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CES Introduces: A Whole New Take on 'Mother' and Her 'Cookies'

February 4, 2014 3:15 pm

I checked in with Stuart Robarts at recently about his take on the 2014 CES. He blogged that cookie sensors were one of the hottest treats drawing attention at the international electronics exposition. Founder and CEO and renowned industry pioneer Rafi Haladjian, has led the pack with his new technology, called "Mother".

According to a release on Mother, the adaptable and programmable device received a 2014 CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award in the “Technology for a Better World” category.

The Mother cookie sensor system is anchored by a benevolent looking base unit that resembles a puffy snowman, or “snow-mom.” says Mother can learn and monitor many areas of daily life including "fitness, health, security, well-being and comfort" through its Motion Cookies.

These low-profile, multi-purpose, autonomous sensors connect real-life actions, detecting and understanding movements, temperature and more, the company's website states.

Small and slick, yet powerful with the exceptional ability to analyze, find patterns, learn and continuously readapt,'s Motion Cookies connect automatically to any application assigned to them.

Once affixed, Cookies transmit data to the nearest Mother, but they don’t have to be housebound.

Even with no Mother in sight, they have the capacity to memorize up to 10 days of data and upload it as soon as they encounter the base unit. Up to 24 Motion Cookies can be connected simultaneously to each Mother system.

Mother can send alerts and notifications about desired activities, or when something urgent occurs via push notifications, text messages, emails, phone calls, sounds and light, and Senseriver, a continuous real-time stream.

All data the Mother collects is transmitted to a Senseboard that can produce trends, prioritize information or statistics, and take action if necessary like changing thermostat settings to make the house toasty warm by the time you get home.

And there are no concerns about privacy because all data collected belongs to the owner.

Mother's initial launch will include 12 applications - a bundle including one Mother base unit and four Motion Cookies. Once they have the system installed, a user can order additional Motion Cookies - each four pack costs $99.

Go to for additional information.


Word of the Day

February 4, 2014 3:15 pm

Grace period. Specified period of time to meet a commitment after it becomes due, without penalty or default. For example, most lenders allow a two-week grace period after the due date of the mortgage payment before a late fee is imposed.


Q: Are shared equity and shared appreciation mortgages the same?

February 4, 2014 3:15 pm

A: No. With a shared appreciation mortgage, or SAM, a borrower receives a below-market interest rate in return for the lender receiving a share, usually 30 to 50 percent, in the future appreciation of the property upon its sale.

Introduced in the early 1980's, when interest rates were high enough to make qualifying for a mortgage a real challenge, the SAM has never really caught on. Adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) proved more attractive. 


What Kind Of Home Improvement Can You Get For $5,000?

February 3, 2014 7:15 pm

In a previous report, I reviewed the high points of a recent report featuring details on the cost of home improvement projects drawn from a statistical model developed by NAHB, using data from the HUD/Census Bureau American Housing Survey.

That model indicated the median level of spending on improvements nationally is $1,400 per owner-occupied home, ranging as high as $5,000 in particular cases based on socio-economic factors.

So what kind of home improvements can an average consumer get for $5,000? The latest data from indicates a homeowner can expect to spend $5,000 for projects like adding a closet or garage storage, green flooring replacement, adding solar hot-water heating and resurfacing concrete.

According to the team at

Go solar to save some green - Save energy -bill greenbacks by going green with a solar water heater. The installed price can cost up to $5,000, but these systems can slash your hot water bills by as much as 80 percent and attract energy-conscious homebuyers should you decide to sell. Install a solar water heater where there's unobstructed southern exposure and you'll have savings made in the shade.

Add closet or garage storage – REALTORS® agree that top on most homeownes' list of wants is ample storage space. For less than $5,000, consider upgrading your home's storage by adding custom shelving systems to a closet or garage. The first step to really getting organized is de-cluttering. Start by sorting your belongings, then stash them away in your new organized closet or garage to really maximize your home's value.

Green flooring choices equal more green in your wallet - Worn, tired carpet will not only turn off homebuyers, but it can make you feel worn and tired, too. Replace it with the hottest trend in flooring: renewable, environmentally friendly bamboo. Solid-surface floors are easy to keep clean and give your home an upscale look and feel. Green flooring choices, like bamboo, minimally impact the environment and are a big selling point to today's environmentally conscious homebuyers.

