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'Tis the Season: Attract Potential Buyers with a Festive Ambiance

December 8, 2011 3:16 pm

Selling your home during the holiday season can be tricky, especially when it comes to holiday décor. While an overabundance of lights and holiday decorations may not work in your favor, if done properly, holiday décor can actually attract potential buyers.

If you’re looking to create a top-notch display, one smart idea is to use a professional holiday decorator.

“This doesn’t just apply to people selling, but most homeowners don’t have the benefit of regular practice—they decorate once a year, if at all,” said Brandon Stephens, Vice President of Marketing at The Decor Group, Inc., specializing in interior décor. “Our crews replicate the processes over and over. Plus, with our service package, maintenance is included, so if you are living off-site, you don't have to worry. Most of our clients come to us, specifically, for convenience and results. But they decorate because they want to celebrate the season, and draw attention to their home.”

A great way to get the house in the spirit, while still making it presentable for home shoppers is by using plenty of ribbon and ornaments that compliment the décor or colors of the house.

“Beautiful décor sets the ambiance of the property in a way that makes buyers more comfortable,” said Amy Cornwell, President/Lead Designer for Creative Impressions, which specializes in seasonal decorating. “Rather then shuffling around the house, prospective buyers will associate a sense of ‘home’ through the traditions and memories of holiday décor.”

Creative Impressions provides full-service outdoor and indoor residential décor, in addition to holiday rentals, which include setup, teardown and storage.

“We do indoor and outdoor lighting,” Cornwell said. “This year we are also offering a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. It’s a 15-minute light show featuring about five different songs that are choreographed with the lights.”

Home sellers obviously want to draw attention to their home, and many prospective buyers are out driving around at night.

“We find that most clients like simple, tasteful designs,” Stephens said. “A well-designed display adds festive elegance to a home, and highlights the already-present features of the property.”

Another great idea is to hold an open house at night so that you can show off the Christmas lights, holiday decorations and all that the house has to offer.

A holiday party is also a great way to showcase a home or property that you are trying to rent or sell.

Great decorations really set the tone for the holidays, and this is the one time of year when you can showcase your house in a different way to highlight areas which normally do not stand out.

For more holiday decorating ideas, contact our office today.

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In this Edition: Selling During the Holidays, Kitchen Upgrades

December 8, 2011 3:16 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 how you can celebrate the season while still attracting potential buyers to your home. Other topics covered this month include unique decorating ideas for environmentally-conscious homeowners, simple tips to bring your kitchen up to par, and more. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

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Secrets to Throwing a Successful Last-Minute Holiday Party

December 7, 2011 9:48 pm

Thanksgiving has come and gone and December is here. The holidays are in full swing, and for many people that means the corporate holiday party is right around the corner. Event planners and individual party planners alike have spent weeks - if not months - planning that ideal party for their corporate clients.

But what about those that still want to have a holiday bash and have been putting off reserving a space? Or maybe the boss just dropped a last-minute holiday party idea in your lap, or your original venue fell through, and you’re certain it’s too late in the game to make it a successful party. There’s almost always still time to pull it off.

There are a few insider tips that will increase your chances of landing a great party venue, even for a prime date this late in the season, and save some money in the process.

Dedicated event spaces are usually better and can be less expensive.
For many people, their first thought for a holiday party space is a hotel or conference center, but there are absolutely better options. Venues which are designed specifically for special events, can be far more exciting for the guests, much more elegant, and – believe it or not – can be less expensive than conference centers.

You can still get the perfect date, even at the last minute.
This late in the game, your first date choices may be reserved, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. In the corporate party world, the two weeks just before the 25th are the busiest for parties. Within those two weeks, Thursdays always go first, followed by Wednesday, Friday and Tuesday, in that order. But if you’re late pulling the trigger, and you still want one of those prime days, you could still be in luck.

To grab one of those coveted days at the eleventh hour, inquire about other time slots on those days. Prime time for holiday parties is usually 6:30 pm-10:30 pm, which still leaves plenty of time for your holiday party to be a holiday luncheon instead, and that will typically save 25-35% over an evening party.

You can save big on catering by “piggy-backing.”
Booking earlier time slots is not only a great way to get the date you want, it’s also a great way to save a significant amount on your food costs - one of the best-kept secrets in the event planning industry.

