Monday, October 27, 2008

Creating the Illusion of a Larger Room


Choosing color for the walls of a smaller room can be a delicate decision. Most people agree that lighter paint colors reflect more light and therefore create the illusion of a larger room. In terms of color, go with a monochromatic theme. Then, if you have trim, paint it an even lighter shade than the wall. This technique causes the walls to appear farther away than they really are. Crown molding is a great option in terms of trim because it creates the illusion of a higher ceiling by drawing people's eyes upward. If you're ambitious, another way to make ceilings appear higher is by painting vertical stripes on the wall.

Staging Furniture
This may seem counterintuitive, but when staging your furniture, larger pieces create the illusion of more space in a room. An increased number of smaller pieces make the room appear cluttered and they create more wasted space. If you choose to use larger pieces of furniture, stage them diagonally in the room. The longest line in your room is diagonal, and by placing furniture in this position, you're showcasing the length of the room's imaginary diagonal line. Keep furniture from disrupting natural walkways and the flow from room to room. Tables with clear tops also create the illusion of more space. In terms of décor and accessories, reduce clutter as much as you can—more floor space lends to the appearance of a larger room.

Hanging mirrors on the wall can create the illusion of a larger room. Utilize mirrors in spots that need expansion. For example, if you want to lengthen a hallway, place a mirror at the end of the hallway. This makes the hallway look twice as long as it really is. Another technique is to place a mirror behind a display of flowers. The mirror doubles the amount of flowers in the display.
Window Treatments

In an attempt to capture as much natural light as possible, stay away from heavy or dark drapes that block sunlight. If drapes fit well around your window, try and hang drapes made from a sheer fabric. Otherwise, go for light colored Venetian blinds or shades.

Once again, when lighting a room, look for as much natural light as possible—specifically larger windows and skylights. If this isn't an option, try and illuminate all four corners of the room. Darker edges and corners make rooms look smaller. To create the illusion of a higher ceiling, install wall sconces that reflect light up toward the ceiling. This technique vertically elongates the height of the wall.

For more information on how to create the illusion of a larger room when in reality, you're stuck in a smaller space, contact me today!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Law Makes Housing Affordable for Veterans

Veterans across America now have expanded homeownership opportunities due to the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008, which President George W.

Bush signed into law last Friday. The bill includes housing provisions for veterans who are already home owners and those who aspire to homeownership, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

“This [bill] will go a long way toward helping veterans buy and keep their homes,” says NAR President Dick Gaylord. Three provisions in the legislation are critical to help veterans during the current housing turmoil.

1. The law will make it easier for veterans who have fallen victim to risky subprime loans to refinance their loans into safer, more affordable loans backed by the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs.

2. The legislation also makes the VA loan limit increases permanent, which will help veterans living in high-cost areas.

3. The VA also can now offer adjustable-rate mortgages to veterans. That would make homeownership more attainable for military families and personnel who often have to move more frequently than their civilian counterparts.

“We need to support and protect those who serve our country,” Gaylord says. “Helping ensure that every veteran who can afford to own a home and wants to do so will have the opportunity and that everyone who responsibly owns a home is able to keep it is part of that commitment.”


Thursday, October 02, 2008

HOPE for Homeowners Expands Rescues
HOPE for Homeowners, a federal program to allow the replacement of up to $300 billion in underwater U.S. mortgages with federally backed FHA financing, began accepting applications under a legislatively authorized expansion Wednesday.
To qualify, borrowers must be spending more than 31 percent of their income on mortgage payments. Loans made this year are excluded, except for those completed on Jan 1. Borrowers must have made six months of payments on their loans.
Lenders must agree to participate and erase 10 percent of the home’s current value before the government will guarantee the mortgage. A concern among lenders is that investors in mortgage securities must take an immediate loss and can't recoup their lost money if home prices turn upward again.
The program is a "helpful step forward" in stabilizing the housing market and will help keep many families in their homes but it is not a cure-all, said Steve Preston, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the program.Troubled borrowers should contact their lenders.
Source: Reuters (10/01/2008)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

5 Room Layout Rules

Here are five simple rules to follow when organizing your space:

Create a Conversation Space
When deciding on a seating arrangement, a U-shaped conversation area is ideal, while an L-shaped area is always uncomfortable. A sofa and a matching pair of chairs easily establish a comfortable U-shaped configuration that allows everyone who is seated to have an intimate chat facing everyone else.

Focus Attention to One Area
Almost every living room has at least one natural focal point. If yours has a fireplace, that will surely be it. Other focal points might be a picture window with a wonderful view or a pair of French doors. Whatever the focal point of your room, be sure you arrange your furniture to take advantage of it — since everyone's eyes will naturally be drawn toward it.

Think in Pairs
To create a beautiful room, think in pairs. If you have a good piece without a mate, find it a partner. For example, end tables will complement each other if they are of similar size and finish. Fit two lamps of similar height and style with new, matching shades.

Group Furniture Wisely
If you walk around your home and feel as if you're navigating an obstacle course, it may be time to rearrange your furniture. Be sure your living room chairs and sofa are grouped close together. Otherwise, anyone walking through the living room will be forced to cross between those who are seated and interrupt their conversation. If possible, avoid having the traffic pattern cross in front of the television.

Create Balance
With Chairs In small rooms, use armless upholstered chairs such as slipper style, which will allow more space than chairs with arms but will provide a more comfortable, small-scale alternative to wooden chairs. If your budget won't allow you to buy a pair of matching chairs, purchase one chair and a matching ottoman.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Seven Days, Seven Projects for a Kitchen that Sells

(ARA) - In today’s market, selling a home involves much more than posting a “for-sale” sign in the yard. Preparation is key. In fact, experts agree that property appearance and condition play a big role in the home-sale process.

While home improvements can increase buyers’ interests, most sellers hesitate to renovate, fearing they may not recoup their costs in the sales price. However, with strategic updates in key rooms, such as kitchens, sellers can increase the value of a home – giving them a leg up on their neighbors to sell more easily and command a higher selling price.

With just a week's time, a small investment and a bit of elbow grease, you can easily turn your kitchen into your selling feature with these seven projects.

Clean Up!

Although you may love your children’s artwork or favorite magnets on the fridge, prospective homebuyers want to envision a home as theirs – not yours. Start your kitchen update by making a clean sweep of the room. Remove everything from the top and sides of your refrigerator and clear off countertops. By eliminating clutter and personal effects, your kitchen will look neat, clean – and even larger.

Fix Up Your Faucet

The faucet is the workhorse of the kitchen – and a focal point. So add new life to your sink area with a fashionable and functional new faucet. For an affordable price, you can find beautiful pulldown models, such as Moen’s Solidad pulldown kitchen faucet (available in LifeShine Classic Stainless finish at The Home Depot for $219). Potential buyers will be amazed with the functionality and the updated styling that it brings to the whole room.

Pull it Together

Once you’ve updated the faucet, pull the rest of the finishes in the room together by updating the hardware. Drawer pulls and knobs in a beautiful stainless finish are a simple project and can add a finishing touch that dramatically updates the look of new or older cabinets.

Become Ultra-Organized

Be prepared! Potential buyers will open your closets, cabinets and drawers to assess the storage availability in your home. Be sure that you organize each of these areas to make your kitchen look like a storage dream – not a nightmare. Many cabinet manufacturers, such as Masterbrand cabinets, offer custom shelves to help organize, or you can find simple organization systems at local retailers. No matter what system you choose, your organization won’t go unnoticed.

Curtain Call

Windows are a selling point in any room – allowing nature into a home by providing a source of sunlight. Be sure that windows and blinds are free of dust, fingerprints or pet nose prints for a bright and cheerful display. Adding a neutral, but classic curtain can be a nice touch to frame these focal points of the room.

Follow the Light

Does your kitchen still have the “builder-basic” or outdated brass lighting fixtures? As a focal point above your kitchen table, be sure to update your hanging chandelier with a model in a finish that coordinates with the rest of the room. A variety of classic-designed light fixtures in stainless steel or oil rubbed bronze finishes are available at local home improvement stores and will instantly light up your kitchen décor -- literally.

Cosmetic Cover-ups

You’ve lived in your kitchen so long that you may not notice the small paint chips in the trim or stain on the carpet, but to prospective homebuyers, these stick out like a sore thumb. A fresh coat of paint on walls and trim will always add more value than its cost and let buyers know that your home is well kept and clean.

Within a week you can easily increase the value of your home in the eyes of potential buyers – as well as provide an enjoyable space for yourself until you sell!