Resurface concrete - Replacing the cracked concrete surfaces around your home can cost a small fortune. But for a fraction of that cost, concrete can be resurfaced in a multitude of colors and finishes. Consider adding a cobblestone finish to your driveway, a brick look to an old walkway or a slate finish around the pool or patio. Whichever texture you choose, it will be a huge improvement over standard concrete and potential homebuyers will really take notice.


10 Top Ways to Waste Money

February 3, 2014 7:15 pm

If you aim to tighten your belt this year to save more or pay off debt, you need to figure out where to find extra bucks. The money mavens at suggest doing it by plugging up the leaks in your spending.

Start by eliminating wasteful spending habits like these:

  • Paying for stuff you don’t use – Whether it’s Netflix, premium cable channels, or an unused gym membership, everyone spends money on stuff they thought they needed. Run such expenses by the family and determine where you can cut.
  • Buying brand name only – The difference between major brand groceries and generic, or store labeled, can be dramatic. In many cases, you can save big each week and barely notice a difference in quality.
  • Using coupons for the sake of them – Don’t use a cents-off coupon unless you really need the item. Generic brands are probably cheaper, anyway.
  • Buying insurance you don’t need – Your auto insurance policy covers a rental car. Regular term life is cheaper than mortgage life. If you have no dependents, how much life insurance do you need?
  • Overspending on gas – Stick to regular gas if your owner’s manual recommends it. Premium won’t improve mileage. But correct tire pressure will, so check it regularly – and change the oil as recommended.
  • Leaving money in a low interest account – If you’re getting next to nothing from your traditional savings account, search for highest yields on CDs and money market accounts. Consider online savings.
  • Not pulling the plug on electronics – Most households waste up to $100 year to power devices while unused or on standby mode. Pull the plug whenever you can.
  • Not reading the fine print – Moving a credit balance to a lower interest card can cost you if the transfer fee is high. Know which ATMs you can use free of charge, and be sure your bank isn’t charging you for services like banking with a teller.
  • Mismanaging your Flexible Spending Account – Contributions to an FSA come out of your paycheck before taxes -- so you don't have to pay taxes on that portion of your income. Then you can use the money tax-free to pay for health care deductibles, co-payments, dental work and child care.
  • Staying with the same providers – It’s the path of least resistance. But it pays to comparison shop every few months for better deals on insurance, cable, smartphone and more.

Word of the Day

February 3, 2014 7:15 pm

Conveyance. Document used to transfer title. A deed is a conveyance.


Q: How do you determine how much a home is worth?

February 3, 2014 7:15 pm

A: The short answer: a home is ultimately worth what is paid for it. Everything else is really an estimate of value. Take, for example, a hot seller’s market when demand for housing is high but the inventory of available homes for sale is low. During this time, homes can sell above and beyond the asking price as buyers bid up the price. The fair market value, or worth, is established when “a meeting of the minds” between you and the buyer takes place.


Vacation Homeowners: Do You Know the Top Amenities Renters Search For?

February 3, 2014 1:15 pm

There’s one undeniable truth about vacation home renters: The early bird gets the worm—and she’s willing to pay top dollar for it! That’s why smart vacation rental owners set out to make their properties attractive to these oh-so-lucrative early birds, well, early. Yes, now is the time to start getting your ocean-view condo or woodsy cabin ready to stand out in the cyber lineup. And according to vacation home expert Christine Karpinski, that means one thing: It’s time to “amenity up.”

Once your home is passed up, most people won’t go back to view it again,” warns Karpinski, author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 3rd Edition: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment. “If you want to secure that booking, you need to catch people’s attention the first time—and that means making sure their desired amenities are present and accounted for.”

In other words, you need to know what amenities renters tend to look for and make sure your home has them (or, at least, most of them). And—more to the point—you need to shine a brilliant spotlight on these amenities in your listing.

No, I’m not suggesting you spend thousands of dollars building a tennis court in your backyard—unless, that is, you were thinking about doing it anyway,” says Karpinski. “But what you can do is let potential guests know that there’s one accessible to them just a block away. The idea is to give people what they are looking for in some form or fashion—and it doesn’t have to mean costly upgrades. It’s mostly about smart marketing.”

