Thursday, December 23, 2010

10 Tips to Banish Mold From Your Home

Follow these 10 tips to drastically reduce the mold in your home:

1. Call in a home inspection professional to assess water-damaged areas.

2. Keep humidity low. Humidity levels should be under 40% in order for mold to stop its forward march.

3. Replace any carpets and furniture that have ever been significantly damaged (i.e., saturated in water), even if they look OK on the outside.

4. Carpet in the bathroom or basement? Don’t even think about it. And if you have it, get rid of it.

5. Use an air-conditioner during the summer. We know it’s not cheap to run the A/C, but if it’s in the budget, even setting it to 80 degrees when it’s 90-plus outside, will help. Use fans to circulate A/C most effectively.

6. Dust and clean furniture regularly, and vacuum carpets at least once a week (make sure your vacuum has a HEPA filter).

7. Provide adequate ventilation in hot areas. The kitchen and bath are two of the highest-risk rooms for mold. Install exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.

8. When you’re shopping for house paint for big or small painting projects, ask the sales rep about mold inhibitors you can add before painting.

9. Does your central air system have a fan from the Ford Pinto era? If so, replace it with a high-performance electrostatic air filter. Your local HVAC technician can help withy this.

10. Don’t neglect areas underneath the house—have a professional drain and ventilate all sub-basement areas, especially crawl spaces.

Charles Furlough is vice president of Pillar To Post Home Inspections.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

10 Real Estate Predictions for the New Year

This is a bit long, but worth the read!!

10 Real Estate Predictions for the New Year
RISMEDIA, December 22, 2010—The start of a new year is often a time of reflection, as well as a time of anticipation for the future. It’s no different for real estate professionals, many of whom have weathered the recession and are now optimistic about 2011. From the return of new construction to the creation of healthier homes, the following are 10 residential real estate trends they see for the coming year:

1.) Building is back: After three years of little to no new development, John Wozniak of Wheaton, Illinois-based J. Lawrence Homes said the builder is excited about 2011. “After a couple of very challenging years, the market for new-construction housing is showing signs of life. Slowly but surely, homes are selling and new properties are breaking ground, such as the two communities we opened this year in Lynwood and North Aurora,” he said. “We’ve had encouraging sales and I believe they point to an uptick for 2011.”

2.) Apartments continue to thrive: If there has been one bright spot over the past few years in the real estate industry, it has been the rental market.

“People have realized the many benefits of renting, from having more flexibility with your housing commitments to a higher level of finishes and amenities. And, this demand will continue to outpace supply,” said Steve Fifield, president of Fifield Cos. “Appraisal Research reports that Chicago’s Class A downtown apartments are at a nearly 95 percent occupancy rate, and those numbers will continue to stay very strong for 2011.”

3.) Opting for established: The mega-communities in the exurbs are a thing of the past, said Brian Brunhofer of Meritus Homes. Instead, 2011 will see builders move toward smaller neighborhoods or pockets of homes in established communities. “Close-knit communities with respected homeowner associations, mature landscaping and neighbors waiting to greet you – that attractive quality of life is going to appeal to buyers much more in 2011.”

Seconding the movement toward established communities is Jeff Benach of Lexington Homes. “Buyers are looking for a safer investment for their home purchase,” he said. “We won’t see them roll the dice like in the past on a fast-growing town in a far-out suburb. They want a proven area with access to retail development and employment corridors. They don’t want to wait for the surrounding area to be built. They want everything already in place,” he said.

4.) Make it modern: Chalk it up to “Mad Men” or simply a pendulum swing in taste, but either way transitional and warm-modern design will be prevalent in 2011, said Brian Goldberg, a partner in LG Development Group. “Our clients are looking for a cleaner approach to the style of their homes – more mid-century and less traditional with a warm and tailored aesthetic,” he said.

Ray Hartshorne, principal of Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, agrees. “From the single-family side, our clients are gravitating toward modern design instead of strictly traditional, that is simple, clean line exteriors and open floor plans that are comfortable for the family and versatile for entertaining,” he said. “In the multi-family sector, now more than ever, we are seeing an interest in contemporary-themed and luxurious interior design for lobbies and common areas.”

5.) Buying for the long term: The Census shows the average person moves about 11 times, but Jim Chittaro, president of Smykal Homes, predicts that number will slowly decrease. “Thankfully, the idea of a home as a short-term moneymaker is essentially gone, so when people do buy, they’ll do it with the intention of staying put for closer to 10 years rather than two to three,” he said

This means people will be studying floor plans more closely, to ensure the home will grow with them, Chittaro continued. “Buyers want to be sure the home will suit their needs not only now, but down the road, whether they plan to expand their family or prepare for kids to leave the nest,” he said. “Floor plans that can adapt to lifestyle changes with flexible features like second family rooms should do well in 2011.”

Brunhofer agrees that more buyers will be looking for a home for the long haul. “It’s not just floor plans that buyers are going over with a fine-tooth comb,” Brunhofer said. “Our buyers are very careful about school districts. They want to know they can send all of their children to a school with a proven track record and not have to relocate a few years down the road to ensure a good education.”

The shift to long-term buyers will also put long-term builders in the spotlight. “People are hesitant to buy a home from a builder or secure a mortgage from a lender they don't perceive to be well-established,” said Benach. “Buyers want to know their builder is committed to them and the community, and that it’s not about making a quick buck or boosting a shareholder’s financial interest. That personal connection is really important.”

6.) Upping the ante on amenities: In 2011, developers will continue to create new and exciting amenities to differentiate their properties and keep them relevant in the marketplace, said Tony Rossi, president of RMK Management Corp. “Renters are looking for something special, like an outdoor grilling area or special events like dance lessons,” he said.

But it’s not just enhanced outdoor spaces in apartments that will matter in 2011. Benach thinks condo and townhome buyers will also place a higher importance on outdoor space in the coming year, especially those who live in an urban setting.

“People may realize they don’t need to live with as much square footage inside their home, so to compensate they’ll want a place to call their own outside their home,” said Benach.

7.) High-tech takes over: Running your home entertainment system, appliances and lighting from a centralized control panel is old news. Going forward, we’ll see more homeowners want a smart phone app that can control their residence remotely, noted Goldberg.

