to the countertop.
  • Make bigger, deeper toe kicks and knee spaces under counters.
  • Install lazy Susan's and pullout shelves.
  • Install D-shaped loop handles on cabinet doors and drawers.
  • Reduce glare by using low-gloss finishes.
  • Use contrasting colors to enhance visibility for those with reduced vision.
Source: Lowe’s Home Improvement

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Paint Primers Solve Problems, Save Money

August 7, 2012 2:44 am

Many people think that primers are useful only when doing exterior painting, but that's a mistaken notion. Like exterior primers, interior primers make surfaces more uniform and help paint adhere better, but they can do a lot more, according to Debbie Zimmer, paint and color expert at the Paint Quality Institute.

"Interior primers can actually help prevent a host of problems and enhance the appearance of a finished paint job," Zimmer explains. "By choosing the right type of primer for a particular project, it's even possible to pinpoint the performance benefits you'll get."

Zimmer offers the following guide to some of the more common types of interior primers and how they can help improve your next paint job:
  • Stain-blocking primers. Walls and other interior surfaces often have water stains, smoke residue, grease, or other contaminants that can "bleed" right through a new coat of paint to ruin its appearance. To prevent that from happening, Zimmer advises applying a stain-blocking primer before painting to seal off the stain-producing agents. "These primers come in both latex and oil-based formulations, but latex stain blockers have much less odor, which is always a plus when working indoors," she says.
  • Vapor barrier primers. These interior primers are typically used in bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms to help prevent moisture from passing through the walls. By doing so, they help keep the wall insulation dry and reduce the chance of an exterior paint failure due to moisture exiting the interior. Vapor barrier primers also help maintain a comfortable level of humidity inside the home during the heating season.
  • Kitchen and bath primers. These coatings are often used in the same areas as vapor barrier primers, but they serve a different purpose. Specially formulated with biocides and stain blockers, they help control the growth of mildew and mold in rooms that tend to be damp or humid.
  • Drywall primers. While these coatings are called primers, they really function as sealers, which are close cousins of the primer family. As the name indicates, they are applied over drywall and joint compound to help conceal the differences in their appearance and impart a more uniform look to the completed paint job.
  • Latex enamel under-coaters. These primers are excellent for use under semi-gloss or gloss paint to ensure that the paint will develop its maximum gloss. After applying a latex enamel under-coater and letting it dry, Zimmer says it's important to lightly sand off any visible brush marks before applying the glossy paint.
  • Bonding primers. When painting a slick material like glass, tile, Formica, or vinyl-coated paneling, it is always wise to use a bonding primer. These primers are specially formulated to adhere to slippery surfaces and help create a more secure bond between the primer and paint.
According to Zimmer, even if you're on a very tight budget, you shouldn't fail to apply a primer when the circumstances call for one; the primer may actually save you money because you may need fewer coats of paint, especially on a previously unpainted surface. Likewise, if you are applying a dark-colored paint, you can often get away with fewer coats by applying a tinted primer beforehand.
Source: www.paintquality.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgage Closing Costs Dropped 7 Percent over Past Year

August 7, 2012 2:44 am

The average cost to close on a mortgage in the United States dropped 7 percent over the past year to $3,754, according to Bankrate.com's recently released, eighth annual closing-costs survey. Title insurance and other third-party fees fell 12 percent from 2011, while origination fees edged down 1 percent.

"This is the second year in which lenders are required to estimate third-party fees within 10 percent of the final cost. It seems like they're getting more accurate, which helps explain the sharp decrease in these fees over the past year," says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate.com's senior financial analyst.

For the third straight year, New York State has the nation's most expensive closing costs at an average of $5,435. The next most expensive states are Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida and Oklahoma. The least expensive state is Missouri ($3,006 on average), which is joined by Kansas, Colorado, Iowa and Arkansas among the five cheapest states.

Bankrate surveyed up to 10 lenders in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia in June 2012. Researchers obtained online good faith estimates for a $200,000 mortgage to buy a single-family home with a 20 percent down payment. Costs include fees charged by lenders, as well as third-party fees for services such as appraisals and title insurance. The survey excludes taxes, property insurance, association fees, interest and other prepaid items.

Source: Bankrate, Inc.

