Gunning Daily News

Tips to Get Your House in Tip Top Shape

April 12, 2011 10:13 am

RISMEDIA, April 12, 2011-As the all-important spring selling season continues to gain momentum, sellers need to do all they can to market their home-and that includes staging it to attract and "wow" potential buyers. Home stagers know just the right moves to make to take a house from bland to grand and bring home the biggest return on investment.

"Attention to detail throughout the home can make the difference between a house that sells and one that sits on the market," explains Kate Hart, one of America's top home stagers and owner of Hart & Associates Staging & Design. "In particular, improvements to the kitchen and bath-the two rooms that sell a home-will always help bring in the buyers."

Below, Kate Hart shares some easy, effective home improvements and tricks of the trade that can make a big change without breaking the bank, and all the difference in selling a home-as well as enjoying one.

Curb Appeal: First impressions are everything, and this has never been truer than in today's market. To leave a positive impression on buyers, take care of any exterior maintenance issues before buyers arrive, such as power washing walkways and patios, cleaning your gutters, touching up peeling paint, replacing broken light bulbs, edging and mulching beds, and adding fresh annuals. Some free things you can do include polishing your front door hardware and sweeping away pesky cobwebs.

Kitchen: Give your kitchen a mini facelift on a budget by repainting your cabinets instead of replacing them. For a more contemporary look, consider a semi-gloss espresso brown. For a more traditional look, opt for a semi-gloss creamy white. Complete the makeover by adding new hardware. Considering professional help? Ask your local painter if they can spray a lacquer finish on your cabinets. This treatment is more expensive than painting the cabinets yourself but the result looks like a factory finish.

Bathroom: Give an outdated bath a pick-me-up by replacing your existing lighting, faucets and hardware with updated style.

Bedrooms: Take your bedroom from lived-in to luxurious by creating a headboard that gives your room a more complete look. Measure the width of your bed and determine the height you prefer. Purchase a inch piece of plywood fitting these dimensions (ask the store to cut if for you) and cover it with two inch foam that fits the dimensions you selected. Wrap the foam and plywood with batting that can be purchased from a craft store. Finally, staple gun a fabric of your choice around the headboard you've created. You can then hang the headboard behind the bed on the wall as if you were hanging a piece of art using "D" rings and hooks or attach it to your bed frame using bolts and washers.

Family Room: Make your fireplace or great view the selling feature, not your entertainment center. Chances are your family room is currently centered around the things you do everyday, such as watch TV. Before showing, rearrange your room to showcase the architectural focal point of your family room.

Dining Room: Keep this room de-cluttered and streamlined so buyers can imagine how they can enjoy this space with their families. Before showing, make sure to remove any knick-knacks and extraneous items from your china cabinet or sideboard. A rule to follow: pack up any items that are smaller than a softball such as salt and pepper shakers, wedding cake toppers, and small figurines.

Living Room: Make sure you are selling your space, not your stuff. Before showing, again, remove any family photos from the mantle, end tables and bookcases. Give this space a less cluttered look by keeping no more than three items per surface. For example, go with a piece of art and a pair of candle sticks on the mantle instead of your favorite collection.

"It's important to complete all your improvements before your home goes on the market because as the saying goes...you never have a second chance to make a first impression," continues Hart. "And once the sign goes up, you need to keep up the clean, de-cluttered look because you never know when you'll have a showing. It just takes one buyer to sell your home."

Kate Hart is a pioneer in the staging field, having helped hundreds of families and Realtors prepare homes for sale through her Philadelphia-area company, Hart & Associates Staging & Design.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


11 Ways to Save More and Spend Less

April 11, 2011 8:51 am

RISMEDIA, April 11, 2011-When the financial crisis swept the nation, it left a trail of destruction from sea to shining sea. One reason it caused so much devastation is because at the time many Americans were living paycheck to paycheck, financing purchases they couldn't afford.

And while many Americans have finally gotten wise to the importance of saving a buck-today, the personal savings rate is in the 5% range-Eric Tyson wishes it hadn't taken a crisis to make the message sink in. And he's adamant that younger Americans learn from the free-spending, debt-accumulating mistakes of folks of all ages.

"For most young people, their 20s are the first time they are completely financially independent," says Tyson, author of Personal Finance in Your 20s For Dummies. "And it's not unusual to go a little crazy and start buying-or financing, as the case may be-what you want.

Here are a few tips from Tyson to help you save more and spend less.

Rent smart. When you're in your early 20s and you don't have dependents, living in a low-cost fashion is easier than it is later in life. There are many ways to minimize costs if you are renting your living space. Two great ways to keep costs down are living with relatives or having roommates. But no matter who you are living with (and certainly if you are living alone), you should minimize your monthly rent. If you find that you've allowed your champagne tastes to exceed your beer budget, so long as you're completing your current lease, there's no reason you can't move to a lower-cost rental. Just be sure to factor in all the costs of moving to and living in a new rental.