For more information on the Solidad pulldown kitchen faucet or other Moen products, visit or call (800) BUY-MOEN (800-289-6636).

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sell in a Buyer’s Market!

It’s a buyer’s market. While that’s great news for all home buyers, it seems to leave little hope for home sellers. But, fear not sellers – all is not lost. There are still some great tips to help give you a selling edge:

Prepare yourself – you have to accept what the market is and make the most of it.
Get ready for picky buyers – curb appeal and other details are vital to entice a buyer into your home.

Get educated about your neighborhood’s real estate market.
Hire an inspector – they can impartially let you know what needs to be fixed before your home is on the market.

As a Real Living agent, I can help you prepare for every step of the home selling process. Simply contact me today to get started!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cities Where Home Owners Spend the Most

Almost 15 percent of American home owners with a mortgage spend half of their income or more on housing costs, according to 2007 data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. That is up from nearly 7.1 million in 2006.

Traditionally, the government and most lenders consider home owners spending 30 percent or more of their income on housing costs to be financially burdened. That definition now covers nearly 38 percent of American home owners with a mortgage – 19 million of them.

Here are the top 13 areas where the most mortgage holders spend more than 30 percent of their income on their homes. The information is an estimate based on an analysis of Census data by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
  • Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach, 58 percent
  • Stockton, Calif.,57 percent
  • Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., 55 percent
  • Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., 55 percent
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif., 54 percent
  • Modesto, Calif., 54 percent
  • San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif., 53 percent
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif., 53 percent
  • Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice, Fla., 52 percent
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, Calif., 52 percent
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., 51 percent
  • Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., 51 percent
  • Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, Calif., 50 percent

Source: The Associated Press, Adrian Sainz and Alan Zibel (09/23/08)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Buying or Selling in Today’s Market? Internet Paves the Path to Real Estate Success

(ARA) – Home buyers and sellers – the relationship may seem like it should be more adversarial than ever, given the current market. Coming at the real estate equation from opposite sides, buyers and sellers may feel they have little in common. The truth is, however, that both groups share a common path to real estate success – the Internet.

The Internet has been revolutionizing real estate for years now; more than 80 percent of buyers look at homes on the Internet, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). “More homes than ever before are being marketed on the Internet,” says Kendra Todd, of HGTV’s “My House is Worth What?” and season three winner of “The Apprentice.” “Whether you’re buying or selling, it’s essential to work with a real estate expert who is on the cusp of the latest trends, especially the Internet.”

Even the most techno-savvy among us may feel overwhelmed by the volume of real estate information – and listings – available on the Internet. How do you sort through it if you’re a buyer? And how do you find the right agent who will know how to maximize Internet marketing value, if you’re a seller? Here are tips from real estate experts – Todd, Saul Klein, CEO of Point2 Technologies, the company behind a leading real estate Web site, Point2 Homes, and Brady Pevehouse of Lynk Mortgage and Perrone Realty in central Florida.

Tips for Sellers

* With home prices still falling in many areas of the country, it’s probably tempting to try to sell on your own and avoid paying a commission to an agent. “But homes represented by agents historically sell faster and for a better price than those sold by owners,” Klein points out. “It’s harder and riskier to try selling on your own.”

* Select an Internet-savvy real estate agent to represent you. Questions to ask any agent you’re considering include: Do you plan to use syndication to publish my listing widely? Do you cover Craigslist, Yahoo!, Google, etc.? How many sites will my home be on? What kind of traffic do those sites receive? Will you purchase ad space on the Internet?

Tips for Buyers

* Take full advantage of the Internet’s research power. “The Internet can give you more relevant real estate information than just listings,” Todd says. “You can use it to evaluate price trends in areas of interest, access city hall records on development plans for your area, check out crime statistics, school facilities and noise issues.”

* “Begin with a clear vision of why you’re buying and how long you intend to be in the house,” Pevehouse advises. “This will help you determine what kind of home you’re looking for and what mortgage product is right for you.”

* Working with an Internet-savvy agent is as important for buyers as it is for sellers, Todd says. “Does the realtor provide dynamic info? Is he or she comfortable communicating with e-mail, text messaging and other technology tools?”

* While you’re researching online, keep in mind the difference between blogs and information, Todd advises. “Blogs are just opinions.” Look for fact-based sites and be sure the information you find is not outdated.

* “Real estate is intensely regional,” Todd says. Be sure to learn about the market in your area, because it may not necessarily be following national-level trends.

* Don’t be afraid to negotiate terms with the seller. “With inventory levels high, sellers can be very accommodating,” Pevehouse says. “Many are willing to contribute towards closing costs as an incentive for buyers.”

* If you’re even thinking about buying, do it now. “Jump on it now,” Todd advises. “It’s a buyer’s market, perhaps the best in years,” Klein agrees.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Refrigerator Out?

The American Red Cross advises using a digital quick response thermometer to check the temperature of frozen foods. If food is above 40 degrees, consider it thawed, and the clock is ticking on how soon it should be used.

Here is a chart from the American Red Cross, advising what foods to keep, and what to discard.,1082,0_564_,00.html#foodchart

More advice here:,1082,0_564_,00.html

Monday, September 15, 2008

Avoiding Predatory Lending

Predatory lending is especially prevalent among first-time homebuyers and consumers unfamiliar with home financing. How can you avoid the pitfalls of predatory lending as a prospective homebuyer?
According to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), homebuyers need to ask the right questions when shopping for the least expensive loan. These questions may include:

What is my credit score? Can I have a copy of my credit report?

What is the best interest rate today? Do I qualify?

Is the loan's interest rate fixed or adjustable?

What is the term (length) of the loan?

What are the total loan fees?

What is the total monthly payment? Does this include property taxes and insurance? If not, how much more will I need to pay for taxes and insurance?

Is there an application fee? How much is refundable if I don't qualify?

Are there any prepayment penalties? If so, what are they and how long do they last?
It's important to understand all the details of your loan before signing anything, so ask questions! Also, the NAR offers these other strategies that homebuyers can follow to protect themselves from predatory lending:

Check out lenders with the Better Business Bureau®, government Web sites or other consumer groups. How long has the lender been in business? Have consumers filed many complaints? Does the lender belong to a trade association with ethics requirements for its members?

Ask for an estimate and compare with other lenders.

Refuse to participate in transactions that may be fraudulent.

Avoid unnecessary contract extensions that could cause your loan commitment to lapse.

Get educated on the value of your home by asking your Real Living agent for a comparative market analysis.

Review the HUD-1 closing settlement statement before closing. This statement itemizes all charges imposed upon a borrower and seller for a real estate transaction. Upon request, homebuyers have the right to see this information 24 hours before the loan closing.

Report possible violations to appropriate federal, state and local officials.
If you're considering a home purchase and want to make sure you'll be safe from predatory lending, working with a Real Living agent is a wise move. Contact me for more information.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Why This Autumn is a Great Time to Buy

This fall could be a particularly great time for first-time or buyers long out of the market to jump in, say a variety of real estate professionals.
Here are the reasons why:
  • Prices are probably as low as they are going to go as the market stabilizes, thanks to the government takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

  • Interest rates are likely to decline as Freddie and Fannie get government help.

  • The Federal Housing Administration recently boosted its loan limits to $729,750 in expensive areas. It's going to take some of that back come Jan. 1, when the loan limit will shrink to $625,500.

The FHA allows down payments of as little as 3 percent, but that will rise to 3.5 percent as of Oct. 1. People scraping dollars together for a down payment should try to set their closing for the end of this month.

  • The tax credit will shave $7,500 off a first-time buyer’s federal tax bill due April 15. Buyers who don't owe tax, will get the money as a refund.

The government's definition of a first-time buyer is anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the last three years.

Source: The Washington Post, Elizabeth Razzi (09/07/08)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Making the Most of Natural Lighting

Balance is key for any home, but specifically for each individual space in a home. A good rule of thumb is to make sure major rooms in your home are illuminated from two different directions. Don't try and achieve relentless light, but rather balance light with shadows. This contrast brings a powerful dynamic to living spaces. If it's impossible to achieve this balance of light from two different directions, consider implementing a skylight. Skylights are great at subtly bringing more light into a room and diminishing harsher shadows.

