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Keep an Eye on Food Safety While Picnicking

June 11, 2012 6:04 am

As you plan your next outdoor event, whether it be a backyard barbecue or a family reunion, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reminds us that foodborne bacteria multiply faster in warm weather, which can lead to food poisoning (also known as foodborne illness).

The FDA provides the following tips to help ensure food safety while dining al fresco this summer:
  • Prior to barbecue time - Defrost meat, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator or by submerging sealed packages in cold water. You can also microwave-defrost, but only if the food will be grilled immediately afterward. If marinating, use the fridge not the countertop. Never reuse marinade that contacted raw foods unless you boil it first, or set some of the marinade aside before marinating food to use for sauce later.
  • Handling fruits and vegetables - Thoroughly wash all produce before eating even if you plan to peel it. Fruits and vegetables that are pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated or kept on ice to maintain quality and safety.
  • When packing picnic gear - Place food from the refrigerator directly into an insulated cooler immediately before leaving home, and use lots of ice or ice packs to keep it at 40°F or below. Pack raw meat, poultry and seafood in a separate cooler if possible, or wrap it securely and store at the bottom of the cooler where the juices can't drip onto other foods. Place beverages in a separate cooler; this will offer easy drink access while keeping perishable food coolers closed. If your picnic site doesn't offer clean water access, bring water or pack moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands. Don't forget to pack a food thermometer.
  • Keep cold foods cold - Load coolers into the passenger compartment of the car; it's cooler than the trunk. Once at the picnic site, keep food in coolers until serving time, out of direct sun – and avoid opening the lids often.
  • When grilling - Have clean utensils and platters available. Cook meat, poultry and seafood to the right temperatures; use a food thermometer to be sure. Keep cooked meats hot until serving time, at 140°F or warmer; set them to the side of the grill rack to keep them hot. When removing foods from the grill, place them on a clean platter – never use the same platter and utensils you used for raw meat, poultry or seafood.
  • Watch the time and outside temperature - Don't let hot or cold perishables sit out in the "Danger Zone" (between 40°F and 140°F) for more than two hours – or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90°F. If they do, discard them.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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More than 50 Percent of Americans Over 65 Now Use the Internet

June 11, 2012 6:04 am

For the first time in Internet history, more than half of all U.S. adults over the age of 65 use the Web. This news comes from research conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which reveals that 53 percent of the over 65 set use the Internet. In addition, about 70 percent of Web-oriented seniors say they go online every day. Pew also reported that over 1/3 of seniors on the Internet, age 65 and older, use social networking websites, and 18 percent do so every day.

According to Mashable.com, "This is a high number, especially considering 66 percent of all adult Internet users access social networking sites."

"It's great news for the relaunch of our website and PhotoVideogram App on Grandparents Day in September as the 'Grandparents.com Social Network,'" says Jeffrey Mahl, President of Grandparents.com. "The 50+ demographic is adopting the Web at an ever accelerating rate, which enhances our strategic marketing plan to grow in the online business with America's greatest, most talented and experienced national resource - our grandparents! They have so much to give back."

Grandparents.com presented its business plan yesterday at the National Investment Banking Association Conference in New York City. An important element of the plan is creating a diverse Grandparents.com network of companies under the 'Grand' brand, each with a focus on products and services attractive to grandparents and people over 50 - from dating, gaming, entertainment, travel and leisure, to insurance, retirement planning, and investments. "The more tech-savvy they get, added Mahl, the more our audience will enjoy our offerings."

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A Check-Up for Your Garage Door

June 11, 2012 6:04 am

As the American home has evolved over the years, so too has the garage—both in the way it looks as well as its newfound functionality as the main entranceway to the home. In fact, more than 70 percent of homeowners enter and exit their home through the garage door, relying on it as the new front door.

