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Tips to Help Buyers Assess Online Photos in Proper Context

April 23, 2011 10:11 am

RISMEDIA, April 23, 2011-With a large majority of real estate buyers starting their home search online, it is more important than ever for sellers and the agents representing them to be sure the photos they post online make a good first impression. The National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA) warns that real estate images can be misleading, especially as home staging-the practice in which experts make the property attractive to the highest number of potential home buyers by enhancing its visual appeal-is becoming increasingly common. Taking the staging element to the dramatic editing of online photos is a relatively new tactic and can be misleading.

Today's home buyer spends more time online when shopping for a home. The practice is growing and more popular than ever with the rise of smartphone apps that allow buyers to search property listings, calculate mortgages and more. Virtual showings are integral to the total home buying process and a large part of that is the ability to view the exterior and interior of a home before deciding to view it in person.

"We advocate for clarity and integrity in every facet of the real estate buying transaction, and that extends to photographic representations of properties," says Benjamin Clark, 2010 President of NAEBA.

The following four tips will help buyers assess online photos in the proper context.

1. Pictures can look better than the actual home. Buyers should view pictures with that understanding and not make a sole judgment based on the photos.

2. Pictures may look worse than the actual home. Buyers may be discouraged by a poorly taken photo, yet the property may actually represent a good bargain.

3. Order and flow make a difference. It can be difficult to get a sense of the flow of the home from photographs. If the photos are not listed in order, try to do it yourself so that you can follow the path of the home from the front door through the rooms of the house.

4. Photos distort scale. It is difficult to get a good view of a whole room from a small picture. Rely on floor plans and room dimensions rather than photos to judge the scale of rooms.

Photos can provide additional information, but home buyers that rely solely on an image can miss out on a great home or be disappointed by an in-person visit. Buyers should assess all available information about a home. Use Google Street View to see the surrounding neighborhood, and Yelp to read reviews about local businesses and stores. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but when added to detailed research, it can be very valuable.

For more information, visit www.naeba.org.

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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10 Tips to Banish Mold from the Home

April 23, 2011 10:11 am

By Charles Furlough

RISMEDIA, April 23, 2011-Often, our first encounter with mold at home occurs in that infamous spot between the shower curtain and tub. It's pretty disgusting, but it's easy to wipe up. Unfortunately, in most homes, this isn't the extent of the mold-the more problematic mold is the insidious kind, hiding behind walls and in floorboards, and potentially contributing to a range of allergies and other illnesses. In fact, a 1994 study by the Harvard University School of Public Health, which involved 10,000 homes in the U.S. and Canada, found that half of those homes had mold levels that participants said caused a 50-100% increase in distressing respiratory symptoms.

What causes mold? Surprisingly, advanced building materials are one of the main culprits. In the last few decades, buildings have increasingly been made to prevent the infiltration and exfiltration of air, leading to higher humidity levels. The insulation materials used in this type of construction contain cellulose and other materials that lock in moisture. Adding to the problem, many wall cavities are wrapped in plastic, allowing for even more moisture. An aging home is at even greater risk, as normal occurrences like window and roof leaks bring in even more moisture-and moisture is a direct cause of mold. Limited ventilation or sunlight only makes the problem worse, and things can get bad fast-one square foot of moldy drywall can harbor more than 300 million mold spores.

When you hear the term "mold," it can generally be one of two types-allergenic mold, and black mold. Allergenic mold is found in nearly every home, in some amount, however small. This type can provide unpleasant symptoms if it becomes excessive, depending on a person's sensitivity level. These symptoms include fatigue, nasal and sinus congestion, skin and eye irritation and headaches. While these symptoms can be extremely annoying and make someone ill, they're almost never life-threatening.

What's much more dangerous, however, is toxic mold-more commonly, the black mold stachybotrys. Shockingly, over 27% of homes in the U.S. contain black mold. Black mold, in smaller amounts, causes many of the same symptoms as allergic mold, but, in high levels or among people with preexisting conditions or compromised immune systems, black mold can cause neurological damage, causing debilitating headaches and even memory problems.

