Date Archives: November 2014

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November
30

The Internet makes holiday shopping so easy-no fighting for parking spaces at jam-packed malls, no waiting in endless lines to get to the register.   cybermonday   But even if you consider yourself a pro, shopping online isn't without risks. These tips from USA.gov can help you protect yourself and your finances as you hunt for that perfect gift:  
  • Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit card payments can be withheld if there's a dispute with a store, and if the card is stolen, you won't have to pay more than $50 of fraudulent charges. But with a debit card, you can't withhold payments-the store is paid directly from your bank account. And if your card is stolen, you could be liable for up to $500, depending on when you report it.
  • Find out if the public WiFi hotspot you're using at a coffee shop or bookstore is secure. If it's not, your payment information could be compromised over the network.
  • It's risky not to read the terms of service agreement before you buy online. You could inadvertently sign up for subscriptions or get hit with additional fees or restrictions. Terms of service are often in small print or presented right when you are anxious to purchase.
  • Be careful if you're buying event tickets online as gifts. Some venues may practice restricted ticketing, requiring the same credit card used in the online purchase to be shown to get into the event.
  • Use caution buying digital assets like books and music-they can't be given away as gifts if they've been downloaded to your account. You should either purchase a gift card for the book or music site, or check with the company. Some services have ways to "gift an item" but it varies depending on the provider.
  Source: USA.gov   Published with permission from RISMedia.
November
28

(BPT) - When you're about to buy a house, it's easy to get excited about its great location, spacious floor plan or beautifully decorated interior. Yet the old saying, 'beauty's only skin deep' can apply to any home, especially if you're considering an older, previously owned property. Before signing on the dotted line, use this checklist to help avoid some potentially costly surprises and anticipate repairs or upgrades that may be needed.     checklist     Start at the top: the roof Ask when the current roof was installed. Is it the original roof, or has it been replaced, repaired, or covered over with new shingles in certain spots? Are there known leaks, and if so, where are they? Have any of the leaks caused damage to the attic or interior? Also look at the chimney to see if it's properly sealed around the edges and whether the gutters need repair.     Windows and doors Next, take a look at the windows to see if there is any condensation between the glass panes. If so, it could mean window replacements are in order. Once you get inside the house and close the front door, see if any light is coming through between the edge of the door opening and the wall. This gap is an indicator that the door may need to be replaced since air can escape through it and cause higher energy bills.     Lighting and electrical Throughout the interior rooms, many homes are 'staged' to appeal to buyers with attractive lighting that shows off the space to its best advantage. You may love the way the lamps look in the bedroom, office or kitchen, but more importantly, check out how many electrical outlets there are and whether they are in convenient locations. Also, make sure you check to see if the lamps are masking the fact that there are no ceiling fixtures in each room. Will you need to rig up extension cords or invest in electrical work in order to support all the lamps, ceiling fixtures, appliances and electronics you wish to use?     Get to the bottom of furnace efficiency At the basement level, be sure to check out the heating system. If the current furnace is more than 10 years old, it may be operating at a much lower level of efficiency than the latest manufacturing standards require, resulting in higher energy costs. Newer models, such as Trane's XC95m gas furnace, for example, can operate at nearly 20 percent higher efficiency than the government minimum standard, for the ultimate in energy efficiency. A qualified Trane dealer can advise you on the best solution for any home.     Know what you can't see: indoor air quality One thing you can't see is the quality of the home's indoor air. Nearly 72 trillion particles enter a home every day, making the air inside up to five times more polluted than the air outside. Adding a Trane CleanEffects Air Cleaner to the heating and cooling system can remove 99.98 percent of airborne particles including dust, pollen, pet hair and dander, dust mites, mildew, lint, fungus, most tobacco smoke, cooking grease, and even bacteria from the filtered air - so everyone in your new home can breathe easier.  
November
20