Since the garage door now plays such a key role in many homeowners' daily lives, garage industry professionals, installers and leading manufacturers of garage doors and openers have teamed up to offer easy-to-follow tips for maintaining the safety and security of this access point, such as the following from LiftMaster:
  • Maintenance. To keep the garage door properly maintained and functioning safely, be sure to keep all moving parts of the door clean and lubricated, including the steel rollers.
  • Balance. To check balance, start with the door closed and pull the opener release mechanism so you can maneuver the door by hand. If the door is balanced (properly spring-loaded and running freely on its tracks), you should be able to lift the door smoothly without much effort and it should stay open about three or four feet above the floor.
  • Safety reverse. Since 1993, all automatic openers manufactured for the U.S. must include a safety reversing feature such as infrared sensors or "photo eyes." These sensors are installed near the floor on either side of the garage door opening. Once the invisible laser beam between the two sensors is broken by an obstruction, the door reverses automatically. If your opener lacks a similar safety reversing feature, it's time to get a new opener.
  • The six-inch rule. The photo eyes mentioned above should not be installed higher than six inches above the garage floor. If the eyes are installed higher, a person or pet could get under the beam and not be detected by the photo eyes.
  • Sensitive technology. Test your door's sensitivity by placing a two-inch thick piece of wood or a roll of paper towels in the path of the door before closing it. If the garage door does not automatically reverse and retract back to the open position, then the opener needs to be adjusted or purchase a newer model that comes with photo eyes.
  • Prepare for weather. Be prepared as summer heat and storms turn to summer outages. Once power is lost to the home, an automatic garage door opener will also be impacted. Ensure your opener is equipped with a battery back-up system.
Source: LiftMaster

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CDC: High School Smoking Rate Reaches New Low

June 8, 2012 6:00 am

According to a recent statement by Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the recently released Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows that the U.S. has cut high school smoking by more than half since rates peaked in 1997; the smoking rate reached a new low of 18.1 percent in 2011, falling from a high of 36.4 percent in 1997.

According to Myers, “The dramatic decline in youth smoking is a remarkable public health success story, reversing a large increase from 1991 to 1997. It means a healthier future for millions of children and will reduce the deaths, disease and health care costs resulting from tobacco use, the nation's number one cause of preventable death.”

Myers also emphasizes that the CDC research provides powerful evidence to elected officials that the implementation of specific strategies is highly effective, including higher tobacco taxes, tobacco prevention and cessation programs that include mass media campaigns, strong smoke-free laws, and effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing.

The survey also shows that high school smoking declines have been more gradual in recent years, falling by 17 percent from 2003 to 2011 after dropping by 40 percent from 1997 to 2003. Myers points out that smoking declined sharply when cigarette prices skyrocketed and funding increased for tobacco prevention programs immediately after the 1998 legal settlement between the states and the tobacco companies. But smoking declines have since slowed as tobacco companies countered cigarette tax increases with deep price discounts and states slashed funding for tobacco prevention programs in recent years.

“To continue and accelerate progress, elected officials at all levels must step up implementation of the solutions that we know work,” says Myers.

This year, the CDC launched the nation's first-ever, paid national media campaign to prevent kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit. “The FDA must continue to effectively implement its new authority over tobacco products, and Congress must continue to fund the Prevention and Public Health Fund that supports disease prevention initiatives such as the CDC's media campaign,” says Myers.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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More Than 4 Million Homes at Risk for Hurricane Storm-Surge Flooding

June 8, 2012 6:00 am

A recently released report indicates that just over four million homes in the U.S. along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are at risk of hurricane-driven storm-surge damage, with more than $700 billion in total property exposure.

The annual Storm Surge Report, released by information and analytics provider CoreLogic, details exposure of single-family homes to storm-surge damage within several predefined geographic areas in the United States. In the Atlantic Coast region alone, there are approximately 2.2 million homes at risk, valued at more than $500 billion. Total exposure along the Gulf Coast is nearly $200 billion, with just under 1.8 million homes at risk for potential storm-surge damage.

"Though more frequently impacted states like Florida, Texas and Louisiana get the most attention when it comes to hurricane vulnerability and destruction, Hurricane Irene made it very clear last summer that hurricane risk is not confined to the southern parts of the country," said Dr. Howard Botts, vice president and director of database development for CoreLogic Spatial Solutions. "That's why we felt it was important this year to highlight storm-surge risk in a brand new way to establish a better understanding of exposure throughout the states that are most at risk of a direct hurricane hit. As we got a glimpse of during Irene, our 2012 report shows even a Category 1 storm could cause property damage in the billions along the northeastern Atlantic Coast and force major metropolitan areas to shut down or evacuate."