Natural light also brings warmth to a room in more than one sense. Temperature wise, light contributes added heat that may be of interest during winter months. During the summer, intense mid-afternoon sunlight can be oppressive and unappealing. Take these situations into consideration when designing a room. Make sure rooms receive light at appropriate times of the day. For example, a porch should typically be shaded during the afternoon. Or, in a master bedroom, you may want your windows on the east side of the room so sunlight can enact as a natural wake-up call. It's worth plotting the course of the sun in a drawing of your site. Take into account trees, overhangs and other objects that may provide shade. Natural light also brings warmth, in an inviting sense, to spaces in your home. As humans, we are drawn to illuminated areas. If you want to improve the flow of your home from one room to another, use natural light to highlight staircases, walkways and other transitional spaces. By doing this, you're inviting individuals to move through your home while being guided by subtly marked pathways of light.
Finally, natural light can be used to play with textures, materials and colors in your home.

Consider implementing aluminum surfaces, glossy woods or white walls into your décor. These surfaces allow light to reflect in an inviting and intriguing manor. If you feel like light needs to be diffused in a room, consider purchasing sandblasted glass. When light hits this texture, it creates a glow that warms a room, yet cuts back on the sun's intense rays. Experiment with patterns. How does light filter through a trellis? A vine covered trellis can provide just enough relief from the sun to shade a porch or sitting area.

Natural lighting has an important impact on how things are illuminated in your home. Work with an interior architect in order to maximize your home's potential for capturing sunlight. For more tips on how you can illuminate your home with natural light, contact me today!

Monday, August 25, 2008

6 Web Sites That Make Decorating Fun

For many people, one of the most fun parts about buying a home is redecorating it. Most of these sites are trying to sell products, but they are free to use and could give new home owners some good ideas. This is a sophisticated and complex site. It opens with a series of brief videos with Robert Verdi, a charming "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"- style guide to the art of interior decoration. The site allows you to choose furniture, art and accessories for 30 generic rooms. - Choose from Color-a-Room or Color-a-Home (exterior). The Image Builder Design Center is a basic program that will change the color of the flooring, walls, ceiling and trim. From the National Wood Flooring Association, Design a Room is another basic wall and floor site. - Mohawk DreamVision allows you to choose a room type (kitchen, bedroom, bath) and style (traditional, modern, etc.) then start designing. The My Room Designer offers a good choice of cabinets, wall colors and of course, countertops.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Bonetti (08/23/2008)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Finding Furniture Bargains

Here are some ideas to help you search for the best furniture bargains:

Garage Sales
A staple for any bargain hunter's search, garage sales always offer great deals. In general, cash will get you the best deals, along with showing up early or just before closing. If you don't know how to shop them or where to find them, just ask around and you're sure to find a friend or relative who'll show you the ropes.

Flea Markets
If you're a bargaining novice, flea markets can be intimidating places. They're usually held in large, open spaces with many vendors and offer just about anything and everything you can imagine. It's best to take along an experienced friend who can help you haggle for the best prices.

Online Auctions
Not in the mood to go out and search? No problem. In today's society everything's online, including auctions. Do some pricing research before you bid, and search for similar products, noting the bids as well as the asking prices. Pay attention to the condition of products and ask questions before you buy.

Local Estate Sales
Look for these in local newspaper classified sections. Be sure to attend the "Preview Day" to see if you're interested in any of the items. It'll also be your best chance to examine the items up close and ask any questions. You may also have time to research prices and determine how much you're willing to pay.

With a little bargaining and the know-how, you just might end up with that great piece you've always wanted! For more information on how to find furniture bargains, contact your local agent today!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Walkability Becomes Plus for Buyers

Walk Score identifies San Francisco as the most walkable city in the United States, mainly due to the close proximity of amenities in its Chinatown, Financial District, and Downtown neighborhoods.

New York's Tribeca, Little Italy, and Soho neighborhoods helped it land a No. 2 ranking on the Web site's list of the most walkable cities, with Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, the District of Columbia, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Portland rounding out the top 10, in that order.

Experts say more people are moving to urban areas as a way to spend less money on gas, though convenience and exercise also play a role.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology--which insists a shift in transportation spending is necessary to make mass transit more efficient--says individuals reduce their annual gas expenses by as much as $2,100 when they live in urban areas versus outer-ring suburbs.

Source: Seattle Times, Amy Hoak (08/10/08)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Landscape Lighting: A Great Way to Dress Up Your Home

(ARA) – The real estate market may be in a slump, but not all industries having to do with the home are in trouble. Companies that specialize in remodeling and renovation, particularly in the area of outdoor living, are doing extremely well right now.

“People don’t want to lose money on their biggest investment so instead of moving, they’re improving their homes,” says Joe Rey-Barreau, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Interior Design and education consultant for the American Lighting Association (ALA). He says now that warmer weather has arrived, people are adding decks, patios, gazebos and outdoor kitchens to their homes, and they aren’t just planning to use them in the daytime.

“The trend towards expanding outdoor living space has been growing for some time now,” says Richard Lentz, president of Lentz Landscape Lighting in Dallas, Texas. “In past years, our goal was focused on lighting the space and showing off the garden. Now we’re concentrating a lot more effort on finding innovative ways to light outdoor spaces so they can be used at night, much like they’re used during the day.”

Backyard decks no longer just have a small light near the door. Lentz says lighting designers are now installing down lights in trees and attaching them to chimneys to shine light down on the space. “We’re also putting in a lot of step lights to make the transition from the upper to lower level easier,” says Lentz, who adds that people no longer have to feel like they’re under a spotlight when they sit outside under the stars. “If there’s a tree nearby, we can shine light down from it. Attaching fixtures to a chimney is also a nice way to get light from above that feels like moonlight.”

And when it comes to lighting outdoor kitchens, innovation is key. “We do a lot of task lighting in the outdoor kitchen,” says Lentz. “We’ll utilize the arbors to hang task lighting over the sink, the grill and the table, for example, and put them on dimmers so when the light isn’t needed, it can be turned down.”

Lentz credits the recent innovations offered by various lighting manufacturers for making those projects possible. “Technology sure has come a long way in a short amount of time,” he says.

Rey-Barreau agrees. “Manufacturers realize there’s a growing market for outdoor fixtures and they have responded by stepping up to the challenge to develop chandeliers, table lamps and sconces that are rated for wet conditions so they can be safely installed outdoors,” he says.

Safety isn’t the only factor being considered by manufacturers. So is operating cost. Not so long ago, the U.S. government mandated that the lighting industry find ways to cut energy consumption of their products. Kichler Lighting of Cleveland, Ohio, responded by coming out with a line of outdoor fixtures that use highly efficient L.E.D. bulbs that require one-third the energy of incandescents.

“When people realize they can get the same light output, a nice comfortable color and reduce energy use by 75 percent, they are more than willing to make the change,” says Jeff Dross at Kichler Lighting.

There have been innovations in the area of lighting for curb appeal purposes as well. “Landscape lighting is about safety, security and aesthetics. As far as the latter goes, the key to success is being subtle. Less is always more,” says Monty Gilbertson, manager of Lighting Design by Wettsteins in La Crosse, Wisc.

Doug Prexta, who works for the landscape division of Cleveland, Ohio-based Hinckley Lighting confirms lighting the outdoors is a trend that’s here to stay. “Our business is way up in the landscape division because people are investing in their homes more and more,” he says.

For more information about landscape lighting, or to find a lighting showroom near you, log on to the American Lighting Association’s Web site at or call (800) BRIGHT-IDEAS (800-274-4484).

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Creating a Backyard Getaway

Consider these tips when creating a backyard getaway.

Foundation- Carefully choose the foundation materials you'll need for a patio or walkway. They should maintain design integrity, but easily assimilate into your natural backyard. A couple of great options are stone and brick. These materials are environmentally friendly, and they maintain a natural feel. Walkways should be designed with a logical flow that allows individuals to get from one area to the next with relative ease. And it's a good idea to map out gardens, lounge areas, pools and gazebos around the natural path of sunlight during the day.

Material- Wood, wicker, plastic, metal – make sure the materials you use are high quality. Invest in outdoor furniture made of woods like teak, mahogany and bamboo. These materials withstand extended exposure to rain and sunlight, and they're eco-friendly products. Consider mesh if you live in a wet climate. It's a great option for lounge chairs because it dries quickly without water damage. If you purchase metal furniture, make sure it's rust-proof.

Landscape- Trees, bushes, flowers, rock gardens, waterfalls and ponds — there are endless possibilities when it comes to landscaping your oasis. If shade is important, take into consideration the path of the sun as well as natural foliage. If you want a pool, build it away from trees that shed leaves, pollen and branches. These elements clog filters and create a maintenance nightmare. You want your yard to be a good mixture of sun and shade. Lastly, it's important to provide a barrier between your backyard getaway and the rest of the world. A great way to seclude your yard from the street is through the use of high hedges or a fence.

