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Mary Mastroeni

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The Top Six Most Useful Kitchen Additions

August 21, 2014 12:12 pm

Modern kitchens are generally built with space and convenience in mind. But if you’re living with an older kitchen, there are easy additions you may want to consider to maximize available space and cooking area.

The Wall St. Journal’s home and living editors provide their top six suggestions:

  • Kitchen island – A kitchen island can double or triple both food preparation and storage space. An inexpensive portable island can give you space and flexibility.
  • Wall oven – It’s a lot easier to baste a turkey at eye level than it is when it’s below the stove – and there’s something to be said for the extra elbow room it will give you when you are multi-tasking in the kitchen. Lastly, a wall oven with two compartments gives you extra baking space and the availability of convection or rotisserie options.
  • Cabinet organizers/lazy susans/pullout shelves – Easy access to pantry items and pots and pans make food preparation easier and faster. Consider having lazy susans, pull-out shelves and other organizers built into your kitchen cabinets.
  • Pot and pan racks – If cabinet space is an issue, think about wall-mounted racks to keep you most-used pots and pans within easy reach. A trip to the home store or a look online will yield plenty of options.
  • Dishwashers – Today’s large capacity and energy-efficient dishwashers are a boon to the family cook. Install one if you don’t already have one built in – or replace the one you have if it’s more than seven or eight years old.
  • Ventilation system – Experts say that cooking churns out airborne contaminants like nothing else in the home – and even food that smells great while it’s cooking doesn’t smell so good hours or days later. With the right ventilation system, odors and contaminants will become a thing of the past.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Ways to Maximize Space

April 17, 2013 7:18 pm

Chances are, whether you’re a buyer or a seller, there’s at least one room in your home that you wish could be bigger. We don’t blame you. After all, who couldn’t use more space? But, before you pick up that sledge hammer and start moving walls, keep reading. This week, we have tips on how to get the most out of the space you already have.

Pick the Right Color: In this case, lighter paint colors are the clear winner. While darker colors may have more personality, they also have a tendency to leave the room feeling closed off and a tad claustrophobic. Remember, when selling, neutrals are also key. If possible, your best bet is to continue the light shade into adjacent rooms, so that it tricks the eye into believing the space continues. 

Let the Light In: Natural light can do wonders for opening up a room. It essentially helps the room to visually connect with the wide open outdoors.  So open up those curtains! If no natural light is available, try to make light cover as much of the space as possible. Reassessed lighting is great for filling in hard to reach corners.   

Add a Mirror: We’re sure you’ve heard of this one, but it’s an old standby for a reason. Just make sure to focus the mirror directly across from the focal point of the room and you’ll add a ton of visual space to the room in seconds.

Keep It Simple: Obviously, you’ll want to limit furniture and accessories to the essentials. You want the room to have as much open space as you can get. If you’re feeling extra fancy, go for duel-purpose or modular pieces. That way, you can minimize clutter while maximizing functionality and storage. 

Clean, Clean, Clean: We know we say this a lot, but it’s really self-explanatory. Any room will look much more open when there isn’t clothes on the floor and clutter in the corners. 


3 Tips to Sell Your Home Fast

April 3, 2013 11:45 am

Regardless of whether you have a new job offer or just want to get a jumpstart on retirement, sometimes you need to sell your home as fast as possible. Selling can seem daunting enough without the extra pressure of a time crunch, but don’t fret! This week, we’ve got tips to help sell your home in the blink of an eye. 

Be Realistic on Price:  We know that selling your home is emotional. You paid a lot for it and then put your blood, sweat, and tears into improvements, it makes sense that you’d want to get everything back. Unfortunately, though, markets change and that may not be possible. Our best advice is to listen to your realtor on this one. She knows what comparable homes are going for in the area and will give you a fair estimate. Remember, well-priced homes move while overpriced ones tend to sit.

