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Increasing Mosquito Prevention Curbs West Nile and Other Diseases

July 18, 2011 10:57 pm

Health officials all over the country warn about the West Nile Virus throughout the hot summer months. Rain and summer heat waves are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which can spread the West Nile Virus, dengue fever, encephalitis, canine heartworm and other diseases.

Because mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, Health Department officials are asking everyone to take steps to reduce standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying. To reduce mosquito populations:

• Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other containers where sprinkler or rain water has collected.
• Remove and discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items left outdoors that can collect water.
• Empty and clean birdbaths and pet water bowls at least once or twice a week.
• Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don’t accumulate water.
• Maintain swimming pools in good condition with appropriate chlorination. Empty kids’ swimming pools when not in use.

Where standing water collects, use a product with all-natural Bti to disrupt mosquitoes’ breeding cycle. The Bti in a Mosquito Dunk will kill mosquito larvae in birdbaths, ponds, animal watering troughs and other standing water before they become biting, disease-carrying adults. Mosquito Dunks are safe for pets, wildlife and fish, and they are approved for organic use.

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New Study Unveils Americans' Bathroom Behaviors

July 18, 2011 10:57 pm

Would it surprise you to know that one in five adults leaves the washroom without washing their hands? The busiest room in the house may also be the least efficient, according to a recent study conducted by Delta Faucet.

According to the results, nearly 75 percent of households have at most two bathrooms, which each person uses more than 5-10 times each day. Recent U.S. Census data shows the average American household has 2.6 residents, meaning those rooms are visited 13-26 times daily. Suffice it to say, the bathroom is one of the most frequented places in the whole house.

"People forget that the bathroom is an integral part of their at-home experience," says family lifestyle expert Savvy Mommy® Victoria Pericon. "Whether it serves as a private sanctuary for mom, a place to showcase your design style to guests, or a room where kids learn everyday habits, the bathroom is one space in the home that gets used consistently, every day."

Pericon suggests putting out inviting hand towels and fragrant or colorful soaps to help encourage hand washing and make the experience more special. She also notes that new technologies for the bathroom, such as touch-activated faucets, can cut down on the transfer of dirt and mess from the hands to the faucet, helping to make the bathroom and home a cleaner place.

"By integrating some special touches and making a couple of simple updates, the bathroom can become a welcoming place that enhances the design and feeling of the entire home. It can also help promote good hygiene," adds Pericon.

While many Americans heed expert advice to wash hands frequently to cut down on the spread of germs, these consumer study results showed that nearly one in five Americans neglect to wash their hands after using the bathroom, with women only slightly more likely to wash than men. The study also found that:

• Respondents who were married wash their hands less compared to those who were single.
• Other groups who wash their hands less frequently include those among the highest income bracket ($75K+) and parents with young children.
• Despite all the education available today, Millennials wash their hands the least, lathering up 10 percent less than Baby Boomers.

In addition, the study revealed that, despite increasing emphasis on water conservation, behind closed bathroom doors the majority of people (57 percent) consistently neglect to turn off the water while brushing their teeth or shaving. And in spite of movements, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) WaterSense® program, designed to help consumers identify high quality water-efficient fixtures, most consumers responded that they have not installed a water-saving faucet or aerator in their home. In fact, most Americans have not even replaced their bathroom faucet in more than 10 years.

For more information visit www.deltafaucet.com.

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Owning a Home Is a Top Priority for Renters

July 18, 2011 10:57 pm

Most Americans still believe that owning a home is a solid financial decision, and a majority of renters aspire to homeownership as a long-term goal. According to the 2011 National Housing Pulse Survey released recently by the National Association of REALTORS®, 72 percent of renters surveyed said owning a home is a top priority for their future, up from 63 percent in 2010.

Seven in 10 Americans also agreed that buying a home is a good financial decision while almost two-thirds said now is a good time to purchase a home. The annual survey, which measures how affordable housing issues affect consumers, also found that more than three quarters of renters (77 percent) said they would be less likely to buy a home if they were required to put down a 20 percent down payment on the home, and a strong majority (71 percent) believe a 20 percent down payment requirement could have a negative impact on the housing market.