Remember, your backyard getaway should be a relaxing retreat in nature from the rest of the world.

For more tips on creating the perfect backyard getaway, contact your agent today!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Fraud Alert:

Beware newspaper or internet ads offering "guaranteed" loan approval, and using the Countrywide name. Here's more:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Home Improvements on a Budget

Home improvements are often costly and time consuming. However, there are some simple and easy ways to update the look of your home while still staying friendly to your wallet.
Paint. Paint is an inexpensive and easy way to make changes to the look of your home. You can completely change the look of your kitchen by using paint to turn your tired, worn-out cabinets into a new and colorful kitchen you will love. Also, consider painting furniture pieces. Instead of purchasing a new entertainment center or coffee table, use paint. This can also help with bringing in accent colors.

Whether it's changing lamp shades or hanging a new chandelier over your dining room table, changing a room's lighting is an easy and inexpensive way to add instant drama. When shopping for new light fixtures, look in the clearance or discontinued bins. This is a great way to save extra cash. If you like the style of your lighting, but are tired of the finish, consider spray paint to update the color. Be sure to purchase the appropriate type and work in a well ventilated area.

Slip Covers.
Buying new furniture is one of the most expensive purchases you can make when redesigning a room. Remedy this by purchasing slip covers, which can be used for sofas, chairs and more. Also, consider reupholstering the seats of dining room chairs or barstools. All it takes is a staple gun and a few yards of fabric.


Another great and easy way to update the look of a room is to change the artwork on your walls. If you really want to save money, consider using existing frames, but changing the artwork inside.

Before you begin your home improvement projects, create your budget and stick to it. Think of key features you want to improve and which areas will require more or less money. Keep in mind that home improvements on a budget doesn't mean skimping on style!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Spring Cleaning Checklist

With spring selling season arriving, take the time now to help polish your home to perfection.

Let the sun in.
Make any room look brighter with clean blinds and windows. Mix a solution of one part white vinegar to eight parts water, plus a drop or two of liquid dishwashing liquid, for a green window cleaner. Spray on and wipe with newspaper to avoid streaks. Washing on a cloudy day also reduces streaking.

Sniff out smells.
Check the drip tray underneath your refrigerator and wash out any standing water from defrosting. Remove inside odors by washing the inside of the fridge with a baking soda and water solution. Boil lemon juice in your microwave and add it to your dishwasher to eliminate bad smells. Also, put the lemon rinds down the disposal. Add activated charcoal in the fridge to keep odors at bay.

Make your bed better.
Vacuum mattresses and box springs, and then rotate and flip over. Do the same for removable furniture cushions. This is also a great time to wash or dry-clean the dust ruffle and mattress pad.

Clean those coils.
Improve energy efficiency by vacuuming grates, coils, and condensers in your furnace, stove, and refrigerator (either underneath or in back). If a vacuum won’t reach, try a rag tied to a yardstick.

Wash the walls.
Grease, smoke, and dust can adhere to walls and make even the best decorating look dingy. Wash walls using a general-purpose cleaner with hot water. Start at the top of the wall to avoid drips and in a corner so that you wash one wall at a time. Rinse the mop head frequently in clean water. And don’t press too hard, because flat latex paint won’t absorb much water.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Don't Forget: PMI is Deductible

As April 15 tax day approaches, here is a reminder for home buyers with mortgage insurance.Home owners with adjusted gross incomes of $100,000 or less can deduct the full cost of their government or private mortgage insurance premiums on their 2007 federal returns.Families with incomes between $100,000 and $109,000 are eligible for a reduced deduction.This is a new tax break that Congress has approved through 2010. "On average, this year's tax break could be worth $350 per taxpayer — an annual deduction that qualified home owners can take each year through 2010," says Kevin Schneider, president of the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA).

Source: MICA (03/26/08)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

This Spring’s Hot Home Decorating Trend

(ARA) – Want to get a feel for what’s hot in the world of home decor these days? All you have to do is visit a couple of model homes in your community and take a good look around. You’re sure to recognize a recurring theme.

The cabinets you saw in the high-end kitchen closely resemble the furniture in the adjoining breakfast nook, and the ceiling molding in the dining room matches perfectly as well. These days, designers are going out of their way to carry a single theme throughout the entire house. It’s a design trend called unification.

A good example of this practice can be found at fashion and lifestyle expert Robert Verdi’s Luxe Laboratory, an innovative venue for displaying the best of today’s luxury brands for the home. The lab, situated inside a stunning 3,400 square foot loft on the 13th floor of an art deco building on West 30th Street in Manhattan, features a collection of luxury brands -- displayed in context -- to create a seamless total experience that stimulates the style senses.

From the moment you walk through the door, you’re transformed into a space that’s Déjà New -- characteristic of a new French look with touches of old world flair. There’s oversized furniture and big chandeliers. The kitchen is organized and contemporary without being sterile. The cabinetry is being used as a template for what is truly a great room. The library mimics the cabinetry in the kitchen with the same style and finish.

“I wanted the space to be consistent, with a natural flow from one room to the next. No one wants their home to feel like a showroom so the cabinetry in this space unifies the design theme and connects with the rest of the décor,” says Verdi.

Vince Achey, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Plain & Fancy Custom Cabinetry, the brand of cabinets chosen for the Luxe Laboratory, agrees with Verdi’s assessment. “Custom cabinetry is the only way to utilize every inch of space and make storage easy, convenient and accessible as well as beautiful. We know our customer has specific storage needs and we try to accommodate them in every way possible, with designs that are smart and functional.”

In the kitchen, some of the most popular custom applications people are requesting include decorative storage houses for toasters and other appliances, built-in spice racks, pull-out drawers and cutting boards that fit right into the counter.

In the library or family room, homeowners have the option of continuing the look by installing matching custom bookshelves/cabinets that offer ample storage space. They may cover all four walls and/or reach from the ground to ceiling. Whatever the homeowner wants.

Matching cabinets above the washer/dryer in the laundry room allow the homeowner to store detergent, dryer sheets and stain remover out of sight so the room has a clean look. They may also want to add a pull down iron or folding shelf that can be pulled out when it’s time to fold laundry, then put back when they’re done. “The possibilities with custom cabinetry are truly endless,” says Achey.

No matter what your dream home looks like, functional, customized storage solutions will make all the difference. To learn more about the benefits of custom cabinetry, and get an idea of the looks and materials available, log on to Click on “Find Your Style” to choose the cabinetry design theme that’s perfect for your home.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Downpayment Assistance Update

HUD has been prohibited from implementing their rule which would abolish the use of "seller funded" down payment assistance programs (Nehemiah). Therefore, we may continue to use The Nehemiah Program for the foreseeable future.

On Friday, February 29, 2008 the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California issued a final ruling in Case No. CIV. S-07-2056 - in favor of The Nehemiah program. The decision requires HUD to "set aside" their final rule as published on October 1, 2007, which was to go into effect on March 31, 2008. As a result of this ruling, HUD is prohibited from invoking the final rule at this time. If HUD still wishes to proceed on this issue, they are required to start the process completely over and comply in entirety with the Administrative Procedures Act. This would entail them to once again issue a Proposed Rule and solicit comments, and adequately review and consider all comments (this is where they failed in the previous attempt), before issuing a Final Rule. In the worst case, once the Final Rule is issued, Nehemiah will once again be issued a six month grace period before the rule can be applied.

Please note, Both Houses of The United States Congress are debating legislation to Modernize the Federal Housing Administration. Both bills contain specific language and parameters with regard to "seller funded" down payment assistance programs. As you can probably imagine, the two houses do not currently agree. This will continue to be a "hot topic", which will probably be reported on in the mainstream press. If Congress comes to a resolution, and submits a Bill to the President, that he/she also signs, it is unclear how any changes will be enacted, and more importantly if Nehemiah will get a six month grace period.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Real Estate, A Good Investment

According to a recent Merrill Lynch Economic Report, the prices of homes have not decreased, as some may believe. In fact, real estate prices have increased 60% since 2000. If you've owned your home since then and are worried about the return on your property, have no fear because even if prices do decrease when it's time to sell, you'll still be ahead. If you're thinking about purchasing a new home in the current market, keep in mind that real estate is one of the few investments you can make using leverage. This means you can put 10 to 20% down, yet your return is based on the full market value of your home.