Offer Incentives: If you really want to move in a hurry, you need to make your home as enticing as possible to buyers. One way to do that is to offer some extras. Consider whether it might be worth it to offer to pay the buyers’ closing costs. Alternatively, consider leaving behind the washer and dryer or the big screen TV that fits perfectly over the mantle. 

Be Flexible: As we’ve said before, getting out the door for showings can be a hassle, but we promise it’s beyond worth the trouble! The more willing that you are to let people come through your home – even if it’s at a moments notice – the more traffic it gets. Think of it this way, people can’t submit an offer on a home that the seller won’t let them see.   


Spring Cleaning Checklist

March 20, 2013 4:02 pm

Spring has finally arrived! It’s time to shake off those winter cobwebs and usher in a fresh start. Regardless if you’re looking to sell in the next few months or if this is your forever home, a little spring cleaning is a great way to give your home a rejuvenated feel. To make this process a snap, we’ve compiled a handy room-by-room list of chores that will leave you feeling squeaky clean.

All Rooms:

  •       Vacuum
  •        Scrub floors
  •        Dust (including baseboards, if you’re feeling industrious)
  •        Wash windows
  •        Replace screens
  •        Open windows to air things out
  •        Wipe down surfaces
  •        Organize shelves
  •        Change light bulbs
  •        Clean out drawers

Bedroom:

  •      Clean under bed
  •        Flip mattress
  •        Wash bedding and swap out flannel for cotton
  •        Trade winter apparel for summer, if you’re short on space
  •        Donate unused clothing

Bathroom:

  •        Clean and reseal grout
  •       Remove water stains
  •        Fix drain clogs
  •        Wash towels and bath mats
  •        Discard old beauty products
  •        Restock travel kits

Kitchen:

  •        Clean out the fridge
  •        Defrost the freezer
  •        Dust refrigerator coils
  •        Clean oven
  •        Clean out and organize food storage containers
  •        Check expiration date on pantry foods

Dining Room:

  •       Polish silver
  •        Organize china cabinet
  •        Hand wash china

Family Room/ Living Room:

  •        Dust curtains
  •        Flip cushions on furniture
  •        Clean fireplace/chimney
  •        Reevaluate placement of photos/knick-knacks
  •        Change batteries on electronics

Home Office:

  •       Clean out filing cabinets
  •        Shred/recycle old paperwork
  •        Install all computer updates
  •        Clean out computer hard drive and back it up
  •        Wipe down phones and keyboards
  •        Invest in fresh office supplies 

Storage Spaces:

  •       Donate unused items
  •        Ensure important items are protected from the elements

Miscellaneous:

  •       Swap out seasonal items  (candles, decorations)
  •        Clean out purses and bags
  •        Restock cleaning supplies


Easy Ways To Pump Up Curb Appeal

March 6, 2013 3:50 pm

Curb appeal refers to the way your house looks from the street. As the very first impression prospective buyers have of your home, there’s no overestimating its importance. However, we want to let you in on a little secret – it can be super easy. This week, we have a few simple tips that won’t break the bank AND can be completed in time for you to get to your weekend plans. (Go ahead and have that beer, you deserve it!)

Embrace Flowers: Especially now that spring is around the corner, flowers are a great way to add some visual interest to the front of your home. Window boxes can easily add a pop of color to the house while keeping your new garden contained. But, if that’s too much work, most garden centers sell partially mature plants already in decorative pots. Arrange a couple of these on your doorstep and you’re good to go. 

Decorate Your Doorway: It’s important for potential buyers to get a welcoming feeling from your home. Make sure it happens before they even enter the front door. Throw down a welcome mat, hang up a wreath, and change out old hardware so that your doorstep gives off that “homey” feel. Also, don’t be afraid to give your door and screen a quick wipe down, you’d be surprised what a big difference it makes.

Make Use Of Identifiers: When selling, you want to make sure that people know which house is yours, even if they’re just doing a quick drive-by. Choose a set of decorative numbers from your local home improvement store and display them in a spot that is easily identifiable from afar. (It wouldn’t hurt to put a second set on the mailbox, too.)