“Each year, the demand increases for home technology that makes homeowners’ lives easier,” he said. “We’ll get to a point, and some of our clients are almost there, where homeowners can leave work and by activating an app on their phone have all of their home electronics queued up when they walk in the door – the oven is preheated, lights come on and a TV show turns on when motion sensors recognize they’ve walked into the room. It may sound like a movie, but some of this technology we can build into homes now.”

8.) Smaller homes stay the course: The average size of a new home decreased for the first time in decades from 2008 to 2009, and that trend will continue into 2011, said Benach.

“This trend is fueled by first-time buyers with smaller budgets, requiring smaller homes,” he said. “New buyers will have to be more conservative with their mortgages and will need to pay a higher percentage for a down payment, which means they’ll need a home with a smaller price,” he said. “People won’t be buying more than they need. So to meet their needs, we’ll see builders continue to trim the size of their homes and look for new ways to make square footage work harder.”

9.) Green and gorgeous: As the green movement continues to grow, high-end builders and developers have found ways to make homes both green and gorgeous. “The old mind set was that a green home couldn’t also be stylish and sophisticated. It was as if the two concepts were mutually exclusive,” said Hartshorne. “But new products and forward-thinking design have proved that today’s homeowners can have both. Also, building a green home doesn’t have to break the bank. We are constantly being introduced to attractive, sustainable building materials that are more cost effective than in the past.”

10.) Healthy homes: When you consider a study by the National Institutes of Health that found the number of people with allergies is as much as five times higher than 30 years ago, the trend toward building homes with a healthier environment will also gain ground in 2011, said Goldberg.

“Indoor air quality, low VOC paints and adhesives, and all-around healthier materials are becoming more and more of a concern for people building homes – especially for those with children,” he said.

Rick Croce, from Wheaton-based Smykal Renovations, said this trend applies to existing homes, too. “Due to the economy, many people have decided to stay put in their existing home, which means they’ll be investing in changes to make it look better and live healthier,” he said. “We expect to be pricing out more jobs that include installing HVAC systems with better filtration, using low-VOC materials and even replacing old doors and windows to safeguard against exterior pollutants.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

4 Tips to Keeping Homeowners' Insurance Costs Down

For Your Clients: 4 Tips to Keeping Homeowners' Insurance Costs Down
By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, December 2, 2010—Saving money has never been so trendy. Long gone are the days of irresponsible spending, so why be irresponsible with your homeowners insurance? Taking a little bit of time to research your options might just help you save a little in the wallet and put more in the bank.

Here are four tips from

1. Shop around. Some insurance companies have been raising house insurance costs to recoup losses from the financial crisis. Others are competing for new customers by offering lower rates. By shopping around, people can find better deals on homeowners insurance.

2. Re-evaluate coverage amounts. Many policies have inflation protection provisions, which automatically increase coverage amounts. This was a good item in the years leading up to the crash, but today they should be looked at more closely.

3. Check personal credit reports. Homeowners insurance companies check credit history before figuring rates, similar to how lenders do. This is done to help them assess the risk of payment and likely individual responsibility. Check your credit report and make sure it’s accurate so you can get the best possible rate.

4. Small claims can become expensive. Homeowners should have the highest deductible they can comfortably afford and repair minor items out of pocket rather than filing a claim. Filing a claim for every broken window or leaky pipe can increase premiums by 10-15%.

Friday, December 10, 2010

20 Positive Trends

Good news seems hard to find these days. I was flipping through my Good Neighbor magazine that State Farm sent me and found the following 20 positive trends:

1. We are safer
2. We use less energy
3. We give and give
4. WE conserve fuel
5. We live longer and feel better
6. You people make smart decisions about their well-being
7. We network with wonderful results
8. We can connect easier...even in the air
9. Our bonds are stronger
10. We give away before we throw away
11. Our forests are growing
12. We breathe cleaner air
13. We drive more carefully
14. We grow more of our own food and enjoy the benefits
15. Our hearts love anti-smoking laws
16. We buckle up
17. Bees make a sweet comeback
18. Women are healthier
19. We move more
20. We know the power of positive

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

7 Homeowner Tax Advantages

7 Homeowner Tax Advantages
By: G. M. Filisko

Published: March 11, 2010

When you’re evaluating how much home you can afford, make sure you factor in the tax advantages of homeownership.

1. Homebuyer tax credits
If you purchase your first home before April 30, 2010, you’re entitled to a tax credit of up to $8,000. If you currently own a home, but sell it to purchase another home before April 30, 2010, you’re eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $6,500.

2. Deductions for loan fees
Typically, you can deduct the “prepaid interest” you paid when you got your mortgage loan. That includes points, loan origination fees, and loan discount fees listed on your settlement statement, even if the seller paid those fees for you. Each time you refinance your home, you can deduct prepaid interest fees.

However, you must meet certain requirements to take the prepaid interest deductions when you purchase or refinance your home. Check with your accountant to be sure you’re following the rules.

3. Property tax deductions
In the year you purchase your home, you’re entitled to deduct the real estate taxes you paid at the closing table. You can continue to deduct the property taxes you pay each year.

4. The mortgage interest deduction
Every year, you can deduct the amount of interest and late charges you pay on your mortgage and home equity loans, though there are limitations. If you’re required to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI) because you made a downpayment of less than 20% on your home, you can also deduct those premiums as mortgage interest expenses.

5. Home office expenses
If you have a home office you use only for business, you may be eligible to deduct the prorated costs of your mortgage, insurance, and other expenses related to that space. The government scrutinizes home-office deductions closely. Be sure you’re entitled to the deductions before claiming them.

6. The costs of selling your home
In the year you sell your home, you can deduct the costs of selling it, including real estate commissions, title insurance, legal fees, advertising, administrative costs, and inspection fees. You can also deduct decorating or repair costs you incur in the 90 days before you sell your home.

7. The gain on your home
If you lived in your home for at least two of the previous five years before you sell it, the government lets you to take up to $250,000 of profit on the sale of your home tax free. That amount is doubled for married couples. This deduction isn’t available on rental or second homes.

