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Updated: Saturday, October 01, 2016

Explore New Markets At a Global Forum

A recent global forum serves as an example of the importance of gaining perspective when considering business expansion into new markets.

In this column, "Decisions amp; Communities," I am asked to shine the real estate spotlight on economic, business, communication, and other >

Which context do you use to clarify your local potential and that of your business or practice, as well as its expansion opportunities?

Which process and >

When considering a new market or reviewing your current status with a target demographic, youre often too emotionally and professionally involved to be objective and inspired. And usually too busy serving clients to have time to develop the new perspective necessary for fresh thinking.

One quick and usually inspiring way to step outside "the box" you work in to gain room to think is to attend a conferenceideally by yourself.

PJs TIP: Step outside your industry and attend a forward-thinking forum that would attract your preferred or target client market.

Sometimes the best way to gain local insight is to think global. The issues in your microcosm are usually the same or similar, but the larger global scale can bring clarity to local issues. For instance, I recently attended a Global Forum entitled "Leading in Uncertain Times, which covered a wide range of globalization topics from disruptive technology and social entrepreneurship to the Fintech revolution and emerging markets. Exposed to expert discussions on subjects that challenge communities everywhere, I ended up with a variety of fresh perspectives on your businesses and practices.

The 10th annual Toronto Global Forum was designed to foster discussion on North American and global issues by bringing together heads of state, central bank governors, government ministers, academia, global economic decision makers, forward-thinking entrepreneurs, and 2600 delegates from more than 40 countries. Formal meetings and plenary sessions, coupled with more casual conversations and pointed discussions provided excellent context for forward-thinking.

This Forum is one of three annual global summits created by the International Economic Forum of the Americas IEFA to "promote the role of the Americas in major decisions and reforms >

The 130 speakers, leading specialists from a variety of professions and countries, stimulated imaginations and challenged norms. Their business insights had the potential to trigger fresh thinking when applied to the context each delegate was considering. You may be surprised at the ideas that pop into your mind when youre free from daily-work pressure and surrounded by others intent on capturing opportunity.

Here are a few highlights that may start you thinking about how to connect with the markets you want to serve. Your clients will be dealing with issues like these in their businesses and careers even if you dont feel you are:

"Riding the Wave of Disruptive Technologies"

In this panel discussion, panelist Adam Khan, Founder and CEO of Illinois-based Akhan Semiconductors and co-inventor of the Miraj Diamond Platform, explained that diamond semiconductor technology provides "new pathways of flexibility" that may facilitate breakthroughs in consumer electronics, wearable applications, and in many other fields. Diamonds offer an alternative to silicon that may provide greater cost-saving and improve returns while using less energy and resources. What changing or emerging technology could facilitate your adventure into new markets? Which disruptive influences will targets face?

"Social Entrepreneurship in the Mainstream"

Debra Schwartz, Managing Director, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation participated in a lively panel discussion of how real estate investment has developed a new and growing niche tied to social enterprise. Schwartz and other panelists shared many financial variations on funding for housing and community projects. The discussion highlighted two strong emerging economic trends:

  • "Nonprofit" now requires sophisticated financial thinking. Funding is less tied to donations and more directed to complex, customized, creative financial and investment solutions that support new initiatives and existing programs and communities. More about this in the following months.
  • "Nonprofit," "profit," and "risk" are three of many dated economic terms and concepts that need a twenty-first Century overhaul to facilitate widespread assimilation and truly-innovative thinking essential to building and sustaining strong communities. Out-dated thinking is often the main barrier to local improvement. When communication accurately explains actual opportunity and intent, instead of paying lip service to old-fashioned concepts, local initiates will benefit. [number list ends]

    Where does dated thinking get in the way of goal achievement for members of the markets youd like to target?

  • "Managing Risk in a Volatile World"

    Share in this significant highlight: Ian Bremmer, President and Founder of Eurasia Group and TIME Magazine Editor-at-Large informally in front of the entire Forum interviewed Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. What does this high-level interaction reveal about what youd like to communicate to emphasize how you serve clients and help them achieve goals?

    "Harnessing the Potential of Emerging Middle->

    Emerging markets continue expanding, with projected global growth of an additional 3 billion by 2030. Harvard-educated Tunde Kehinde, co-founder of Africa Courier Express ACE, a widely-acclaimed Nigerian online logistics startup, modeled after Amazon, stressed that Africa is the next big business frontier represented by more than a billion young consumers jumping online. Kehinde explained that since the internet enables wide-spread access to expanding middle->


    For more on global entrepreneurship and an interview with Adam Kahn, visit PJs blog:

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    Automating HOA Collections

    One of the biggest expenses and hassles for a homeowner association is collecting the regular homeowner fee. Every month, checks, money orders and cash are processed, tallied, bank deposits made and books posted. Then, letters are sent to those that havent paid for one reason or another. Followup phone calls are made, sometimes two or three to the same person before connecting. All of this takes time and money. Meanwhile, the HOAs finances suffer since there is no government bail out to fill the coffers. Isnt there a better way? Absolutely.

    Many folks already take advantage of automated bill paying for mortgage, auto, utilities and a myriad of other regular payments. Automated payments ensure that bills are made on time and in full. Vendors know it works and welcome those that take advantage of it. Heres one of the most important factors: Folks set up for automatic payments ra>

    So how does your HOA take advantage of this boon? First, set up the system with your bank or find a bank or financial service that has the capability. An alternative is available from Vanco Services at which provides an internet based option. Then, offer a financial incentive to all members that use the automated payment system. Your budget may need to adjusted somewhat to pay the fees but eliminating most of the collection problems more than offsets the cost.

    The HOA can also make automatic payment mandatory as part of the Collection Policy. There is nothing sacred about check payments. If its in the HOAs best interest to go paperless and it is, the board should formalize it as policy. Then, every member should receive the information, forms, etc. required to get set up for the plan. A transition time of 30-60 days is more than enough time.

    This collection strategy is simply too good to pass up. It gets to the root of the HOAs greatest need: money to pay the bills. By eliminating most collection problems, the HOA will come closer to the ideal than previously thought possible. Automate and enjoy some of that carefree living the developer marketed.

    For more innovative HOA management strategies, subscribe to Thanks to Tom Fisk of Rochester MN for his contribution.

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    7 Simple amp; Smart Basement Repairs to Consider

    No space in your home is more accommodating and homey, or conversely scary, than your basement. A nicely finished basement can be the entertainment centerpiece of your entire home, housing your big-screen TV, the most comfortable couches in the place and a warm, inviting atmosphere that wraps each guest in comfort.

    But, if your basement is unfinished or has other lingering issues, it can be a downright scary place to spend any amount of time. Here are a few simple tips to help you fix your basement:

    1 Gutter Extensions

    Believe it or not, one of the easiest and smartest things you can do to fix your basement takes place outside. By adding extensions to your gutters downspouts, you can avoid a lot of the issues that commonly plague basements, from foundation issues to leaking walls, mold and mildew buildup. Gutter extensions carry water away from the foundation of your house, helping to prevent seepage and long-term damage from soil erosion. Average gutter extensions cost no more than 10 per foot.

    2 Outer Foundation Work

    There are two big steps you can take on the outside of your home that will protect your basement and improve your foundation. Your home ideally sits on a crown of soil that slopes six inches over the first 10 feet in all directions away from your foundation. If the soil around your foundation has settled, build it back up with a shovel and some dirt to ensure water does not build up against the foundation wall.

    Second, reshape your landscape by creating a berm beyond the eaves of your home. This will prevent rot, termites and water from getting too close to your foundation. The minimum suggested distance for a dirt berm is six inches away from your homes foundation. You can complete both of these steps in a weekend and help prevent water from pooling against your foundation and leaking into your basement.

    3 Plug Visible Gaps

    A number of pipes and vents have to exit the basement of your home through the foundation walls. Examples include the water pipes leading to outdoor faucets, bathroom fan vents and dryer vents. The holes drilled into the foundation to allow for pipes and vents to escape can lead to water issues in your basement through seepage and general rain intrusion. You can easily seal these cracks and holes yourself by using hydraulic cement or polyurethane caulk, both of which retail for about 20.

    4 Repair Leaky Pipes

    Insulate any pipes collecting condensation. Insulation will prevent the buildup of condensation on the outside of pipes carrying hot water in the winter months and cold water in the summer months.

    Always call a plumber to tackle larger jobs like major leaks or cracks. Many times these pipes run to other parts of your home and require a professional to properly address the problem.

    5 Insulate Your Walls

    You can also prevent foundation damage by insulating your walls. As the environment inside your home heats and cools, condensation can build up on exposed foundation walls.

    As the condensation builds over time, cold water can expand and crack your foundation, while warm water in the summer can lead to mold and mildew. Insulating your walls establishes a barrier between the internal environment of your home and the temperature outside.

    6 Install Drywall

    If you want to improve your basement further, consider installing drywall over the insulation. This can help to dampen the temperature swings in your basement, holding in cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter.

    7 Window Repairs and Replacement

    Basement windows are another source of leaks in your basement. Replace your old, faulty weather stripping or apply a polyurethane caulk around the edges to insulate your window frames. For windows that are outdated, upgrading to energy efficient windows will drastically improve the conditions in your basement and prevent seepage of both air and water.


    There are many smart, simple ways to fix up your basement in order to create a safe, enjoyable space for friends and family.

    Andrea Davis is the editor for HomeAdvisor, which helps homeowners find home improvement professionals in their area at no charge to ensure the best service in the shortest amount of time.

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    New Condo Board: Transition Is Important

    Question: I have just been elected President of our new condominium. Our new board of directors have just taken over from the developer, but frankly we are at a loss at to where and how to go. Any suggestions? Harry,

    Answer:Harry, my condolences. Being a board member is not fun; the hours are long, the pay is zero and no-one ever thanks you for your hard work. They do, however, complain a lot.

    What many condo owners -- especially first time home-buyers -- do not understand is that many associations are big businesses, with budgets in the millions of dollars. Unless owners get involved, learn the process, and hire competent professionals, the association may be headed for disaster -- financially as well as emotionally.

    A condominium comes into existence when the condo documents are recorded among the land records in the county or city where the property is located. The developer selects the first board of directors, which manages the association until turnover of control is accomplished. In general, the laws in the surrounding jurisdictions require that control be turned over to the owners within so many years after the first sale, or when a certain percent of the homes have been sold, whichever comes first. The turnover requirement is spelled out in your associations governing documents.

    Transition between developer and owner control is perhaps the most important aspect of any community association. If done properly, the association will be off to a good start; if done poorly, it may take a long time to get back on track. And some associations never succeed.

    Once the owners are in control, there are four mandatory steps that must be taken by the new Board:

    1. Select a management company: The new board must decide whether to retain the existing management company -- which had been selected by, and may be too loyal to, the developer -- or select a totally independent management company. The association may decide to forego hiring such a company and become "self-managed", but I personally do not recommend this, even for a small association. If the board gets involved in everything from collecting condo fees to arranging to shovel snow and cut the grass, burn-out will take place quickly, The boards role is to make sure that management is doings its job and reporting monthly to the board.

    2. Audit the books: An independent auditor or a certified public accountant must examine the associations books. It is important for members of the new board to satisfy themselves and the owners they represent that during the time the developer was in control, all moneys collected and all expenses paid have been properly accounted for. Keep in mind that while the developer is in control of the association, the developer also has access to the association funds. You want to make sure that funds which should have been paid by the developer are not inadvertently or purposely paid out of association proceeds.

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    New Regulations Make Drones a Home Seller and REALTORs Best Friend

    Look, up in the sky. Its a bird. Its a plane. Nope, its a drone, and its coming to sell your house.

    "Your local real-estate agent might have a new trick up their sleeve very soon: Using drones for aerial photography of sprawling properties," said Fast Company.

    New regulations just >

    The growing popularity of these unmanned aircraft influenced the new rules - drones for commercial use were deemed illegal in 2014. The new regulations will help pave the way for drone photography to become standard practice for real estate listings, which would be a win-win for agents and clients thanks to the adoption of new technology and greater exposure.

    "Drones already are part of our world," Pasadena, CA agent Steve Clark told the Register. "If youre not hiring a drone operator that is top notch, then youre losing and more importantly, your client is losing."


    Key to what drones can deliver is a view of the surroundings - good for properties with large parcels of land where the homes placement is important, but also for any house where emphasizing the yard, street, neighborhood, or proximity to area amenities could help illustrate its value.