Storm surge is triggered primarily by the high winds and low pressure associated with hurricanes, which cause water to amass inside a storm as it moves across the ocean before releasing as a powerful rush overland when the hurricane moves onshore. In addition to the property damage and potential lives lost to flooding, the speed and force associated with storm-surge waves can significantly increase geographic and economic impact in hurricane disaster areas.

According to Botts, "Homeowners who live outside of high-risk flood zones are not required to carry flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and may not be fully aware of the risk storm surge poses to their home or property. When a storm strikes the coast, storm-surge flooding can inundate homes far inland and cause significant losses from powerful surge waters, damaging debris and standing water left behind."

According to the 2012 report, Florida tops the list of states with the highest total number of properties at risk of being impacted by the effects of storm-surge risk at approximately 1.4 million homes and with the highest total potential exposure to damage at more than $188 billion. Louisiana ranks second in total properties at risk with nearly 500,000, while New York is second in total value of coastal properties possibly exposed at $111 billion. Differences in the rankings between the total number of properties and total property value at risk are due to varying levels of home values, trends in primary residence versus vacation homes, and population density between the states throughout the Atlantic and Gulf regions.

At the metro-level, cities examined in the analysis include New York, N.Y.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Miami, Fla.; New Orleans, La.; Tampa, Fla.; Boston, Mass.; Houston, Texas; Cape Coral, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Charleston, N.C.; Bradenton, Fla.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Mobile, Ala. and Corpus Christi, Texas. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, two of the top five and five of the top 20 most densely populated cities in the U.S. are located along either the Gulf or Atlantic Coast. The report reveals that the 10 cities with the highest total potential exposure to storm-surge damage represent more than two million properties, with total property value at risk exceeding $420 billion. The New York City metropolitan area, which encompasses northern New Jersey and Long Island as well, contains both the highest total number of properties as well as the highest financial exposure of properties at risk, with estimated values at more than $168 billion.

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Apartment and Condominium Market Shows Ongoing Improvement in First Quarter

June 8, 2012 6:00 am

The Multifamily Production Index (MPI), a leading indicator for the multifamily market released by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), recorded its highest reading since the third quarter of 2005 with an index level of 51.

The MPI, which measures builder and developer sentiment about current conditions in the multifamily market on a scale of 0 to 100, rose from 49 in the fourth quarter to 51 in the first quarter. This is the seventh consecutive quarter that the index has increased.

The MPI provides a composite measure of three key elements of the multifamily housing market: construction of low-rent units, market-rate rental units and “for-sale" units, or condominiums. The index and all of its components are scaled so that any number over 50 indicates that more respondents report conditions are improving than report conditions are getting worse. In the first quarter of 2012, the MPI component tracking builder and developer perceptions of market-rate rental properties recorded an all-time high of 69, while low-rent units dipped slightly to 53. For-sale units increased to 37, which is the highest reading for this component since the fourth quarter of 2005.

The Multifamily Vacancy Index (MVI), which measures the multifamily housing industry's perception of vacancies, dropped to a level of 31, the lowest recording since the inception of the index in 2003. With the MVI, lower numbers indicate fewer vacancies. The MVI has decreased considerably in the last three years, after peaking at 70 in the second quarter of 2009.

Historically, the MPI and MVI have performed well as leading indicators of U.S. Census figures for multifamily starts and vacancy rates, providing information on likely movement in the Census figures one to three quarters in advance.

Source: nahb.org

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Driveways and Walkways the First Step toward a Good First Impression

June 7, 2012 4:02 pm

When it comes to selling your home, creating a positive first impression is crucial. While it’s important to make sure your home’s interior is up to par, it’s just as important to make sure the exterior is in good shape. If you’re in the process of getting ready to list your home, be sure that your driveway and walkway aren’t overlooked. Paying attention to these areas will not only provide prospective buyers with a positive first impression, it will also help reel in interested buyers.

