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Mary Mastroeni

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When School's Out for Summer Choosing the Right Sitter

April 27, 2011 10:23 am

RISMEDIA, April 27, 2011-The end of the school year is a cause for celebration for millions of children around the nation. However, for their parents, it poses a serious question: Who is going to watch my children for the next three months? Sittercity.com offers the following tips to find the perfect summer sitter:

Start Early: Start searching for a sitter at least one month before school lets out. This will allow adequate time to identify and screen new candidates, check references and review background checks. Remember that most of the parents in your children's school will also be looking for summer sitters, so starting early gives you a leg up on the competition.

Parents start looking for summer sitters as early as January.

The majority of parents post a summer sitter job the first week of May.

Keep the Kids Learning: Summer vacation can be fun, but you can also use this time to continue to teach your children.

Write Down the Details: Write down all the events your children are signed up for this summer: camp, summer school, arts and crafts classes, play dates, etc., so your sitter has all the details. If your kids would like to have friends over or want to go to a friend's house, make sure to write down who they can visit, their contact information, address and details, so your sitter has them at hand.

For more information visit www.sittercity.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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New Site Helps Consumers Understand Financial Credentials and Find Qualified Advisors

April 27, 2011 10:23 am

RISMEDIA, April 27, 2011-Long confused by the "alphabet soup" of designations after the names of financial advisors, consumers now have a reliable resource to help them determine which credentials are rigorous and offered by leading institutions, versus "one day seminars" that often mislead the public.

The American College recently launched DesignationCheck.com-a website providing consumers with extended descriptions of the most common designations, tips on how to select a financial advisor, and search tools to help them find advisors with credentials well regarded by regulators.

DesignationCheck.com includes full descriptions of many designations offered by several universities and institutions. The site also offers insight on educational and experience requirements, codes of ethics, examinations, continuing education requirements, enforcement, accreditation, and information about the conferring organization. Non-profit organizations that would like to have their credential listed may submit their request through the "Feedback" section on DesignationCheck.com.

Larry Barton, Ph.D., President and CEO of The American College states: "At any time, but especially now in an erratic economy, there is an inherent lack of trust in insurance and financial planners. While no credential such as a CPA or CLU guarantees superb advice, we know for a fact that those with these designations are more likely to ensure sound and unbiased planning and that they have completed a course of study that took years and numerous exams to complete.

"Unfortunately, there are over 300 financial designations available, and some can be completed in just one day of study. We must encourage Congress to stop this insanity of unlicensed and unchecked, for-profit companies issuing certificates with initials that confuse consumers."

Barton adds "advisors with advanced education such as ChFC s, and CFP certificants are the kinds of professionals consumers should seek out. He continues by stating that "this robust website includes a wide variety of industry credentials and will help consumers connect directly with knowledgeable and qualified financial advisors."

DesignationCheck.com also contains links to other resources, including those available from FINRA and the AICPA. The 10 Considerations for Choosing an Advisor feature covers the questions consumers should be asking when they select an advisor, and the search feature helps consumers find a credentialed financial professional near them.

The advisor search tool focuses on the "big three" financial planning marks: CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter ), CFP Certification (through a link to CFP Board's site), and ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant ). Another link on the site helps consumers locate a CPA with the Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) credential.

"While FINRA and a few other sites provide lists of popular designations, there is no other site that provides as much detailed information for consumers about what each credential represents," says Barton. "We believe it is critical for families to have this tool available free of charge so they are able to choose their advisors carefully and with full information about their qualifications."

For more information, visit www.TheAmericanCollege.edu.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Keep Your Home Cool as the Weather Turns Warm

April 27, 2011 10:23 am

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 27, 2011-When it comes to air conditioning, your RIS Consumer Confidant strives to be one cool source of information. And with the hot, muggy weather of summer just a scant month or two away, it's time to take a look at a couple of the hottest new A/C concepts on the market -the split and multi-split.

A split type unit is sometimes ideal for a room with outside walls, as indoor and outdoor units are both required for each room. But with a multi-split type air conditioner, a single outdoor unit can be connected to multiple indoor units. This solves the problems of limited installation space as well as exterior clutter.

Even with zones in almost every room, it is unusual for all indoor units to be operated simultaneously, so a multi-split type air conditioner is the right choice for almost any home. The outdoor unit's capacity is shared between operating indoor units as needed, so a smaller-scale system can handle the whole home.

