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Have You Prepared Your Power Outage Plan?

January 14, 2015 2:42 am

Did you know that power outages can occur without stormy conditions? Cold weather generally puts higher stress on the equipment used to generate and deliver electricity. With temperatures plummeting to record lows this winter, experts at Duke Energy urge homeowners to establish a power outage plan now that can be implemented if disaster strikes.
  • Take stock of your supply of flashlights, batteries, bottle water, non-perishable foods, and medicines and replenish immediately if needed.
  • Ensure a portable, battery-operated radio, TV or NOAA weather radio is readily available and operational.
  • Check on family members, friends and neighbors who have special medical needs to make sure they have necessary emergency supplies.
  • If you lose power, turn off as many appliances and electronics as possible – this will help with restoration efforts and reduce immediate demand on power lines.
  • Do not attempt to heat your home with a gas grill or by bringing your generator inside. Only operate such equipment outdoors in well-ventilated areas, and follow manufacturer instructions.
  • When power is restored, wait a few minutes before turning electrically-powered devices back on.
Source: Duke Energy

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Recoup the Most Value from These Home Improvements

January 14, 2015 2:42 am

Homeowners often consider various remodeling and replacement projects as a way to add value to their homes. According to the 2015 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report, some projects add more value and better recoup their costs than others. The report compares changes in home improvement project costs with Realtor® perceptions of what those projects contribute to a home's price at resale.

Per the report, a steel entry door replacement is expected to return the most money, with an estimated 101.8 percent of costs recouped upon resale. The steel entry door replacement is consistently the least expensive project in the annual report.

Rounding out the top projects in terms of cost recouped:
  • Manufactured stone veneer (92.2 percent)
  • Garage door replacement (88.5 percent)
  • Siding replacement with fiber cement (84.3 percent)
  • Siding replacement with vinyl (80.7 percent)
  • Wood deck addition (80.5 percent)
  • Minor kitchen remodel (79.3 percent)
  • Wood window replacement (78.8 percent)
Since 2003, replacement projects have resulted in a higher financial return than remodeling projects. However, the gap between replacement and remodeling projects became bigger this year, with both categories declining in value. The biggest contributing factor to the slip is the consistent rise in costs for these projects, with home values rising at a slower pace.

Source: National Association of Realtors®

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Catch up on Retirement Planning

January 14, 2015 2:42 am

(BPT) - If you're within 10 years of retirement and haven't done any appreciable planning, you're not alone. Nearly half of Americans age 50 and older expect to retire later than they hoped, citing financial concerns, according to a 2013 study by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. And while you may be part of that group, it's better to plan late than never.

A good benchmark on retirement readiness is the ability to replace at least 75 percent of your pre-retirement income at the age you qualify for full Social Security benefits, which is 66 or 67 for most people. Retirement income can come from a variety of sources, including Social Security, savings and a pension, if you have one.

"While people age 50 or older no longer have time on their side when it comes to retirement savings, there are strategies that can help you play catch up," says Elaine Sarsynski, executive vice president, MassMutual Retirement Services division. "Pre-retirees have some levers to pull that younger workers may not."

Make the most of your retirement planning by:

Taking stock of where you are. Meet with a financial professional who can evaluate your retirement resources and project how much income you can expect if you retire at a certain age. Many 401(k) plans offer online tools to help you determine where you stand and how likely you are to replace your income based on your current assets and saving habits.

Making the most of matching contributions. Say your employer matches contributions to your 401(k) plan up to five percent of your salary and you only contribute two percent – you're turning down free money. Make sure you save enough to at least get the full match.

Talking to your tax advisor about whether you should contribute to your 401(k) on a before- or after-tax basis. Pre-tax contributions may make it affordable to save a higher percentage of your pay by deferring some of your tax liability until retirement. After-tax contributions may reduce your tax liability in retirement.

Taking advantage of catch-up contributions.
If you're age 50 or older at the end of the calendar year, you are eligible to contribute up to an additional $6,000 to your retirement plan in 2015. That's on top of the $18,000 limit for younger employees. Matching contributions from your employer do not count toward your contribution limit.

