October 20, 2011 9:04 pm
Family meals lead to healthier, more successful children, but finding time to eat together can be a balancing act for many families. Registered dietitians and parenting bloggers from the United States, Canada and New Zealand have shared their tips, tricks and motivations for making time to have balanced meals with their families during the Balancing Act Blog Carnival, part of the Eat Better, Eat Together family meal campaign and blog series from Dairy Council of California. Here are the top 10 big ideas they shared, from their families to yours.
1. Planning family meals ahead of time is essential; develop systems that make the purchasing, preparing and partaking easier.
2. Keep it simple. Family meals don’t have to be elaborate to be healthy and effective. Come up with easy ways to balance your meals with simple vegetable side dishes or fruit and yogurt desserts.
3. Have healthy food on hand and eat from your freezer or pantry on busy weeknights. Prepare double batches of food when you’re less rushed so you can cook once, eat twice.
4. The family meal does not have to be dinner; breakfast or lunch may work better in some households.
5. Toughen up. Prepare one meal for the whole family to enjoy. Include all five food groups and everyone should be able to find something they’ll want to eat.
6. Turn off technology and tune into each other. Make conversation the focus of family meals, but keep it light. The dinner table is not the place for discipline.
7. Share the work. Enlist help from the family to plan shopping lists, make lunches, set the table, pour the milk and clean up.
8. Eating as a family is truly comforting for toddlers, teens and adults. Family meals can become a cherished tradition for the whole family.
9. Dump the guilt. Family meals may not happen every day, and that’s OK. Make the most of your family meals when they occur.
10. Family meals aren’t always easy, but they’re always worth the effort. Start or strengthen your family’s commitment to each other today.
October 20, 2011 9:04 pm
Home sellers spend so much time preparing their interior for the sale that they can easily overlook what’s going on outside of the home. Yet, great curb appeal can increase the value of a property by as much as 15-20%, according to Melanie Tisdale of a Florida-based real estate company.
Mario Garcia, a landscaper in Bethesda, Maryland who helps prepare homes for market, says a well-manicured lawn is a magnet for buyers. On the other hand, overgrown trees or large bushes hiding the house are a no-no.
"Buyers associate the condition of the exterior and landscape with the condition of the interior,” Garcia explains. “Curb appeal must invite buyers to view the rest of the property.”
Landscaping fixes include adding flowers or sprucing up the property with decorative grasses or Japanese maples. Accent the trees with rocks or boulders for a bold statement. Consider adding a modest fountain to the yard or garden.
In addition, rake leaves, wash windows and skylights, clean gutters and trim shrubs. Add low voltage lighting to highlight the yard, trees and the home’s exterior.
And you needn’t spend a ton of money to make a difference. “Do something as simple as putting up a new mailbox and address decals on your home,” says Anne West, owner of a Wilmette, Illinois-based design company. “Also, adding a new welcome mat with a grouping of potted plants by the front door makes things more inviting.”
October 20, 2011 9:04 pm
Driven by a wave of FHA loans, applications for mortgages to purchase a home reached their highest level since May recently—but they still trail the 2010 application rate by more than 34%.
Purchase application rates are good indicators of future sales, and the weekly uptick could indicate an improvement in demand that is still far below 2010 levels. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s unadjusted purchase mortgage index is now 34.7% below the year before.
“The increase in purchase activity was led by a 17.2% increase in FHA applications, while conventional purchase applications also increased by 3.6%,” says Jay Brinkmann, MBA’s chief economist. “This is the second straight weekly increase in purchase applications and the highest purchase index level since the expiration of the home buyer tax credit program. One possible driver of last week’s big increase in FHA applications was a desire by borrowers to get applications in before new FHA requirements took effect October 4, which included somewhat higher credit score and down payment requirements.”
In four-week moving averages, the seasonally adjusted market index is down 3%, the purchase index is up 2% and the refinance index is down 4.2%. Refinancings accounted for 78.9% of all mortgage applications last week, down from 80.7% the week earlier.
