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Tom's Blog

Junk in The Trunk (or Closet) Won’t Help You Sell Your House

November 12, 2012 5:30 pm

I recently ran across some great advice from Bob Fales, a real estate professional in Hampstead, Maryland. Fales says if you are selling your house, having a cluttered closet will damage your chances of getting the best price.

He believes that people will view cluttered closets as a sign your house doesn’t have enough storage. So here are some tips Fales offers to better organize your closets:

First, he says, invest in a closet organizer. Imagine how you (and potential buyers) would feel to see your closets tidily organized.

A closet organizer is probably the best way to achieve the look you are going for - and it doesn’t have to be expensive either. Fales says you can buy ready-made units that fit into most closets.

Most use a modular system that allows you to mix and match units and fit them together as you wish. You can choose between units made of solid panels or wire systems.

Alternatively, you can mix and match them both to meet your needs.

Closet organizers should include shelves for bulky items such as sweaters, drawers for smaller items, and rods for clothing that needs to be hung up. Consider also storage for shoes, such as a rack that hangs on the back of a door.

When designing your system, make sure you consider things such as the length of the clothes that are to be hung, and how much space you need to devote to items such as sweaters. Then, consider which items you need to access easily on a daily basis and which can be stored out of reach.

A closet that isn’t packed with useless stuff is easier to keep organized and will keep your clothes from getting crushed.

Hassle-Free Shipping Tips for Holiday Gift Giving

November 12, 2012 5:30 pm

For the millions of Americans traveling over the holidays, the details of planning and pulling off a trip can make the season anything but jolly. Fortunately, you can take some of the hassle out of holiday travel by planning—and shipping—ahead.

Ship Gifts Ahead
Instead of lugging gifts on an airplane or having gifts take up space in the car, consider shipping them to your destination ahead of time. Here are a few tips to keep in mind before sending your gifts on their way:

  • Use the proper materials: a new cardboard box designed for shipping, professional-grade packaging tape, and packaging material such as foam packaging peanuts or bubble cushioning (at least two inches all around).
  • Put a label inside of the package, including both the destination and return addresses.
  • Use a shipping option that provides a package tracking number.
  • Take batteries out of toys, electronics, etc., before shipping, and wrap them separately inside the package.
  • Seal home-made holiday treats in an airtight container or plastic bag before packing them in a shipping box. Use an expedited air service, such as UPS Next Day Air.

If you don't have the time or proper packaging supplies, or just need some help preparing gifts for shipment, you can take them to certified packing experts at The UPS Store and take advantage of their Pack & Ship Guarantee.

You can avoid long lines at the post office -- The UPS Store has extended hours during the holidays and also offers USPS services.

Key Dates for Holiday Shipping

Mondays are typically the busiest shipping days.

  • The busiest week of the 2012 season is expected to be December 17 to 21.
  • Most UPS Ground packages require five days or less to reach their destination, but if you're shipping coast-to-coast, it may take longer.
  • If you are shipping internationally, contact The UPS Store location nearest you to determine the best date to ensure on-time delivery.
  • The U.S. Postal Service says packages to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan should be mailed by Dec. 1 in order to arrive in time for Christmas; mail going to other military overseas APO/FPO locations needs to be sent by Dec. 16.

Last-Minute Shipping Dates (for delivery on Monday, Dec. 24)

  • Wednesday, Dec. 19 -- Ship UPS 3 Day Select
  • Thursday, Dec. 20 -- Ship UPS 2nd Day Air
  • Friday, Dec. 21 -- Ship UPS Next Day Air

Ship Luggage Ahead
To cut down on baggage fees and time in line at the airport, you may want to think about shipping your luggage. There are several ways you can do this: shipping a suitcase as-is; packing and shipping a suitcase in a box; or purchasing a luggage box instead of using a suitcase.

By putting luggage in a box, you can protect your luggage and provide a good surface for a shipping label.

