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Tips for Choosing the Best REALTOR® for the Job

September 22, 2011 10:57 pm

When choosing a REALTOR® for your real estate needs, it's important to find one who will always have your best interests in mind. A dependable and knowledgeable agent can save you time, money and headaches. Your road to success depends on your ability to find the person for the job. Here are a few key tips to finding the right REALTOR® for you:

A good rapport is key. Since your REALTOR® will be helping you make one of the biggest decisions and transactions of your life, having good chemistry with them is important. You need to generally like the person you are conducting business with because there is no doubt that you'll be spending lots of time communicating with him or her. Communication should be easy and reliable, meeting the standards of both parties. If you find you are uncomfortable with an agent for any reason, it may be time to find a new one.

Keep your eye on conflicts of interest. A large red flag: an agent who only steers you to their own office's listings. Beware of dual agents as well. One who works for the buyer and the seller is legally obligated to report back to the other party. With these types, you must be careful what you say, as anything could weaken your negotiating position. Try to eliminate any trace of conflict in your transaction.

A proven track record and proper credentials are things you should look into before agreeing to go through an agent. The agent should be licensed by your state, meeting minimum levels of education, training and testing. Also, look into what extra designations the REALTOR® has, such as CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) or GRI (Graduate REALTORS® Institute). How many homes did the agent sell or find for buyers in the previous year? All of this information could be a make or break for your decision to use them as your real estate professional.

Don't hesitate to interview different agents. In addition to questions regarding credentials, ask questions like the following: How long have you been working in residential real estate sales? Is it your full-time job? How many days does it take you to sell the average home? How close to the initial asking prices of the homes you sold were the final sale prices? By interviewing potential agents, you can get a better feel of their work practices and successes and better judge whether or not you want to work with them.

Neglecting to carefully select your real estate professional is a rookie mistake any buyer and seller can easily avoid. With the right agent, you can set yourself up for success when buying or selling a home.

Sources:, Reuters, National Association of REALTORS®


Help Your Home Stand Out from the Crowd

September 22, 2011 4:57 pm

How can homeowners desperate to sell their home increase their chance of a quick and profitable sale in the current real estate market?

Most importantly, the home must stand out from the crowd and be a welcoming island in the sea of homes for sale. Without a doubt, having a home professionally staged is the single best way to outshine the competition. Home staging (house staging, real estate staging) is the art of decorating a home to sell quickly and for top dollar.

According to home staging expert Debra Gould, “People shop with logic and buy on emotion. If prospective buyers don’t fall in love within minutes of walking into a house and have that same emotional connection all the way through, they’ll be off to the next appointment. This is especially true in a buyer’s market when they feel no pressure to make an immediate offer.”

“New homebuilders offer model homes for viewing, because they know how important it is to help potential buyers imagine themselves living in the house,” adds Gould. “Staging allows individual homeowners to employ that same proven concept.”

There are several points a seller should keep in mind when hiring a home stager, including the home stager’s knowledge of real estate and the local market in particular. It is always important to ask questions of anyone they are considering hiring.

Real estate agents or neighbors are excellent sources for referrals or individuals can locate a home stager in their area.

In the current real estate climate with so much inventory and competition, achieving the best possible sales result has become even more difficult, and many sellers are simply hoping that their home sells at any price or that they can avoid the significant price cuts recommended by their agents.

But in order to sell, a home must be marketed wisely. Statistics show that staging homes results in a faster sale and a higher price than homes that are put on the market “as is.”

A small investment in staging can make a significant difference in the outcome of a sale.


Google+ Now Open to the Public

September 22, 2011 4:57 pm

Google+, Google's new social networking service and Facebook competitor, is now open to the public.

Having been on an invite-only basis since its launch in June of this year, the service had a large following with more than 25 million unique visitors per month. Although this may not compare to Facebook's 750 million active monthly users, many are speculating that over time, Google may be able to lure many of Facebook's users into their corner. With Google+ now in the public domain, the network has opened itself up to more than one billion monthly users who use Google's search engine and other services, such as Gmail.

Google+ plans to expand the social networking frontier by adding many unique features to its service. Google is putting a heavy emphasis on video with its "hangout" feature, allowing up to 10 people to simulatanosly video chat with each other. Users are also allowed to group friends by "Circles." Circles add a layer of privacy, allowing users to pick and choose exactly what to share and with whom. In addition, Google+ users can search for information and topics throughout the service, and then locate other users' posts about those topics.

For more information, visit

Source: The Wall Street Journal


6 Ways to Help Kids Adjust to Moving Day

September 21, 2011 4:57 pm

Moving to a new home can be stressful for everyone, but it can be especially unnerving for children. Younger kids often become confused when their daily routine is disrupted, while adolescents fear the loss of old friends and dread the prospect of having to make new ones in a strange school or neighborhood. But there are steps you can take to help alleviate their fears and get them involved in the move.