You may fall in love with a home based upon it's online listing but don't forget to visit it in person before you make the commitment. Visiting an open house is a great way to get a feel for the property and see if it will work for you and your family.   Keep these things in mind during the open house to ensure that you get the most out of your visit.     1. Keep a poker face: Don't be overly enthusiastic. It is best to remain calm, cool, and collected. Dull your emotions, whether good or bad, so you don't compromise your position as a buyer. (Boston.com)   2. Pay close attention: Pay attention to everything. Keep a look out for cracks in walls and ceilings, damages to the floors, and the windows. Watch the other attendee's reactions to certain things. If you see people abruptly leaving, there may be something wrong with the home. If people are mingling and taking their time it may be a sign that it will be a home with a lot of offers. (AOL)   3. Ask before taking photos: While looking at homes, it's helpful to take photos to help you remember specific features of the home. During an open house, or any showing, it's best to ask the homeowner before you start snapping pictures. (Frontdoor)   4. Look but don't snoop: Storage can be a deal breaker when it comes to buying a home. If there isn't enough room in closets and cabinets, it may sway your opinion. Look through storage spaces but don't go rummaging through people's belongings. Respect their home and their space. (Frontdoor)   5. Don't bad mouth the home: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at the open house. You may walk into a house and dislike it, but try to keep harsh opinions to yourself. Wait until you leave the open house to voice your opinion. You never know who may be listening and how it could work against you in the future. (Frontdoor)   6. Ask questions: Ask the owner, your real estate agent, and the listing real estate agent any question you might have.   Use these tips at every open house to help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your home buying experience.   Source: https://blog.century21.com/2014/11/open-house-advice-for-buyers/
November
19

(BPT) - You know that moving into a new home can be one of life's biggest stressors - the packing, the paperwork, the unpacking and of course finding the nearest coffee shop. Making your new house feel like your home can help alleviate some of this stress and provide a safe-haven for some much needed relaxation. new home       'Everyone has a different sense of what home is,' says Elizabeth Lindmier of The Art Institute of Colorado. So while the same aesthetic won't work for everyone, she offers her top five tips to start you in the right direction.   1. Texture and textiles - Instead of having a bunch of hard surfaces, cozy up your home with something soft or textured. This could be a blanket, curtains or area rugs. These items will also provide some acoustical value so noises aren't echoing in an empty space.   2. Comfort - Have some place in your home where you can relax, recharge and feel at ease. 'Make a space where you would like to spend time,' Lindmier says.   3. Color - A monochromatic scheme with pops of colors can bring you into a place where you feel comfortable and happy. 'Do your research on color theory before painting any space,' says Lindmier. 'Different colors can spark different moods, emotions and even behavior. Discover what you'd like a given space to accomplish, and use colors as a tool to create such environment.'   4. Lighting - There should be aesthetically pleasing lighting. Look at the difference between warm and cool lighting colors to decide what helps achieve the look you want. Also consider task, ambient and accent lighting for your space. 'Lighting plays a key role in any home,' Lindmier says. 'Through lighting design you can highlight design and architectural features, create lighting which is more useful to the human eye, and work with natural light while keeping energy use to a minimum.'   5. Clutter/stuff - 'Less is more, but make it more meaningful,' says Lindmier. Get rid of your clutter. When sitting in your space, make sure you can look around and adore the things you see.   "Mies van der Rohe's old adage, 'less is more,' certainly holds true here," says Jackie Barry, Interior Design instructor at The Art Institute of Houston - North. "Select significant pieces of furniture and art to move. You don't need to have or show everything you have all in one room."   Barry also advises incorporating a concept called biophilic design, which recognizes the inherent need of humans to interact and affiliate with nature to achieve and maintain optimum health and well-being. "Bring the outside in; don't neglect good views to the outside, accentuate them," she says. "Let your garden and landscaping work for you on the inside. Connecting with nature can also have a calming and a comforting effect."   For more information about The Art Institutes, visit artinstitutes.edu.
November
13

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average fixed mortgage rates hitting fresh lows for the year for the second consecutive week amid declining bond yields. At 3.92 percent the average 30-year fixed rate is at its lowest level since the week of June 6, 2013.   mortgage   "Fixed mortgage rates continued to fall last week after the yield on 10 year Treasuries dropped to their lowest point of the year," said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. "Existing home sales beat expectations in September clocking in at an annual rate of 5.17 million units, up 2.4 percent from August. Housing starts were up 6.3 percent in September adding a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.017 million units. Building permits rose 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.018 million units in September."   The survey shows:  
  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.92 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending October 23, 2014, down from the previous week when it averaged 3.97 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.13 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.08 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from the previous week when it averaged 3.18 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.24 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.91 percent last week with an average 0.5 point, down from the previous week when it averaged 2.92 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.00 percent.
  • 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.41 percent last week with an average 0.4 point, up from the previous week when it averaged 2.38 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.60 percent.
  Source: Freddie Mac   Published with permission from RISMedia.
November
7

