Mary Mastroeni
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Mary Mastroeni

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Q: What Should I Do to Prepare My Home for Sale?

May 16, 2012 5:44 pm

A: Start by finding out its worth. Contact a real estate agent for a comparative market analysis, an informal estimate of value based on the recent selling price of similar neighborhood properties. Or get a certified appraiser to provide an appraisal. 

Next, get busy working on the home’s appearance. You want to make sure it is in the best condition possible for showing to prospective buyers so that you can get top dollar. This means fixing or sprucing up any trouble spots that could deter a buyer, such as squeaky doors, a leaky roof, dirty carpet and walls, and broken windows. 

The “curb appeal” of your home is extremely important. In fact, it is the first impression that buyers form of your property as they drive or walk up. So make sure the lawn is pristine – the grass cut, debris removed, garden beds free of weeds, and hedges trimmed. 

The trick is not to overspend on pre-sale repairs and fix-ups, especially if there are few homes on the market but many buyers competing for them. On the other hand, making such repairs may be the only way to sell your home in a down market.

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Water Safety Rules in May

May 15, 2012 5:40 pm

Every year around this time, I issue the reminder that May is Water Safety Month. This year is no different as we turn our attention to a safety awareness program sponsored by the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (APSP).

According to APSP President and CEO Bill Weber, the best way for adults and children to have a safe and enjoyable time around the pool is by employing what the APSP calls "layers of protection."

Layers of protection is about multiple safeguards, starting with continual supervision, and carrying through to alarms, fences, self-latching gates, close availability of life-saving equipment and other precautions that can prevent drowning.

Safety precautions also encompass prevention of slips and falls, monitoring water chemistry and taking steps to eliminate hazards related to electrical, heating or other equipment, according to the APSP.

Weber says while many safety precautions are completely voluntary, some are mandated by law. One of the most recent is the enactment of safety codes designed to prevent entrapment dangers caused by suction from spa and pool drains.

The codes require new residential pools and spas to have updated drain covers, as well as a dual drain Suction Vacuum Release System (SVRS). Owners of older pools and spas can ask their pool service provider to install drain covers that meet safety requirements.

Source: www.nespapool.org.

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How-To: Keep Bees Away from Hummingbird Feeders

May 15, 2012 5:40 pm

Each spring when hummingbird feeders go up, the bees rejoice. Consumers begin to wonder how they can keep bees away from the sweet nectar in their feeders. If bees or wasps are a problem, these tips can help: 

• Use a hummingbird feeder with bee guards or bee guard tips so the bees can’t get into the nectar.
• Try feeders that have no yellow in them. The color yellow could be attractive to bees.
• If the “bees” are actually yellow jackets, a kind of wasp, you may be able to reduce the population with yellow jacket traps.
• Move your hummingbird feeder to a very shady location. Bees prefer to eat in sunny areas. Distract bees with a saucer of nectar where the feeder used to be.
• Make the nectar less sweet. Try 5 parts of water to 1 part sugar instead of the usual 4 parts water to one part sugar.
• Spraying a very light coating of cooking oil on the feeder may stop bees from landing on it. But use caution not to overdo it. Oil on hummingbird feathers can be harmful to them.
• A very small amount of petroleum jelly on the feeder flowers might also help stop bees from landing.
 Be sure to wipe off the excess so hummingbirds don’t get it on their feathers.
• After hanging with fresh nectar, be sure to clean off sugary drips or spills on the outside of the feeder so bees won’t be attracted to the sugary scent.
• Never use insect-killing chemicals around hummingbird feeders! It’s bad for the hummingbirds and may also kill beneficial honey bees! 

Source: Duncraft

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Estate Planning 101

May 15, 2012 5:40 pm

(ARA) - There's a common misconception among the American public that estate planning is only the domain of the elderly or the very wealthy. However, that's far from the truth. The fact is estate planning is something that can be done by people of any income level, and should be considered by everyone.

If you haven't considered yourself as a candidate for estate planning, you might be underestimating the value of your assets. In fact, you might think of items like your home, your car and your life insurance simply as part of the background of your life, but they are, in fact, assets - and valuable ones at that. And if you've underestimated your need for putting together an estate plan, you're not alone. The unhappy result of failing to plan may be unnecessary fees, expenses and delays at a time when your loved ones are struggling to cope with loss.

"As many as 120,000,000 Americans do not have up-to-date estate plans," says Clark McCleary, president of the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC). "That makes it one of the most overlooked areas of personal finance, but it's also one of the most important. Estate planning protects you, your family and your family's future, so it shouldn't be put off."

The complex nature of planning your estate might put some people off, but in that situation, a professional, Accredited Estate Planner (AEP) can simplify the process. Working with a team of professionals ensures that your plans are streamlined, understandable and clear-cut, to avoid confusion down the road. The NAEPC makes it easy to find vetted professionals in your area with a search tool on its website www.naepc.org.

