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Simple Steps to Home Safety

March 16, 2012 5:40 pm

Keeping your home and family safe is a high priority. If home fires, break-ins or weather-related disasters have you worried, here are some simple steps you can take to make your home a safer place.

Be Forewarned

Every home should have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors, but they require some minor maintenance and don't last forever. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), a working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a home fire.

• Make sure you have smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, including the basement. The USFA recommends installing them inside and outside of sleeping areas.

• Replace your batteries regularly. While having a working smoke detector more than doubles your chance of survival, it's estimated that one third of smoke alarms are not working, often due to worn out batteries. Many people use the time change each spring and fall as a reminder to change batteries.

• Replace old smoke alarms. According to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. It is also recommended that homes have both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms, or dual sensor smoke alarms which have both types of sensors. (Ionization alarms sound more quickly in a flaming, fast-moving fire. Photoelectric alarms are faster at sensing smoldering, smoky fires.) When the time comes to replace your detectors, consider a First Alert product. You can find affordable options with both types of sensors.

Seeking Security?

Taking precautions to protect your home extend to home security, as well. According to the Bureau of Justice, many home burglaries occur simply by a thief walking through the front door.

• Protect yourself and your family through the use of deadbolts on doors and locks on windows.

• Installing motion-sensor lights on walkways or driveways can potentially deter a thief.

• Many home security kits are available in a "do it yourself" complete package, allowing you to customize sirens, entry points and more.

• If installing an entire security system seems too much, something simple like a keyless entry system provides peace of mind and easy installation. A garage door keyless entry using fingerprint identity ensures that only the right people gain access to your home.

Weather the Storm

Protecting your home from inclement weather is an essential part of ensuring your family's safety.

• The first step is having a family discussion about safe rooms in the house and a plan in case of dangerous weather.

• According to FEMA, a weather radio with NOAA technology allows as much as eight minutes lead time before public alarms sound to move family and pets to a safe room or secure location.

• Make sure you have a weather safety kit that contains a flashlight, portable power for your electronics, an emergency radio, walkie talkies, bottled water and dry goods. Let each child choose 1 to 2 items to put in the weather prep toolkit, such as a toy, game or personal item to help keep them occupied and calm in the case you have to take shelter for a long period of time. Additional alkaline batteries are always good to have on hand in case of emergency.


7 Retail Freebies: Where to Find Them

March 14, 2012 5:36 pm

Discounts are nice, but there’s nothing better than merchandise for free—and a quick online scan of some retailer sites reveals there are plenty of freebies for the asking. Begin with these, and then spend some time online to check your favorite retailer sites. You are almost sure to find additional freebies.

• Free breakfast – IKEA, the furniture store that sells a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and hash browns for as little as 99 cents, offers the same breakfast for free on certain weekdays or Saturday mornings. Check the website to see when the freebie is offered.
• Free e-books – Amazon’s Kindle store offers thousands of e-books you can read on your Kindle for free. The list won’t include the best-sellers, but you can sort the giveaways by genre to find titles you may enjoy.
• Free undies – Subscribers to the Victoria’s Secret catalog receive coupons for free panties frequently throughout the year. If you’re a devotee, sign up for the catalog and you may never have to buy panties again.
• Free household products – Target will send you free samples by mail when you sign up at their Sample Spot online and answer a few survey questions. The samples go fast, so check the site often to receive your fair share of freebies.
• Free soaps and fragrances – Bath & Body Works gives away free samples via its Facebook page whenever they launch a new product. To be included, follow Bath & Body Works on Facebook.
• Free Chinese food – Panda Express offers coupons for a free serving whenever they launch a new menu item. Find out when by following Panda Express on Facebook.
• Free clothing – If you live near a Sears Outlet, you can get a coupon every Tuesday for one free article of clothing. Stop into an outlet and sign up to be a Shop Your Way Rewards member. Then get your coupons by following Sears Outlet Stores on Facebook. The coupons are good in stores only.

6 Tips to Sell Your Home

March 14, 2012 5:36 pm

Tip 1: Understand the market. In strong markets, where demand outstrips supply, home sellers can old out for top dollar. In weak markets the reverse is true—there are many homes on the market and unless you price your home very competitively you'll be very unlikely to attract any buyers. Whatever the current market conditions you will be most likely to get the highest possible price if you are willing to take the time to understand each of the components of a successful home sales campaign so you can assure that you, or a real estate service provider who may be assisting you, are doing everything possible to maximize the effectiveness of the home marketing effort.

Tip 2: Aim for low interest rates. A good time to sell is during a period of low mortgage interest rates, because with lower interest rates more buyers will be qualified to buy your home. Low rates benefit buyers and sellers alike, and if you plan to purchase another home after selling yours, you will be both a seller and a buyer. A “sellers market”, where there are more buyers than homes available for sale, is also helpful. However, if you plan to purchase another home in the same area after selling yours, this competitive advantage will work against you when you become a buyer. The same principle applies in reverse to buyers markets, so if you plan to purchase another home in the same area after selling yours, it really makes little difference in the end whether it’s a buyers or a sellers market.

