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Updated: Monday, December 05, 2016

Lease-Option Agreement Should Be Carefully Drawn

Question. Eighteen months ago, when we were having great difficulty selling our house, we entered into a lease option. Our prospective purchaser agreed to move in, pay rent for 18 months and then have the right to buy the property at the end of that term.

It now appears our buyer will not be able to carry through with his option. What happens then? Does the buyer lose the deposit and the lease payments?

Answer. That is a good question. It highlights one of the most important elements in all real estate transactions -- all terms should be negotiated in advance, and then put into a written document, signed by all parties.

You have entered into a lease with an option to purchase and your buyer is to exercise that option within 18 months of the date of the transaction. If you or your lawyer were on the ball when you entered into the agreement, you would have covered these points in the contract lease. I assume you did enter into a written lease with an option, and that all of the important terms were spelled out in that document.

As a seller who enters into a lease option, I would want a sizable down payment and a monthly rental income that would not be credited for the purchase price. In the event my tenant did not go to settlement, my preference would be to declare the entire deposit to be forfeited in my favor.

The theory behind this strategy is that I am taking my house off the market for a period of time, and I am contracting to sell my house in the future at todays prices.

If I were the tenant who enters into such a lease option, I would, of course, want different terms. I would attempt to negotiate for all or part of the monthly rental payments to be credited toward the purchase price. In addition, if I were unable to go to settlement at the expiration of the lease, I would not want to lose any of my deposit.

You will need good negotiating skills to get a document favorable under your terms. Of course, market and financial conditions will play a significant role in how the agreement will end up. Since your tenant will be living in your house for a period of time in accordance with the terms of the agreement, it should be carefully considered before you sign it.

In the absence of language covering the situation you have described, I suspect that unless you can reach an amicable resolution, you may both end up in court. You probably will take the position that the deposit is forfeited; the tenant will no doubt contend that the money was me>

I suspect, however, that if the transaction is in fact a lease with an option to purchase, the court will side with the seller.

You may also want to consider adding the following language to any such lease-option arrangement: "Any dispute arising out of this agreement will be decided by an arbitrator, in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association."

If you have an arbitration clause and a dispute does arise, the matter will probably be resolved more quickly -- and typically less expensive -- than if you have to go to court. However, a lot of attorneys myself included prefer litigation. A Judge -- rather than an arbitrator -- will analyze the facts and apply applicable law. From my experience, many arbitrators just "split the baby in half".

But whether you go to court or arbitration, heres another clause to be included in the agreement: "The Court or the Arbitrator will award legal fees and costs to the prevailing party." Here in the United States, we follow what is known as the "American Rule on Legal Fees". Each side pays its own lawyer unless there is a statute such as the consumer protection laws or a provision in a real estate contract that gives the winning party legal fees. In England, the winner gets her legal fees paid.

So, in your case, to make sure the American Rule will not apply, put that language in your written agreement.

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The End Of The Line For The Hot Real Estate Market?

Rising rates, looming Ben Carson HUD appointment create murky reality

Is real estates nice little ride over? The combination of rising rates and fear around new housing leadership has some experts worried. Lets break it down.

Mortgage Rates

Nobody was under the illusion that historically low rates could last forever, but the sharp rise since the election have some people worried. A few years of super-low rates helped the market recover and thrive; now, "The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate is 4.02 percent, up 6 basis points over the last week," said Bankrate. "A month ago, the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was lower, at 3.34 percent."

Going from the threes to the fours crosses two important barriers - financial, and psychological, potentially hampering a real estate market in its most vulnerable time of the year.

"For those with more of a financial cushion, the increase in monthly payments is just frustrating; for those on the edge of ownership, it can mean no deal," said CNBC. Although no one that we know of can accurately predict the future, experts expect rates to climb further, especially if the Federal Reserve raises the "benchmark short-term rate again next month - with more hikes to follow next year," said the Los Angeles Times.

Michigan Mortgage Loan

Risingrates "could slow homepurchases, pinching "Americans with added costs as they borrow money, they said. "Even a slight increase in rates could disrupt the pace of borrowing, partly because the low rates had enabled many Americans to qualify for loans that otherwise would have been out of reach, Scott McGann, a finance lecturer at San Diego State Universitys business school, told them. Agreed Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moodys Analytics: "If youre in the market to buy a home, its not so good."

Ben Carson

President-elect Trumps November 22 tweet fueled speculation that retired neurosurgeon and former Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson would be appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development HUD. "I am seriously considering Dr. Ben Carson as the head of HUD," he said. "Ive gotten to know him well - hes a greatly talented person who loves people"

A formal acceptance is forthcoming, but, in the meantime, there has been rampant discussion about the appointment that Housingwire says is a done deal, much of which surrounds concern that "liking people" does not equip one to run a federal agency that oversees an annual budget of approximately 50 billion. Fodder about Carsons rejection of the secretary of Health and Human Services position - which he explained by saying he was "unqualified" - despite the fact that medicine, not housing, was his chosen field - only further underscores the concern.

"If he accepts the spot, Carson will have a key role incrafting and ushering through policies that could affectthe housing market long beyond the next four years of President-electDonald Trumps administration," said "And those policies will also play a role in determining the futures of the millions of Americans who depend on HUD, ranging fromthe poorest Americans seeking subsidized housing to first-time buyers shopping for mortgages."

While the past two HUD secretaries had significant housing and urban renewal experience, its not unheard of to tap a housing outsider for the job. Steve Preston, who held the post in 20082009, came from a finance background as the administrator of the government-run Small Business Administration. Still, Carsons lack of >

Washington Times

Whats perhaps most troubling to experts are the comments Carson has made thus far about the agency and his overall take on housing issues, which foretell some sweeping changes ahead.

The Daily Beast notes that Carson once referred to Fair Housing as "communism." In the same 2015 op-edpublished in The Washington Times, he called fair housing policies "mandated social-engineering schemes" that repeated a pattern of "failed socialist experiments in this country," said the Wall Street Journal.

Carsons beef with the rules seems to center on over-regulation, but concern from housing insiders surrounds two key issues: affordable housing and anti-discrimination. "I am astounded at the suggestion that Ben Carson would be nominated to serve as HUD secretary," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, toldCityLab. "HUD is among the most important federal agencies tasked with ensuring compliance with the Fair Housing Act, and creating affordable and inclusive communities."

As distressing as that may be, there are other potential policy changes that are worrisome to housing experts, including: the possibility that home mortgage interest deductions could be eliminatedCarson pledged to do so while running for president; "scaling back and eliminating various federal programs he deemed wasteful, inefficient or unnecessary in asix-page documentoutlining his positions during the race," said, and privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which would "seve>

Looking for a silver lining? Those with the most skin in the game - namely the 1 weve heard so much about - will likely loudly oppose the elimination of mortgage interest. And then theres this from Housingwire: "Being famous does not translate into great leadership, and more followers on social media is no way to select the future leader of HUD. But what this does bring is a chance for people to start talking about housing in a way that hasnt been done in a long time."

Well file that under the "all press is good press" theory.

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A Quick Downsizing Quiz For The Undecided

On the fence about downsizing? We help you decide whether that fencing should encircle a mansion or a mini trailer.

We all consider downsizing for different reasons. Maybe were sick and tired of the maintenance and upkeep of a large home. It could be that were weary of the financial burden, or of being tied to a house and yard. Perhaps we want a smaller footprint for greener living. But is downsizing really for you?

If your circumstances make downsizing a necessity, go for it and decide to love it. But if you have a choice in the matter, take a few minutes with what I call the Knee-Jerk Reaction Test to see if downsizing is really for you. Gather a pencil and paper, look at each picture below and write down the number next to the response that most closely matches your own.

Ready? Here we go.

Photo by Siemasko Verbridge - Browse beach >

1. This is my dream home
2. Lots of roof there to maintain.
3. All I see is time and .

Photo by Bonterra Build
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Seven 2017 Home Trends Youre Going To Want Now

We know what youre thinking: New year, new >

Get colorful

Could gray be on its way out? The go-to color for walls and more walls and also kitchens and flooring and furnishings and everything else for several years running may have hit its peak. Paint companies like Sherwin-Williams have a few gray hues in their 2017 Color Forecast, mixed among bold jewel tones, global shades, and confident pastels. Industry insiders are embracing the rich colors, especially when juxtaposed against white.

"Color, color, color. Those boring grays are on their way out," said Gates Interior Design. Instead, theyre seeing "fresh whites with pops of color...along with rich colors for walls." Their top five colors are: Navy, pink, coral, teal, and emerald green.

Elle Decor

Rose gold

Now that weve cycled through most of the other metal options in the past few years, its rose golds turn. "One of the biggest fashion trends over the past year or so has been rose gold," said PURSUITIST. "The pinky hue has become popular not just in jewelry and watches but also in clothing, shoes, and beauty products. Its even been spotted on phones and sunglasses."

And what happens in fashion often comes to interiors, which were seeing in everything from fixtures to lighting to textiles. "No offense to silver, yellow gold, and brass, but theres just something special about rose golda warmth and uniqueness you dont get with other metallic," said Glamour. "Bring instant luster to a boring kitchen with industrial bar chairs in a high-gloss finish."


Donnbracht has >


You can even DIY the finish on "surfaces including metal, ceramic, wood, and glass" with rose gold spray paint.

Furry accents

Texture is a great way to add layered interest to a space, and you can expect this trend to take your look next-level. "Its official: Furniture with fur accents will be huge in 2017. Weve noticed sheepskin and Mongolian fur chairs in the latest fall collections, said MY DOMAINE. "Faux-fur chairs saw the most dramatic increase in searches this year, with a 487 uplift. Our word of warning? Tread carefully when trying this trend at home. Invest in one statement piece to take center stage in your apartment, and look for quality materials."


Industrial dcor

"Industrial dcor is here to stay," said MY DOMAINE, so why not use it in a standout way, like on these gorgeous bathroom lights.


The faux look

Love the look of marble countertops but dont want the upkeep? Theres great news x two: Quartz materials are more realistic than ever, allowing you to get the appearance of marble with a practically indestructible finish, and faux looks are in.

"Luxury homeowners are warming to fake marble, faux barn wood and other imitators, which are often less expensive and easier to install than the real deal," said the Wall Street Journal.

According to designerNicole Gibbons, "clients love the timeless look of Carrara marble, but may not be able tomaintain the countertops, which cant get acidic foods on them, in their own homes," said Elle Dcor. "People arent coming to me and saying, I want fake marble," Gibbons says. "Theyre saying, I really like the look of marble, but its too high maintenance, or, I cook too much for that to be able to hold up. What do you recommend as an alternative?"

Elle Decor

Black and white stripes

Its a new graphic pattern to obsess over, and in a >

Elle Decor

Cork walls

Goodbye, reclaimed wood, hello cork. "Sustainability and practicality are popping up in home decor all over the place," said BRIT CO. "Cork walls are not only a visually compelling choice, but theyre awesome when it comes to blocking out sound and posting to-dos on the go."


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Selling Your Home Soon? Use Holiday Sales To Make Smart, Inexpensive Updates

If youre thinking about selling your house, or if its just in need of a little love, taking advantage of sales throughout the holiday season can help you add a little pizazz or make it more attractive to the potential next owner. Knowing what to look for and what to stay away from this season can help you make smart buys.

Patio furniture

When the weather turns cold, retailers who have remaining summer furniture stock on hand need to get rid of it. That makes now a great time to buy a new outdoor dining set or lounge seating. It may not top your list of "must-haves" right now, especially if youre looking to sell your home soon. But a well-staged outdoor area can be a huge selling point for buyers.

Fire pit

While youre looking at outdoor furniture, be sure to check out the fire pits. Even if you live in a climate where outdoor enjoyment is limited in the winter, setting the scene for potential buyers who will undoubtedly look in the yard regardless of the temperature can help make an emotional connection that has a better chance of leading to a sale.


Old, ratty, or timeworn furniture could be a turnoff to buyers. A few key updates can make your house more appealing simply by making it look well-cared-for and updated. Furniture actually made Kiplingers list of the "15 Worst things to buy during the holidays," but thats because they think you should wait until just after Christmas which technically still qualifies for the holiday season, as far as were concerned.

For the best overall buys, "Wait until after Christmas, when furniture stores hold clearance sales to make room for new >


We all know the importance of an updated kitchen when trying to sell your home. It can make your sale, or kill it. But that doesnt mean you need to redo the whole thing. New appliances can distract from other areas that might need some attention, and, the good news is, December is a great time to buy major appliances, according to Consumer Reports. Weve already seen some deep discounts on refrigerators, ranges, ovens, and dishwashers at Lowes, Home Depot, and Sears, with many sales expected to continue through the end of December.


Buyers probably wont be any more or less convinced to buy your home if they look in your cabinet and see a shiny new set of pots and pans. But a nice piece of enamel wear filled with a fragrant holiday mix simmering on your stove can infuse your home with a rich scent and show potential buyers you have good taste.

The holiday season is a great time to buy new cookware, according to The Balance. Their recommendations: "Before buying a whole set, also consider your actual needs; many people end up only using a few pieces of their set. It can be significantly easier to buy what you know youll use regularly, such as a sauce pan or frying pan."

Carpet and flooring

If your floors need some work, this may be the perfect time to get them redone. The holiday season is the perfect time to check out flooring options like carpet, said Carpet Captain. "Kids are out on break. Many people are traveling. Money is tight after buying Christmas and Hanukah presents. People are stressed out and decorating to have family and friends over; the last thing they want to do is clear out their home to have carpet installed. Some salesman may be desperately looking for a Christmas bonus from commission on your sale. This is when the biggest savings happen. Best time to strike: December 21 to January 14."

House plants

Adding a little greenery to your house can, quite literally, give it life. Houseplants have been shown to have positive psychological impacts on those in the space. They can also have positive physical effects that could improve the lives of your family long after your house is sold, presuming you take the plants with you. "According to studies by NASA, certain plants can filter dangerous compounds commonly found in homes that are associated with respiratory illnesses, cancer, and more," said Popsugar. For a list of the best houseplants that can improve your health, click here.

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Horiike Decision Brings A Sigh Of Relief

A collective sigh of >

Dual agency is treated differently in different states. I render no opinion as to which one is best. In California, dual agency is legal provided that it is properly disclosed and consented to.

Disclosure is accomplished by provision of a statutory form Disclosure Regarding Real Estate Agency >

It also spells out that, "In representing both Seller and Buyer, the agent may not, without the express permission of the respective party, disclose to the other party that the Seller will accept a price less than the listing price or that the Buyer will pay a price greater than the price offered."