Here are some helpful tips for packing and shipping your luggage:

  • Be sure to notify the place you will be staying that you are expecting a package. That way, they will sign for the package even if it arrives before you do.
  • Make sure you have the correct destination address. Some hotels and resorts have a separate luggage receiving address.
  • Put an additional address label inside the luggage or box in case the outside label is damaged or lost.
  • Cut down on your hassle by having your shipment professionally packed at a local pack-and-ship retailer, such as The UPS Store. Expert packing is especially recommended for fragile items and odd or oversized items.
  • By using a shipping option such as UPS, you can track your luggage all the way to its destination, even via cell phone or other web-enabled wireless devices.
  • If you are shipping your belongings ahead to your destination, you'll probably need to send items back home as well. One option is to pack a flattened box and a roll of packaging tape for sending home gifts, souvenirs, or even dirty laundry.
  • Because of the duties and taxes associated with international shipments, it is not recommended that luggage is shipped internationally.

The average weight of an empty suitcase is 10 pounds. To reduce weight -- and shipping costs -- skip the suitcase, and pack your clothes and other items directly in a sturdy box. Select The UPS Store locations now offer two sizes of luggage boxes that can replace a suitcase. A large luggage box weighs about 4 pounds and a small box about 3 pounds.

Both boxes meet airline baggage restrictions, so you could take them on your flight instead of suitcases, if you wish. The small box can be carried on, and the large box can be checked in without assessing an additional oversize charge.

With a little forethought and a bit of planning, a few proactive steps can help ensure your holiday travel goes smoothly. To learn more about rates and your best holiday shipping options, use the online cost calculator at

Be Prepared

Minimize travel hassles by doing some prep work before you leave town.

If you're checking baggage, don't pack items you can't do without. If your luggage gets lost or delayed, you'll miss those essential items. Pack them in your carry-on bag.

Whether you're driving or flying, make the time go faster with plenty of entertainment for the whole family. Load up mobile devices with games, songs, ebooks and movies. Give each child their own entertainment backpack with age-appropriate toys and activities.

Make sure your vehicle is road-ready. Have it looked at by your local auto shop to be sure everything is in good working condition. Make sure tires are inflated properly. And pack a winter safety kit, just in case.

Shipping Safely
Due to FAA restrictions, you cannot ship hazardous materials, including colognes and perfumes, aerosol sprays, nail polish and cigarette lighters via air service.

There are two good rules of thumb to follow to avoid shipping hazardous materials:

If it's flammable, take it out of your luggage.

If you're in doubt, remove the item from your luggage, or ask a The UPS Store packing expert.


Celebrating the Holidays with Your Pet

November 12, 2012 5:30 pm

Holiday time means more family time—and that includes time with your four-legged family members. If your pet deserves some special holiday love, here are some "pawfect" ideas to help you celebrate the holidays together.

Stocking Stuffers - Hang a stocking on the mantle for your pet and fill it with holiday toys and treats. A new chew toy, a catnip-filled mouse, special treats to eat -- there are plenty of ways to fill up a pet stocking with fun, budget-friendly items.
Showing Holiday Spirit - Dress up your pet with some seasonal winter outfits. Too cutesy for you? A holiday colored collar can give a more subtle effect.
Safe Treats - Dogs would love to nibble on your holiday table scraps, but that's not always a good thing. Keep your treats out of their reach, and make pets their own holiday bites with the new Sunbeam Gourmet Dog Treat Maker. You can make delicious doggie snacks using ingredients already in your pantry, like peanut butter.
Share the Love with Pet-Themed Gifts - The Top Fin Grinch and Max Sleigh Fishbowl is a fun, decorative piece that will look great in your child's room. Personalized food dishes, mats and pet beds are always a special gift to give. Or, win over the wine lover in your life with pet-themed wine glasses and accessories.
Gifts that Give Back - You can help save homeless pets by purchasing collectible Luv-A-Pet plush toys. This year choose from Chance, the adopted dog; Lucky, the adopted cat; and a special Bret Michaels-inspired version of Chance. Ten percent of the purchase price goes to PetSmart Charities, the largest funder of animal-welfare efforts in North America.


Word of the Day

November 12, 2012 5:30 pm

Blanket mortgage. Single mortgage that covers more than one real property, i.e. – a house plus the vacant lot next door.

Q: How Can I Get a Quick Sale, Particularly in a Slow Market?

November 12, 2012 5:30 pm

A: One of the most important things to consider is price. You may want to reduce the price of your home or, at the very beginning, set it at a low price that will generate more buyer interest.