In the past eight years, the S&P 500 report has only declared a 1% per year return, despite stocks doubling in the past five years. It's important to think long term when it comes to the value of your investment. Real estate investments have provided larger returns in the same amount of time. Also, consider the "use" benefit of owning a home compared to owning stock. You'll be able to tangibly enjoy a real estate investment. You probably can't make fond memories with stocks, but owning a home provides the opportunity to create traditions and a place to call home.

Finally, considering the recent drops in interest rates, now is the time to buy and lock in a low fixed mortgage rate. It may be tempting to wait for the rates to drop more, but there is a chance you will miss out. Nobody can accurately and consistently predict the market. Investing now, while you know you have the upper hand, will provide you with a comfortable interest rate you'll be happy with. If you've owned your home for more than two years, you may want to consider refinancing. Especially if you have an adjustable rate mortgage, securing a low fixed interest rate can help ensure the stability of your financial future.

Rest assured that your decision to a buy a home is the right decision, and be confident in your investment!

Contact me for more information.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

In a Down Market, Just Add Color

(ARA) – When it comes to your home’s exterior, color is currency. With millions of homes across the country currently on the market, smart homeowners are differentiating their houses and wowing potential buyers with color - from the roof all the way down to the landscaping.

“Fortunately, you don’t have to resort to beige siding and basic black shingles to play it safe when it comes to exterior color,” says Leslie Segrete, co-host of the Money Pit home improvement radio show. “Contrast can be tastefully done with the home’s enduring architectural elements, while bold or trendy can be reserved for elements that are more easily changed, like landscaping.”

Whether you’re planning to sell your home in this highly competitive market, or just create a classic look you’ll enjoy for years to come, here are some things to keep in mind when adding color to create curb appeal.

From the Top Down
Homeowners might not think of their roof as a part of the overall aesthetic of their home, but it is one of the first things a prospective buyer sees. A roof can account for as much as half of your home’s exterior, yet is an often-overlooked design opportunity. “A new roof is certainly a selling point for a house, but an interesting new roof – one that makes a statement with color or design – can really help pump up curb appeal and enjoyment,” Segrete says.

Color choices in asphalt shingles have been expanding in recent years, and it’s no longer necessary to resort to costly exotic materials – like tile or slate – to create a character-filled look. You can add elegance or whimsy by creating patterns with splashes of color outlined in a contrasting color against a conservative background. Owens Corning, America’s number one brand of roofing shingles, offers a wide selection of shingle colors that can be used in contrasting colors to create eye-catching designs in your roof shingles. You can see examples of a diamond motif and download information from the Owens Corning website,

Color Cues
Color can help sell a house, real estate experts agree, and a poor color choice can alienate your neighbors; not only will it be an eyesore but it can devalue your home and others around it.

According to Segrete classic, clean and elegant, white consistently shows up on the top of the list in surveys of Americans’ most popular color choices for homes. Earth tones of beige, green, brown or tan usually follow closely in terms of preference. While, historically, the more conservative colors have been popular to Americans, times are changing and homeowners are becoming more adventurous with color. Blues and grays are slightly less popular, but still considered within the range of what’s acceptable. Reds and pinks are the least popular, unless, of course, your home has a brick façade or is in a tropical or historic neighborhood.

Whatever color you choose, don’t forget that complementary colors and shades can be used to highlight the architectural style of your home. Darker color blends provide contrast while lighter colors simplify a home’s lines and angles and can make the home appear larger. For example, you may be able to get away with lavender on a gingerbread-style Victorian, but the color would be far less appropriate on many of today’s modern homes.

Liberty to Landscape
Landscaping is the area where homeowners can have the most versatility – and fun – with color. Because plants are not permanent, it’s possible to take risks or make bold statements with color choices. If you don’t care for something or your real estate agent advises you to tone down the color scheme, it’s relatively easy to redo small landscaping elements.

While you have more wiggle room choosing plant and floral colors, do keep in mind positioning and location, especially for large elements like trees or shrubs. Generally, you want colors near the home that will contrast or complement the color of the house itself, and remember to avoid one of the worst landscaping faux pas – obscuring windows or the front door with large trees or shrubs.

With a little know how, homeowners can easily differentiate their home from the neighbors, and in a down market that can make other sellers green with envy.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Quick and Easy Ways to Increase Your Home's Value

When thinking of improvements to make to a home before putting it up for sale, most people automatically gravitate toward remodeled bathrooms or kitchens. While it's a great idea to update both, you won't want to forget the little things you can do to attract potential buyers and quickly increase the value of your home.

If you want to start small, consider the following tips to quickly and easily increase your home's value.

Go Green
Green homes are extremely hot right now. Buyers are looking for homes with environmentally friendly floors, cabinets, countertops and even insulation. Finding ways to conserve energy is always a plus, too, such as installing timed thermostats and fixing any leaky windows or doors.
Replace Old HardwareSimple updates to door locksets, outdoor lighting fixtures and house numbers can give your home personal style and class. If your existing hardware is outdated or dingy, an update to a more modern or highly polished set of matching hardware will instantly make your home look more updated and well maintained.

Play it Safe
Buyers will value a home that is up to date in safety. All smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be in good working order. If there are any flickering lights or popping breakers, fix them immediately. An installed security system will offer potential buyers a peace of mind. You'll also want to make sure all handrails and grab bars are secured tightly and free from wobbles.

Free Space
A clean, orderly home appears larger than it really is. Clear up any clutter and open up as much space as you can. Free, open window treatments will allow more light to stream in, making the home brighter and feel less constricted. Another way to free up space is by organizing closets or even installing built-in closet organizers, which is a huge attraction for buyers.

Don't forget these small but important steps for improving the look and feel of your home before you put it on the market. Buyers will appreciate your home if it is well maintained, and you may find its price increased, as well.

Monday, February 25, 2008

New Home Trends

With the start of each new year typically comes the emergence of new trends for your home. If you are planning on redecorating or selling your home in 2008, it is important to stay up to date on the trends potential buyers will be looking for. With this in mind, here are some 2008 trends for your home.

Color is the biggest selling point for your home this year. This year, colors are more muted and natural than highly saturated and bright. The dining room is where you entertain friends, share the holidays with family and celebrate the big and little events in your life. So, when it comes to color, you want a warm and cozy yet energetic feel. Choose a softer hue and then, if you choose, incorporate brighter colors with accents.

This year, inject new life into living rooms by bringing your color and décor up to date. Living rooms in 2008 are all about adding something unexpected like an accent wall or cushion, rug and other accessories. There are many ways to update your living room. Choose a style that fits your personality.

Floor lamp lighting is out for 2008. This year it is all about natural light. If your home lacks natural light, consider installing recessed lighting or new sconces so a potential buyer won't struggle in trying to figure out how to brighten up the space. This will really open up space and upgrade your home. Change out old light bulbs and use halogen bulbs, they give a cleaner more modern look to any home.

Hardwood floors are still a great option for a 2008 home. REALTORS® agree that most buyers are hunting for hardwood floors. They have the longest life and are not predicted to go out of style. If you can't afford hardwood, go for a synthetic like Pergo, it won't look exactly the same and some buyers may notice a difference, but it is your best bet for a look that is similar.

Whether you are buying, selling or just looking in 2008, be on top of the trends for your home. If you are ready to put your home on the market, remember to contact me; I can offer maximum exposure for your home using Web sites, direct mail and other marketing tools.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine Gift Ideas Meant to Be Shared

(ARA) - Need a gift for your valentine that is personal and luxurious? What about something delicious that you can share?

Gourmet food gifts, with options as varied as restaurant-quality steaks to European chocolates to wine and cheese baskets, are the new trend. According to a new study by, food gifts have skyrocketed in popularity, increasing by 47 percent between 2004 and 2006. While the demand for other gift categories has been slowing down, food gifts are becoming the first choice for many consumers.

“Our online sales increased by 66 percent last year,” says Ed Scavuzzo, president of the Kansas City Steak Company, an online food retailer specializing in high-quality steaks and seafood “We shipped over one million packages of our Kansas City beef in 2007, and we are expecting even larger increases in 2008. We have just completed the introduction of our redesigned Web site that is more functional, more informative, and easier to use. This new Web site will help us continue to provide expert service to our individual, as well as our corporate gift buyers. We offer a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, so our product and our service have to be superior.”

Gourmet gifts of food are becoming the first choice of online consumers because of the high quality of products and the ease of ordering. There is an incredible range of products available from online specialty food retailers that are offered nowhere else. From fine chocolates and decadent desserts, to hard-to-find smoked meats and cheeses, to steakhouse-quality steaks and seafood, the list goes on and on.