We note, then, that the legislation that created this scheme Civil Code 2079 et seq. "carved out" behavior which, if engaged in by a single agent, would be deemed perfectly acceptable. Hence, in a typical non-dual agent setting, if a buyers agent learned from a third party that the seller was willing to accept an offer considerably below the listed price, he could certainly communicate that to the buyer. But he couldnt if he were the agent of both parties.

In the Horiike case, the agency duty had to do with disclosure about the property. Horiike, the buyer, had been working with a Coldwell Banker CB agent Namba from the CB office in Beverly Hills. In the course of their property search, he and his agent saw a property listed by an agent Cortazzo from the CB office in Malibu. Horiike purchased the property 12.25 million with CB acting as a dual agent. All was properly disclosed and consented to.

Subsequently, Horiike discovered substantial discrepancies between the square footage represented in marketing materials and as it was indicated on the building permit. He sued CB and the listing agent, Cortazzo, for, among other things, breach of fiduciary duty. He did not sue Namba, the agent who had worked with him in the buying process. Apparently, he liked her.

According to the court record, Cortazzo had provided Horiike, through Namba, "a copy of the residences building permit and a form advisory stating: only an appraiser can >

The jury found that both Cortazzo, the listing agent, and CB were not liable for intentional or negligent misrepresentation or intentional concealment. As to the breach of fiduciary duty, the trial court granted non-suit regarding Cortazzo, "ruling that Cortazzo exclusively represented the seller in the transaction and therefore did not owe a fiduciary duty to Horiike." It also "instructed the jury that, in order to find Coldwell Banker liable for breach of fiduciary duty, the jury had to find that an agent of Coldwell Banker other than Cortazzo or Namba [who had been excluded from the suit] had breached a fiduciary duty to Horiike." Of course there were no other such agents, so CB was exonerated.

Naturally, Horiike appealed; and the Appellate Court reversed on the issue of Cortazzos fiduciary duty to Horiike. It ruled that "Cortazzo, as a salesperson working under Coldwell Bankers license, owed a duty to Horiike equivalent to the duty owed to him by Coldwell Banker." It concluded that "a properly instructed jury could find that Cortazzo breached his fiduciary duty by failing to communicate all of the material information he knew about the square footage."

CB and Cortazzo then appealed to the California Supreme Court which took the case, framing the issue in this way: "The sole question before us is whether Cortazzo, as an associate licensee representing Coldwell Banker in the sale of the Malibu residence, owed a duty to Horiike to take certain measures to inform him about the residences square footage."

That this could have been an issue arises from the fact that, under California law, it is the broker -- in this case, CB -- and not the individual licensee who is the agent of the principal. The individuals here Cortazzo and Namba are "associate licensees" and they are agents of the broker. However, the Supreme Court found ample reason to support the view that "An associate licensee owes a duty to each party in a real property transaction which is equivalent to the duty owed each party by the broker under whom the associate licensee is licensed."

In this particular case, though, the Court noted that "The fiduciary duty of disclosure that Horiike alleges Cortazzo breached is, in fact, strikingly similar to the nonfiduciary duty of disclosure that Cortazzo would have owed Horiike in any event." Moreover, "the critical point is only that to disclose such information, or to alert Horiike that his representations [of square footage] were unverified, would not have required Cortazzo to reveal any confidential information he had obtained from the [seller]"

The Court was sensitive to the concerns expressed by the real estate community and in amicus briefs that a ruling finding at the agent level -- not just at that of the company -- fiduciary duties to both parties could lead to untenable situations where an agent could have a duty to divulge confidential information about one party to the other.

In this regard the Court acknowledged the issue and practically invited organized real estate such as the California Association of REALTORS to seek a legislative fix -- as it had done before with respect to revealing the price points of buyer and seller.

Thus it wrote, "To the extent there is any uncertainty about the scope of a dual agents fiduciary duties in other contexts [i.e. other than disclosure of property conditions], the Legislature certainly could enact defendants preferred solution to the problem by, for example, adopting legislation to uncouple associate licensees duties from the brokers they represent."

The Horiike case will now go back to trial on the issue of whether or not Cortazzo breached his disclosure duty. The real estate industry, having breathed it sigh of >

Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtors. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way. His email address is .

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Total Board Recall In Your HOA

The natives are restless. The smell of tar wafts through the night air and somewhere a chicken loses its feathers. The board prepares for impending doom.

Board recalls dont happen out of the blue. Like Mount St. Helens, they give off warning signs. Theres rumbling and venting going on. Disgruntled phone calls, rants at board meetings, terse letters tacked on the door. The issues include such >

1. That amp; special assessment

2. Those blankety blank rules

3. My tree didnt get pruned

4. Why did your unit get painted first?

5. Time for the Gang of Five to go

Recalls can sometime happen for legitimate reasons:

1. Embezzling or getting reimbursed by the HOA for unauthorized perks like meals, trips, etc.

2. Engaged in fraud or conflicts of interest like accepting vendor kickbacks or steering a contract to your brother in law.

3. Failing fiduciary duties like performing adequate maintenance and repairs of the common elements, lack of rules enforcement and aggressive collection on delinquencies.

4. Substantial inaction dont gitter done.

But the underlying reason is usually that the members feel they are not being heard. While the board is elected to get things done, it is also supremely important for the board to listen to the membership. Sometimes these folks say things the board doesnt like to hear. They can be critical and they can be obnoxious and sometimes 100 wrong. But allowing the members to vent and participate is one of the smartest things a board can do.

If the board doesnt provide a forum for member communications and feedback, the members will develop their own like gossip, rumors and online blogs. Here are some board strategies to head off these self help methods:

1. Open Forum. Add a 15-30 minute Open Forum to every board meeting. Allow up to five minutes per member to let them rant, rave, opine and inquire. This is not a time to transact HOA business but to clarify positions and provide information. If a member wants to address the board for business, put them on the regular meeting Agenda.

2. Get it in Writing. Talk is cheap. If a member has a passionate issue or complaint, request they put their thoughts in writing so the board can consider all the ramifications. Writing takes effort and most wont do it unless it is important. But its a great way to determine how deeply felt the issue is. Once put in writing, the board should respond in writing. This mechanism provides a clear record of board actions to member issues. Its okay to direct the solution to someone else. If its not yours, dont accept it. Hand it back or hand it off.

3. Appoint a Committee. The board is handed a task by a member who has a "great idea" such as adding a shared garden. Problem is, these great ideas are often undeveloped, require research and funding. Rather than the board taking on a great idea, appoint the person proposing it to chair an ad hoc committee to investigate further.

4. Become a Diplomat. One of the greatest joys and greatest frustrations is the differences between people. Successful marriages usually have two opposites which balance and supplement each other making the sum greater than its parts. All of your HOA members have qualities and strengths. Using diplomacy will encourage them to use their talents for the common good. Rather than let them criticize from the sidelines, ask them to join the game because they have value to contribute. Remind them that, "were all in the same boat". Its true and often wins over adversaries.

Recalling the board is the final straw of a frustrated electorate. But once the board is given the boot, a new board has to fill the void. Where were these people at the last election when the call for candidates went out? A new board only provides new grist for a the recall mill. Avoid total recall by giving the membership more input and control.

For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

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Make Decorating Choices That Are Kinder To Animals

Animal lovers will be happy to know theres another way to be kinder to their furry friends. And it all starts at home.

Many people arent aware that they can opt for cruelty-free products when decorating their homes, says Sasha Josipovicz, creative director of Studio Pyramid in Toronto.

You can start by simply choosing manmade, cruelty-free options instead of wool, fur, leather, down and exotic skins, he says. And were not talking polyester -- manmade fabrics have come a long way since the 1960s. French and Italian companies are creating fabrics that look like the real thing and offer extra benefits as well.

For example, silk is expensive and disintegrates in the sun. Manmade silks, on the other hand, dont break down in the sun, says Josipovicz, adding that he cant remember the last time he used real silk in a project. Faux suede and leather require less maintenance, are more durable and come in larger sizes than their animal counterparts. Its the same with manmade wool, which is just as pleasing to the eye but comes in wider widths and is less expensive. The wider widths make it more practical for interior design uses, because items such as drapes for large windows can be made with fewer seams, he says.

Many furniture manufacturers, both low and high end, are offering alternatives to animal skins and hides, including faux leather couches and canvas chairs.

The Compassionate Closet has a cruelty-free fabric guide that can help when selecting materials.

For some people, like real estate agent Eva Szczepanek of Re/Max Realty Specialists in Mississauga, Ont., being vegan is a way of life. She decorates her home with vegan products but also carries her belief to her work world. When she has clients homes staged, she says she insists that only vegan materials -- "no feathers, wool or leather, no animal materials -- are used, and I dont use faux fur because it promotes the use of real fur."

Even working on a tight timeline, she ensures homes are staged with vegan products because it "brings a good energy into the home."

The best way to find vegan products is to read labels to ensure that they do not contain animal products or are not tested on animals. Sometimes it can be tricky, says Josipovicz. He once designed an entire home with cruelty-free products. Then he went with the client to a china shop and suggested she buy fine bone china. The client was outraged. Josipovicz said it took him a few minutes before the "ah-ha" moment. He had always thought of "fine bone china" as almost a brand name, not realizing the china contains ground animal bones. It was a lesson learned.

But as long as youre honest and open minded, and try your best, theres no harm done, he says.

The winning entry from the Cruelty-Free Home of the
Year Contest. Photo by Mary Summers Photography

People dont have to start big and throw all of their possessions away. Start small and when you replace items, buy cruelty-free products, Josipovicz says. "People feel good when they can make even a small contribution. If you give them the option, the majority will say, lets try. Every little effort is recognized and applauded. Its a reasonable approach."

You can start small with decorative items such as a selection of super cute pillows from Velvet Moustache in Montreal or vegan candles from Two Blooms in Victoria.

In an effort to spread the word about cruelty-free decorating, Josipovicz came up with the idea for a Cruelty-Free Home of the Year Contest. Interior design magazine Objekt International of which Josipovicz is the honorary editor-in-chief Objekt USA-Canada and PETA People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals teamed up to launch the competition and recently announced its winner: the peaceful home of life>

To be eligible, homes had to be 100-per-cent vegan, meaning no wool, fur, leather, down or exotic skins were used in the designs. Interiors could be enhanced by faux fur, canvas, linen and other cruelty-free fabrics.

Tuttles entry stood out, Josipovicz says. "It met all my esthetic thresholds of visuals and practicality. Its an eye-popping house done on a not serious budget."

The principles of good design -- layout, colours, materials and practicality were met, with the added restriction that everything had to be cruelty-free a kinder choice, he says."The real highlight of her vegan life>
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The Super-Quick, Really Easy, Last-Minute Guide To Making Your House Guest Ready For The Holidays

It never fails. You have weeks, or even months, to get your house in order before family arrives to celebrate the holidays. But now its days, or even hours, before their arrival, and well, youre nowhere near ready. Heed a few tips to get your house in great shape before the family descends on you.

Know where to go

You dont need to deep-clean every inch of your house. There are lots of places your guests will probably never venture, and you can always close the doors to rooms you dont plan on using.

"Stick to the bathroom your guests will use, along with the kitchen and dining or entertaining area where your guests will spend most of their time," said Angies List. "Skip areas of the house or rooms your guests wont see, such as second-floor hallways, bedrooms and your home office."

Make your cleaning products work for you

Maximize your time by spraying your toilets, baths, showers, and sinks and then leave to do something else. Come back after a few minutes and wipe clean.


Pick up your stuff

"The first thing you want to do is go through your entire home and pick up everything that is on the floor and not in its proper place," said CBS. You probably have an extra box somewhere that can act as a catch-all for that stuff that seems to multiply in your house. If not, a laundry basket will do in a pinch.


Now its time to figure out where to put all that stuff. Your favorite spots for >

Clean off those countertops

Assuming youre going to be cooking over the holidays, youre going to need space to do it. Time to pare down the accessories. Think like a home stager and pack away the non-essentials. Not only will it give you the work space you want, but also a cleaner look in your kitchen.

Put socks on everyone in the house

While youre running around frantically, youre doing double duty by picking up the dust on the floor.

Socks on hands works, too

Your kids may want to help, but their help may not actually be so helpful. Finding tasks they can do that will keep them out of your way is key. When those tasks actually make a difference - even better. Socks on little hands make great dusters. Send them toward surfaces that need work and dont have breakables. They can also swipe along baseboards and blinds. A non-toxic cleaning product for older kids or just plain water for the little ones is even more effective.

Put out fresh bedding

If you havent had time to make the guest bed, throw a clean comforter down and let your guests know the sheets are in the wash and then get the sheets in the wash. Didnt and dont have time to get new bedding, like youd hoped? Do the best with what youve got. If your bedding is the nicest in the house, which it should be, and its the same size as your guest bed, use your extra sheets for your guests. If you have a king and your guest bed is a queen, you can still make it work. Order same day shipping from Amazon on these sheet suspenders to turn a king bottom sheet into something that will work on a smaller size mattress.

Get some fresh flowers

Right. Flowers are probably the last thing on your mind with so much else to do. But if you have to run to the market at some point anyway and you know you do, pick up a couple of bunches of fresh flowers for the houseone for an entry table and one for the side table in your guest room. At least there will be something pretty to look at, and, even better if they smell good, too.


"Even a single stem on the nightstand, dresser, or bathroom vanity will do. In the winter, clip a branch from an evergreen for holiday cheer," said Houzz. "Extra touches like this will make your guests feel special."

Speaking of smells...

Nothing can dampen the hospitality your guests experience like a houseful of questionable odors. If you have pets, or kids, or both, you may want to freshen up the house. And, you may not even realize there are odor issues if you live what them every day, Tackle the obvious offenders, like cat litter boxes and athletic shoes turning them upside down is a quick way to cut the smell, but it might be best to take them into the garage for a few days. Invite a trusted neighbor who will be honest with you on this touchy issue to do a walk-through. Remaining smells that are lingering can be taken care of with Febreze and plug-in air fresheners. Wise Bread has tips on the best ones to buy.

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Seven Ways To Take Your Gift Giving To The Next Level This Year

Tired of gifting the same old candle or pajamas or movie theater tickets? Do something different this year. Something meaningful. If ever there was a year to make an effort to connect with your loved ones, its now. These seven ideas will get your there.

Something personal

A personal gift is something beyond a gift card or the pre-packaged bath delights basket that was in the bin near the door at the discount store. Its something closely tied to your loved ones life in some way: reflective of his or her personality, likes, hobbies, or beliefs. Consider their daily habits and goals, as well as things they may want or need but wont buy for themselves in trying to pinpoint the perfect present. Still need a little help? has a nifty quiz you can take that helps you find the perfect gift by personality type.

