Mary Mastroeni
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Mary Mastroeni

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Question of the Day

October 19, 2011 6:06 pm

Q: How do I qualify for a home loan?

A: Your real estate agent has information on lender loan requirements and will be able to calculate a rough monthly figure you can afford based on the maximum monthly payment for the loan, taxes, insurance, and any type of maintenance fees. This pre-purchase evaluation by the agent can save you a lot of time spent looking at properties you cannot afford.

Lenders also routinely calculate what you can afford and can pre-qualify you for a loan even before you begin your home search. This way, you know exactly how much you can afford to buy.

Lenders generally stipulate that you spend no more than 28 percent of your gross monthly income on a mortgage payment or 36 percent on total debts.

Ultimately, the price you can afford to pay for a home will also depend on other factors besides your gross income and outstanding debts. They include the amount of cash you have available for the down payment, your credit history, current interest rates, closing costs and cash reserves required by the lender, and the type of mortgage you select.

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Marketing Your Home—Picture Perfect

October 18, 2011 6:04 pm

So you are trying to market your home. I don’t have to be the one to tell you that when it comes to hooking prospective buyers through web, mobile or print, you need to start with great pictures that pop.

I recently looked up Todd Arena at arenacreative.com, who posts a few quick tips you might be able to use to improve the quality of your photos in your online listings no matter what camera you have. (Feel free to share these tips with your REALTOR®, too!)

Among Arena’s recommendations:

• Don’t shoot the exterior mid-day when the sun is highest in the sky. Early morning or later in the afternoon is much more visually pleasing. Save mid-day for shooting the interior, so that the light is more even.

• Keep the sun to your back. It’s a rule that is meant to be broken, but when it comes to shooting houses it’s a pretty good one to stick by. The sun rises in the East, and sets in the West, so figure out which direction the front of the home is facing before you plan your shoot.

• Take a look up at the sky. Is it overcast? Unless you’re a whiz at digital special effects, you might want to wait until the weather gives you a nice blue sky, even if it is partly cloudy. Although, Arena says a bright overcast day is excellent if you’re taking features of the building where the sky isn’t showing. It will give you shadows that are less harsh, and a nice diffused style of light.

• Try to remove distracting elements beforehand. Are there kids toys laying all over the front yard?

• Keep your images season appropriate. Do you have pictures with snow in the yard when it’s June?

• And step back! Capture images of the home from across the street, or even further if you think it would help a potential buyer envision its situation or property size. Arena thinks this tip helps your property stand out from the crowd in the sea of listings.

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Advice to Prevent Pests and Costly Home Repairs

October 18, 2011 6:04 pm

RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment)®, recently announced that a survey conducted by the trade association shows that nearly 70 percent of homeowners state that zero is the acceptable number of pests allowed inside their home before they take action to get rid of them. The fall season offers the most advantageous time of the year to protect homes, lawns and communities against unwelcomed pests and disease, such as being able to identify cool-air leaks where holes or cracks might invite critters to come inside. 

Utilizing indoor and outdoor integrated pest management approaches allows homeowners to have more control in preventing infestation, structural damage, and disease from negatively affecting their homes. To help homeowners pest-proof their homes this fall, RISE is offering an easy-to-implement checklist with a memorable acronym. 

INvestigate. Become a pest detective and investigate your home and yard for clues that pests may be present. You never know where they may be lurking. 

Study. Take a deeper look into your home and study the situation, learn more about the pests causing problems and the damage they can bring with them. 

Prepare. In this step, plan how to most effectively solve your problem. Proper planning includes understanding the safe and correct way to execute any pest control approach. 

Eliminate. Put your plan into action. This step includes eliminating the pests’ entry way into your home and eliminating problems that already exist. 

Clean. Once you’ve eliminated welcoming entries for pests, maintaining a clean home and lawn is essential for discouraging pests from calling your home theirs. 

Treat. Proactive and preventative treatment is key when talking about pests. Treating for problems at the first sign or before they appear will keep your home pest-free. 

“We’ve seen how the extreme summer heat had pests looking for water in many unexpected places, and though the weather is beginning to cool, it’s no time for homeowners to be idle in protecting their homes,” says Gail Getty, research entomologist at the University of California at Berkeley and industry liaison. “The winter cold will send pests indoors looking for food and warmth. It’s important for homeowners to consider the significant damage that can result from an untreated pest infestation, and this week lends the perfect time for them to stop and do their home-work.” 

With much of the U.S. population spending more time indoors during the fall and winter seasons, the chances increase for diseases to be spread if pests are left mismanaged. Uncontrolled pest populations, especially rats, cockroaches, bed bugs, spiders, and dust mites, can negatively affect the health of a family. 

Cockroaches, the most frustrating pest among homeowners who participated in the recent RISE study, transmit Salmonella while also contributing to the development of allergies and asthma, particularly in children. 

Outdoor spaces are not exempt to proactive pest management and routine maintenance to keep harmful plants and pests away. Before winter weather hits, help your lawn store up for the winter by fertilizing and adding grass seed before heavy rainfall saturates the ground or frost creates a barrier. 

