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Protecting Your Home against Wicked Weather

December 14, 2016 1:00 am

While the east coast recently suffered through Hurricane Matthew, severe weather can strike anywhere, anytime. The Massachusetts-based Hanover Insurance Group recently shared these tips to help homeowners protect both their families and their properties during a storm.

Know what's in your home. A home inventory is often overlooked. An industry poll indicated homeowners' insurance claims are processed nearly twice as fast if home inventories are completed in advance.

Gather supplies. It is always a good idea to create an emergency supplies kit. Consider including items such as flashlights, batteries, medicines, a first aid kit, cash, a battery-powered radio, and a week's worth of water and nonperishable food for the household.

Prepare your house. Make any necessary repairs to loose boards, shingles, downspouts or other items that can pose problems in high winds and torrential rain. Move any unsecured items indoors, including grills, toys, planters and lawn furniture. Trim or remove any decaying and damaged tree branches.

Have a plan. Learn the local evacuation routes and make note of where local shelters are located. Have key telephone numbers on hand, such as family, friends, fire and police departments, and your insurance agent.

Stay informed. Sign up for alerts if possible. Many towns offer weather alerts to help inform residents of ways to stay safe.

Check your insurance protection. An independent insurance agent can help ensure comprehensive coverages are in place. Some good questions to consider include:
  • Are current rebuilding costs covered?
  • Should separate flood insurance be considered?
  • Are there any gaps in coverage?
​Source: The Hanover Insurance Group, Inc.

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Holiday Tips for Alzheimer's Families

December 14, 2016 1:00 am

While the holidays are often a joyous time for celebrating with friends and families, for families living with Alzheimer's, celebrations can be a bit of a challenge. Read on for tips on helping your family have the best holiday season possible.

Talk to friends and family before they arrive
Explain that your loved one with dementia may have trouble following conversation or tend to repeat him or herself.  Everyone can help by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts. Help visitors understand that in the middle or late stages of Alzheimer's, there may be significant changes in cognitive abilities since the last time an out-of-town friend or relative has visited. 

Adjust expectations
The stress of caregiving responsibilities layered with holiday traditions can take a toll. Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. Make sure everyone understands your caregiving situation and has realistic expectations about what you can do. Be honest about any limitations or needs, such as keeping a daily routine.

Involve the person with dementia
Focus on activities that are meaningful to the person with dementia. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs or looking through old photo albums. As the person's abilities allow, invite him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate or set the table.

When the person lives in a care facility
Consider joining your loved one in any facility-planned holiday activities. Bring a favorite holiday food to share, sing holiday songs and ask if other residents can join in or read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud.

Source: www.alz.org/nyc

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Make Your Home Just a Little Smarter

December 12, 2016 12:57 am

According to a 2016 HomeAdvisor research report, Americans spent on average $564 - $2,260 to install a home automation system, with prices ranging as high as $15,000 to install a hard-wired system. While outfitting your home with a full suite of smart home technology can be pricey and intimidating, there are some smaller ways you can start to incorporate this all-the-rage trend into your abode.

Smart home automation deals with syncing household devices and systems with schedules or responsive sensors, says HomeAdvisor, which means that smart home technology is dependent upon  smartphone apps and wireless internet routers. The goal is to save on costs, and add convenience and security throughout your home.

A good place to start is with your thermostat. A variety of smart thermostats are available, allowing you to automate and control your home’s temperature from your smartphone. Some, like Nest, learn your habits throughout the day and set the temperature accordingly.

You might also want to consider a smart television. An evolution of the Roku and Apple TV external devices, smart televisions have integrated everything you could ever want right into your set - Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO Go, Pandora, network TV, gaming and much more.

Another great feature to consider is smart shades or blinds. These programmable, remote-controlled window coverings allow you to schedule open-and-close times in conjunction with the room’s exposure, putting you in control of energy saving and setting the mood.

Speaking of setting the mood, a whole host of smart light dimmers give you the option to control the lights in your home from your smartphone. This is an especially useful security feature while you’re away from your home for extended periods of time.

Another great security option is smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors—this technology alerts you to not only what the problem is but within which part of your home it’s happening.

While the smart home technology options are endless and fascinating, keep in mind that they are internet dependent, so if your home goes offline, so will your devices.

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Personal Finance 101: What is a Fiduciary?

December 12, 2016 12:57 am

Those looking into hiring a finance advisor may have heard the term “fiduciary” thrown around. But what is a fiduciary, and do you need one?

"Consumers are hearing the term 'fiduciary' more often, but increased awareness doesn't necessarily equal increased understanding," explains  National Association of Personal Financial Advisors CEO Geoffrey Brown.