Tip 3: Shine your apple. Make your home look as nice as it can. Have a presale yard sale and get rid of as much clutter as possible. Keep only a minimal amount of furniture in each room—it will make the room look bigger. Store any extra furniture. Clean up and repaint with neutral colors if necessary. Open blinds and replace light bulbs with brighter substitutes. If important parts of your home are outdated consider cost effective updates. If your kitchen or bath is old or in bad shape a prudent remodel can often return over 100 percent of the investment and help you sell the home faster. But don’t over improve. There’s not much point in adding a fourth bathroom to a home that is already worth more than most of the others in the neighborhood.

Tip 4: Study. More money hangs in the balance in the selling of your home than in most financial transactions in your life. It therefore makes sense to learn as much as you can about selling your home. No matter whether you’re a self seller, or have an agent, you need to learn enough to be in command of the process. There are many excellent books on the subject in libraries and bookstores. The real estate sections of local newspapers are great sources of information about your local marketplace. The difference between understanding the process as well as your local market, versus not understanding it, can be many thousands of dollars in the eventual selling price.

Tip 5: Price it right. Price your property realistically, especially in slow markets. When markets are slow buyers are psychologically unprepared to overpay—and they apply stringent standards of value. They will heavily discount many expensive and unusual improvements unless they appeal very strongly to their own personal tastes.

Tip 6: Get it in writing. Make sure you don’t prematurely give away any bargaining leverage. All home purchase agreements must be in writing to be binding. If someone asks if you would take a specific lower figure and you agree, that’s not an enforceable contract. All you have done is to lower your asking price. The correct response should be “I’ll consider all written offers.”

Courtesy of the American Homeowners Foundation and the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance

4 Spring Superfoods You Should Be Eating

March 14, 2012 5:36 pm

Spring cleaning isn’t just for your home. Give your body a fresh start by incorporating some healthy seasonal superfoods into your diet. Find room for the following four nutritional all-stars on your plate and keep healthy all the way until summer.

This leafy green is actually in the cabbage family and has oodles of anti-cancer agents. High in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and calcium, Kale is a green that does better in the spring than the summer, so eat up now while it’s in season.

Spring is the season for artichokes! High in iron, artichokes are a diuretic. The artichoke also aids digestion, supports a healthy liver and gall bladder and raises your good cholesterol, HDL.

This creamy fruit can lower your cholesterol, despite its high fat content. This is because most of the fat in avocadoes is monounsaturated. Avocadoes are high in beta-sitosterol, a natural substance shown to lower blood cholesterol levels. Chop avocado and add it to your salad or sandwiches, whip up some guacamole or spread some avo on your toast in the morning.


Quinoa is a year-round superfood, but because it’s such a power house, I decided to include it anyway! An ancient grain, quinoa is easy to make, versatile and high in protein, fiber and iron. The grain, which is pronounced keen-wa, cooks faster than rice and has a light, nutty flavor. It’s full of zinc, vitamin E, and selenium to help control your weight and lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Word of the Day

March 14, 2012 5:36 pm

Capital gain. Profit earned from the sale of an asset.

Question of the Day

March 14, 2012 5:36 pm

Q: What is an impound account?

A: It is a special bank account held by the lender to collect monthly payments from the borrower to pay property taxes, mortgage insurance, and hazard insurance. These accounts also are called escrow or reserve accounts.

Lenders like to set up impound accounts to ensure the property taxes and insurance will be paid on time. They typically also collect a two-month cushion for taxes and insurance at the closing. A few states require the lender to pay interest on funds held in these accounts.

Add Value to Your Home without Breaking the Bank

March 13, 2012 5:32 pm

At a time when homebuyers are looking for houses that don't need numerous home improvements, many homeowners increase home value with relatively simple upgrades to their kitchens.

The kitchen is the heart of the home so be sure that your kitchen is living up to its potential. A great kitchen has to have more than just good looks; it needs to have a good 'feel' to it as well. Play to your kitchen's strengths and it can easily become one of the greatest selling points of your home.

Painting is a cheap and fairly easy solution to dramatically alter the look and feel of your kitchen. If your kitchen is large and laid out in such a way that promotes its use as a gathering space, then you should consider using a warm color scheme to create a feeling of sociability. Smaller kitchens might want to make use of lighter colors to make the room seem larger, and if your kitchen is a place where you go to find serenity then you might want to think about using blues or greens.

Adding tile to your walls has become a popular way to give color and creativity to different rooms in the house. There is a wide range of tiles to choose from and depending on the feel you are going for you may want to bring home a couple samples to try out. Hiring a professional handyman can make this process quick and painless for you and save you money in the long run.

Re-facing or replacing cabinets and drawers is a great way to give your kitchen a new look. If you don't want to replace them, a new paint or stain job can also do the trick. While you are at the hardware store looking for paint, snag some new handles or knobs for an inexpensive way to make your drawers and cabinets feel brand new!

