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Mary Mastroeni

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Question of the Day

October 7, 2011 5:03 pm

Q: What are some of the guidelines for purchasing HUD foreclosures?

A: If you have the cash or can qualify for a mortgage, you can buy a HUD home. Downpayments vary depending on whether the property is eligible for FHA insurance. If so, the downpayment can be lower than the 5 to 20 percent required on conventional loans.

HUD requires that all accepted offers be accompanied by an earnest money deposit equal to 5 percent of the bid price, not to exceed $2,000, but not less than $500.

Foreclosure properties are sold "as is," meaning limited repairs have been made but no structural or mechanical warranties are implied. If a HUD home needs to be fixed—and not all of them do—it can still be a bargain. HUD adjusts the asking price to reflect the fact that the buyer will have to invest money to make improvements. The agency might also offer special incentives such as an allowance to upgrade the property or a bonus for closing the sale early. And buyers can request that HUD pay all or a portion of the financing and closing costs. Contact your real estate agent for more details.

To learn more about HUD foreclosures, visit their website at www.hud.gov.

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Moving with Pets

October 7, 2011 2:03 pm

It’s been a dog’s age since I talked about moving with pets. So it was great to see a recent post by Teresa Hamilton, a real estate professional in Lafayette LA, who always makes sure she and her team know when a client is moving with pets.

Hamilton says to make your first call to the state Veterinarian’s office or Department of Agriculture in the state where you are moving. Ask for the laws and regulations concerning the types of pets you will be relocating with, keeping in mind the more exotic your pet the more restrictions you may be facing.

This quick call will let you know everything you are going to need, including medical documentation, to license your pets in your new state. Then, call your current Veterinarian for copies of medical records, including an up-to-date list of vaccinations.
That way you will have all your paperwork in order as each state has its own set of required documentation for incoming pets.

And lastly, make sure all animals are tagged with identifying information, including phone number, and that you have photographs handy of each pet should a certain someone wander off while the family takes a break at a highway rest stop.

Many lost pets have been known to find their way home after getting lost, but the chance of this happening during a move are slim.

Hamilton also links to this handy checklist from Moversdirectory.com that reminds pet owners to pack:
• Veterinary records, certificates, and recent photos
• Medications
• Beds (pillows, towels, or other crate liners)
• Plastic bags and scoops for dogs
• Your pets' usual foods and plenty of water from the home you're leaving (changing their water source can be disorienting and upset their stomachs)
• Food and water bowls, a can opener, and resealable lids
• Leashes for cats and dogs
• Litter box for cats
• Cage covers for birds and rodents
• Paper towels for messes
• Toys, chew bones, and treats
• Provisions for the first day at the new home

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Don’t Curb Home Buyers’ Enthusiasm with a Shabby Exterior

October 7, 2011 2:03 pm

According to Melanie Tisdale, a real estate media coordinator in Florida, home sellers spend so much time preparing the interior of their home for sale that they can easily overlook what’s going on outside of the home. Yet, Tisdale notes, great curb appeal can increase the value of a property by as much as 15-20%.

Tisdale recently spoke with Mario Garcia, a landscaper in Bethesda, Md. who helps prepare homes for market. Garcia says that a well-manicured lawn is a magnet for buyers. On the other hand, overgrown trees or large bushes hiding the house are a no-no.

“Buyers associate the condition of the exterior and landscape with the condition of the interior,” Garcia explains. “Curb appeal must invite buyers to view the rest of the property.”

Landscaping fixes include adding flowers or sprucing up the property with decorative grasses or Japanese maples. Accent the trees with rocks or boulders for a bold statement. Consider adding a modest fountain to the yard or garden.

In addition, Tisdale concludes, rake leaves, wash windows and skylights, clean gutters and trim shrubs. Add low voltage lighting to highlight the yard, trees and the home’s exterior.

And you needn’t spend a ton of money to make a difference. “Do something as simple as putting up a new mailbox and address decals on your home,” says Anne West, owner of Wilmette, Ill.-based Redesign Doctor. “Also, adding a new welcome mat with a grouping of potted plants by the front door makes things more inviting.”

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Fire, Window and Safety Suggestions

October 7, 2011 2:03 pm

We teach children how to cross a street and what to eat. We warn them not to talk to strangers. Pella Windows and Doors is asking parents and caregivers to also add fire and window safety to the key lessons they pass on to children. 

October is Fire Prevention Month. Take time to develop and discuss your home fire safety escape plan, and at the same time, talk to your family about window safety and how to help prevent accidental falls in the home. 

“Children practice fire drills at school, and adults practice them in the workplace, but many families do not have a fire escape plan in place for their homes,” says Kathy Krafka Harkema, Pella spokesperson and fire safety educator. “This fall, consider what you can do to observe fire safety, as well as window safety.”
Identify! Prepare! Practice! 