The government also allows you to subtract from your home sale profit any amounts you spend on improvements, such as window replacement, siding, or a kitchen remodel. Those deductions are in addition to the tax credits you can receive in 2010 for making energy-saving upgrades. Money invested for routine maintenance and repairs doesn’t count.

This article includes general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice; tax laws vary by jurisdiction.

Friday, December 3, 2010

3 Social Networking Threats to Watch

3 Social Networking Threats to Watch
By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, December 2, 2010—You’ve finally started friending people on Facebook, tweeting on Twitter and joining Networks on LinkedIn. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, like everything else online, these sites will open you up to more potential computer viruses and online threats.

Here are a few threats to watch:

Bogus E-mails from "Friends": Hackers lure users into taking actions they shouldn't by making it appear as if a friend within their social network has sent them an in-network e-mail – only the e-mail is from a hacker who's hijacked the friend's account.

Be careful to read what you can before opening the entire e-mail. Oftentimes, you can tell it’s fake: it might have a generic opening line or not sound like the person normally would.

Malicious Links or Bait: This type of scam involves personal messages to users that encourage them to click on a link. Doing so can do a number of things, including sending users to a fake website, where they're prompted to download and install an executable file that turns out to be a virus that infects the user's PC.

Be wise about this. If you’re unsure, don’t click on the link. You can also always send an additional e-mail to the person asking if it’s legit.

Identity Theft: Social network users who share personal information with their entire network of friends such as birth dates, addresses, pets' names and other details leave themselves vulnerable to hackers who may guess their passwords and access their profiles based on the personal information they shared.

Keep certain personal details…personal. You’ll be glad you did and this will make it harder for someone to impersonate you.

To help increase your protection, keep a few simple rules in mind:
• Be skeptical – E-mails, friend requests, website links and other items from sources you do not know could be laced with malware.
• Use privacy settings – Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, offer privacy settings that let you control who sees your posts and personal information. Use them to control who has access to your page, contact information, etc.
• Protect your password – Choose your passwords wisely, incorporate numbers, letters and special characters, and never use the same password at more than one site.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mortgage Rates Dip Down

Bankrate: Mortgage Rates Dip Down
RISMEDIA, November 30, 2010—Mortgage rates retreated last week, following two consecutive weeks climbing higher. The average conforming 30-year fixed mortgage rate decreased to 4.58 percent, according to The average 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.40 discount and origination points.

To see mortgage rates in your area, go to

The average 15-year fixed mortgage decreased to 3.97 percent, and the larger, jumbo 30-year fixed rate dipped as well to 5.18 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages dropped as well, with the average 5-year ARM at 3.66 percent and the average 7-year ARM falling to 3.97 percent.

The last time mortgage rates were above 6 percent was Nov. 2008. At that time, the average rate was 6.33 percent, meaning a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,241.86. With the average rate now 4.58 percent, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $1,022.90, a savings of $219 per month for a homeowner refinancing now.


•30-year fixed: 4.58% -- down from 4.62% last week (avg. points: 0.37)
•15-year fixed: 3.97% -- down from 4.02% last week (avg. points: 0.32)
•5/1 ARM: 3.66% -- down from 3.71% last week (avg. points: 0.38)
Bankrate's national weekly mortgage survey is conducted each Wednesday from data provided by the top 10 banks and thrifts in the top 10 markets.

Monday, November 29, 2010

10 Ways to Make a Small Room Look Larger

For Your Clients: 10 Ways to Make a Small Room Look Larger
RISMEDIA, November 27, 2010--Most people have one: that room in the house that they wish was just a little larger. What many don't realize is that with a little work and some TLC, they could have exactly what they're looking for.

Here, Lowe's offers 10 designer tricks to help you make any room look larger:

1. For the illusion of a larger room, use a color scheme that is light rather than bright or dark. Pastels, neutrals and white are all color possibilities.

2. Use a monochromatic color scheme on the furniture, rugs and walls. Select different shades and textures of your single color.

3. Lighting is a key element in opening up a space. Recessed spot lighting is visually appealing and is perfect for a small space. A torchiere light is great for bouncing light off of the ceiling and back down on the room.Skylights and solar tubes are natural alternatives for adding light to a room.

4. Limit the number of accessories to avoid the cluttered feeling.

5. The floor and the ceiling are the fifth and sixth walls of every room. A light-colored flooring such as light oak or a light-colored carpet will make the room appear brighter and more open. The same applies to the ceiling—use a light color or white to "open up" the space above.

6. Increase the appearance of the size of the room by adding wall mirrors. They not only reflect images, they reflect light and color. Be a little daring! Use mirror tiles to mirror an entire wall. Your room will appear to double in size.

7. Don't place too many pieces of furniture in a small space. A love seat may work better than a full-size sofa depending on the size and shape of the room. Add two medium-sized chairs or two small wood chairs. Place the chairs closer to the wall and then pull them into the area when additional seating is needed.

8. Add paintings or prints to the walls. One large painting works better than a group of small paintings.

9. The visual balance of a room is also important. A large, brightly colored element can overwhelm a room and decrease the appearance of space.

10. A glass table, whether it is a dining, coffee or end table, will keep the appearance of an open and free space.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Favorites

What is your favorite purchase? Was it something you planned on buying or something that you bought on the spot?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Curb Appeal - Little Changes Make a Big Difference

Curb Appeal: Little Changes Make a Big Difference
By Jan Kaye and Doug Wells

RISMEDIA, November 24, 2010—(MCT)—We recently consulted on a formerly white Cape Cod-style home in the Kansas City, Mo., suburb of Westwood that had just been painted in a pale gray. The owners already have ordered replacement windows. They wanted to know what else they could do to improve their home's curb appeal. We're sharing how a few simple additions can make a big difference.

Often when we do in-home design consultations, clients ask us to help them with their home's exterior as well. Sometimes it's simply a matter of adding shrubbery and/or trees, or perhaps removing them when there's an overgrowth that detracts from the overall appearance.

Sometimes the scale of the outdoor lighting fixtures needs to be adjusted. Or window treatments need to be replaced to give a coordinated appearance to the front of the house.