The economic challenges of the past few years have shown many Americans the importance of saving and making well-considered financial decisions. Even as awareness has grown, programs that support the development of financial literacy have also gained traction. As important as it is to create and maintain a household budget and use credit wisely, it's equally essential to include estate planning as part of an overall understanding of personal finances.

For most people, the human element of estate planning is key, but it sometimes gets lost in the discussion of accounts and numbers. The most important thing to remember is that planning your estate well ahead of time - when you're feeling your best and when you're calling the shots - ensures that your goals will be accomplished.

Though young people often don't feel the need to take action, a well thought out plan is the best way to ensure that your wishes, from guardianship of young children to charitable intents to caring for older parents, are carried out the way you want them to be. Your plans can always be updated as life's inherent changes alter the landscape, but establishing a starting point that clearly represents your wishes is the first step that needs to be taken.

Giving yourself and your family peace of mind about the financial concerns of the future is a great gift. If you've never considered an estate plan, speaking to an Accredited Estate Planner can help shed light on how a plan can benefit you and your loved ones for years to come.

Source: www.estateplanninganswers.org

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How-To: Install a Vinyl Fence

May 15, 2012 5:40 pm

(ARA) - If you need to keep the neighbors out or the pets and children in, it may be time for a fence, preferably one that will last a lifetime and requires very little maintenance. But if you know much about installing a fence, chances are this is a home project that makes you want to run for the hills. After all, who wants to rent power augers, dig deep holes, tear up the yard, remove excavated dirt and pour hundreds of pounds of concrete?

Probably not you. The good news is that you can actually install a fence without all this hassle. Do-it-yourself homeowners across the country are now installing sturdy vinyl fences without digging holes, making a mess of the yard or pouring concrete.

No-dig vinyl fence systems are installed by driving pipe deep into the ground using a post pounder. Fence has been installed this way for years, but for vinyl it can be tricky because it's almost impossible to drive pipe into the ground perfectly straight, which results in crooked fence posts. This problem is solved by a clever leveling device that compensates for the crooked pipe so that when you slide your vinyl fence post over the pipe, the post is ultimately straight and level.

While driving pipe into the ground can require a bit of muscle, it's still much easier than digging 3- or 4-foot-deep holes, dealing with excavated dirt and pouring three or four bags of concrete per hole, as most traditional vinyl fence installation instructions demand. Alternately, you can also rent a pneumatic post pounder to make it even easier.

Some skeptics wonder how a no-dig vinyl fence will perform in high winds. "We have had our digless fence products wind-load tested by an independent third party laboratory and it has been certified to stand up to 75mph sustained winds, which is where a category 1 hurricane starts," says Denise Esser from WamBam Fence.

Installing vinyl fence by driving pipe into the ground has been used in Western Canada on tens of thousands of fences for more than a dozen years by both professional fencers and home owners. However, it's only recently that companies have been manufacturing a full no-dig fencing solution designed for the do-it-yourself homeowner, offering a variety of styles and sizes. Alternately, there are companies that offer just the leveling devices to keep the pipes straight. This enables you to buy them online and use them with pipe, posts and panels purchased separately.

Homeowners often end up hiring a professional due to the amount of labor and equipment involved in a fence installation, but the no-dig method makes it much easier - and therefore more attainable - for the average do-it-yourselfer. With an innovative no-dig installation method, installing a vinyl fence is one home project that just got a lot easier.

Source: www.wambamfence.com.

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Word of the Day

May 15, 2012 5:40 pm

Fee simple. Ownership of real property that is to be used and/or sold at the owner’s discretion.

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Question of the Day

May 15, 2012 5:40 pm

Q: How can I protect my home from creditors?
A:
Check with your state. It may provide special protection through the filing of a homestead exemption, which exempts some or all of the value of your equity in the homestead – or home that you live in and the land on which it sits – from claims of unsecured creditors.
Whether to file a homestead exemption will depend on your situation. Contact your county recorder's office for details.

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Top 5 Strategies for Managing Your Family's Time

May 14, 2012 5:40 pm

Most families having difficulty managing their hectic schedule. From family meeting times to "just saying no," simple tips can make a huge difference in how parents and children find time to enjoy one another.

So what is the best way to manage a family’s hectic schedule? Effective time management is essential to helping a family stay connected. Below are five ways to successfully manage a family’s time:
1. Decide your family’s top three “main things.” As a family, pick three things that are most important to everyone. You can help get your schedule under control by keeping track of the big picture.
2. Keep an updated master family calendar. The calendar will remind family members of the “main things” and help manage hectic schedules.
3. Learn to say no. Before taking on another commitment or project, look at your family calendar and decide if you have the time. If it won’t fit, say no politely- and don’t feel guilty.
4. Hold weekly family meetings. Just 15-20 minutes a week can help you touch base and coordinate your calendars to limit confusion and stress.
5. Make time to eat together. Family mealtimes are a great opportunity to connect with each other after a long day. Schedule a time where you can sit down face-to-face, eat and relax. 

