Posted on Oct 22, 2014
(BPT) – Want to sell your property quickly? Looking for your dream house? Are you hoping to get the best deal possible during the complex process of buying or selling a home? With so much money – and often, emotion – at stake, going it alone is generally not the best way to reach your goals. The secret for getting exactly what you want: Work with a savvy real estate agent.
A qualified real estate agent will streamline the process, help you save money and serve as a liaison with your best interests in mind. But how do you find the right real estate agent? Hundreds or even thousands of real estate professionals may work in your area, but finding the best one for your unique situation doesn't have to be time-consuming.
Remember, you're hiring this individual for his or her expertise and services. Your agent will get a designated percentage of the sale of the house. Depending on negotiations, this cost may be covered by the seller, buyer or split by both. You want someone who will work hard for you, but also someone you are comfortable with because you may be spending a lot of time together.
To find the best real estate agent for you, ask these five critical questions:
1. How many buyers or sellers have you helped in the last year in the area?
An active agent is more likely to be up-to-date on the market, and local and state laws. Furthermore, active agents with experience in your neighborhood, or the neighborhood where you'd like to move, are better positioned to help you because they can provide unique insight that other less-knowledgeable agents cannot.
2. Do you have advanced training?
Any licensed real estate agent can help you buy or sell a home. But an agent who has advanced specialty training is better qualified to assist you. For example, an agent who is an Accredited Buyer's Representative (ABR), has enhanced training focusing specifically on buyers. An agent who is a Certified Distressed Property Expert (CDPE) has special training to deal with short sales and foreclosures. RE/MAX agents on average have more certifications and extra training to better serve buyers and sellers.
3. What services do you offer?
While the majority of people shop for homes online first, having someone on your side through the search and sale process can save time and money. A buyer's agent should help you schedule showings, assist with negotiating the price of the new home, guide you through the paperwork, be there at the closing table, and provide insight through any contingencies during the process.
For sellers, an agent should help set the price of the home, based on a competitive market analysis (CMA). Ask the agent how he or she will market your home (websites, videos, direct mail). Also inquire about assistance with staging and hosting open houses. Then, when the offers come in, the agent can help you with the decision on which one to accept.
4. Who else will be working with me?
The person you hire should do most of the work, but you may work with a support team, too. Additional team members may include mortgage brokers, home inspectors or contractors. If you'd like more information about what it's like to work with an agent, don't be shy about asking for references. You'll get real insight into what it's like to work with that particular professional.
5. How often will I hear from you?
No matter if you're selling or buying, ask how often you'll hear from the agent and make sure that this aligns with your expectations. For buyers: Do you just want to hear when there's a new home that may interest you? Do you want regular check-in calls too? For sellers: Do you want to hear from your agent only after a buyer has toured your home, or do you want to be kept in the loop on a weekly basis?
Buying or selling a home is a complex process most people do only a few times in their lives. Hiring the right real estate agent from a reputable company can give you an edge so you get the best deal possible while meeting all your goals.
You can learn more about the home buying and selling process and find an experienced agent by contacting us in the information on this email. We welcome all!
Posted on Oct 14, 2014
(BPT) – People choose to garden for many reasons: Food is fresher and tastes better. It’s a healthy hobby that exercises the body. It saves money. Numerous reports show an increasing number of homeowners are growing their own fruits, vegetables and herbs.
As summer’s end nears, you may think gardening season is over. The good news is with a few strategic tips, you can keep your green thumb going and enjoy a plethora of autumn edibles for months to come.
Step 1: Select second plantings
Second plantings are the plants you use for the latter part of the gardening season. Late summer is typically the best time to plant these varieties. Call your local extension offices or access information online to find regionalized planting schedules and recommended plant varieties.
The length of the fall season and when the first frost will likely hit are important considerations when selecting second plantings. Keep in mind that fast-maturing vegetables are ideal for fall gardening and they should be planted early enough to reach maturity before the first frost arrives.
Popular second plantings that yield a delicious late fall/early winter harvest include broccoli, lettuce, turnips, collards, carrots, peas, radish, spinach, leeks and beets. Some people even claim root vegetables and cole crops like kale and turnips taste better after the first frost.
Step 2: Prepare your garden space
If you plan to use your current garden space for second plantings, remove the early-season plants that are done producing. Add those plants to your current compost bin or create a new compost pile with easy-to-use, stylish options from Outdoor Essentials. Wood-slate bins blend well with the outdoor aesthetic and the design allows oxygen to circulate and facilitate the composting process.