The MBA said interest rates for 30-year fixed and 15-year fixed mortgages fell once again last week to new record lows. The average rate for the 30-year fell to 4.25% from 4.38% and the 15-year decreased to 3.73% from 3.77%.
For more information, visit www.realestateeconomywatch.com.
October 19, 2011 9:04 pm
Homeowners today can't afford to have hidden plumbing problems cost them the sale. To ensure their house passes the home inspection that usually comes with selling, homeowners should examine their plumbing.
By checking plumbing fixtures, homeowners can locate and repair or replace any problems before they put their home up for sale. Many prospective buyers hire a professional home inspector before signing on the dotted line, so finding and fixing problems now could help expedite the closing process later.
A plumbing checkup can show homeowners what to look for when it comes to leaks, drips and other plumbing problems. Follow this plumbing checkup to keep plumbing problems from throwing a wrench into your home-selling experience.
- Examine all faucets to make sure none drip.
- Fill sinks with water and then drain to ensure good drain flow.
- Open cabinet doors and check under sinks for leaks.
- Look for rust and corrosion on sinks as well as pipes.
- Fill bathtubs with water and then drain to confirm good drain flow.
- Inspect the base of toilets for signs of water damage or soft floors.
- Flush toilets. Check for continual running after tank is full.
- Make sure debris clears from the bowl.
- Run garbage disposal and dishwasher to make sure they work properly.
Other plumbing fixtures:
-Turn water supply valves on and off to test for leaks.
-Check the first four digits of the water heater's serial number (they are the month and year it was made). -Make sure it isn't more than 10 years old.
-Inspect the water meter and observe a small dial that spins when any amount of water moves through the system. This will detect even small amounts of water loss.
-Hire a professional plumber to video inspect the sewer line to verify it is in good condition.
Homeowners who aren't do-it-yourselfers should call a qualified, licensed plumber.
For more information, visit www.mrrooter.com.
October 19, 2011 9:04 pm
Visual tricks are a very important tool of interior design. Colors, light, furniture and decorative pieces can be arranged the right way to make a statement, or to make a space look smaller…or bigger. You no longer have to sacrifice comfort because you live in a small, enclosed place. With a few visual tricks and some key elements, any room can appear bigger than it really is.
Here are some simple tips to follow for any small room of the house:
– Light hues will open up the space, and painting the walls white will definitely maximize that effect.
– Go monochromatic. If all white doesn’t work for your lifestyle, try painting the walls, trim and detailing in different shades of one color. Pick from off-white, beige, any pastel or neutral color.
– Match the color of the furniture with the color of the walls. Stay away from contrasting colors, especially in big pieces such as the sofa.
– Medium-size furniture pieces work better than a big, prominent one. Avoid having many small pieces scattered all over the room, and arrange furniture at an angle to add visual interest to the place.
– Track or recessed lighting works best for small spaces. Use a torchiere lamp to bounce light off the ceiling, and get rid of heavy drapery. Let the natural light come in as much as possible.
– Mirrors are also a great way to make a room feel and look bigger. A big wall mirror right in front of a window will reflect light and color; so will a collection of smaller ones, distributed along one wall.
– Any small space--even a tiny closet--will look bigger if it’s clutter-free. Get rid of little furniture dispersed all over, and move around pieces that block the view and walkway space.
– Designers recommend getting pieces of furniture with open arms and legs, as well as small glass-top tables, so the light can filter through.
– Make the most out of the space with multifunctional furniture. Invest in good quality pieces such as drop-leaf or removable-leaf tables and ottomans for storage and sitting purposes, among others.
By following these recommendations you can maximize the space in any room (or create the illusion of space) with the right decorative touch.
Source: At Home Rewards, Adaptive Marketing
October 19, 2011 9:04 pm
Prequalification and pre-approval may start with the same three letters, but there's a big difference between the two when it comes to your mortgage.