“Remember, you are the CEO of your family – and you love your kids more than anyone else does,” says Laura Buddenberg, Boys Town training expert. “Setting your priorities and slowing your pace keeps the ‘schedule beast’ under control, giving you and your children time to enjoy life and each other.” 

Source: http://www.parenting.org/reimers

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The Three Ps of Decorating Give Your Home and Garden a Makeover

May 14, 2012 5:40 pm

(ARA) - Looking for a trendy home and garden makeover that gives instant gratification and doesn't require a lot of time and resources? The latest trends in fashion and home decorating are drawing inspiration from the bright colors and laid-back attitudes of the tropics.

"Vibrant tropical colors are influencing home decor and gardens this spring and summer," says Doug Jimerson, editor-in-chief of gardening for Better Homes and Gardens.

Whether you want to makeover a deck, patio or porch, add some tropical flair by following the "three P's" of outdoor design: plants, paint and punch.

Plants

"New tropical plants are easy to grow for any outdoor space," Jimerson says. "With fantastic colors and foliage, it's simple to add splashes of intense color throughout your garden, deck and patio."

Jimerson suggests going big and bold with gorgeous blooms of colorful hibiscus that come in dozens of bright tropical colors.

"Whether you're planning a summer luau, graduation party or just want a restful retreat, decorating your backyard with easy care, sun-loving hibiscus offer a blaze of color for any occasion. Cut hibiscus flowers floating in water make an exotic centerpiece, and using the blooms as garnishes takes al fresco dining to the next level," Jimerson says.

New Bloomtastic! and Patio Tropics! tropical plants from Hines Growers, offer immediate color and impact for any sized garden, deck, porch or patio. Simply leave them in their pretty pots to add lush flowers and foliage to your outdoor spaces or grow them throughout your landscape for a pop of vivid color.

One of the best hibiscus varieties is Bahama Bay Hibiscus "Amazon Queen" with huge blooms that match the Pantone Color Institute color of the year, Tangerine Tango. Pair it with the new bright yellow Bahama Bay "Enlightenment" hibiscus and add some Tiki lights for a festive garden party or luau.

"People have already warmed up to mandevilla for splashes of intense color throughout gardens and outdoor spaces and use them to create a natural privacy screen on trellises and arbors. And don't be afraid to mix plants, colors and textures when decorating your outdoor spaces," says Jimerson.

Cool tropicals like desert rose have a unique bonsai-like appearance. Adenium Kissable Pink, Red and Blush come in eye-popping colors and striking flowers and best of all, can be overwintered indoors.

For a garden party in a pot, the new Bougainvillea Garden Party Patio Tree's multi-colored flowers bring tropical flair and a formal topiary appearance to gardens, entryways and outdoor living areas like patios and decks. To see a full range of tropical plants and more inspiration, visit www.hinesgrowers.com.

Paint

Paint is one of the easiest, most economical ways to create a tropical feel inside or out. Choosing a color that reminds you of the beach sets the theme for your overall design.

Margie Grace, of Grace Design Associates, and a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD), advises not to limit painting to just walls. "Paint an old set of chairs Caribbean blue, containers coral red and sunshine yellow," she says. "Just remember when choosing a shade, tropical colors aren't going to fade into the background. They're going to make a vibrant statement."

An accent wall on a deck or patio painted in key lime or ocean blue instantly transforms a space. Carry the tropics inside with a less saturated color like a warm mango tone or pair a rich, intense color accent wall with neutrals.

If you want to turn up the heat, try one of the eight new Bambino and Babybino bougainvillea in rich colors for a blast of gorgeous blooms for decks, poolside, patios and porches.

Punch

Adding tropical patterns and fabrics into your decor brings flexibility and endless possibilities.

Cushions in tropical colors, throw pillows with bold floral designs and tropical inspired linens on the table are an easy way to add punch to your outdoor decor.

Use a single pattern to underscore your tropical theme or mix things up with a variety of prints and stripes. Keep in mind the many patterns that fall into the tropical category, including floral, greenery, and ocean and beach elements. Think Hawaiian shirts.

Then kick it up a notch with a new intriguing Black Hawaiian Spider Lily, Crinum Purple Dream. "Crinum's exotic-looking dark purple almost black foliage and deep pink flowers on dark red stalks is trendy and looks nice mixed in the landscape or in containers," says Jimerson.

Surround yourself with lush tropical flowers and foliage for immediate impact and tropically inspired colors to turn your home into your favorite staycation paradise.

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Word of the Day

May 14, 2012 5:40 pm

Fannie Mae. Common name for the Federal National Mortgage Association, which buys and sells loans in the secondary mortgage market.

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