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Mary Mastroeni

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Word of the Day

September 21, 2011 5:03 pm

Housing codes. Local regulations that set minimum conditions under which dwellings are considered fit for human habitation. It guards against unsanitary or unsafe conditions and overcrowding.

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Question of the Day

September 21, 2011 5:03 pm

Q: Does the federal government offer home improvement programs?
A: Yes. Among the most popular: 

Title 1 Home Improvement Loan. HUD insures the loan up to $25,000 for a single-family home and lenders make loans for basic livability improvements—such as additions and new roofs—to eligible borrowers.
Section 203(k) Program. HUD helps finance the major rehabilitation and repair of one- to four-family residential properties, excluding condos. Owner-occupants may use a combination loan to purchase a fixer-upper "as-is" and rehabilitate it, or refinance a property, plus include in the loan the cost of making the improvements. They also may use the loan solely to finance the rehabilitation. 

VA loans. Veterans can get loans from the Department of Veterans Affairs to buy, build, or improve a home, as well as refinance an existing loan at interest rates that are usually lower than that on conventional loans.
Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Loans. Funded by the Agriculture Department, these low-rate loans are available to low-income rural residents who own and occupy a home in need of repairs. Funds are available to improve or modernize a home or to remove health and safety hazards.

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Should I Remodel or Sell ‘As Is

September 20, 2011 5:03 pm

This question is a common headache for many homeowners when placing their home on the market. On one hand, a remodel could create a diamond in the rough, and possibly even encourage a faster sale. On another, selling as-is in a competitive market could save months of listing time if priced right.

When You Should Remodel
Analyzing your competition can be a great way to gain insight into what buyers are looking for in your market. It's easy to assume a feature or amenity should immediately increase the value of your home. In some cases it will, but many times a remodel will only bring your home to the market readiness of other similar homes in your neighborhood.

You should consider remodeling a room in your home if any of the following applies:

1) When analyzing sold history and currently active homes on the market, you find that this particular remodel is commonly found.
2) The room is in dire need of attention and a simple clean up won't suffice to get it market-ready.
3) When analyzing sold history, a predominant higher price is offered for homes with this particular remodel.

You're likely to never recoup the entire cost of a remodel, but getting your home up to par may be necessary to sell your home in a reasonable amount of time.

When You Should Sell As-Is
If your home can be considered a "benchmark" home, or a home that is already loaded with amenities not commonly found in your market, you should consider selling as-is. While a pricey remodel will certainly make your home shine during an open house, it usually costs more than it's worth.

You should consider selling your home as-is if your home meets any of the following criteria:

1) The average price per square foot in your market is deteriorating (down market).
2) Your home can be considered a "benchmark" home, or a home that has more features and amenities than the competition.
3) Your home is already on par with other active properties in the area.

The Rule of Thumb
First, ensure that your home meets the standard set by the competition currently for sale in your market. If your home is not up to par, you should consider remodeling.

If your home shares the same features and amenities as its competition, then you should consider selling as-is to avoid leaving any money on the table. A remodel is always a nice selling feature, but many times it does not make financial sense and is simply a waste of time.

Take the time to get with your real estate agent to analyze your competition, and base your decision on what buyers are demanding in your particular real estate market.

Author Jeff Hammerberg is the Founding CEO of www.GayRealEstate.com.

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Winterize Your Yard and Garden

September 20, 2011 5:03 pm

As the days become shorter and the leaves begin to change color, now is the time to prepare your yard and garden for winter. There are a number of simple tasks that will not only protect plants and lawn from the cold, but will make for an easier spring.

Troy-Bilt®, a manufacturer of outdoor power equipment, offers these tips to winterize your yard and garden for the cold months ahead:

"Tending to your lawn and garden in fall can ensure that it has every chance to develop through the colder months," says Heidi Ketvertis, director of marketing communications for Troy-Bilt. "Also, winterizing your equipment will make for a better spring start."

• Evaluate. Before you start your preparations, take a moment to review what worked and did not work in the garden over the past season and jot down notes in a garden journal so you remember a year or two from now. Fall is the best time to move plants because roots are given ample time to establish.
• Clean up. Removing leaves and debris reduces the likelihood of future problems since they can harbor pests and diseases. Using a leaf blower can save time and effort.
• Repair damage. Fall is the best time to reseed a lawn that's been damaged by summer heat. Top-dressing the seed with up to one-quarter inch compost or soil will help it take root.
• Don't put away the hose. Continue to water plants and lawns in the fall, as the rainfall tends to slow down. Plants need to stay hydrated to properly retreat to their winter states. However, as soon as freezing temperatures hit, make sure to drain garden hoses and store them in a sheltered place where they will not freeze and crack.
• Fertilize. Despite what many people might think, autumn–not spring–is the most crucial time to fertilize lawns and gardens. Renewing the mulch in flower beds, especially the top two or three inches, will protect many plants from harmful freezes.
• Go easy on pruning. Pruning promotes growth. It's important to prepare plants to go dormant during the winter rather than growing.
• Think spring. Some spring bulbs, such as crocus and grape hyacinth, should be planted in the fall. Larger bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, should be planted in the fall but won't bloom until spring. Many vegetable plants, like beets, broccoli and cabbage grow best in the winter.
• Cover plots. Covering a garden bed with burlap keeps weeds at bay. Another option is to plant a nitrogen-rich cover crop, like clover, which can be easily turned under when spring arrives.
• Tune-up tools. After completing all preparations, clean, oil and sharpen tools, and then store them in a dry place to prevent rusting.
• Winterize your power equipment. Make sure to drain the gas from your lawn mower and other gas-powered equipment after you've finished using them for the season to keep the engine running smoothly next year.
• Know when to stop. When frost is in the forecast or the temperature drops below 40 degrees consistently, usually around late October or November, it's time to close down the garden. Although it may seem like a hassle, winterizing your garden will make for less work come springtime. Consider these practical ways that will protect and care for your yard and garden so they can survive the winter, and thrive for seasons to come.