What is a fiduciary? A fiduciary is a professional entrusted to manage assets or wealth while putting the client's best interests first at all times. Financial advisors who follow a fiduciary standard must disclose any conflict, or potential conflict, to their clients prior to and throughout the advisory engagement. Fiduciaries will also adopt a code of ethics and will fully disclose how they are compensated.

Non-fiduciary financial professionals can recommend investments with higher fees, riskier features and lower returns because they earn more money for the advisor, even if those investments are not the best choice for their clients.

Who is a fiduciary? Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) are held to a fiduciary standard of care. By law, they must act solely in the best interest of their clients. To ensure your advisor or a potential advisor is following a fiduciary standard, request to see the advisor's ADV (a form filed with the SEC) or ask if they will sign a Fiduciary Oath.

How can you find a fiduciary? Accountability is important in financial planning. While there are many people in the financial industry who profess to have the client's best interests at heart, they still may have conflicts that impact their recommendations. It's important for consumers to ask the right questions of any potential advisors.  

Source: http://www.napfa.org

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How to Keep Your Pipes From Freezing

December 12, 2016 12:57 am

Winter means toasty fires, steaming cups of hot cocoa and—for many—frozen pipes. Frozen pipes can lead to major damage, so it's important to keep them protected when cold air hits.  

Gary Eisenhauer, a manager at The Sunny Plumber in Las Vegas, recommends a few tips for protecting your pipes as the weather turns cold.  

- When an overnight freeze is expected, slowly run one or two faucets to keep water moving through the lines.

- Outdoor hoses and their connection to water sources are particularly vulnerable to freezing weather. Eisenhauer advises consumers to unscrew hoses from the outdoor facet to allow for drainage and keep outside hose bibs open to allow water to drain.

- All outside pipes and hose spigots should be insulated, this is easy to do with the purchase of an installation kit from your local hardware store.

- Pipes running against exterior walls, like those in kitchens, are often subject to freezing and typically have little to no insulation. Keep cabinets under kitchen and bathrooms sinks open to allow for warm air flow to prevent freezing.

- Pipes in unheated areas like basements, attics and near garages are also susceptible to damage from cold. Take special care to insulate these areas.

- Heat tape is a great product to insulate water pipe. These "pipe sleeves" could be as simple as newspaper wrapped around pipes to keep them warm and insulated.

- During cold spells, Eisenhauer recommends keeping your thermostat set at the same temperature during the night and day – this helps regulate temperatures and prevent unwanted expansion.Source: thesunnyplumber.com.

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And the Paint Forecast Is...Gray

December 9, 2016 3:21 pm

Despite the fickle nature of interior design trends, when it comes to paint, gray is topping the charts for the second year in a row.

"Gray, in all its variations, has emerged as the overwhelming choice of designers for spaces ranging from home interiors to elegant office settings, and everything in between," says Debbie Zimmer, color expert for the Paint Quality Institute.

What’s making gray the most popular color once again? Versatility, says Zimmer. "Gray is beautiful in its own right, but it is so perfectly neutral that it can work alongside other soft tints, or serve as a perfect foil for vibrant accent colors."

According to Zimmer, the color we refer to as gray is actually a wide range of complex grayish colors that often contain hints of red, green, blue, yellow, or some other hue.

Yellowish-grays paired with beiges or off-whites create neutral color schemes that are not only classic, but also calming. Similar results can be achieved with blue-grays. Meanwhile, red- or green-leaning grays often appear ultra-sophisticated.

Grays are practical, too. Since they work with so many colors, it's easy to change the overall appearance of a room by simply repainting an accent wall in a different shade, or adding a pop of color with pillows, rugs, wall décor or ceramics.

If you've decided to use gray as the dominant color in a room, get a variety of samples and paint swatches on your walls. See how different shades look in the various stages of natural and artificial light throughout the day, as well as how they complement your floors and furnishings. Zimmer also suggests asking the salesperson to show you the color formula. Pigment colors blended into the "gray" paint point to the colors you should choose for trim paint, accent walls, and even furnishings.

So, if you jumped on board last year with the gray trend, rest assured that your home design is still on point. And if you want to join in now, it's still not too late to “go gray"!    

Source: Paint Quality Institute
 
For more tips on incorporating gray into your home décor, contact our office today.

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Fan the Flames Safely: Fireplace Dos and Don'ts

December 9, 2016 3:21 pm

An inviting fire has long been the focal point of gatherings with family and friends, whether it’s inside around the fireplace or outside by the fire pit.
 
With that comes a host of safety requirements. Make sure you adhere to these dos and don’ts to ensure you’re lighting up responsibly.
 