Prequalification takes about an hour and is conducted by a licensed loan originator or broker working for a particular lender. To obtain prequalification, applicants need to provide an application and have their credit pulled. Once this information is obtained and reviewed by the lender an applicant is awarded with prequalification status. Although this can be helpful for buyers to know where they stand, it does not necessarily lock in their rate or guarantee a particular loan at a given price point, says Chip Poli, CEO of a Massachusetts-based mortgage lender.
Pre-approval is different than prequalification in that your information has been underwritten by an authorized Underwriter. Mortgage lenders often provide in-house Underwriters because they can approve you for a home loan quickly and efficiently. Upon receiving a valid pre-approval, your next step is finding the right home for the right price. Once you find that home and it appraises for the agreed-upon price or higher, you should be able to close your loan in a short period of time.
To get pre-approved for a home loan, be sure to fill out your mortgage application in its entirety. Leaving parts blank or incomplete will only make the process harder on yourself, says Poli. You will also need to provide certain documents concerning your assets, income and employment.
In order to ensure your home purchase goes as seamlessly as possible, consumers are better off applying for a pre-approval because it helps them truly have an idea as to what their budget is and protects them from hidden surprises once they find a house and apply for the loan. If you have a pre-approval in hand, it shows your real estate agent and the seller that you are a serious home buyer; in this market it is extremely important to sellers that their prospective buyers have been pre-approved.
October 18, 2011 9:02 pm
For many homeowners looking to sell their home, a high appraisal could make a huge difference in the amount of money the property actually sells for. Although there is much scrutiny about what you should or should not do to prepare for a home appraisal, many appraisers agree that keeping the home as updated and cared for as possible will take it the extra mile throughout the selling process. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when preparing for your home's appraisal:
Make your home look dapper: There is no need to panic about a couple dirty dishes, so don't sweat the small stuff. However, things like overgrown landscaping, a bug or pest problem or lackluster carpeting could affect your home's final appraisal. Try to plan ahead and update what you can before the appraiser arrives at your home.
Keep a detailed list of renovations: If you've updated any aspect of your home in the last few years, keep a running list of what was done and how much it cost. You will not only be highlighting the beneficial features of your home, but also pinpointing its worth. This will only help you in the end.
Focus your funds: Save your hard-earned cash unless you're completely positive it will yield a return. The best areas to focus on are the home's plumbing system, carpeting, lighting and paint. Prioritizing will help, but homeowners who have been attentive throughout their stay should not have a problem.
Location is always crucial: Have there been any updates to the surrounding area or neighborhood? Has your area been deemed a historic district? Is there a new shopping plaza or large chain retailer? Be sure to mention this to your appraiser - it could help toward the final tally.
Hide the pets, crank the heat. Make sure the appraiser is as comfortable as possible. Lock up intrusive pets. If it's hot out, turn up the air conditioning. If it's cold, crank the heat. You don't want the appraiser to question whether or not your system works.
Before scheduling an appraisal, make sure to finish any projects that may remain on your to-do list. They very well could affect your final appraisal.
October 18, 2011 9:02 pm
Let’s say that you inherited an old house in a distant location and want to put it on the market. You may not have the time, resources or energy to make it perfect and just want a quick sale. Or, maybe you had renters at your property that did substantial damage and you don’t have the money to make necessary renovations. Fear not. Just because the house needs work doesn’t mean you can’t sell it, says real estate agent Melanie Tisdale.
Many home buyers today are shopping for deals and want to see the potential in your home. In that case, leave brochures for new cabinets in the kitchen, color palates around the bedrooms and even create computerized images of what updates could look like.
In addition, secure bids from licensed contractors on necessary fixes and provide them to your potential buyers. People may overestimate the cost of a new roof, shower stall or drywall repair and fresh paint. Estimates will bring the home into clearer perspective.