Optimizing Social Security. You can begin taking Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. But should you?

"It depends on a lot of things - your health, medical history, current cash needs, and future financial obligations, to name a few," says Farnoosh Torabi, best-selling author and personal finance coach. "But one thing is certain: the longer you delay your application, the bigger your benefit will be."

The maximum benefit from Social Security starts at age 70. You can estimate your retirement benefit by using the Social Security Administration's Retirement Estimator at ssa.gov/estimator.

Not forgetting your pension.
If you are entitled to a pension, this is an important source of income that should factor into your retirement planning. Your pension pays you a benefit at retirement based on factors such as your years of service and salary. Your plan administrator will have specific information about your plan.

"When it comes to saving for retirement, don't let a late start dissuade you," Sarsynski says. "Becoming more financially disciplined and making the most of your resources can go a long way toward helping you retire on your own terms."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What Your Green Home Certification Really Means

January 13, 2015 1:36 am

Homes dubbed ‘green’ actually mean ‘well-built’ – no recycled countertops or bamboo carpets needed. If you’re truly seeking an environmentally-friendly experience as a homeowner, it’s important to take a comprehensive look at the performance of the home, according to the Illinois Association of Energy Raters (IAER).

Homebuyers are willing to pay more for proof of those green benefits – an average of 10 percent more, says the IAER. Green certifications earned by homebuilders incorporate checklists and testing to ensure a home will be comfortable, healthy, durable and low-cost, but certifications obtained by homeowners may mean something else entirely.

To learn the facts, consider consulting with a BPI- or RESNET-certified professional, who will test the enclosure (insulation and seal) and the HVAC system (heating, cooling and ventilation) to determine a home’s energy efficiency and pinpoint the most beneficial home improvements. This test will generally include an ENERGY STAR certification that can only be done by a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Rater.

Source: IAER

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Trends to Heighten Your Home's Style

January 13, 2015 1:36 am

Say goodbye to lackluster décor at home with help from renowned interior designer Taniya Nayak, who suggests heightening your design style with these tips.

Gallery Walls
“Hanging a variety of frames or objects in a well thought-out cluster on the wall perfectly showcases pieces that are important or meaningful,” Nayak says. “When people walk into your home, they’ll know exactly what you love.”

Create a room that’s uniquely yours by making a gallery wall with items of your choice. Display an array of mirrors, framed family photos, sketches or even postcards – the key is to be creative and make it personal.

‘60s Mod Inspiration
“[2015] is going retro mod – way back to the ‘60s, where design as about curvy forms, vibrant colors and eccentric patterns,” says Nayak. “Go full throttle with bright, loud elements typical to the mod movement.”

The retro panache of mid-century modern décor perks up rooms with soft, sculptural lines, woven upholstery and bright accessories in geometric shapes. Search for vintage furniture pieces like rounded chairs and button-cushion couches with short, tapered legs to add a sense of authenticity.

Copper Touches
“Each year, we see a particular metal rise to the top of every designer’s list, and this year, it’s all about copper,” Nayak says.

Copper is a metallic that adds modern edge to even the simplest design scheme. Small pieces make a big statement, so pepper in copper pieces through light fixtures, planters or table settings. Display copper cookware in your kitchen - it's a great way to add a touch of glamour without going over the top.

Organic Elements
“It’s easy to bring nature into your home,” Nayak assures. “Leave linear styles out of the equation. Instead, think of free-flowing shapes, colors found in nature and the peaceful serenity associated with the outdoors.”

Mount antlers above your mantel or create centerpieces with shells, metallic leaves or branches. Juxtapose earthy components against woodsy furniture and ivory tones for an outdoorsy aesthetic.

Source: ShurTech Brands

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Guard against Cold Weather Injuries

January 13, 2015 1:36 am

When the temperature dips below freezing, it's critical to protect your skin from cold-weather health risks. Amy J. Derick, MD, clinical instructor of dermatology at Northwestern University, urges people to dress appropriately for outdoor activities, stay dry and follow these guidelines:

1. Dress in loose, light, comfortable layers. Wearing loose, light layers helps trap warm air. The first layer should be made of a synthetic material, which wicks moisture away from your body. The next layer should be insulating. Wool and fleece are good insulators and hold in more body heat than cotton. The top layer should be windproof and waterproof. A down parka and ski pants can help keep you dry and warm during outdoor activities.