For more information, visit http://www.troybilt.com.

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Auto Theft Decreases 7.2 Percent; Auto Theft Safety Tips

September 20, 2011 5:03 pm

Fewer Americans were victims of car thefts last year. The FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report shows a 7.2 percentage decrease in auto thefts compared to 2010. Improved anti-theft devices and safety tips can help continue this downward trend. Unfortunately, potential thieves will not give up on their efforts to steal your car. But with the same persistence, Ford is constantly improving technologies and methods to keep vehicles secure for its customers.

Everyday things you can do to protect against theft:

You might think most stolen vehicles are expensive sports cars or multipurpose passenger vehicles, but that's not always the case.

It also doesn't matter whether you live in a big city, the suburbs or in the country; anyone is susceptible to vehicle theft.

In fact, 40 to 50 percent of vehicle theft is due to driver error, which includes leaving vehicle doors unlocked and leaving keys in the ignition or on the seats.
But there are measures you can take to make sure your vehicle is not an easy target for thieves:

• First, always take your keys; never leave them in or on your vehicle
• Always close and lock all windows and doors when you park
• Park in well-lit areas
• Keep your vehicle in your garage, if possible
• Never leave valuables in your vehicle, especially where they can be seen
• Never leave the area while your vehicle is running

For more information, visit www.fordmotorcompany.com.

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Autumn Is the Best Time for Grass Seed Success

September 20, 2011 5:03 pm

The cooler weather and increased precipitation of fall are a welcomed relief for lawns throughout United States. Grass suffered through a long, hot summer with many parts of the country experiencing drought-like conditions. Excessive heat and lack of rain can leave plants brown and withered. Grass is no exception, but there is still hope for recovery this fall.

Reseeding is a great way to revitalize the lawn, and luckily, fall provides the best conditions to plant new grass seed. Reseeding fills in bare spots caused by excessive traffic or disease, and restores thinning patches where lack of rain has scarred the lawn. In fact, reseeding with grass seed in combination with lawn food in the fall can make your lawn thicker next spring. A lush lawn helps capture and filter rainwater to recharge our groundwater supply.

Simple Steps for Reseeding Your Lawn

1. Prep
: Mow your existing lawn short and remove clippings so the seed can make contact with the soil. In thin or bare areas, loosen the top layer of soil to help the seedlings take root. For best results, aerate or de-thatch after mowing.
2. Apply: Adjust spreader settings and apply your product to the lawn. Avoid areas that have been treated with a weed killer in the past three weeks or a weed prevention product in the last two months, as new seedlings will not grow in these areas.
3. Water: Water thoroughly after application, and continue to water daily to keep the soil moist for at least two weeks, or until the seedlings reach approximately two inches in height. Sunny areas may require additional water, and shady areas may need less.

Tips for Reseeding Success 

- After reseeding, keep traffic and mowing to a minimum until new seedlings establish. 
- Do not apply a weed killer or weed prevention product to the reseeded area until the new seedlings have been mowed at least four times. Some weed controls could damage or kill the seedlings. 
- To help keep your entire lawn thick and resilient, regularly feed with fertilizer.

Fight back against the drought-like conditions of summer by seeding and feeding for the softest play space Mother Nature has to offer in the fall.

For additional information, visit www.scotts.com.

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Word of the Day

September 20, 2011 5:03 pm

Homestead protection. State and federal laws that protect against the forced sale of a person’s home by creditors. Also, upon the death of one spouse, provides the other with a home for life.

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Question of the Day

September 20, 2011 5:03 pm

Q: How can I finance work needed for home repairs?

A: According to the Millennial Housing Commission created by Congress, few lenders are willing to administer home improvement loans. Most prefer to make home equity loans or unsecured consumer loans because they are easier to manage. Home improvement loans usually require inspections and irregular draws on the loan amount as work is completed, which forces regional or national lenders to find local partners to provide oversight.