We always strive to achieve balance among the different shapes and colors that make up a home. Think of these shapes as the geometrics that form the house: the squares and rectangles of the house itself, such as doors and windows, plus the cones and rounded forms of surrounding shrubbery and trees. All need to work together to create a harmonious and dramatic impression.

In looking at the Westwood house, the first thing we noticed is that it appeared plain. Black shutters and a white pediment to accent the front door and trim made a world of difference. Also, potted plants on either side of the door give a shot of color to the neutral scheme and lend a sense of presence to the entrance.

Other changes to consider include painting the downspouts gray like the body of the house. Leaving them white calls too much attention to them. They can be prepared so that the new paint color will adhere, or new downspouts that are pre-finished in a similar gray could be installed.

Since the front porch step is sunken on the right, replacing it with a different hardscape material, such as brick laid in an interesting herringbone pattern, would add further appeal. The brick pattern could continue down the walkway. The mailbox can be updated if the bottom trim on the storm door and the door knocker are changed (currently they're all brass).

We think the shrubbery is already well thought out and creates a good balance with the home. However, to create a lovely side porch setting during nice weather, think about adding liriope or neatly trimmed boxwood.

Jan Kyle and Doug Wells own Kyle Wells Design (, an interior design business.

(c) 2010, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Favorites

What's your favorite Kansas City attraction? Where do you take your friends & family when they come visit? Why?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Easy Ways to Increase the Value of Your Home

Great Article from Barbara Corcoran & The Nate Berkus Show Website!

Learn from real estate guru Barbara Corcoran easy ways to increase the value of your home.
Five Ways to Increase the Value of Your Home

1. Lighten it. Light is the second reason (after location) most buyers site for choosing a particular home. Repaint in light, neutral colors that reflect light, up the wattage in light bulbs, put fresh white lampshades on your lamps, remove heavy drapes, wash the windows, and trim any plantings and trees that obstruct light. When you take photos of your home for the listing, rent professional lighting equipment (COST: $50).

2. Improve your home’s curb appeal, in real life and online. Give your home the 15 second test: drive up to your house, park, get out and look at your home from the buyer’s perspective. What do you see? Most buyers decide if they WON’T buy your home within the first 15 seconds, so fix everything you see in that time! Trim bushes, paint the front door and mailbox, steam clean the driveway and walkways, edge the lawn and mulch the flower beds.

3. De-clutter. Potential buyers can’t see past clutter. Pack or store two-thirds of your things, including your furniture. Be sure to remove personal objects like family photos and children’s artwork, put half your clothes in storage, hide all electrical cords and wiring and get rid of unhealthy plants.

4. Update your kitchen. A minor kitchen remodel can make your whole house feel modern. Replace cabinet doors and update drawer pulls and knobs. Countertops and backsplashes can be the least expensive improvements to make, and they’ll make your kitchen look up to the minute.

5. Improve your bathroom. Let’s face it, nobody wants to move into your bathroom! Re-grout the tile and tub, buy new bath towels and shower liner and replace the toilet seat.

Four Ways to Make Your Home Look More Valuable

1. Make your home look bigger.You can do that by de-cluttering, getting rid of about a third of your furniture, adding light, taking home photos with a wide angle lens and from a low position looking up, and adding “up lights” in the corners of rooms.

2. Buy one shiny new appliance for the kitchen.You can get a fancy looking stainless steel Maytag refrigerator for only about $800, or buy floor or close our models for an even bigger discount. (COST: $800 to $3,000)

3. Adding crown or decorative wall molding to your living and dining room walls raises the ceiling and gives a finished, sophisticated look.

4. Get your home professionally staged before putting it on the market. A savvy professional stager knows just how to make the most of the home you have.

Biggest Improvement for the Least Amount of Money

Paint your front door. Spending $30 an a gallon of paint will make your home look fresh, well kept and welcoming. Or even replace it – Remodeling Magazine’s 2009-2010 “Cost vs. Value Report” found that a new steel front door, which costs about $1,170, will recoup 128% of the cost when it’s time to sell!

Barbara Corcoran is the real estate contributor to NBC’s "Today Show " where she comments weekly on trends in the real estate market. Barbara is also an investor/shark on ABC’s reality hit "Shark Tank." To learn more about Barbara, visit her website,

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

10 Market Facts for Uncertain Times

10 Market Facts for Uncertain Times (from
September 2010

Although the economy is soft and consumer confidence remains low, new data from the National Association of REALTORS® shows positive signs for the future. To help REALTORS® interpret current economic data and address clients’ concerns, here are 10 key facts to understand about today’s market.

1. The economy is growing, though slowly.

2. The private sector is finally creating some jobs.

3. Consumer confidence remains low, though clearly off bottom.

4. The 30-year mortgage rate is at generational lows.

5. The national median-home price is stabilizing.

6. Other home-price measurements also are showing price stabilization.

7. Home price-to-income ratios have returned to fundamentally justifiable levels.

8. Economists expect price increases in upcoming years

9. Delinquencies are high but recent loan originations are performing well.

10. The long-term path to self reliance may be helped from long-term housing-wealth gains.

To see the statistics behind these facts, download the full NAR research report, Market Facts in Uncertain Times > (PPT: 1.39MB)

To share this report, download the PDF > (1.46MB)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Favorites

I am going to start a new tradition, Friday Favorites! Each week will post a different question asking about your Favorites things. This is a great way to learn new things from other people!

This week....Your Favorite Kansas City Restaurant!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

10 Ways to Say Thank You this Veteran's Day

10 Ways to Say Thank You this Veterans Day
RISMEDIA, November 9, 2010--More than 20 million veterans currently live in the United States. Although their military experiences cross decades and continents, one thing remains constant: Their service deserves our honor, recognition and gratitude.

In an effort to encourage acts of recognition this Veterans Day, philanthropic business Products for Good has compiled 10 simple tips to honor those who have served.

1. Acknowledge active members of the military by sending a thank-you to troops overseas via a tweet! Tweets using the #wearegrateful hashtag are screened and printed onto postcards distributed to troops worldwide.

2. Spend time volunteering at a local VA Medical Center. A small amount of time can make a big difference. Sign up here: .

3. Take a five-minute break from your daily routine to personally thank a co-worker, neighbor or loved one who is a veteran. A heartfelt thank you accompanied by a smile may just make their day.