2. Protect your feet and toes. To protect your feet and toes, wear two pairs of socks. The first pair, next to your skin, should be made of moisture-wicking fabric. Place a pair of wool or wool-blend socks on top of those. Your boots should also provide adequate insulation. They should be waterproof and cover your ankles. Make sure that nothing feels tight.

3. Protect your head. To protect your ears and head, wear a heavy wool or fleece hat. If you are outside on a bitterly cold day, cover your face with a scarf or face mask. This warms the air you breathe and helps prevent frostbite on your nose and face.

4. Protect your hands. Wear insulated mittens or gloves to help protect your hands from the cold.

5. Make sure snow cannot get inside of your boots or clothing. Before heading outdoors, make sure that snow cannot easily get inside of your boots or clothing. While outdoors, if you start to sweat, cut back on your activity or unzip your jacket a bit.

6. Keep yourself hydrated. Even if you are not thirsty, drink at least one glass of water before you head outside, and always drink water or a sports drink before an outdoor workout.

Source: AAD

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Things You Should Never Do to Your Home

January 12, 2015 1:33 am

New homeowners can be overwhelmed with the list of things they should do to their homes on a regular basis – clean the gutters and replace the furnace filters, for example. But, say the Wall St. Journal’s home advisors, there are at least seven things a homeowner should never do—and here’s why:

Don’t do your own plumbing chores—No matter how handy you think you are, leave the plumbing to the pros, experts say. The risks are high if you mess up, and homeowners may not have a good grasp on building codes and safety requirements.

Don’t do electrical work
—The same caveats apply here—and the greatest risk of all is electrocution!

Don’t be too quick to remove a wall
—It may seem like a great idea to give yourself a little extra space. But don’t do anything until you check with a contractor or an engineer to be sure the wall you want to remove is not a load-bearing wall.

Re-think a bump-out
—In the same vein, think twice about moving a wall only slightly to gain a little space. Contractors say these little bump-outs are too costly. You’ll get more bang for your buck by opening the new space on a bigger scale.

Don’t remodel too much—By the same token, give plenty of thought before you start remodeling. If you want the best return on your investment, keep remodeling costs in line with what other homes in your neighborhood are worth.

Don’t neglect your yard—Bad front yards anger the neighbors and bring down property values. Don’t be the one who doesn’t get around to cleaning up and caring for the yard.

Don’t forget not everyone loves your pets—even if the pet smells, hair and stains don’t bother you, they likely bother your guests—and they will certainly bother potential buyers, so keep the carpets clean and open the windows when you can.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Painting or Re-carpeting? Match Room Colors to Lighting

January 12, 2015 1:33 am

When it comes to most basic DIY projects—interior painting and replacing carpeting—I was surprised to learn how often folks wade in, carefully plotting color and pattern schemes with little or no attention paid to the type of light or lighting that will illuminate the 'finished product.'

To achieve the colors you really want, Sarah Cole of the Farrow & Ball paint company, Cole, advises:
  • Paint squares of primed drywall with samples of the colors you're considering, and then move them around the room during the day. Apply at least two coats.
  • Evaluate samples of carpet during different daylight conditions.
  • Most contractors won't hang lights before you paint, but you can get a color approximation by placing a bulb you'll be using in a floor or desk lamp.
  • Natural and artificial light will work together during certain times of day, especially in summer when dusk lasts a long time. So turn on artificial lights even during daylight to see what your colors will look like.
  • Glossy finishes will reflect light and change the way the color looks, whereas flat finishes are less reflective and allow colors to look truer under bright light.
  • Light-colored walls can reflect the colors of bold carpets: A bright blue rug, for instance, can cast a bluish tone on a white wall.
Homeowners also need to take into account how sunlight affects colors. Cole reminds remodelers that as the amount and angle of the sun changes, so will your colors.
  • Light in north-facing rooms is cool and bluish. So bolder colors show up better than muted colors; and lighter colors will look subdued, says Cole.
  • Lots of high-in-the-sky light in south-facing rooms brings out the best in cool and warm colors. Dark colors will look brighter; and lighter colors will virtually glow.
  • East light is warm and yellowy before noon, then turns bluer later in the day, Cole says. These are great rooms for reds, oranges and yellows.
  • While evening light in west-facing rooms is beautiful and warm, while scant morning light can produce shadows and make colors look dull.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The Hottest Bathroom Remodeling Trends