Cash is often an incentive, both for the buyer as well as the agent. You could offer the buyer a $1,000 to $2,000 decorating rebate upon closing the deal. It is also not uncommon to offer the selling agent a $500 bonus. However, some brokers – who supervise agents and run real estate offices – may prohibit such incentives, as do some Realtor boards. Check to find out.

Other common incentives: paying for the property inspection and warranty policy and getting your home preliminarily approved for FHA and VA loans, thereby making it more attractive to a larger number of buyers. Contact a lender who writes FHA-insured and VA-guaranteed loans.

Q: What causes a foreclosure?

November 9, 2012 8:54 pm

A: A lender decides to foreclose on, or repossess, a property when the owner fails to pay the mortgage. Unfortunately, thousands of homes end up in foreclosure every year.  

Many people lose their homes due to job loss, credit problems, divorce, unexpected expenses, and during periods of economic instability.

Failure to pay property taxes may also cause a homeowner to lose his home.  Trouble can also arise when owners neglect to pay local water bills and home insurance premiums.

Word of the Day

November 9, 2012 8:54 pm

Balloon loan.  Mortgage loan in which a larger final payment becomes due because the loan amount was not fully amortized.

How-To: Simplify Holiday Shipping

November 9, 2012 8:54 pm

The holidays are usually pretty hectic, and the last thing you need is to stress over shipping your holiday gifts. With millions of packages moving across the country every day, knowing how to pack and when to ship your gifts can save you time and money, taking the hassle out of holiday shipping.
These tips from FedEx will help you ensure the safe and timely delivery of your holiday packages.

Smart Packing Tips

Use new, sturdy boxes with the flaps intact, and do not reuse boxes. Select a box that is large enough to accommodate the proper thickness of cushioning material.

Wrap items individually with cushioning material and center them in cartons away from other items and away from the sides, corners, top and bottom of the box.

Choose cushioning of appropriate density and thickness, and use enough to fill all void spaces in your shipping container. Position at least two inches of bubble wrap, peanuts or other packing materials on all sides, and use a heavy duty tape designed for packaging.

Double-box fragile items with three inches of cushioning in and around the smaller box.

For odd- or irregular-shaped items, be sure to wrap and tape all sharp edges or protrusions.

Position the shipping label squarely on the most visible side of the container away from any folds or seams. Provide complete sender and recipient addresses, including zip codes and telephone numbers. Make sure the label is properly and securely attached. FedEx also recommends placing an extra label, business card or letterhead with the shipper's address and phone number inside the package before sealing it.

Apply at least three strips of packing tape (no duct or masking tape) to the top and bottom sides of the container using the H taping method.

Don't be afraid to ask for packing and shipping help. There are more than 1,800 FedEx Office Print & Ship Center locations around the world that provide a variety of packing and shipping supplies and services.
Smart Shipping Tips

Send your gifts ahead. If you are traveling this holiday season, take the hassle out of carrying wrapped packages with you by sending your gifts ahead of your arrival.

Ship early in the season. This will allow you to avoid the lines and provide you with a greater selection of shipping service options.

Holiday Shipping Deadlines
For delivery in time for Christmas, the last day to ship with FedEx Ground is Monday, December 17, and the last day to ship with FedEx Express is Saturday, December 22.


Home Tech: Affordable and Uncomplicated Ideas to Add Enjoyment to Your Home

November 9, 2012 8:54 pm

(BPT) - Did you know it's almost the year that Michael J. Fox went 'back to the future?' While we don't have hover boards or flying cars, our innovations have changed drastically since 1985, especially when it comes to technology in the home. Now there are many affordable innovations that are simple to use and can add unique benefits and enjoyment to routine activities.

High-fashion, high-function faucets
Kitchen faucets continue to increase in functionality and style - but imagine the convenience of having a faucet that can sense what you're trying to accomplish, and with a simple wave of your hand, immediately responds to your needs. New MotionSense technology from Moen offers you three ways to operate the faucet. In addition to the traditional handle, you can activate the kitchen faucet by using the Wave Sensor - by waving your hand over the faucet to turn on and off - or the Ready Sensor - by placing your hands or an object under the spout.