    "There are aerial videos and still photos that you cant get any other way, said Clark. "Unlike conventional photography, drones can help home hunters see the homes surroundings. Theres a way to tell the story, and I think the drones have captured that."

    And its not just in California, either.

    Knoxville, TN-based The Voigt Group found that drone photography helped differentiate them in the market and boost interest in their properties for sale.

    "These cameras allow us to capture images not often seen in our market," said Business Manager Robert Voigt in the Knoxville News Sentinel. "Larger markets like Los Angeles and New York see brokers using this technology pretty often. We wanted to offer it here."

    Free Skies

    The aerial photography taken from the drone "offers a unique perspective of the properties that Voigt markets," said the News Sentinel, and helps to create widespread interest, especially when promoted on social media. The Voigts Facebook showcasing aerial photography of a West Knoxville listing "reached about 8,337 people, with 1,367 clicks," said Brittany Voigt. "I had a ton of people ask me about the property."

    Central Indiana agent Jimmy Dulin told 24-Hour News 8 that the amount of information buyers can get from drone photography - "how neighbors take care of their properties, how close the home is to a road and if theres a church or school nearby," said News 8 - is critical to the decision process. "All that collaborative information - its become an essential piece," he said.

    Dulin also said that "drone photography is now the standard for large, expensive homes," but he expects it to eventually "become expected for homes of all sizes and price points."

    Thats in line with industry expectations. The FAA has predicted that real estate will comprise 22 percent of drone use by the year 2020, and not just from real estate agent use. Greg B. Mays, owner and operator of Flying Fish Aerial Photography, LLC, a licensed drone operator since 2015 and a REALTOR Appraiser for over 25 years, points to drones as the real estate appraiser s "next great tool" on the National Association of Realtors NAR blog.

    "This booming and exciting new technology is making its debut in many different fields of commerce and real estate is no exception," he said. "An interesting question arises from all of this. Should real estate appraisers consider using this technology when appraising real estate? The simple answer is, absolutely."

    Drone use for appraisers could reveal: "pictures of a new roof system installed on an older improvement; large acreage tracts that the client wanted in order to know more about forestation and topography; proximity to surrounding properties or features such as rivers, lakes, commercial buildings, and power lines -- just to name a few," he said.

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    Fitting Every Design in One: Creating an Eclectic Interior Design for Your Home

    Designing an eclectic home is both challenging and rewarding. Throwing together unlike pieces requires an artistic knowledge of design. Although the design process can be confusing and stressful, these tips will give you the power to put together creative and coherent rooms. By using white space, experimenting, and focusing on color harmonies, its possible to create a noteworthy and wonderful home that shows off your eclectic taste.

    Consider Minimal Walls

    Sometimes, the best way to make a room shine is through the use of white space. By leaving walls open and bare, its possible to devise a room that shows off your more eclectic furniture pieces. Minimalism and eclectic >


    Dont get discouraged if your initial conglomeration of eclectic furniture seems to clash. Its normal, and the only way to make a winning design is by taking things one step at a time. Experiment, try out different pieces, and see what works best. In fact, some of the most powerful and innovative design choices come from experimentation and combining unlike things. For example, Z-AXIS DESIGN created an apartment by throwing together both Parisian and Taiwanese design elements for a wide-ranging mix of furniture that ultimately looks unique and >

    Take Things Step By Step

    The easiest way to go from a chaotic mess to a room that shines is to ask yourself the following question: "What one thing can I change that will improve this room?" By focusing on individual design choices, everything seems more manageable and less overwhelming. Is your lamp clashing with the tabletop? Add accessories or alterations to artfully combine the two. Does your room seem like its lacking something special? Maybe you need a bold, solid rug to tie everything together. With incremental decisions, interior design becomes more of an experimental process and less of an exasperating ordeal.

    Using Color to Your Advantage

    Color is the great unifier of design. When it comes to your room, you can easily match eclectic pieces by paying attention to color harmonies. One of the most important things to remember is not to overdo the color. While a few bright pieces look great, saving saturated colors for smaller accents is a wise design choice.

    Modern hardware or furniture can look great when you combine pieces of more sophisticated browns, greys and neutrals with colors that stand out. Robins egg blue paired with sunset orange will look >

    Create an Art Wall

    One of the best ways to showcase your eccentric taste is through an art wall. By combining mismatched frames of different materials and colors, you can combine art of all >

    These items can define the tone of your room and turn it into a stylish success. By using white space, paying attention to color, and experimenting with design choices, your entire home is bound to look eclectically wonderful.

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    Lawn Care For The Fall: Essential Tips to Follow

    All summer youve been watering, cutting, trimming and feeding your yard in the hopes of having the greenest plot of land in the neighborhood. So what should you do to get your lawn in shape for the cool breezes of autumn? These six steps will help you get a head start on the colder weather.

    Aeration and Overseeding

    If you live in a climate with cool-season grass, fall is the perfect time to aerate your lawn because the air is cool and the soil is still warm from the heat of summer. The earlier you can do this, the better the results will be for your yard. Depending on where you live, September or early October is the best time to tackle this project. Youll pay around 120 for lawn aeration.

    Aeration removes small plugs of soil from your lawn, allowing greater amounts of air, nutrients and water to reach the root system of your grass. It also reduces soil compaction in the process. Following aeration, you might want to overseed your yard. Overseeding makes it easier for seeds to germinate while the soil is loose.

    Feed Your Yard

    Fall is the prime season of the year to fertilize cool-season grasses. Unlike warm-season grasses, which often go dormant in the fall and winter, cool-season grasses can actually hit their peak growth rates during the fall. This means they need a full dosage of nitrogen to help boost the health of the soil and your grass. Most importantly, this will help prevent the growth of weeds, which choke out the grass over time.

    Cut Down on Mowing

    Throughout the summer, youve gotten into the habit of mowing weekly. But if you have cool-season grass, its time to start cutting back on the number of mowing events each month. Generally speaking, every other week should be your maximum. If you have too much leaf coverage on your yard, you can mulch those up, but remember to leave your cutting deck high so you arent cutting off too much of your grass in the process.

    The professional recommendation is not to cut off more than one-third of the total blade of grass each time you mow. Doing so can result in scalping the lawn, which stunts the growth of your grass. If you live in a warmer climate with warm-season grass, you can likely skip mowing altogether because your grass is going into its dormancy cycle.

    Leaf Removal

    There are two approaches you can take when dealing with falling leaves. At a bare minimum, you should remove any fallen foliage within seven to 10 days because it blocks sunlight from reaching your grass. But, if you get a >

    Sow and Reseed

    Believe it or not, but fall is a great time to reseed the bare patches of your yard and sow new sections of lawn for cool-season grasses. Applying fresh soil and some new seed to barren patches of your yard can help prepare your lawn to bounce back in the fall. As mentioned earlier, this time of year is often the strongest for cool-season yard growth, so take advantage.

    Winterize Your Sprinkler System

    If you have an underground sprinkler system to help you keep your yard green all summer, it could be the biggest threat to your utility bill and soil during the winter months. If you fail to blow out your underground system, the water left in the pipes could freeze, expand and burst the pipes. This could lead to a water leak in your yard that could compromise the integrity of the soil and cause serious damage. If you live in a cooler climate, its important to winterize your sprinkler system immediately.


    With one weekend of work, you can accomplish most of these tasks and have a yard that looks great for the coming fall months.

    Andrea Davis is the editor for HomeAdvisor, which helps homeowners find home improvement professionals in their area at no charge to ensure the best service in the shortest amount of time.

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    Shop With An Eye For Your Future Home Accessibility Needs

    It can be heartbreaking to have to leave your home because of mobility issues at any age or stage of your life. So when youre building, choosing a new home or renovating, keep basic accessibility features in mind. These features will help make it easier for you, your family and guests everyday.

    For example, a zero-step entrance makes it easier to get strollers, large or heavy items and things such as groceries and packages into the house. A design with fewer stairs will reduce the risk of falls in the home for young children as well as seniors.

    If youre building, try to include an elevator, or rough one in. If youre renovating, try to retrofit your space to include an elevator. Plan to include wide doorways and hallways, which will not only make the space seem bigger and brighter, but will make navigating the home easier for anyone using a walker or wheelchair.

    A main-floor bathroom is a must. Include a large walk-in shower instead of a tub. Another popular idea is to include a master suite on the main floor, to be used by in-laws now and you later should stairs become an issue. A broken leg and a long run of stairs isnt a good combination.

    Include an attached garage with a door to connect it to the house so you dont have to go outside in inclement weather. Its a handy feature for all ages.

    Being able to enjoy your home for the long term is easier if you keep universal design in mind when youre building, buying or renovating. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. CMHC offers design principles for universal design on its website.

    It includes some features that can be added during renovations, such as lever-type door handles, which are easy to include when hardware is being updated. Lever handles are easy to open with one hand or an elbow, which makes it easy for small children or anyone carrying objects. These features can be added over time, CMHC says.

    Being able to visit friends and neighbours is a simple pleasure, but not one that can be enjoyed by everyone. Nor is being able to maneuver in their own home.

    "People who inhabit and visit the houses we live in come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from infants to seniors, with various ever-changing abilities and skills," says CMHC. "As we grow up, grow old and welcome new people into our homes, our housing needs change. A house that is designed and constructed to reflect the principles of universal design will be safer and more accommodating to the diverse range of ages and abilities."

    CMHC says universal design is only a subtle shift from what is typically done; designing for greater accessibility is not a new way of designing, simply a more focused one. "By providing flexibility in the selection of design features and incorporating adaptability into the house design, the life and usability of a home is extended, which promotes the concept of aging in place."

    The universal house includes many elements that contribute to universal accessibility and are of benefit to everyone, CMHC says. For example, level, smooth, slip-resistant and glare-free floor finishes provide enhanced safety and comfort, and 36-inch wide doors make it easier to carry grocery bags and children into the house.

    Other ideas from CMHC include windows that have easy-to-operate opening and locking systems; shades or blinds to help control interior light; and adding extra lighting throughout that can be adjusted to everyones needs.

    When renovating the kitchen, choose cabinets that have drawers and pull out shelves to eliminate the need to reach to the back of the cupboards. Handrails on both sides make stairways easier for everyone to negotiate. Bathrooms should include curbless showers that are large enough to accommodate a seat or stool.

    "Planning for individuals changing needs and abilities allows for periodic home customization based on changing requirements and reduces the need for future costly renovations," CMHC says. Planning for future needs is good practice. Principles of universal design encourage flexibility, adaptability, safety and efficiency and makes life easier every day.

    In addition to universal housing, there is Visitable housing that makes it easier for people using mobility devices to visit a home; adaptable houses that can change to accommodate a variety of family types; and accessible housing that meets the needs of a person with a disability.

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    New Windows Changed My House - and My Mind

    It was exciting to contemplate city life after living in smaller towns. Apparently, everyone else thought so too, because by the time I decided I liked a house, it was gone from the market.

    Between struggling with a tight real estate market and shopping from across the country, it wasnt easy to find a house. While the city offers the charm of older neighborhoods and homes of by-gone eras, it also means that you can be pretty sure that youll be remodeling something.

    Thats how my window struggle came into light.

    Id snagged a home full of potential. Nestled in a full acre of green grass and big trees, the brick home offered the room I needed and the one-story I desired - plus it had the original hardwoods. Tangled up in an estate, it had sat empty for four years.

    So here I stood trying to gaze out the spider web-coated windows of a 1950s-era ranch and see the beautiful maples and oaks. It was like an oasis tucked in the city. As I did, I began to list the key items on my to-do list, like a modern kitchen, repaired air ducts, pipe repairs and a new coating on the driveway.

    Windows ba>

    As I began to focus on key items, like a modern kitchen, leaking air ducts, plumbing issues and an eroding driveway, so windows ba>

    Funny now to think I thought that meant I was done with windows.

    Two things came into play nearly simultaneously. Only a day or two after the moving van unloaded, I decided I couldnt take the dirty windows another day. So despite having mountains of boxes to maneuver around, cleaning years of grime got moved to the top of the list. Armed with rags, cleaning supplies and a step-ladder, I marched to dark, dirty glass in the dining room. Thats when I discovered the window would not budge. It had opened on the last walk-thru, but would not open today.

