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Tips for Making Your Fireplace a Cost-Friendly Heat Source

October 8, 2012 9:54 am

Did you know that an open fireplace hearth is like a window to your home left open year-round? If you are a new homeowner, or one that has enjoyed your open fireplace without ever stoking it up, you may want to brush up on some reasons to cover it up.

If you use your fireplace occasionally for ambiance, or regularly as a supplemental heat source, glass doors provide safety by keeping children and pets separated from the fire, and a smoldering fire safely contained when you go to bed.

And if you don’t use your fireplace, glass doors can make a design statement that helps your hearth become the focal point of any room.

Here are a few preliminary steps to consider before heading out to shop for your fireplace doors: first, determine if you have a masonry or factory-built fireplace; next, pick a style that will reflect your décor; and finally, determine the price range that's best for you.

If your outside chimney is faced with the same siding material as your house, you likely have a factory-built fireplace. Masonry fireplaces require brick or stone chimneys.

For factory built units, glass doors must be designed to allow that cooling air to flow the way the manufacturer designed it to flow. Gaps between the glass and frame vents exist on many of these doors to allow for this airflow.

Masonry fireplaces can accommodate a variety of fireplace doors. Aluminum and steel doors are available in many styles and finishes to suit nearly every décor and price range. Detailed instructions are provided, so installation by a handy homeowner is also possible.

A reputable dealer, however, can measure your fireplace opening, make sure that the door you order fits perfectly, and usually refer you to professional installers who will see it operates flawlessly and looks beautiful.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Survey Shows Safety and Good Neighbors are Highest Priorities at Halloween

October 8, 2012 9:54 am

When determining what makes a good neighborhood for Halloween, safety (95 percent) and good neighbors (92 percent) were top responses reported as being very important or important, according to a recent survey. Surprisingly, Halloween candy was only reported to be very important or important by 73 percent of Americans. Decorations and parties fell even further down the list, with 54 percent and 32 percent reported respectively.

This latest survey from Nextdoor about Halloween is part of a series chronicling, "The State of The American Neighborhood." According to the study, one in four parents who take their children age 17 and younger trick-or-treating (25 percent) have met new neighbors for the first time on Halloween; nearly one-third (32 percent) of Americans socialize with neighbors on this holiday; and 29 percent of parents who take their children trick-or-treating feel safe allowing their neighbors to take their children trick-or-treating.

Interestingly, while safety topped the list of priorities as to what makes a neighborhood "good" for Halloween, only half (50 percent) of parents of children age 17 and younger typically talk to their children about safety while trick-or-treating. Half of parents are also willing to venture out to other neighborhoods to take their children trick-or-treating.

The survey also found that parents truly do go all out for Halloween. 60 percent take their children trick-or-treating, 60 percent give out candy and over half (53 percent) decorate their home for this holiday. Also of note, the average American who will spend money on Halloween will spend $85 this year, on candy, costumes, decorations, etc. Surprisingly, men aged 18-34 who will spend any money on Halloween are the ones that anticipate spending the most, on average $200, significantly higher than any age group.
Other fun Halloween facts from the survey include:

Not just for kids: Nearly one in three (30 percent) parents dress up in costume for Halloween and one in four (24 percent) people believe you are never too old for trick-or-treating.

Creativity reigns: Nearly one in three parents (32 percent) have dressed their child(ren) in homemade costumes.

Age appropriate: Thirteen was the magic age when the most respondents believed that a child becomes too old to trick-or-treat (19 percent say this). The average age when parents believed it was most appropriate to begin taking a child trick-or-treating was around three years old.

Lower incomes spend the most: Americans with a household income of less than $35,000 who will spend any amount this Halloween said they plan to spend on average $112, which was the highest reported of all income groups. This is more than twice as much as people with a household income between $50,000-$75,000 who plan on spending about $52.

Source: NextDoor

Published with permission from RISMedia.


New Survey Reveals Progress in Bullying Prevention

October 8, 2012 9:54 am

A new survey from Sears shows that 93 percent of parents will tell their child not to ignore a bully and 60 percent advise them to tell a teacher about a bullying incident. These findings may indicate that anti-bullying awareness campaigns are having an impact, according to leading anti-bullying expert, Marie Newman, who partnered with Sears as managing director of Team Up to Stop Bullying.

Sears, through its Team Up to Stop Bullying initiative, announced the findings at the start of October, National Bullying Prevention Month, to cast light on the pervasive issue, share solutions with parents, educators, children and communities and help put an end to bullying.

"The survey shows greater accountability when it comes to bullying, as well as its prevention. Of the parents surveyed, 73 percent believe that parents are responsible for the prevention of bullying, 65 percent believe that teachers and schools are responsible, while others believe that law enforcement and the greater community should be responsible for preventing bullying," said Newman. "Prevention doesn't lie with one group, but rather with society as a whole. We're encouraged by these results because they show progress toward finding the right solutions. That's where Team Up to Stop Bullying comes in."