Something cool

An unexpected gift can be a real winner if its something cool that the recipient hadnt thought of or didnt know existed. Something like this 3D Pen set from Urban Outfitters.

"Now your dreams of 3D drawing can be a reality with this 3Doodler Pen Gift Set, exclusively made for Urban Outfitters The set comes complete with a pen in a UO Exclusive color, as well as a book with step-by-step instructions to get you started in creating unique 3D art," they said. "The 3Doodler is the worlds first and best 3D printing pen that allows you to draw in 3D by extruding heated plastic filament that cools almost instantly into a solid, stable structure. Youll be able to draw up into the air and create anything you can think of, whether it be a lamp shade, an architectural model, decorations, or even jewelry."

Urban Outfitters

Something useful...and beautiful

A gift that provides function but is also great to look at is the new goal. Forget the regular old coffee maker. This Bodum Chambord Copper French Press makes a dandy cup o Joe eight, actually, and is so chic your loved one will want to showcase it on their countertop every day.

Sur la Table

Something politically motivated

Have a family member whos still having a hard time dealing with election results? Donate to Planned Parenthood in the name of Vice President-elect Mike Pence. The staunch Republican has been on a "longtime crusade to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict womens access to abortion," said the New York Daily News. "The womens health organization has received more than 50,000 individual donationsin pro-life Indiana Gov. Mike Pences namesince the election, a rep from the nonprofit confirmed to the Daily News on Tuesday."

You could also make a donation to any number of other charities; Donations to non-profits like The Sierra Club, a 125-year-old environmental group, and the American Civil Liberties Union have reported record donation rates since election day, according to the Financial Times. Additional donations are being directed toward charities such as The Anti-Defamation League, Center for Reproductive Rights, Council on American-Islamic >

Want to show support for President-elect Trump with your gift this year? The Trump Coloring Book is a "top seller on Amazon with more than thirty 5-star ratings," said Best Gifts for Guys. Then theres the Trump condom, which "features one of his most famous quotes from the race Im HUUUUGE"


Something useful...and fun

This iPad TV Stand was named the "Best gift for the guy on the go" by BROSTRICK, who said it was, "Perfect for train rides, plane rides, or just when you dont want to hold your iPad whilst in bed like an animal."


A gift for your spouse thats really a gift for you

Are you living with a snoozer? This Sunrise Simulator Alarm Clock eliminates the noise. "Theres a better way to wake up, one thats more natural and taps into our lineage from a time when there were no alarm clocks," said DODO. "Waking up to a simulated sunrise is the only way to go, especially in the winter."

An experience of a lifetime

The person who doesnt need stuff, but loves to live life may be especially difficult to buy for. A one-of-a-kind experience to learn to fly an airplane or helicopter or go to Bull Riding School to excite their inner cowboy or cowgirl might be the answer.

Best Products

Or if you really want to go nuts, go for the Five-Star Seven Wonder of the World Tour, which travels Business >
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5 Things Homebuyers Need to Know about Home EV Charging Stations

Folks who follow the auto industry - or just watch the road as theyre driving - know that crossovers, SUVs and pickups are becoming increasingly popular. But theres actually another segment of the market thats been doing quite well for itself this year: Sales of electric vehicles, or EVs, jumped 12.6 percent during the month of October as compared to last year. Deliveries of plug-in hybrids, which combine all-electric driving with onboard gas engines, were up by 64.3 percent during the same time. To put that performance into context, overall auto sales are slightly down for the year after record-setting volume in 2015.

Obviously, all of those pluggable vehicles need a way to plug in while theyre at home, and that means house-based EV-charging stations are an important new consideration in the real-estate world. Todays homebuyers may be looking for a home that can accommodate their future-forward vehicles.

Justin Frisette, a PR and marketing specialist focusing on electric vehicle supply equipment EVSE for Bosch Automotive Services, said, "Weve seen an expansion of public charging stations and rising EV sales over the last few years, with more manufacturers introducing electric vehicles into their lineup. Electric-vehicle owners typically want to charge at home and often purchase a 240-volt station for the convenience and speed of home charging. While we cant speak to the future, we are encouraged and excited by the strong commitment to and investment in electric vehicles from the global automotive industry."

For homebuyers looking to own EV charging stations, here are five things to keep in mind.

1. Home charging stations do not actually charge the car.

This is a small technical point, but one thats worth knowing: What most people refer to as home EV chargers dont do the charging. They just enable the electricity coming from the home to be properly converted and compatible to the car. The charge itself happens inside the car. The ability to make this connection comes in various types of cords or boxes that can be stored in the garage.

2. Home EV chargers are not prohibitively inexpensive.

To be sure, EVSE isnt cheap. But taking a quick look at Amazons 10 best-selling EV charging stations shows wall-mountable hardware ranges from about 429 to 699, and thats from top manufacturers such as AeroVironment, ChargePoint, ClipperCreek, JuiceBox and Siemens.

There are also installation costs. Again, Amazon sets a handy baseline, with installation packages for roughly 250. However, this is for ideal conditions, in homes or garages that dont need wiring improvements to support the charger station. In many cases, it will be more difficult. Even newer residences, according to the remodeling pros at, are likely to need a utility upgrade: The typical houses 200-amp electrical service has to be made compatible with the typical 100-amp EVSE wall connector. All of which can require getting a municipal permit and ensuring the home is up to code, too.

All told, to properly equip a home for Level 2 charging - the preferred configuration, as explained below - will start at about 1,100 to 1,200 for the typical consumer.

3. Homeowners can find ways to lower the cost of charging units.

Much like EVs themselves, EV home charging stations are eligible for a variety of financial incentives designed to increase affordability. For example, under the Alternative Refueling Tax Credit, the IRS allows a 30 percent credit for EVSE, including installation costs. Just note that this is limited to 1,000 and set to expire on January 1, 2017. A number of state and local incentives also exist to encourage the installation of home charging setups, as do programs from utility companies.

Moreover, many of the EV manufacturers, including Nissan, Chevrolet, Toyota, Ford and Mercedes-Benz, have partnerships with preferred EVSE suppliers. Together, they feature package deals that not only reduce pricing for home chargers, but also allow buyers to incorporate that cost into their monthly vehicle payments, for added convenience.

4. For homeowners looking to charge at home, level 2 charging is the No. 1 option.

The SAE currently >

Level 2 charging hits the sweet spot for home users, with EVSE that can charge up the Leaf in approximately six hours, for an all-electric range of 107 miles. As mentioned earlier, it may take some amount of electrical upgrading to prepare a home for Level 2 capability, but because its still using the same 240-volt service that powers most washers and dryers, significant home modifications usually arent necessary. This handy chart is a great reference for seeing how much charge i.e. how many miles a home-charger can provide.

5. Utility costs for charging EVs are reasonable.

Beyond any upfront outlays for EVSE, charging an EV at home will, of course, affect a homeowners energy bill - though not by much. Based on the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Energy, the average cost of electricity in August was 12.9 cents per kilowatt-hour kWh. Given that a Chevy Volts battery pack has an 18.4 kWh capacity, that comes out to about 2.37 for a full charge using a Level 2 home station. Thats enough energy to keep the Volt running for 53 miles on electricity alone after which, its gas-hybrid powertrain provide hundreds more miles of range. A window fan, for comparisons sake, would cost a few pennies less than that to run for three hours.

For homebuyers looking for a new home compatible with EV charging stations, the answer may not be as difficult as it seems. With a few potential modifications and the right planning, an electric vehicle can be made to feel right at home.

Asa consumer advice writer forCARFAX, Charles Krome shareseco-friendly driving tips like adopting the latest technology inelectric vehicles.

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7 Tips For A Clean And Organized Holiday Season

The holidays are a magical time of year meant for enjoying the company of your closest friends and family. But playing host to your holiday celebrations can sometimes get a little stressful. Here are a handful of tips to keep your home clean and organized during holiday season.

1 Prioritize Activities in Advance

Its tempting to overindulge in all things holiday themed. One of the biggest problems some homeowners face is a lack of organization. Start by prioritizing activities and events during the holiday period so you dont bite off more than you can chew. For example, plan:

Shopping food, gifts, etc.
Time to clean the house

There will be a lot on your plate as a host. Prioritizing your to-do list will you determine a plan of action.

2 Take Inventory of Decorations

One of the true joys of the holidays is decorating your home with lights, wreaths and other seasonal appa>

3 Consult a Professional Organizer

If you dont have time to get everything in order for the holidays, there are professionals who can help. Organizers can go through your decorations and help you reorganize items and store what you dont need. Professional organizers can also assist in planning your holiday decor layout.

4 Get the Family Involved

Get everyone involved in the holiday preparation process. Delegate appropriate duties to your family members so the burden of preparation is shared and completed. For example, some tasks to assign include:

  • Putting up the Christmas tree
  • Decorating the tree
  • Adding holiday decor in the dining and living room
  • Shopping for supplies gift wrap, bows, tape
  • Cleaning up the house vacuum, dust, sweep, etc.
  • Preparing some of the simpler dishes
  • Putting up outdoor decorations
  • Sweeping off the pathway and driveway for visitors
  • Turning on a cheery tune

5 Hire Cleaners for a Spotless House

You want your guests to see the best of your house. If you dont have time to clean, you can hire a cleaning service to sweep, mop and dust your home. Additionally, you may want to declutter your home as you prepare for new gifts. Set time aside to throw away or donate unnecessary toys, games and clothes.

6 Prepare for the Mess in Advance

If Christmas brings one thing, its an onslaught of wrapping paper, tape and ribbons. Dont allow your home to become overrun. Establish a bin or receptacle in a common area of the home to collect all the Christmas wrappings, ribbon and tape.

7 Set Aside Time to >

With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, your family will be worn out. Set aside time with your immediate family to >
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The Super-Quick, Really Easy, Last-Minute Guide To Making Your House Guest Ready For The Holidays

It never fails. You have weeks, or even months, to get your house in order before family arrives to celebrate the holidays. But now its days, or even hours, before their arrival, and well, youre nowhere near ready. Heed a few tips to get your house in great shape before the family descends on you.

Know where to go

You dont need to deep-clean every inch of your house. There are lots of places your guests will probably never venture, and you can always close the doors to rooms you dont plan on using.

"Stick to the bathroom your guests will use, along with the kitchen and dining or entertaining area where your guests will spend most of their time," said Angies List. "Skip areas of the house or rooms your guests wont see, such as second-floor hallways, bedrooms and your home office."

Make your cleaning products work for you

Maximize your time by spraying your toilets, baths, showers, and sinks and then leave to do something else. Come back after a few minutes and wipe clean.


Pick up your stuff

"The first thing you want to do is go through your entire home and pick up everything that is on the floor and not in its proper place," said CBS. You probably have an extra box somewhere that can act as a catch-all for that stuff that seems to multiply in your house. If not, a laundry basket will do in a pinch.


Now its time to figure out where to put all that stuff. Your favorite spots for >

Clean off those countertops

Assuming youre going to be cooking over the holidays, youre going to need space to do it. Time to pare down the accessories. Think like a home stager and pack away the non-essentials. Not only will it give you the work space you want, but also a cleaner look in your kitchen.

Put socks on everyone in the house

While youre running around frantically, youre doing double duty by picking up the dust on the floor.

Socks on hands works too

Your kids may want to help, but their help may not actually be so helpful. Finding tasks they can do that will keep them out of your way is key. When those tasks actually make a difference - even better. Socks on little hands make great dusters. Send them toward surfaces that need work and dont have breakables. They can also swipe along baseboards and blinds. A non-toxic cleaning product for older kids or just plain water for the little ones is even more effective.

Put out fresh bedding

If you havent had time to make the guest bed, throw a clean comforter down and let your guests know the sheets are in the wash and then get the sheets in the wash. Didnt and dont have time to get new bedding, like youd hoped? Do the best with what youve got. If your bedding is the nicest in the house, which it should be, and its the same size as your guest bed, use your extra sheets for your guests. If you have a king and your guest bed is a queen, you can still make it work. Order same day shipping from Amazon on these sheet suspenders to turn a king bottom sheet into something that will work on a smaller size mattress.

Get some fresh flowers

Right. Flowers are probably the last thing on your mind with so much else to do. But if you have to run to the market at some point anyway and you know you do, pick up a couple of bunches of fresh flowers for the houseone for an entry table and one for the side table in your guest room. At least there will be something pretty to look at, and, even better if they smell good, too.


"Even a single stem on the nightstand, dresser, or bathroom vanity will do. In the winter, clip a branch from an evergreen for holiday cheer," said Houzz. "Extra touches like this will make your guests feel special."

Speaking of smells...

Nothing can dampen the hospitality your guests experience like a houseful of questionable odors. If you have pets, or kids, or both, you may want to freshen up the house. And, you may not even realize there are odor issues if you live what them every day, Tackle the obvious offenders, like cat litter boxes and athletic shoes turning them upside down is a quick way to cut the smell, but it might be best to take them into the garage for a few days. Invite a trusted neighbor who will be honest with you on this touchy issue to do a walk-through. Remaining smells that are lingering can be taken care of with Febreze and plug-in air fresheners. Wise Bread has tips on the best ones to buy.

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Buying A Home Over The Holidays: The Smartest Real Estate Decision You Can Make

You know that play in football where the quarterback seems to hand the ball off to a running back and the entire defense concentrates on that "runner," only to find that the ball ended up in the hands of someone on the other side, who then sprints down the sideline and scores a touchdown? Thats pretty much what its like to buy a home during the holidays. While everyone is busy looking at all the pretty, shiny things and on-sale things and yummy things, youre sneaking around the other side with the ball, or, rather, the offer, that gets you the house you want.

Yes, when it comes to homebuying around the holidays, its advantage: buyer. With so many distractions between Halloween and New Years Day, you can slide right in there and make a smart move. So why, exactly, does it benefit you to buy a home over the holidays?

Because you just want to find a home already

The market has been hot for a few years, and, in many places, multiple offers and over-asking-price sales have become the norm. Competing in those markets can be demoralizing. Tales of buyers seeking million-dollar fixers on Los Angeles Westside just so they can get into something in the area - and being consistently outbid for more than a year - are more and more common.

But buy over the holidays and you slice through the buyer pool. While others are trimming their tree or searching for the perfect pumpkin cheesecake recipe, youre off snagging the home you want.

Because: First-time buyers

The above scenario, where buyers are constantly being outbid on homes, is a nightmare for first-timers looking for a home. Not only is there a verrrrrry limited supply of available homes that are affordable in the first place, but the number of folks that are vying for them is tremendous. If youre in the market and have never done this before, youre probably pretty frustrated.