    Humidity had played a part in the old wood swelling. Undaunted, I cleaned the inside and headed outside to clean it from that direction. Covering the window were storm windows that probably hadnt been removed in years, if not decades. They were supposed to slide up, but it wasnt happening. As I moved around the house, I noticed a great portion of the windows had issues, including cracks, I could not resolve.

    Ultimately, it didnt take long to learn that I couldnt live with the old windows that didnt function. In fact, changing out the windows got bumped up to the top of the list.

    My desire for the windows had to do with function. I wanted to see out them and open them. I hadnt really thought about the look. I guess I thought a white window replaced by a white window would be the same. Instead, it was a huge shock to learn what enormous difference new windows made in the appearance and feel of the home.

    In one day, the house went from one that looked like it had black widow spiders in the lock box to one that looked loved and inviting. The old windows contained grilles, the pieces of wood which visually divides a pane of glass so it appears to be made of smaller panes. The new windows I chose did not have grilles. That move made every window seem bigger and every room seem brighter. Of course, the new windows, without years of wear and the layer of dirty storm windows, really were brighter.

    While I was waiting on windows and other key repairs, like electrical panel upgrades, I was trying to plan that kitchen remodel as well as a bathroom re-do. In trying to save costs where I could, I was working around existing windows. Despite taking down a wall to get more space, no matter how I moved around cabinets and appliances in my kitchen drawing, I could not get good workflow. In the current design, a small table for two sat in front of the only window, a long one that went nearly to the floor.

    One day, someone asked me why I was working around that long window. They suggested I put in a shorter window and place the sink under the window. It was a light bulb moment.

    With a brick house, Id not even thought about changing a windows dimensions. It turns out it wasnt hard at all. Since the windows exterior is on my screen porch, I choose wood to fill in the space of the shortened window and painted it to match the window, rather than have a brick mason brick in the space.

    The same width was kept, but the shortened window allowed for a changed countertop and sink placement and suddenly made the whole kitchen plan work. I also shortened a window in the remodeled bathroom, which meant the soaking tub could be placed under the window and Id still get plenty of natural light.

    The new windows really changed the whole look and feel of the old house. When I get a chance to talk remodeling, I now tell people replacing old windows needs to be at the top of their list.

    Lea Schneider is a professional organizer based in Nashville, Tennessee. She shares her experiences on remodeling her 1950s ranch fixer-upper, which included replacing her casement windows. If you are also looking to update your house, visit The Home Depot to see a large selection of casement windows.

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    The 3 Factors That Have the Biggest Impact on Your Home Insurance

    Although your homeowners insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense at times, it is an invaluable safeguard.

    Property and casualty risk research firm ISO -- Verisk Analytics states 5.3 percent of all insured homes made a claim in 2014. In addition, the Insurance Information Institute III and SNL Financial reported that the incurred losses for homeowners insurance in the United States totaled 39.84 billion in 2014. This data indicates that even though only a small percentage of homeowners submit home insurance claims, the overall costs associated with these claims can be substantial.

    Clearly, home insurance can make a world of difference for homeowners, but that does not mean you should be forced to break the bank to find the proper coverage.

    If you understand the factors that impact your home insurance, you should have no trouble picking up the right coverage at the right price. Ultimately, youll be able to insure your home against a wide range of risks for a reasonable cost.

    Heres a closer look at three factors that have the biggest impact on your home insurance.

    1. Your Homes Value

    Consider the price of your house as well as the total cost it would take to rebuild your residence as you study home insurance options.

    Remember, if your home is damaged or destroyed, youll want to be insured for the full cost to replace your residence. In many cases, this cost will exceed the price you paid for your home, so you should purchase a policy that guarantees youre fully covered against any damage or destruction.

    To determine the replacement cost of your home, get an estimate from a reputable builder who can evaluate your current residence and give you an accurate idea of how much it would cost to replace your house. After a builders evaluation of your home, youll be able to insure your residence accordingly.

    2. Your Homes Location

    Location is everything. From the town or city where you live to the number of fire stations near your house, many factors associated with your homes location can affect your home insurance.

    Some of the key factors linked to your homes location that can impact your home insurance include:

    • Fire Protection -- Insurers frequently use Public Protection >
    • Wind Storms -- III points out that many insurers in coastal states along the Atlantic seaboard and Gulf of Mexico provide homeowners insurance with percentage deductibles for hurricane damage instead of traditional dollar deductibles. This means that some homeowners may end up paying higher deductibles due to wind storm dangers.
    • Crime -- Risk is lower for homeowners in low-crime areas. Thus, these homeowners often pay less for home insurance than those who live in high-crime areas.

    Performing research about your homes location is paramount. If you spend some time learning about risks >

    3. Your Homes Condition

    The age and condition of your home may affect your homeowners insurance, but it is also important to recognize that the design of your residence may impact your home insurance.

    For example, a home that features a custom design with many exterior corners may be more expensive to replace than a residence with a simpler design. Therefore, the price to insure the former may be more expensive than the cost to insure the latter.

    Insurance companies also consider whats called "morale hazard" when deciding to offer you coverage or not, which is an increase in the risk of hazards caused by a persons apathy due to having insurance. Because of this, maintaining the condition of your home can make you more attractive to insurers. If you fail to perform regular home maintenance, your insurer may have the right to void your coverage in the event of damage or destruction to your residence.

    The aforementioned factors will likely have the biggest impact on your home insurance. Furthermore, many insurers now review your credit score to perform a predictive analysis of your risk levels.

    Your credit score is affected by a number of factors, including:

    • Payment history
    • Credit report inquiries
    • New and existing credit accounts

    A higher credit score means a lower risk. However, if you pay your bills on time, avoid excessive credit card debt and understand your credit history, you may be able to lower your home insurance costs.

    Youre entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion once a year. Request a copy of your credit report from these bureaus annually and youll be able to identify any credit report issues that could affect your home insurance.

    Lastly, dont forget to work with an insurance agent as you explore your home insurance options. These professionals will help you identify risks and guarantee you can protect your home against loss both now and in the future.

    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 12 years of insurance expertise and blogs frequently to help consumers understand complicated insurance topics.

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    Budget Bath: Soaker Tubs Thatll Make You Feel Like A Queen Without A Royal Budget

    Few things are as luxurious as a big soaking tub in the bathroom, which is why freestanding tubs have become one of the top bathroom trends over the past few years. But the cost of some of todays freestanding tubs can be so high it takes away the ability to >

    Knowing where to look, and watching for sales, can help you find the perfect tub for your space, and your budget.

    Sometimes, that might mean ordering from places that you may not have thought of. Wayfair has a ton of soaker tubs that are under 1,000, like this modern, elegant, Serenity Acrylic Freestanding Bathtub by Ove Decors. Normally priced at 1,099.99, its on sale for 957.99. Best yet - the shipping on tubs from Wayfair is free.


    Ove Decors also makes this Houston Freestanding Tub, which offers clean, straight lines for those whod prefer something more angular, for 791.99.

    When many people think of soaking tubs, they think claw-foot. And there has definitely been renewed interest in antique claw-foot tubs over the past few years.

    "A claw-foot tub is a special place in which to soak, play and dream," said Houzz. "More than just a tub, it may recall a romantic getaway or childhood bath time with Mr. Bubble. The problem that is many of them are nearly a hundred years old and look it" - which is where restoration comes in. You may be able to find a vintage claw-foot tub on eBay, Craigslist, or at local antique and salvage stores for "a few hundred dollars, depending on the size, >

    Signature Hardware


    If you want the look of a vintage tub without the hassle of having it refinished, you can buy an acrylic reproduction like this Picadilly Soaking Bathtub by Jade.

    Or, do a more updated take on the claw-foot tub with a modern shape in acrylic and a variety of options for the feet, at just 830 from Aqua Eden.

    This Vanity Art Freestanding Acrylic Soaking Bathtub "features a sleek, modern design that updates the look of your bathroom," said Overstock. Its priced at 964.49. Order from this online retailer and youll also get free shipping.

    If youre looking for a super modern tub that doubles as art, you cant go wrong with this AKDY Soaking Tub from AllModern. Even better, its on sale for 795.99, down from 3,999

    The Gracie Freestanding Bathtub w/Base provides an elegant presentation with the pedestal, and is extra deep for those long soaks.

    traditional bathtubs

    Full Story >

    Considering Your HOAs Reserve Funds

    In recent years, the importance of accumulating reserves has become a long overdue reality for many homeowner associations HOAs. Proper long range planning drives an HOAs ability to adequately care for the common assets by having both adequate reserve funds and a realistic renovation schedule to follow. A well executed reserve study calls for a funding plan that systematically grows reserves to address future renovation without the need for special assessments which are unfair to many and difficult to collect.

    As a rule of thumb, the average garden variety condominium has 15-20 common components to maintain. Based on that, the HOA should have around 8000 per unit in reserves. Do the math for your HOA. However, there are many HOAs that should have much more than that because of deferred maintenance or more common elements. For example, high rise condominiums can easily have 50 or more common components.

    Even the most modest homeowner associations should often have hundreds of thousands of dollars socked away in reserves. Larger, more complex properties should accumulate reserves in the millions. To truly know what level of reserves applies, a reserve study must be performed by an experienced and qualified reserve analyst.

    The board should only invest in guaranteed and insured investments unless the entire membership 100 votes to be more aggressive. In either case, there should be a clear and written investment policy for the board to follow.

    As reserve funds grow, its extremely important to have an investment plan. Wisely investing reserves can reduce owner contributions by many thousands of dollars over time. While your friendly banker always has some investment options available, the board should explore other options. For example, opening an account in an investment advisory company like Edward Jones will give the HOA access to the highest yielding Certificates of Deposit CDs available. Buying CDs with different maturities like 3, 5 and 10 years called laddering will create an average return that is significantly higher than any savings or money market account. By synchronizing CD maturity dates with reserve renovation events, the HOA will have liquid cash when needed.

    A word about depositor insurance. FDIC Insurance is currently limited to 250,000. But some banks catering to homeowner association business have additional private depositor insurance that protects a much larger amount of HOA funds. While this addresses the depositor insurance question, the board still needs to consider whether the bank offers the best rates.

    When considering your HOAs reserve funds, treat it like your own money. Invest in things that dont risk principal yet return interest at levels that keep pace with inflation.

    For more innovative HOA management strategies, subscribe to

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    New Online Education Empowers Home Buyers

    What you dont know can hurt you when youre buying real estate or arranging a mortgage.

    The worse cases are those where home buyers dont realize how they have lost out - now and over years of homeownership. Some eventually end up with financial problems that cost them the home. Other wanna-be buyers lose out completely and dont achieve ownership. Too many give up before they even investigate how to own their own home.

    In all these cases, ignorance is not bliss, but a waste of time, money, and opportunity.

    However, in all these cases, ignorance is curable with education. Losing out can be replaced with buying well, gaining from the real estate investment, and leveraging that first purchase into an expanded real-estate-enriched life.

    As a futurist and business achievement strategist, I long ago discovered the vital connection between real estate and business success. Owning your own home and owning your business premises is real security for your work and your life. Over my years of writing, teaching, and speaking about real estate to the public, entrepreneurs, and professionals, I found that the more audiences learned about real estate, the more they wanted to learn.

    Caution: Once the "real estate bug" bites, youll be hooked on learning about buying and selling - and everything in between - and how all this can work to your real estate advantage.

    If you dont understand enough about how buying and owning real estate really work, how can you make informed decisions about anything, including which property is truly best for you and how much its really worth? Blindly, let others guide you and you may be misled, unconsciously or deliberately, never realizing where you lost out.

    Dont assume you know; be sure you know

    Learn Before You Look: If you concentrate on decor, youre buying the wrong thing. Real estate value is tied to location and many other factors that generate appreciationover years of ownership. Decor goes out of >

    GoogleTM Is Not a Substitute for Your Brain: Substituting internet searches for learning is acting on general information, not acquiring specific knowledgethere is an important, expensive distinction here. If you dont fully understand something, your GoogleTM search may not ask the right questions in the right context. Without you realizing, GoogleTM answers may be too general, slightly off topic, or may overlook specifics >

    Real Estate Professionals Are Not Teachers: These professionals are not there to advise or educate. Their task is to search out the real estate you request and facilitate the buying process. Dont expect them to school you in real estate.