January 9, 2015 1:24 am

The modern bathroom is so much more than a utilitarian spot. It’s a place to relax (think home spa) and a fun way to use form and function to impress your guests and up the quality of your life. Designers and contractors reported recently on the hottest bath design trends to Wall St. Journal home advisors:

Showers and baths
– Whirlpool bath tubs in a variety of sizes are becoming more popular each year. For shower lovers, the news is dual shower heads for doubling the fun or ‘rain’ shower heads that provide a rain forest-like experience.

Vanities – Changing the vanity is the quickest way to give your bathroom a bold new look. Vanities today come in varied materials from marble to ceramic, glass and more – and all the rage these days are vessel sinks, with basins that sit on top of (instead of being recessed into) the counter top.

Mirrors – Modern bathroom mirrors are another easy way to bring personality into your bath. You can find mirrors in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes, framed in anything you like from leather to snakeskin to colorful mosaic tile. The latest innovation? Fog-free mirrors to hasten your morning routine.

Floors – Ceramic tile, stone, and traditional porcelain continue to be popular choices. But laminate wood flooring is gaining in popularity – and the newest trend is electrically heated flooring to keep your feet warm on those cold winter mornings.

Lighting
– Traditional vanity lighting above the mirror is useful when you’re shaving or getting ready to go out. But lighting designs have come a long way. Consider using recessed or spot lighting to highlight certain features of your bathroom and give the place an airy feel – and dimmers are useful when you want to take a nice, long soak.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Your Budget: Rethink These Modern-Day "Necessities"

January 9, 2015 1:24 am

Compare your monthly expenses to those of your grandparents (maybe even your parents), and you’ll probably find that your expense list is quite a bit longer. Over the decades, more and more conveniences, habits, and gadgets have found their way into our everyday lives. And gradually we’ve accepted them as normal, even necessary. (For instance, who thinks twice about paying a cell phone bill—talk, text, and data—these days?)

If we’re honest, we’ll admit most of these things don’t make us happy. (Certainly, the personal debt burden doesn’t.) That’s why author Donna Skeels Cygan is nudging us to rethink our expenses and “pay attention.”

“We all know we need to spend less and save more,” she says. “Well, when you cut out some of the big-ticket items that we seem to think are necessities—but that really aren’t—you’ll have a lot less stress and more financial breathing room.”

Here, Cygan spotlights 10 modern-day expenses that might be keeping you from financial freedom:

A big fancy house. You see gorgeous pictures of others’ homes on TV and Facebook and think, My home needs to look like that, too. Newsflash: Most people don’t live in spacious, picture-perfect homes, regardless of the impression social media may send. And even if they do, are they really happier than those in smaller, more modest homes?

Moreover, consider why you want to upgrade your living space. Is it because you’re a six-person family in a two-bedroom house? Or is because you just want to impress the occasional visitor (who, if he or she is a true friend, won’t care about the size or lavishness of your house anyway)?

If you already own “too much home,” you might downsize to a more modest (and less expensive) one—and purge a lot of your extraneous possessions while you’re at it. One unexpected benefit is that you may find that your friends are envious of the fact that you’ve been able to simplify your life.

A new car. If your neighbor just got a new car, you may find yourself thinking, My car is six years old…maybe it’s time for a new one. But ask yourself: Is my current automobile impractical because of size, poor gas mileage, or the fact that it requires a steady string of repairs?

If not, take a step back and remind yourself, My car will last another six years if I maintain it, and maybe longer. I do not need a new car. I want to be financially responsible, which requires saving and investing my money wisely. Then, focus on the things you can do with the money you’re not putting toward a car payment.