How do you find the mold in your home? Sometimes it's easy-it may be right in front of you, or you'll find it by its distinctly musty smell. Though it's harder to find hidden mold, you can do so by looking behind and beneath fixed materials and appliances: refrigerators, dishwashers, sink cabinets, washer/dryers, carpets, vinyl flooring-anywhere near where water flows or where air doesn't penetrate readily. Also, look for signs of discoloration on walls and ceilings; this can denote a moisture buildup behind which mold may lurk.

Once you find the mold, remove it with a store-bought anti-fungal solution, or get rid of it with a weak bleach solution-1 cup bleach in 1 gallon of water. (If mold exists in an area over 2 square feet, call a professional to have it removed). But even more important than removing it is eliminating as many of its causes and sources as possible.

Follow these 10 tips to drastically reduce the mold in your home:

1. Call in a home inspection professional to assess water-damaged areas.

2. Keep humidity low. Humidity levels should be under 40% in order for mold to stop its forward march.

3. Replace any carpets and furniture that have ever been significantly damaged (i.e., saturated in water), even if they look OK on the outside.

4. Carpet in the bathroom or basement? Don't even think about it. And if you have it, get rid of it.

5. Use an air-conditioner during the summer. We know it's not cheap to run the A/C, but if it's in the budget, even setting it to 80 degrees when it's 90-plus outside, will help. Use fans to circulate A/C most effectively.

6. Dust and clean furniture regularly, and vacuum carpets at least once a week (make sure your vacuum has a HEPA filter).

7. Provide adequate ventilation in hot areas. The kitchen and bath are two of the highest-risk rooms for mold. Install exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.

8. When you're shopping for house paint for big or small painting projects, ask the sales rep about mold inhibitors you can add before painting.

9. Does your central air system have a fan from the Ford Pinto era? If so, replace it with a high-performance electrostatic air filter. Your local HVAC technician can help withy this.

10. Don't neglect areas underneath the house-have a professional drain and ventilate all sub-basement areas, especially crawl spaces.

Charles Furlough is Vice President of Pillar To Post Home Inspections.

For more information, visit www.pillartopost.

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 22, 2011 10:11 am

Prepayment penalty. Fee charged by the lender when a borrower repays the loan early.

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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Q: Is it possible to get a no-down payment loan?

April 22, 2011 10:11 am

A: Builders will typically offer no-down-payment loans to sell properties in a slow-moving development or a depressed market. Desperate sellers also may commit to finance the down payment for the buyer to move a hard-to-sell home or to make a quick sale. And veterans may buy a home with nothing down through the Veterans Administration's home loan program. And members of some pension funds also may avoid making a down payment.

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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Top 4 Things You Should Donate This Spring

April 22, 2011 10:11 am

RISMEDIA, April 22, 2011-Spring presents the perfect time to take a fresh look at the items in your home and decide what should stay and what should go. As you de-clutter your home, Goodwill Industries can put your unwanted items to good use. When you donate your gently used clothing, housewares and electronics, you are helping Goodwill provide job training, education programs and community-based services to people in local communities every year.

Here are the top five things that people don't think to donate.

1. Cell phones: It's time to dig out the old cell phones you have hidden away. If you've ever upgraded to a new cell phone, it's likely you have an old one somewhere at home. Goodwill agencies are working with partners to collect and recycle these phones and keep them out of landfills.

2. Books: If you've already read a book and have no plans to read it again, donate it to Goodwill. Donating books frees valuable shelf space and makes room for new ones. Check your children's rooms for outgrown kid's books or your kitchen for cookbooks you haven't consulted in the last year.

3. Clothing: You can let go of the jeans that never quite fit or that sweater that wasn't quite your style. Goodwill agencies gladly accept donations of gently used clothing. As you're cleaning out your closet, put clothing donations in a pile and, when you're finished, bring them to your nearest Goodwill donation center. When you're finished going through your closet, that pile might be bigger than you bargained for.

4. Housewares: Sometimes we inherit household items from others or receive them as gifts. If you have a second toaster, vacuum cleaner or blender that you don't need, donate it to Goodwill.

For more information, visit www.goodwill.org.

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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Top Questions to Ask Your Insurance Agent About Seasonal Home Coverage

April 22, 2011 10:11 am

RISMEDIA, April 22, 2011-For anyone who owns a seasonal or vacation home, it is crucial to be sure it is properly covered and insured. If you are unsure of the terms under which your seasonal home is insured, now is the time to get in touch with your insurance agent.