Team Up to Stop Bullying was launched in August as the first solutions-and service-based anti-bullying coalition, launched by a major retailer, to provide immediate solutions that parents and schools can implement today. The program offers expertise from more than 70 coalition members to help children who have been bullied find answers, give parents effective ways to prevent and resolve bullying and guide educators on how to establish bully reform programs at their school.

Additional findings from the survey include:

Nearly two in five (39 percent) parents whose child has been bullied says that local law enforcement is responsible for the prevention of bullying.

Sixty-nine percent of parents believe that counseling a bully to understand the negative impact on his or her own life is most effective in reforming bullying behavior; 58 percent believe that counseling a bully to understand the negative effects on the bullied child's life is most effective.

Seventy percent of parents believe that developing a plan with their child's school is the best way to stop a child from being bullied.

Source: Sears

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Prepare Your Home for Winter's Wrath

October 5, 2012 4:46 pm

With winter right around the corner, now’s the time to make sure your house is in tip top shape so that it can withstand the cold temperatures that are likely on their way. If your home is on the market, it’s even more important to take the time to clean up and even repair any minor damage that your property may have suffered throughout the summer and fall.

If a powerful storm came through your area during the last several months, it’s a smart idea to check your roof for any damage and ensure there are no missing shingles or cracks around any skylights. It’s also a good idea to head into the attic and look up to see if there is any discoloration of the decking or plywood surface. If any of these conditions are present, it could mean a problem with the roof itself.

You should also check to see if there is any light penetrating in from around plumbing vents or the chimney, as this means the roof’s flashing needs to be replaced. If the problem is caught right away, fixing it shouldn’t be too costly. However, if you let the problem go, it could create a potential disaster.

The next step should be checking and cleaning the gutters. Clogged gutters and downspouts can keep water from being carried away from your roof and can cause leaks and other damage to the home.

Possible gutter damage includes holes, cracks or sags, all of which can be easily fixed.

According to Lowe’s home improvement guide, if you notice a pinhole when inspecting the gutters, use an abrasive pad to clean the area. Then, cut a piece of gutter material that is one-inch larger than the hole on all sides. Using a stiff brush, spread a bit of gutter repair compound on the area around the hole and place your patch over the top. Cover the patch with another layer of compound to ensure a good seal.

To repair minor sags, simply add a new hanging bracket to the sagging area or replace an existing one if it’s old or damaged. Then, screw in the bracket until the gutter is back in proper alignment. Be sure to use hanging brackets that are designed for your type of gutter system.

Next, check your property for trees that may have been damaged in a heavy storm. Branches often die out or get dislodged and fall—but get stuck in the tree—and these can be dangerous when snow comes and forces them down. Have any dead branches cut down and make sure the tree is healthy and continues to grow.

It’s also a good idea to make sure your fencing is secure, your deck hasn’t lost any bolts and no windows around the house have been cracked.

Sometimes storm damage is unavoidable. But making quick repairs can help ensure your home is safe, sound and dry before the next storm arrives.

For more tips on preparing your home for winter, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Ready to Make an Offer? Unique Negotiating Strategy Key to Pricing it Right

October 5, 2012 4:46 pm

Searching for your dream home is a time-consuming process, one that doesn’t end as soon as you decide to make an offer. In fact, making an offer on a home can be a challenging proposition since you don’t want the figure to be either too high or too low. Going in too high can cause you to pay too much for the home and making an offer on the low end may take you out of the running. While you already know the seller’s asking price, this figure is rarely presented as an opening offer, especially in this market.

Doing some homework on the house you want to buy is essential, and it’s important that you do these things quickly and methodically to help you form a unique negotiating strategy.

A candid conversation with your real estate agent is the perfect place to start. He or she will have the best understanding of the current market conditions and be aware of all the factors regarding the house as well as what the demand for that specific house is like. Chances are the home is someone else’s dream home as well.

Questions to go over with your agent include: How long has the home been on the market? How long have the sellers owned the home? Are there any offers already on the table? When do they prefer to move? Is the house occupied or vacant? Have they already adjusted the listing or asking price?

It’s also a good idea to look at comparable sales. Are there any recent sales that compare closely to the home? Specifically, you want to compare prices of homes that are similar in square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, garage space, lot size and type of construction. If the home you’re interested in is part of a tract of homes, you’ll most likely find some exact model matches to compare against each other.

With your agent by your side, look at these recent sales to come up with a price range you feel comfortable offering. Then, analyze additional data, such as the condition of the home, improvements made to the property, current market conditions and the circumstances of the seller.

When putting together your negotiating strategy, be sure to take into account that the data in real estate sales is only so useful. For example, a seller may know that the market value of their home is $400,000, but they’ll price it at $475,000, expecting someone to lowball on their offer. Or, they may feel that their house is better than all the comparables (most homeowners think their house is worth more than everyone else’s!). The seller may have raised a family in the home, bought it before they married, or cared for a deceased spouse there, so emotions often come into play when it comes to price.

Once you determine all the factors and come up with a price you feel comfortable with, make an offer. Every homebuyer, be it a first-time buyer or savvy investor, tries to figure out what that perfect number is. Determining the right price, or how much wiggle room there is, is the bottom line to making an offer the seller can’t refuse.

For more information about making an offer, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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.