Slice homeowner expenses. If you own a home or are about to buy one, you can take many steps to keep your ownership costs down and under control without neglecting your property or living like a pauper. The first step is to buy a home that fits your budget. During the real estate boom of the early- to mid-2000s, many people bought houses they couldn't truly afford. When the market crashed, some of those people with severely stretched budgets lost their homes to foreclosure because they got in over their heads, fell on hard times and couldn't afford their monthly mortgage payments.

Cut your taxes. Alongside the costs of owning or renting a home, taxes are the other large personal expenditure for most folks. Everyone gets socked with taxes when earning income and when investing and spending money. That's the bad news-the good news is that you can reduce the amount of taxes you pay by using some relatively simple yet powerful strategies.

Cook up lower food costs. One way to reduce food expenditures is to avoid eating at restaurants and instead learn to cook for yourself. Making your own food is often healthier (if you make the right meals), and because you put in all that hard work, you end up enjoying the food more. When you go to buy the groceries you're going to cook up, avoid name-brand products and instead go for store brands. They are usually the same quality (and sometimes the same product) as the name brand at a lower price.

Get up and go for less. Getting to and fro on a daily basis can get expensive if you don't keep an eye on your expenses. Many people rely on cars for their transportation. Cars can be a tremendous financial burden, especially if you borrow to buy or lease the car. When possible, opting for public transportation is a great way to save money. And in some cities, it allows you to avoid having a car altogether. Another great option is to opt for two wheels instead of four. Riding your bike has the double benefit of saving you money and being great exercise.

Finesse your fashion finances. When you're starting your first "real" job, it's only natural to want to look your best. But looking your best doesn't have to require that you wear only the latest fashions. In fact, you really don't need to buy a lot of new clothes every year. True fashion, as defined by what people are actually wearing day-to-day, changes quite slowly. In fact, the classics never go out of style. If you want the effect of a new wardrobe every year, store last year's purchases away next year and then bring them out the year after. Or rotate your clothing inventory every third year.

Budget your fun funds. Having fun and taking time out for recreation can be money well spent. However, if you engage in financial extravagance in the name of fun, you can quickly wreck an otherwise good budget. Spending more money shouldn't be equated with having more fun. Many movies, theaters, museums and restaurants offer discount prices on certain days and times. And other recreational options, such as visiting with friends, hiking, reading and playing sports can be good for your finances as well as your mental and physical health.

Tame your technology spending. These days it seems like there is a never-ending stream of new gadgets. Unfortunately, though, the cost of these gadgets adds up. Err on the side of keeping your life simple. Doing so costs less, reduces stress and allows more time for the things that really matter in life.

Keep down insurance costs. Insurance is a major and costly part of our lives. There's health insurance, car insurance, homeowner's insurance, renter's insurance-just to name a few, and they all add up.

Seek out professional advice when needed. Although your life may be relatively simple now, sometimes you may have to deal with new challenges, and you may benefit from having a seasoned pro at your side. Tax, legal, business and financial advisors can be worth more than their expense if they know what they're doing and you pay a reasonable fee.

Be smart about healthcare expenses. When you're young and in good health, you usually don't give much thought to healthcare expenses and health insurance. But you have health insurance for a reason, and unfortunately, the cost of healthcare continues to rise faster than overall inflation.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


5 Easy Steps to Utilize Home Security Systems

April 11, 2011 8:51 am

RISMEDIA, April 11, 2011-Spring has sprung, and just in time for spring cleaning, Alarm.com is encouraging homeowners to rethink the outdated security system they're growing out of and consider a smarter security system.

Feeling a little green in your knowledge about home security systems? Not a problem. Home alarm systems are simple to use. Today, it's easy to control a home security system right from a Web-enabled computer or smartphone. Learning the basics will help homeowners interact with a security system every day. To quickly get up-to-speed with the interactive security solutions available, Alarm.com offers five basic tips to protect your home and family on a daily basis:

1. Make yourself at home

Set up motion sensors throughout the home to communicate all activity that takes place. Even if the security system is disarmed, you can still find out what's going on at home. Interactive security systems can keep track of both alarm and non-alarm events at home. Find out when the kids get home from school, when the delivery truck arrives or when the cleaning crew leaves, for example. Or check to see if any doors or windows were left open.

2. Put security in your pocket

Homeowners constantly on-the-go rely on their cell phones to regularly check in with people who matter to them. Checking in on your home is no different. Simply download a free mobile app to control the security system and monitor the home when on-the-go. Today, security apps for iPhone, BlackBerry or Android devices enable arming and disarming of the security system from afar and also the ability to watch live or recorded video footage from security cameras while away from home. Or, control lights and thermostats right from a smartphone with a home automation solution integrated with a security system.