Read on for the top amenities that renters are looking for—and how you can make sure that yours are coming up in their searches:

Pool - It should come as no big surprise that vacationers enjoy taking a dip in the pool while on vacation. Pools are a form of entertainment in and of themselves, so when people go on vacation, they typically look for some body of water in close proximity. Even if you don’t have a pool in your own backyard, advertise the shared pool in your complex or a nearby community pool.

Whether for sun bathing, exercise, or simply for splashing around, a pool comes up as the number one search criterion for many vacationers,” asserts Karpinski. “If you want your home to stand tall and proud amongst the other ads, be sure to put any pool, lake, or beach access your home may have front and center in your listing.”

Hot Tub - Hot tubs have become a must-have amenity in many markets, especially those with cooler weather. Having a hot tub in your listing can even increase the shoulder season “rentability” of properties—especially in areas with chilly spring and fall seasons. In other words, that hot tub on the deck or screened-in porch could mean more renters all year long.

If your home does not have one, purchasing a hot tub might be well worth the cost when you consider all the renters it may attract in the cooler months,” notes Karpinski.

• “Jacuzzi” Tub (No, it’s not necessarily synonymous with the previous listed amenity!) - Just like Kleenex and Google, Jacuzzi is a brand name that has become the generic term for its category. While many travelers may use the word interchangeably with “hot tub” (meaning the outdoor variety), others search for Jacuzzi when seeking a whirlpool bathtub. In other words, if it has warm water, jets, and bubbles, chances are people are calling it a Jacuzzi, so keep that in mind when putting your property listing together.

If you own a jetted bathtub, consider selecting both the hot tub and Jacuzzi checkboxes in the amenities section of your listing,” suggests Karpinski. “Also select both if you have a hot tub. Just be sure to specify which type you have in the free text section of your listing so as not to mislead your guests.”

• “Pet Friendliness” - According to the Travel Industry Association of America, approximately 30 million people travel with their pets each year. Although it may not be a traditional amenity, accepting pets at your vacation rental could significantly increase your bookings. Remember, it costs hundreds of dollars for guests to board their dogs or hire a sitter. Even if you charge a pet fee or a refundable pet deposit, it will still cost guests far less than leaving their four-footed friends at home.

I’ve known homeowners to double their bookings when they start allowing pets,” notes Karpinski. “This is a great way to add value to your home at virtually no cost. And if you’re worried that someone’s dog will destroy your house, don’t be. If she is willing to bring along her pet, that pet is almost certainly well-behaved. And your guest will be so grateful that she’ll take extra care to ensure that her furry family member doesn’t scratch up the furniture or do his business on the carpet.”

TV - Even with the rising popularity of HDTVs, just plain “TV” remains a popular search term that people use in their hunt for that perfect home. In your description include the number of TVs in your home, taking care to mention any located in bedrooms. (Many travelers look for this detail.) Also, it doesn’t hurt to include more details in your listing about any high-end televisions you may have. “Cable” and “satellite TV” also rank highly in traveler searches. If you have an HDTV in the home, make sure you upgrade the box and pay that extra five or so dollars for those HD channels. Your guests will enjoy having them—and of course don’t forget to also highlight in your advertisements that you pay for HD channels.

Vacationing is about relaxing and many a guest is content propped up on the couch with the remote control in their hand—especially if that big game is on. If your home pipes in hundreds of channels, including those big sports packages, be sure to include that in the home’s description. Of course, many vacations are filled with so much activity that it’s impossible to coordinate being back at the house in time for kickoff. For this reason, having a DVR in the home is another amenity worth mentioning.

Tennis - If you don’t have a tennis court in your backyard, subdivision, or complex, consider looking up local courts and including information about them in your listing. Many vacationers understand that tennis courts could be considered a hard-to-access amenity; if your home does have court access, shout it from the heavens. This just might be the amenity that reels them in.

Internet - Even on vacation, travelers still want (and need) to be connected, and wireless Internet has become the preferred method. If you don’t already offer a WiFi connection, contact your local cable or phone company for more details. It’s fairly inexpensive to add this amenity to your home and, in this day and age, it’s as much of a necessity as running water and electricity.