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Travelers Willing to Pay More for Space, Peace and Quiet

August 6, 2012 2:44 am

With airlines continually seeking non-fare revenue sources, GO Airport Express asked its customers exactly what services or amenities they would be willing to pay for. At the top of the list was more leg room, at 48 percent, with WiFi coming in second, at 33 percent. Thirty percent said they would pay more to sit in a designated child-free area.

Some respondents noted they would be willing to pay for amenities that used to be free, such as in-flight meals (21 percent); movies (nine percent) and pillows and blankets (five percent). However, 17 percent of respondents said all the choices listed on the survey should be included in the air fare, with many expressing unhappiness over airlines charging for services that were once complimentary.

At 13 percent, aisle seats beat out window seats, which were selected by just under 6 percent of respondents.

Eleven percent said they'd like the option to submit seatmate preferences when traveling alone and 9 percent would pay for larger overhead bins. At the bottom of the list? Just 4 percent said they would pay extra to sit in a designated child-friendly area.

Source: GO Airport Express

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Americans' Focus on Saving Could Impact National Growth

August 6, 2012 2:44 am

While incomes in the U.S. rose slightly in June 2012, a new report shows that consumer spending stagnated, suggesting Americans are using their earnings to increase their savings and pay down household debt. This trend toward saving more and spending less could have a negative impact on the growth of the economy.

The report from BMO Financial and Harris Bank suggests that the trend toward saving and debt reduction will continue. This could put downward pressure on domestic growth for the remainder of 2012.

The report also reveals that:
  • Americans are now taking on less debt than they did a decade ago.
  • Consumption, which accounts for more than two-thirds of domestic economic activity, was unchanged in June, falling short of economists' predicted 0.1 percent increase.
  • Income rose 0.5 percent for the month, pushing the nation's savings rate to 4.4 percent - its highest level in a year.
  • The number of jobs created from April to June this year was about one-third of those created between January and March 2012.
Source: BMO Financial Group

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Housing Demand Spreads Cross Country for Boomers

August 6, 2012 2:44 am

Despite popular belief, a recent analysis of government data by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reveals that the geographic distribution of households headed by someone age 55 or older is fairly even across most of the country, with more than 30 percent of all households in every state meeting this description. The study sheds valuable light on a key statistic for housing demand among active adults, as NAHB's long-term forecast indicates that the share of 55+ households will grow every year through 2019, when the 55+ category will account for nearly 45 percent of all U.S. households.

“As more baby boomers approach retirement and the average age of the U.S. population increases, many businesses—including home builders—are showing increased interest in designing products that appeal to customers 55 and older,” explains Paul Emrath, NAHB’s vice president of survey and housing policy research. “This research shows that 55+ developments should be possible in every state where population density is sufficient to support new communities of a size that can provide a variety of attractive amenities.”

The data show 43.9 million households are headed by someone 55 years old or higher, accounting for nearly 38 percent of all U.S. households. Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the share of households ranges from 31 to 45 percent. West Virginia tops all states, with 45 percent of its households headed by someone 55 or older, followed by Florida at 44 percent, Hawaii and Maine (each at 43 percent) and Pennsylvania and Montana (at 42 percent). At the other end of the scale, Utah and Alaska are the only states where less than one-third of the households are 55+.

For 97 percent of all 3,143 counties, the share of households age 55 or older is more than 30 percent. At the high end, 44 counties have a 55+ household share of over 60 percent. Mineral County, Colo., and Sumter County, Fla., are the highest ranked counties in the U.S. with 77 percent of their households headed by someone 55 or older. Sierra County, N.M., follows closely behind at 74 percent, while both Esmeralda County, Nev., and Wheeler County, Ore., come in at 71 percent each.

“The demographic that 55+ builders and developers are focused on is the largest growing group of buyers that we have ever seen in this age group, and it continues to grow,” says NAHB 50+ Housing Council Chairman W. Don Whyte. “It is also a group that is radically different from what it was only a few years ago. The customers are fitter, more computer savvy and plan to live an entirely different lifestyle from what they might have thought previously, or what we would have aimed at providing for them.”