“A well-built, well-maintained asphalt driveway adds curb appeal to your house. It’s the first impression of your home that people see and it should look as good as it could,” said Steve Fradianni of M&S Paving and Sealing Inc., in Danbury, Conn. “Asphalt driveways are easy to keep free of snow and ice in the winter and relatively dirt-free in the summer. They are economical, durable and long lasting, and they are easy to maintain.”

Once a potential buyer leaves their car to head to the front door, the walkway begins to play an important role. That’s why it’s vital to make sure both the driveway and walkway are looking their best.

Do a thorough inspection—of both the driveway and walkway—and repair any cracks you see. If you have the time and money, you may want to consider getting the driveway repaved as this will go a long way toward creating a positive first impression. Cracks in the walkway should be repaired with concrete paint. This can usually be done in a few hours and is a relatively inexpensive fix.

In addition to making necessary repairs, make sure there are no toys, acorns, leaves or gardening equipment blocking someone’s path to the front door. Potential buyers shouldn’t have to maneuver through an obstacle course to reach the front door. Driveways should also be free of clutter and debris.

Once the walkway is clear, make sure that no grass or weeds are growing in the cracks. Spend the time necessary to create a perfect walk to the entrance of your home.

If you have garbage cans that typically sit at the end of your driveway, you should get them out of sight—even if they’re clean—before people come to look at your home. The same holds true for hoses. Take the time to put them away neatly as they could inadvertently trip someone. Old, tangled hoses may also conjure negative thoughts among prospective buyers.

You should also be mindful of where your cars are parked. If someone comes to see your house and there are two or three cars taking up the driveway and they are forced to park on the street, you may be starting things off on the wrong foot. Move your cars to the street so that prospective buyers feel as if they are pulling into the driveway of their future home.

For more information about upping your curb appeal, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Plan Ahead: Gain a Competitive Edge with a Mortgage Pre-Approval

June 7, 2012 4:02 pm

Although it’s not completely necessary, more and more buyers are taking the time to get pre-approved for a mortgage before they even begin hunting for a house. Not only does a pre-approval letter give the seller power, it also provides prospective buyers with the ability to make offers, negotiate price and terms and even sign a contract to buy a home if one comes along that you love.

In its simplest terms, a pre-approval takes place when a mortgage professional reviews your credit, your income and your assets, and conditionally offers you a particular mortgage, putting that offer in writing in letter form.

“Having a pre-approval letter gives you an advantage over those buyers who don’t when you make an offer because it shows the seller and agent that you’re financially ready to buy a home,” said Joseph Gross, president of the New York-based Qualified Mortgage Inc. “That can help make your offer attractive and keep you out of a bidding war with someone who didn’t think ahead.”

Some future homebuyers think that obtaining a qualifying letter is all they need, but in today’s lending environment, it’s often not enough. A pre-qualified letter simply means that a preliminary evaluation of your financial status was done, but there is no commitment to a loan. You still need to go through the process of finding out if you are eligible once you are ready to buy.

Even though most homebuyers have a general idea of what they would be comfortable paying each month on their mortgage, there’s no way to know what you can really afford until you factor in things like mortgage insurance, property taxes and adjustable interest rates. A qualifying letter won’t do this, but if you are pre-approved, you know exactly how much money you can spend.

This means that your agent won’t be wasting your time showing you houses out of your price range and you can haggle knowing full well what your limit is. Then, if the perfect house comes along, you can act immediately.

Plus, sellers often prefer to negotiate with pre-approved buyers because they already know these buyers are financially qualified to obtain the financing they need to close the transaction.

When you have a written home loan pre-approval, real estate experts say that you have eliminated between 40-60 percent of the potential problems that prevent a real estate purchase transaction from reaching a successful closing.

For more information about being pre-approved for a mortgage, contact our office today.