More clothes, shoes, and accessories. Many of us want to look stylish and trendy, and some of us even view shopping as a form of entertainment. Problem is, a frequent shopping habit isn’t easy on the wallet…and it’s likely that most of your purchases languish in your closet, where they’re rarely (if ever) worn. So the next time you feel like hitting the mall, ask yourself if there’s anything you really need. If not, resolve to wait—perhaps until the next season change—to add to your wardrobe.

An expensive, exclusive education for your child. If the tuition is way over your head, it’s time to look into other options. Remind yourself that private schools and colleges often don’t deserve the prestige their PR departments have created. (And while your child’s future is important, you need to be saving for your own retirement—a fund many well-meaning parents neglect while funding their children’s educations!)

If your family decides to take out college loans, Cygan recommends making sure some of the loan balance will be repaid by your child. Knowing that his education isn’t a freebie will make it more meaningful to him—and may also sharpen his motivation to graduate in four years!

Over-the-top gifts. Every holiday season (and birthday and special occasion) you overspend on gifts and are left with a financial hangover when your credit card bill arrives. You need to have an honest conversation with yourself: Do you think the price of a gift has any correlation with the appreciation from the recipient, or with how your friends or family feel about you?

It is important to set a budget for holiday gift-buying and to think creatively about gifts (or better yet, plan special experiences instead of purchasing gifts).

Frequent restaurant meals. Yes, dining out is convenient. But done regularly, it can also be awfully expensive. Deep down, you know that with a little planning ahead and prep work, you can save a lot of money by cooking at home. You may also find that staying at home is relaxing, and chances are, most of your home-cooked dishes will be healthier than restaurant meals.

A full complement of gadgets, devices, games, and channels. Yes, it’s nice to have (literally) hundreds of channels to flip through. But how many of them do you actually watch? Would you be just as satisfied with a much less expensive video-streaming subscription? And what about “toys” like tablets, smartphones, and video game systems? While they’re entertaining and often legitimately useful, how much of your time and attention do they take up?

Think about what you’re not getting done and the time your family is not spending with one another. At the very least, it might be time to set screen-time limits, and to stop purchasing each new update for your gadgets.

Lavish vacations. How often have you booked a trip to some overhyped destination just because it’s what you do every year…or because it’s what the neighbors are doing…or because you’re seduced by a slick ad promising a “discounted” (but still pricey) air fare and hotel rate…or because you think you “deserve” it?

But the truth is, these trips rarely live up to our expectations…and the residual bills haunt us long after we’ve left Paradise behind. Be honest: Would a couple of long weekends in a rustic cabin in the mountains be nearly as enjoyable as a blowout trip to a fancy resort?

A constant parade of extracurriculars for your kids. These days, some kids are busier than many adults. Between school, homework, sports, music lessons, volunteering, and more, they’re “working” the equivalent of 70- or 80-hour weeks. But the truth is that enrolling your children in two or three activities each is causing you to spend yourself silly and is stressing out everyone involved (especially your kids, whom all of this is supposed to benefit most).

Yes, your intentions are good, but it might be time to cut back. Allow your children to choose one or two activities each—and if it’s something inexpensive like YMCA soccer (as opposed to a traveling team), so much the better. Be sure to use some of your newfound free time to do something meaningful as a family, whether that’s game night or a trip to the park.

Your gym membership. Belonging to a gym and participating in various types of exercises is healthy. But unless you’re a devoted, enthusiastic attendee of each spin or Pilates class, consider dropping that gym membership. Do you really use it enough to justify the expense? Plus, walking is free, and exercise videos are cheap. You might even be able to start a neighborhood walking club and get to know your neighbors!

“It’s important to put thought into the parts of your budget you can control, because some modern-day expenses—like the rising costs of healthcare, gas, and food—are out of your direct control,” Cygan concludes. “The first step is to recognize that ‘things’ rarely bring us joy—including those things our culture tells us we need. We don’t need them. And when we make changes based on our real values rather than following the herd, we’re more in control, which translates to real happiness.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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