Your countertops have been through a lot, so before you put your house on the market you might want to think about replacing countertops with something that fits the new look of your kitchen.


How-To: Restore Your Yard after a Mild Winter

March 13, 2012 5:32 pm

With a relatively small amount of snow accumulation around the country, the winter of 2012 stood in sharp contrast to the record-breaking winter of 2011. Without this snow cover or "white fertilizer" to act as insulation, lawns were left exposed to strong winter winds resulting in desiccation, or extreme drying. Add to this a spring with unusually mild temperatures arriving ahead of schedule and it means that homeowners could face a unique set of challenges this spring.

The following tips, compiled by SavATree, can homeowners counteract some of the common issues that come with an "open winter" and recover a lush, green landscape this spring:

Turn On the Water - Returning moisture to the crowns of your grass is essential. As soon as possible, begin watering your lawn to restore nutrients and combat the damage done by high winds. Irrigate long and infrequently rather than daily for short intervals. It is best to water each zone for 30+ minutes every other day than watering 15 minutes each day. By longer, infrequent watering the moisture will actually penetrate deeper into the ground resulting in the roots going down deeper for the water; a benefit now and during the stresses of summer heat.

Mow Early and Often -
When it comes to mowing, it's better to be too early than too late. As grass grows and pushes last year's desiccated tissue to the top, sharp blades will take it off cleanly and make room for new, healthy grass. Mow often as grass grows quickly in the spring, but try to set your blades at 3" or higher so as not to remove more than 1/3 of leaf blade. Leaving clippings on your lawn, rather than bagging, will help speed the return of nutrients to the soil.

Aerate - Aerating your lawn will help improve water, air and nutrient movement in the soil and also reduce compaction and break down thatch. Compaction and thatch make growing grass more difficult, because they impede air and water movement to the soil and work to weaken your lawn's root system. Desiccation is also less of an issue for well-aerated soil since water is able to move more freely through it, making the grass above much more resistant to drought.

Control Pests - Milder temperatures typically allow greater numbers of insects to survive the winter and an early spring can mean a longer growing season and more generations of certain insects. Specifically, residents of New England might encounter an unusually high volume of deer ticks and the woolly adelgid—an insect that attacks hemlock trees—this season. The best way to keep these pests in check is to contact a certified arborist to evaluate your property and recommend a safe and effective solution.

Prevent Disease - When buds begin to swell and break open earlier in the season, diseases such as dogwood anthracnose, apple scab and leaf spots are able to gain an early foothold. The best approach to protecting against these diseases is preventive. By addressing and treating for these diseases ahead of time, you can lessen the chance of damage to your trees and shrubs during an early spring.


Legal Tips: Online Defamation

March 13, 2012 5:32 pm

With social media use running rampant, understanding defamation laws are important. With so many people connecting through sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, communication is easier thane ever. But damaging and false claims made online can lead to a defamation lawsuit, so it’s important for consumers to be aware of what constitutes defamation, and how to handle a defamation lawsuit if you think you want to file one.

There are two types of defamation, according to FindLaw senior writer, Andrew Chow. “Libelous comments are in writing, while slanderous statements are spoken. In the age of status updates, podcasts, and YouTube, both types can potentially apply in social-media defamation cases,” writes Chow.

Defamation suits generally require the victim to prove certain elements. Here are Chow’s three tips if you're considering an online defamation lawsuit:

1. Keep records of the hurtful comments.
Defamation requires that a hurtful statement be made and "published" to at least one other person. Online comments can suffice—but because such comments can be easily deleted, a victim may want to act quickly to preserve the comment as proof.

There are different ways to do this, and an experienced attorney can suggest the best course of action for your particular case. Suggestions may include:
• Printing a hard copy of the defamatory statement, including the web address and the time and date;
• Taking an electronic "snapshot" of your entire computer screen, using the "print screen" key or another keyboard shortcut; or
• Grabbing a camera to take a photo of what your screen and the defamatory comment look like.

2. Have proof that the hurtful comment is false.
Whatever the defamatory comment says, it must be false for it to be considered defamation. For example, if someone defames you by calling you a tax cheat, you can prove the comment is false by digging up your tax records.

If you're a public figure, you'll also have to prove actual malice -- that the statement was made with an intentional disregard for the truth. Again, an experienced lawyer will be able to help figure out the best way to prove this.

3. Resist the urge to post a scathing reply.
The old adage that "revenge is a dish best served cold" applies to online defamation as well. Though a defamatory comment may be fully deserving of an immediate, scathing reply, it may be best to leave it alone. Posting an angry response could make matters worse—and could set you up for a potential defamation lawsuit as well.


Word of the Day

March 13, 2012 5:32 pm

Cancellation clause. Stipulation in a contract that allows a buyer or seller to cancel the contract in the event of a certain specified occurrence.

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