Whether you want a personalized snack basket, a regional wine selection or a gourmet meal featuring top-of-the-line filet mignon, poultry, or seafood, your gift can be found from the easily-accessible convenience of your own computer. A click of the mouse at any time of day or night can provide you with customized gifts, complete with a personal greeting.

“Everyone enjoys receiving a gift of top-quality gourmet food,” Scavuzzo says. “It is a gift that is easy to give, easy to receive, and can be shared.”

For expert advice and ideas, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Stop Junk Mail Dead in Its Tracks

(ARA) – Ever stop and wonder how that mortgage broker from out of state managed to find your name and address? Or how the unfamiliar home improvement company that called you last night knew you were shopping around for windows?

We often give out our name, address and phone number without a second thought -- to the salesman at the home improvement store, to the sweepstakes company promising the chance at a $1 million prize, to the marketers who promise to send free samples in exchange for completing a survey. In a perfect world, all companies would protect our personal information. Unfortunately, that is often not the case.

“There is a $10 billion industry profiting from the trading and selling of consumers’ personal information -- without consumers’ knowledge or their consent,” says Steven Gal, CEO of, a La Jolla, Calif. company founded to help provide consumers with meaningful choice and control over how their personal information is used. Gal points out that in many cases, these so-called “data brokers” get their lists from reputable companies the consumer has done business with, but had no idea would be selling their personal information.

Companies are now realizing that in this day and age many of their customers are skittish about the idea of their personal information falling into the wrong hands, especially due to the threat of identity theft. As a result, many are now offering their customers opportunities to “opt-out,” or to keep their information private. You likely received an opt-out offer hidden in the privacy notice that came with your latest phone or credit card bill.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s latest Identity Theft Survey, nearly two million Americans have had their personal information used to open fraudulent accounts. In addition, the practices of data brokers lead to massive amounts of junk mail -- Americans now receive nearly four tons of junk mail annually.

Here are five easy steps you can take to help prevent misuse of your personal information and reduce junk mail:

1. Many stores offer "rewards" or "points" programs. Often stores consider your participation as consent to share your information without directly asking for your permission. If you want to avoid getting junk mail or other promotional material, either don't join these programs, or ask the stores not to share your personal information.

2. Take advantage of a free service like to remove your name and personal information from thousands of marketing lists, data brokers and other organizations that send you unsolicited mail. is a free Web site where you easily set up an account and choose the organizations that you want to stop using your personal information and sending you unwanted mail.

3. The next time you buy something that comes with a warranty card, do not send it back. These are used primarily to market more products to you, and you are not required to send in a completed warranty card -- your receipt is all you need to make a warranty claim.

4. If you don't want your personal information in the hands of data brokers, avoid putting your name and address in the box for a free drawing or other promotion. These are surefire ways to get your name, address and telephone number on multiple junk mail or telemarketing lists.

5. Avoid the urge to enter sweepstakes that require you to provide your contact information. Many times these are a front to build mailing databases, and the only guaranteed prize you will win is a mailbox overloaded with marketing offers.

For more information on how to take control of your personal information from marketers, log on to and establish your free account today. ProQuo says the site can help people reduce their junk mail by 50 to 90 percent within just three months.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Monday, February 04, 2008

New vs. Existing Homes

New home or previously owned? That is, perhaps, one of the first questions you may ask yourself in your home search process. Perhaps you've fantasized about purchasing a fixer-upper and giving it an extreme makeover. Or maybe you've always dreamed of building a home from the ground up and making all new color and appliance choices. Whichever way you're leaning, you'll want to weigh the pros and cons of both before you decide.

New homes offer:

Convenience and new amenities.
Standard options for new homes usually include amenities such as whirlpool tubs, central air/heat and large mirrors.

Peace of mind.
Safety devices such as smoke detectors, circuit breakers and ground fault interrupters come standard in newer homes. Also, new homes are subject to improved safety requirements, which means no-lead paint and asbestos-free insulation are used in its construction.

High-tech solutions in heating and cooling and state-of-the-art materials (such as windows) sometimes ensure a more comfortable, energy-efficient surrounding.
Existing homes offer:

The hallmark of an existing home is a well-developed neighborhood with established zoning laws and school districts.
Resale value.
The return-on-investment for an existing home is often greater; especially in historic neighborhoods where the entire area is undergoing renovation and experiencing an upswing in property values.
Typically, there's more room for negotiation — especially when it comes to incorporating items such as a repair allowance. In addition, expect to save money on "hidden" costs such as landscaping, unforeseen repairs or dues for a homeowner's association.

Keep in mind that both choices have associated costs. New homes are subject to elevated construction and lumber costs, while existing homes often require some type of repair or remodel. If you're thinking of remodeling, be sure to get an idea of common remodeling costs for existing homes.

Regardless of whether you choose a new or existing home, one thing's certain: home ownership remains a strong investment and home improvement a good re-investment of your financial resources.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Selling Your Home in the Winter

Winter is widely known as the slowest season in the real estate industry. The busy holidays, cooler weather and short days often keep home owners in place from December through March. However, it can also be a great time to sell, because, even though you may have fewer buyers during the winter months, you also have less competition from other sellers.

If you cannot wait to sell your home until the spring, you may need to try some extra marketing strategies for selling buyers on your home. Find the hidden advantages of your home during this slow season. With the leaves gone from trees, potential buyers may be able to see the whole home clearly, free from obstructions.

Just as in the summer months, keep your home exterior nicely maintained all winter long. Clear your yard of any fallen twigs or branches. Keep your driveway free of debris and the outside warmly lit. Because the holidays are over, make sure all festive decorations are taken down; however, wreaths or dried arrangements around the door are always a welcome seasonal touch — just as long as they do not scream "holidays."

Inside your home, you will also want to keep all rooms well lit. If you are not planning on being home often, keep both inside and outside lights on timers to keep electric bills at bay. Make sure all windows are thoroughly cleaned and curtains and blinds drawn. Try to schedule a showing or open house during peak daylight hours to maximize natural light in your home.

The way your home smells can make a big impression on a potential buyer. If you have a wood-burning fire, you have got a double advantage — it brings both a warm light and comforting smell to your home. Other smells that may favorably affect a buyer's mood are chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls, freshly baked bread, apple cider and vanilla. Want to create a nice aroma without baking? A drop of vanilla extract on a baking sheet place in a warm oven will mimic the scent of freshly baked cookies.

Though there may be fewer prospective buyers during the winter, this does not mean you will not be able to sell your home. Be creative with the way you stage your home and remember to treat everyone who enters as respected guests. You obviously saw potential in the home you are trying to sell, and someone else surely will, too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Protecting Your Home from Winter Windstorms
A Few Modifications Will Protect Your Most Valuable Asset from the Elements

(ARA) - Like a scene from a Hollywood movie, winter winds rage through town, whipping up leaves, smacking shutters against siding and sending shingles flying. Huge trees snap like feeble twigs. It’s no mystery why scary movies often portray ominous scenes against a backdrop of a dark and stormy night. It’s even more frightening in real life.

The roof over your head is your home's critical shield of protection from high winds and rain, and it’s often the first to be damaged during a windy storm. But with a few simple modifications and defensive strategies, homeowners can prepare their most valuable asset to stand up against even the harshest elements.

Start with the roof, a home’s first line of defense in protection from wind.

During a storm, wind hits the top of the roof and then travels down the exterior walls to the foundation. If the roof components can’t withstand the wind’s force, damage can occur all the way to the foundation. Quality roofing products can help prevent the heartache of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

According to Bert Elliott of Owens Corning, “Investing in a premium, wind-resistant shingle can help minimize the damage you could face in a high-wind event -- so that during the next windy day you can relax and know that your roof is ready for the challenge.”

Owens Corning Duration Series Shingles feature a patented sealant called Tru-Bond that creates a tight grip between the nailing strip and the shingle to insure a powerful bond that can help withstand winds from 110 mph up to 130 mph.

With solid shingles in place, now look to the rest of the house to make sure it’s secure. For example, anchoring bolts with heavy-gauge square bolt washers to connect the floor construction to the foundation is a small task that helps ensure added coverage. It is also important to ensure that metal connectors on roof trusses or rafters and walls are connected properly.

And don’t overlook the garage. Securing garage doors with the correct bracing --single-wide garage doors with a horizontal brace and for garage door panels, either vertical or horizontal bracing -- provides much needed protection for your garage.