Do…
  • Have your fireplace professionally cleaned (swept). How often? At least once a year, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). However, this will vary depending upon how often you light a fire. CSIA recommends that open masonry fireplaces be swept once they accumulate a 1/8-in of sooty build-up—enough fuel to cause a chimney fire. How about your fire pit? According to HGTV, if residue build-up becomes an issue, masonry fire pits may be cleaned using a solution of one part muriatic acid to nine parts water to scrub the interior. Once clean, rinse with water and allow it to dry for 48 - 72 hours before using.
  • Dispose of ashes properly. Place ashes in a metal container away from your home or other structures. Shovel ashes out of your fire pit regularly.
  • Make sure your smoke detector is functional. According to CSIA, detectors should be tested once a month to ensure they’re working properly.
  • Keep your fire manageable. Whether inside or out, too large of a fire can lead to excessive smoke and wayward embers that could ignite rugs and furniture inside, or trees and dried brush outside.
  • Have a container of water and/or working hose nearby when lighting an outdoor fire.
  • Have the right tools on hand, including an ash scoop, a long poker, and tongs for repositioning logs. 
Don’t…
  • Store ashes inside the house or within five feet of your home or other structures outside.
  • Burn the wrong kind of materials, such as trash, pressure-treated or green wood, which could release harmful toxins. Stick to dry, split wood and use leaves and sticks for kindling.
  • Forget to check the forecast before lighting an outdoor fire. Avoid windy conditions that can blow embers. Extremely windy conditions can also create problems for your indoor fireplace, forcing air down the chimney and smoke into your home.
  • Improperly position the logs in your fireplace. Logs should be placed toward the back of your fireplace and not be leaning toward the screen. This could cause smoke to filter into your home as opposed to up the chimney.
  • Wait to call the fire department if you suspect a chimney fire. If you notice embers falling down the chimney into your fire and/or hear a loud, rushing sound, you could have a chimney fire. Call 911 immediately, and follow your emergency fire plan. 
For more fire safety tips, contact our office today.

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How Social Media Can Help You Buy a Home

December 9, 2016 3:21 pm

Home sales are ticking upward with the National Association of REALTORS®’ Pending Home Sales Index now 1.8 percent higher than this time last year. As home prices and interest rates continue to rise, now is the time to seriously consider taking the plunge into buying a home.  
 
But many would-be homeowners are intimidated by the process of buying a home and remain on the sidelines, to their own disadvantage. How can you streamline this often overwhelming process? With the help of social media.
 
Utilized these days for way more than sharing personal updates and photos, social media can actually play a key role in making big decisions, like buying a home. Use social media in the following ways before and during your home search:
 
1. Connect with agents on Facebook. Just about every real estate agent worth his or her salt has a Facebook business page. Search for agents in the towns you’re considering and send a friend request or private message. Start following their feed and you’ll get a good idea of their overall real estate savvy, in addition to a sneak peek at their new listings. You’ll also get a feel for who they are as people, which is important, because good chemistry with your agent leads to a better outcome in terms of finding your dream home.
 
2. Check out LinkedIn profiles. Once you’ve narrowed down the field of potential agents you might want to work with, look them up on LinkedIn. Here, you’ll be able to learn about the company they currently work for, as well as their career history. You’ll see what networks they’re a part of (networking is key to helping you find the right home), what awards or achievements they’ve received, what skills they excel in, and recommendations from others.
 
3. Use Twitter for housing and interest rate updates. Twitter is a great way to get quick news updates on what matters most to you right now: interest rates, home values, market trends, and more. Follow a few credible financial and real estate news organizations and become an educated home shopper.
 
4. Put hashtags to work. Use hashtag searches on Instagram, including the names of neighborhoods and towns you’re interested in. This will give you a view of the communities you’re considering, the restaurants, the culture, the overall lifestyle, and more. If you want to see some actual listings in the towns you’re interested in, add the term ‘real estate’ into your search.  
 
5. Tour homes and towns on YouTube. Nothing gives you a better view of a town or listing than a video. Lots of agents post listing videos, so be sure to check them out.
 
6. Get organized with Pinterest. Pinterest can serve as your digital scrapbook of the neighborhoods, homes, interior designs and home features you’re interested in. Your Pinterest page can evolve further once you’ve purchased your home, serving as a gateway to décor and home improvement ideas.

When it comes to buying a home, social media will not only help you get informed, but it will also go a long way toward helping you make the right connections. So start friending, following and posting and find the home that’s right for you faster.
 
Contact our office today for more tips on using social media to help you buy a home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Store-Branded Credit Cards: Worth the Rates?

December 9, 2016 3:21 pm

“Would you like to save an additional 10 percent on today’s purchase by applying for a credit card?” That option is always so tempting and can often take every bit of willpower to resist. When you consider what you’re potentially paying in the long run, however, you might have an easier time saying no to store credit cards.
 