"Despite the economic setbacks Americans have experienced in today's current climate, it is clear that a strong majority still believe in homeownership and aspire to own a home," says NAR President Ron Phipps. "However, achieving the dream of homeownership will become increasingly difficult for buyers if they are required to make a 20 percent down payment, which may be a reality for many of tomorrow's buyers if a proposed Qualified Residential Mortgage rule is adopted. That is why REALTORS® are strongly urging regulators to go back to the drawing board on the proposed rule."

Defining the QRM rule is important because it will determine the types of mortgages that will generally be available to borrowers in the future. As currently proposed, borrowers with less than 20 percent down will have to choose between higher fees and rates today—up to 3 percentage points more—or a 9-14 year delay while they save up the necessary down payment.

Over half—51 percent—of self-described "working class" homeowners as well as younger non-college graduates (51 percent), African Americans (57 percent) and Hispanics (50 percent) who currently own their homes reported that a 20 percent down payment would have prevented them from becoming homeowners.

Pulse surveys for the past eight years have consistently reported that having enough money for a down payment and closing costs are top obstacles that make housing unaffordable for Americans. Eighty-two percent of respondents cited these as the top obstacle, followed by having confidence in one's job security.

The survey also found respondents were adamantly against eliminating the mortgage interest deduction. Two-thirds of Americans oppose eliminating the tax benefit, while 73 percent believe eliminating the MID will have a negative impact on the housing market as well as the overall economy.

"The MID facilitates homeownership by reducing the carrying costs of owning a home, and it makes a real difference to hard-working American families," says Phipps. "Homeownership offers not only social benefits, but also long-term value for families, communities and the nation's economy. We need to make sure that any changes to current programs or incentives don't jeopardize our collective futures."

When asked why homeownership matters to them, respondents cited stability and safety as the top reason. Long-term economic reasons such as building equity followed closely behind. On a local level, respondents said neighbors falling behind on their mortgages and the drop in home values were top concerns. Foreclosures also continue to remain a large concern, with almost half of those surveyed citing the issue as a problem in their area.

The 2011 National Housing Pulse Survey is conducted by American Strategies and Myers Research & Strategic Services for NAR's Housing Opportunity Program. The telephone survey polled 1,250 adults nationwide, with an oversample of interviews of those living in the 25 most populous metropolitan statistical areas. The study has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

For more information visit www.realtor.org.

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Lacking Space? Try These Smart Storage Tips

July 15, 2011 4:57 pm

For renters or homeowners with limited space, packing all of your belongings to fit can be a daunting task. When space is limited, creativity is necessary to make sure you can comfortably and properly store your things in your house or apartment. If you think you're running out of room, try these smart storage tips:

The first step toward being creative is to think vertically. Ceiling-tall book cases are great ideas to store all sorts of knick-knacks, books, CDs and DVDs. Photo albums or framed photos can also be placed on it. There really is no limitation as to what can be stored. If space allows for it, get two or three bookcases, one for each room. By doing so you'll eliminate any sort of clutter and be well on your way toward organization.

Use underneath storage space. Always use the space below coffee tables, end tables or even your bed as possible locations for some of your things. Large plastic containers can be used to protect from dirt or dust. These are stackable and will help you keep your belongings organized and clean.

Always utilize the insides of doors. Cabinet or closet doors can be a great place to hang items. Shoe-holders can be placed on every door in the residence and you don't have to store only shoes in them. Utensils, toiletries and more can be stuffed into these door-hanging pockets, clearing up your drawers, floors and counter-spaces. (Another similar idea for bathrooms: store towels and linens in a small wine rack).

Never underestimate the value of a few good old-fashioned hooks. Place them on the walls to hang pots and pans, utensils, or any other hanging artifact in your home. Not only will you save some space, but these hanging items will also double as decoration in your dining or kitchen area.

Most importantly, items that double as storage should always be incorporated. The best items: ottomans, stools or chests that can store items inside while also being used as seating or a footrest. Keys, umbrellas, footwear, magazines and more can be stored in these types of spaces, further de-cluttering your home or apartment.