When you book an earlier time slot and there is an evening event after yours, you’re essentially sharing the day with the other parties scheduled for that day. Talk to the catering director at the venue, and if you’re willing to choose an identical menu, the venue saves money on the food costs and should be willing to pass those savings on to you.

In any case, booking a large holiday event in a rush can be a very difficult and stressful task, but it’s not impossible. The best bet is always going to be finding a true event venue that offers one-stop shopping from planning to catering to entertainment. It’s important to remember that these venues are still out there and available for your holiday party— even if you’re planning at the last minute.

Source: Alli Hertz, director of Special Events at Metronome Hospitality Group

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Home Insurance Coverage Tips: How to "Weather" the Damage

December 7, 2011 9:48 pm

From winter’s blizzards to summer's thunderstorms, the weather can wreak havoc on your home. Some of the most common weather damage claims involve missing shingles, toppled trees, and water damage from rain or melting snow. Not every weather damage claim will be covered under the standard homeowner’s insurance policy, however, so it’s important to know the difference.

What Is Generally Covered Under Standard Policies
The coverage under any homeowner’s policy depends greatly on the type of policy that has been selected. The most comprehensive policy in the market will likely provide coverage for the following types of weather damage, with some caveats:

-Lightning
-Wind and Hail (exterior damage only unless the weather caused an opening in the home)
-Damage from Falling Debris (including trees and branches)
-Water damage from rain, only if the storm was responsible for allowing water to enter the home

Remember that damage to the contents of the home is only covered if the policy includes contents coverage; it is important to consider this when shopping for a home insurance quote.

Optional Coverage and Uninsurable Perils
Standard homeowner’s policies do not provide coverage for certain weather-related perils; these include preventable issues or maintenance issues and certain predictable weather-related items. Homeowners will require optional coverage for earthquake damage. This is separate from standard home insurance because it is a peril specific to the area in which the home is built.

Some items are considered uninsurable perils – this means that there is no coverage available for these items under any policy. These are items considered preventable by homeowners and include:

-Freezing of pipes and resulting damage
-Snow melting or movement
-Landslides
-Water damage for water entering the home due to poor maintenance

Taking Action to Prevent Weather Damage
There are steps homeowners can take to reduce or avoid weather damage. It is always the homeowner’s responsibility to take action and keep their home as safe as possible. Not all weather damage can be prevented, but everyone can reduce the risks. A home can be kept safe from some types of damage by:

-Taking appropriate steps to prevent pipes from freezing especially in cottages not in use.
-Clearing away snow build-up from roofs and areas where snow slides might take place.
-Keeping roofs in good condition to stand up to stormy weather.
-Awareness of specific dangers in the area where the home is located, such as bodies of water that could flood, and taking appropriate measures.

Prevention is always a better choice than filing a claim and having to make repairs, so homeowners should take steps wherever possible to avoid weather-related damage. While a storm cannot always be predicted, potential areas of damage can and preparing for stormy weather is the best way to avoid a claim. When comparing home insurance quotes, it is vital that consumers ask about optional coverage and uninsurable perils on the policy.

Source: InsuranceHotline.com

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Tips for the Unemployed to Survive the Holiday Season

December 7, 2011 9:48 pm

Many people underestimate the time it will take to financially recover from a job loss. People continue living a lifestyle that they had while they were working and often use credit cards to fill in the gaps.

Debts can quickly add up, becoming unmanageable if it takes longer than expected to land a job at their previous pay. As the nearly 13.9 million jobless Americans prepare for the holiday season, the following advice and tips can minimize stress and focus on having a positive attitude.

Holiday unemployment survival guide:

-Apply for a seasonal job – According to snagajob.com, hiring managers expect to employ an average of four seasonal workers this year, nearly a five percent increase from last year. Seasonal employees are expected to earn roughly $10.00 per hour, which is unchanged from last year.

-DIY – When it comes to holiday decorating, winter wardrobes and festive dinners stick to doing-it-yourself. Make your own decorations, revamp older winter clothes, and make meals out of what is already in your pantry.

-Freelance –If you're unable to find a full-time job, consider other options such as freelance work. Register on free websites like freelance.com, where employers can connect with freelancers.

-Utilize local non-profits – Most communities have food and toy banks to help those in need during the holidays. For help with holiday meals or toys for children, reach out to trustworthy organizations like the Toy Industry Foundation. Contact your local church or charity bank to see if you can get assistance.