    Decide How Much This Means to You: Why wouldnt you learn everything you could to ensure the largest, most expensive purchase of your life is a huge triumph? Why wouldnt you be intent on protecting yourself against other peoples agendas, doubtful practices, and salesmanship when you buy? Real estate education forestalls buying mistakes and ownership problems like foreclosure. Buyer beware is a great starting point, but buyer be aware is the sane, long-term approach.

    New Mobile-Friendly Education Empowers Home Buyers

    Even if school is a not-too-pleasant memory, you can learn online using your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. User-friendly online learning transforms education into convenient, at-my-own-pace, on-my-chosen-platform experiences. Review-as-you-go confidence building transforms seemingly complex topics into mentally-digestible, practical knowledge.

    One strong buyer-be-aware starting point is the mobile-friendly home buyer course that Fannie Mae has made a requirement for the HomeReady Mortgage. This online courxe, with optional downloadable content, is available in English and Spanish through course-designer Framework. This course meets or exceeds education standards for HUD and the National Industry Standards for Homeownership Education and Counseling.

    The 75 fee can be reduced or eliminated with discounts and coupons scholarships available from your local nonprofit homeownership advisory agency local nonprofit homeownership advisory agency and growing numbers of lending and real estate professionals before you sign up. The free bonus is Smart Start for Homeowners. Once youre completed the course, youll receive monthly email content designed to further assist new homeowners.

    Join the more than 80,000 who learned how to confidently navigate the essential steps of home buying and mortgage borrowing, including:

    • How much you can afford
    • How to fix or improve your credit
    • How "closing" works, and
    • How the 10 professionals involved in most home purchases can help you.

    Frameworks national network of nonprofit homeownership advising partners also provides one-on-one unbiased advice specific to your situation and location. Even before you take the course, do you need help reviewing loan estimates, clarifying credit issues, or understanding refinancing options? You wont be talking to salespeople, so you get the facts from a local expert without a sales pitch. If there isnt a Homeownership Advisor near by, contact Framework directly and theyll connect you with an advisor: or 855-659-2267; weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Central Standard Time.

    Boston-based Framework Homeownership, LLC is a social enterprise, launched in 2012, to elevate home-buying education to new standards nationwide using "superior curriculum, technology, dedication to customer service, and innovative >

    Resource:To learn more about Frameworks business design, visit my blog:

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    Ask the HOA Expert: Applying Barkmulch To Planting Beds

    Question: We apply barkmulch to our planting beds every year. A member complaints of the smell, dust and sloppy application by the contractor. What are your suggestions?

    Answer: Barkmulch application to planting beds is used for curb appeal, retarding weed growth and reducing irrigation water needs. Its best to apply it during the rainy months to avoid the dust problem. Because windows are generally closed, the smell is less likely to bother anyone and the smell largely dissipates after a couple of weeks. Of course, the contractor should clean up and unbury anything that should not be covered. Someone should quality check the work and have the contractor return if it isnt done right.

    Question: Our HOA has a natural area with tall trees, natural ground cover and a small wood chip covered pathway. An adjoining homeowner has appropriated a portion of it by permanently leaving lawn chairs and a table in this area. Can we require them to remove their possessions?

    Answer: No homeowner has exclusive rights to the common area. Ask them to remove their furniture or move it for them.

    Question: We have a homeowner who hasnt paid dues since closing on the property. We have sent out notices and they all come back Unable to Forward -- No Address. We are limited to a 1 late fee. Since our dues are only 100, the late fee is hardly a deterrent. What can we do?

    Answer: If the HOA doesnt already have one, the board should adopt a formal Collection Policy which details the procedures and penalties. The policy must conform to any specific requirements found in your governing documents. If the governing documents state a 1 late fee, the members need to vote to change it or eliminate it and allow the board to use its discretion. There is a sample Collection Policy available to Gold Subscribers of

    Finally, its generally advisable to use a either a knowledgeable attorney or professional collection service if your letters dont solve the problem. They have ways of tracking down missing owners and getting them to pay.

    Question: We have an issue with bees and mice. Do HOAs typically take care of insect and rodent infestations?

    Answer: Yes, if the HOA has common wall construction. Since pests move from unit to unit, the only practical way to eliminate them is to treat a whole building and the HOA is the logical one to do it.

    Question: Can the board spend reserve funds for day to day operating expenses? I realize this is not a smart thing to do but is it prohibited by federal or state law?

    Answer: There are no federal statutes that deal with HOA reserves. Some state HOA statutes have provisions about how reserves are spent like California, Oregon and a few others. However, if the HOAs governing documents dont forbid it, the board can spend reserves for operating expenses. As you say, it is not a smart thing to do unless the reserve money is only being borrowed for an emergency or unanticipated shortfall. If the board is regularly under budgeting and using the reserves to make up for it, things must change. Reserves are intended for specific and future renovation, not the boards poor budget planning.

    For more innovative HOA management strategies, subscribe to

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    10 Fall Home Improvement Tips

    Now that summer gear has been stowed away, its time to focus on fall home improvement projects. According to Vicki Payne, host of the For Your Home with Vicki Payne television show, autumn is the key time to evaluate your home exterior and prepare it for the harsh winter months ahead.

    "With cooler fall weather comes the realization that your home will soon experience cold, snowy weather," says Payne, a nationally recognized home improvement expert on the countrys longest running home and garden television show. "To get your house ready, start by giving your exterior a thorough review. Everything should be checked, cleaned up and made ready to handle Mother Nature when she comes blowing in within the next few months."

    Payne recommends this checklist for exterior fall home improvement projects:

    Tip 1 - Evaluate your roof. Look for missing or loose shingles, deterioration of asphalt shingles along with mold, algae or splitting of real wood shingles. If the roof is in poor shape, consider upgrading to a synthetic roof, like those from DaVinci Roofscapes. The composite shake and slate products resist fire, impact, high winds, insects and mold, making them an ideal long-term investment for a home.

    Tip 2 - Clean your gutters. Get leaves and gunk out now so that gutters wont get backed up, clogged and frozen in the winter, causing ice formations. Gutters should be secu>

    Tip 3 - Check your siding and trim. Make sure there are no rotting boards or insect infestations in any wood exterior products. Determine if a new paint job is needed before the winter weather hits. Should these items need replacement, research man-made low-maintenance products, like James Hardie fiber cement siding or Ply Gem PVC trim as >

    Tip 4 - Evaluate the deck. If your deck has seen its last summer party, look at replacing it before the winter with either a Western Red Cedar deck or composite decking from TAMKO. Both products stand up extremely well to all types of weather and will make you happy to step out onto the deck every time.

    Tip 5 - Check the functionality of your garage door. Youre in and out of your garage door many times each day. Make sure its functioning properly and has strong air infiltration seals to help keep energy bills down. If youre ready for a new look or a harder-working garage door, consider the steel and aluminum options from Haas Door.

    Tip 6 - Seal up the windows. Make sure your windows have strong weather-stripping in place with energy-efficient glass that is still working. If its time to upgrade your windows, investigate those with ENERGY STAR ratings to help keep your home warmer during the winter months.

    Tip 7 - Consider a privacy window upgrade. Tired of closing blinds or shades to gain privacy in your bathroom or bedroom? Think about replacing key windows with decorative glass or acrylic block privacy windows. Available from Hy-Lite in both operable and fixed >

    Tip 8 - Check out your doors. As with windows, your entry doors should have weather stripping thats not worn out around the entire opening. This helps keep drafty cold air out of your house during winter months.

    Tip 9 - Secure or replace railings. Loose or unstable railing systems can be dangerous. Check all balusters, handrails and elements of front and back rail systems to assure theyre functioning properly. If its time for a replacement, consider a new look by adding cable rails or glass balustrades from Fortress Railing Products.

    Tip 10 - Spend time with your landscaping. Once the leaves have fallen, get out the rakes. Remove dead leaves and underbrush around the house and garden area before the snow falls. Re-mulch key landscaping areas. Trim back trees and bushes away from the house to get your home ready for winter snows.

    "Home ownership means continually maintaining the exterior elements of a house," says Payne. "With its cooler weather, autumn is the ideal time to evaluate, upgrade and improve those key exterior elements to assure your home is ready for the winter months ahead."

    Vicki Payne is a nationally recognized designer, home improvement, gardening and decorating expert. Each week, for over 15 years, millions of viewers both nationally and internationally have tuned in to watch her popular television show, For Your Home. Read More gt;gt;gt;.

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    Condo Owners Can Speak Freely

    Question: We live in a large condominium project, and a number of us are quite concerned about our Board of Directors. We are not permitted to attend their Board meetings, we have tried to get copies of the financial statements without success, and we suspect that at least one of the Board members is getting kick-backs from the various contractors that are hired to do work at the project.

    The current Board will continue to serve until next April when there will be an annual meeting and another election. Many of us are interested in having a recall of the Board, but when we have circulated newsletters to other owners, we have been threatened with libel suits by several of the Board members.

    What legal rights do we have?

    Answer. If it is any consolation to you, I have heard these complaints from unit owners throughout the country. Although the great majority of Board members are honest and dedicated, unfortunately, many Board members of condominiums, cooperatives or homeowner associations are on an ego trip. They want to be called "Mr. or Ms. President." They do not understand that there is a fiduciary responsibility owed by the Board member to the constituents who elected them to office.

    You have indicated that your Board meetings are closed to the membership. You should read the law in the jurisdiction where your condominium is located, to determine if there are any specific statutes requiring open meetings. For example, in 1989, the State of Maryland adopted a law which requires open meetings with few exceptions, including a discussion of matters pertaining to employees and personnel, protection of the privacy or reputation of individuals in matters not >

    Even if your state law is silent on this question, you should read your Association documents. You may find some guidance in those basic documents, which could include the Declaration and Bylaws, or the Covenants and Conditions and Restrictions also known as CCamp;Rs.

    Finally, if you cannot find anything specific to assist you in your own documents, you still have the right to demand that the membership vote that Board meetings be open. This vote could come at the Annual Meeting, or pursuant to your Bylaws, you could also force a special meeting specifically for that purpose.

    If your Association documents are silent on the issue, the Board of Directors must follow the wishes of the majority of the Association.

    With respect to your inability to obtain financial information, I feel quite confident that you will find language in your documents giving you the absolute right to inspect and review financial documents of the Association. You should send a demand letter to the Board of Directors, by registered, return receipt mail, and give them ten days in which to make these documents available to you for your review and inspection. If the Board refuses to give you access, you might want to consider filing suit against the Board. You should also talk to a number of other owners in your Association, to see if they will join you in this litigation. Not only will there be strength in numbers, but the legal fees can be divided among more than just yourself.

    You have indicated that you are being threatened with a libel suit when you speak up in opposition to your Board of Directors. You have an absolute, constitutional right of free speech. As long as what you are saying is truthful, you should have no fear by communicating your concerns -- and indeed your opinions -- to other members of the Association. If the Board of Directors does not like what you are saying, they have the right to respond with their own newsletter.

    But you cannot be threatened or harassed me>

    If the situation is so bad, you might want to consider calling a special election for the purpose of recalling one or all of the Board of Directors. This is not an easy task -- but it is possible. Many owners are apathetic, and indeed fearful of raising their voices in protest. You must mount a major political campaign, not only for the purpose of recalling the existing Board members, but to present your own slate of owners who will serve as substitute directors if you are successful in your recall efforts.

    You should invite your neighbors in for coffee or tea to discuss your political campaign. Recruit as many neighbors as possible to be team captains to continue to mount the recall campaign. You cannot do it alone. After all, your Bylaws probably require that you need at least 51 majority vote to recall the Board.

    As is the case in federal or statewide elections, you will find that the incumbents will have the stronger hand, since they are currently in office.

    It is not an easy job to "throw the rascals out." But, you have made a significant investment in your Association, by virtue of ownership of your property. This investment must be protected, and that is the message you should give all of your owners -- including your current Board of Directors.

    Full Story >

    For most people today, a few hundred Google searches are part of the process. "Best of" lists can help narrow the field. Search "Best place to live" and youll have plenty of reading material. And even more if you get more specific with searches geared toward the "Best place to buy a home," or the "Best place to find a job," or the "Best place to retire," or the "Best place for millennials."

    But, while these lists are certainly helpful, theyre perhaps best thought of as a starting point, not a mandate. Because, while its nice that someone else has done some research into the best place to raise kids who are emotionally mature and kind to others not a real thing, but should be, looking beneath the surface reveals important details that might disqualify a particular city, even though its been rated the Most Pet-friendly City or the one where your paycheck will stretch the farthest.