Communication is Key
First, it's important for parents to explain the moving process by providing children with as much information as possible and allowing them to participate in decision-making discussions. This will give children a sense of control and help relieve anxiety. Talk about the positive aspects of their new home, school and neighborhood. Try to communicate the idea that the new home, if given a fair chance, can be even better than the old one. Encourage questions and invite children to talk about their worries.

Manage Your Stress
Children pick up on our own stress-levels so it's a good idea for the whole family if you try to manage your stress as much as possible. Having a plan, staying organized, packing wisely and clearly communicating with your moving company are all ways to minimize your stress on moving day.

Rehearse Ahead of Time
For younger children, the move should be made into an exciting adventure. Encourage your child to pack his or her own things, but be sure to leave favorite toys out until the very end. Act out moving day well ahead of time. A conversation could go something like this: "On Friday when you wake up, there will be a big truck in the driveway. We will have breakfast, then go into your room, and show the movers which things to put on the truck. Then, after the truck is filled we will get in our car and go to our new home. Then we will tell the movers exactly where to put your things in your new room."

Because we all fear the unknown, if possible, take children with you to look at potential neighborhoods, homes/apartments and schools. It may be more expensive and require extra effort, but it will ease the transition and help children begin to make the adjustment.

If your children are really young, consider hiring a babysitter while you pack and on moving day. Otherwise, resist the temptation to send children away during the move. Participating will help them understand what's happening and can help them adjust more easily to their new surroundings. Even so, don't be dismayed if your child exhibits regressive behavior such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking. It's quite normal.

Make It Fun
For older children, a move that involves leaving friends, sports teams, and favorite hangouts behind can be extremely difficult. Help them say good-bye to friends by hosting a good-bye party. Emphasize how easy it is to keep in touch through email and by phone; you could even give each of your children his or her own address book and make the party an opportunity for friends to write in their personal contact information.

If at all possible, time the move to coincide with the start of a new school year or term. Contact coaches and club advisors at the new school and ask them to assist your child with the transition.

Get Back to the Status Quo
Once you are settled in your new home, resume familiar routines as soon as possible. If it's a tradition in your family to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings, for example, you should continue the practice as soon as possible in your new home.


Life-Saving Apps for Natural Disasters

September 21, 2011 4:57 pm

In cases of tragic and unforeseeable natural disasters, mobile technology has been increasingly helpful with communication. With cell phones and mobile applications abound, this technology has aided in activating relief efforts and saving lives in situations where lack of Internet or power outages have affected a majority. Here are a few examples of mobile applications you can use to continue communicating in times of need.

With the Signal application, users can combine mobile, social and email right into a single platform. During Hurricane Irene, some utility companies used Signal to further communications about power outages, going so far as even allowing its customers to opt-in for SMS updates regarding the current situation. Receiving up-to-date information during a hurricane became crucial for those without power who were cut off from the world temporarily. With text, emails and social media combined, the possibilities for advanced communication are endless.

Life360 allows users to set up private networks that allow each other to announce their location with the click of a button. Ideal for families, Life360 quickly and efficiently delivers messages throughout each private network so members can alert others that they are safe in an urgent situation.

After setting up, users simply launch the application and “Check In”—notifying your contacts of your location and safety status. For extended use, background tacking allows members to continuously share their locations with one another. In addition, a panic alert feature lets others know where a user is located and that they need immediate help. With features like these installed into a mobile device, no one is ever beyond help during a hurricane or other natural disaster.

Plerts (short for “personal alerts) is a free app that captures image and audio from your mobile every 8-10 seconds, transmitting the data and GPS coordinates to Plerts servers. In the case of a natural disaster, users can hit an SOS button and all of the data gathered is then immediately sent to an emergency contact list, providing them with all the information necessary to help you.

Plerts can also record an automated message and deliver it immediately. If your battery dies on your cell phone, you can still get through to your contacts. Or if a cell network crashes, your location and recordings will be sent out the second the network comes back up.

In some cases, using one of these apps could be the difference between life and death. If a hurricane or other disaster is heading your way, or just to enforce a level of preparedness, have your family download one of the above applications. You may be glad you did.

Source: Mashable


Flu Season Returns Stressing the Importance of Getting Flu Shots

September 21, 2011 4:57 pm

In the past, flu season was typically expected to begin in October or November, yet each year it seems to be arriving earlier and earlier. This year is no different.