Buying a home for the first time is exciting, but it can seem overwhelming because there are so many factors to consider. Potential homebuyers must excogitate the price of the home, the mortgage costs, neighborhoods, safety, and more. We posted on our Facebook page asking CENTURY 21 ® Agents for their best advice for first-time homebuyers.     Here are seven pieces of advice: 1. "After you get your mortgage approval, sit down and make a list of needs, must haves and wishes, work with a realtor who can find you your dream home." -Denise F.   2. "Work with an agent that is experienced with first time homebuyers. There is a lot to know and navigate. A good agent is essential to making the transaction as smooth as possible." -Toni M.   3. "Put together a really good Real Estate Agent, Mortgage Broker, Attorney team that will take the time to explain the entire process to their client. If they can explain it; they can do it." -Ronald S.   4. "Work with a knowledgeable agent who cares about his or her clients, not just dollar signs. See your banking institution 1st. Ask a lot of questions. Consider the  location. Hire a reputable home inspector! Arm yourself with knowledge and really think before you leap since it is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make. It is a key in avoiding buyers remorse!" -Cheryl C.   5. "Choose a quality agent, practice self-restraint, look at the quality and condition, not just how pretty it is, know your budget and your comfort level and, for heavens sake, if you are going to listen to everyone else's opinion besides your agents then they should be with you on every showing, not just the house you want to buy!" -Paul S.   6. "I'm not a realtor but I wish someone would have told me to make practice payments. I jumped from $1500 per month to $2400 per month on my first house. The extra $900 wasn't the big deal as much as everything else, utilities, yard maintenance, etc. I think making 6 months of increased payments while you are still renting, saving that money and putting it as a down payment would have helped me. I try to tell every person wanting to buy a new home that." -Darin P.   7. "Pre-approval is step number one. Look at homes in your price range. Nothing worse than falling in love with a home you can't afford." -Linda Z.
Source: https://blog.century21.com/2014/11/we-asked-you-answered-advice-for-first-time-homeowners/
November
3

With cold weather slated for the months ahead, homeowners everywhere are seeking ways to cut down on energy costs. Black Hills Energy recommends homeowners implement cost-effective fixes – many costing less than $20 – to eliminate sources of energy waste.   save energy   "Nearly half of all energy use during the colder weather months is dedicated to heating homes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency," said Jill Linck, Energy Services Division for Black Hills Energy. "We want to arm consumers with simple ways to increase heating efficiency in their homes, as well as to check other, less obvious sources of energy waste, including appliance use."   In honor of Energy Awareness Month, the experts at Black Hills Energy recommend checking these energy consumers for cost-saving solutions.
  • Air leakage: Air leakage occurs when cold outside air enters and warm air escapes through cracks and openings, increasing the cost of keeping a home at a consistently comfortable temperature. Feel for leaks by floating your hand around the perimeters of doors and windows, electrical outlets, and even cable and telephone line entry points, then seal any problem spots using caulk and a $5 caulking gun. Adding weatherstripping to doors and windows is another low-cost way to keep the winter chill out and the warm air in.
  • Dirty air filters: Dirty furnace air filters can clog and cause higher resistance of air flow, particularly during high-usage months. Diligent cleaning of air filters each month for about $20 with filter spray and oil, and replacing them about every three months keeps warm, clean air flowing throughout a home.
  • Kitchen culprits: It's hard to resist opening the oven door to check on baking cookies or a Thanksgiving turkey, but did you know the temperature inside an oven drops 25 degrees every time the door is opened while in use? This increases cook time and wastes energy. Instead, turn on the oven light for a peek inside. When using the stovetop, use the right sized pot or pan for each burner – for example, a six-inch pan atop an eight-inch burner wastes 40 percent of the burner's energy.
  • Duct leaks from the furnace to the vent: HVAC ducts that leak conditioned air into unheated spaces can add hundreds of dollars a year to heating and cooling bills. Sealing seams with duct mastic means a furnace doesn't have to work overtime to keep your family cozy. Duct mastic is available for under $15 per gallon, and can be applied with an inexpensive paint brush.
  • Thermostat control: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, adjusting a thermostat down 5 degrees to 10 degrees while you're asleep or while you're out of the house can help you save on heating and cooling bills. Utilize programmable thermostats for when you're typically out of the house, too. A good rule of thumb is to keep the thermostat set to 68 degrees.
Source: Black Hills Energy Published with permission from RISMedia.

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