According to the results of a recent CreditCards.com survey, store-branded credit cards are charging record-high interest rates, such as 29.99 percent at Big Lots, 29.24 percent at Zales and 28.24 percent at Staples. The survey was conducted using the terms and conditions agreements of 68 cards from 44 retailers. Each of the 100 largest retailers (as defined by the National Retail Federation based upon 2015 sales) that offers a retail credit card program was selected for the study.

Over the past year, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate by 0.25 percent, and the average store credit card interest rate rose by 0.41 percent. The Fed is expected to take a similar action this month, which will likely push store card rates even higher.

The average store card charges 23.84 percent, according to the report, much higher than the national average for all credit cards, which is 15.22 percent. Retailers get customers to sign up for these cards by offering incentives, but the deals aren't very generous. For example, while half of the credit cards offered by the nation's 100 largest retailers give new cardholders a sign-up bonus, only 13 exceed $25 for a $200 purchase.

For example, Best Buy's 10 percent sign-up bonus would be worth $100 to someone who buys a $1,000 television. But the benefit would be lost—and then some—unless the cardholder pays the entire bill before interest starts to accrue.

But what about the ongoing rewards offered by store credit cards? According to the report, unless you’re a frequent shopper at the store in question, such rewards tend to pale in comparison to those offered by general-purpose cards. For example, someone who spends a lot at Target would benefit from its 5 percent cash-back program since the best general-purpose cash-back cards yield about 2 percent.

The bottom line? As with any credit card—but even more so with store-branded credit cards—unless you can pay off the balance in full each month, you’ll be spending much more in the long run than any offer or reward could make up for.

Source: CreditCards.com
 
To learn more about store-branded credit cards, contact our office today.

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'Tis the Season...for Insurance Claims

December 9, 2016 3:21 pm

Before you mix up the egg nog and deck the halls, take a good look around. While the holidays bring lots of merriment to your home, they also introduce a new set of hazards to both your property and your person. Consider these top five seasonal insurance claims, according to Franklin Mutual Insurance (FMI), and take the following precautions.
 
1. Fire. Christmas trees, turkey fryers, candles, fireplaces, electric heaters and even wrapping paper can be at the root of a conflagration. Unplug lights, turn off ovens and heaters, never leave a lit candle unattended, and fry the turkey outdoors at a safe distance from the house or garage.
 
2. Burst pipes. If you’re headed out of town, be sure to keep your thermostat set at 55 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.

3. Damage caused by outdoor decorations. A good wind is all it takes for that snowman lawn ornament to become a dangerous projectile. Make sure your outdoor lights and décor are properly secured with hooks and tethers.
 
4. Theft. Keep your lights on timers, have a neighbor collect your mail and avoid piling up empty gift boxes at the curb when you’re out of town. All of these are red flags to thieves that you’re not home.

5. Ice-related accidents. Be sure to have plenty of rock salt on hand, and make sure someone’s manning the shovel to keep driveways, stairs and entryways clear.
 
According to Dale Martin, co-vice president of claims for FMI, while homeowners should take the necessary steps to help prevent the above mishaps from happening, they should also be aware that not everything is covered through a standard homeowner’s policy.
 
For example, “If a homeowner is using a ladder to hang Christmas lights, slips and injures his or her back or leg, homeowners insurance will not cover the homeowner’s medical bills,” says Martin. “However, if a caroler slipped on a homeowner’s icy walkway, homeowners insurance would cover the claim if the insurer found the homeowner negligent. It would be covered under Bodily Injury Liability coverage.”
 
If you do fall victim to a seasonal snafu, Martin recommends the following steps for efficiently and effectively filing an insurance claim:
 
  • Prepare a home inventory before a loss occurs. In the event of a fire or catastrophe, a home inventory list helps insureds and insurers identify the personal belongings and their respective value. “We recommend taking photos or videos of each room in the house along with the contents,” adds Martin.
  • Take photos of the damage or loss.        
  • When reporting the claim, provide a detailed description of the loss. If property is lost or stolen, list the value of items and provide receipts, if possible.
  • Prevent further damage by taking temporary precautions—i.e., placing a tarp over a damaged roof to prevent further water damage or boarding up a window that was broken. “Avoid making permanent repairs before speaking with your insurance agent or carrier,” advises Martin. 
As you head into the new year, take the time to reassess your homeowners insurance. “It’s important to schedule an annual insurance review with your independent agent,” says Martin. “As your insurance needs change through the years, your agent is there to help make sure you have the most appropriate coverage to protect your home and family year-round.”
 
For more information about insurance claims, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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