“Find a convenient time to attend to the outside of your home when you get home from work or while you’re letting the dog outside. It’s important to conduct routine grooming to deter harmful plants like poison ivy, oak, or sumac away from where your family lives and plays,” says Getty. “Keeping your lawn healthy during the winter can also help reduce cost when summer comes back around.” 

For more information, visit http://www.pestfacts.org and http://www.debugthemyths.com.

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Top 10 Foods for Fighting Cold and Flu

October 18, 2011 6:04 pm

There are two reasons why nutritionists say chicken soup is effective for fighting winter colds. The first is that an amino acid released from chicken during cooking chemically resembles the drug acetylcysteine, often prescribed for bronchitis and other respiratory problems—and the broth itself contains many common nutrients. The second reason is that the steam rising as you sip from a mug or bowl of hot soup can help clear nasal and bronchial passages and help you to relax and feel better.

But there are many foods, herbs and spices deemed helpful for warding off or relieving the symptoms of cold or flu.

“Think of foods as an insurance policy against winter’s cold viruses,” says Karen Gibson, RD, a dietitian at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston.

“Cold viruses are contagious, and some foods offer assistance in preventing colds by helping you develop and maintain a healthy immune system.”

Gibson and other nutritionists suggest these top 10 foods and spices for helping you and your family prevent and fight colds and flu:

• Dark colored fruits and veggies – Benefit from the vitamins and antioxidants in such colorful choices as tomatoes, spinach, squash, eggplants and blueberries.
• Fresh-cooked or canned chicken soup – Fresh-cooked may taste better, but both contain cold-fighting benefits.
• Oatmeal (and other whole grain cereals) – delivers selenium, zinc and beta glucan, known to support your immune system.
• Yogurt – active cultures, known as probiotics or healthy bacteria, may actually help fend off colds.
Cinnamon or ginger – sprinkled on cereal, toast or yogurt, these tasty and popular spices can help reduce fever, relieve upset tummies, and kill germs.
• Garlic – Thought to guard against infection, garlic also contains an agent that acts like a decongestant.
Cayenne pepper or hot chilis – They contain capsaicin, which acts as a decongestant, expectorant and pain reliever.
• Green or black hot tea – Like chicken soup, the steam alone may help reduce congestion and other cold symptoms. They also contain beneficial antioxidants.
• Pure orange or grapefruit juice – Drinking lots of it adds an increase of the protective vitamin C. Add lemon to your tea.
• Margarine – contains lysine, an amino acid that helps to prevent and combat cold sores.

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Behind the Wheel: Teen Driver Safety Reminders

October 18, 2011 6:04 pm

Traffic fatalities are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America – with an average of eight teens a day killed in car crashes.

“Young drivers need to be reminded of the dangers that come with driving,” says Lisa Melton, an assistant vice president with Amica Insurance. Consider these statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
• Most crashes happen during the first year a teenager has his or her license.
• The risk of being involved in a crash increases when teens drive with other teens in the car.
• Most fatal car crashes, for all ages, occur at night.
• Drivers aged 15 to 20 are three times as likely to get into fatal crashes as all other drivers. 

“Driving can be especially dangerous for inexperienced drivers,” Melton says. “That’s why parents and guardians need to discuss safe driving habits with their teens, long before they get behind the wheel.”
If your child will be driving soon, be a responsible role model, Melton says. Teenagers will model adult driving habits. It’s also important to choose a reliable driving school that provides the classroom and on-the-road training a young driver needs. Parents should also practice driving with their teens. Give them plenty of practice driving at different times of days, on different roads and with different weather conditions. The more time they drive, the better drivers they will be, Melton says. 

“Remember, too, that not all teenagers are ready to drive at the same age,” Melton says. Consider whether your teen is responsible enough to drive before allowing him or her to obtain a driver’s permit or driver’s license. If not, wait a few months before reconsidering. 

Once your teen gets his or her license, be sure to set firm rules about their driving, Melton said. Restrict the number of passengers they can have in their car, especially while they are novice drivers. Set curfews to get them off the roads by 9 or 10 p.m., to reduce the risk of late-night crashes. 

“Research shows which behaviors contribute to teen-related crashes: Inexperience and immaturity combined with speed, drinking and driving, not wearing seat belts, distracted driving (such as cell phone use, loud music or other teen passengers), drowsy driving, nighttime driving and other drug use aggravate this problem,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website. 

The NHTSA and the CDC also offer these safe driving tips:
• Always wear a seatbelt to prevent death or serious injury.
• Never text while driving. Avoid other distractions, including talking on cell phones, eating or playing with the radio while behind the wheel.
• Do not use alcohol or drugs if you will be driving.
• Follow all traffic laws. Stick to the speed limit. Don’t tailgate.
• Be aware of road and traffic conditions. Drive defensively. 

“National Teen Driver Safety Week is a great opportunity to remind your teens about driving safety,” Melton says. “Hopefully, they’ll develop good driving habits that will last a lifetime.” 