For those with cramped quarters, deciding where to put things makes all the difference. With a little planning and clever placement, you can store all of your belongings and make the most of the space you have.

Source: Relocation.com Blog

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Barbecue Bliss: Keeping Bacteria at Bay

July 15, 2011 4:57 pm

Summer brings out barbecue grills—and bacteria, which multiply in food faster in warm weather and can cause foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning). Following a few simple guidelines can prevent an unpleasant experience.

Wash your hands
Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. If you're eating where there’s no source of clean water, bring water, soap and paper towels or have disposable wipes/hand sanitizer available.

Marinate food in the refrigerator
Don’t marinate on the counter—marinate in the refrigerator. If you want to use marinade as a sauce on cooked food, save a separate portion in the refrigerator. Do not reuse marinade that contacted raw meat, poultry, or seafood on cooked food unless you bring it to a boil first.

Keep raw food separate
Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler or securely wrapped at the bottom of a cooler so their juices won’t contaminate already prepared foods or raw produce. Don't use a plate or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else unless you wash them first in hot, soapy water. Have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side for serving.

Cook food thoroughly
Use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked thoroughly to destroy harmful bacteria. Partial precooking in the microwave oven or on the stove is a good way to reduce grilling time—just make sure the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to finish cooking.

Keep hot food hot and cold food cold
Keep hot food at 140°F or above until served. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill, or wrap well and place in an insulated container.

Keep cold food at 40°F or below until served. Keep cold perishable food in a cooler until serving time. Keep coolers out of direct sun and avoid opening the lid often.

Cold foods can be placed directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a pan of ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.

Don’t let hot or cold perishables sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90°F. When reheating fully cooked meats, grill to 165°F or until steaming hot.

Transport food in the passenger compartment of the car where it’s cooler—not in the trunk.

Put these items on your list

These non-food items are indispensable for a safe barbecue:
• food thermometer
• several coolers: one for beverages (which will be opened frequently), one for raw meats, poultry, and seafood, and another for cooked foods and raw produce
• ice or frozen gel packs for coolers
• jug of water, soap, and paper towels for washing hands
• enough plates and utensils to keep raw and cooked foods separate
• foil or other wrap for leftovers

For more information, visit http://www.fda.gov.

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Housing Starts Gain 3.5 Percent in May

July 15, 2011 4:57 pm

Nationwide housing starts rose 3.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 560,000 units in May, according to newly released figures from the U.S. Commerce Department. The gain partially offsets a larger decline that was registered in April.

"While the upward movement registered in the report is somewhat good news, housing production continues to bounce along the bottom near historic lows, and is only running at a level necessary to replace dilapidated or destroyed units," says Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. He also noted that "Amidst this fragile marketplace, the nation's policymakers should be aware of a recent poll that confirms the strong value that most American voters continue to place on homeownership and housing choice."

Conducted this May on behalf of NAHB by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va., and Lake Research Partners of Washington, D.C., the poll asked 2,000 likely voters about their attitudes on homeownership and housing policy. It found that the vast majority of current homeowners are happy with their decision to own a home and believe that owning their own home is important, while nearly three-quarters of those who do not now own a home consider it a goal of theirs to eventually buy one. Additionally, the poll determined that 73 percent of owners and renters believe the federal government should provide tax incentives to promote homeownership.

"Like consumers, builders remain very concerned about the pace of economic growth and are awaiting signs of improvement before moving forward with new projects," notes NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "The relative bright spot in new-home construction is on the multifamily side, where improving demand for rental apartments is spurring gains in that sector. However, access to construction credit remains a limiting factor for new building."

Single-family housing starts rose 3.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 419,000 units in May—their strongest pace since this January. Multifamily starts rose 2.9 percent to a 141,000-unit rate in May.

Regionally, housing production rose 1.5 percent in the South and 18.1 percent in the West, but declined 3.3 percent in the Northeast and 4.1 percent in the Midwest in May.