Pella offers this fire safety plan to help protect your loved ones:
Evaluate fire safety risks inside your home and immediate surroundings. Equip your garage with smoke detectors since garage fires can start easily and spread quickly. Also, properly extinguish fire in indoor fireplaces or outdoor fire settings like grills or fire pits to prevent the risk of fire spreading around your home or to others in the neighborhood.
• Identify two exits – Designate two exits from every room in your home—a door and a window. Make sure doors and windows open quickly and easily to help ensure a quick exit; if not, consider replacing them for safety’s sake.
• Have a plan – Draw a floor plan of each level of your home. Before an emergency strikes, establish and communicate a meeting place a safe distance outside your home for everyone to gather in the event of a fire.
• Check the alarms – Install working smoke alarms in or near every sleeping area and on every level inside your home. Test alarms monthly, change batteries regularly, and replace alarms not permanently wired into your home’s electrical system every 10 years.
• Make smart purchases – Consider keeping items like fire extinguishers and fire escape ladders in your home. Mark their location on your home fire plan and share this information with those in your home.
• Test the alarm – Sound smoke alarms when household members are awake so everyone knows what they sound like, and test your family’s ability to awaken to fire alarms during sleeping hours. If they don’t awaken easily, assign someone to awaken sound sleepers in the event of an emergency.
• Practice makes perfect – Practice your home fire escape plan with everyone in your home at least twice a year. Practice your plan first in the daytime to familiarize everyone in your home with what to do in the event of a fire, and then at night, when most home fires occur. 

Fire safety tips
• Remove matches and lighters from the reach of children and talk to children about the importance of fire safety.
• Keep flammable objects, like rugs, bedding, clothing, furniture, curtains and decorations, away from portable heaters.
• As the weather turns cooler, never leave a portable heater unattended or on while you sleep.
• Never use an oven to heat a home and never place a generator inside your home—this could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
• Avoid the use of pourable gel fuels in firepots. These fuels can ignite unexpectedly and splatter onto people and objects nearby when poured into a burning firepot.
• Consider replacing candles with electric candles, especially in homes with children and pets.
• Keep fire pits on a solid surface in an open area. Never use a fire pit indoors and never allow children to light the fire. 

Window safety
• Keep children’s play away from windows, doors and balconies.
• Teach people not to lean against a window screen. Insect screens are designed to keep bugs out, not to keep a person in.
• Keep windows closed and locked when not in use to let in fresh air. When opening windows for ventilation, open those that a child cannot reach like the upper sash on a double-hung window.
• Keep furniture like beds and dressers—anything children can climb—away from windows. 

For more information, visit www.pella.com.

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Keep Your Mental Edge as You Age

October 7, 2011 2:03 pm

If you've ever walked into a room to look for something but forgot what you were looking for, you're familiar with the feelings of forgetfulness and frustration. Unless you take immediate action, these feelings may worsen each year. There are easy lifestyle choices you can make every day to sustain your mental edge as you age. 

Cognitive decline, including memory loss, is one of the top fears among people over the age of 55. More than half of baby boomers fear the loss of mental capacity, and 41 percent are afraid their brain fitness has decreased in the past 10 years, according to a 2010 report in Today's Dietitian. 

"New research shows that by changing our lifestyle habits we can help grow key parts of our brains, resulting in better memory, improved learning speed and mental agility," says Majid Fotuhi M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Baltimore. 

Give your brain a physical workout
Exercise helps maintain a healthy body and brain. Research has found associations between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
Give your body and brain a workout by engaging in physical activities such as yoga, walking and weight lifting, at least 30 minutes every day. It helps keep cholesterol levels in check, maintains good blood flow and encourages the growth of new brain cells and connections. 

Nourish your mind
Help protect your brain cells from memory loss by following a diet that includes foods rich in good fats such as DHA, a major structural fat accounting for up to 97 percent of the omega-3 fats in the brain. DHA intake has been associated with a decreased risk of mental decline associated with aging. The body doesn't make DHA on its own, so you need to consume DHA though food or supplements. 

"The more omega-3 fat you eat, the more it is incorporated into brain cells, the more flexible your brain cell membranes become, the better you think, the more you remember and the happier you are," says Elizabeth Somer, M.A., registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness. 

You can find DHA in certain foods, but another easy way to get it is by taking a daily DHA supplement like BrainStrong Adult, which contains 900 mg per serving of life'sDHA, which is clinically shown to improve memory in adults over 55, according to a study published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association. 

Activate your mind through mental stimulation
Develop a "use it or lose it" philosophy when it comes to your brain. Studies have shown that brain cells, much like muscle cells, can grow bigger and stronger with cognitive challenges and stimulation.
Pursuing education, learning a new language, reading, working crossword puzzles and even playing board games are fun ways to exercise your mind. Keep your brain active by engaging in brain-boosting activities you enjoy. Commit to learning something new each month. 

Stay socially connected
Friends and family are often the key to happiness, and they just may be the key to brain health as well. Social interaction not only makes your life more fun and meaningful, but it also stimulates and protects your brain. 