Next, prepare your garden space. Elevated garden beds are growing in popularity because they look great anywhere in your yard or on your patio, and are easy to move if necessary. Raised garden beds from Outdoor Essentials elevate the plants so gardeners don’t have to bend over and risk injury. They are ideal for fall because gardeners can regulate the temperature of raised beds with ease. On hot days, move or add a shade netting to protect plants from the heat; when frost is a threat, cover the entire bed for protection.
While you’re getting your hands dirty, fall is the perfect time to plant spring flowering bulbs. A little outdoor work now and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful flowers when spring arrives next year.
Step 3: Enjoy the harvest
Tend your garden daily for the best results – it may just need a quick check for pests and proper soil moisture. Typical benefits of late-season gardening include fewer bothersome bugs and the soil has better water retention.
As plants grow, pick the fruits and vegetables and enjoy Mother Nature’s bounty. If your plants become crowded, pluck a few out to help remaining plants grow roots and increase the harvest yield. You may be surprised just how many cool months your plants provide you with fresh, delicious produce.
Fall is a great opportunity to keep gardening momentum alive. So get started and decide what second plantings are best for your space. In as little as 30 days you could be eating the freshest, most flavorful vegetables you’ve ever had, all while under the gorgeous autumn sun.
Posted on Oct 8, 2014
“Many of us keep multiple medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, in the house,” says JeQuithia Sims, pharmacy technician program chair at Everest College in Arlington, Texas. “But when stored or consumed incorrectly, medication can cause unexpected consequences.”
Everest campuses across the country offer a pharmacy technician program that prepares students, through technical and practical training, for careers in aiding licensed pharmacists. Here Sims shares 10 pharmaceutical best practices to keep in mind when organizing the medicine cabinet.
Storing your medication
* Store in a cool, dry place – While it varies by manufacturer, this rule stands true for most medications. A few simple storage locations might be in a medicine cabinet, on top of a dresser or on a designated shelf. If you have children, be sure to keep medications up high and out of reach.
* Keep away from light – Light can degrade medication more quickly than intended, so it’s important you don’t store medication in light-filled places such as a windowsill or under powerful indoor lighting.
* Honor the expiration date – Whether it’s an over-the-counter or prescription medication, old pills degrade over time and can cause a bacteria imbalance when consumed. Most medication expires after one year, so use this as a rule of thumb when revisiting old pills. Before picking up that 500-count bottle of pain reliever because it’s a “better deal,” ask yourself if your household will consume all 500 pills that year. If not, it might be safer to grab the smaller bottle, and re-stock yearly.
* Do not flush – When disposing of expired, discolored, or unused prescription medications, be mindful of proper disposal practices by throwing medications away in the household trash or through your community’s medication disposal program. One of the easiest options is to take your unused or expired medications to your pharmacy and they will dispose of them properly. Flushing or pouring medication down the drain harms the environment, as sewage systems are not capable of removing medicines from the water released into lakes, rivers and oceans.
Using your medication
* Note the warning label – Even if you’ve taken the medication for years, it’s always a good idea to look at the warning label for consumption directions, as your doctor may have altered your dosage or the manufacturer slightly changed the consumption directions.
* Consuming liquids is not the same as consuming water – If the label instructs you to consume with water, be careful not to consume with other beverages. Juices and acidic drinks can cause the medication to break down faster than normal and hot drinks, such as coffee or tea, cause coated pills to melt too quickly in the stomach – not the intestine, where it’s intended to break down. This may produce side effects as harmful as stomach ulcers.
* Don’t lose the dropper – It might seem the same to use a household spoon with liquid medication, but the dropper or spoon provided by the pharmacy has been measured specifically for your intended dosage. Research shows that silverware teaspoons can vary between one to nine milliliters dependent upon design, making them an unreliable tool for medication.
* Your pharmacist is your friend – Don’t forget that your pharmacist is an expert. When in doubt about the safety of consuming a medication for any given reason, your pharmacist is there to answer your questions.
Tips for kids
* Children are not small adults – If a medication is intended for adult consumption only, keep in mind that it cannot simply be given to children in smaller doses. Instead, seek a medication specifically designed for children.
* Medicine is not candy – Although referring to medicine as “candy” around children might be a tempting tactic to entice them to take it, parents should be wary of what might happen when they are not around. Children can easily get ahold of medication, consume large amounts and overdose.