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Summer Selling Strategies

June 7, 2012 4:02 pm

If you’re looking to sell your home this summer, there are a few key areas that shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to really showcasing your home. Now that the warm weather and longer days have arrived, it’s important to focus on your home’s exterior when it comes to attracting prospective buyers. In fact, the exterior of your home is more important than ever during the summer selling season, and you want to let potential buyers know that a great outdoor living experience is part of the overall package. That’s why it’s crucial to focus on creating usable entertaining spaces.

In order to successfully do this, try to paint the backyard as an outdoor living room for the summer months. This can be done by adding some chairs and a table, showcasing the property’s trees with a hammock or even creating a nice reading spot with a bench.

If you have a deck, now is the perfect time to highlight this feature and attract prospective buyers who are looking for outdoor spaces that can be used for entertaining or relaxing with the family. Take the time to power-wash your deck or even add a new coat of paint so that it’s prepared for open house visitors. Be sure to check the deck’s surface and remove any old screws or nails that are sticking out and replace them with cleaner looking galvanized decking screws.

Once again, think about creating space and add a canvas gazebo to provide some shade or even an old-fashioned swinging bench.

For those with swimming pools, make sure the water is blue, it’s free of leaves and debris and that it’s not cluttered with rafts and toys. Open up some new lounge chairs and maybe add a small table so people can envision spending those hot summer days lounging by the pool.

In addition, keep your lawn mowed and add a variety of summer annuals or other potted flowers and plants around the property. Adding a layer of bark mulch around flowerbeds adds a fresh look to an outdoor space and can hide some of those pesky weeds. Landscape lighting is also important as it enables potential buyers to view your property at night.

Inside, you should keep your drapes open and let the sun shine through to stress the natural lighting that your home receives.

On especially hot days, keep the air on so when a potential buyer walks in from a sunny day of shuffling from house to house, they are met with an instant cool down. Not only will the cool air alleviate any stress from a long day of house hunting, it will also enable them to focus more on the house. In addition, keep a pitcher of iced tea on the table with a note to “help yourself.”

Remember, the summer months are often the busiest for homebuyers and lots of inventory is hitting the market so you want to do what you can to make yours stand above the rest.

For additional summer selling strategies, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Bridge Loans 101: What You Need to Know if You're Ready to Purchase before Your Current Home Sells

June 7, 2012 4:02 pm

When it comes to successful real estate transactions, timing is everything. However, things don’t always go according to plan, and more often than not, home sellers find themselves in a tough spot. If you’re still in the process of trying to sell your current property, and your agent finds your dream home, what do you do? While you don’t want to lose the home to someone else, you also don’t have the money to carry two properties at once.

Luckily, if you find yourself in this situation, an option exists in a “bridge loan.” Also called gap financing, a swing loan or interim financing, a bridge loan basically bridges the gap between the time the new property is purchased and the old house sells.

“These are fantastic for borrowers who want to move prior to selling their old home because they can access the equity in their existing home for a down payment,” said Drew Smith, an analyst at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. “Interest on a bridge loan is calculated as simple interest and is paid up front for six months, relieving you from having to make two house payments until the home sells.”

Typically, a bridge loan is good for six months, but they can extend up to 12 months. One downside is that bridge loans normally carry an interest rate roughly two percent above the average fixed-rate mortgage. They also come with equally high closing costs.

For borrowers who can make both payments comfortably, the additional cost of paying for a refinance to create the bridge loan often outweighs the payment on a second mortgage for a few months.

“The bridge loan is a great option for borrowers who do not have the necessary income to make two payments at once, as long as there is enough equity in the current home to pay all the fees,” Smith says. “In addition, since the interest is paid for six months on the current home, this relieves the stress of having to make two payments.”

Those against bridge loans believe they are too risky in the current housing environment, since there are no guarantees the old property will sell within the allotted span of the bridge loan. Even if the property sells quickly, you need to be mindful of prepayment penalties.

Critics also suggest that instead of taking out a bridge loan, you might be better advised to borrow against a 401(k) or similar retirement plan.

Still, if that’s not an option and you believe that your home will sell, then a bridge loan allows you to act fast on a home you love and not have to worry about accepting any offer that comes along.

For more information about bridge loans, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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