Financing repairs and improvements with home equity is okay for most homeowners, but it difficult for many first-time buyers. They have lower-incomes, smaller savings, and have made lower down payments on their homes than first-time buyers a decade ago. So they have little equity to borrow against. Unfortunately, it is often lower cost older homes purchased by first-time buyers that need the most work.

Unless you have a cash reserve, you will have to shop around for the best borrowing terms. In addition to the options listed above, you can ask relatives for a loan. Borrow against your whole life insurance policy. Refinance your existing mortgage. Get a second mortgage. Contact the government about home improvement programs. And – only as a last resort – borrow from a finance agency, which generally tend to charge higher rates.


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Best of Countertop Options for Your Kitchen

September 19, 2011 8:03 pm

If a little updating is in your kitchen’s future, one of the most important choices you will need to make involves your kitchen countertop. These days, there are many choices and more than a few differences in wearability, longevity and cost.

From home store kitchen consultant Jeff Wittenberg, here are the pros and cons about today’s most popular countertop materials:

• Granite – A good choice for looks, durability and elegance, granite stands up to heat, requires little maintenance, and will likely last a lifetime. It’s expensive, but coming down in price, and is available in a variety of colors and natural patterns. Cutting directly on them won’t harm this super-hard surface but will dull knives.
• Engineered stone – Composed of 93% quartz particles, these countertop options are expensive but are nonporous, resistant to scratches and stains, and require little to no maintenance.
• Marble – beautiful, water- and heat proof, marble is expensive and vulnerable to stains and scratches. Requires a lot of care.
• Solid surface – These custom engineered countertops are seamless and stain resistant and come in a rainbow of colors – but they are vulnerable to hot pans and stains and are moderately expensive.
• Ceramic tile – Durable, inexpensive and easy to clean, ceramic tile can take the heat and is easy to clean. But tiles can chip or crack over time and grout lines can become stained.
• Laminates – these plastic coated synthetics are durable and inexpensive. They are easy to clean, and available in many colors, but cracks and chips are impossible to repair.
• Wood or butcher block – Beautiful and easy to clean, hardwood countertops can be sanded and resealed as needed—but they can be damaged over time by water and stains, and scratches must be oiled or sealed.

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New Online Guides Teach Consumers How Building Codes Make Homes More Energy Efficient

September 19, 2011 8:03 pm

Thanks to the new partnership between the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP) and Consumers Union, user-friendly, interactive online guides and downloadable publications are helping homeowners and buyers save energy and money by teaching them the potential of building energy codes to address and improve home energy performance.

“Everyone should have the right to an energy-efficient home that meets national standards,” saysCosimina Panetti, advocacy director of BCAP. “Energy codes—minimum requirements for efficient design and construction—offer a cost-effective way to reduce energy use and monthly bills, while also lowering carbon emissions. It’s a win-win-win.”

Energy Codes: A Consumer Issue

A 2011 Consumers Union survey found that 86% of homeowners want to know a home’s energy operating costs before they buy or rent; 82% of homeowners believe they have a right to homes that meet national standards; and 77% of homeowners think that homebuilders should not construct less efficient homes at the consumer’s expense.

“Energy codes affect the majority of the population, but are often overlooked as a consumer issue,” says Stacy Weisfeld, energy campaign organizer for Consumers Union. “Strong energy codes help not only people moving into new homes, but also future buyers and the community as a whole.”

The average U.S. homeowner will spend about $2,175 on home energy costs this year, or about $180 a month. An energy-efficient home that complies with the 2009 national energy code can save homeowners $235 or more each year compared to an average new home that does not meet the 2009 code.

Energy Code Resources

The new tools provide information about energy codes and checklists homeowners and buyers can use to identify whether construction meets building energy code requirements.

The interactive tools and downloadable publications are hosted on both the BCAP website and the Consumer Reports Greener Choices site.

The resources include:

• Energy Code Guides
Learn how to increase home energy performance through in-depth guides.

• Energy Code Printable Checklists
The checklists help determine if a new home meets national energy code standards, and teach consumers how to read the Energy Code Certificate that builders post in new or substantially renovated homes.

• Energy Codes Location Guide
This step-by-step guide provides building energy codes based on location and information on whether or not the code is being effectively enforced.

Documents That Explain What Energy Codes Are
Fact sheets and a PowerPoint presentation provide basic information about building energy codes and explain why they are important.

Select State Guides and Checklists
BCAP has partnered with state energy offices in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska to create customized energy code resources for consumers in each state.

“We want to empower consumers to shop assertively for energy efficiency when they buy or renovate a home, just as they have learned to do when they shop for refrigerators and air conditioners,” Weisfeld says. “Consumers who use these new energy codes toolkits will know exactly what to look for, and which questions to ask builders, sellers and home inspectors when shopping for a home.”

BCAP and Consumers Union are also inviting consumers to become more active in state-based campaigns to educate consumers and strengthen adoption and enforcement of energy codes. Current campaigns are underway in Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio and Michigan.

For more information, visit http://www.ase.org/.

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