Outside your home, survey the landscaping. The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes recommends examining trees within close proximity to the house. If trees are diseased or damaged they may have a weak root system and may not be able to withstand a windstorm. Some warning signs include mushrooms growing at the base of the tree, indicating decay, insect infestation, large cracks in the trunk or branches and dead limbs.

Consider the distance from the tree to the house, even with healthy trees. A tree’s proximity to the home should be greater than the height of the full-grown tree.

Wind speeds fluctuate and often change directions during a storm, so make sure you are not enabling more damage to occur during the next high wind event. Loose items near the home such as lawn furniture, trash cans and other outdoor objects can wreak havoc, and pose a huge risk of injury, so put them away before a windstorm hits.

There’s another bonus to preparing your home for high winter winds. While some wind-retrofit projects are not visible, cleaning up landscaping and installing quality roofing products can help provide protection for your home while adding to its curb appeal.

“Protecting your home doesn’t mean you will have to sacrifice appearance,” says Elliott. “Updating the roof can have a tremendous impact on the overall look of your home, while providing superior protection against wind.”

A little forethought and a few modifications can help you keep those raging, wind-whipped scenes where they belong: in the movies. Visit for more information.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hot Home Decorating and Color Trends for 2008

(ARA) - Are you ready to get a jump start on discovering 2008’s hottest decorating and paint color trends? Winter is an ideal time to start planning your interior decorating spruce ups. And one of the easiest, least expensive ways to give a room a new look and feel is with paint.

“The 2008 color forecast contains some extraordinarily vibrant, yet versatile, hues that have been inspired by everyday life,” says Donna Schroeder of Dutch Boy Paints. “The depth and range of this year’s most popular colors provide extensive options for adding accents to a room, changing themes and styles, or even completely redecorating from scratch.”

All of the colors in this year’s forecast can be found in the Trend Palette within Dutch Boy’s innovative Color Simplicity System. The five modern and stylish color themes found in the 2008 Trend Palette are as follows:

Have you ever strolled past a bakery mesmerized by the brightly colored pastries adorned with intricate details? Food can have an emotional connection for many people, stimulating the senses, including sight. So, why not bring some of these culinary inspirations into your home decor with the Culinary palette?

Colors in the Culinary palette include: A La Carte, Gazpacho, Pink Chenna, Worn Avocado, Dining Alfresco, Phyllo, Sous Chef and Chopping Block.

Think distant lands and exotic destinations. The Travel palette takes its cue from faraway locales and memories of times past. Bring your own journeys home by displaying your travel treasures against richly colored walls.

Colors in the Travel palette include the following: African Sunset, Elephant Watch, Victoria Falls, Slouch Hat, Soukous, Cheetah Spots, Kwaito and Open Savannah.

Whether it’s a favorite blouse, scarf or dress, find inspiration in your own fashionable favorites and dress your home in color. This year’s Fashion palette was influenced by saturated Art Nouveau colors and graphic Deco patterns.

Colors in the Fashion palette include the following: Roaring 20s, Gazette Gold, Champagne Punch, Nouveau Riche, Deco Detail, Floral Applique, Jade Brooch and Paris Metro Station.

The beauty and wonder that come from the natural world can be a great place to derive inspiration. By using colors and textures from the great outdoors, you can create your own scenic landscape in the comfort of your own living room.

Colors in the Nature palette include the following: Leafy Glimmer, Brown Noddy, Red Clover Blossom, Dark Forest, Hen House, Haven White, Purple Loosestrife and Patina Verdigris.

Do you have a favorite piece of artwork? If you’re someone who appreciates the classics like Monet or Renoir, focus on adding more “lifelike” colors to the home -- like blues and neutrals. For a more contemporary look, embrace more unique, energetic colors for an abstract experience.

Colors in the Art palette include the following: Minimalist Cream, Picasso’s Blue Period, Skandi, Bartel Blue, Blue Tape, Impressionist Blue and Canvas Sky.

For more information about how to choose the perfect color, please visit or call (800) 828-5669.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Buying Your First Home? How to Select the Best MortgageGetting the Keys to Your First Home with a Low Down Payment

(ARA) – Home ownership has always been an important component of the American Dream, but many consumers are worried about their ability to buy a home at a tumultuous time in the real estate market. It’s important to know that there are still financing options available for borrowers seeking a responsible, safe and affordable way to buy a home.

Traditionally, home buyers were required to put down at least 20 percent of a home’s purchase price in order to qualify for a mortgage. But with the national median home price still around $220,000, many buyers are unable to come up with the $44,000 needed for a 20 percent down payment. But low down payment options are available.

“This is a challenging time for our nation’s housing market,” says Kevin D. Schneider, president of U.S. mortgage insurance for Genworth Financial and president of the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA). “We’re seeing a greater number of low down payment, privately insured mortgages. The high cost of housing in many areas continues to put home purchases out of reach for many families. The mortgage insurance industry will keep working to help low and moderate income borrowers realize their dream of homeownership.”

Here are four key questions and answers that can help first-time home buyers who want to get a low down payment loan in today’s market.

1.) What are my options if I don’t have 20 percent down payment?

Some mortgage lenders will grant home loans to qualifying home buyers with a down payment of as little as 3 to 5 percent and even less for the most qualified borrowers. A low down payment mortgage with private mortgage insurance (PrivateMI) allows first-time homebuyers to get into a home sooner with a lower down payment, and there is no pre-set limit on the loan amount.

2.) How much can I afford for each monthly payment?

To qualify for most conventional loans, housing expenses should not exceed 26 to 28 percent of your gross monthly income. Some government loans use a ratio of approximately 29 percent of your gross monthly income. Borrowers should compare their monthly income with monthly long-term obligations and expenses for purchasing a home. Because the situation varies with each borrower, consult with your mortgage lender to determine how much you can afford.

3.) How does a low down payment loan with private mortgage insurance compare with a piggyback loan?

A single loan with PrivateMI offers a more predictable, cancelable, safe and secure financing option compared to piggyback mortgages. Piggyback structures, which have virtually vanished from the market in recent months, stack a high-rate small second mortgage on top of a lower-rate first mortgage. For most consumers, the piggyback loan can have several drawbacks, including higher monthly mortgage costs, a balloon payment and loss of financial flexibility. In addition, PrivateMI can be canceled once the homeowner achieves 20 percent equity, and 90 percent of borrowers cancel their PrivateMI within 60 months.

4.) Are private mortgage insurance premiums tax deductible?

PrivateMI premiums are tax deductible for borrowers who purchase or refinance a home in 2007. Families with a household income of $100,000 or less are able to deduct the full premium cost, while families earning up to $109,000 can qualify for a reduced deduction. This deduction marks the first time that homeowners with low down payment loans can deduct the cost of mortgage insurance premiums, resulting in a potential savings of $300 to $350 for qualified taxpayers.

Buying a home is usually the biggest financial decision for any family. With uncertainty about the direction of the housing market and slower appreciation of home prices, many people who used exotic loan structures are being surprised with a big jump in their monthly payments.

While some mortgage financing products, such as interest-only loans and piggyback mortgages, are fading from sight, low down payment loans with mortgage insurance remain readily available for qualified borrowers.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bathroom Renovation on a Budget

(ARA) – When giving someone a tour of your home, do you conveniently skip over the bathroom? Does it look better with the lights off and door closed? If your bathroom is outdated, it might be time for a makeover. Small changes can make a big improvement, and even if you have a small budget, there are many ways to make your bathroom shine.

“Updating a bathroom benefits the home’s overall appearance and is something the homeowners can enjoy every day,” says Dan Auer of, a Web site with a vast inventory which includes all the fixtures and accessories needed for bathroom remodels. “Simple updates can have a big impact and can be done in a small amount of time.”

Easy bathroom updates include:

1) The Faucet
The faucet is the focal point of the entire bathroom and should be one of the main considerations when remodeling. If yours looks like it’s from a bygone era, it’s time to consider something new. Fashion and functionality are now available with many styles and finishes to choose from. You might also consider replacing the sink to really freshen up the look. Pedestal bathroom sinks and countertop sinks are easy to replace and can make an immediate improvement.

2) Bathroom Accessories
Updating the hardware and other bathroom accessories can be a fast and affordable way to give the room an instant facelift. Towel rings, vanity shelves and even drawer handles can all make or date a room. New accessories come in variety of finishes, including chrome, brushed nickel and bronze. Looking to add some bath accessories but not sure where to start? Try a towel ring by the sink for a hand towel so guests don't reach for your bath towels. Sink a little cluttered? A vanity shelf adds stylish extra space; some models even have towel bars built-in. A towel warmer is a great addition to any bathroom and surprisingly affordable. The luxury of a toasty warm towel right outside the shower can't be beat. These small items, in matching finishes, can add up to one great change to your bathroom's look and function.

