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Mary Mastroeni

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Question of the Day

September 16, 2011 8:03 pm

Q: Do builders provide financing?
A: Many builders offer financing incentives to help move more buyers into a project. In fact, major building companies often have their own mortgage brokerage subsidiaries, while many other builders routinely refer buyers to "preferred" local lenders. If it is a buyer's market in your area, you can be sure developers will offer incentives such as low-down-payment financing or interest rate subsidies.

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Little Things Mean a Lot - Before You Buy, Consider the Practical Fit

September 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Short of deciding who you will marry, few decisions are more exciting than choosing your first home. Enough bedrooms? Check. Room for a pool? Check. Presumably, you have answered the large questions before submitting your bid. But before you get caught up in the buying process, here are some small practicalities to consider: 

How will your furniture fit? Get the measurements of every room in the home and measure your larger pieces of furniture; the sofa, the bed, the computer desk or entertainment center. Sketch out the new room dimensions on graph paper so you can see at a glance how and where your furnishings will fit. 

What about wiring? As we depend more and more on broadband, fiber optics and high speed access, check out what connections are already in place-especially if you are looking at an older home. Is it ready for digital cable, satellite, etc? If such services are not already connected, are they available to neighborhood residents? 

What's the noise level after dark? The neighborhood may seem quiet during the day, but is it near a freeway or an airport? Is there a fire station or a railroad crossing nearby? If quiet is important to you, you may want to visit at night or during rush hour and check out the noise factor as those planes, trains, and automobiles-and busy fire trucks-whiz on by. 

How far to the nearest cup of sugar? If your dream home is in a new development, or in a rural section of town, how far will you need to go for a quart of milk at midnight? Is the local store open late? Are new shopping centers planned-and when will they be completed? 

Do you know how HOA rules will affect you? If there is a homeowners association in place, will it approve your plans to put in a deck or spa? Read the binding homeowner documents and become familiar with rules and restrictions before you buy into the community.

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Want to Save Money This Winter? Preparation now is the Key

September 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Last winter hit hard across much of the United States, blanketing the country with snow and sending temperatures plummeting. If early weather prognosticators are correct, this winter could see even colder temperatures thanks to resurging La Nina weather conditions. Colder than normal weather often means greater energy usage and higher utility bills.

MXenergy, a Constellation company, is encouraging homeowners to act now to help protect their homes and wallets when winter approaches.

"Just as in so many other areas in life, when it comes to energy savings preparation is the key," says Marjorie Kass, MXenergy managing director of marketing. "The time to make your home more efficient for winter and lower your energy costs is not when brutal temperatures are here but rather now in order to maximize savings."

Winter Efficiency Tips
Seal It Up:
Proper insulation is one of the most effective efficiency improvements homeowners can make. Check doors and windows for drafts and install weather-stripping where needed. Check to make sure your attic has adequate insulation and that the attic hatch is properly sealed. Don't forget to examine air ducts and electrical outlets for drafts and seal leaks.

Take Care of Your Furnace: A properly maintained furnace is a much more efficient one. Have your furnace serviced annually by a licensed professional. Change filters at least once a month and should your furnace need replacing make sure to look for a high efficiency Energy Star model.

Simple Steps: Cutting energy costs doesn't have to cost you money. Simple actions such as closing off empty rooms, closing your fireplace flue, and opening blinds in the morning to let in the sun and closing them at night can all help decrease costs. In order to prevent trapped ceiling heat, run ceiling fans during the day in a clockwise direction to properly disperse heat throughout the room. Consider landscaping on the northern and windward sides of your home for added protection.

Maximize Your Savings: Many parts of the country have restructured energy markets that enable consumers to shop for energy. If you have a choice in energy providers, now is a great time to research available rates and lock in savings for the coming winter.

"Locking in a low fixed rate now with a reputable energy provider ensures price stability and protects against potential price increases when cold temperatures do arrive," says Kass.

For more information, visit www.mxenergy.com.


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Lacking Space? Try These Smart Storage Tips

September 16, 2011 5:03 pm

For renters or homeowners with limited space, packing all of your belongings to fit can be a daunting task. When space is limited, creativity is necessary to make sure you can comfortably and properly store your things in your house or apartment. If you think you're running out of room, try these smart storage tips:

The first step toward being creative is to think vertically. Ceiling-tall book cases are great ideas to store all sorts of knick-knacks, books, CDs and DVDs. Photo albums or framed photos can also be placed on it. There really is no limitation as to what can be stored. If space allows for it, get two or three bookcases, one for each room. By doing so you'll eliminate any sort of clutter and be well on your way toward organization.