Pool Table - Pool tables are especially popular in certain ski and mountain regions because they offer reliable indoor entertainment. And if you’re looking to put your money on something that will make a big statement at a reasonable price, adding one to your home will do just that. Obviously, you don’t have to go top of the line and shell out $25,000 for a high-end pool table. Check out your local sporting goods store and you’ll likely find a perfectly nice model for around $1,000. If this still seems like a lot to spend, ask around and search the classified ads for used tables. Chances are you’ll come across people willing to sell theirs for next to nothing.

Fireplace - When vacationing in a cooler climate, renters look forward to cuddling up by the fireplace after a long day outdoors. If you have one, be sure to really play it up in your listing. For slightly warmer destinations, an outdoor fireplace can be a huge draw for off-season travelers. And while adding a full-fledged fireplace, chimney and all, to an existing home may prove to be prohibitively expensive, there are plenty of portable fireplaces that you can pick up at the home improvement store that don’t require a contractor and construction crew to install.

Adding a portable fireplace is a wonderful way to add warmth and ambiance to your property,” notes Karpinski. “And there are plenty of models to be had for just a few hundred dollars.”

Porch - No matter what type of outdoor living area you have—a porch, deck, terrace, or patio—be sure to provide a detailed description and photo(s) in your listing. Another popular search term is “balcony,” so don’t forget that keyword when posting a photo of your view. Add the appropriate outdoor furniture and you have an inviting “bonus” living space that renters will love. Oh—and don’t forget to include pictures of that stunning view!

Not only is it a great idea to include photos of the porch itself, also show photos of that beautiful view of the ocean, mountains, or even those city lights,” notes Karpinski. “And don’t forget the power of words! Describe that porch and its view in a way that potential renters can imagine themselves sitting there with a glass of iced tea in hand, enjoying their home away from home.”

If, after reading this list, you’re tempted to invest in a new amenity—say, a portable outdoor fireplace or a pool table—go for it. Chances are it will pay off quickly.

Sometimes it really is a good idea to invest a few thousand dollars to make your home more desirable to vacationers,” concludes Karpinski. “Many upgrades will pay for themselves after just a couple of extra bookings. Besides, your expenditure may be a tax write-off! If you’re considering adding amenities to your vacation home, let these top requests from actual travelers guide you. When peak season gets here, you’ll be glad you listened to them.”


What Did The Average Home Improvements Cost In 2013?

February 3, 2014 1:15 pm

I wonder how much an average person spends on home improvements every year?

Thanks to some number crunching at HUD and the US Census Bureau, with some assistance from the National Association of Home Builders, we now have a good idea how much the average homeowner paid for improvements in the country's top five population zip codes last year.

According to NAHB and the HUD/Census stats, folks in the 94528 zip code in the San Francisco Bay area topped out the per-household home improvement payout at $5,653. At number five on the list is the 11765 zip in New York, where the per-household cost was $4,730 - putting the average at around 5,350.

While the high and low points of that price spread are not far apart, another breakout from the stats is very interesting.

The average home improvement in California's 94027 zip code saw 2,016 owner-occupied homes getting improvements costing an average of $4,752. While New York's 10004 zip saw only 435 projects - each totaling just a few dollars more per household at $4,766.

According to the NAHB, the estimates are based on a statistical model developed by NAHB, using data from the HUD/Census Bureau American Housing Survey.

That data relates remodeling expenditures to the number of owner-occupied homes in the corresponding zip code; the share of those homes built in the 1960s and 1970s; the average homeowners’ income; and the share of owners who are college educated.

The model is applied to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, using geographic boundaries developed by the Census Bureau to capture zip code mailing addresses.

While the median level of spending on improvements is $1,400 per owner-occupied home, it can be as high as $5,000 in particular cases. In our next two segments, we'll take a look at those two price points, in relation to what you can get in a home improvement project - stay tuned.


Word of the Day

February 3, 2014 1:15 pm

Tax credit. An allowed deduction that can be subtracted from your income tax. If you are entitled to a $1,500 credit, and your income tax would otherwise be $10,000, the credit would reduce the tax due to $8,500.


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