Available at home improvement retailers, MotionSense is featured on the Haysfield pulldown kitchen faucet, which offers a soft modern design, and the Delaney pulldown kitchen faucet. Both are featured in a Spot Resist Stainless finish, which does just what it says - resists fingerprints and water spots.

Trouble-free towels
Continue your hand-free experience in the kitchen by adding an Innovia Automatic Paper Towel Dispenser. This unique product provides the exact amount of paper towel that you choose - without a single touch. A simple wave of the hand delivers one towel; or for bigger jobs, simply hold your hand in front of the sensor until you've achieved the desired amount. Unlike others on the market, it retracts unused sheets back into the clean and dry compartment.

Replacing towels can be done with any brand or size within seconds. Available in a variety of colors for an innovative and attractive addition to any kitchen, this product its under most cabinetry.

Water-saving washers and dynamic dryers
Previously, a washer and dryer did exactly what their names say - wash and dry. But for homeowners looking for the new era of high-tech cleaning machines, there is a wealth of options. Most washers today are high-efficient, meaning they use 20 to 66 percent less water than traditional agitator washers - an appealing benefit for the environmentally conscious, or for those just hoping to save on their water and electric bills. Plus, most are available with large-capacity tubs to accommodate bigger loads. And, with less water being used and high-speed spin cycles to remove more water, clothes feel dryer when they come out - saving time and energy on the drying cycle.

Today's dryers offer a variety of features, such as steam functions to remove wrinkles and odors, or sensors that detect when there is a lack of moisture and automatically turn off when items are dry. And, once you've found the set that includes the most high-tech features you desire, these once-commodity products are available in a variety of curvy, stylish looks and multiple colors. Consumer Reports is an excellent source to find the best set to meet your budget, style and feature needs.

Thinking thermostat
We've all left the air conditioning blasting on a hot day (when no one is even home); or, left for vacation without altering the thermostat. These worries can be a thing of the past with the new learning thermostat, The Nest. The new product, which WiredMagazine calls the 'the iPod of thermostats,' offers artificial intelligence that figures out when to turn down the heat and when to turn up the air conditioning, so that you don't waste money and energy. Plus, you can communicate with The Nest from your smartphone, tablet or any computer. Created by the designer for iPod hardware, Tony Fadell, The Nest ($249) will likely pay for itself within a year or two of use, and ultimately save up to 30 percent of your utility bill, according to Nest Labs research.

While your neighbors may think they're high-tech with Wi-Fi, smartphones and laptops, be the first to embrace these unique, new technologies into your home and also become the envy of the neighborhood. Soon, you can simply and affordably add enjoyment, ease and even energy savings into your lifestyle.

Napping: Not Just for Kids

November 9, 2012 8:54 pm

For some people, an afternoon nap is a signal you are losing your edge. For others –and not just for the elderly – naps can be a valued way of life. Most people, say the sleep experts at the Mayo Clinic, fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. But whether you’re sleep-deprived or looking for a way to relax, it’s good to understand when and how to get the most out of napping.

The Upsides:
    Napping offers various benefits for healthy adults:


Reduced fatigue

Increased alertness

Improved mood

Improved performance, including quicker reaction time, better memory,and fewer accidents or mistakes

The Downsides:

Sleep inertia – some people may feel groggy or disoriented after napping

Nighttime sleep problems – while short naps do not generally affect nighttime sleep patterns, napping could worsen problems for those who generally sleep poorly.

The bottom line:
Experts agree you should consider taking a nap if you are not feeling well, if you are feeling unusually fatigued, or if you are about to experience sleep loss, such as having to work an unexpected night shift. Under normal circumstances, to get the most out of napping, consider these simple tips:

Keep it short – A 10 to 30 minute nap provides the best opportunity to wake up feeling refreshed – and some people claim that a 10-minute power nap dramatically increases productivity.

Make it restful – Nap in a dim, quiet place with few distractions and a comfortable temperature.

Time it right – The optimal time to nap is midafternoon, the time when you may experience after-lunch drowsiness or a lower level of alertness. Naps taken between 2 and 3 p.m. are less likely to interfere with nighttime sleep. Also, sticking to the same schedule is helpful if you plan to make napping a part of your daily routine.

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