"Considering specialized coverage for your seasonal home is a smart way to go," says Foremost Insurance Group Senior Product Manager Jim Gontjes. "Your agent or broker will be able to let you know what coverages are available, but it's a good idea to bring along some questions so you're prepared."

Here are some key questions Foremost suggests you ask your insurance agent when deciding on coverage for your seasonal home.

1. Is a full-packaged homeowner's policy my only option or are there other options for covering my seasonal home?

"You may choose a full-packaged homeowner's policy, but there are other options, too," explains Gontjes. "A homeowner's policy typically includes Other Structures and Additional Living Expenses coverage. Some people don't believe these coverages are necessary for their seasonal home so may prefer a Dwelling Fire policy that they can tailor for their specific situation."

2. Am I required to insure both my primary home and my seasonal home with the same company?

"Some companies require that you insure both your primary home and seasonal home with them in order to provide coverage on the seasonal home, but you don't have to in all situations," Gontjes says. "In fact, some companies may have strict underwriting criteria that won't allow the seasonal home to be written with the same company. Talk to your agent or broker to see what your options are, especially if you are looking for a standalone policy."

3. Why won't some insurance companies provide coverage for my seasonal home?

"There are several reasons you may not be eligible for coverage," answers Gontjes. "Some include: the value of the home is too low, too many losses, the seasonal home is located in a different state than the primary home, the location of the seasonal home is not easily accessible by a fire department or the house is rented out to others. Be sure to shop around before picking a policy-there are companies who accept properties in these categories."

4. What optional coverages are available?

"Many homeowners want the flexibility to customize their coverage and having optional coverages available helps you do this," adds Gontjes. "You may want to consider Replacement Cost coverage on your dwelling and personal property, watercraft coverage, golf cart coverage or high liability limits. See what options best meet your needs.

5. What happens if I don't notice a loss right away?

"Since you're only in your seasonal home part of the year, you may be away for several months without setting foot in the house," says Gontjes. "This means problems could spring up without you being aware and you'll want to know how claims are handled."

For more information, visit www.Foremost.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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Indoor Air Quality and Health How One Impacts the Other

April 22, 2011 10:11 am

RISMEDIA, April 22, 2011-Maintaining a healthy home means promoting a healthy lifestyle. But Americans aren't aware of the important role indoor air plays in creating a healthy home. In fact, nearly half of Americans (49%) believe indoor air quality has little to no impact on overall health, according to an online 2010 indoor air quality consumer survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Dow Building Solutions.

The truth is that improved indoor air quality can lead to a healthier lifestyle for you and your family. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to improve the air quality in your home and your overall quality of life. If you are remodeling or building your home, there are several changes that can minimize contaminants and improve the air you breathe inside your home.

"Americans spend an estimated 90 percent of their lives indoors. Dow wants to be a part of the movement to make that environment as healthy as possible," said Theresa Binder, Dow Environmental Health & Safety Specialist. "There are many ways Americans can be proactive about keeping their families healthy while indoors. Education is the first step."

According to the study, Americans are more likely to improve air quality by making temporary changes-cleaning carpets, using cleaning products that promise to reduce pollutants and cleaning and/or disinfecting ducts. However, there are things that can have a longer lasting affect such as:

-Keeping your house mold-free. Mold spores produce allergens that can trigger asthma attacks and cause sneezing, runny nose and red eyes.

-Using safer building materials such as stainless steel, tile, adobe and insulation without added formaldehydes.

-Keeping your home free of radon. The colorless, odorless gas can cause lung cancer. Ensure your home is properly insulated to prevent leaks.

For more information, visit www.imaginehomehealth.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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10 Tips to Make Your Move Easier

April 22, 2011 10:11 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 22, 2011-Whether you are moving across town or across the country, packing and transporting your life's possessions is never an easy thing. But being prepared, and being organized, can simplify the process immensely, say the planners at Mayflower Transit.

Check Mayflower's top ten tips for a more seamless move before you begin to pack:

Stock up first Gather up cartons, bubble wrap, packing tape and newspapers before you pack your first box. That includes marking pens so you can label each box with its contents and intended location in your new home.