4. Not every veteran is lucky enough to have someone at home to honor and thank them for their service. Products for Good launched the Honor One in a Million Project to change that. When you buy a coin from the Honor One in a Million Project, the coin is hand-delivered to a veteran under VA care. Each coin comes with the opportunity for you to personalize a note to the recipient thanking them for their service. In turn, you will receive a letter confirming the receipt of your gift. Learn more here

5. Take advantage of the Veterans Day holiday to teach kids about our nation's history and sacrifices of those who have served. For a listing of fun, kid-friendly activities, visit

6. Plan a trip to Washington, D.C. to partake in national Veterans Day events or check out your local news and chamber of commerce community calendars to learn about parades and events in your area.

7. Bring patriotic-themed baked good or cards to a local retirement home and help staff distribute to veteran residents.

8. Change your Facebook status to honor a veteran in your life: Today I Honor and Thank (Rank, First Name, Last Name, Branch of Service). Don't know a veteran? Check out the Veterans History Project to find an individual to honor,

9. There are 1.8 million female veterans in the U.S. Honor the women in your life who serve and the women who face their own battles at home as their loved ones serve.

10. Veterans Day is a great opportunity to give a loved one who has served an unexpected call. Have your kids call and thank a grandparent or cousin who has served, and you'll feel the appreciation through the phone.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Credit Scores

Our office went to a Credit Scores class at Career Education Systems today. We learned a lot of great information! It's a bit long, but the information is very useful!

A few things you should know about your credit score:• You shouldn’t pay off your credit card in full – you should use 30% of your available credit (NOT the full amount) to maintain and increase your credit score
• Shopping for credit in a concentrated period of time (4-6) weeks WILL NOT hurt your credit score. (just make sure they are similar inquiries) You WANT to shop around for a loan!
• Your car insurance is based on your credit score
• The average American has 13 credit accounts on report. Typically 9 credit cards & 4 installment loans! (too many!!)
• DON’T get new store credit cards! If you have them, hang on to them & don’t use them often. Don’t close them b/c you are reducing your available credit which hurts your credit score.
• You don’t need more than 3-4 cards – rotate them. Bankcards (Mastercard, VISA, etc) are better for your score than department store cards.
• A bankruptcy filing is the single worst thing you can do to hurt your CREDIT SCORE. (Foreclosure is worse for getting a loan in the future).
o Bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years (Foreclosure for 7 years)
o Bankruptcy affects ALL of your credit (vs foreclosure which is only your home)
• Lenders many times DO NOT have different ways of reporting foreclosures & short-sales to credit bureaus. ASK YOUR LENDER how they report BEFORE you do a short-sale or foreclosure! (Short-sales are better in the long run for debt forgiveness)
• Transferring credit card balances to another card w/ a lower interest rate WILL affect your credit score b/c you are opening a NEW credit card.
• Debt consolidation DOES NOT always help your credit score!
• Closing credit cards CAN hurt your credit score b/c you are reducing your available credit. Just don’t use them.
• Old credit is better than new credit
• It is easier to apply for & receive credit while in college than after graduation.
• Your credit SCORE is based on your credit REPORT. You can get your credit report FREE once a year. Get it and check to make sure it’s correct!! – you can get a FREE credit report & pay for your credit score (google to find a coupon for 25% off!) You can also find free educational articles. is another service to get a free annual report

How to improve your credit score:• Review inquires (on credit report)
• Examine collections & public record
• Dispute errors
• Pay bills on time
• Pay down credit cards below 30% (down to 10% helps your credit score increase)
• Avoid debt consolidation
• To pay off debt, moonlight, sell stuff, trim your spending
• Don’t close credit cards
• Resist the urge to open store credit cards

Other useful tips:• Know what’s in your wallet. Make copies (front & back) of all credit cards & driver’s license
• Opt –out of credit card solicitation – 888.5OPT.OUT
• Don’t take money out of retirement or home equity to pay off credit cards

Monday, November 1, 2010

How to Save on Winterizing Your Home.

Here are a few helpful suggestions thanks to Real Simple's November 2010 issue on how to save on winterizing your home:

- Hunt of air leaks. You can get a hone energy audit, but it's pricey (around $350). Instead, try the Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector ($50,, which identifies drafty areas in a home. Once you seal the problem spots, You could save up to 20% on energy costs!

-Don't Overinsulate. To find out how much energy you need, go to

- Change your filter only when it's dirty. Install a whistle on your furnace ($1.70, that alerts you when your filter is partially clogged and will soon need to be replaced.

- Opt for a weatherproofing kit. If you buy plastic shrink wrap, weather stripping, and electrical-outlet sealers individually, you'll pay about 30% more than if you buy them in a set. Use all components and you'll reduce your energy costs by up to 20%.

(article in Real Simple by Amy Chen)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Preparing Your Home for the Cooler Months

For Your Clients: Preparing Your Home for the Cooler Months
By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, October 30, 2010—This year has certainly flown by, and now, with the fall in full swing, it’s a great time to start prepping your home before winter strikes. From water leaks to the chimney, it’s better to be ready for the cold season…before it hits.

Here, State Farm offers up some fall maintenance tips for your home:

Check all window and door locks for proper operation
* Windows that can be opened by breaking the glass and unlocking them, are less effective deterrents to criminals. Check with the hardware store for window lock alternatives.
* All exterior doors should have deadbolt locks.

Make sure there are working nightlights at the top and bottom of all stairs
Other safety ideas for stairs
* Tile and painted wood or concrete stairs can be slippery when wet or when a person's shoes are wet. Resurface the treads with slip-resistant strips near the stair nosing.
* All stairs of at least three risers should have a handrail.
* Do not store items on the stairs.

Have a heating professional check your heating system every year
Woodburning stove connector pipes and chimneys should be inspected by a certified chimney sweep at least annually.

Replace your furnace filter
Furnace filters need to be replaced frequently to allow your heating and cooling systems to operate properly.

Run all gas-powered lawn equipment until the fuel tank is empty
By doing this, you are removing flammable liquid storage from your garage. At the same time, make sure you aren't storing dirty, oily rags in a pile. They can ignite spontaneously.