There are time-tested tips for winning in a multiple-offer situation, like getting preapproved, limiting contingencies on the home, being flexible about the closing, and writing a "love letter" to the seller, which can appeal "to the heart can make your offer stand out," said NerdWallet.

But acting during a time when others may be distracted and not actively searching is perhaps the most effective method of getting what you want. "About one million consumers will purchase a home from November to January this year, when home prices are a bit softer," said Forbes.

If that sounds like a big number, consider this: "More than 85 percent of buyers who say they plan to buy a home in the next year say they will wait until the spring or summer," according to data from Realtor.coms "Top Tips for Home Buyers and Sellers in 2016" survey.


Because you might actually get a deal

No one likes to overpay, regardless of their price point. And multiple offers that drive up home prices are a drag for everyone but the seller. If you consider that those who are selling their home during the holidays are generally doing so because they have to, not because they want to, it makes sense that when you do find a house, it might be priced better than anything youd find months later. In fact, according to The Balance, "Home prices typically drop to a 12-month low" in the month of December.

"Sellers tend to avoid the end of the year due to the short days, wintry weather and conventional wisdom that says buyers are otherwise occupied, Tim Deihl, associate broker at Gibson Sothebys International Realty in Boston, told Bankrate. "But those who do choose to sell at year-end are often under pressure and highly motivated to cut a deal. A seller whos looking to move a piece of real estate during the holidays is a seller who needs to sell, because nobody in their right mind would pick that as the most convenient time to list their property. And thats why the year-end might be a smart time to buy: Determined house-hunters can take advantage of sellers urgency."

Because what better present could there be?

You might want a new KitchenAid mixer or a flat screen or a weekend getaway. But do any of those things compare to a new home? The answer is no. No, they dont. If youre stumped at what to get your honey or your family, or what to ask for, here it is. And, if you time it right, you might even be able to get that home on Christmas Day.

"Almost nobody looks at homes on Christmas Day. It doesnt matter whether you are a Christian nor whether you celebrate that holiday, there are much lower numbers of buyers shopping for a home in December," said The Balance. "But buying on or near Christmas Day is a smart move."

In addition to all the other reasons the Christmas holiday season is so attractive for buyers, "People are in good moods, celebrating, opening presents, enjoying family and, lets face it, some are a little tipsy," they said. And, "People are more inclined to be generous, even if it means coming down on the price. Of course, the key is to find a real estate agent who will a work on Christmas and b be aggressive enough to worm her way into the sellers home without batting an eyelash."

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Nontraditional Places to Use Pendant Lights


When you picture pendant lights, where do you see them in a house? Close your eyes and imagine it.

The first place you thought of was the kitchen island, right? Youre not alone. For many people kitchen islands and pendant lighting go hand in hand, and while they wouldnt be wrong, I would say think bigger Pendant lights are much more versatile than you may realize. Lets take a look around the house at some places to hang them.


Your sink area can sometimes be dark, boring or both. Staggered pendant lighting in this spot gives you light where you need it and a nice spot to get creative with >

Dining Room

Illuminating your dining table with pendants can put a modern spin on the old centered chandelier more commonly seen in dining areas, bringing illumination closer to the table itself.


Grouping the pendants and using varying lengths will shake up the more conventional bar installation over a dining room area, which can be especially dramatic when coupled with an unusually shaped table such as an oval or square. A focused, downward-facing glow from a drum->



The entryway of a home is the place for a first impression. Larger, statement-piece pendant lighting fits perfectly in this area of the home. Experiment with textures, colors, size and even groupings in this type of space. Go wild

Reading Corner/Small Desk

Curl up with a good book and some great task lighting in a reading corner or small desk area. A nice opportunity to add mini pendants, you can also give the space a cozy feel with warmer-colored, vintage-inspired light bulbs.


Placed directly above the mirror, pendant lighting adds a unique decorative element to the bathroom, while bringing extra, more natural lighting to the face. Theyre great for utility and beauty - both the bathrooms and yours.



A row of identical fixtures down a hallway is an elegant solution to lighting this space in a home. Be certain your lights are hung high enough through this high-traffic area and check to make sure the lights clear any doors that open into the hallway.

A pendant can add much-needed lighting and >


Hang pendants on either side of the bed instead of using table lamps on nightstands. This can be a great space-saving idea if your bedroom is small and you have limited floor space to work with. In fact, it looks wonderful even if you do have plenty of space Colored glass or metal shades look fantastic in this setting, especially if your >

A new trend for pendants in the bedroom is installing them at the foot of the bed. This is an out-of-the-box design idea that looks totally unique.


Area Accent Lighting

Hang pendant near shelves with artwork or photographs on them to accent the area without taking up valuable space like table lamps can. Table lamps and sconces arent your only option for accent lighting


Nursery/Childrens Rooms

Over the rocking chair or changing table, a pendant light can give your infants room some artistic flair. By hanging a small, low-wattage pendant over the rocking chair, you can see what youre doing for those middle-of-the-night feedings and changes, but keep the light dim enough so the baby will stay quiet and sleepy.


One of my favorite looks is a shaded pendant with cut-out shapes. The shadows it casts on the wall are magical. A pendant light with a changeable shade can grow with your little one and makes great lighting for a reading or play corner once your baby grows into a busy toddler.

Keep Height in Mind

As I mentioned above, there are a few things to keep in mind when installing pendant lights, the most important being height. No one wants to get up out of their comfy reading spot and bang their head directly into a light fixture. A good guideline is to leave a space of 18 to 24 inches above the tallest person in the house. Your guests will appreciate your attention to sparing their foreheads from pain.

For a table, the recommended height is 28 to 32 inches over the surface. You have a little leeway with this, depending on the height of the ceiling, the size of the pendant lights and your preference.

Use these tips to add a unique flair to your home. Think outside of the kitchen island pendant light box

Kim Six is a DIY home improvement blogger living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kim writes on DIY decor topics for The Home Depot. She is a stay-at-home mom of three young kids and likes to focus on budget-friendly and easily doable projects. To review pendant lighting, including >
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Smart Homes: The New Frontier For Cyber Crime

For years, research has highlighted various security flaws in millions of internet-enabled "smart" gadgets. But it wasnt until recently, when "Internet of Things" IoT devices like DVRs and webcams sustained a massive breach, that these security flaws became a pernicious reality.

The hackers were able to corrupt and co-opt these ordinary smart devices into a colossal botnet army, where they levelled a deluge of junk messages at Dyn, an internet management company that routes web traffic for popular websites, including Twitter, Netflix, Reddit and Amazon. The sheer volume of bogus messages caused Dyn to crash, and as a result, users were cut off from many of those sites. The hacker remains unknown, but their weapon of choice, at least in part, has been identified.

Mirai, an easy-to-use software, infiltrates household devices, harnessing them for their own exploits unbeknownst to the owner. The cameras that were hacked and manipulated had low-end security features - and users had largely neglected to update factory-default usernames and passwords.

While this attack may conjure up large-scale cyberwarfare scenarios, it also underlines a very real and growing need to beef up security around the smart home, which has been seve>

Why are smart home devices so easy to hack into?

In the face of economic demand, smart devices security has largely fallen by the wayside, as theyre perceived as a time-consuming expense. Many of the DVRs and webcams involved in the Dyn attack were shipped with factory-default settings and didnt require consumers to create a new username or password. Consequently, these users unwittingly became a target for Mirai, which enlisted their devices in a campaign against specific websites.

But even for users savvy enough to update their defaults, hackers still have more obscure means of infiltrating their smart devices. Not-so-user-friendly services like SSH and telnet offer an advanced access point for hackers, since the password hardcoded in the device isnt the same as the password on its web app. And unfortunately, the task of changing the password hardcoded into the firmware is likely too ambitious for the average consumer.

What are the security risks involved?

Smart home devices "learn" by gathering and exchanging data to tailor their operations around the unique habits of the household. For instance, a smart thermostats data-gathering sensors can detect when people are home and learn the temperature settings of the homes occupants. The more integrated smart technology becomes, the more sensitive data they can accrue and use for optimal customization.

However, increased connectivity also means a single access point could easily provide cybercriminals a terminal to the homes central hub, where they can pirate other smart devices using the same Wi-Fi network. From there, hackers have access to all sensitive data, including when people are home, banking information, credit information, sensitive documents and more.

As opposed to a home break-in, which typically involve obvious signs of forced entry, these types of attacks are far more insidious and create a new form of anxiety for homeowners. A smart door lock could be furtively manipulated remotely, and connected home monitoring systems could be corrupted and used to spy on the homes inhabitants without their knowledge. The risks abound, and smart home security currently >

So what can users do to better protect their smart devices and themselves?

While its clearly not the be-all and end-all remedy, changing default settings should be your first order of business. Make sure passwords are updated at least once a year and never use names, addresses or birthdays; and while it should go without saying, passwords like "admin," "1234," and "password" should never, under any circumstances, be used.

On top of effective password management, though, consumers should implement an extra authentication protocol, such as a one-time pin youd receive by text to prevent unauthorized users from gaining access. Biometric authentications are another method gaining popularity, which >

Unlike your smartphone, most IoT devices dont automatically prompt you to run a software update. So about once a month, open your smart gadgets corresponding web app and check for firmware updates. Its even a good measure to check for updates that mightve been >

In the event of a security breach to your home, immediately update passwords, notify credit card companies and file a police report. Always avoid public Wi-Fi networks, and dont keep gadgets on the same network as your PC. By segmenting Wi-Fi connection, you can at least minimize hacking across different devices.

Although the onus is on smart-home-device manufacturers to escalate built-in security, users should nonetheless be as vigilant about their usage as they are with credit cards, computers, sensitive documents and locking the front door.

Arun Ganesan serves as Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Esurance, where hes responsible for data management, cyber security, business intelligence, infrastructure and operations.

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The Best Tips For Black Friday Shopping

By now all the Black Friday ads are out and the experts have had a chance to scour them and opine on where you should be spending your time and money. But have you taken the time to check them out, and how thoroughly?

While Black Friday is one of the more exciting days and becoming more like an entire week for some people, trying to make sense of where to go, what to buy, and when is the best time to be online or in a store is getting more complicated all the time.

The best way to get the best out of the day: Follow a few key tips intended to make your shopping more fruitful and more enjoyable.

Let someone else do the work for you

There is a slew of websites out there focused on nothing more that combing through all the ads, finding the best deals, aggregating them online, and providing constant update on any new offerings.

We love these sites, and if youre a savvy shopper, you do, too. Brads Deals is one of our favorite sites throughout the year, but they really come through this season, not just aggregating all the sales, but also providing insight on "the best Black Friday deals that are actually worth your time and hard-earned cash."

Their typical 25 best Black Friday deals swelled to 30 this year, because "we had so much trouble narrowing it down that we decided to expand the list," they said.

Around Town

Our favorites of their favorites include:

Their top deal of the season is this Toshiba 49-in. >

Best Buy

At No. 5 on their list of best Black Friday deals is the Apple iPhone 7 or 7 Plus at Walmart, Target, and Best Buy, which costs nothing with an installment contract and includes a 250 gift card. Brads Deals gives Walmart the edge here because you can schedule an appointment ahead of time.

Have someone in your life who wants a "real" camera? This Canon EOS Rebel T6 DSLR with WiFi, 18-55mm and 75-300mm lenses, and bag is No. 8 on their list, discounted to 449.99 from 749.99 at Kohls, and you get 135 in Kohls Cash to spend later on. This is also available online. This Keurig K250 Coffee Maker from Kohls is another great deal, on sale for 99.99 from 149.99, then lowered to 84.99 after their 15 off coupon, plus 15 in Kohls Cash, and available online.

Their No. 10 offer is Powerbeats Wi>

If you have kids or family/friends with kids, youve undoubtedly already heard of Hatchimals, their No. 13 deal for Black Friday. Its the super-hot toy this year, and has already been selling out everywhere. Not only is Walmart discounting them from 59.99 to 48.88 and offering them online, but they have also "promised to restock with plenty of inventory in time for Black Friday," said Brads Deals.


Finally, their No. 19 deal is a personal favorite of ours. Every year, Walmart offers plush sheets for a ridiculously low price and, if were honest, we have to add that, every year we try to get them, and every year - but one - were foiled. This year, itsHotel >

Start early

"Not only has Black Friday morphed into a whole month of deals and savings, but online retailers also regularly update prices throughout the event," said Consumer Reports. Very true. Check and check and re-check your favorite stores ads, or looks to sites like We love this site because, along the right side of the home page, they continuously update new deals by store.

Compare prices

Unless youre shopping with a spreadsheet that lays out every item youre interested in and its sales price, not to mention the time and place the items go on sale, it can be a little hard to keep track of everything. Comparison sites can help. If you find what you think is a great deal, visit,where you can enter the product to make sure its not offered for less elsewhere. There are also a growing number of apps, such as ShopSavvy, that allow you to price check by scanning a bar code into your phone from their app.


Download the apps

Speaking of appsMany of these retailers also have free apps that make finding a great deal easier. Walmart is already offering Black Friday deals on its app; store maps are also there Target has the same, making it easy to find where the deals are in the store.

Make a plan of attack

Chances are, youre finding lots of stuff you want, and its spread throughout numerous stores and outlets. That can make things tricky. Working together with a partner or several can help if you each take on a store and take care of purchasing each others items. If youre also planning to take advantage of online sales, you have to factor in the timing. iDigitalTimes list of start times is a good place to start.

Or, stick to one store

If youre planning to be out shopping on Thanksgiving and/or Black Friday and want to know which stores have the best overall deals, WalletHubcan help. The financial website did a widespread survey and "identified the stores offering the biggest discounts in various categories, including appliances, jewelry and toys," said NBC. At the top: Macys, "with the highest overall discount rate at 63.35 percent."

Like and follow your faves

Some of the best - and earliest - deals can be found on social media and in emails. If youre not connected with your favorite companies, or companies you think you might be buying from over the holidays, nows the time. You could be missing out on great sales or special discounts because youre not on Lowes email list; they just >


Take advantage of loyalty programs

Loyalty programs can make those >
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The Living Trust: Not For Everyone

Question. Everywhere I go, I hear about the advantages of putting my house into a living trust. However, I do not understand how this works, and would like to learn more about this concept.

Answer. Living trusts are often "cocktail party" conversation pieces, and certainly should be considered by any taxpayer who is in the process of retirement planning. However, you must not jump into this concept hastily, and should explore all of the pros and cons, as well as other alternatives before establishing a living trust.