    Case in point: Forbes brand-new list, Americas Best Cities for Raising a Family. Heres the full top 10, with Forbes mini analysis that breaks out strengths and weaknesses of each of the cities.

  • Provo, UT Strengths: low crime, young population, quality of schools, light traffic, homeownership
  • Ogden, UT Strengths: homeownership, low crime, young population, light traffic; Weaknesses: quality of schools
  • Oxnard, CA Strengths: low crime, median income, light traffic; Weaknesses: housing affordability
  • Richmond, VA Weaknesses: quality of schools
  • Allentown, PA Strengths: low crime, homeownership; Weaknesses: quality of schools
  • Honolulu, HI Strengths: median income, quality of schools; Weaknesses: homeownership, cost of living
  • Harrisburg, PA Strengths: homeownership, light traffic; Weaknesses: median income
  • Bridgeport, CT Strengths: median income, homeownership; Weaknesses: quality of schools
  • San Jose Strengths: median income, quality of schools; Weaknesses: cost of living, traffic, homeownership
  • Hartford, CT Strengths: homeownership, median income


    Its the strengths and weaknesses part that could be concerning for people in need of counsel about where to move their family.

    Lets take No. 1, Provo. You dont have to be a practicing Mormon to live here, but youll be in good company in Provo if you do. Its nearly 90 percent Mormon, according to Sperlings Best Places. Its a college town BYU, but also a notoriously conservative one that is said to revolve around >

    No. 3 on the list is Oxnard, CA, a bedroom community north of Los Angeles with homes on and near the water thats known for its strawberry fields, for being the site of the Dallas Cowboys training camp, and for beaches where you can actually spread out a blanket without running into three more. Forbes counts "light traffic" as one of the citys strengths, and while that may be true in town, the commute to anywhere outside of Ventura County is going to be brutal. Expect to spend HOURS on the 101.

    No. 4 Richmond, VA has the the nations fourth-hottest housing market in 2016 behind Denver, Seattle and Dallas-Fort Worth. The city of Richmond credits its "strong and diverse economy" as "the driving force behind Richmonds high income growth, with government, finance, education and manufacturing."

    What it doesnt have: good schools. The plight of the citys educational system has been widely discussed, as Richmonds public schools have been plagued by funding issues, teacher attrition, and low test scores, with several schools recommended for shuttering this year because of budget cuts. What that means for homebuyers is that, even if homes are affordable in the city, you probably have to factor in the cost of private school for your kiddos.

    No. 6 is Honolulu. In addition to making this list, Honolulu has also been named: Americas most overpriced cities, one of the Most Expensive Cities in the U.S., and Americas Most Expensive City for Coffee Lovers, so if thats important to you, BEWARE

    Many of us have heard - at least anecdotally if we havent experienced it firsthand - that Hawaii is expensive. But just how expensive is Honolulu? According to 24/7 Wall St., "The average American household spends 53,495 each year on food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, and other expenses. In Honolulu, Hawaii, prices of goods and services are 23.5 greater than the national average, with prices in the San Jose, California and New York City, New York areas following nearly as high." Better be making some cash if this Hawaiian city is on your mind.

    No. 9 is San Jose, CA. If youre a techie, it makes sense youd want to be in this Silicon Valley city. But the cost of housing, which Forbes wisely listed as a weakness of the city, makes it unattainable for many people.

    "This weeks new joint analysis by the and PropertyShark websites points to San Francisco as the costliest housing market in the U.S. and Canada, with a median home price of 1,085,000," said the San Jose Mercury News. "Manhattan captured the No. 2 position 1,059,000, while San Jose 700,000 took the third spot."

    The upshot is this: When looking to >
    Full Story >

    Vacation Rental Owners and Cities Seek Alternatives To A Lockout

    lt;pgt;The vacation rental market seems to be going through a bit of a challenge as of late, with many cities opting to just shut down or limit the options for the vacation rental owners. I have had conversations in a few cities around the country about why they are not allowing vacation rentals via the sites that have been so successful for the home owners/hosts. The bottom line has been because of the number of complaints from the neighbors of the vacation rental properties.

    lt;pgt;The owners/hosts of many of these properties >

    lt;pgt;The growing number of cities that are not allowing these sites to be used seem to have the same issues: rowdy tenants, noises at all hours of the night, people they dont know coming into their community and simply just overall bad behavior. Although the vacation rental sites drive a good amount of revenue to the cities that allow them, increasing visits to restaurants, retail stores and many other services, the cities believe that the negatives outweigh the benefits.

    lt;pgt;The companies running the websites say they are doing everything they can to verify that the individuals are who they say they are. There is also a review process that allows for rating the host and the tenant after they have conducted a transaction. While this process seems to work on a majority of the properties, there is still a good number of hosts left very unhappy. Also, the renters that bring the bad reputation are the ones that have figured a way around the current screening processes.

    How do we resolve this issue?

    lt;pgt;In my conversation with a few of these cities, there seems to be a desire to figure out a process but no real direction has been decided. A common remark has been to create a set of guidelines that the host gives to each of the tenants so they are aware of the community ordinances and guidelines. Most cities also would like a better vetting process to determine that the person renting the property is who they say they are.

    lt;pgt;The question is, how do we best vet people without scaring them away from the sites offering the rentals? The guidelines for community may help, background checks would also help, but would it keep potential tenants from using the sites? The field is open for discussion and I am hoping we can find a resolution to this for the sake of both the owners/hosts and the cities. We would love to hear your take on other options.

    Full Story >

    Important Things To Know About Home Inspections

    If youre hiring someone to inspect the home you want to buy, or youre a seller trying to find out if there are any hidden problems that need fixing before you put your home on the market, here are five things you need to know:

    1. You can choose your home inspector.

    Your real estate professional can recommend an inspector, or you can find one on your own. Members of the National Association of Home Inspectors, Inc. NAHI, must complete an approved home inspector training program, demonstrate experience and competence as a home inspector, complete a written exam, and adhere to the NAHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.

    2. Home inspections are intended to point out adverse conditions, not cosmetic flaws.

    You should attend the inspection and follow the inspector throughout the inspection so you can learn whats important and whats not. No house is perfect and an inspection on any home is bound to uncover faults. A home inspector will point out conditions that need repair and/or potential safety->

    3. Home inspection reports include only the basics.

    A home inspector considers hundreds of items during an average inspection. The home inspection should include the homes exterior, steps, porches, decks, chimneys, roof, windows, and doors. Inside, they will look at attics, electrical components, plumbing, central heating and air conditioning, basement/crawlspaces, and garages.

    They report on the working order of items such as faucets to see if they leak, or garage doors to see if they close properly. Inspectors may point out termite damage and suggest that you get a separate pest inspection. The final written report should be concise and easy to understand.

    4. Home inspectors work for the party who is paying the fee.

    The NAHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics clearly state that members act as an unbiased third party to the real estate transaction and "will discharge the Inspectors duties with integrity and fidelity to the client." A reputable home inspector will not conduct a home inspection or prepare a home inspection report if his or her fee is contingent on untruthful conclusions.

    The inspector should maintain client confidentiality and keep all report findings private, unless required by court order. That means it is your choice whether or not to share the report with others. If youre a seller, you dont have to disclose the report to buyers, but you must disclose any failure in the systems or integrity of your home.

    5. Inspectors are not responsible for the condition of the home.

    Inspectors dont go behind walls or under flooring, so its possible that a serious problem can be overlooked. Keep in mind that inspectors are not party to the sales transaction, so if you buy a home where an expensive problem surfaces after the sale, you wont be able to make the inspector liable or get the inspector to pay for the damage. In fact, you may not be entitled to any compensation beyond the cost of the inspection.

    As a buyer, you need the home inspection to decide if the home is in condition that you can tolerate. You can use the report to show the seller the need for a certain repair or negotiate a better price. You can also take the report to a contractor and use it to make repairs or to remodel a section of the home.

    One thing you should not do when buying a home is skip having the home inspected because of cost or undue pressure by the seller. A home inspection is reasonable, it can save you money in the long run, and its required by many lenders, particularly for FHA loans. Theres a reason why buyers should beware, and a home inspection gives you the information you need to make a sound buying decision.

    Full Story >

    Kitchen Renovations That Will Give You The Biggest Bang For Your Buck

    For some, the idea of a kitchen renovation is thrilling. They cant wait to get in there and rip out countertops, replace or paint cabinets, and choose shiny new finishes. Others just had a small anxiety attack upon reading the words "kitchen" and "renovation" together.

    The idea of redoing a kitchen, especially if it involves demolition and you dont know what surprises await behind the walls, can be scary. And whether youre approaching a renovation with enthusiasm or something more closely resembling abject terror, you still want to make sure you get the value out. Those countertops might be gorgeous, but youll probably love them even more if they bring in good ROI.

    Mosaik Design reports that the national average of an 83 ROI, and the best way to achieve the max is to "focus on kitchen upgrades that are energy-efficient, reasonably priced, and low-maintenance." Thats especially important if youre looking to sell your home sometime soon.

    "If you have a dated kitchenand a buyer walks into that kitchen, theyre going to think that in order to redo that kitchen, theyre going to have to spend 40,000 or 50,000," said US News. In reality, "the average cost of a minor kitchen remodel -- new cabinet doors, appliances, countertops, sink, faucet, paint and hardware" -- is 20,122 nationwide, according to the most recent Cost vs. Value report. "Savvy shoppers can do it for less than the buyer assumes."

    Even if you have no plans of selling soon, or ever, choosing the kitchen upgrades that can have the biggest impact on the look and function of your space while providing the best return on your investment is key. Put your money in the following areas to give you the best shot at both.


    "Replace basic black appliances with stainless steel," said Forbes. That goes for white appliances as well. Stainless will instantly update the look of the space, and if your old appliances were, well, old, they probably werent functioning great anyway, nor were they energy efficient. "To keep this upgrade within your budget, try to find a deeply discounted appliance at an outlet or local "scratch-and-dent" store where almost-perfect pieces come with perfectly approachable price tags."


    "Cabinets make up a big chunk of the total cost for kitchen upgrades, sometimes one-third of your total budget," said Mosaik Design. But you can easily update your space by painting them. As long as your doors and drawers are in decent condition, a few coats of paint will make a huge difference. Choose white for a fresh look that will also make your space look larger. Doors not looking so hot? Refacing can save you tons of money over the cost of brand-new cabinets.

    New hardware

    Youd be surprised how impactful new hardware can be in making your cabinets look fresh and new, especially if they represent a fancy new trend, like the return of brass, which has never looked better.

    "One of our favorite tips for updating a kitchen is to swap out standard hardware," Marika Meyer of Marika Meyer Interiors LLC told Money magazine. "Hardware can change the feel of the space, making an out-of-date kitchen feel more modern, or noncustom cabinetry feel like an upgrade."

    Photo by Design Manifest - More transitional kitchen photos


    Investing in new countertops can be pricey, and if youre getting ready to sell, you might not want to make the investment in high-end materials. "Make your decisions with thriftiness in mind: choose one of the more affordable granite countertops such as Napoli, Baltic Brown, or St. Cecilia," said Forbes. "Leave higher-end stone and more ornate beveling for your next home.

    Add a backsplash

    If your backsplash is icky, ugly, or ba>

    "Add a splash of color with a new backsplash," said HGTV. "New tile is attractive." And if you want to do it yourself, "Home improvement stores teach >

    Not sure what to choose? Subway tile is both >

    New lighting

    The only thing worse than a dark and dreary kitchen is dark and dreary kitchen with ugly light fixtures. Swap out the chandelier in your eat-in kitchen for something more fresh, and concentrate on the area over your island or breakfast bar by adding a few trendy pendant lights.

    "Jeffrey Osborne of Hark and Osborne Interior Design recommends sourcing stylish yet affordable pendant lights he likes Schoolhouse Electric amp; Supply Co. Lighting to hang above an island or countertop," said Money. Add undercabinet lighting to give the kitchen a higher-end look or simply change out the bulbs in existing fixtures to cast the kitchen in a better light you might be surprised at the results."