Light The Way: Typically, buyers go out on showings after they come home from work, which means it will likely be dark by the time they get to your house. A dark entranceway can feel uninviting. By placing lights at the start of your walkway and around the doorway, you can ensure a welcoming start to the showing – not to mention it highlights all of your hard work!

Do A Final Spruce: This one is up to you to decide. Are there some rogue weeds sprouting up? Does the grass need to be cut? Did the kids leave their soccer net out in the yard again? Clean things up so that your home looks as put together as possible. You don’t want potential buyers to get distracted from all your home has to offer.   


FHA Versus Conventional Loans

February 27, 2013 4:58 pm

 Figuring out how to finance your home can be daunting, especially when you’re a first-time homebuyer. Really, how often do you deal with that amount of money, right?  Don’t worry, this week, we’ve tried to take some of the stress out of it by providing you with a cheat sheet.

Traditionally, there are two types of mortgages: FHA (Federal Housing Administration) and conventional loans. Obviously, each option is going to have its pros and cons. Read below, to decide which option works best for you and your family:

FHA Loan:  

First implemented during the Great Depression in order to increase home construction, FHA loans fall under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is important to note that the FHA does not make loans. Rather, it insures loans made by private lenders, so shopping around is key.

PRO:

·      Low Down Payment: The main selling point of an FHA loan is the 3.5% minimum down payment requirement.

o   A minimum credit score of 580 is needed to qualify

·      Low Credit Score Minimum: FHA boasts a minimum required credit score of 500

o   However, buyers with credit scores between 500 and 579 are required to make a down payment of 10%

·      Higher Typical Lending Limit: Buyers in higher-cost areas can borrow up to $729,750

·      No Payment Penalty

 

CON:

  • ·      Mortgage Insurance Requirement: Both upfront and annual insurance premiums are necessary.
  • ·      Limited options: 15 year fixed-rate, 30 year fixed rate, or 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages are the most common.
  • ·      One at a Time: Generally, buyers are only allowed one FHA loan at a time
Conventional Loans:
Conventional loan is not made by a government entity nor insured by a government entity. Homebuyers can take out an amortized conventional loan from almost any bank, a savings and loan, a credit union or even through a mortgage broker.

PRO:

·      More Options: The type of loan is decided individually between you and your lending institutions, so other options like a 10 year fixed-rate or 7 year adjustable-rate may be available

·      No Mortgage Insurance: Typically requires a 20% down payment

·      Can Have Many Conventional Loans at Once

·      Accepted Everywhere: Many condo complexes won’t go for FHA financing. The same goes for non-owner investment properties

CONS:

·      Stricter Requirements: Generally, conventional mortgages require a down payment between five and 20 percent and credit score varies.

·      Possible Payment Penalty

 

 Click Here for More Info (and never hesitate to talk to your Realtor):

·      http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/buying/loans

·      http://www.fmfcu.org/mortgages/ConventionalvsFHA0310.pdf


6 Tips for Moving With Kids

February 20, 2013 1:35 pm

 Let’s be honest, moving is stressful no matter what. But, there’s an extra layer to worry when kids are involved. Luckily, kids are extremely resilient and adaptable. They’ll be fine once they get through the initial adjustment period. But, we wouldn’t just let you hang out to dry until then! This week, we have 6 tips to ensure that you and your kids come through your move with flying colors.

Have A Family Meeting: Breaking the moving news can be a big deal. Order a couple pizzas or cook a favorite meal, but make sure that everyone is convened in the same place. Be honest: share both your excitements and anxieties relating to the move, as well as preparing the kids for what to expect during the moving process. Give each child a chance to do the same and reassure them that their concerns are valid. Just remember to end on a positive note, framing the move as a new, exciting opportunity.   