Work with your real estate agent to make the home as presentable as possible for the least amount of money. Make a room or two inviting so you have the photos that will attract buyers to what you can call “a fixer upper.”
Of course, nothing is going to attract people more than a low price. Obviously, you will need to discount the sales price to gain an advantage over comparables in better condition.
A down-and-out house doesn’t mean you’re stuck. With small repairs, research and practical pricing, you can turn that “Ugly Betty” into a sale.
October 18, 2011 9:02 pm
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently urged Congress to proceed with caution and conduct a cost-benefit analysis before implementing any new regulations or requirements that call for the federal government to develop a National Ocean Policy, which the Administration is now contemplating.
Testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee, NAHB Chairman-elect Barry Rutenberg, a home builder from Gainesville, Fla., says that utilizing environmentally friendly building techniques, NAHB members regularly take steps to improve the long-term conservation and care of the nation's coastal and Great Lakes communities.
"The nation's home builders recognize the need to preserve the health of the marine ecosystem as it is one of the many lifelines upon which we as a nation depend," he says. "However, NAHB is concerned that federal agencies will enact regulations that will only have a minor impact on the environment but impose a significant cost on private landowners and businesses."
A common-sense regulatory structure that continues to allow state and local governments to plan for and determine appropriate uses for their entire communities, including residential development, is important to maintain housing choice for consumers, create jobs in local communities and generate revenues for all levels of government.
NAHB analysis of the broad impact of new construction shows that building 100 average single-family homes generates 305 full-time jobs and increases the property tax base that supports local schools.
As one of the most highly regulated industries, Rutenberg says, home builders already comply with numerous federal, state and local environmental statutes.
For example, home builders must abide by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Flood Insurance Program when siting, designing and constructing their homes; meet the mandates of the Clean Water Act for controlling storm water discharges; demonstrate that their activities are consistent with their state's coastal zone management plan; and meet the requirements for their local zoning, critical areas or shoreland protection ordinances.
"Clearly, governments at all levels have already taken significant steps to protect coastal areas," says Rutenberg. "Any potential government policies that will broadly shape the future of our communities must be based on solid research and sound science and data and allow for choices and flexibility in the marketplace."
Since its scope is currently undefined and also references coastal areas, the proposed National Ocean Policy has the potential to link land-based activities to the health of the ocean.
"NAHB has significant concerns about the potential for the federal government to overstep its bounds with regard to land use planning, a practice that allows home buyers and homeowners the opportunity to live in a home of their choice in a location of their choice," says Rutenberg.
For more information, visit www.nahb.org.
October 17, 2011 8:58 pm
There’s an episode of the hit TV series How I Met Your Mother where the characters of Marshall and Lily decide to buy a home in a neighborhood they are unfamiliar with, only to learn later that it sits downwind from a sewer plant. The message is obvious: A buyer must do his or her due diligence on prospective neighborhoods to make the best real estate decisions.
For starters, investigate the local school district, as good schools boost your property value. Research the closest parks and community centers and consider how busy streets impact the neighborhood.
According to Florida-based REALTOR® Caprice Atwell, profiling the perfect neighborhood also involves meeting prospective neighbors. Walk through the area and say hello to people and ask them for their impressions of the neighborhood. While you’re at it, look around. Are there lots of kids on the block? Do people walk or jog through the neighborhood at night? A neighborhood can speak volumes by itself.
Don’t forget to map out stores and restaurants in the area. You may be used to a five-minute drive to the local grocery store, only to find out that your new home is 25 minutes away from the nearest place to buy milk. Of course, find out if your potential new home is part of a neighborhood association bearing regular fees, or if your community has lawn or construction restrictions, says Atwell.
A good agent can furnish you with a wealth of local information, and will take you on a tour of the closest commerce centers, restaurants and shops.
With a little groundwork you can help ensure that your dream house is surrounded by a dream neighborhood.