Use underneath storage space. Always use the space below coffee tables, end tables or even your bed as possible locations for some of your things. Large plastic containers can be used to protect from dirt or dust. These are stackable and will help you keep your belongings organized and clean.

Always utilize the insides of doors. Cabinet or closet doors can be a great place to hang items. Shoe-holders can be placed on every door in the residence and you don't have to store only shoes in them. Utensils, toiletries and more can be stuffed into these door-hanging pockets, clearing up your drawers, floors and counter-spaces. (Another similar idea for bathrooms: store towels and linens in a small wine rack).

Never underestimate the value of a few good old-fashioned hooks. Place them on the walls to hang pots and pans, utensils, or any other hanging artifact in your home. Not only will you save some space, but these hanging items will also double as decoration in your dining or kitchen area.

Most importantly, items that double as storage should always be incorporated. The best items: ottomans, stools or chests that can store items inside while also being used as seating or a footrest. Keys, umbrellas, footwear, magazines and more can be stored in these types of spaces, further de-cluttering your home or apartment.

For those with cramped quarters, deciding where to put things makes all the difference. With a little planning and clever placement, you can store all of your belongings and make the most of the space you have. 

Source: Relocation.com Blog

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Word of the Day

September 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Highest and best use. Use of land that is most logical and productive. Refers to the greatest income it can bring the owner, as well as factors such aesthetics and benefits to the surrounding community.

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Question of the Day

September 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Q: What is Freddie Mac?

A: Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae's counterpart, also offers low or no-down-payment home loans through partnerships it forms with various state governments to expand homeownership opportunities across the country, particularly for those persons with low or moderate incomes.

Coming up with a down payment has traditionally been one of the biggest obstacles to buying a home. Freddie Mac also works with lenders through its Alt 97 program to make mortgages that require only a 3 percent down payment available to borrowers. The program is not restricted to low or moderate income buyers.

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5 Cheap Fixes to Improve Your Home Security

September 16, 2011 5:03 pm

In some residential areas, a monitored home security system may be more a necessity than a luxury. But such systems can be expensive, concedes security advisor Bill Wilson, whose career has spanned the gamut from increasing protection from unwanted entry into residences, retail businesses and commercial buildings.

“Professional alarm systems and closed circuit TV are the surest way to increase any building security,” Wilson says. “But there are quick fixes homeowners can choose to lessen the chances of home intrusion.”

Wilson offers five inexpensive ways to increase home security:

1. Improve the lighting – Turn on garden and porch lights every evening, and install extra lights on a timer near all entry points and walkways—enough light to make any would-be burglar feel exposed. When you are away, a timer on several interior lamps can mask the fact that the home is unoccupied.
2. Trim the trees – Tree limbs near the roof can be an invitation to an intruder. Keep trees and shrubbery well-trimmed all around the house.
3. Check the locks – A good deadbolt is better protection from unwanted entry than a simple door handle lock. Also, if your sliding glass doors do not have built-in locks, cut wood or metal rods to size and drop them in the tracks to prevent the doors from opening more than an inch.
4. Don’t tempt fate – Protect small valuables such as cash or jewelry by storing them in a home safe. Don’t display expensive electronics near the windows. When you unpack newly purchased equipment, don’t advertise it at the curb. Cut up the packing boxes and put them into a trash container or drop them at a recycling center.
5. Look for inexpensive alarm protection –Any tripped alarm will deter a would-be intruder. If you can’t afford a monitored system, look for an economical unmonitored system or check local papers and online ads for used alarm system components.

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How to Make Your Party Eco Friendly

September 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Having backyard get togethers is a great way to reconnect and spend quality time with friends and family while enjoying delicious food. Please keep the environment in mind while planning a get together. Below are some steps to tread lighter on Mother Earth while enjoying your party.
1. Consider sending an e-vite rather than a paper invitation. This saves time, money and the environment. Evite.com and mypunchbowl.com are some favorites for their unique e-vites.
2. While preparing for the big (or small and intimate) bash, think about what you can use from your home and/or garden to decorate. Take a cue from Martha Stewart by using fresh cut flowers from your garden, an empty vase full of lemons and limes, rocks or pine cones as a centerpiece.
3. Instead of buying disposable plates, cutlery and cups, consider using your own from your cupboards. Not only does this look more elegant, it saves many disposables from going to the landfill. Also, consider using cloth napkins (in bright, fun colors preferably). If you cannot even contemplate doing the dishes after your soirée, please use compostable/biodegradable or recyclable items. www.ecowise.com. Don’t forget to put out a bin so people recycle the recyclables!
4. When deciding the menu for the party, keep the season in mind and what is available locally. Check out your local Farmer’s Markets or www.localharvest.org to get delicious, in season produce that is sure to wow your loved ones.
5. Consider buying your meat from a local source who raises and slaughters their animals humanely. Grilling meat is quite toxic and produces carcinogens. If you want to learn how to make your meat less toxic while grilling, check out this article:http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Outdoor-Grilling-Healthier
6. Let’s not forget the drinks! For adult parties, Sangria is a delectable option especially if using local, organic fruit and even possibly local, organic wine. (http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/classic-spanish-sangria/Detail.aspx)
7. Consider having your backyard bash during the day to take advantage of the natural light. If the evening is the best time for your get together, using natural soy candles to light the way would be an eco-friendly option.
Following the above suggestions will help you reduce your carbon footprint while throwing your fun-filled bash. Sharing food with loved ones can be a source of great pleasure, an expression of caring for others, and a way to slow down the sometimes frenetic pace of our lives. Sharing food is a tangible way to express our desire for community and our willingness to nurture others and be nurtured in turn. Because food is closely connected to our cultural heritage, sharing also allows us to celebrate and experience diverse culinary traditions. Enjoy your eco-friendly soirées!