Have a certified chimney sweep inspect and clean the flues and check your fireplace damper
Soot and creosote, which build up inside the chimney, can ignite when a fire is lit in the fireplace.

Remove bird nests from chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixturesBird nests on top of light fixtures are a fire hazard. Bird nests in chimney flues can prevent a proper venting of combustion gases and can catch fire from sparks. You should exercise great caution when working on your roof or consider hiring a qualified professional to take care of any work that needs to be done.

Make sure the caulking around doors and windows is adequate to reduce heat/cooling loss
Check glazing for loose or missing putty or glazing compound. This will also help reduce water damage to the windows and door frames.

Make sure that the caulking around your bathroom fixtures is adequate to prevent water from seeping into the sub-flooring

Check for cracked or missing caulk around the base of your toilet, bath tub, and bathroom cabinets. Properly sealing gaps between your bathroom fixtures and flooring material can prevent damage.

Monday, October 25, 2010

10 Ways to Make a Small Room Look Larger

For Your Clients: 10 Ways to Make a Small Room Look Larger

RISMEDIA, October 25, 2010--Most people have one: that room in the house that they wish was just a little larger. What many don't realize is that with a little work and some TLC, they could have exactly what they're looking for.

Here, Lowe's offers 10 designer tricks to help you make any room look larger:

1. For the illusion of a larger room, use a color scheme that is light rather than bright or dark. Pastels, neutrals and white are all color possibilities.

2. Use a monochromatic color scheme on the furniture, rugs and walls. Select different shades and textures of your single color.

3. Lighting is a key element in opening up a space. Recessed spot lighting is visually appealing and is perfect for a small space. A torchiere light is great for bouncing light off of the ceiling and back down on the room.Skylights and solar tubes are natural alternatives for adding light to a room.

4. Limit the number of accessories to avoid the cluttered feeling.

5. The floor and the ceiling are the fifth and sixth walls of every room. A light-colored flooring such as light oak or a light-colored carpet will make the room appear brighter and more open. The same applies to the ceiling—use a light color or white to "open up" the space above.

6. Increase the appearance of the size of the room by adding wall mirrors. They not only reflect images, they reflect light and color. Be a little daring! Use mirror tiles to mirror an entire wall. Your room will appear to double in size.

7. Don't place too many pieces of furniture in a small space. A love seat may work better than a full-size sofa depending on the size and shape of the room. Add two medium-sized chairs or two small wood chairs. Place the chairs closer to the wall and then pull them into the area when additional seating is needed.

8. Add paintings or prints to the walls. One large painting works better than a group of small paintings.

9. The visual balance of a room is also important. A large, brightly colored element can overwhelm a room and decrease the appearance of space.

10. A glass table, whether it is a dining, coffee or end table, will keep the appearance of an open and free space.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Photography

Quality Photos are Essential - Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Photography
By Paige Tepping

RISMEDIA, October 19, 2010--They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in today’s real estate market, a thousand words has never been more important. Taking good photos for your listings is crucial as they make or break the first impression prospective buyers create about a home. offers the following tips for real estate agents who are looking to take their photo skills to the next level.

Wait for a sunny day
When taking exterior photos of the home you are listing, wait for a sunny day when the sky is blue. Be sure to position yourself so that you avoid any shadows and make sure the sun is shining on the front of the house.

Shoot during daylight
Interior photos should be taken during daylight hours to provide the best lighting conditions. Turn the lights on in every room and use the camera’s automatic flash. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time, as you don’t want to be taking interior photos after the sun has set.

Avoid glare
In order to avoid capturing any glare in your photos, don’t shoot directly into a window or mirror.

Be still
To avoid blurry or poor quality photos, hold your camera still when taking any and all photos. If a photo comes out too dark or blurry, don’t post it online.

Photogenic rooms
When planning what photos you will take of the house, concentrate on photographing the most attractive rooms. In most cases, one bedroom photo is all you need.

Go with the flow
Be sure to photograph the home in the order you want the photos to be posted online. A good transitional sequence starts with the front exterior, moves to the living, dining room, kitchen, family room, master bedroom, master bathroom, exterior, pool, backyard and gardens. Don’t worry about taking too many photos as you can choose the best ones once you are done.

Clean up
In order to get the best photos possible, it may be necessary to get your clients to rearrange some of their furniture, in addition to clearing off countertops, folding towels, closing toilet lids and removing papers from the refrigerator.

Not too personal
Make sure your clients understand that the photos included with their listing are used to showcase the home, and not their valuables and lifestyle.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What You Should Know Before Buying a Home

For Your Clients: What You Should Know Before Buying a Home

RISMEDIA, October 18, 2010--There are so many things to understand as you embark on purchasing a home, especially if it's your first purchase. Learn the basics as you get started and understand everything you need to know as it relates to financing.

Here are 10 tips about financing:

1. Before you start looking for a home, get pre-qualified for a loan. Banks, credit unions and mortgage bankers make home loans; mortgage brokers process them. The lenders will take an application, process the loan documents, and see the loan through to the funding stage.

2. If you have marginal or bad credit, consult your lender. You may be able to qualify for a loan depending on how long ago and what reason(s) caused the bad credit. A lender should be able to advise you on whether your credit history will prevent you from qualifying for a home loan.

3. You will need a down payment. Down payment requirements vary depending on the type of loan. Many down payment assistance programs exist. These programs may loan or grant you the funds necessary for the down payment. Consult with a lender about programs available in your area.

4. You will need funds for closing costs Closing costs are charges for services related to the closing of your real estate transaction. They include, but are not limited to:

* Escrow fees charged by the company handling the transaction
* Title policy issuance fees charged by the title insurance company
* Mortgage insurance fees
* Fire and homeowners insurance
* County Recorder fees for recording your deed
* Loan origination fees

Consult your lender for an actual estimate of these costs, as well as information about loan programs which can assist in financing your closing costs

5. Some loans have "points" and some do not. A point is a loan origination fee equivalent to 1% of the loan amount. Together with the interest rate they constitute the yield on your loan for the lender. Some lenders charge a higher interest rate to compensate for charging no points. It is important to comparison shop lenders to make sure your loan is at a competitive yield.