For more driving safety information, visit http://www.nhtsa.gov or http://www.cdc.gov.

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Word of the Day

October 18, 2011 6:04 pm

Market value. Generally accepted as the highest price that a ready, willing, and able buyer will pay and the lowest price a ready, willing, and able seller will accept for a property.

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Question of the Day

October 18, 2011 6:04 pm

Q: What is a mortgage and how does it work?

A: A mortgage makes homeownership possible for most people. In the simplest terms, it is a loan that is secured by real property. The lender holds title to the home until the loan is completely repaid. If you fail to pay up, the lender has a right to take the property, sell it, and recover the money that is owed.

The amount of a mortgage will vary greatly depending on the down payment you make to reduce the amount of money that is needed to finance the home. You may put as much money down as you like, or you can sometimes pay as little as 3 to 5 percent of the purchase price, or sometimes nothing at all. The more you put down, the more you reduce the amount that is financed, thereby lowering your monthly payment.

The monthly payment consists of both principal and interest but also typically includes additional amounts to cover property taxes and insurance—specifically hazard insurance and private mortgage insurance, the latter of which is required for down payments less than 20 percent of the purchase price.

Home buyers in the U.S. have access to several different types of mortgage loans.

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The Clean You Need, at a Fraction of the Cost

October 13, 2011 5:52 pm

According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the average consumer spends about $630 each year on household supplies. In fact, a recent study reveals that many Americans are letting their money go down the drain—literally—by spending too much on items like laundry detergent. In these tough economic times, families are looking for smart, new ways to save money without sacrificing quality, and the laundry room is a great place to start. 

Finding the right detergent is the first step toward clean, bright laundry. Look for a brand that provides the clean you need, at a fraction of the cost. The Arm & Hammer family of detergents has something for everyone -- from liquid or powder to scented or free of perfume -- at a price point that is significantly less than other high end options. 

Here are more ways to keep clothes, floors and household surfaces in tip-top shape, without breaking the bank. 

Keep it Cool
Save on energy costs by using cold water whenever possible. Most detergents are powerful enough to get a deep-down clean regardless of the water temperature. Whether running the dish washer or loading the laundry machine, turn the dial to cold for savings. 

Use, Wash, Repeat
Laundry rooms are often dubbed mud rooms. When cleaning these floors and surfaces, use reusable products like cloth towels whenever possible. In addition to being a green option, you'll save money by not going through rolls and rolls of pricey paper towels. 

Turn to Homemade Solutions
Forego costly cleaners and reduce cupboard clutter by making your own products with common household ingredients. A simple mix of baking soda and water creates a useful all-purpose cleaner; lemon juice cuts through grease; and an old toothbrush is perfect for scrubbing hard-to-reach places. 

Stock Up on Essentials
Everyone should have one go-to product that addresses a multitude of messy situations at home. For instance, Arm & Hammer Baking Soda has countless cleaning and deodorizing uses, and costs less than one dollar a box. Baking soda freshens carpets, cleans tiles and walls, polishes silver, deodorizes diaper pails, boosts laundry, and much more. 

For more information about getting the clean you need on a budget, visit www.armandhammer.com.

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National Toilet Tank Repair Month; Make Repairs Now

October 13, 2011 5:52 pm

The dripping sound coming from the kitchen sink usually means money is going down the drain. But toilets often leak silently, leaving homeowners unaware of the water and money they're wasting. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a leaky toilet can waste about 200 gallons of water a day. To help homeowners better understand their toilets and how they work, Mr. Rooter Plumbing has an online animated toilet diagram at www.mrrooter.com/Services/Residential/Toilets.aspx. 

"Our toilet diagram is a fun way to learn more about your toilet," says Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Mr. Rooter Corporation. "National Toilet Tank Repair Month is a wonderful reminder that regular plumbing check keeps our plumbing fixtures in good working condition." 

It's also a good time to detect problems and make any necessary toilet repair. In celebration of October being National Toilet Tank Repair Month, Mr. Rooter Plumbing has these plumbing tips: 

• Replace flappers and fill valves every couple of years to prevent a running toilet.
• Adjust the chain or float ball in the tank if water continues to flow after flushing.
• Install an ultra low-flow toilet that requires only 1.3 gallons of water per flush compared to older models' 3.5 gallons. 

Follow this advice from Mr. Rooter Plumbing to locate silent toilet leaks:
• First, put an old towel around the base of the toilet in case of a leak. (The dye can stain flooring.)
• Then put several drops of dark food coloring into the toilet tank.
• If dye appears in the bowl, there's a leak. 

The problem could be one of two things: either replace the flapper at the bottom of the tank or adjust/replace the fill valve. Home repair stores carry these toilet repair parts. If you aren't a do-it-yourselfer, Mr. Rooter Plumbing is just a phone call away. 

For more information, visit www.mrrooter.com or www.mrrooter.ca.

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Word of the Day

October 13, 2011 5:52 pm

Maintenance fees. Paid by a condominium unit owner to the owners’ association for upkeep of the common areas.

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