Give Everyone a Job: No one wants to feel like the whole process is happening without them. It’s up to you to make sure that everyone feels included. Give each child a job that is age appropriate – assembling boxes, labeling, organizing items. Don’t be afraid to make a game out of it, so at the end of the day everyone feels accomplished. 

Clean Out Clutter: Moving is a great time to get rid of unused clutter.  Have a garage sale beforehand. Make it clear that any money from the sale will go towards a treat related to your new home. It can be the bigger TV everyone has been wanting or a trip to the amusement park in your new city.  Help each child go through their things and decide what they would like to get rid of. If this process gets tough, remind them of the reward.

Stay In Touch: One of a child’s biggest concerns about moving is a fear of losing friends. A goodbye party is a great way to ease these fears with a celebration. During the party, you can collect friends’ contact information and make plans to have weekly phone calls or send postcards. Just be sure to follow through once you get there.

(Pro Tip: One fun activity is to have each guest write down or draw a favorite memory, then share it. After the party, you can collect these memories on a board or in special box so that can be brought to your new home.)

Stick To Routines: It can be tempting to slack off on things a bit while in the midst of moving chaos. But, children are creatures of habit who feel more comfortable with things they know. If their location is in flux, it’s very reassuring to remind them that everything else will remain the same in their new home. Stick to those familiar bedtime and time out routines n matter how crazy things get. And, don’t forget to maintain regular rewards as well!

Become a Tourist: This, obviously, is especially necessary if your family is moving further than just down the street. It’s important to make your new location feel like home as quickly as possible. One easy way to do this is to explore the new area. Make it fun, go on adventures. We guarantee that you’ll feel more comfortable in your surroundings and so will the kids. 


5 Winter Energy Saving Tips

February 13, 2013 3:55 pm

Winter is only half over and who knows how many more “storms of the century” lay ahead. Whether you’re a buyer, seller, or proud homeowner, everyone is undoubtedly feeling the strain of heating bills these days. This week we’ve brought you some seasonal energy-saving tips. Here’s hoping that you can use them to avoid wearing gloves to the dinner table. (But even if you do, we won’t judge – we promise.)

Maintain Your Heating Equipment:  This one’s huge. No one wants to be left without heat when they need it most, not to mention a big repair bill to boot. Dirt and neglect are the top causes of heating system failure, especially on appliances more than a decade old. Even if you think your system is fine, it can’t hurt to get it checked out. 

While we’re on the subject, dirty air filters are another leading cause of system breakdown. Most sources recommend that they be changed every three months for optimal performance. Plus, the better they function, the less energy your system has to expend, and the more money stays in your pocket.

Seal Off Air Leaks: Now, in a perfect world, this would have been taken care of before the dead of winter, but better late than never. In rooms that are excessively drafty, you may have an issue with air leaks, particularly around windows and doorframes. Sealing the air leaks with caulk, spray foam, or weather stripping can help you get the most out of your home’s insulation.

Close Doors: Shutting the door to unused rooms, can help you avoid unnecessarily heating the space. Studies have shown that this simple action can save up to 3 percent* on monthly heating costs. (Pro-tip: Make sure to reduce sun exposure in these spaces as temperature fluctuation can sometimes lead to mold growth.)

Open Drapes: On sunny days, don’t be afraid to use natural energy to your advantage. Open up the drapes and let the sun help heat the room, especially if the windows are south or west facing. As an added bonus, sun exposure has also been known to help drive away those “winter blues”!

Wait To Do Your Laundry: We don’t know about you, but we’ll take this excuse and run with it. It’s no secret that a bunch of half-full loads can needlessly add to your water and energy bills. Waiting until you have a full load (along with washing in cold or lukewarm water) can help you save 2-4 percent* on your next bill.