6. Should you select a mortgage with a fixed rate or an adjustable rate? The answer to this question depends on whether mortgage rates are at a high or a low point when you purchase, and on how long you plan to live in the home. If rates are high, an adjustable rate might be attractive since subsequent rate drops could reduce your monthly payments. Additionally, lenders may offer a low rate during the first few years of an adjustable mortgage to make it appealing to you. If interest rates are low you might want to take a fixed rate to protect yourself against the possibility of rising interest rates.

7. Be aware of the two main types of loan categories.

* Conventional Loans. Conventional mortgage loans are available with fixed or adjustable interest rates. Some loans may require mortgage insurance.
* Government Loans. These include Federal Housing Administration (FHA) fixed and adjustable rate mortgage loans, and Veterans Administration (VA) fixed rate mortgage loan

8. If you are a low or moderate income home buyer, there are special programs designed to help you. These loans are available through private lenders, as well as local and state housing agencies, like the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA). Most lenders specializing in real estate mortgage loans are aware of these types of loan programs.

9. Why might I have to pay mortgage insurance? Mortgage insurance protects the lender from potential loss if you should default on your mortgage loan payment. Generally, conventional loans that require larger down payments do not require mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance is always required on FHA mortgage loans.

10. Many organizations offer home loan counseling to prospective home buyers. These organizations provide classes for homebuyers to cover the steps to homeownership. They will cover home selection, realtor services, lenders, loan programs, homeownership responsibilities, saving for a down payment, and other important pieces of information. Many first-time home buyer programs require homebuyers to attend this type of class to be eligible for selected programs.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Overcoming Communications Styles

Overcoming Communications Styles Can Boost Business Efficiencies

RISMEDIA, October 13, 2010--Ever find that there is one co-worker that is harder to get along with than the others? It might be because you have different communication styles. However, in the work environment, especially in a small business, employees and managers have to get along to meet the bottom-line.

Small- to medium-sized business (SMB) expert Denise O'Berry offers advice on how to work with others more effectively by using the I Opt® assessment tool, a proven technique to help identify four key communication styles in the workplace. O'Berry provides insights on what each style looks like in the business environment and how to best work with each one for a positive and productive office environment. Small businesses can visit for O'Berry's advice and learn more about communicating with their employees.

What Communication Style are You?
Trying to work with introverts and extroverts, and ensure that everyone is playing nice in the cubicle sandbox can be challenging. However, examining employees' communication styles can help turn any team into a powerhouse by leveraging the strengths of each person. Most people can fit into one of four communication styles:

* Relational Innovator -- This is an idea person who will communicate in "big picture" terms. A phone call is a great way to help them throw out ideas that pop in their heads.
* Logical Processor -- This person communicates by finding the process of a situation and is very detail oriented. Social media is the worst way to communicate with them, as you can't give enough details in 140 characters!
* Hypothetical Analyzer -- The Hypothetical Analyzer loves to discover the "why" by digging deeply into a discussion to dissect all the elements. Managers should arrange a meeting or phone call to answer questions and help them explore the various options of a problem.
* Reactive Stimulator -- They are an action-oriented communicator with low attention to detail. A quick call or short email is an ideal way to connect with them.

"There will always be conflict in the work space, but by determining each employee's communication style, managers can help connect with staff and increase productivity and efficiency by eliminating confusion and misunderstandings," said O'Berry, SMB blogger and author of Small Business Cash Flow: Strategies for Making Your Business a Financial Success. "If a manager is constantly sending one-off emails to a Relational Innovator, it will only lead to frustration for everyone. They need a conversation or short call to let them talk about their ideas and new, exciting approaches to getting things done."

Monday, October 11, 2010

How to Live Large in a Small Space

For Your Clients: Downsizing? How to Live Large in a Small Space
By Jaclyn Banash

RISMEDIA, October 6, 2010--(MCT)--It's a constant battle: Small versus big. Less or more? There are arguments to support both sides.

Having just downsized to the smallest apartment I have ever lived in, I was intrigued by the idea of small being the new big. The challenge of storage and saving space is usually the No. 1 problem for most small-home dwellers. Organization is key, as is making the space work for your lifestyle.

I have been racking my brain for months over how to make my new 656-square-foot apartment work best for me. I have found some great new ideas to integrate with some of my old tricks of the trade.

Creative use of furniture is essential in small spaces or even in larger spaces that might need to be multifunctional. Take, for instance, a guest bedroom that doubles as an office. Instead of crowding the room on a daily basis with a bed that only gets used a few times a year, why not use a sleeper sofa or a chair and a half with a twin sleeper sofa? This will free so much space for day-to-day activities in the office.

A daybed is another good-looking piece of furniture that multitasks. A daybed is a great way to divide a large space, but in a small space, if positioned against the wall, it doubles as a sofa with pillows across the back and an extra sleeping spot when the pillows are removed.

Lots of furniture pieces are known for their great multipurpose and space-saving qualities. The ever-popular pouf, for example, can double as an ottoman, become a small table for books, computers and drinks to rest upon or even turn into extra seating.

Nesting tables also provide options for tiny spaces because they are small and easily moved. Storage ottomans are an obvious choice for doubling as a bench or coffee table that can house toys, blankets and extra bedding.

In dining room/eating areas, a custom-built bench/banquette with storage underneath is a great option for tight spaces. If your budget does not allow for custom, then good-looking storage boxes fit nicely under most pre-made banquettes. If you are not looking for more storage but are just short on space, a breakfast nook can be created with a small table and stools that can tuck underneath when not in use.

Simply by pushing a dining table against a wall or window you can save at least three feet. All you have to do is pull the table out for dinner parties. And don't forget, an old or unattractive table can always be put to use and instantly jazzed up with a custom table skirt in a fabulous fabric. Voila, another spot for hidden storage!

One of my recent favorite small-space solutions is installing built-in top-to-bottom mirrors on the inset of closet doors. How brilliant! No longer are you taking up precious wall space in the room with a floor-length mirror.

As for the actual layout and decoration of a small space, conflicting theories abound. Some say not to fill a small room with over-scaled furniture, as it eats up the space and feels cramped. Others say big furniture makes a small room seem grander.