But are these ductless systems as efficient as the traditional systems? LEED Certified architect Maia Kumari Gilman recently blogged that it's "all a matter of degree."

Kumari says ductless air conditioners are often recommended in building retrofit situations, where it doesn't make sense to rip out walls or to add soffits to accommodate new duct runs.

Kumari likes that they are also easily set up to offer cooling to different zones instead of a single zone, thereby allowing the occupants to have control over their temperature environment. So if an occupant wants to cool only one room, then the system offers that possibility without cooling the whole space. And without duct runs, there is also a reduced chance of air leakage, which also saves energy. So, Kumari declares that ductless air conditioners are indeed "green."

An even greener alternative, she suggests, is to forego the air conditioner in lieu of an old fashioned ceiling fan that works to make the human body feel cooler rather than actually changing the temperature of the surrounding air.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Is This the Right Time to Buy a Home? 5 Reasons Why the Answer is a No-Brainer

April 27, 2011 10:23 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 27, 2011-Much has been made in the media lately about sinking home prices and the higher than normal rate of foreclosures. Understandably, this has produced some hesitancy about whether this is the right time to buy. However, most real estate industry watchers agree that there may never have been a better time to take the plunge and purchase a home.

Rock-bottom interest rates, motivated sellers, and a great supply of houses to choose from are only a few of the reasons why now is an optimum time for new homeowners. In any economy there are at least five reasons why buying a home makes more sense than renting-especially over a long period of time. A few of those reasons are financial; the others have to do with an improved way of life for growing families.

This spring, Realtors nationwide are asking consumers to consider these facts before deciding whether or not to buy now:

Equity builds over time: Home prices will always fluctuate somewhat. However, if you stay in your home for a length of time, you will build equity-building wealth by paying off your mortgage and owning your property outright.

There will be tax savings: For most, the interest on a home mortgage, and real estate property taxes, are tax deductible. The money you pay in rent is not.

You will have more control: The decision to paint your home, remodel the kitchen, plant a garden or put in a swing set will be yours alone. If you rent, the landlord must agree to any changes made to the property.

Cost will remain stable: A landlord can raise your rent. However, if you have a fixed rate mortgage, your payments are set for as long as you own your home.

Pride of ownership counts: The sense of pride and permanency in owning a home will help you and your family establish roots in the community you live in. That is an advantage few renters can experience.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Word of the Day

April 26, 2011 1:23 am

Steering. The illegal practice of directing potential home buyers to or away from certain neighborhoods in order to maintain or change the character of an area, or create a speculative situation.

Copyright 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Question of the Day

April 26, 2011 1:23 am

Q: How much can I expect to spend on maintenance?

A: Expect to spend up to one percent of the purchase price of your home every year to cover everything from painting to repairing gutters to caulking windows and maintaining routine system repairs and maintenance. An older home may require more maintenance, although much will depend on how well it has been maintained over the years. Take the upkeep seriously, and budget accordingly. Otherwise, your home's value could suffer if you allow it to fall into a state of disrepair. Remember, too, that the cost of good home maintenance is usually minor compared to what it will cost to remedy a situation that you allowed to get progressively worse. For example, unclogging and sealing gutters may cost a few hundred dollars, but repairing damage to a corner of your home where gutters have leaked can potentially cost several thousand dollars.

Copyright 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Consumer Product Safety Commission Launches New Website

April 26, 2011 1:23 am

By John Voket

RISMEDIA, April 26, 2011-For some people it's rock stars, to others sports legends, but to your RIS Consumer Confidant, the ultimate interview comes from folks at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The agency recently enlisted RISMedia and yours truly to help spread the word about a first of its kind website, SaferProducts.gov.

The newly launched, searchable Consumer Product Safety Information Database website is open for your perusal, and available for any consumer product complaints you might have.

The CPSC is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under the agency's jurisdiction. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from all unsafe consumer products, including those that pose a fire, electrical, chemical or mechanical hazard, or can injure children.

While reports about one of their areas of interest-unsafe cribs-have been featured here already, the CPSC also works to ensure the safety of consumer products, such as toys, power tools, cigarette lighters and household chemicals.