When property is put in trust, this means that in most cases legal title to the property is held by a trustee or trustees who are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of that property for the ultimate beneficiary of the property. There are many kinds of trusts; the most common to which homeowners are familiar is a "deed of trust." This is the mortgage instrument, whereby the homeowner borrows money from a lender, and deeds the house in trust to a person or institution selected by the lender. If the borrower pays the money in full, the trustee >

A testamentary trust is established by an individuals Will, and comes into being on the death of that individual. Many people will consider placing their property in trust on their death if, for example, their children are young, and they want to make sure the children can continue to stay in the house under the supervision of a trustee and a guardian. In this example, often the trust will end when the children reach a certain age. Under such a testamentary trust, the terms of the trust must be spelled out to assure that the trustee fully understands his or her role.

As with every trust, the trustee has a fiduciary responsibility to the beneficiary, and cannot squander or steal the trust assets.

A living trust is created while the homeowner is alive. This is often called an "inter vivos" trust, which is Latin for "between the living." This must be a revocable trust, which means the individual creating the trust has the right to change its terms or cancel the trust enti>

The primary reason for establishing a living trust is to avoid probate proceedings. The person who creates the trust is called the "grantor." Under state laws, the trust -- and not the grantor -- owns the property. Title to the property is transferred from the grantor to the trustee, and as we have indicated, the trustee holds the property for the benefit of the beneficiaries who are named by the grantor.

Much bas been written about the problems and pitfalls of the probate process .There is no question that probate, in many states throughout this country, is a time-consuming, costly, and onerous process. Insofar as ownership of property in a revocable living trust is in the trust, when the grantor of the property dies, the property does not have to be probated, since it is no longer within that decedents estate.

Thus, this is a very significant reason for creating a living trust.

But there are other advantages to a living trust. For example, if the homeowner owns property in more than one state, on the death of that homeowner, probate proceedings must take place in each state where property is located. These are usually referred to as "ancillary proceedings." Clearly, if property is held in a living trust, it is outside of the estate of the decedent, and thus ancillary proceedings are not necessary.

Another advantage is privacy. Probate is a matter of public record, whereas living trusts are private. Some individuals may not want to disclose who their ultimate beneficiaries will be, and the living trust provides a modicum of privacy.

However, there are many pitfalls in the use of the living trust.

Although we have indicated that for ownership purposes, the trust -- and not the grantor -- is the legal title owner of the property, for tax purposes, the property in a trust remains the property of the grantor. Contrary to popular opinion, living trusts do not save estate taxes, and they do not save income taxes.

More importantly, there may be increased costs as a result of the creation of such a living trust. Legal fees, administrative costs of distributing assets, and the paperwork that the trust has to handle may be as much of a burden as having to go through the probate proceedings. It is important to understand that before the trust can be effective, you have to prepare a deed and convey the house to your new trust.

More importantly, even if the homeowner sets up a living trust, that individual must still have a Will. Most people own more than their house, and when there are children involved, and other assets, it is imperative to have a Will to make clear your intentions as to how your property will be disposed of on your death. With a Will, even if there is a cumbersome probate proceeding, at least your intentions have been made known; without a Will, the Judge will have to make an educated guess as to how you would have wanted your property to be distributed.

Living trusts are an option to be considered during for your retirement planning. However, you must do a complete asset check to determine how serious your estate will be impacted by the probate proceedings. For example, other assets may already be probate proof, such as life insurance proceeds, IRAs, or other retirement benefits.

Everyone must consult his or her tax and financial advisors before making any precipitous moves.

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How to Make a Small Space Feel Larger

Pages of glossy magazines are often filled with immense rooms and oversized spaces full of grandeur and twelve-foot ceilings. But the truth is that most of us live in houses, apartments or townhomes built on a much smaller scale. When faced with the size of some of these tiny rooms, its easy to get frustrated when youre trying to decorate.

But what if those rooms could feel even bigger? What if you could visually add space with a few small changes? What if there were tips and tricks and ideas to make a small room appear larger?

Good news There are.

If youre tired of feeling crowded in your home, all you need is a new direction. If you have a small space that you want to grow, here are a few ideas and a little inspiration to get you started.

1. Pick a Light Wall Color

You can visually change the size of a space with color. Darker colors are often used to make a room feel cozier and smaller. By contrast, lighter colors go a long way in helping to make the walls of a small space appear larger to the eye. Select light grays, whites, khakis and neutrals to help expand the visual impact of a room, like this small office space. Light floors, neutral walls and simple, >

Another space-expanding tip is to paint moldings the same or similar color as the walls. Contrasting molding can actually visually reduce the height of the ceilings in a room. By painting moldings to blend in with the existing walls, the room appears much larger. Here, the floor molding is painted white and the raised panel molding on the walls is painted to match the gray wall color, extending the expanse of the wall even further.

2. Keep Upholstered Furniture Neutral

Sometimes neutral walls can seem a little boring when designing a room. An accent wall might be the answer if you keep the larger pieces of furniture and accessories in more neutral hues.

To add depth to the space, draw the eye toward the accent wall by surrounding it with neutral furnishings. For example, the gray couch with white piping and the two adjoining accent chairs in a khaki linen help to balance out the pop of color on the accent wall. The pieces are in scale with the room and blend into the background, making the room appear bigger. In addition, the curtains, accessories and flooring are neutral as well, providing a visually large framework for this tiny living room.

3. Draw the Eye Upward

One of the simplest ways to make a room appear larger is to draw the eye upward. Giving the eye something to focus on in the upper part of the room creates the illusion that the space is actually bigger than it is. An easy trick is to paint a design on the ceiling, add a decorative medallion or install a beautiful light fixture.

A tone-on-tone painted wall treatment can also give the illusion of space in a room. A vertical pattern on the walls, such as harlequins or vertical leafy branches, helps to elongate a room. For example, in this small entryway, the painted gray and white stripes help to create the impression that the walls are actually taller than they are.

4. Dont Overlook the Flooring

Creating a focal point with rugs and decorative flooring also helps to open up a space. A floor with texture or a light color often creates the impression that the room is visually grounded. A small space can appear much larger with a simple design placed strategically on the floor.

Here, the floor tiles laid in a diamond pattern and the contrasting design of the decorative area rug help to establish a foundation to build the room upon. This small butlers pantry opens up with neutral walls and accessories, textured baskets, a decorative light fixture and the patterned color on the floor.

When planning smaller spaces, it is important to remember a few key points. Make sure to consider a neutral color when painting the walls. If you want to add a colorful accent wall, the rest of the larger furnishings and accessories in the space should be neutral. Keep it simple with patterns, textures and decorative flooring. Lastly, draw the eye upwards with a creative accent on the ceiling. Then, sit back and watch your room truly live large.

The award-winning decor website Thistlewood Farms is the online home of KariAnne Wood, who writes on decor and >
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HOA Target, Process amp; Objective

The lack of communication is often one of the biggest complaints that many boards receive. Yet, good communication is a fundamental imperative of every homeowner association. If the board is to succeed with its objectives, it needs cooperation from the members. So how is this cooperation best obtained?

The board needs to identify priority targets to aim for. Hitting each target requires a process to achieve a positive objective that will improve the HOA. Here are some examples of priorities:

A. Target: Long Range Planning. Reserve studies provide a multi-year projection of common element repairs and replacements like roofing, painting, fencing and decks. The components all have varying life cycles and costs. Some have long lives, like roofs, and others have shorter lives, like paint. The reserve identifies all of the common element components, predicts useful lives and current cost of repair or replacement. With this information, a schedule and funding forecast can be generated to assist the board in planning.

Process: Hire a professional reserve study consultant and follow the recommendations.

Objective: To maintain the property in best condition to maximize values.

B. Target: Stewardship. The board is entrusted with two things that mean a lot to HOA members: their money and their homes. Stewardship is a form of fiduciary responsibility. Good stewards handle the property of others with extreme care, making sure it is protected from forces that will do it harm or diminish its capacity. This requires careful handling of money and property.


1. Review and revise the HOA budget each year several months before the beginning of the new fiscal year.

2. Increase HOA fees a minimum of the inflation rate and more if expenses indicate.

3. Keep funds segregated according to whether they are for operating normal annual expenses or reserves cyclical repairs or replacements.

4. Get three qualified bids on large contracts and projects.

5. Perform regular preventive maintenance.

6. Focus on value, not price.

Objective: When it comes to money, the board should not penny pinch by keeping HOA fees the lowest around. Lack of money diminishes services that reduce HOA member property values. Spending money prudently will maintain highest property values and member satisfaction..

C. Target: Fostering Harmony. Its a dog eat dog world out there. It shouldnt be like that in the HOA.


1. Only enact rules that are necessary and eliminate those that arent.

2. Provide for an appeal process.

3. Offer a mediation alternative.

4. Promote social events that introduce neighbors to neighbors.

5. Promote charitable events that showcase the HOAs kinder side.

6. Promote team events like park cleanups

Objective: There is no "I" in TEAM. Find ways for HOA members to resolve conflict and promote friendships.

D. Target: Accountability. Hold members responsible.


1. Have a clear and enforceable collection policy.

2. Have reasonable and enforceable rules.

Objective: Encourage individual responsibility through clear guidelines.

Identifying your HOAs priority Targets, Processes and Objectives will help the board focus on whats most important. Go TPO

For more innovative HOA management strategies, subscribe to

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The Trump Presidency And How It Will Impact Your Money

Many people woke up today more excited than theyve been in a while. Others are among those who crashed the Canadian immigration site last night as election results started to clarify. Whether or not your candidate was the one accepting the U.S. Presidency in the middle of the night or the one holing up in her hotel wondering what on Earth just happened, you probably have the same question today: What does this mean for me?

And maybe you have a few dozen more questions, like: How are my retirement accounts? Should I move money around? Should I liquidate? Something else? What are my taxes going to look like now? And what about real estate? Where are home values going? Can we expect prices to hold or are we looking at another crash, and should I buy, sell, stay, rent, invest, or do nothing at all?

Theres so much to figure out. Lets dive in.

Tax Changes

Election rhetoric focused on Trumps tax protection for the mega-rich has been rampant, but its a little more complicated than that. "There has been much talk about the need for tax reform - a move to a more simple, fair, manageable system free of loopholes and special interests, Forbes. "There is nothing stopping the GOP from doing just that over the next four years."


In a nutshell, his plans include:

Lower and fewer tax rates, with a streamlining of the seven current tax brackets down to three "Goodbye Obamacare," said Forbes. The elimination of the estate tax, which would mean an end to the 40 taxation above 5.45 million after death "Huuuge business tax cuts" from 35 to 15, and an end to most business deductions Capping itemized deductions, which could mean that "certain low-income taxpayers take a hit," said Forbes. The rich get richer - "According to the Tax Policy Center, the totality of the Trump plan will reduce federal tax revenue by 6.2 trillion over the next ten years," said Forbes. "Of those tax cuts, nearly 47 will go to the richest 1. To put it into dollar terms, those earning less than 48,400 will experience an annual tax cut of less than 400, while those earning in excess of 700,000 will walk away with an average of an extra 215,000 per year."

The stock market

The countrys immediate response as a Trump win became more probable last night was to tank the Dow Jones, which dropped by some 750 points. The stock market opened calmly this morning and has started to regain some of last nights losses. But take a look at some of the more interesting stories:

Healthcare stocks are down but pharmaceutical stocks are soaring - a response to a projected "end to Obamacare and a less aggressive approach to drug pricing expected," said Fortune.

Shares in biotech companies are also sharply rising.

Shares in steel producers and defense firms are "are leading the rally," said The Guardian. "Thats because traders are anticipating a surge in infrastructure projects and military spending." "Shares in Smith amp; Wesson, the firearms maker, have tumbled by 10 today." A Clinton loss apparently means people dont need to stockpile guns.

Fagan Associates

Real estate

Before you start to think that an influx of Americans running for the northern border could impact Canadian real estate in a positive way, consider this:

"Historically, Americans have been the largest foreign buyer segment in the Canadian commercial and recreational market," Phil Soper, CEO of Royal LePage, told MoneySense. "Part of the reason is the >

As for how the results of the election impact the American real estate market, well, that remains to be seen. There are lots of opinions about how the Trump presidency could sway home prices and values nationally and in key areas.

One potential place of concern is Silicon Valley, not only because the area has been in bubblish territory for some time, but also because its so heavily driven by the tech economy. "The broad strokes with which Trump painted his economic policy dont bode well for venture capitalists or the broader tech community," said TechCrunch. "If Trump moves ahead with his plan to impose steep tariffs on goods manufactured in China essentially rolling back more than twenty years of economic policy focused on increased economic interdependence, it wont bode well for any American company that >

And that could have a negative trickle-down effect on the local real estate market, which is bolstered by employment at Apple, Google, Netflix, eBay, and the like. Introduce heavy taxes that hamper Silicon Valley growth or even day-to-day business, and then what happens?

Clifford Chance

South Florida could also be an issue. Just before the election, a couple of Latin American legal experts warned that a Trump presidency could make investors feel unwelcome in the region. "A victory by Trump would mean more restrictions and more scrutiny of money coming in," Akerman LLP partner Luis A. Perez told The Real Deal. "If he prevails, Latin Americans would see it as the U.S. rejecting investments and immigration originating from Latin America. That would have a profound impact in Miami."

The Fiscal Times reported months before the election that a Trump presidency could "stymie" the progress the real estate market has seen over the past several years and damper home values. "Home prices have increased almost a third since hitting bottom four years ago," they said. 100 experts were involved in a survey looking at the impact of different presidential candidates, and they gave Trump negative marks in the three real estate->

Expected Impact on Overall Economic Outlook.

But, it would surprise few if a man who made his fortune on real estate chooses not to protect those who are similarly inclined, investment-wise.

"Its hard to imagine a tax code more favorable to real estate developers than the one we already have. Donald Trump has come up with one," said the New York Times. "Thanks to some major loopholes in the existing tax code that treat real estate developers as a special privileged >

If that sounds like something you might want to take advantage of... someday, you can check out a few alternative ideas for "how to profit from Donald Trumps victory," now on MarketWatch Hint: Buy gold.

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8 Tips for a Pet-Approved Pad

Youve finally got your apartment designed just the way you love it. The focus is on your cool collections - or maybe your clean, streamlined minimalism - and youve already got plans to entertain. But youre worried that your much-loved Fido or Fluffy would rather chew, scratch or drool on your new sofa than admire it. Can you share an apartment with a pet and keep both of you happy? Yes, you can. Read on to find out how.