Tara Fisher is the Founder of Vida Green Consulting and is an environmental educator, health conscious cook and a busy mother of two.

For more information, visit www.swparents.com.

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Retirement Planning: 4 Tips for Late Bloomers

September 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Increasingly, Americans are entering the age of retirement without enough savings to do so comfortably. However, it is never too late to focus on life stage retirement planning to make the golden years glisten much more.

Here are some tips to help from retiremenplanning.net:

1. Saving should be a top priority. Some people may have procrastinated while others hit some bumps in the road. Either way, the closer a person gets to retiring, the less working years they have and less time to save. One should look at finances, consider needs and wants, and reprioritize.

2. Delay retiring, especially if you started saving late in life. This is beneficially for Social Security and health insurance purposes. Social Security income is adjusted for inflation, tax efficient and guaranteed by the federal government. Every month a worker is able to put money toward this benefit, up to the age of 70, the more savings will accumulate. If an employer-sponsored health care plan is superior, depending on their situation, one can save a great deal. When retirement planning, people often forget that Medicare does not cover every needed item, which can be very expensive.

3. Reconsider investments. Whether to invest aggressively or conservatively is a tough decision at any age, but especially for someone who is creating a financial plan later in life. One may invest aggressively to make up for lost time while another may shy away from risk because they don't want to lose what little they have saved. Risky speculation and eroding inflation are heavy considerations. The sound advice from a professional in the retirement planning field should be considered to make the right calls.

4. Take advantage of tax-efficient plans. Taxes can quickly chip away at savings. People entering an age to retire should especially consider as many tax efficient plans as possible, such as a 401k, Roth IRA and traditional IRAs.

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For Your College Student: Ways to Stay Ahead of Fellow College Graduates in the Job Search

September 16, 2011 5:03 pm

As college students dive into the fall semester, they are met with conflicting news about the future job market upon graduation. Given the uncertainty of job availability facing college graduates in years to come, Aerotek, a leading staffing provider, conducted a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults ages 25 – 54 to uncover ways to better position college graduates in a competitive job market.

Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed responded they would encourage college students to participate in internship programs to make getting a job easier. The survey found that those who participated in an internship benefit from the value of networking and its affect on finding a job.

"Although the job market seems to be slightly improving for college graduates, there are still a lot of obstacles making it more difficult to secure a job offer after graduation," says Todd Gardner, VP of Marketing & Communications, Aerotek. "Based on our survey results, we believe college students can get a leg up in the job search process by taking advantage of the networking opportunities that exist in internships and through the use of social sites."

Aerotek offers the following tips for college students:

• Choosing your degree – For students entering college, take note of jobs and skill sets in high demand. Engineering, business/finance, health and computer science appear to offer the most opportunities for future job growth.
• Internships – Securing an internship can help a resume stand out and provide the ability to gain important professional and job-related skills. Interns also have a head start on developing a professional network. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, paid internships may give a job seeker a slight advantage over those who took unpaid internships, because of the type of work a paid intern might do versus the unpaid intern.
• Networking – Fifty-five percent of those who held internships found their current job through networking, according to the Aerotek survey. If you don't have current contacts in your desired industry consider joining local professional groups and industry associations.
• Partner with a staffing firm – The job market is always changing and can be very difficult to navigate alone. Working with a staffing firm can offer job seekers an opportunity to engage with a recruiter who specializes in locating jobs that match a person's skills and expertise.

It is never too early to set yourself up for success after graduating from college. The decisions you make now can greatly impact your long-term commitment to enhancing your career—in whatever field you choose.

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

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