Posted on Sep 30, 2014
“Communication is a key part of a strong marriage, and it’s also the basis for a strong financial partnership,” says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of VantageScore Solutions. “Being proactive before and planning ahead of the wedding while sticking to a financial plan will help guard against common financial mistakes that can occur early in a couple’s life together.”
To start your new life together with a strong financial foundation, check off a few important money to-dos before you say “I do!”
1. Have the debt talk
All couples must have the debt talk. It may not be romantic, but it is necessary in order to plan a bright future together. Be open and honest about debt, savings and spending habits, even if they are less than perfect.
Financial turmoil is one of the top reasons cited for divorce, so understanding each other’s finances today and what goals you have for the future will help reduce stress on your partnership. With the average college student graduating with $26,600 in student loan debt, according to The Project on Student Debt, young couples need to create a plan for managing debt and saving for the future.
2. Control wedding spending
The “big day” is a defining moment in life, but it’s important for couples to remember it’s just one day of many that they will spend together. Weddings and related events cost a whopping $28,427 on average, according to theknot.com, and that doesn’t even include the honeymoon.
“When it comes to young couples planning a dream wedding, the plastic tends to be relied upon,” says Burns. “It’s important to be realistic about how much you can spend. Becoming over extended on credit cards is a common mistake, and this type of high-interest debt is not the wisest way to begin your lives together.”
The best course of action when it comes to wedding planning is to create a budget and stick to it. It’s not necessarily bad to use credit, especially if you can take advantage of a credit card rewards program, but Burns advises only charging or borrowing what you know you can pay back in a reasonable amount of time as keeping high balances and missing payments can have significantly negative impacts on your credit score, which in turn leads to stress.
3. Work together to build a positive credit profile
Married couples do not have joint credit files or credit scores. Each individual has their credit files with the credit reporting companies and their own credit scores, but in some cases like when joint accounts and co-signed loans are created, the actions of one can impact the other.
“It’s common for younger people who are just beginning their financial independence to not have much, if any, credit history. It’s important to be proactive and take steps to build a positive credit profile and score so you can demonstrate to lenders that you are a good manager of credit,” says Burns.
Get a copy of your credit report and resolve any issue you may have with the information presented in it. If you have a limited credit history, carefully consider the benefits of joint accounts, but keep in mind that the positive financial actions like paying bills on-time and keeping balances low, as well as actions that can have negative impacts like missing payments will influence the couples’ individual credit scores.
“The importance of paying bills on time cannot be understated,” says Burns. “A single missed payment can drop each person’s credit score 80 to 100 points. This can affect a couple’s ability to get the best interest rates and terms for a loan.”
Another important step in building credit after a marriage is to make sure that all financial lenders are aware of name changes. “If you choose to change your name after you are married, make sure all your accounts have your current information, otherwise positive actions may not get reported correctly or in a timely manner,” Burns says.
4. Shop around for rates
“Whether you’re taking out a personal loan or selecting a credit card, you absolutely must shop around for rates,” advises Burns. “Don’t just take the easiest or first option. You want to get the best deal available with low interest rates and reasonable terms.”
When shopping for rates, Burns notes to do so within a two week period of time. Credit inquiries from auto and mortgage lenders and credit cards issued from banks and credit unions are only counted once if done in a two week period causing just a slight decrease to credit scores.
Finally, couples soon to be married or those that recently were married can also test their knowledge about credit scores at www.CreditScoreQuiz.org, a website created by VantageScore Solutions and its partner, Consumer Federation of America, one of the largest consumer advocates in the country.
Posted on Sep 24, 2014
“To get the most out of your workout or from playing a favorite sport, it’s imperative to choose the right footwear for the type of exercise you’ll engage in,” says Dr. Matthew Garoufalis, a podiatrist and president of the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). “Improper footwear can lead to irritation and injury.”
Foot or ankle sprains and fractures are the most common types of injuries related to exercise and footwear. The type of exercise or sport you prefer can influence the type of injury you could experience. In general for example, foot and ankle sprains and fractures are more common among football players, while basketball players may suffer more ankle sprains and runners experience stress fractures to feet or ankles.
APMA offers some guidance on how to avoid foot injury while exercising:
* Always warm up before exercise. Just as you stretch to warm up leg and arm muscles, your feet need to warm up gradually too.