1. Find an Apartment with Pet Amenities

Finding a city apartment is tough enough. You might feel the deck is stacked against you when youve got a furry companion in tow, but some new condos and rental buildings have discovered that amenities like pet grooming stations, rooftop dog runs and even daycare services will actually entice pet owners. These features can make apartment living easier on your pet with very little effort on your part. Experienced real estate agents should be up-to-date on which buildings are pet-friendly. You can also add pet-friendly search terms to your online searches, and local ASPCA services can point you in the right direction.

2. Keep Upholstery in Mind

To make sure your expensive new couch doesnt look like shredded wheat in a week - or take a week to de-fur - choose upholstered pieces wisely. Avoid nappy fabrics like microsuede and velvet, as fur clings to them and sticks to the next person to sit down. Tightly-woven fabrics and non-fabric materials like leather are easier to keep clean.

3. Dont Compromise on Cool Design

When choosing pet beds, scratching posts and dishes, youre no longer limited to cheap-looking items in garish primary colors. Thousands of devoted design-loving folks have stepped into the void in recent years to create pet furniture thats just as chic as your own decor. A quick search on even the most mainstream shopping outlets like Amazon can yield perfectly coordinated accessories for your four-legged roommate.

Brilliant minds are also at work creating high-tech solutions to enhance life with your pet. Pet cams matched with apps come in all shapes, sizes and levels of interactivity. Some, like the Furbo camera/app pair, can even dispense treats remotely.

If youre lucky enough to be able to do any remodeling, built-ins are as much a boon for pets as people. From food and water stations in the kitchen and multi-level crash-pads to custom built-in litter boxes in bathrooms and basements, theyre a very cool way to seamlessly integrate your apartments design with your pets needs.

4. Pet-Proof Your Apartment

To maintain your perfect pad, youll want to pet-proof it to head off problems - or at least nip them in the bud when they do arise. Cats need to scratch to keep their claws sharp. A variety of scratching posts is necessary to keep them from shredding the furniture. Cats like to have options. Double-sided tape can work in a pinch to stop your cat from scratching a spot hes already discovered, and a water-soluble adhesive tape like Sticky Paws wont leave tape residue on your furniture.

To keep dogs from digging up your potted plants - or just being where youd rather they not be - a sprinkling of cayenne pepper will do the trick. Its a natural deterrent that wont hurt your pet or your plants. There are also nontoxic deterrent sprays you can buy, such as Grannicks Bitter Apple Spray.

5. Make Safety a Priority

As for those plants, be sure to do your research before bringing them into your home. Many popular houseplants are poisonous to dogs, including jade, aloe vera and rosemary. Lilies, carnations, daises and roses can be toxic to cats. However, there are just as many cool indoor plants that are totally pet-safe. Check the ASPCAs list before you unleash your green thumb.

To make sure your four-legged friends dont follow their curiosity into trouble, install locks on closet and sliding doors keep kitty from wriggling in where shes not welcome. Store toxic household products up high in a hard-to-access place, like on a shelf above the bathroom door, to keep them out of paws reach.

If you live on a high floor, your views might be great, but many pets arent wired to understand the concept of breathtaking vistas. High-rise syndrome is real; it means cats and smaller dogs dont realize its a long way down until its too late. Make sure there are screens completely protecting windows before you open them, and keep an eye on pets whenever the windows are open.

6. Know How to Deal with Odors

With pets come pet odors. As most owners know, sometimes you dont have to see Spot run or even hear him to know hes in residence. Though the odors might not be apparent to you, your guests will sniff them out quickly. Be disciplined about keeping your space clean and get some help from products meant to keep pet smells at bay.

A top-loaded litter box like the one made by ModKo will accommodate more litter so cats are encouraged to bury their waste, which cuts down on tracking and keeps odors out of the air. Lining your cat box with baking soda is another time-tested way to absorb odors. You can also sprinkle baking soda into rugs once a month or so. It will sink in and absorb odors and can be vacuumed right up for a new application.

Pee happens. Blot quickly and well, and dont rub. When you clean the area, avoid using products with ammonia, as its urine-like smell might encourage cats and dogs to return for a repeat performance. Use cleaning products with enzymes that will neutralize and dissolve uric acid - otherwise youll only mask the smell temporarily.

If youve got a dog that cant be taken outside during the day, indoor grass products like Fresh Patch Disposable Potty Grass can do the trick in an emergency. The clever patch of real, though disposable, grass absorbs urine and odors.

7. Dont Forget Exercise and Socialization

Dogs need to get outside and walk for more reason than one. Your sanity level, as well as your pups, will greatly benefit from multiple daily walks with you or a dog-walker or pet-sitter if youre crunched for time.

This may the root of the issue if your dog has a barking problem - and you can be sure your neighbors will thank you. Barking and destructive behavior can signal loneliness, boredom or separation anxiety, as well as a need for more exercise or stimulation. Doggy daycare can keep Fifi occupied and happy when youre not able to be on hand for playtime.

Dogs also need to socialize with other dogs. A local park or dog run can be a great place for both you and your pup to be social. Just make sure you follow a dog parks rules regarding size, registration and behavior. Sites like can help you scout out the parks and dog runs near you.

Exercise can also keep your pet from tearing back and forth across your beautiful hardwood floors a sure bet for annoying the neighbors, too. If your critters doing sprints, thick or high-pile rugs can block the noise well and withstand wear and tear.

8. Help Your Pet De-Stress

Cats often experience anxiety after a big move or change in surroundings including houseguests or the addition of another pet, for example. Cat owners swear by Feliway, a plug-in that stimulates your cats natural pheromones to help him cope with stress. If you have a stressed pet and nothing seems to help, Bach Flower Rescue Remedy for Pets is a naturally calming mix of vegetable and flower extracts that pet parents swear is a safe and effective shortcut to mellow.

Michelle is a New York-based contributing writer at CityRealty who has worked extensively with life>
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The 4 Things Home Buyers Really Want in Kitchen Cabinetry

A great kitchen design can dramatically increase your property value - if you want to attract prospective buyers, your kitchen is the perfect place to invest money. The trick is to get it to appeal to the majority of people by spending your money on what most of them really want.

Kitchen cabinetry can do much to attract the right buyers. There are four key factors to consider: quality, symmetry, color and layout. If you can get these key elements right with your cabinetry, youre bound to have a higher home value.

The 4 Things Most Buyers Want in a Kitchen

1. Quality

The number of cabinets you have is not as important as the quality of the cabinetry. The fewer cabinets you add to your kitchen renovation, the less expensive it will be. Choose quality over quantity.

Do: Choose quality hinges and runners, including soft-close drawers, and custom-made cabinetry.

Dont: Go for large fillers and ill-fitted modular cabinetry.

Photo by - More contemporary kitchen ideas

Keep the cost down by keeping the cabinet count down. Design the kitchen layout to keep it light, bright and with an open plan, without using tons of cabinets.

Note: Excessive internal organizers arent essential if you are planning on reselling your home. They are wonderful in adding value to your personal use of the kitchen but are not always a wise choice if you are renovating pu>

2. Symmetry

The eye is naturally drawn to appreciate symmetry and repetition. When youre renovating to sell, keep your kitchen cabinetry simple and appealing. Elegance has a way of being understated, and simplicity is key when you are trying to appeal to the majority of buyers.

Do: Keep the wall cabinetry sizes the same where possible. Drawers look nice when they are large and expansive - if you have multiple sets, keep them the same size, with the same proportion of drawers.

Photo by Archipelago Hawaii Luxury Home Designs - Browse tropical kitchen photos

Dont: Add multiple cabinets in varying sizes. Try to keep the look and feel consistent in the whole space.

3. Light, Bright Spaces

Many buyers here in Australia want an open, light and airy space. A kitchen that is white makes the space feel bigger. White is also a universally appealing color and leaves a blank slate so buyers can reenvision the space.

Photo by Amitzi Architects - More modern dining room ideas

Do: Keep the space open, bright and light with white cabinetry. If you want some contrast, go for a darker bench top. Backsplashes should be kept fairly neutral too - try to introduce texture instead of color into the backsplash. The more neutral and elegant the space is, the more potential buyers you will attract.

Dont: Use darker-color cabinetry, which can make the space feel closed. While adding a strong color may suit your taste, it may not be to everybodys liking. You want to attract as many potential buyers as possible, and while white may not be the most daring color for your cabinetry, its the most popular.

4. An Open Layout

Designing your kitchen to have a sensible and open layout is pivotal to increasing property value when youre renovating to sell. In Australia, the trend is moving toward open-plan living and multifunctional spaces.

Photo by Hobus Homes - Search contemporary kitchen design ideas

Do: Have a large open-plan space with a kitchen island if possible. Buyers often want to multitask in the kitchen. They want to cook, have their kids do their homework and socialize in it.

Dont: Place your kitchen in a small and poky room. The kitchen is now often the hub of the house, and buyers want to see a kitchen that is interactive and sociable.


  • Expert Tips on How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like a Pro
  • Replace Your Kitchen Cabinetry Today
  • Install Undercabinet Lighting

Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish online or from a mobile device. From decorating a small room to building a custom home and everything in between, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world.

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Thanksgiving 2016 Survival Guide: How To Get Through This Years Gathering With A Smile On Your Face

For many people across the country, Thanksgiving represents a time of togetherness when the entire brood can gather around the table and sink into some family love - and a vat of mashed potatoes. For others, its a terrifying time of strife and stress.

Well, get ready for the "normal" fabric of family dynamics to be stretched to its limits this year. In the aftermath of the most contentious U.S. election of our time, nerves are frayed, and two distinct and disagreeable and thats putting it mildly camps of voters could make sitting across the table from each other more challenging than usual.

So how can you get through it, and maybe even enjoy yourself? Heres your Thanksgiving 2016 Survival Guide.

Cocktails Any One?

Depending on your family dynamic, you may already be quite familiar with the whole drinking at Thanksgiving thing. But this year may call for more - and stronger - imbibing.

There are a lot of great, Traditional and some not so traditional Thanksgiving cocktails out there, like these from the The Food Network. If you think you can inspire a little humor in your family members, set up a blue and red bar and allow everyone to show their true colors. Or, go with Purple Drinks that mix the blue and red to show unity.


Make dinner a multicultural affair

What better way to make a statement about acceptance than by bringing in some new cultural dishes? "Thanksgiving dinner is conventionally associated with very specific foods. Turkey. Pumpkin pie. Stuffing. But thats not where every familys tradition begins and ends," said Mashable. "The U.S. is a melting pot. Its all about different cultures coming together with family traditions that blend the best of the old world with customs of the new.You might want to try them yourself this year. After all, the blending of American tradition and familial culture often starts with food."

A few of their suggestions: An eastern European Braised Red Cabbage with Bacon, Persian basmati rice stuffing, and Argentinian alfajores, a buttery dulce de leche-filled cookies that are perfect with that post-meal cup of coffee." Will it cure the ills of the world? No. But itll be tasty.

Huffington Post

Play a game

Thanksgiving Bingo is a fun way to get through a strained holiday, but cards from years past probably wont do this year. Generate your own Thanksgiving Bingo cards Great Aunt Linda starts talking about the woman down the street, and youre just waiting for her to drop the "N" word; Cousin Bill uses the words "whiny," "pansy," and/or "loser" when referring to Democrats, and pass them out to a few family members, or give them to friends who you know could really use some help at the dinner table next year. Keeping your ears open for the next winning phrase by making it a game could help soften the tension.


Maybe what your family needs this year is to not sit down to eat together at all, but, rather, to be of service. Volunteering at Thanksgiving can be rewarding for those who are on both the giving end and the receiving end. You can check VolunteerMatch to find a local spot in your area.

Be truly, since>

Its easy to get lost in the minutiae of sorrow or regret, especially when the big picture is also not one you can find much solace in. Whether youre feeling dread at what the next four years hold, or if youre feeling joy, or somewhere in between, taking a moment to get in touch with what youre grateful for can be powerful. Health, wealth, a good job, strong friendships, a loving family even if this year some are a tad less so, and a table full of food to enjoy offer plenty of reasons to be thankful, which, not coincidentally, is the name of the game on this holiday. If you need help getting in touch with your gratitude, check out these tips.

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Trend Alert: A Kitchen Island Thats Also A Breakfast Nook

Build a large island with room for bar seating or condense the island size to include a breakfast nook? If youre redoing your kitchen and are working with a somewhat limited amount of space, this might be one of the conundrums you face. But, a growing kitchen trend could solve that problem by combining both ideas into one chic solution.

What people love about this kitchen layout is how it does double duty as both an island and a breakfast nook, creating a useful and eye-catching focal point and encouraging togetherness. And, it allows you to be as creative as you want when designing the the look, even when you have tons of space to accommodate the most inspired dream kitchen.

This traditional kitchen gets a lift from a built-in banquette along the backside of the L-shaped island. No counter space is sacrificed here


The idea works just as well in a >

Modern Home Design and Dcor

Look how more a modest-sized island shines by accommodating a small seating area on the backside and hanging a sparkly chandelier overhead.


Who says everything has to line up perfectly? Angling the built-in gives this seating area added interest and perfectly accommodates the round table.


Building in an eating area next to the island is another creative way to design your kitchen.

Built-in seating can be a great answer to a cramped space. There may not have been enough room for a full-blown breakfast nook in this kitchen without utilizing the side of the island as the base of the banquette.

The English Room

The grandest kitchen becomes even more so with a custom banquette that offers miles of counters and seating for half the neighborhood. The look is sleek, unique, upscale, and comfortable - a hard combination to pull off in any kitchen.

Dina Holland Interiors

Heres another take on a hybrid island-banquette in a large kitchen. We love how there is bar seating on all sides, and how the two-tone colors and curved banquette add more intrigue in this beautiful space.

The English Room

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7 Easy And Cheap Tips For Creating A Cozy Fall Space

Does this time of year make you crave a roaring fire bedecked by gorgeous accessories, which you gaze at while sitting on your couch propped up by fuzzy pillows and wrapped up in a warm, soft blanket?

Us, too.

Theres just something about fall that makes you want to get all cozy, but achieving a chic space in fall and winter can get expensive. Unless you know where to look. Interior decorators and >

Bring in the layers

The biggest trick to creating a cozy fall space is laying fabrics and textures. A couple of new pillows mixed and matched with what you already have can be all it takes to transform your space.

The Sherpa Pillow 25.49, Marled Knit Pillow 21.24, and the Faux Fur Oblong Pillow 21.24 are all from Target.


Swap out your window coverings

The main issue with flimsy, sheer, or otherwise cold-weather-inappropriate window coverings is that they can allow that cold air to come in, making your house chilly and your heating system inefficient, and costing your money. The solution: "Use heavy fabrics or layered curtains over the windows to keep out drafts," said Apartment Therapy. "Or, purchase insulated curtains with built-in thermal backing."