Source: NAHB

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Keep the Momentum Going: Attract Prospective Buyers Even While You're Out of Town

August 3, 2012 4:20 pm

Now that August has arrived, it’s a great time for those who are in the process of selling their home to hit the road, seas or air and enjoy a vacation away from the stresses associated with a home sale. If a beach retreat isn’t in the cards this year, you may want to consider a trip to the new town, city or even state you will soon call home in order to get a good feel as to what your new life will entail.

Agents love it when sellers are away because it opens the house up to showings at all times, without restrictions. It also cuts down on some of the “when will my house sell?” questions that may come up from an eager seller. Just make sure to inform your agent of your agenda and any changes so there are no surprises or mix-ups with schedules.

If you’re moving out of state, now is an opportune time to visit the area and get a good feel as to what your new locale has to offer. You may even want to pencil in some time to do some house hunting of your own, especially if you don’t already have a home to move into once yours sells.

When leaving for vacation, there are several things you should do before you head out of town. While having someone water the plants, check the mail and collect the newspaper so that it doesn’t stack up and look messy are crucial items that shouldn’t be ignored, if you’re home is currently on the market, there are a few other key areas that you must pay attention to as well.

If you’re planning a long trip, make sure someone is cutting the lawn and caring for outdoor plants so that your landscaping doesn’t scare away potential buyers. If you have a pool, be sure someone is responsible for taking care of it. The last thing you want is for the water to turn green and the pool to be littered with leaves.

Since summer is a big time for storms in many areas of the country, you should have a contingency plan in place in case strong weather hits while you’re away. If you have someone who does your lawn, ask them to come by and check for fallen branches or lawn rubbish in the event of a storm. If there isn’t someone who comes to care for your lawn regularly, ask some of the kids that live in the neighborhood if they’ll clean up any mess while you’re out of town.

While most people turn off their thermostat to save money while they’re away, doing so during the summer can cause your house to really heat up. If your home is on the market, this can drive prospective buyers out of the house quickly and even keep them from examining all the nuances that make your home special. If you’re adamant about selling your house, now is not the time to be thinking about saving money on air conditioning.

The same rule applies when it comes to turning off the water. Many prospective buyers will check to make sure the faucets work when viewing a home, and if the water is off, it could send a red flag to a potential buyer.

You should also provide your agent with a way to contact you in case someone wants to make an offer. The last thing you want is to be out of touch and have a buyer lose interest in the time you were gone.

For more information on keeping your home up to par while you’re out of town, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What You Need to Know Before You Go FSBO

August 3, 2012 4:20 pm

Selling your home in today’s challenging market isn’t easy, however, having a real estate agent on your side can make the process much simpler for everyone involved. While it’s easy to see the value of having an agent guide you through the entire process, many sellers still choose to take matters into their own hands. If you’re thinking about listing your home as a FSBO (For Sale By Owner), be sure to take into consideration that there are things that can get in the way of a sale.

On paper, it may look like selling your own home will make you thousands of dollars more, but it can also cost you thousands if you go about it the wrong way—which many inexperienced sellers do.

Back at the turn of the century, the housing market was unarguably a seller’s market, so it was easier for one to sell a home on their own. Once the market turned and the buyers dried up, it made it twice as hard to do so.

Any homeowner who decides to take on the job of selling their own home is taking on an enormous amount of work and responsibility. With so many listings today and competitive prices to entice a prospective buyer, someone working on their own is at a definite disadvantage in today’s market.

Those that go this route will need to invest enormous amounts of time researching legalities, technicalities in sales contracts, negotiating strategies, comparable properties and the current condition of the local real estate market. Of course, a real estate agent will be current on all of this, plus have a few industry tricks up his or her sleeve.

An agent will also be responsible for marketing your home, unlike the FSBO seller who must create and spend money on ads, posters and signs. Plus, real estate agents have access to the Multiple Listing Service database that instantly publishes the information about available property to all the other REALTORS® and agents that are corresponding members. That means a lot more eyes will be seeing your property.

REALTORS® also have an established network of related professionals and agencies that will help you through the process, whereby a FSBO seller will need to invest time and money into finding the appropriate people.

One who sells their own home is also more emotional, and sometimes that can cause friction when showing a house to a prospective buyer. When someone comes to look at a home, they may nitpick and draw attention to every little fault, which could create some bad feelings in the room. A real estate agent is impartial and knows what to say to make those inadequacies seem quaint and easily fixable.