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    Real Estate Assistants Are Often Misclassified As Independent Contractors

    It has become commonplace for high-producing real estate agents or teams to have one or more assistants. Sometimes these assistants are licensed real estate agents themselves, sometimes not. In either case, what has unfortunately also become commonplace is for these persons to be mis>

    The motivations for such mis>

    There are a number of both state and federal tests to determine whether or not a >

    In California, real estate agents often seek to hire real-estate licensed assistants, thinking that this will bring them under the general rule that makes real estate agents independent contractors for I.R.S. purposes. But this rule requires a three-element test:

  • The individual must be licensed.
  • There must be a contract between broker and agent.
  • Payment to the agent must be based on the results they produce i.e. commissions, not on a fixed wage or time-based scale.
  • Usually, the >

    The California Association of REALTORS CAR provides a contract that can be used between an assistant and an associate licensee. It also produces a three-party agreement that can be used between a broker, an associate licensee, and an assistant to the associate licensee. In both it is clear that the assistant is, with respect to the associate licensee, an employee. For example, the agreement provides for the associate licensee to identify his workers compensation carrier.

    Some think that they can legitimize the independent contractor status of an assistant by creating a contract wherein the parties can agree that the assistant will be an independent contractor. This is simply not the case.

    It is not a good idea to attempt to dodge around this issue, as many agents may be inclined to do. A few years ago, The U.S. Department of Labor signed agreements with Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Utah, and Washington to work together to target employers who are guilty of mis>

    The State of California is estimated to have lost in the neighborhood of 7 billion in tax revenues over the years as a result of mis>

    A California employer who is found to have willfully mis>

    Agents who have assistants, and brokers who have agents with assistants, would all do well to review their employment agreements and practices.

    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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    Smart Home Technology: 6 Gadgets That Will Increase Home Efficiency

    For bolstered efficiency and enhanced convenience, its worth it to equip your home with the newest technology. There are practical smart home devices that will help you save on utility costs, ensure the safety of your home and assist in home maintenance. There are also more personalized gadgets that will help you monitor health, ensure your pets safety, and also provide multifaceted assistance in home management. Tailor your home with the right technology for you and your family. Here is a list of the best smart home gadgets you should invest in:

    Nest Thermostat

    The Nest Thermostat pays for itself with its energy efficiency programs, which yield significant savings on utility costs. The device learns the temperatures you like and will program itself in about a week with an automatic heating and cooling schedule. It also automatically turns itself down when no one is home, which saves energy. You can remotely control your Nest system from your phone, tablet or laptop. Nest will guide you toward the best temperature schedule that will save you both energy and money.

    Philips Hue

    Philips Hue bulbs help you control your houses lighting via your smartphone. You can create light schedules for home automation so lights turn on when you arrive home or turn off once youve left. Doing this will help you reduce energy usage and also provide you with a means of remote theft deterrent. The away-from-home controls let you adjust your lights remotely. This is handy if you have forgotten to switch your lights off or if you need them on during a non-scheduled time. The Philips Hue kit is compatible with Apple HomeKit technology, which can be voice-accessed on the iPhone 6s Plus through Siri or manually through the app.

    Withings Aura

    The Withings Aura is a high-tech alarm clock disguised as a sleek, modern lamp. It offers a personalized, gradual wake-up experience that will help you feel refreshed and energized. The light on the Aura provides a simulated sunrise, at your designated alarm time, for a gradual wake up. At night, the light provides optimized colors that promote the secretion of sleep hormones while its attached speaker projects soft ambient sounds that will enhance your sleep.

    Amazon Echo

    The Amazon Echo is a hands free speaker that you control with your voice. It can play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather and more. You can connect the Echo to your music libraries from Prime Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and TuneInthe music will fill the room through the devices 360 degree omni-directional audio. Even while music is playing, the Echo can detect your voice for instruction. You can connect the Echo to your other smart home devices like the WeMo, Philips Hue, Nest, Wink, Samsung SmartThings, Insteon and ecobee.


    Keep track of your furry friend, while youre out of the house, with Petcube. The cube contains a wide-angle lens video camera that provides HD live video so you can monitor your pets activity from your smartphone, tablet or computer. There is also two-way audio, which allows you to listen-in on your little friend and also chat with them through your smartphone. A built-in laser toy lets you interact with your pet so they get in some play time during the middle of your workday.

    Belkin WeMo Switch

    The WeMo Switch lets you remotely control the power source to your electronic devices. The switch uses your Wi-Fi network for wi>
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    9 Ways To Inject A Little Fun Into Your Home Dcor

    Why so serious? If home is where the heart is, shouldnt it also be where the happiness is? You can create a home that makes you smile by making sure that, even when youre following most of the design rules, you remember to have a little fun, too.

    "Personality is what makes a space great," said Houzz. "Make your own statement and have fun. The more you try, the more you will begin to see what works and what doesnt."

    Here are a few ideas to get you started Bonus: they also make great, unique gifts for friends or for the holidays.

    These 10 West Elm Dapper Animal Plates caught our eye thanks to their fun images. The plates were "based on paintings of real animals, which designer Rachel Kozlowski then dressed and accessorized" to give each character its own sense of >

    West Elm

    If youre going to make your house fun, why not start right at the front door. This Reed Wilson doormat definitely shows your sense of humor. Its just one of many products showcased at Las Vegas life>

    "We love the idea of injecting a little fun into home, and into life," said Carrie Sheerin, CEO of Amusespot. "That was one of the main ideas behind the concept of Amusespot, and it helps guide our product selection. Were always excited to find a new accessory, housewares essential, or novelty item that we know is going to make people smile when they own or gift it."


    Whats more fun than a fuchsia couch? Nothing. The answer is nothing. Youre guaranteed to smile when you walk into this room.

    Design Sponge

    We also love these tongue-in-cheek candles from Amusespot. Designed in Italy but manufactured stateside, "The Coreterno candles combine an eighteenth-century Victorian heart with elements of teenage slang, rock symbols and punk icons."


    Maybe youre looking for a different kind of candle. Like this sassy soy version from Etsy. You know someone who needs it It might be you Is it weird that we want both?


    Love your pet more than life? Then youre going to dig this pillow from Uncommon Goods, a company known for an array of distinct gifts and items, that lets you personalize your pillow to look JUST LIKE YOUR PET.

    Uncommon Goods

    I may or may not know someone who actually had one of these billiards-dining room table hybrids and several others for whom this may have been a marriage saver. The greatest thing about this versatile table: If you dont have space for both a dining room and a play room, you can both still get what you want

    Admittedly, this is gross. But you kinda want it, right? Because itll get the kids to wash up, of course.

    Your walls are an ideal place to express your personal >


    Full Story >

    3 Things You Need to Know About Insuring Your Vacation Home

    Ready to purchase a summer home along the coast or a winter home in the mountains? Although it may seem like a cant-miss investment, a vacation home could prove to be more expensive than you think, especially when you consider what it takes to insure this residence.

    Believe it or not, vacation home and homeowners insurance are not interchangeable. Even though vacation home insurance may offer some of the same coverage as a typical homeowners policy, certain exceptions could apply.

    What differentiates vacation home insurance from a homeowners policy? Here are three things you need to know about insuring your vacation home, and why you may need to add vacation home coverage to guarantee youre fully protected.

    1. Consider that your vacation home may serve as a temporary residence.

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics BLS reports the average consumer spent 258.59 annually on vacation costs food, housing and other living expenses in 2014. But as a vacation homeowner, youll likely need to account for these costs and many others.

    For instance, if you spend only a few weeks each year at a summer home on the beach, youll still need to ensure this residence is protected against hurricanes and other inclement weather year-round. Youll also need to insure your summer home based on the fact that this residence may provide only temporary housing, which means youre not present to maintain this residence in the same way an "average" homeowner would take care of his or her house regularly.

    Homeowners insurance covers the "average" homeowner, i.e. someone who spends the majority of his or her time at a residence. Since your vacation home serves as a temporary residence, however, youll need an insurance policy that accounts for the fact that you may spend only a portion of the year at this house.

    2. If you rent your vacation home, you may need additional coverage.

    Vacation homes may provide supplemental income because they enable you to rent your residence to guests at various times throughout the year.

    In fact, market research firm Statista reported U.S. vacation home rentals topped 22 million annually last year, and this total may surpass 37 million by 2020.

    But consider this: Would an average homeowner rent his or her house to visitors? Of course not As such, youll need insurance that accounts for guests who stay at your vacation residence temporarily.

    Your homeowners coverage will likely not apply to vacation home damage caused by a renter, so you may want to add extra coverage against damage to your vacation house. You also might consider additional liability, bodily injury and medical payment insurance to minimize your risk when visitors stay at your vacation home.

    3. Youll want to account for insurance costs before you purchase a vacation home or rent your vacation home to guests.

    Before you dot the is and cross the ts on your vacation home purchase agreement, consider your insurance costs. By doing so, youll know exactly what it will cost to guarantee youre protected against a wide range of dangers that otherwise could damage your vacation home and its long-term value.

    Purchasing a vacation home represents a major investment, one that should not be taken lightly. If you understand your vacation home insurance options, you should have no trouble optimizing the return on your investment.

    Vacation home insurance costs may vary based on risk factors such as the location of your residence, the age of your home and its amenitiesall factors that could impact the cost of your homeowners policy, too.

    Comparatively, with your vacation home insurance, youll need to account for problems that could arise when your home is unoccupied, including theft, vandalism or undetected damage like when a water pipe bursts.

    Keep in mind that these issues may occur in an average home as well. On the other hand, an average homeowner is more likely to detect and address such problems immediately as opposed to a vacation homeowner who spends only a few weeks a year at a particular residence.

    Like any residence, your vacation home represents both an opportunity and a risk. If you devote the time and resources to evaluate rental home dangers, you can learn about these risks and insure your vacation home accordingly.

    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 12 years of insurance expertise and blogs frequently to help consumers understand complicated insurance topics.

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    Agents Have Obligations To Honor Client Confidences

    Often, people tell their real estate agents things that they dont want others to know. These confidences may range from a price that a seller is willing to take to the fact that the principal has recently lost his job, or that his wife has contracted a serious illness.

    What are the agents obligations in this regard? When we ask such a question we can be asking about legal obligations or ethical obligations. In this case, ethical obligations are both clearer and more stringent than those that are spelled out in the law. Moreover, the Code of Ethics of the National Association of REALTORS spells out obligations for its members in real estate->

    First, it is >

    Suppose you tell me that you and your wife have filed for divorce, and you dont want anyone to know about it. In one sense, it would seem too late for that; the toothpaste is already out of the tube. The court filing is a matter of public record; how can the information be confidential? In reality, though, we know that while the public record is accessible; it doesnt mean that many people have knowledge of whats in it.

    For the most part, information is confidential, or to be treated as confidential, if the client says it is. When a seller tells his agent that he recently lost his job, that doesnt mean that no one knows of the fact. The people at the former workplace know. Rather, if he wants the information to be confidential, it means that he doesnt want it to go beyond the people who already know, or who might come to know by virtue of their particular role. At least he doesnt want people to learn of it through his agent; he the seller can still tell anyone he wants. But the agent cant.

    Agents have both a legal and an ethical duty to promote their clients interests. Presumably, >

    How long does the duty to maintain confidentiality last? Normally, agency obligations end when the agency is either terminated or its purpose is accomplished. If I represent a seller, my agency obligations end when escrow closes. Although it may be good business practice, and common courtesy, to continue to serve those interests for some period of time. However, for REALTORS -- those who are members of the national, state, and local Realtor associations -- that obligation extends somewhat longer. Standard of Practice 1-9 of the Realtor Code says in part that the obligation to preserve confidential information provided by their clients " continues after termination of agency >

    There is an important exception to the general principles we have discussed that is spelled out in the Realtor Code of Ethics. "Information concerning latent material defects is not considered confidential information under the Code of Ethics."

    In general, information is to be treated as confidential if the principal says so. But there are limits. The principal cant make an agent be party to a cover-up just by insisting that something is confidential. For example, a seller might say, "In a heavy rain, the backyard floods and sometimes leaks into the family room; but I dont want anyone to know. Keep this information confidential." No.

    REALTORShave an obligation to honor a principals confidences. But they have other obligations too. Sometimes those will override the duty to maintain confidentiality.

    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 .

    Full Story >

    How To Have A Game Room When You Dont Have The Space

    So youve always wanted a dedicated game room -- one full of the latest and greatest gaming consoles, stellar surround sound, a television geared specifically toward the art and tons of functional storage. The problem is, you dont have an extra room to spare.