3. See your way to safety

A security system can truly become a window to your world. To watch over the house while away, use any smartphone or computer with access to the Internet to manage and monitor video surveillance cameras. Even view live video of your kids playing in the basement or save clips of visitors at the front door to know who came to the house that day. Control your camera settings right from a cell phone and, when video footage is recorded in important areas, receive clips via email and text message to stay aware of what's happening at home.

4. Use your security system to stay informed

No matter where you are, stay connected to home with a wireless home security system. Set up custom email and text message alerts to stay informed about events that matter to you. Be alerted whenever the security system is armed or disarmed. Or find out about a power failure or a water leak in the basement before it's too late.

5. Make your security system even smarter

There are endless ways to use a security system to protect your home. With home energy management features integrated into the system, lights can automatically turn off when you leave for the day. Also, use an integrated home automation solution to lock all the doors in just one click when the security system is armed at bedtime. Or turn down the thermostats according to daily routines. Additionally, it can assist in setting up personalized user codes for any visitors who come to the house when you're away, eliminating the worry about making multiple copies of the keys.

With an interactive home security system, achieve greater awareness about what's happening at home while away. Spring for convenience, control and peace of mind with easy-to-use and affordable security solutions that fit your lifestyle. Safeguard your home and family with smarter security.

For more information, visit www.alarm.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Word of the Day

April 11, 2011 6:51 am

Rent control. Government-imposed restrictions on the amount of rent a property owner can charge.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Q: How do I get help for remodeling following a natural disaster?

April 11, 2011 6:51 am

A: The Small Business Administration (SBA) not only assists businesses after a natural disaster, civil disturbance, fires and other catastrophes, it also provides disaster loans to individuals including homeowners and renters. The loans, which cover uninsured or underinsured losses are issued after the President or SBA Administrator signs a disaster declaration. Homeowners can then apply for loans up to $200,000 to assist with the repair or replacement of their primary residences and receive loans up to $40,000 for personal property losses. The low-interest loans have terms up to 30 years. To begin the process, applicants must register first with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to obtain a FEMA Registration ID number.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Simple Tips to Turn Routine Tasks into Springboards for Success

April 11, 2011 6:51 am

RISMEDIA, April 11, 2011-Parents send their children to school with the hope that the knowledge they are acquiring in the classroom will set them up for future success. However, mom and dad may not recognize that routine activities they do at home are also helping kids make the grade.

A recent study of nearly 5,000 high school students, conducted by Dr. Alan Hirsh and the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, found top performing students (those with grade averages of A and B) overwhelmingly-84%-used words like "lemony, minty or clean" to describe the smell of their childhood homes. More than one-third (34%) of lower performing students (average of C or below) associated negative smells with their homes.

While the study focused on scent, Dr. Hirsch said it's unlikely there is something within those specific odors that causes academic success. Dr. Hirsh said a more likely explanation is that there is a positive connection between a well-cared-for home and the sort of stable family environment that promotes academic success.

"The good news for moms-and their kids-is that the hard work they put into everyday chores like scrubbing floors and washing windows results in more than just a home that looks, feels and smells clean," said Jennifer James, founder of The Mom Bloggers Club. "It's not about a clean house-it is about the powerful difference parents can make in the lives of their children."

James shares a few of her favorite ideas on how to turn routine tasks into springboards for success:

Be a cheerleader: Give your kids a "hooray" for all the hard work they are doing on their homework and chores. Remember to focus on the effort, not the achievement, to make them excited about facing future challenges. Celebrate their work in big and small ways-from buying a special treat after a big test to giving daily reminders that you love them.

Read to succeed: Let children pick out their own books and help them develop a life-long love of reading. They'll appreciate the freedom of choice, and reading engages the imagination and boosts memory.

Make meals matter: Sit down for dinner together. Studies show that if children experience regular meals with family, they are more likely to stay away from drugs and do better in school.

Encourage playtime: Your family's favorite card and board games are great opportunities to practice basic skills like spelling and counting. Make them a regular activity and watch your children improve their game while enjoying the education.

For more information, visit www.familyfeatures.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Simple Plumbing Tips Help Homeowners Conserve Water and Save Money

April 11, 2011 6:51 am

RISMEDIA, April 11, 2011-Today's economy makes it increasingly necessary to cut back where you can. A simple step homeowners can take is not flushing their money away on unnecessary water waste in their homes. "Preventative care goes a long way to help avoid future costly problems", said Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Mr. Rooter Corporation. "It can help homeowners not only conserve water for the environment but on water bills as well." If you fear you're wasting more water than you should, take a look at these plumbing tips from Mr. Rooter service professionals:

-Turn off the tap while brushing teeth or shaving and this will save 4-11 Liters per day.