Even if one manages to come to a deal, things can get messy at the closing. Sellers often violate state laws without even knowing it and a misworded contract can hold up a sale.

Buying and selling a home isn’t easy, no matter the market. REALTORS® provide valuable service and earn commissions by serving their clients well.

For more information about the importance of having a real estate agent on your side throughout the home-buying or -selling process, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Feeling Stressed about Your Real Estate Transaction? Simple Tips to Let Go of the Negative Energy

August 3, 2012 4:20 pm

Selling a home, especially in today’s housing market, can be one of the most stressful experiences of your life. The process is uncertain, unsettling and time-consuming, not to mention expensive.

That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself and try to relax when you can. Treat yourself to a special day away and put your home selling worries behind you for at least a few hours.

“I have seen many clients who look to me to take those cares away and massage can be a great stress reliever,” says Carrie Nash, a massage therapist operating in the D.C. area. “You can relax, let your mind wander and be soothed by the music as you let go of all the negative energy that surrounds the process of selling a home.”

Women can also take up yoga, do palates, get a facial, do their nails or indulge in any number of spa treatments.

For men, a round of golf is always a good stress reliever. Or they may want to enjoy a night out with their buddies, a game of cards or a trip to the bowling alley. Men can also take advantage of some spa treatments as well.

Couples should arrange a nice dinner, get together with old friends or even take in a play or comedy performance. Just remember not to let the conversation steer toward the house.

If you have kids, it’s important to understand that a home sale is tough on them, too. Plan a trip to a local amusement park or ballgame and take the time to enjoy being together as a family.

If you find yourself getting stressed out while in the middle of trying to negotiate a deal, try to find something to do for an hour or so to get your mind off of the current situation. Try taking a walk, listening to some music, reading the newspaper or any other activity that will offer a fresh perspective on things. Once you calm down, you will be better able to make the right decisions.

If someone has made an offer on your home and you have countered, don’t just sit there looking at the clock and checking your email every few minutes or you will drive yourself crazy. Take yourself away from the situation for a little bit and do something you enjoy in order to take your mind off of the deal at hand.

No one said selling a home would be easy, but the stress can be lessened by remembering to take care of yourself and not letting the little things upset you.

For more stress-reducing techniques to get you through the home-selling process, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Good Planning and Flexibility Key to Simplifying Home-Selling Process during Divorce

August 3, 2012 4:20 pm

Anyone who has been through a divorce knows how difficult the process can be. However, when you add a home sale to the mix, things can become even more complicated. More often than not, when a couple owns property together, the house is going to have to be sold as part of the division of the assets.

Unless one partner is willing (and able) to buy the other out—and most real estate agents will tell you that’s rarely the case—a home will sometimes have to be sold quickly.

Selling a house is already a stressful experience so adding the emotions from a marriage falling apart can be overwhelming. Those involved need to make smart decisions and not let their emotions take over.

During a divorce and home sale, a lot of coordination and negotiation are needed to ensure that everyone’s best interests are considered. Sure, you want out as quickly as possible, but not at the sake of selling for far below market value.

Once divorce proceedings begin, you should put the house on the market as quickly as possible. It might not be easy to agree with your ex-spouse, but try to come up with figures for the lowest amount you will accept and price the home accordingly.

Be sure to find a good agent who will work with you to ensure that your home is properly prepared in order to entice potential buyers for a fast sale.

It’s important to never let a potential buyer know that the home sale is the result of a pending divorce, otherwise the offer may be far lower than you want. Get the house in shape just like you would for any normal home sale. Remove clutter, spruce things up and make the necessary repairs.

Draw up an agreement between both partners to adhere to a timeline for the sale and to agree on the closing date once the home is under contract. Financial penalties may help to avoid slow-downs in the sales process and protect the interests of everyone involved.

A divorce shouldn’t affect the process and logistics of selling your home, but the aftermath of the sale may be impacted. Taxes and capital gains will have to be figured out and the profits distributed between the two partners should all be contracted in writing.

If a divorce is finalized prior to the end of the year, you will be able to file your taxes separately from your ex-spouse and will be required to pay only a percentage of the taxes, often assumed to be 50 percent. However, if you are still married at tax time, you can file separately or jointly and claim the appropriate capital gain percentage and amount.

For more information about selling your home during a divorce, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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