3) Lighting
New light fixtures can update the look of your bathroom as well as ensure safety while in the bathroom. Remember, because you use this room for your daily preparations, you want to have adequate lighting. Choose an overhead light and/or light above the mirror for ease and convenience. Choose from two, three or four bulb fixtures to adequately light the mirror area. Consider adding side sconces and adjustable lighting, so in the mornings you can turn the lights up to get ready and in the evenings, turn them down for a softer illumination during a relaxing hot bath or shower.

4) Showerhead
When updating your bathroom, add something you can enjoy every day. New showerheads come with a variety of options. They can be handheld, adjustable or even massaging. A new showerhead will prove to be a rewarding update to your daily routine. Many people find a custom shower system is a luxurious way to update their bathroom. Try a two-wall diverter system that sprays in several areas for the feeling of a spa shower at home.

5) Paint
The walls of bathrooms get abused with steam, hairspray, perfume and many other items that are involved in a family’s routines throughout the day. A fresh coat of paint will add a new, clean element that will update any room. Integrate fun colors into the bathroom by trying a new shade of paint, or stenciling in details to fit the overall room theme. When buying paint, consider having the paint store stir in a non-mildew additive because of the extra humidity associated with this room.

The best place to start your bathroom makeover is to look at Web sites like The site offers many ideas and lots of style and finish options. Plus, shopping online can save you money and customer service is easily available for any questions so you are guided as you make your decisions.

“These five steps can be done in a short time for DIYers or within one day for a professional contractor, meaning you can enjoy the updates almost instantly,” adds Auer. “The bathroom is one of the most used rooms in the house. Easy updates will make sure it’s more enjoyable for both you and your guests.”

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Friday, January 11, 2008

AMT “Patch” Passes Congress – IRS Processing of Some Tax Returns Delayed

(ARA) – Auspiciously, the day before adjourning for Winter Break, Congress passed another one year fix -- averting higher taxes for the majority of middle-income America facing the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). The Senate version of the bill, which does not compensate for a $50 billion loss of tax revenue, won majority favor and was signed into law by President Bush. The passage of this legislation boosts the AMT exemption and extends a number of credits for 2007.

In 2006, approximately four million households were required to pay the AMT. Without ratification of another provisional one-year patch to boost the amount of the AMT exemption, an additional 20 million households would have to pay an estimated average of $2,000 more in federal taxes for 2007. Another 27 million filers, who claim a variety of credits closely connected to the AMT (i.e. child and dependent care, education, residential energy and state/local taxes), were also in danger of feeling the AMT pinch.

Speculation that the start of this tax season would be delayed has been addressed by the IRS. The 2007 tax season will start on time for everyone except a small portion of taxpayers. Taxpayers who utilize five credit forms, however, will face IRS processing delays. The IRS has targeted Feb. 11 as the likely processing date for taxpayers filing the following:

* Form 8863 – Education Credits
* Form 5695 – Residential Energy Credits
* Form 1040-A, Schedule 2 – Child and Dependent Care Credit
* Form 8396 – Mortgage Interest Credit
* Form 8859 – District of Columbia First-Time Homebuyer Credit

Of the 22 million taxpayers who used tax software to prepare and electronically file their tax return last year, some may wonder, “Considering the number of last minute legislation changes, will tax software be current and reliable to use this tax season?”

To ensure taxpayers have the opportunity to submit their return, the IRS made all revised forms associated with the AMT available immediately to tax professionals and software companies who produce and support software and online services.

Good advice for taxpayers this tax season: use e-file. Those who submit their IRS return electronically will still fare better because, as the IRS works to process backlogged returns, returns received electronically will be processed faster.

“We encourage our customers who use e-file to enter their tax data into TaxACT and submit their electronic return as they would normally -- the program is current and up-to-date. Once the IRS begins accepting returns, returns will be processed. TaxACT customers can rest easy knowing no other method will help them to get a faster tax refund -- in as few as ten days,” says Stephanie Behrends, spokeswoman for 2nd Story Software, Inc. -- makers of the popular tax program TaxACT.

“Those who e-file their tax return also receive “Proof of Filing” which is an acknowledgement issued to the filer reflecting when the IRS received and accepted the return. Conversely, if an error is detected, the IRS can communicate the problem fast – even pinpointing the location of the error in the tax return.”

Do you have more questions regarding the AMT and how it may impact you? More information is available at -- just enter keyword “AMT” or “Alternative Minimum Tax”. To get a clear picture of the AMT’s impact on your return or for more information regarding TaxACT, visit and start your free Standard tax return.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Make “Financial Fitness” Your Goal for 2008

(ARA) - When the New Year’s parties are over and the rich foods and gooey desserts have been put away, most of us start thinking about getting our bodies back in shape. But how “fit” are the other parts of your life -- such as your finances -- for the year ahead?
“The key to financial fitness is preparation. Whether preparing for retirement, college for your children, a dream vacation home or even the unexpected, everybody needs to take time each year to reexamine what they’re doing and the progress they’re making in order to reach those milestones,” says Christopher Pinkerton, senior vice president, North American sales and marketing for Foresters, a leading fraternal benefit society that assists people in achieving financial security.

Here are some easy ways to put together a financial fitness plan so you’re better prepared monetarily for the days and months to come.

Saving Money

It’s a new year and a new opportunity to examine your expenses, spending and savings habits. Start the year right by creating a month-by-month budget, setting a savings goal and projecting your financial needs.

A good rule of thumb is to set aside three to six months of salary for unexpected events such as a job loss, major car repairs or large medical bills. In addition to preparing for the unexpected, identify ‘known expenses’ that are coming up such as college costs, a new home, new car or a new addition to the family, and build them into your budget. Give yourself adequate time to save for these expenses a little each month. Before you know it you won’t even feel as if you’re saving and you’ll be a step ahead.

They’re definitely something you can count on year after year. Review the withholding on your paycheck and adjust it if necessary. Take time to gather and sort out your receipts from the past year to identify tax deductions. While you’re at it, set up an organized system to keep track of receipts for next year, so you don’t misplace something and miss out on any deductions moving forward. And speaking of deductions, this is also a good time to determine which charitable contributions you made in the previous year, and which ones you plan to make in the coming year.


Review the status of your 401(k), IRA and pension plan. If appropriate and consistent with your savings goals, sign up for any automatic increases offered through your employer. Take note of your retirement plan status at this stage of your life -- are you on track for growth, or is it time for an investment change? Even periodic small changes can have a big impact on your ability to build strength through investments.

Also, review your spouse’s retirement plan, and agree on a plan for building wealth. Determine a strategy that allows you to increase your contributions during the good times as well as make changes during challenging times. For example, mark your calendar to review your investment performance with a financial advisor each quarter.

Estate Planning

The need for this may seem like a long way off, but it’s a good idea to plan for your family’s financial security. Do you have a will, trust or health care directive? If so, review the beneficiary designations to make sure the plans reflect your current wishes. Ensure that you have a guardian named for your children, and that you’ve outlined how your assets will be transferred.

Also at this time, consider whether there will be significant tax consequences for your survivors, who has title to what property and who will oversee your estate plan. If you don’t yet have these items in place, an estate planning professional can help you sort things out, saving your family added complications upon your death. Your family will appreciate your forethought and be comforted by knowing that you made plans for them.

Life Insurance

An important step in financial fitness is financial security, and life insurance can be the backbone of financial security.

Remember, life insurance is the piece of the puzzle that makes sure your family can keep the house, send the kids to college or sustain the family’s livelihood if there’s a loss of one or both income providers. Some life insurance products can also provide savings and investment options for a home, a family bequest or a dream vacation.

“At the start of a new year, many people resolve to re-evaluate their investments or bump up their 401(k) contributions. However, as your life changes so will your life insurance needs. Be sure to check the beneficiaries. And consult with a life insurance representative on a regular basis to help you determine if you have the coverage that fits your needs,” says Pinkerton.

Conventional wisdom recommends households should carry anywhere between two to 10 times your annual income in life insurance. If you don’t have a life insurance policy -- or any of the other financial plans mentioned above -- now is the time to get those parts of your life in shape. With the help of qualified professional advisors, you can put a financial fitness plan in place and prepare both you and your loved ones for the future.

Courtesy of ARAcontent