Start early The sooner you begin, the more stress-free you will be-and it's easier on your back, too. Aim to fill and mark at least two or three boxes each day.

Set aside valuables As you pack, set aside valuables or irreplaceable items such as jewelry, heirlooms or pieces of artwork that you'd feel more comfortable moving yourself. This should include important paperwork and photos.

Purge now The best time to declutter is while you're packing. Throw out or give away items you will likely not want in your new home.

Utility changes Make a list of utilities at both locations that need to be notified of your moving date. Check off each as you make arrangements for shut-off and turn-on dates.

Notify others List and contact creditors, Internet providers and anyone else who will need your new address, including magazine and book or movie subscriptions.

Set a date Make your move during the week if possible, when banks and other businesses are open in the event you need assistance during the move.

Pet plans If you have pets, make plans well ahead of time as to where to keep them during the move-and how you'll transport them to your new home.

Med plans Be sure you have enough prescription medications to see you through your moving period-and be sure to transfer existing prescriptions to a pharmacy in your new area.

Post office Don't forget to file your change of address with the post office at least a week before you move.

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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Create an Eco-Friendly Oasis in Your Home

April 21, 2011 10:11 am

RISMEDIA, April 21, 2011-Mohawk Industries, a leader in recycled and renewable flooring, has teamed up with DIY enthusiast Chip Wade to help consumers transform their home into a green sanctuary this Earth Day with five simple steps.

1. Conduct an energy assessment. Whether you are living in an older house or a more modern space, an energy audit can determine the efficiency of a home's heating and cooling systems. Learn where your house is leaking energy, and then fix the problem. Your pocketbook will thank you

2. Be green from the ground up. Every great green space begins with eco-friendly flooring.

3. Pick a soothing color palette. The trend of sharply contrasting accent walls is slowly fading away. Instead, select a calming dark beige, grey or blue paint that is nontoxic and contains no, or low volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

4. Say yes to vintage furniture. Flea markets and rummage sales are the perfect places to snag antique chairs, tables and couches. Give pieces a fresh, new look by reupholstering with organic linen or fabric made from recycled yarn.

5. Spend time enjoying your serene space-not cleaning it. Skip upholstery and throws made of fussy silks and velvets in favor of comfortable, organic cotton. And keep floors clean with a nontoxic cleaner.

For more information, visit www.MohawkFlooring.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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5 Good Reasons to Invest in a Tankless Water Heater

April 21, 2011 10:11 am

RISMEDIA, April 21, 2011-Tankless water heaters provide an endless source of hot water on demand, take up less space, use less energy, and last longer than tank-style water heaters. So when the old tank-style water heater fails, All American Plumbing urges homeowners to consider a tankless water heater.

"A tankless water heater heats as much water as you need, whether you are drawing a bath, washing multiple loads of laundry, running the dishwasher, or all of these things at once," said Leanne Heinrich of All American Plumbing. "You will never run out of hot water when you own a tankless water heater."

According to Heinrich, the ideal time to convert to a tankless water heater is when a conventional heater fails and must be replaced, but converting before a failure will help ensure there is no interruption in hot water at an inconvenient time. Homeowners can also start realizing energy savings as soon as they switch.

The advantages of tankless water heaters are numerous. First of all, they take up much less space. A traditional water heater takes up approximately 16 square feet of valuable space, compared to a tankless model-which is about the size of a small carry on suitcase. A tankless water heater can also be installed almost anywhere inside or outside the home.

Second, tankless water heaters can pay for themselves in as little as three years based on energy savings alone. Tankless systems heat water when it is needed. There is no energy wasted on pilot lights or storage loss. When water isn't needed, the system shuts off.

Third, tankless water heaters are more durable and will last longer than traditional water heaters. Units are generally well designed and constructed and require very little maintenance over their lifetime. If something does break down, any single part of the heater can be replaced or fixed.

Finally, scale and rust can build up in the storage tank of a tank-style water heater-but since water is heated as it passes through a pipe in a tankless model, the water is fresher and cleaner. No tank also means no leaks.

For more information, visit www.plumbingserviceseastbayca.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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