I gravitate toward the middle. In general, I stay away from large, overstuffed furniture and do find that too many small pieces can feel cluttered. But I need enough seating for entertaining and recently purchased a set of Lucite folding chairs (clear furniture is another small-space trick) that can be stowed when not in use.

I have never subscribed to pure minimalism, although I admire those who can. I find it almost impossible to not surround myself with lovely items that I find along my travels, antiquing or shopping. The key is rigorous editing. I have seen many small, successful spaces that have a plethora of mementos or objets d'art.

But once you get to a certain point, it becomes necessary to do the practice of one thing in, one thing out. After all, no matter what size your space is, you need the room to enjoy it.

(c) 2010, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tips for Using Social Media in Business

10 Tips for Using Social Media in Business
By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, October 7, 2010—With so much talk these days about social media, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and anxious about where to start. While using social media for business is a necessary solution in today’s competitive environment, it’s also important to make sure you use create and manage your social media platforms correctly.

Here are 10 tips from Kodak’s chief blogger:

1. Know what you are talking about. If you are going to work with social media, be involved in social media. Start your own Twitter account, Facebook page, read blogs and get engaged. That is the best way to understand the culture, tone, best practices, and protocol.

2. Always be transparent. When you are communicating in social media say who you are and who you work for. Don’t try to be sneaky and plant comments, don’t hire people to go out and say nice things about you and stay away from ghost writing. Be genuine and be real.

3. Be yourself. Readers can see through marketing talk. Be passionate about what you do and let that show through your personality. Let people see you as a person, not a mouthpiece.

4. Post frequently. It’s a lot of work but don’t post to your blog then leave it for two weeks. Readers won’t have a reason to follow you on Twitter or check your blog if they can’t expect new content regularly.

5. Add value. Share tips, tricks, and insights. People’s time is precious and they need to get something out of the time they spend with you. Make listening to you worth their time.

6. Respond. Answer questions, thank people even if it’s just a few words. Make it a two way conversation.

7. Listen to what others have to say. Appreciate suggestions and feedback, it will make what you do even better.

8. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t be afraid to say you were wrong and be quick to make changes when you are.

9. Be external. You don’t have to be 100% internally focused. Link to other blogs, videos, and news articles. Re-tweet what others have to say.

10. Have fun. If you don’t like what you are doing, others will notice it and won’t enjoy interacting with you.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Real Estate Auctions

Yesterday we had Nicole Kelley come talk to our office about Real Estate Auctions. It was very informative! Here are a few of the things we learned:

- Just because a house in up for auction, does not mean that the owner is behind on payments or the home is in foreclosure. Many times Auctioned off homes go for market value - it's just a faster way to get to the end result.
- When you list a home in MLS, you list at the highest price and work your way down. In an auction, it's just the opposite. You start low and end up high.
- An Auctioned home is sold "as is, where is, with NO contingencies". Any financing issues or inspections must be done prior to bidding. It is up to the buyer to do their due diligence on the property.
- A 10% buyers premium is typically added to the sales price to pay the auction company and any agents involved.
- An auction is really about turning an asset (home) into money (quickly).
- Auctions are typically marketed for a few weeks before the actual event.
- Most auctions close within 30 days.
- Properties are not giving away, they typically go for market value!
- There are three types of Auctions:
- Absolute Auction - The property is sold to the highest bidder, regardless of the price
- Minimum Bid Auction - The auctioneer will accept bids at or above a published minimum price.
- Reserve Auction - A minimum bid is not published, and the seller reserves the right to accept or reject the highest bid.

Auctions are not for everyone, but there are some sellers that can benefit from them.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Eight Ways To Get More Out of Your Day

Eight Ways To Get More Out of Your Day
By Lisa Kanarek

RISMEDIA, June 21, 2010--As a business professional, you undoubtedly wear many hats—from that of juggler (of yours and others' projects) to firefighter, putting out the fires (crises) you face each day. Ideally you should be able to walk into your office each morning, cross everything off your to-do list and go home with a sense of accomplishment. In reality, that's not always possible. Your day is filled with tasks and interruptions that devour your time, talents and energy. There are several ways to make each minute count, starting with these tips.

1. Before you agree to handle a task from a client, make sure that you're the most qualified person to handle it. If a client wants to hire you for something outside of your field of knowledge, rather than jeopardize your reputation, recommend someone else who could handle the task better. Don't be surprised if several months later, the same client calls you again to utilize your expertise.

2. Throughout the day, ask yourself if what you are doing is the best use of your time. You may not be working on an activity you enjoy, yet if it is a top priority, continue doing it.

3. Don't assume; ask questions. When a client asks you to do something, don't do it automatically. Ask questions to ensure that you understand what your client wants and in what form. If you complete a task then realize that it wasn't what your client had in mind, you'll waste more time and energy redoing your work. Get a clear understanding of the request, then start to work on it.

4. Don't reinvent the wheel. If your client asks you to do something that you or someone else has done previously, let him or her know. Your client may have forgotten that the same project was completed the year before. There is no sense in replicating something that has been done already.

5. Get off the phone as soon as possible. When a caller keeps you on the phone longer than necessary, gently prompt him to end the call. You could tell them that you have another call, that you are on a tight deadline or, if they have requested something, tell them that you want to get started on it immediately.

6. Make your environment conducive to working. This covers two areas: your actual work space and the area surrounding it. If your office is disorganized, you will waste time throughout the day searching for files, replacing lost information and "running in place." Take the time to clear your desk of any distractions, from magazines to knick-knacks, that could be placed on your credenza or shelf near your desk. If you only use an item on your desk every few months, move it to a space that is not in the main flow of your office.

7. In retail they say, "Location, location, location." The same is true in a home office. A desk located in a high-traffic area is as welcome as a marching band in a library. If your desk is in the kitchen, you will soon notice a few of your office supplies missing. If possible, move to a new location that is away from the flow of traffic but not so far away that you feel isolated.

8. Stay focused on the activity at hand. When you're tired of working on something, move on to something else, but avoid jumping from project to project.

Home office expert Lisa Kanarek is the founder of and the author of Organizing Your Home Office For Success (Blakely Press) and 101 Home Office Success Secrets (Career Press).