-Don’t stress – Focus on the positive aspects of life such as health, family and friends. Keeping a positive attitude is essential to finding a job in this economy. A positive outlook will shine in job interviews and hopefully help land you a new job sooner.

-Volunteer – Being unemployed is hard to deal with, but people should realize that their situation could be worse. Volunteering at a nursing home or homeless shelter often makes people appreciate what they have and helps them to refocus negative energy. This is also a great way to show support for the local community.

-Network – The holidays offer many networking opportunities. Attending holiday parties, gatherings and church events could be the key to finding a new job.

-Don’t charge holiday expenses – Spending using credit cards when unemployed will only dig you deeper in debt. In the long run, holiday gifts and meals could end up costing you up to 30 percent more than what was originally paid after interest and penalty charges are added on.

Source: Consolidated Credit Counseling Services

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Reading the Fine Print on Travel Insurance

December 6, 2011 9:48 pm

Among almost all travel insurance policies, there are elements that are rarely covered. Understanding what will and will not be paid by a claim will help travelers avoid unnecessary frustration. Make sure to read the small print and see if you can find the following:

Underbooked or oversold flights

Travel insurance usually does not protect travelers against underbooked or oversold flights. However, travelers may be able to receive some compensation for a delayed flight or a missed connection. Some travel insurance policies cover any delay of an airline, while others only cover weather or mechanical failure.

If travelers want the ability to cancel in this situation, look for polices from Seven Corners and Travel Insured International. Both travel insurance providers allow travelers to cancel their trip if they are delayed for a certain amount of time.

Pregnancy
Most travel insurance providers do not cover pregnancy, however, if travelers encounter complications during the pregnancy, they may be covered to cancel their trip or receive medical treatment while traveling. Look closely at the policy language because some complications, such as physician prescribed bed rest or false labor, may not be a covered complication of pregnancy.

Alternatively, Travel Insured International extends aspects of cancellation coverage for the traveler’s pregnancy or the traveler’s companion’s pregnancy, as long as the pregnancy occurred after the policy was purchased.

War
Nearly all travel insurance providers will not allow travelers to cancel a trip due to reasons related to war. Most insurance companies insure against unforeseen situations that incorporate a reasonable amount of risk. An act of war is something most insurance companies steer away from, as the amount of loss could be astronomical.

Although war is usually not covered by travel insurance, travelers may be able to find protection within the Terrorism Benefit. The Terrorism Benefit covers travelers to cancel in the event a terrorist attack takes place in a location they will be traveling to. Travelers should take note that civil disorders, riots and acts of war are not considered terrorism, which means they are not covered.

If a traveler is concerned a trip will not happen because of war, find a policy that offers the Cancel for Any Reason benefit. Cancel for Any Reason allows travelers to cancel the trip without explanation, and receive a refund up to 75 percent of the trip cost. To qualify for this benefit, travelers must purchase a travel insurance policy within 14-30 days of the initial deposit payment.

Mental and emotional disorders

Since most policies cover trip cancellation for medical reasons, many people incorrectly assume it includes mental health issues. Travelers should be warned that mental and emotional disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are not covered by travel insurance. However, if a traveler is admitted to a hospital, and the hospitalization prevents a traveler from leaving on their trip, most policies will allow coverage.

For more information, visit squaremouth.com.

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HUD: FHA to See Rapid Growth in Capital Once Broad-Based Recovery Begins

December 6, 2011 9:48 pm

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released its annual report to Congress on the financial status of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) Fund.

This insurance Fund is the backbone of the FHA single-family and reverse mortgage programs. In reporting on findings of the annual independent actuarial study, HUD indicates that, in the midst of continued weakness in housing markets across the county, the MMI Fund capital ratio remains positive this year at 0.24 percent.

The independent actuaries predict the Fund will return to the Congressionally-mandated threshold of two percent capital more quickly than was projected by last year’s review. The economic value of new insurance endorsements in FY 2011 for the Fund was nearly double that of FY 2010 endorsements, being close to $11 billion.