The agency's outreach has contributed significantly to the decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 30 years.

Through SaferProducts.gov, consumers, child service providers, health care professionals, government officials and public safety entities can submit reports of harm involving consumer products. Manufacturers (including importers) and private labelers identified in reports will receive a copy of the report, and have the opportunity to comment on them. Then, as the database of incoming reports expands with consumers' participation, completed reports and manufacturer comments will be added to material already published online at SaferProducts.gov for anyone to search.

For more information visit www.SaferProducts.gov.

Copyright 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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What Your Contractor Won't Tell You; Five Steps to Avoiding Remodeling Disaster

April 26, 2011 1:23 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 26, 2011-Adding a room to your home, or remodeling an existing kitchen or bath, can be an exciting and rewarding experience. But selecting a contractor to do the work can be confusing at best.

"Your best bet is a personal recommendation," says Barbara Kavovich, who owns and manages one of the largest female-owned construction and renovation companies in New York City. "A satisfied customer can be your greatest resource in determining a contractor's skill and business ethics."

Barring that, she adds, there are questions to ask that will help you figure out whose hands you want to put your project in. Listed below are seven things Kavovich claims a contractor will never tell you-things you want to check out and check off your list before you sign on the dotted line:

1. "I'll probably go over budget." -Make sure your contract spells out start and end times, estimated costs of equipment and materials, and details on cleanup, supervision, rubbish removal and insurance coverage.

2. "I botched a few jobs." -Call the Better Business Bureau or the Department of Consumer Affairs to find out if complaints have been lodged against a contractor. Call his references, but better yet, visit a few sites where the contractor has worked.

3. "You won't be able to find me." -Your contractor may not be onsite every day, but you should know who is in charge when he is elsewhere, and how you may reach him if you need to.

4. "Don't pay me if you don't like it." -Contractors deserve to get paid for their work, but your contract should include language that allows you withhold money for work that is incomplete, incorrect or poorly done.

5. "I don't have adequate insurance." -Make sure your contractor has in-force Workmen's Compensation and general liability insurance. Otherwise, you may be liable for the cost of certain mishaps, or if one of his workers is injured while working on your property.

Copyright 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Savvy Home Improvements

April 26, 2011 1:23 am

RISMEDIA, April 26, 2011-If you're looking to sell your home or just want to upgrade your current space, you need to know which home improvement projects will pay off in the long run and which ones will end up costing you.

The best home improvements will increase your resale value, positively affect utility bills, or reduce the cost of maintenance.

Instant Curb Appeal: While high-tech showers or appliances are perks to buying, they do not set the stage when a potential buyer enters the house. So if you're going to invest in a renovation, it should be one that instantly leaves an impression. Landscaping, new siding and refinished floors all show that a house is well maintained. They also send a message about the quality of an entire home stronger than a single upgrade can.

Seek Out Safety: How sturdy are your stairs? Are your walkways free of tripping hazards, such as cracked concrete or uneven paving? How secure are your doors and windows? Are your entrances and pathways well lit? Upgrading these areas will make your home safer for your family and help alleviate concerns for any potential buyers.

Get Energy Efficient: Making energy-efficient additions and repairs helps reduce the home's operational costs. Improvements, such as added insulation and upgraded HVAC systems, could reduce cooling costs by up to 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Home appliances account for about 20 percent of your utility bills, so efficient choices can cut your costs while helping the environment.

When planning an improvement project, consider the long-term benefits of high-quality materials. Using low-grade products to save money now can actually cause more headaches-and potentially cost you more money-later. Cheaper materials don't hold up as well over time and often require more maintenance.

When upgrading building materials, look for options that require little maintenance and have a high perceived value. Fiber cement siding is a great example of this concept, as it can recoup as much as 84 percent of the cost upon resale. According to Remodeling magazine's 2009-10 Cost vs. Value Report, re-siding with fiber cement is one of the best home improvement investments, providing more of a return on investment than kitchen and bathroom remodels. Additional benefits, like termite and fire resistance, add to the savings in the overall cost of maintenance.

What home improvements are not worth the money?

Room additions can be costly and risky, especially if the space added is customized, such as a sauna or wine cellar, which may not appeal to future buyers.