* If you experience foot pain while exercising or engaging in physical activity, stop immediately. Foot pain is not normal and you shouldn’t feel any when you exercise. If pain persists even after you stop your workout, see a podiatrist.
* Always wear supportive shoes that are appropriate for the type of physical activity you’re engaging in.
Choosing the right footwear can help ensure you minimize the risk of injury and enjoy a more productive and comfortable workout. When choosing workout or sports footwear, keep these pointers in mind:
* Choose a running shoe based on your foot type: low/flat arch, normal arch or high arch. You can find a graphic of what each foot type looks like on the APMA website. If you have a low or no arch, you need a supportive shoe designed for stability and motion-control. Normal arched feet require a shoe with a balance of stability and cushioning to help absorb shock when your feet meet the ground. For people with high arches, a cushioned running shoe with a softer midsole and more flexibility compensates for the poor natural shock absorption of the higher arch.
* Also take into account the kind of activity you’ll do. Runners need more arch support and cushioning to absorb impact. Basketball players require extra ankle support to prevent injury from side-to-side movement – which is why basketball shoes come up over the ankles.
* Don’t go it alone when you’re shopping for a workout or sports shoe. Go to a store that specializes in athletic footwear and ask to be professionally fitted before you buy. Shoes should fit comfortably as soon as you try them on; never assume you’ll “break in” an uncomfortable athletic shoe. Shop toward the end of the day, when feet are at their largest due to normal daily swelling.
* Whatever your exercise or sport of choice, your athletic shoes should offer plenty of support in the front and back.
Finally, when athletic shoes begin to show signs of wearing out, it’s time to replace them. Examine the tread, especially around mid-sole. Generally, you should replace athletic shoes every year, and running shoes every 300 to 400 miles.
To learn more about foot health, or to find a podiatrist in your area, visit www.apma.org.
Posted on Sep 16, 2014
Before you spend money on the latest energy-efficient gizmo that’s supposed to save you money, let’s look at some energy saving ideas that will really help you save home energy. The strategies that we will look at will maximize the effort you put in, and help reduce your home energy consumption.
First sit down and think about all the different ways your family uses energy around the house. Now put an approximate type and cost of energy used. You may have trouble breaking down the cost but try to do it. Now all you have to do is find ways to save on your resources at the same time cut your costs. You may have to think creatively but it can be done.
So here are some tips to get you started:
- Turn the lights off when you’re not using them. This is really simple and easy to do. Do you really need your bedroom light on when you’re in the living room? Do you leave lights on when you leave the house? Do you even need more than one light on in a room for what you are doing? Believe it or not it makes a big difference.
- Turn all electronics and other appliances off when you’re not using them. No one can do everything at the same time. Can you really listen to a radio, watch television, and use your computer all at the same time?
- Set your thermostat down a couple of degrees in winter, or up in summer, to conserve energy. And dress appropriately indoors for the time of year it is. For instance in winter, put on a sweater or some extra clothing, or may snuggle under a blanket to stay warm. In the summer, wear less and stay cooler naturally.
- Only turn an appliance on when you have a full load. This is true especially for the washing machine, dryer and even the dishwasher. It is amazing how much extra energy is used doing multiple small loads in comparison to one full load.
- Do regular maintenance on your appliances. Keeping them clean means they don’t have to work as hard. Changing filters reduces the energy needed to accomplish a task. Regular care will also mean any maintenance bills that you might come up against may well be cheaper.
- Be careful how you use your water. Like when brushing your teeth or washing your hands, use only the water you need. Don’t let the water run the entire time. Also, try and use less water if you take a bath, or control your shower times.
- Simply let your hair air dry, instead of using a blow drier every day.
- Lower the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees F.
Don’t forget the bigger projects as well.
- Seal the cracks around your doors and windows. You are paying for your hot air that escapes through cracks all around your house. You need to make sure you are doing all you can to keep the warm air you’re paying for inside your house.
- You also need to check your house’s insulation. Though this has been done by many homeowners nevertheless you still need to do it before you pass it over. It is probably the biggest thing in reducing heating costs.
Now some of these things may seem trivial to you but let me assure you that even the small things add up over time. And really most of them you won’t even notice the difference to your life except your bills.
These tips and suggestions will make your home more affordable, and take some strain off of our world’s resources. Just think if all of us would make a few of these changes, it would make a huge difference.
by: Dave McIntosh