    Enter the convertible game room. It can be your living room, your den, or even the bedroom of your teenage son. All it takes is the right hardware, good acoustics, comfortable seating, room-darkening drapes and an organized storage system.

    The Right Hardware

    All hardcore gamers have their favorite system -- you know who you are. Whether youre a fan of Microsoft or Sony, its worth investing in one of the newer gaming consoles on the market in your quest to create your own gamers paradise. Each has features that benefit you beyond regular game play, such as the ability to play DVDs, stream movies instantly, connect you to the Internet and more. Couple your new console with a big-screen LED TV that boasts a low input lag, and a nice surround-sound stereo system, and you have the beginnings of the ultimate convertible game room.

    Photo by kevin dooley via Flickr

    Good Acoustics

    Unless you live in a palace, your game room needs something to help absorb the sound of first-person shooters and indy car racing. Todays acoustic panels come in an amazing array of designs that install easily on your walls. Check out Audimute Acoustic Panels for a selection of printed panels that look like artwork, making those days of having a game room that always looks like a game room, over. With designer acoustic panels, once the lights come back up and the gear gets stowed away, your room converts back into >

    Photo of Acoustic sound panels on ceiling by George Halt via Flickr

    Comfortable Seating

    Go with something that looks good, feels good and doubles as storage, like Lane Furnitures Arcade Gamer Chair. At the end of the day, it just looks like a regular recliner, unless you fold it up into an ottoman, of course. The neat little storage feature under the seat is a nice perk too.

    Room-Darkening Drapes

    Ripple-fold drapes are the perfect solution for a room that must convert easily between light and dark. For example, the Shade Store drapes feature easy-glide movement and are easy to operate. Theyre designed to open and close easily along a track -- making them a quick, easy option for game rooms. Add room-darkening roller shades behind your drapes for added functionality.

    Photo by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

    Organized Storage

    Storage may be the most important element in your convertible room. Finding a way to stash all your gear effortlessly away at the end of day makes the room truly multi-purpose. A console unit with doors that sits beneath your television is one of the more discreet ways to go. The Abbyson Living Malibu Media Console fits the bill nicely. When youre done playing, simply close the doors on your game systems, and youre left with a lovely piece of furniture for guests to envy.

    Full Story >

    Written Contract Essential For Major Home Renovations

    Question. We plan on adding two rooms and a bath to our house. What protection should we include in the contract with our architect and contractor?

    Answer. I receive a number of questions on this topic every year. It is an area where an ounce of prevention can make a significant difference to the homeowner, and yet it always amazes me that homeowners will hire contractors for major renovations to their homes having only a loosely written one or two-page "letter agreement" or nothing in writing at all.

    In my opinion, it is absolutely essential to have a written contract with your home improvement company the contractor that spells out all of the terms and conditions of the proposed renovation.

    We lawyers have to be concerned with "horrible hypotheticals," because all too often these turn out to be real situations. If they are anticipated, homeowners can avoid unhappiness and extra expense.

    More and more homeowners are improving and adding onto their residences in lieu of buying new homes.

    Selecting a good licensed contractor is often a difficult task.

    Ask every contractor you interview for references. You also should inspect the contractors previous work, to assure yourself that he or she is right for you. It is also important to make sure that the contractor is licensed in your jurisdiction. Keep in mind that no contractor will provide you with an unhappy homeowner.

    Once you have selected a contractor, it is extremely important to enter into a contract spelling out in detail all of the terms and conditions under which the remodeling or renovation job will be done.

    Do not >

    Here are some suggestions for mandatory provisions in any contract that you sign:

    Do not sign the typical one or two-page proposal submitted by your contractor. I call this the "two page special". Although this is a contract -- legally binding on you -- these one or two-page proposals unfortunately provide very little, if any, protection for the homeowner. The American Institute of Architects sells standard form contracts you should use in your dealings with a prospective contractor. You may contact the American Institute of Architects, and ask for AIA document A107, entitled "Abbreviated Owner-Contract Agreement Form For Small Construction Contracts." It is available to non-AIA members at a nominal cost.

    The contract should contain a payment schedule that has been carefully worked out. Regardless of whether you or your bank will be making the actual payments, it is recommended that at least 15 percent of the payment be retained until the job is completed. All too often a contractor will leave a job unfinished after he has been paid in full, and homeowners are caught in a double bind. There is no money to pay anyone, including subcontractors, to finish the task, and you have already paid most if not all of the entire contract price.

    What kind of warranty is the contractor willing to provide? This should be discussed in detail with the contractor before you sign, and the exact terms of the warranty should be spelled out in the contract itself.

    The contract should state that "time is of the essence." One common problem with remodeling contractors occurs when the contractor is unable to finish the job within the estimated time. It is also suggested that the contract provide for a daily penalty from the contractor for each day the work is not completed after the time specified for completion in the contract. This provision will give the contractor a real incentive to complete the work within the promised time period. As an additional incentive, many homeowners offer a bonus to the contractor for early completion.

    Are you properly insured against possible claims by workers who may be injured on the job? Insist that the contractor be adequately insured, and check with your own insurance company to determine the limits and extent of your liability.

    You should have the absolute right to terminate the contract if, after reasonable notice to the contractor, you are dissatisfied with the work. Of course, you have to be reasonable and cannot terminate the contract arbitrarily.

    Arbitration must be provided for in the contract. You should not have to go to court to resolve any disputes that may arise. Legal fees, court costs and the time involved can be a deterrent to a prompt resolution of your dispute. Your contract should provide that all disputes be resolved through binding arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association. I am not an advocate of arbitration, but it is certainly cheaper and faster than litigation.

    Before final payment is made, have the contractor give you a signed statement >
    Full Story >

    How Much Does Location Really Matter When Buying A Home?

    The old saying, "Location, location, location" is more like a mantra when it comes to real estate. Buy in the wrong one and you could be setting yourself up for financial ruin. Or at least an unhappy experience. Right?

    In some cases, yes. But also, maybe not so much. Lets get into it.

    The argument for buying in the best location you can afford

    You can change your home, adding, updating, and renovating down to the last square foot. What you cant change is where its located. Add in an inherent desire to build equity when you buy a home, and its not surprising that real estate experts often recommend buying not only in the best location you can afford, but, if given a choice, buying the worst house in the best neighborhood instead of the other way around.

    "A home is an investment - and the best investments have the most room for improvement," said "Ideally, youll be adding to the home during your ownership, building equity in hopes of a payoff when you eventually sell. Brendon DeSimone, author of "Next Generation Real Estate," told them. "You can add value on your own. If youre choosing between an awesome house in a crappy location or an awful house in a great location, I would choose the latter."


    Multiple recent studies bolstered the idea of buying in the best location you can, but identified new factors for determining location-worthiness. Namely, you need to buy a home with a Starbucks nearby. Or a Target nearby. Ideally, both.

    "Among homeowners who sold in 2015, those near a Target saw an average 27 percent increase in home price since they purchased their home, which equates to an average price gain of 65,569," said the Washington Post.

    As for Starbucks, "Between 1997 and 2014, homes within walking distance, or one-quarter mile, of a Starbucks appreciated 96 percent," said Forbes. "Compared to the national average for the same time period, 65 percent, it seems having a barista close by is a smart real estate move."

    Buying the house, not the neighborhood

    Yes, buying in a neighborhood that seems to offer some cushion when it comes to values makes sense. But what if you fall in love with a house thats not in your preferred neighborhood? What if its not in anyones preferred neighborhood?

    The opportunity to buy a more affordable home can tempt people to take a chance on an iffy location. But how iffy is too iffy? The potential for losing money on a home that may not ever appreciate because of the neighborhood is only the beginning. Buying into an area that has higher crime can be dangerous to more than your finances.

    Not sure what youre getting yourself into? Here are a few ways to investigate the neighborhood:

    • Look at sales data - Beyond the safety issues, you want to know what youre in for in terms of your investment. Just because a home in a questionable area is priced low doesnt mean its a good value.
    • Check crime records - Youll obviously want to pay attention to murder and violent crime rates, but also property crimes including break-ins, home robberies, and car thefts.
    • Check the sexual predator registry - Thats a given for any move.
    • Talk to neighbors and area business owners - Sometimes, the people that live and work there can provide the most telling information.
    • Consider the type of businesses in the neighborhood. Remind yourself about the Starbucks and Target value conversation. Those arent around? Whats in their place?

    The quality of the businesses in the area can be one of the main determining factors when considering a neighborhood. A story from attn: asked the question, "Do Certain Businesses Attract Crime?" Their findings: "The prospect of a new liquor store or marijuana dispensary can spark safety concerns in some neighborhoods. But while the idea that particular businesses are crime magnets holds up in some cases, its not always true, and peoples concerns can be based on real evidence or flawed perception."

    Ev Grieve

    However, they note that businesses like liquor stores, nightclubs, and pawn shops can be linked to higher crime trends. A careful examination of police reports can either put your mind at ease - or send you in another direction.

    Perhaps toward a neighborhood with a strip club. Yes, the establishment once thought to be a neighborhood killer has actually been found to have little or no effect on home values. "A new study found that proximity to strip clubs doesnt put downward pressure on home prices, said Inman. In addition, "The research undercuts legal arguments that municipalities have used to justify placing zoning restrictions on strip clubs."

    The new study was conducted in Seattle between 2010 and 2014, analyzing more than 300,000 home sales. "The basis for the study was as follows: The >

    The upshot: "The study found no empirical evidence that strip clubs drive down home prices, as property values in Seattle neighborhoods near the opening or closing of an establishment did not change in value per the studys findings."

    Pittsburgh History amp; Landmark Foundation

    Buying in a transitional neighborhood

    Transitional is code for "might be on its way up" which also translates to "might be a great investment." Many buyers seek out these changing neighborhoods when their ideal neighborhood is out of reach and/or to get more for their money and be on the "ground floor" as the area appreciates.

    So how do you know if your neighborhood is transitioning? If theyre building a Whole Foods, a Trader Joes, or a caf on the corner, that a good sign. Forbes offered a few more tips:

    • Its Accessible, with "proximity to public transportation."
    • "Hot hoods border it - A neighborhood thats adjacent to a much-desired one is much more likely to gentrify than one thats surrounded by less prime areas."
    • Days on market are dropping - Your real estate agent will be able to pull data and show you trends.
    • "It Has an Art Scene. A large population of artists tends to mean galleries and restaurants will soon follow suit - which, in turn, attracts more residents and businesses."
    • "It Has Historic Architecture - Historically significant >
    • Renovations are being made - "One of the most obvious signs of a turnaround neighborhood is homes that are in the process of renovation. Drive around and see if you spot construction trucks and dumpstersthen you know theres activity in the air."

    Full Story >

    HOA Generationalizing

    Homeowner associations can be a melting pot of age groups which carry unique values and perceptions of the world. At times, these values can clash at the HOA level and the board is challenged to restore balance and harmony with the warring factions. Theres more to it than loud music, wandering pets and illegally parked RVs. There are certain heartfelt philosophies that simply dont mix. Consider the dynamics of these groups:

    Silent Generation was born between 1920 and 1945. Theyre the veterans of the World and Korean Wars. They survived the Great Depression. Their core values include survival and sacrifice. They stockpile food, wear clothes out and eat leftovers. They believe that a rule is a rule. They resist changes in technology which puts them at a disadvantage in the workplace. They believe in traditional family structure and that marriage is a life long commitment. Most attended the College of Hard Knocks.

    Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Many are career driven workaholics who dont see the need to follow rules. They believe in the notion of "meaningful work" rather than working simply to survive and the workplace is a major part of their self-identity. Many experienced growing up with only one parent. Many thought college was an birthright.

    Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980. This group questions their parents values and believes that jobs and housing are disposable. They place greater value on family and personal life than the Baby Boomers do, and they feel that a balanced life is more important than professional accomplishments. Many grew up as "latch-key" kids who were left home alone frequently because one or both parents worked outside the home. They view college as a means to an end.

    Generation Y was born between 1981 and 2000. People in this group have always known computers, the Internet and cell phones. South Africas policy of apartheid has not existed in their lifetime, genetic testing and DNA screening have always been available. Generation Ys are tolerant of multiculturalism, internationalism and interracial >

    What these differences point to is that people communicate based on their generational backgrounds. Each generation has distinct attitudes, behaviors, expectations, habits and motivational buttons. Learning how to communicate with the different generations can eliminate many major confrontations and misunderstandings.