Stay connected with others by being part of an in-person interaction, whether it's in the workplace, a card club, a network of friends or a religious congregation. Seek out friends and family for emotional support to help manage stress and stay happy. Put your passions into action by volunteering for a cause you feel passionate about. 

By giving your brain a little more attention, you'll not only lead a fuller life, but you'll also be helping to keep your mental edge. 

For more about brain health, visit www.BrainStrongDHA.com.

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Word of the Day

October 7, 2011 2:03 pm

License. A privilege or right granted to a person by a state to operate as a real estate broker or salesperson.

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Question of the Day

October 7, 2011 2:03 pm

Q: How bad is a previous foreclosure on credit?

A: Unfortunately, it is a pretty bad blemish. A property foreclosure is one of the most damaging events in a borrower's credit record. In terms of the effect on your credit history, a deed in lieu of foreclosure—where you voluntarily “give back” your property to the lender—or a short sale, which is when the lender agrees to write off a portion of the loan that is higher than the value of the home, is not as adverse as a forced foreclosure.


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Selling an ‘Ugly’ Home

October 6, 2011 5:03 pm

Melanie Tisdale, a real estate media coordinator in Florida, recommends the following tips for making the most of that old house you inherited, or that damaged home you don’t have the funding to repair. Selling an ugly home doesn’t need to be a hassle.

• Many homebuyers today are shopping for deals and want to see the potential in your home. In that case, leave brochures for new cabinets in the kitchen, color palates around the bedrooms and even create computerized images of what updates could look like.

• In addition, secure bids from licensed contractors on necessary fixes and provide them to your potential buyers. People may overestimate the cost of a new roof, shower stall or drywall repair and fresh paint. Estimates will bring the home into clearer perspective.

• Work with your real estate agent to make the home as presentable as possible for the least amount of money. Make a room or two inviting so you have the photos that will attract buyers to what you can call “a fixer upper.”

• Nothing is going to attract people more than a low price. Obviously, you will need to discount the sales price to gain an advantage over comparables in better condition.

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Finding a Church, Post Move

October 6, 2011 5:03 pm

I was recently reminded of the challenging time folks have finding a place of worship when they move after checking out a recent blog by Bruno Somerset—a novelist and freelance writer living in Texas.

Somerset says with some denominations like Catholic and Episcopal the problem is made easier by the fact that most people simply go to whatever parish they fall into geographically. But for others with a less clear-cut path, particularly Baptists and those who prefer a non-denominational congregation, Somerset offered the following suggestions.

1. Start with the Internet. A simple search on Google of the word "church" and the name of your city will bring up several websites with listings of churches in your city. If you don't mind driving a little farther, you can include surrounding areas as well. Start with this list and narrow it down to the particular denomination or type of church you're looking for.

2. Check out the church's website. Except for extremely small congregations, almost every church now has some presence on the web. The church's website will usually have invaluable information in a very short period of time you can compare the various ministries, congregation size, and service times of a large number of churches.

4. Find the one that seems to suit your needs best and visit for at least a month. It is very easy to visit a church once and decide that it's missing some key ingredient you want; this enables you to get a more consistent view of the church and whether it's a good fit for you.

5. Talk to church members. Simply having a conversation with current church members over coffee or at lunch after a Sunday service is both a great way to make friends in a new town. From current members you can often learn how well what the church says meshes with what it actually does.

Hopefully, with these tips in mind, you’ll enjoy a bit more peace of mind in those hectic days after your move.

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Parenting Advice: Teenage Girls and Self Image

October 6, 2011 5:03 pm

With childhood obesity becoming more and more prevalent in the US, we are all aware that weight can cause a plethora of problems. These problems include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and more. But another issue childhood obesity takes its toll on is self esteem, especially in young girls. 

Teenage and adolescent girls are naturally more prone to having more body image issues than young boys, and it’s typical for them to feel judgement radiating from their peers, society, and even their family.
If you’re a parent with an overweight daughter, you may naturally try and talk to your child about their weight—but there is a fine line here between seeming concerned and seeming judgmental, and with young girls sensitive by nature, it’s easy to come off as critical. 

Here are a few ways to healthily handle and approach your child’s weight issues.

1. Lead by example: Show your child how to maintain a healthy weight through example. Let the focus be on overall health, not numbers on a scale. Develop healthy lifestyle habits like daily exercise, proper nutrition, a regular sleeping pattern and engaging in fun activities that inspire and motivate you.
2. Time. Spend time together, just the two of you. Take interest in what your child likes, from playing soccer to seeing a concert or a movie. Of course, physical activity is optimal, as you will be bonding and getting exercise at the same time. Go for a hike, take the dog for a walk, play basketball or go to a yoga class. Show your child you love and support them.
3. Nutrition. Bring real, whole foods into the house and limit processed junk food. Shop for food together at a grocery store, local market or—even better—a local farm. Research meals and prepare them together. Talk to your child about where their food comes from and what it can do for their body. Teach them nutritional basics and help them make healthy choices. Again, be sure to lead by example. 

Source: Swparents.com

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