*In case you’re curious, the statistics used in this article are from The EPA and The Edison Electric Institute and were compiled in another article found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/27/winter-energy-saving-tips_n_1139412.html#s529040&title=Maintain_Your_Heating


3 Things To Consider When Thinking Of Buying

January 30, 2013 4:06 pm

Congratulations, deciding that you’re ready to buy your own home is a big step! Now, it’s time to think about what kind of what kind of home you’d like to purchase – style of architecture, number of bedrooms, lot size.  While every buyer has a wish list, you should be prepared to make some compromise. However, there are some areas on which comprise isn’t such a virtue. We’ve laid out three for your consideration:

BUDGET: Surprisingly, it’s not one flat rate that needs to be decided upon. It’s best to have two figures in your head when looking at listings: a figure that you’d prefer to stay under and then your absolute maximum. This maximum gives you a little wiggle room and comes into play when deciding if it’s worth it to spring for a completely redone kitchen.  (Don’t be afraid. Remember, while a couple thousand dollars may seem like a huge deal when looking at the total price tag, the amount is much smaller when distributed over your monthly payments.) Don’t feel like you have to let your dream house go over a few lattes per month.

LOCATION: “Location, Location, Location” is the ultimate home-buying cliché for a reason. This is because, at the end of the day, it’s the one thing about the house that really cannot be changed. Once you settle into a home, new appliances can be bought and paint colors can be altered, but your commute to work will never shorten. Conversely, a property that’s too close to a major road may eventually be subject to expansion or unattractive to buyers upon resale.

TURN KEY VS. FIXER UPPER: On the one hand, renovating is a great way to put your own personal stamp on a home and it’s seems like a great way to save a few extra bucks, at least initially. But, on the other, they are also a huge responsibility. Are you handy? Do you have the time to deal with contractors or do the projects on your own? Are you prepared to deal with unexpected setbacks and extra costs?  Now is the time to be honest  about these things. It’s hard to call it quits in the middle of a project.


5 Simple Home Staging Tips

January 24, 2013 4:20 pm

Let’s be honest, selling your home can be hard work. On top of school, work, and softball practice it’s not easy to shuffle the whole family out the door, so that prospective buyers can come through for a showing. At that point, the last thing on anyone’s mind is making sure that the house looks like a Homes and Gardens cover. 

Unfortunately, staging is one of those necessary evils.  A showing is a prospective buyer’s first – and quite possibly only – impression. Just like on a first date, it’s really important to put your best foot forward. People talk and homes that show better inevitably get more traffic. Lucky for you, we have 5 tips to make sure the process is as quick and painless as possible. 

CLEAN: This seems like it should go without saying, but it bears repeating. Luckily, that doesn’t mean you have to hog wild for each showing. Use your time wisely. Scrub in the corners when you have time on the weekends. Then, just make sure that you do a quick sweep to pick up those odds and ends before you leave.

DON’T CUT CORNERS:  Everyone has experienced a moment when company is five minutes away and the living room still looks like a tornado hit it. The easy answer is to shove the whole mess into a closet and deal with it later, right? That may work most of the time, but remember that when potential buyers are on a showing, they are trying to picture themselves living in the home. They want to see as much as possible. This means closets, laundry rooms, and even attics or crawl spaces in some cases. If you’d be embarrassed to show your guests, don’t take the chance.     

ORGANIZE (ESPECIALLY FOR PETS): It will be a lot easier to get everyone out of the house on time if you know where everything belongs. (Pro tip: Dark colored bins can hide a multitude of sins.)  This goes double if you have pets. Always make sure that all paraphilia – like food or a liter box - is in the same room and as tucked away as can be. Whenever possible, take Fido with you to minimize risk of accidents or allergies.    

DEPERSONALIZE: There is no doubt that you have an impeccable sense of personal style. However, you have no idea who will be seeing your home. It could be a young professional searching for her first house or an older couple looking to downsize. Your job is to appeal to as many people as possible. Now is the time to remove family photos and big statement pieces. When in doubt, neutral works best. 

EMBRACE LITTLE TOUCHES: You don’t have to break the bank to add value to your home. A new coat of paint and some fresh flowers can go a long way.