Issuance of building permits, which can be an indicator of future building activity, rose 8.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 612,000 units in May. This was the strongest pace since December of 2010. Single-family permits were up 2.5 percent to a 405,000-unit rate, while multifamily permits rose 23.2 percent to 207,000-units—their best pace since October of 2008.

Permit issuance posted double-digit gains in the Northeast and West in May, rising 35.6 percent and 15.1 percent, respectively. The South also posted a gain of 3.5 percent, while the Midwest registered a 1.1 percent decline.

For more information, please visit www.NAHB.org.

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Tips for Choosing the Right Dog for Your Family

July 14, 2011 10:57 pm

Choosing a dog—especially a puppy—on a whim, or because a child is begging for one, is rarely a good idea. Since the lucky pup you choose will likely be a member of the family for some years to come, the decision should be made carefully and properly.

“Evaluate your lifestyle first,” suggests Ken Ribisi, a dog trainer from San Diego, Calif. “Is the family away for much of the day or is someone at home much of the time? The answer says a lot about the kind of dog you choose. Some breeds are better left alone a lot than others – and since puppies require house-training, you may want to consider an older dog that is already trained.”

Consider the expense as well, said Ribisi. Believe it or not, owning a dog will cost the best part of $1,000 a year including food and vet bills. If that is a hardship, you may want to rethink the whole idea.

Once you have decided to move forward, Ribisi suggests the following cautions:
Do the research to learn which breed of dog most closely fits your lifestyle and requirements. Do you want a large dog or a small one? An active one or a companion by the fire? There are plenty of books on the subject, or you can do the search online.

Look for a reputable local dog breeder or adopt from a shelter or a private party. In general, avoid pet stores, as many get their animals from inhumane “puppy mills.”

When possible, get to know the dog a bit before adopting. Its basic personality and energy level will be apparent early on. If you buy from a breeder, you may be able to “meet the parents” as well.

Read up in advance on house-training, so you are prepared to begin as soon as the dog is home. Also make sure you have the time and make the effort to begin obedience and socialization training – or call on a dog trainer to help.

Try to avoid unwanted strays if you can, unless you plan to formally adopt it, and always spay or neuter your pet as soon as feasible. If your family can follow the tips above, a pet can be a great addition to any family.

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Help Regulators Take Proper Aim, Appraisal Institute Tells Congress

July 14, 2011 10:57 pm

Testifying before a Congressional subcommittee, the Appraisal Institute’s president-elect told lawmakers their intent was “right on target” and asked them to “guide the regulators’ aim” in implementing consumer-friendly real estate appraisal guidelines.

Sara W. Stephens, WAI, told members of the House Financial Services’ Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity that the Dodd-Frank Act passed by Congress last year is not being properly implemented by federal regulators.

Among other highlights, the Act calls on appraisal management companies (AMCs) to pay “customary and reasonable” fees to residential appraisers. While lenders can manage appraisal operations with internal staff, some choose to outsource these functions to third-party management companies called AMCs. These firms act as “middlemen” between lenders and appraisers.

“Unfortunately, the Federal Reserve’s Interim Final Rule is not faithful to Congressional intent,” Stephens told lawmakers. “The Appraisal Institute thinks Congress’ intent was right on target. We urge Congress to guide the regulators’ aim, directing them to correct the Interim Final Rule to promote credibility over speed and cost.”

She added: “Many lenders have chosen to outsource the appraisal management function to third-party management companies who pass only a small percentage on to the appraiser actually performing the appraisal service. Current policy leaves consumers completely in the dark. Here, we need transparency between appraisal and appraisal management fees, especially since it is the consumer who pays these fees in nearly all transactions.”

Due to the low fees many AMCs pay appraisers, consumers often have to rely on valuation services from some of the least qualified and least competent appraisers hired by some AMCs. Congress intended to protect consumers by requiring AMCs to pay “customary and reasonable” fees to appraisers.

“Last year, Congress passed the most significant legislative update of the appraisal regulatory structure in two decades. In our view, this was only a beginning,” Stephens told the House subcommittee. “Moving forward, Congress must maintain an active role in oversight of appraisal regulators and build on these reforms to address ongoing weaknesses. We can ill afford to allow another 20 years to pass without a thorough audit of appraisal regulations. Consumers, lenders and taxpayers deserve much better than they have been given to date.”