The flu, more scientifically known as influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. When a person with the flu coughs or sneezes, the virus becomes an airborne contagion—waiting to be inhaled by anyone nearby. The risk of infection is greater in highly populated areas like schools, subways and crowded urban settings. You can also get the flu by touching a contaminated surface like a telephone or a door knob, and then touching your nose or mouth. The influenza virus usually enters the body through mucus membranes in the mouth, nose or eyes.

Sudden onset and severity of symptoms are hallmarks of the flu and help to distinguish it from other illnesses, like the common cold. Other indications include chills and fever, headaches, muscular aches and pain, cough and runny nose. Sometimes these symptoms are accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea.

On average annually in the U.S., 5-20% of the population gets the flu; over 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications; and about 23,600 people die from flu-related causes. Older adults, young children and people with specific health conditions are at higher risk for serious flu complications.
“In the past, little could be done in the way of treatment for the flu other than to manage its symptoms incidentally. Modern antibiotics were and are still useless against the disease because of its viral, not bacterial, nature,” says Peter Lamelas, MD.

“Nowadays, influenza can now be diagnosed quickly and inexpensively through a simple in-office procedure where the patient submits to a nasal swab test, known as a Rapid Flu Test,” he adds.

“Thankfully, several prescription antivirals are now available which have been proven to shorten the duration of the flu—but there’s a catch. Antiviral medications are most effective when taken within 12-48 hours of your first symptoms,” says Lamelas. “So act fast.”

Who should get the Seasonal Flu Shot?

According to the CDC, flu seasons are unpredictable, although epidemics happen every year. They believe everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine. This recommendation has been in place since February 24, 2010 when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the U.S. to expand protection against the flu to more people.

Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of serious flu complications, including young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, people 65 years and older, and caretakers of these populations.

Here are three steps you can take to reduce or prevent you and your loved ones from the adverse effects of the flu this season:

Step # 1 – Take the time to get vaccinated. The single best way to protect yourself and others against influenza is to get a flu vaccination each year.

Step #2 – Take everyday preventative precautions. Wash your hands regularly and frequently with soap and water. Alcohol based hand sanitizers are also effective in reducing the spread of germs. Use disinfectants to routinely clean frequently touched surfaces, like doorknobs, keyboards and telephones. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth—places where the flu virus enters the body.

Step #3 – Take anti-viral drugs if recommended. Anti-viral drugs are not sold over-the-counter and are different from antibiotics. If you get the flu, anti-viral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. Anti-viral drugs work best if started within the first two days of symptoms. They may also prevent serious flu complications.

For more information, visit


How to Appropriately Declutter Your Home

September 20, 2011 10:57 pm

After a long work week, sometimes our homes tend to get a little unorganized. If you feel consumed by the clutter that abounds in your home, picking up a little bit each day can be just enough to prevent a large-scale disaster from ever happening. During the week, keep the following in mind:

Avoid the "drop zone": Most homes have that one designated space where family members tend to drop miscellaneous items. From mail and car keys to cell phones, iPods, or books, once this area is full, the mess eventually spills elsewhere--to kitchen tables, living room floors, and beyond! Choose one spot for the entire family's car keys and phones. Next, designate another area (a drawer, perhaps) for any other miscellaneous items, such as paper clips, tape, rubber bands, or any small item you want to avoid losing. Stow away these small items to avoid a kitchen table takeover.

Enforce a "Clean Floor Policy": Convince your family members to help you keep a "clean floor policy." Shoes, backpacks, jackets or sporting equipment should always be put away immediately upon entering the home. Although these items may not seem like a big deal, they will add up and quickly diminish your space.

Store that media: Other items that tend to suffocate space are CDs, DVDs, books and computer software. A large bookcase or DVD/CD case can be the answer to your prayers. After using these items, return them to their proper places. This will clear up room on top of your CD or DVD players and on your coffee tables. The organization possible with just one case will make a remarkable difference.

Closet coordination: Buying a few closet organizers can also make a world of difference. Cleaning supplies, Tupperware, pet food and more can all be stored in closets with multi-tiered organizers or shelving. Consider putting one in a bathroom closet or behind a bathroom door as well; you'll save a significant amount of space by storing shampoos, soaps, towels and more, where most eyes won't be able to see them.

With a little bit of organizing skills and diligence, you can prevent your home from being conquered by clutter.


Tips for Saving Time and Money on a Fall Getaway

September 20, 2011 10:57 pm

As travelers jump on early fall travel to take advantage of cooler weather and colorful scenery, these tips can help find the best bargains and save time when planning the perfect fall getaway.

Fall for Foliage

Autumn in New England is high season for leaf peepers, and big crowds typically mean higher prices. Avoid both with an escorted fall foliage tour. Someone else does the planning, organizing and driving – all travelers need to do is take in the spectacular scenery. Try an all-day tour from Boston through the New England countryside with a visit to an apple orchard or a full-day Hudson River cruise from New York City to Bear Mountain – both under $60.