Insulated curtains can be pricey, but this pair from Wayfair is only 40 and comes in 15 different colors.


Think centerpieces

Even if youre not hosting a big holiday meal this year, a festive centerpiece can make your home feel warm and inviting. You dont need to go spend a lot of money on something pre-made. Take an existing vase or large bowl and fill it with these glittery foam acorns, just 2.50 from Hobby Lobby. If youre not a fan of acorns, this birch wood filler from Target is another great option.

Hobby Lobby

Fill a crate

This weathered wooden crate is only 7.98 at Walmart. Fill it with gourds and place it on your front porch or position a fuzzy blanket inside and place on your fireplace hearth - now youve mastered inexpensive, fall-flavored dcor.


Quench your thirst

Theres nothing like a warm, fragrant drink in fall. This Slow Cooker Cranberry Apple Cider costs almost nothing to make, is super easy, and is a great solution if youre having guests over. Plus, itll make your house smell amazing.

The Recipe Rebel

Jazz up your mantel

You dont have to raid your favorite home dcor store to make your mantel sing this season, and you dont have to go super traditional with your choices either. "Pots of moss bring a touch of green indoors and work well with both autumn and winter holiday mantel arrangements," said Midwest Living. "We scattered pinecones around the pots for a fall feel. A clothesline along the mantel can hold leaves in early fall; as winter approaches, change out the look by adding mittens or snowflakes."

You can buy preserved moss in a craft store or online; this bag from World Market is 5.99. Terra cotta pots are under 1, and if you want them antiqued, you can DIY them in a few minutes.

Midwest Living

Grab a blanket

Chilly days and nights call for the ability to cuddle up. A ruddy throw will give your living room couch a fall lift and also help keep you and your guests comfortable when the temperatures drop.

This Eddie Bauer Edgewood Plaid Flannel Sherpa Throw from Overstock will look as great draped over your couch as it will keeping you warm, and its just 17.99. Plaids are always a good choice for fall, and theyre especially trendy this year.


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The Purchase You Cant Afford To Ignore

Real estate owners who stay in touch with their neighbors can be first in line when the neighbor of an abutting property wants to sell.

Abutting or adjoining properties are neighboring real estate with at least part of one boundary touching part of your property.

If you own a house, semi-detached, recreational property, or even a condominium unit and the owner of a property bordering on yours considers selling, you want to be among the first to know and to act on that knowledge.

There are strong advantages to owning abutting property as well as your current real estate:

Proximity to neighboring homes may limit what you can do on your property. In turn, an adjoining neighbors add-on or build-up may have negative impact on your home. Buy the property beside you and youll have renovation "elbow room" and can escape being over-shadowed by a neighbors expansion.

Buy the adjoining real estate and youll may be able to combine the properties into a large lot that which would enable you to build an even larger home or add more amenities or trees.

Rent out the second property and youll have income, deductible maintenance costs, a say in who lives there, and full benefit of that propertys appreciation in value.

Owning adjoining properties is equivalent to having a sound and privacy barrierbreathing spacebetween your real estate and that owned by others.

Townhomes and condominium units with common walls provide opportunities for expanding space without moving. Check out the legalities of such possibilities when you buy the first property or at least long before an abutting unit is on the market.

If you own a recreational property, buying an abutting property could improve your enjoyment by extending your waterfront or expanding your view. Youll definitely have control over more of the environment.

Larger properties provide opportunities for development to add multiple units or build up, all of which can increase property value.

Youve chosen to live in an area you believe in. With two properties youll at least double your investment return as local real estate values rise. Buy morewhether you hold separate title on each property or combine someand youll be investing in something you can live on or in and enjoy as it grows in value.

Heres how buying the house across the driveway worked out for one couple: Mike and Melissa Russell not their real name struggled financially to buy their first house: one of the more modest detached two-storeys on a tree-lined residential street in the best neighborhood they could afford. They put location ahead of decor and house size knowing location could not be changed, and decor and size were what renovation was all about.

Years passed and the house became too small for their growing family. Moving was out because they had so many friends in the area, had so many connections to the neighborhood, and their children loved their schools. Then, the elderly neighbor living directly behind their property died suddenly.

The Russells knew the house and decided to approach the estate to buy it. After appraisals to establish fair market value and discussions between their lawyer and that for the estate, the Russells were proud owners of a second house.

They quickly completed cosmetic improvements on the house and rented it to cover costs including taxes, maintenance, and a mortgage designed to be paid off as quickly as possible. The two backyards were combined. The Russells created a large vegetable garden, outdoor kitchen, and patio. Over the years, friends helped the Russells add a pool and a basketball court to maximize the double yard.

After a few years as landlords, they could afford to carry the second house themselves. With the help of friends, the Russells transformed the basement into a sports playroom for the children, added a separate smaller rental unit, and created an office for Melissas online business.

Their plans for the future include selling the second home to subsidize travel and modernizing the original house once Mike takes a pension from his job. Living in their original home will mean no downsizing required, renovation without a mortgage, and staying in the neighborhood the Russells have always loved.

Whether you buy the house across your mutual driveway or backyard fence, the end unit beside you in your townhouse row, or the condominium unit above yours, buying abutting real estate should always be considered as a serious option before the opportunity is lost.

Be sure you have done your "homework". You may only have a short headstart before everyone knows the property adjoining yours is for sale. Here are a few of the questions that help you prepare in advance:

  • The location was an excellent investment for your home, but does this neighborhood warrant further real estate investment?
  • Is staying in this location the best short and long term decision for you and your family?
  • How will you finance the purchase of the second property? Will rental rates cover mortgage payments and other expenses?
  • What municipal bylaws and other legal issues may undermine your projected use of the second property?
  • If you did not make this investment, how else would you put your money to work for your future?

Buying an abutting property is not always the right idea, however, it is always the right thing to consider very seriously when an opportunity to purchase presents itself. Be prepared by considering your options well in advance. You never know when a neighbor will knock on your door and ask

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Help First-Time Home Buyers Find A Way To Cover Closing Costs

Orlando -- Lets talk about first time home buyers and why they need you to help them find their home and how you can help them with closing costs. Without costing you a cent.

According to the 35th edition of National Association of Realtors 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, it looks to me like Realtors need to learn more about cash flow than financing. From the Profile:

First-time buyers who financed their home typically financed 96 percent of their home compared to repeat buyers at 84 percent.

For 61 percent of buyers, the source of the down payment came from their savings.

Forty percent of buyers saved for their downpayment for six months or less.

The most difficult step in the home buying process was saving for a downpayment, as cited by 13 percent of respondents.

Of buyers who said saving for a downpayment was difficult, 49 percent of buyers reported that student loans made saving for a downpayment difficult.

Forty percent cited credit card debt, and 34 percent cited car loans as also making saving for a downpayment difficult.

Buyers continue to see purchasing a home as a good financial investment. Eighty-two percent reported they view a home purchase as a good investment.

What no one knows is how many deals fell apart when they learned what the closing costs would be. This is known in the business as a rough spot. Where always is heard a discouraging word, especially when there is no cash for which to pay.

You will not hear what I am about to recommend coming from lenders or mortgage brokers. But it is in fact in play, especially in markets where production builders are active.

So what do you do with this prospect who has save 15000 for a five percent downpayment to purchase a 300,000 home. You qualify them for a mortgage payment. But then there is that matter of cash needed for closing costs. Surprise Surprise

Since no one likes surprises, especially when it comes to thousands of dollars needed that one does not have, there is an ever so intense desire to back away from the deal. Better known via text messages as "we decided to wait."

This leaves you with a bitter taste in your wallet and the wrong assumption that you should quit dealing with first time home shoppers because they are so hard to qualify."

Your homeshoppers continue to rent, facing rising ones at that, and you lost thousands in commission because you could not help them qualify for the downpayment and closing costs. Right?

Well, heres the tip of the week.

Stay with me on this, because we are talking fulfilling their dreams and filling your pocket with a big commission check.

Action item: Find a homebuilder in your market building home close to the home shoppers price point, who is offering a cash contribution to closing costs" as one of his incentives. It could be 1000 to 10,000 or more.

This is what the builder is going to contribute in cash to your home shoppers closing costs if they purchase a specific floor plan, inventory home, build on a certain lot, or a combination of these.

Expect a time limit on these offers. Its what builders do. And it works to every ones benefits.

They may be offering a decorating allowance, a lot waiver, or some other incentive. These will not help you.

Lets say your buyer needs another 5,000 to cover mortgage costs. Show them a new home where the builder is paying a contribution to closing costs, and let the builder pay it.

If this is such a good idea why would your mortgage lender not suggest you contact the builder in the first place? builder offers is offered through the builders preferred lender. This is a lender who the builder uses for all kinds of financing, not just mortgages. These builders need a lender who completely understands their business, who has read the legal documents, approved the community the builder is building in, etc.

Part of what the preferred lender wants in addition to the construction loan, is the "end loan, or the mortgage. Lenders who are not preferred simply cannot compete with the cash contribution to mortgage incentives provided by the preferred lender.

But the good news is you are now truly helping first time buyers who need all the help they can get. If you dont help who will?

You dont have to understand financing, but you better understand cash flow and how it slow it flows for many first time home buyers.

Your thoughts?

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What Is a Reserve Study In Your HOA?

The Reserve Study analyzes repair and replacement needs like roofing and painting that happen every year and provides a funding plan for accumulating money to perform this work when its needed. It is more a budgeting function than a construction or building analysis, although there is an element of that. The study is usually based on visual observations as opposed to forensic or destructive testing tearing walls and roofs apart to see whats underneath. The Reserve Study assumes that regular and adequate maintenance is being done to prevent premature repairs or replacements.

There are several parts to the Reserve Study process:

1. All HOA maintained building and grounds components are identified that have useful lives of 2 to 30 years, the recommended projection period for a Reserve Study.

2. The condition of each component is carefully evaluated and an estimated remaining useful life applied to each plus the useful life when the asset is new.

3. The repair or replacement cost of each component is estimated based on current bids or >

4. Since the recommended projection period is 30 years, the inflation rate and yield on invested funds at the time of the study need to be factored in to ensure the fund keeps pace with reality. Adding inflation will increase future year costs and interest yield on invested funds will reduce the amount of owner contributions.

How should the Reserve Study recommendations be funded? A Reserve Study with no funds is a car with no gas: Itll go no where. The Reserve Study should provide a Funding Plan which calls for regular and adequate contributions to pay for future repairs without the need of special assessments. For common wall communities, this is usually accomplished monthly. For HOAs with few assets, reserve contributions can be quarterly or annual. If each member contributes a portion monthly, all members that own along the 30 year time line will only contribute an amount attributable to their time of ownership and for the assets they personally benefitted from, no more and no less. This is the fair approach to reserve funding.

How should these reserve funds be accounted for? Reserve funds should be kept separate from operating funds. The board should only spend more out of reserves for items that are included in the component list.

How should the reserve funds be invested? Its conceivable that reserves could grow to many thousands, even millions, of dollars. Since the Reserve Study shows when reserve funds will be needed, funds can be placed in higher yielding long term investments. Every dollar earned in interest is a dollar less needed from the members. Increasing interest yield only one percent over 30 years often amounts to tens of thousands of dollars for the average HOA. If an HOA is large and accumulating hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in reserves, it makes sense to hire a professional investment advisor to manage the funds. Conservative investments like government securities or certificates of deposit CDs are recommended, however, there are other options that an advisor can recommend.

When should a Reserve Study be performed? All homeowner associations, regardless of size, should have a Reserve Study done, the sooner, the better. The study will compare what reserve funds you currently have versus what you should have. The concept is called the Percent Funded. Along the 30 year Reserve Study timeline, there is an ideal amount of money the HOA should set aside known as 100 Funded. The Percent Funded function shows how the HOA is doing >

How often should the Reserve Study be updated? Once the initial Reserve Study is completed and the funding plan is in place, yearly updates need to be performed. Even if no reserve projects are done, the rate of inflation and the yield on invested funds always change year to year. Even a 1 change in either of these factors causes a huge impact on the thirty year projection due to interest compounding.

What happens if reserves are under funded? It depends. If the HOA has inadequate reserve funds to begin with, the Funding Plan will provide a plan to catch up. How fast the HOA needs to catch up depends on how soon funds are needed. If there is an expensive and urgent repair like roofing, a special assessment may be needed to address it. If major repairs are some years off, the funding plan can usually accrue the money through regular assessments fees, dues. Or, using a combination of both special and regular assessments may be the way to go. Whatever course of action taken, the goal should be to reach "100 Funding".

What sorts of financial problems can homeowner associations encounter with inadequate reserve funds? Without adequate reserves, HOAs >

Can poorly managed reserve funds affect the sale of units? Absolutely. Smart buyers and lenders look closely at how reserve funds are handled. Lack of reserves is a red flag for inevitable special assessments and a sign of poor management. If given the choice between an well maintained HOA with healthy reserves and one with little or none, which would be the wiser investment?

Which types of repairs and replacements must be paid for by HOA funds? The governing documents define what are the associations responsibility. In common wall communities like condominiums, the association is usually responsible for items like roofing, landscaping, siding, painting, paving, sidewalks, pools, clubhouses, signage and fencing. But there are many more components. The average condominium has between 15 and 50 reserve components that should be considered. High rise co-ops and condos can have hundreds.

What kind of qualifications should a Reserve Study provider have? Besides years of experience doing reserve studies and a long list of satisfied HOA client references, a qualified Reserve Study provider should have industry credentials, good budgeting skills, extensive knowledge of construction and homeowner association operations and carry the Professional Reserve Analyst PRA credental the highest in the industry offered by Association of Professional Reserve Analysts.

How much does a Reserve Study cost? Costs to perform a Reserve Study vary based on the size of the HOA, the number of components and the time needed for field work and report compilation. The initial Reserve Study costs the most since it involves the time needed to gather the component data. The typical Reserve Study cost ranges from 2500 to 5000 for HOAs up to 100 units. Large communities with many reserve assets can expect to much more. If there are particular problems like dryrot, structural, soil or drainage, an independent engineering study should be incorporated with the Reserve Study. Recommended annual updates are much less costly since they involve only tweaking the initial study.

A properly funded Reserve Study is an invaluable tool for maintaining value and promoting harmony. When HOA member assets are properly maintained, members profit from higher market values of their homes. Since major maintenance is done consistently and uniformly, no one is getting a better deal then anyone else. The community is more livable and improved curb appeal engenders community pride. When the members like living there, they stay longer and are more willing to volunteer. Oh, one other amazing benefit: No More Special Assessments What more could you ask for?