As was the case last year, the new actuarial study shows that FHA is expected to sustain significant losses from loans insured prior to 2009, and thus its capital reserve remains below the congressionally mandated threshold of two percent of total insurance-in-force. However, the actuaries’ report concludes that, barring a further significant downturn in home prices, the MMI Fund will start to rebuild capital in 2012, and return to a level of two percent by 2014—outpacing last year’s prediction. The actions taken by this Administration have put FHA into a position where the actuaries expect rapid growth in capital once the housing market begins a broad-based recovery.

FHA’s capital reserve ratio measures reserves in excess of those needed to cover projected losses over the next 30 years. The independent actuarial reviews of the MMI Fund estimate FHA’s capital reserve ratio to be 0.24 percent of total insurance-in-force this year, falling from 0.50 percent in 2010. FHA’s total liquid assets (cash plus investments) grew by $800 million since last year, to $33.7 billion. That amount is $1.9 billion higher than at the end of FY 2009, and is also $7.7 billion higher than was predicted last year by the independent actuaries. At the same time, the economic net worth of the Fund fell by $2.1 billion this year, from $4.7 billion to $2.6 billion, as FHA continued to build loss reserves to prepare for greater claims in the coming years.

Losses on loans insured through the first quarter of fiscal year 2009 continue to place a significant strain on the Fund and are expected to reach $26 billion within a few more years. Though they were prohibited in 2009, the ongoing effect of so-called “seller-funded down payment assistance loans” is still significant. The net expected cost of those loans, as projected by the independent actuaries, grew by $1.8 billion over the past year to $14.1 billion. Conversely, the actuaries found that the FY 2010 and FY 2011 books are expected to be very profitable, providing significant net revenues to offset losses on earlier books. Loans insured to-date under the Obama Administration are providing $18 billion in economic value for the MMI Fund. Under the base-case forecast used by the independent actuaries, the FY 2012 book will add an additional $9 billion in economic value to the Fund.

Over this past year, FHA:

• Served more than 1.2 million households and insured $218 billion in single-family mortgages, bringing the active single-family portfolio to more than $1 trillion.
• Enabled more than 585,000 families to become homeowners for the first time. This represents 56 percent of all first-time buyers in the nation.
• Helped more than 362,000 families avoid foreclosure through loss mitigation actions.
• Helped 440,000 families to refinance their mortgage at lower interest rates, saving households an average of more than $160 per month.
• Provided access to credit for close to 40 percent of all homebuyers needing mortgages, including 60 percent of all African-American and Hispanic homebuyers.
• Reduced mortgage payments for 142,000 distressed homeowners through loan modifications. While standard modifications reduced typical payment burdens by 11 percent ($85), FHA HAMP actions reduced average mortgage costs by 24 percent ($218).

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.

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Easy Ways to Cut Down Your Grocery Bill

December 6, 2011 9:48 pm

The biggest nemesis to many a household budget is the seemingly ever-growing grocery bill. While many food-related cost increases are beyond our control, there are many strategies and habits you can develop to help bring your food bill down, in addition to the traditional and somewhat cumbersome coupon-clipping process. Try putting the following into action:

Plan ahead – Plan meals based on what’s on sale…and what’s currently about to go bad in your fridge. Make it a point to use the ingredients that you already have on hand and that may otherwise go to waste.

Look around – The highest priced items on store shelves are usually at chest level. Look up or down to find less expensive brands or unadvertised specials.

Leave the kids home – Those little hands can add many dollars in unneeded items piling up in your food basket. If you must keep the kids in tow, allow them to choose one item only.

Shop the perimeter – The most value is found on the store’s perimeter – fresh produce, dairy, meats and breads. Avoid the middle aisles if you can. That’s where the priciest items are.

Don’t shop when hungry or tired – When you’re hungry, everything looks too tempting. And when you’re tired, you just want to get out of the store fast and will make quick decisions.

Stock up on items when on sale – Something like butter can be stored in the freezer for up to six months. Pack the butter in an airtight container so it doesn’t take on the flavor of whatever else you’re freezing.

Buy generic/private label products – Private label products have come a long way. Give them a try to find out which you like best.

Take a quick inventory – Before leaving for the store, take a quick look through the fridge, cabinets and freezer. Chances are, something on your list is already buried in the freezer or hiding on the top shelf of the cabinet.

Make meals in advance – Prepping a meal in the crock pot or doubling a recipe and freezing half will have an impact on your food budget. Many dollars are wasted at grocery stores and restaurants on last-minute meals.