Marble countertops may look nice in the beginning, but the porous stone needs constant maintenance. Marble can be damaged by water, burned by hot pans and eroded by cleaning products. Unless extreme care is used, it is possible that marble countertops will need to be replaced at the time of sale.

High-tech systems for the Internet or sound are a nice luxury, but because technology is continuously improving, updates will become outdated rather quickly.

For more information, visit www.jameshardie.com.

Copyright 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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What Can Your Lawn Do for You?

April 26, 2011 1:23 am

RISMEDIA, April 26, 2011-Homeowners all over the country take great pride in their lawns. But a lush, green lawn can do more than boost egos. A healthy lawn can reduce allergens and dust, increase the value of a home, and reduce erosion and runoff.

Reducing allergies to ragweed pollen

Of all Americans who are allergic to pollen-producing plants, 75 percent are allergic to ragweed pollen. While a single ragweed plant may only live for one season, it produces up to one billion pollen grains during that time. A well-maintained lawn can help limit the amount of ragweed pollen in the air, as it is typically free of many pollen-producing plants and other problem plants, such as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. More than one half of the U.S. population is allergic to these noxious weeds.

Landscaped lawns boost your real estate value

Nothing beats a first impression. When prospective buyers are searching for a new home, well-landscaped lawns and nearby parks are important factors. A study conducted by Virginia Tech University estimated that attractive landscaping can increase the value of a home anywhere from 5 to 11 percent, depending on location. It was also reported that landscape investments are recovered fully, and sometimes doubled by the increased home values.

"Potential buyers can be immediately swayed by an unsightly yard, leaving them to wonder if the lack of care and attention to the lawn has been carried to the inside of the house," says Gray Mattern, Realtor in St. Petersburg, Fla. "If the buyer doesn't get past the negative first impression, he or she may decide to bypass the home completely without looking at the interior. In this buyer's market, it's important to appeal to a wide range of prospective buyers."

A healthy lawn reduces dust and soil erosion

Healthy grass holds soil in place and prevents runoff from being washed into lakes, rivers and streams. The University of Minnesota released results of a research study showing a lawn that is not fertilized actually has more runoff than a lawn that is properly fertilized, due to the increased health of the grass.

"Proper lawn care practices will be rewarded by an aesthetically pleasing property and will result in a variety of environmental benefits," explains Dr. Cathie Lavis, horticulture professor, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan. "A key factor to success is selecting the right grass variety for both your region and particular site conditions."

How to maintain a healthy lawn

"Lawn maintenance includes timely mowing and watering. Additionally, grass quality is generally measured in terms of color, density and uniformity," says Lavis. "Scheduled fertilization and an awareness of pests and their control will contribute to lawn quality."

Two elements of good lawn health are proper pesticide use when necessary and proper fertilizer use to ensure the grass has the nutrients it needs to thrive. A properly fertilized, healthy lawn helps prevent weeds, while pesticides control weed populations already present or before they emerge. Proper pesticide use also keeps grubs and insects at bay.

The key differences between lawn and garden pesticides and fertilizers are:

A pesticide is the generic term for insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Pesticides are meant to kill or control weeds, harmful insects and fungal and other diseases. The benefit of pesticides is their ability to prevent and stop pest problems-weed, insect, or disease-before they become out of control and threaten the health of your lawn.

Fertilizers provide the proper nutrients to your grass, plants and trees, enabling them to thrive. A fertilization program should include fertilizers that are formulated to meet the needs of your lawn.

Lawn and Garden Tips for Homeowners

When selecting and using pesticides and fertilizers, the product directions must be followed to make sure the product works properly and is used in a safe and environmentally sound way. Product labels specify the amount of product that should be applied, how much is needed for your treatment conditions, and how to safely apply and store products.

Ask yourself the following questions before choosing the right lawn and garden products to meet your needs:

What insect, weed or other pest are you trying to control? What is the problem with your lawn? The label will tell you which product best fits the needs of your lawn and where it can be used.

How big is your lawn? What treatment are you applying? Select the product that meets the needs of your lawn, and buy only what you need.

Do you need a spreader to apply the product? If you have a small, localized problem consider a ready-to-use spot treatment. Follow product label directions for spreader and spot applications. More is not better; read the label and apply only the recommended amount.

To get more information on the benefits of a healthy lawn, visit www.debugthemyths.com.

Copyright 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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