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HUD Awards 15 Million to Help Public Housing Residents Obtain Jobs and Economic Independence

July 14, 2011 10:57 pm

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently awarded nearly $15 million to more than 200 public housing authorities across the U.S. to help public housing residents find jobs that lead them toward economic independence.

HUD’s Public and Indian Housing Family Self-Sufficiency Program, provides this funding to public housing authorities (PHAs), which allows them to hire program coordinators who work directly with residents to connect them with local education and training opportunities; job placement organizations; and local employers. The purpose of the program is to encourage innovative strategies that link public housing assistance with other resources to enable participating families to increase earned income; reduce or eliminate the need for welfare assistance; and make progress toward achieving economic independence and housing self-sufficiency.

“Family self-sufficiency programs have a proven track record of helping families succeed,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, who announced the grants. “When families are given the tools they need to join a skilled workforce they move beyond HUD’s rental assistance programs to self-sufficiency. This is how Americans will win the future—individually and collectively.”

Participating public housing residents sign a contract to participate. They outline their responsibilities towards completion of training and employment objectives over a five-year period. For those families receiving welfare assistance, the PHA establishes an interim goal that the participating family becomes independent from welfare assistance prior to the expiration of the contract. During their participation, residents may create an escrow account funded with their increasing income, which they may use in a variety of ways, including continuing their education, making a major purchase or improving their credit score.

The Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) Program is a long-standing resource for increasing economic security and self-sufficiency among public housing and HCV participants. A HUD Prospective Study, issued earlier this year, evaluated the effectiveness of the FSS Program. Conducted from 2005 to 2009, HUD found substantial financial benefits for participants who complete the program. This study is the second of a three-part evaluation of the FSS program. The first study found individuals who participated in the FSS program fared better financially than those who did not enroll in the program. HUD will launch the third and final study in this series this year.

For more information visit www.hud.gov.

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Keeping Your Home Safe while on the Market

June 30, 2011 11:51 am

When you are in the process of selling your home, people are coming and going all the time—be it at open houses or through scheduled showings with your real estate agent. With so many strangers entering your house, it’s not uncommon to worry about safety or theft to some of your valuables.

By taking a few safeguards, you can ensure that you don’t need to worry about such things and better protect your belongings.

The easiest solution is to take any valuables like jewelry, fine art or collectables and store them with a friend or family member. If that’s not an option, then find a place to hide them in the home or keep them with you in a box and just bring it with you in the car every time you leave yourself.

This should also be done for personal information and file cabinets that may contain papers with your account numbers and/or social security information. Same holds true for medicine cabinets, as this is often an area that people could steal from.

You should keep your doors and windows locked at all times and when returning to the home from a showing, make sure that it is still the case. Often, prospective buyers will open windows or doors to make sure they work or to see another part of the home. Although it may seem far-fetched, there have been incidents where people unlock doors when looking at a home and go back later to steal things.

One tactic that some real estate agents have seen involve people coming to the house multiple times and bringing a new person with them who tries to look in rooms when the agent is being distracted.

“While one person has your attention, the other raids jewelry boxes and medicine cabinets for narcotics,” said Robert Siciliano, an ADT.com security consultant who offers real estate advice on his blog. “In high crime areas, consider hiring an off-duty police officer to watch the property during a showing. You can’t possibly watch everyone during an open house.”

It may seem like a silly time to install an alarm system since you will be leaving soon, but adding a security system will not only deter burglars but can also be a strong selling point of the house. People like safety features in the home.

If you are selling a home that you are not living in at the time, a good thing to do is install motion sensor lights that turn on automatically when it gets dark. You can also put a few lamps on a timer so it appears someone is home when you’re out.

Reach out to your neighbors as well and ask them to keep notice of anything suspicious. It’s always a good idea to introduce them to your REALTOR® so they know things are ok if they are spotted in the house.

By taking a few extra precautions, you can feel safe and secure during a home sale.
For more advice on selling your home, contact our office today.

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