Shop wholesale clubs with caution – The big-box warehouse stores can take a big toll on your wallet. What seems like a great deal often ends up going to waste. Only shop there for items you truly use in great abundance.

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Scouting Out the Perfect Christmas Tree

December 5, 2011 9:46 pm

Last year, Americans bought a total of 28.2 natural Christmas trees to decorate their home, with one in five families opting to cut their own. Visiting a tree farm to pick one out can be a wonderful holiday tradition for the entire family to partake in. Regardless of where you purchase your tree, here is some information regarding a few tree types to help you pick the perfect tree for you and your family.

Balsam fir. These trees are known for their wonderful fragrance and needle retention. Easy on the house and on the eyes, Balsam firs are also one of the least expensive trees you'll find. A Frasier fir is a nice tree to consider as well. They have a nice blue-green tint to them, and with its branches turn slightly upwards, they ship nicely even after being tied up. Since they're in the fir family, they also share the Balsam's nice aromas and strong branches.

Blue spruce. Many consumers consider blue spruce trees to be the best looking tree you can buy. The downside: they're infamous for needle shedding. The branch structure may not be as sturdy and dependable as a fir, but if visual aesthetic is what you're looking for, a blue spruce is high on your option list.

Scotch pine. Yet another popular choice, scotch pines are known for their exceptionally bright green color and excellent needle retention (they rarely fall, even when dry). The branch structure can be questionable. If you have many remarkably heavy or expensive ornaments, choose a different tree.

Additional tips: When picking out a tree, be sure to run your arm along the branches to test their strength. Avoid any tree that appears to have bugs or rotting. Make sure to keep in mind that your tree be at least one foot shorter than the ceiling in the display room (the stand will always add extra height). Keep your tree away from any heating vents, and as always, be sure to turn off the lights whenever you leave the home or go to sleep.

Source: National Christmas Tree Association

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Top Home Security Tips for the Holiday Season

December 5, 2011 9:46 pm

While most people see the holidays as an opportunity to enjoy more time with their family and friends, thieves see it as a time when there's more to steal. This time of year especially, break-ins increase because it's dark early and there is new merchandise from holiday shopping to steal.

Today, thieves have gone high-tech using social sites to find their victims. In fact, one of the newest ways burglars are deciding who to target during the holidays is by simply going onto social media sites. Burglars have gone digital and homeowners should be cautious before posting statuses. These statuses are common ways people accidentally reveal their house will be unoccupied for several days or weeks at a time, essentially advertising their home as a sitting duck and making the job much easier for burglars looking for a quick target.

Another mistake that people make during the holiday season is not being careful enough to protect their identity and falling for phony charity scams. During the holidays, donations seem the right thing to do. Many collecting monies are not what they appear to be and this impacts millions of seniors every year who fall prey to scams. The tough economic times make it even more difficult to know who is legit. Many are eager to steal your ID or worse, so it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Here are a few tips on how you can better protect yourself this holiday season:


-Stick to reputable charities and do not get mixed up in emails, letters or scammers who knock at your door or come to you in person.
-Password protect all accounts. The new year is a great time to notify banks and change passwords online and offline to add that layer of protection that many forget about. It is free and easy to do and worth the trouble.
-Think of passwords that won’t be guessed by savvy predators. Do not use your birthday, high school or maiden name. Be creative!
-Educate your children regarding online safety. Talk to your children, young and old, about their sharing and behavior online and off.

Stage your home properly throughout the holidays:

-Invest in buying timers for a few lights in separate rooms throughout the home to keep the interior well lit and seemingly occupied from 6 p.m.-12 a.m.
-Cancel your newspaper and arrange for a neighbor to collect mail and packages that arrive while the family plans to be away.
-Have a neighbor remove all snow from walkways and driveways while you’re away. If this is not possible, have a friend put tire tracks in your driveway to make it appear that someone is there.
-Make sure to keep big-ticket items, such as gifts, out of windows.
-Have a friend move your car occasionally if it is parked in the driveway.
-Take care when disposing of product packaging, so that you aren’t “advertising” recent, high-dollar purchases or gifts.

It is all about making your home appear active. If burglars believe you are home, they are often deterred by the increased chance of being caught and less likely to break in.

For more information, visit HomeSecurityGuru.com.

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