Just Say No…to the Queue

Save time by booking tours that offer skip-the-line access, particularly at popular attractions where wait times can be longer than two hours. Companies such as Viator offer programs like "Skip the Line: Eiffel Tower Tickets and Small Group Tour," which includes priority access to the first and second levels of the Eiffel Tower, tickets to the third level, and a small group guided tour limited to 20 people. A little bit of pre-planning could save hours of precious touring time.

Toast Shoulder-Season Savings at Oktoberfest!
A fall getaway to Europe is traditionally affordable (being shoulder season and all), and with the Euro at its lowest level against the dollar since the beginning of the year, there is no better time to plan a trip – particularly for those with a passion for beer, music and festivity! With Oktoberfest right around the corner, you can head to Munich for a unique and unforgettable experience.

Get Back to Nature
Fall is a great time to miss the crowds that flock to America’s national parks during the summer, but still enjoy great weather. Discover two of the West Coast’s most spectacular natural wonders, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park. Create your own camping and hiking adventure, and save money by driving instead of flying. Picnic lunches in the parks are also a great way to save some extra cash.


Housing Affordability Hovers Near Record Level as Some Markets Begin to Stabilize

September 20, 2011 10:57 pm

Nationwide housing affordability during the second quarter of 2011 hovered for the 10th consecutive quarter near its highest level in the more than 20 years it has been measured, according to National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) data released recently.

The HOI indicated that 72.6% of all new and existing homes sold in the second quarter of the year were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,200. The affordability measure dipped slightly from the record high of 74.6% set last quarter but remained above the 70% threshold initially achieved in the first quarter of 2009.

"At a time when homeownership is within reach of more households than it has been for more than two decades and interest rates are at historically low levels, the sluggish economy and the extremely tight credit conditions confronting home buyers and builders remain significant obstacles to many potential home sales," says Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). "That said, however, some housing markets across the country have stabilized and are beginning to show signs of a budding recovery."

Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., was the most affordable major housing market in the country during the second quarter of the year. In Youngstown, 93.7% of all homes sold were affordable to households earning the area's median family income of $54,900.

Also ranking near the top of the most affordable major metro housing markets were Syracuse, New York.; Indianapolis-Carmel, Indiana; Dayton, Ohio; and Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida.

Among smaller housing markets, the most affordable was Kokomo, Indiana, where 95.8% of homes sold during the second quarter of 2011 were affordable to families earning a median income of $59,100. Other smaller housing markets ranking near the top of the index included Lansing-East Lansing, Michigan; Bay City, Michigan; and Sandusky, Ohio.

For more information, please visit


Stage It Like A Pro: Tips for Selling Your Home Faster

September 19, 2011 4:57 pm

For homeowners ready to sell their home, staging a property professionally can make a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to sell. If you're selling on a budget, you can still properly stage the home yourself in order to maximize the chances of alluring visiting buyers. Keep the following in mind before buyers come to the door:

Remember to highlight the home's strengths and take attention away from the weaknesses. Pick up and organize every room as much as possible. Organize book shelves, cabinets, closets, or any other nook and cranny a buyer might want to see. If a particular room has a fault, rearrange furniture or redesign the room as needed to draw the attention elsewhere.

Choose and place your furniture wisely. Be sure not to overcrowd a room with couches, tables and chairs. The end goal should be to make each room as spacious as possible, so cut down on the number of items, and remove any that may look old or beaten up. Try "floating" furniture away from the walls and more toward the center of the room. This will enhance the illusion of space and make the room look that much bigger.

Light it up: Proper lighting can give a home a warm, welcome feeling. Replace low-wattage bulbs with higher wattages. Be sure to have different types of lighting in each room (overhead lights, reading lights, etc). If you can, take advantage of natural light during daytime hours. Open up those drapes and let the sun shine through. The welcome feel your home gives off will be both infectious and memorable.

Repurpose storage rooms. For those miscellaneous storage rooms, be sure to repurpose them into something a buyer can picture themselves using. Create a craft room, game room or office with the extra space. You want to put ideas into the heads of your buyers, not entice them with rooms filled with junk and clutter.

Give bathrooms a spa-like feel: Buyers love the look of a nice, neat and clean bathroom. Anything you can do to create a spa-like environment, the better. Roll towels and place them on display in wire racks. Spread candles on countertops, and have a scented plug or other soothing scent permeating the room. The more calming the bathroom feels, the more appealing it will be to viewers.

Homeowners need not spend hundreds of dollars on a professional stager, however, staging is essential to selling your home promptly. Staging every room in your house will be beneficial toward reaching your end goal.

Source: Bankrate