Regenesis Reserves specializes in performing reserve studies in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. For a no obligation proposal, see . Email:. For more innovative HOA management strategies, subscribe to

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Home Insurance 101: The Fundamentals of Home Quality

Buying a home represents one of the biggest purchases that an individual can make in his or her lifetime. As such, the decision should not be taken lightly, and youll want to review many factors as you search for your dream residence.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported 501,000 homes were sold in the United States last year, up from 437,000 homes one year earlier. Furthermore, the U.S. economy continues to rebound from the Great Recession. This means the number of homebuyers may increase nationwide over the next few years, leading to increased competition among homebuyers.

Ultimately, an informed homebuyer is better equipped to make the right decision about a residence and whether this house will fulfill his or her personal needs. With the right information at his or her disposal, a homebuyer should have no trouble insuring his or her residence as well.

Home insurance likely is a requirement if you want to obtain a mortgage. However, there are numerous factors that may impact your ability to receive a favorable premium for your home insurance, along with your ability to insure your house altogether.

The key factors that may impact your home insurance premium and/or your ability to insure your house include:

1. A Homes Location

Location represents an important consideration as you explore the housing market and will affect your home insurance premium.

For example, home insurance premiums will vary for homeowners in Florida and California, respectively, due to the fact the climates in these states create different risks for homeowners.

Sperlings Best Places ranks several Florida regions among the most likely to be affected by a major hurricane in the near future. Comparatively, wildfires are problematic in California, and the State of California reported these incidents have impacted more than 150,000 acres of land in the Golden State thus far in 2016.

Home insurance safeguards your house, personal property and more. Therefore, if you live in a region that is susceptible to hurricanes, wildfires or other risks, you may be forced to pay a higher premium to insure your houseor you may need to conduct a broad search to find an insurer for your residence.

2. Construction of Your Home

How your home is built might affect your home insurance premium. In fact, if your house consists of older materials, you may need to update your residence so you can insure it.

In addition, many factors may impact the home insurance premium for an older residence, including:

  • Outdated Wiring -- Knob-and-tube wiring may be more exposed than wiring that is used in modern homes, creating additional fire dangers.
  • Galvanized Steel Pipes for Plumbing -- Older homes often feature galvanized steel pipes that could rust, which may lead to leaks and flooding.
  • Storm-Sensitive Roof -- An older roof will consist of older materials, which may make the roof more susceptible to hail, wind or other damage.

Take a close look at a residences construction before you make your purchase decision. By doing so, youll be able to determine whether home updates are needed, along with how the homes construction could affect your home insurance premium and/or your ability to insure the residence.

3. Home Replacement Costs

If you buy a home today, the value of your residence may change over the next month, year or decade.

The real estate market fluctuates constantly, and as such, what your home is worth now is likely to change soon. As a result, using the price that you paid for your house to determine the costs to replace your residence is insufficient.

Instead, youll need a professional home appraisal to determine what it would cost to replace your residence. After this appraisal is completed, youll be able to determine the proper home replacement costs and insure your house accordingly.

4. Flood Insurance

Believe it or not, a standard home insurance policy does not cover the damage associated with floods. On the other hand, youll need flood insurance to supplement your home insurance if your house is located in a flood zone.

Also, it is important to note that your home does not necessarily need to be located in a flood zone to suffer damage due to a flood.

Even a few inches of water can cause long-lasting mold problems and flood damage in a home. If you purchase flood insurance - even if youre outside of a flood zone - youll be protected if flooding occurs.

5. Potential Liability Hazards

Your home may have potential liability hazards that can raise your home insurance premium or make it difficult for you to insure your residence.

Some of the most common potential liability hazards include:

  • Animals -- If you own a large dog or other types of animals, youll need to account for each pet when you evaluate your home insurance options.
  • Swimming Pool -- A swimming pool is a must for many homebuyers, but a pool could impact your home insurance premium.
  • Trampoline -- Jumping on a trampoline offers a fun, exciting activity for kids and adults alike, but a trampoline may require you to pay more for your home insurance premium.

Consider your home insurance options as you search for the perfect residence, and you may be able to improve your chances of finding the ideal house in no time at all.

Ryan Hanley is the Vice President of Marketing at and the Managing Editor of Agency Nation. He is also a speaker, podcaster and author of the Amazon best-seller, Content Warfare. Ryan has over 10 years of insurance expertise and blogs frequently to help consumers understand complicated insurance topics.

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Elon Musk And Tesla Just Killed Your Last Objection To Solar

Not in love the the way solar panels look jutting out from your roof? Its a popular objection, and one that has helped keep people from fully embracing an eco-friendly approach to living. But there was a time when people were wary of electric cars for the same reason.

And then Elon Musk and Tesla came along.

Much in the same way that Musk turned the hippie idea of an electric car into a luxury must-have with Teslanot just overcoming objections but creating a frenzy among buyers willing to shell out close to 100,000 for a sleek automobile that also happens to plug instead of fill up - he now wants to have his way with your house. And if the reaction to his latest announcement is any indication, hes already in its pants.

Behold the solar roof. Not ugly old panels, but an entire roof of tempered glass tiles that look like regular shingles and come in four options: Textured Glass, Slate Glass, Tuscan Glass, and Smooth Glass. Tesla says the tiles are "tough as steel" and able to withstand a lifetime of bad weather conditions.

So just how convincingly do they pass for the "real" thing?

"On Friday evening as the sun descended over the old Hollywood set of Desperate Housewives, Elon Musk took to a stage and fired up his presentation about climate change," said Bloomberg. "It was a strange scene, with hundreds of people crowded into the middle of a subtly artificial suburban neighborhood. It wasnt until about a minute into the speech that Musk casually let the crowd in on Teslas big secret. The interesting thing is that the houses you see around you are all solar houses, Musk said. Did you notice?"

Nope. No one had. And thats the point.

Making solar mainstream

Without the clunky, ugly, imposing look and structure of traditional solar panels, whats to stop everyone from harnessing the power of the sun at home?

First, theres that little issue of the pending merger between Tesla and SolarCity. Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla, is also the chairman of SolarCity, the largest home solar-panel installer in the U.S. Musks plan is to merge the two companies - a merger thats "controversial because of profitability issues for both companies, and both are operating in markets where demand is uncertain," said Inc.

"Plug-in electric vehicles make up less than 1 percent of U.S. sales, and less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity generation comes from solar power, according to government data. But Musk has called the deal a no brainer. He says SolarCitys installation network and Teslas global stores could provide customers with a one-stop shop for sustainable energy and transportation."

In fact, Musk, on a conference call this week, reported a third-quarter profit of 22 million for Tesla, and said hes "confident SolarCity would be cash-neutral or even a cash contributor in the fourth quarter if the companies merge." MarketWatch also reported on a blog post in which SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive contended the deal will add 1 billion-plus in revenue in 2017 and more than 500 million in cash to Teslas balance sheet over the next 3 years."

Shareholders will vote on the merger on November 17, and if it goes Musks way, it could mean a complete overhaul of the way we get our energy down the line. "As a society, individually storing solar energy in batteries wouldnt make sense when solar panels have traditionally been used to produce electricity for the use of the grid," said INSIDER. "The concept is counterproductive to the grid system we commonly use today. Alternatively, the merger makes sense because Musk hopes to power homes in the day with his solar roofs and then charge Tesla cars at night, all using the Powerwall 2.0. Musks vision isnt to simply redesign one or two houses, he aims to transform every house and likely abandon the conventional power grid."

A view of the future

And he painted a pretty compelling picture on that Hollywood backlot, allowing the audience to step into "a future powered enti>

The upgraded Powerwall 2, the new version of Teslas home battery for electricity storage with double the capacity as its predecessor at a lower price - 5,500 - is a key component, and its set to start delivering in January. The solar shingles are expected to start rolling out in the second half of 2017 with the expectation of capturing five percent of the market, according to Peter Rive, SolarCitys co-founder and chief technology officer. Surface-mounted solar panels manufactured and sold by SolarCity will also be available for homeowners who want the technology without a complete roof replacement.

As for pricingthat remains to be seen. But if consumers react to the new, shiny thing the same way they did when the first Teslas starting rolling out, that may not matter.

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Buy in Baja: Finding Your Dream Vacation Home

The friendly, inviting culture. The year-round warm weather and water. The expansive, awe-inspiring landscape. In every way, the Baja Peninsula in Mexico embodies the idea of vacation better than almost anywhere else and it is su>

There are a few necessary things to consider before purchasing a property in Mexico. First, is this vacation home exclusive for use by you and your family or are you planning on renting it out to tourists? Second, are you wanting the square footage to accommodate large family and friend gatherings or do you want a space sized just right for two?

When you know the answer to those two questions, you are ready to dig deeper into the options that are most important to you and that will provide the sense of >

Love the Location

Every location in Baja his its charm, but most people enjoy being beachside. If thats your dream, Chileno Bay is the premier beach of Los Cabos. With the cleanest sand, the calmest water, and the most amenities, its the perfect spot for swimming and snorkeling. Youll never forget you are on vacation when you can see the sun set over the azure blue sea or step out your door and stick your toes right in the sand.

Other location considerations can revolve around the proximity of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, the emerald green golf course, or stunning desert hiking opportunities. No matter what youre looking for, youll find a wide variety of Los Cabos luxury villas to choose from.

Aim for Amenities

You want to >

  • Swimming pool. Some properties even have a private hot tub overlooking the ocean.
  • On-Site Dining Options
  • Golf Course, Tennis Court, and Athletic Field Access
  • Housekeeping/Concierge Services
  • Fitness Center and Water Sports Rentals
  • Salon and Spa
  • Kid and Teenager Clubs

Investigate the Utilities

When choosing a property, it is important to do a little investigation and make sure the utility situation is up to your standards. Is the water treated to ensure it is clean and readily available? Is there cool central air conditioning for those steamy nights? Is the electricity >

These are all things to consider beforehand so you will be as comfortable as possible.

Learn the Law

Whether you are looking for part-time or full-time Mexican living, here are some legalities to consider when purchasing a single-family dwelling.

Immigration Papers: If you will be living in Mexico for more than six months, you must apply for Residente Temporal which grants you non-immigrant status and must be renewed regularly. After four years, you are eligible to apply for Residente Permanente which allows you to stay in Mexico without having to renew your visa.

Restricted Zone: The law in Mexico states that foreigners cannot purchase land located within 30 miles 50 km of any coastline or within 60 miles 100 km of any of the countrys borders. However, recent changes in the law now permit foreign owners to purchase an Individual Land Trust. Property Rights include exclusive personal rights to use, rent, modify, renew, and transfer your rights at any time.

Financing: Mexico offers financing options through its lending institutions and banks. U.S. lending institutions are becoming more widely available.

Required Documents: Buying real estate in Mexico is similar to buying a property in the U.S. The required documentation includes a certificate indicating a title free and clear of any liens, statements from the local Mexican municipality outlining property assessments, water bills, tax information, and a property appraisal.

Title Insurance Registro Publico de la Propiedad: Highly recommended, purchasing insurance in Mexico costs little in comparison to the protection and service you will receive.

Legal Assistance: Hiring a Mexico-based attorney Notario will be one of the most important things to do when you start the process of purchasing property. An attorney will review conditions, do a title search, find areas of possible concern, and write contracts.

Now that you have considered all the possibilities and requirements, its time for the fun part of house hunting Fly to Mexico and explore a variety of amazing luxury homes to find one that suits you and your family now and for many years to come.

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Up Your Present Game With Great Gifts That Give Back

Deciding on the right gifts for loved-ones is even more challenging than perfecting a lump-free gravy at the holidays. You could stick with the same-old ties and massages and gift cards, or you could do something a little different, and a little more meaningful, this time around. This year, give a gift that gives back, and make it rewarding for everyone.

A gift that gives back is one that helps a charity, a worthy cause, or otherwise benefits the less fortunate, to "satisfy your pickiest >

Here is a roundup of our favorite grateful gifts this year:

These fun tea towels from West Elm "feature illustrations of Barkley Sir Charles, Brimley the Cat, and others," said Architectural Digest. They cost 10 each, and "For each towel sold, the company will donate 1 to the ASPCA."

West Elm

We love being able to give jewelry to members of our family. These 24 Dusk Earrings from Purpose Jewelry are not only beautiful with their teardrop shape and hand-tooled crystal beading, but they were also crafted by women in India, with 100 of the proceeds going to benefit International Sanctuary, "a nonprofit that provides holistic care for young women rescued from sex trafficking," said The Good Trade.

Purpose Jewelry

BIRD STONE makes and sells beautiful jewelry for men and women and children that helps women fight poverty around the world. We love this GIRL UP BRACELET; for every purchase of the 25 bracelet, Bird Stone gives 3 to "help girls around the world access education and become leaders in their communities."


If your favorite gift to give is a candle, youll love The Starling Project, a new line of home candles that "provides under-resourced countries with solar energy," said Travel and Leisure. "Thats a pretty big deal, considering nearly 1.3 billion people dont have access to electricity." This Orange Flower and Amber Candle is 55.

The Starling Project

Preparing your holiday meal is serious business, but you can still make the process fun with these No Kid Hungry Chef Series Silicone Spatulas from Williams-Sonoma. Choose from a bunch of 13 celebrity-designed spatulas including Chef Ina Garten, Chrissy Teigen, and Jimmy Kimmel, with purchases helping to end child hunger through non-profit No Kid Hungry.


You can feel great about purchasing a beautiful gift like this 58 Artisan Root vase from eco-conscious company Bambeco, knowing that they have "partnered with American Forests to plant one tree for every gift sold this season," said Architectural Digest.

Architectural Digest

Useful, thoughtful, and charitablethats the best kind of gift. These Mexican Hand-Blown Beer Glasses from UNICEF Market are perfect for craft beer aficionados, and when you buy them, youll help vaccinate as many as 97 children against polio. The cost: 77.99 for a set of six.


Thinking about getting clothing for some of the people in your life and want to browse through some charitable options? Sevenly is a website that "partners with a different non-profit organization each week, creating and selling art and other limited edition products to raise funds and awareness for several causes," said Inc. "Sevenly also features products that give to charities such as Autism Speaks and the U.N. Foundation."


Body care gifts are always a favorite, and LUSHs handmade cosmetics make going this route even more inspired. Their Charity Pot Body Lotion "has a delicately floral perfume of ylang ylang and rosewood oils in a hydrating cocoa butter base," they said, with "seven ingredients sourced from our sustainable SLush Fund projects around the world." The best part: 100 of the purchase price minus the taxes is donated to small, grassroots organizations working in the areas of environmental conservation, animal welfare and human rights."


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Updated: Monday, December 05, 2016

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