-Don't use the toilet as a garbage can. Put tissue into the trash.

-Don't take long showers. Limiting them to five minutes can save 11-26 Liters per shower.

-Check and repair leaky fixtures and toilets that run. This can save hundreds of dollars per year.

-Get a plumbing check-up to ensure water is not being wasted through minor leaks.

-Repair dripping faucets. One drip per second can waste up to 10,000 Liters per year.

-Use excess water for watering plants, or for cleaning around the house instead of pouring it out.

-Only turn on dishwasher and washing machine with full loads.

-Choose water-efficient and energy saving plumbing fixtures and appliances.

-Water lawns and gardens in the morning so the water can be absorbed before it is evaporated by the heat.

For more information, visit www.mrrooter.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Young Home Buyers Will Lead Housing Market Recovery, Says NAHB

April 9, 2011 9:21 am

RISMEDIA, April 9, 2011-Generation X-young families and adults ages 31 to 45-are likely to lead the home-buying recovery as it gets underway, according to real estate experts who spoke at an educational webinar produced by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in partnership with Builder magazine.

These potential home buyers are most likely to think it's a good time to get off the fence-and have strong opinions about the design features their new homes will include.

At 32% of the population of home-buying age-generally defined as those who are at least 30 years old, the Gen X population cohort isn't the largest, but it's the most mobile, said presenter Mollie Carmichael, principal of John Burns Real Estate Consulting in Irvine, Calif. "They are in full force with their careers and they need to accommodate growing families," she said.

In sharp contrast, even though they constitute 41% of prospective home buyers, Baby Boomers continue to wait for the market to improve, and their decisions to delay retirement also delay their decisions to downsize into a smaller home, Carmichael said.

Most of the 10,000 buyers and potential buyers in 27 metro areas that the consulting company surveyed were optimistic about a new home purchase, with between 85% and 89% saying that it was a good time to buy a home. Only 13% said they thought home prices would continue to fall, further evidence that it's "not all about price," she said. "They want something compelling, from a design or personalization standpoint," said Carmichael.

In addition, though the average home size is shrinking, a majority of prospective buyers said they would like a bigger home than the one they have. "These are first-time buyers or younger families looking for more room to grow," she said.

Seventy percent said that they were willing to pay $5,000 more for a green home, but those responding to the survey said that they expected new homes to already have many green technology features. They also said they would pay a premium for dark wood cabinets, a separate tub and shower and a fireplace in the living room, and more preferred a great room over formal spaces.

And while community amenities are important to Gen X buyers, 46% said they prefer a home in a large-lot, suburban development, versus the 21% looking for a traditional or "walkable" neighborhood.

Webinar panelist Heather McCune, director of marketing at Bassenian/Lagoni Architects in Newport Beach, Calif., also emphasized that design will be important in generating sales in the emerging marketplace. "The notion of 'build it and they will come' no longer works. Design matters," she said.

McCune said buyers are looking for homes with a connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, even in colder climates, to create the perception of greater home size, even if the space is only usable for part of the year. They also want more storage, an open floor plan and flexibility in the garage.

"While Gen X numbers are smaller than the birth cohorts before and after them, their numbers have been enlarged by steady immigration," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "Gen X may wait longer than their predecessors to establish their own household or buy a home because of the recent recession impacts, but the trends are still likely to occur as they have for past generations."

This webinar was one in a four part series entitled New Horizons: Setting a Course for Success in the New Market. The series was sponsored by Simonton Windows and ThermaTru.

For more information, visit www.nahb.org.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Word of the Day

April 9, 2011 6:21 am

Release of mortgage. Certificate from the lender stating that the loan has been repaid.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Q: Can I make an all-cash purchase instead of getting a mortgage?

April 9, 2011 6:21 am

A: That certainly is an option, although not one most people can afford. The national median existing-home price was $217,000 in 2007 and much more than that in many areas of the country (Honolulu, $643,500; San Diego, $588,700; New York $469,700). Unless you're independently wealthy or have hit the jackpot, it may be difficult to make a "no-mortgage" investment. And an investment is exactly how you should view it because you get to save on mortgage interest that is usually paid over the life of the home loan interest that could amount to several thousand dollars, conceivably hundreds of thousands of dollars.

With an all-cash deal, you also save by avoiding loan origination fees, an appraisal, some closing costs and other charges imposed by the lender. You enhance your negotiating position with the seller and get to bypass the rather lengthy loan qualification process, which helps to close the deal quickly. But if you want to use the home as your primary residence, forget about taking advantage of the tax breaks available to homeowners with conventional loans. By paying cash, you basically forfeit those tax breaks.

To determine whether a no-mortgage purchase is right for you, compare it to other investments, weighing the risk, return, and liquidity.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.