    So whats the board to do with such disparate ways of thinking? Fortunately, its not the boards job to make sure neighbors get along. While reasonable rules need to be enforced, personality reconciliation does not. What the board can do is to facilitate social activities and reinforce areas of commonality.

    Social Events. A potluck event costs the HOA nothing yet provides an opportunity for different age groups to mingle and acquaint themselves. These can be carried off as barbecues, Christmas parties or at annual meetings.

    Reinforcing Commonality. Regardless of age, HOA members share in the need for security, peace and sustained property values. When the board acts to protect the general good in these areas, age is no barrier and all will be unified in a common cause. Conversely, when the board enacts rules that target certain age groups like children, discontent and rancor is sure to follow from the kids and their parents.

    Stay Out of the Middle. Given time and opportunity, generational conflicts can be resolved by face to face meeting of the parties. The board should not interrupt this process by trying to solve the problem. Encourage the parties to meet and talk without weapons and lawyers.

    Balancing the generations that populate your homeowner association is on the one hand a great challenge and on the other hand a gratifying exercise. While value and perception differences will conflict from time to time, facilitating social activities, reinforcing those issues all generations hold in common and letting them work out differences face to face will help them bond.

    For more innovative HOA management strategies, subscribe to

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    How To Use Sherwin-Williams Brown Meets Gray 2017 Color Of The Year

    Not such a fan of cool grey? Looking to get a head start on 2017 trends? Youre in luck on both accounts. Sherwin Williams just announced their 2017 color of the year, and its called "Poised Taupe."

    Sherwin-Williams describes the color like this: "Earthen brown combines with conservative grey and the result is a weathered, woodsy and complex neutral that celebrates the imperfections and authenticity of a well-lived life." They referenced a Danish word, "hygge" which they say "loosely translates as cozy, or creating a sense of coziness and warmth. The soft glow of candle-light, a toasty drink, and the company of family and friends is certainly hygge, but this feeling comes from creating the right atmosphere."

    Elle Dcors take on Poised Taupe: "like gray and brown had a baby." Sounds about right.

    The color acts as a neutral but is a deeper hue than the soft beiges and greys you might typically turn to. As such, it plays nicely with everything from light blue to deep red to white, black, yellow, and navy. And it can be used in every room.

    Check out Sherwin-Williams 2017 Colormix to see how it pops against a range of complementary colors.


    Here are a few examples of how Poised Taupe can update your space.


    Used in a kitchen, Poised Taupe creates a clean palette for a sleek, yet warm space, allowing countertops and other finishes to take center stage.


    Or maybe its not your wall youre looking to paint. Look how Poised Taupe creates a neutral but interesting option for these kitchen cabinets from Traditional Home.

    Apartment Therapy





    Paint the bedroom for a rich look. Here, medium wood and white bedding create a >

    Huffington Post

    In this elegant bedroom, similar tones on the walls, bed, curtains, and rug create a cocoon of sumptuousness.


    If an entire room of color is too much, just paint one wall to anchor the bed and ease yourself in slowly.

    dcor pad

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    Canadian Doctors Call For Action On Healthy Housing

    As the Canadian government takes the first steps to develop a national housing strategy, many organizations are stepping forward to emphasize the importance of housing on physical and mental health.

    "Experts in health care are trained to focus on the provision of health care services, often sending patients back into the social and economic conditions that made them sick. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of individuals experiencing homelessness or living in unsafe, precarious housing," wrote family physicians Danyaal Raza and Ritika Goel in a recent commentary.

    "We treat chronic back pain and send people back to sleep on concrete steps. We treat insomnia and send people back to chaotic shelters where they cannot sleep. We treat asthma and send people back into mouldy homes where they labour to breathe. We send patients back to the very places that create their disease."

    The authors say that 1.5 million Canadians live in housing that is "inadequate, unsuitable and unaffordable. In other words, 1.5 million families live in housing that requires major repairs, does not have enough bedrooms for their needs and pay more than 30 per cent of their household income for this unfit housing."

    As a national housing strategy is developed, "housing must be viewed as a health and social justice issue. Safe, secure and affordable housing is crucial to maintaining and improving health and well-being," say Raza and Goel.

    A 2013 article in the Ontario Medical Review for the Ontario Medical Association by Kathryn MacKay and John Wellner says, "There is a growing body of evidence that associates housing quality with morbidity from infectious diseases, chronic illnesses, injuries, poor nutrition and mental illness. Sub-standard housing that is damp, mouldy, too hot or too cold is an established contributor to morbidity and mortality as well. Respiratory infections, asthma and activation of tuberculosis have been independently associated with such housing conditions. Overcrowding can also increase susceptibility to disease."

    In a position statement, The Canadian Paediatric Society says, "Compared with peers living in adequate housing conditions, children and youth living in inadequate and crowded housing exhibit a number of negative outcomes, including aggressive behaviours, property offences, diminished school performance, asthma symptoms and diminished overall health status. Other studies link inadequate housing with poor air quality and lead exposure, an increased risk for asthma and exposure to health hazards and injury risks."

    The society says children and youth who feel they live in an unsafe neighbourhood experience higher rates of anxiety disorders and it can limit the amount of time they spend doing outdoor physical activity.

    "Paediatricians and other physicians caring for children are uniquely qualified to advocate for enhanced action from all levels of government for housing-supported policies," says the position paper. "However, they also need to collaborate within the health care system, work with other sectors caring for children and youth, and engage with organizations involved in building community and housing support."

    A new study being funded by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is examining whether people who receive rent geared to income RGI housing for the first time "experience any impact on mental health, general health and other known determinants of health, such as social support, sense of community, health behaviours or on income and education," says a research report by the studys principal investigator, James Dunn of St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto.

    He says the study, which will run until March 2019, "is a strong study design that improves on many other studies of housing and health by ensuring that the direction of causality between housing and health is correct. In other words, previous cross-sectional studies that showed >

    Dunn says it is well-established that "low-income individuals often compromise or discount their own health in order to pay for housing." They may not buy a full course of prescription drugs that they should take, or they will buy less healthy foods and avoid medical treatment until their problems become worse.

    More that half of those applying for RGI housing are moving from an apartment they cant afford.

    The study group is a "low-income, but fairly well-educated population who report a high level of satisfaction with their current housing and who also have somewhat poorer mental and general health than the general population, reflecting their low-income status," says the researcher.

    "Follow-up data collected from all participants at six, 12 and 18 months after they receive RGI housing will help to quantify impacts that affordable housing has on the health status of participants," it says. "This comparison will help determine if the provision of affordable housing has an impact on general health, mental health and known determinants of health."

    Its hoped the results from the study will "help inform the development of future housing policies and programs."

    Full Story >

    Use Technology To Attract High End Home Buyers

    ERA Real Estate and HGTV reported 46 percent of consumers see smart-home technology as important for their current and future residences. But luxury homebuyers are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. According to Digital Interiors, 94 percent of buyers surveyed would sacrifice 1,000 square feet of living space for more technology in their new home. Oversized houses are no longer the driving trend in the luxury real estate market and agents are under pressure to respond to the demand. Heres what affluent homebuyers are looking for and which gadgets are must-haves.

    Get a Smart Thermostat

    Outfit your listings for luxury with smart-home additions like a smart thermostat . The Nest programs itself based on your preferences and can adjust whenever you leave to conserve energy. Your clients can control the system right from their smartphones. Owners can warm up the living room before an evening entertaining clients, talk about how they can jet set to their vacation home and simply check-in on their property as needed. The idea behind a smart thermostat is really about controlling the overall climate of the home as opposed to an exact temperature.

    Enhance your Home Surveillance

    Home security systems have always dabbled in the high-tech world of smart automation. In the past, most alarms simply triggered an annoying sound and contacted the police at signs of danger.

    Today, home security cameras keep an eye on the inside and outside of the home with wi>

    New owners can keep an eye on their home from vacation, at work or on a spontaneous outing without worry.

    Go High-Tech Culinary

    Updating a kitchen has always been a recommended way to raise a homes price tag and attract buyers. But affluent home shoppers are looking for more than just new appliances and chefs kitchens. The latest technology trends include no-touch faucets and smart refrigerators that can alert you when youre running low on groceries. The LG model features an internal camera to check on its contents, built-in Wi-Fi to connect to your mobile device and offers available accessories that can be 3-D printed. Other high-tech touches like Bluetooth smart cooking thermometers tell your mobile device when your food is ready to create perfect dishes every time.

    Upgrade your Luxury Entertainment

    Just about every home has a flat-screen television; some piped for surround sound and home theaters. Let your clients take entertaining to a new level by controlling everything from one device like Savant. Your clients can adjust the lighting, change the channel on your smart TV and turn on music. A system like Savant can also help monitor your homes security and adjust the climate as needed. While clients are getting ready upstairs for an evening with friends, they can adjust the entertainment area and living room downstairs to create a luxurious atmosphere.

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    7 Tricks Hotels Use That Can Make Your Home Look and Work Better

    Looking to breathe some life into your house? Maybe all you need is a vacation. A hotel stay is great for a lot of reasons - as a romantic getaway, an opportunity to see the world or explore new places, a break from work or kids - but taking a good look at your surroundings can also give you great ideas for refreshing your space when you get back home.

    "Whether you actually travel the world by getting on those planes, trains and automobiles or mainly explore from your sofa with an iPad in hand, youll know that hotel designers are full of clever ideas on how to make bedrooms comfortable, visually interesting and small space smart," said Apartment Therapy.

    Economy of spacev

    For the most part, hotel rooms are small spaces that have to pack a lot of function and >

    Originally designed under the Tommie brand, the rooms were designed as "micro scale." Niki Leondakis, the chief executive of Commune Hotels and Resorts, told the New York Times that, building hotels in "urban markets where real estate is at a premium and hotel rooms are notoriously small" requires "an approach to design that maximizes every square foot" - an idea that can translate to home.


    Make it interesting

    Small doesnt have to be boring. Look how this Great Gatsby-themed hotel room uses pattern and textured panels to create interest.


    Luxury linens

    You know how hotel room sheets are always so soft? They dont scrimp on thread count. Or the number of sheets they use. "To design your own hotel bed, "start with very clean, white, high thread count sheets," Sybil Pool, a spokesperson for Park Hyatt, told Huffington Post. "Three-hundred thread count seems to be the general rule - thats the standard at Park Hyatt Sydney, and Arizonas award-winning Miraval Resort uses 300 thread count as well. The Westin Heavenly Bed, likewise, gets its oomph from 300 thread count Egyptian cotton, along with a special twist: There are three sheets, says Hoover. That way, youre always touching a sheet. Its a really plush bed."

    Huffington Post has a few more tips to make the bed at home and feel like youre in a plush resort.

    A great mattress = a great nights sleep

    Hotels buy great mattresses. So much so that many have become available to the general public over the years. Theres the aforementioned Westin Heavenly Bed, or you can grab a Four Seasons Bed, the luxe bed youll sleep in if you stay at the W Hotel, and a few more you can see here.


    If cost is an issue, think about it this way: a good nights sleep can affect more than just your coffee consumption in the morning. It may be that buying a great mattress ends up being a small price to pay for better health, clarity, and an improved mood all day long.

    Accentuate the positive

    This tiny, budget room in Copenhagen puts the view front and center. And even though the space is limited REALLY limited, they still found room for a desk and chair, as well as another accent chair. The wall-mounted nightstand is a great way to include a little convenience without a lot of space and the colorful drapes bring the eye out toward the city view.

    Wake Up Copenhagen

    Coordination is key

    You may not have such a fantastic view to emphasize, but you can create a dazzling view inside by coordinating your dcor like hotel rooms do. See how the patterns complement each other, multiple textures create a layered look, and the orange accents pop off of the neutral background?

    Bentley Hotel NYC

    Concentrate on lighting

    Good lighting can make or break a space, and this is something that good hotels do particularly well. The trick: layer it in with overhead, ambient, and task lighting, making sure to illuminate key spaces, like in this Las Vegas room.


    Full Story >

    Create Big Appeal With Small Kitchens

    Many people complain about small kitchens but tiny spaces arent always to be dreaded. If youre selling your home and your kitchen is, well, compact, know that you can find ways to achieve big appeal with a little creativity.

    • Bring in the light.Sometimes small kitchens can be dark, making them feel even smaller. But if you remove the curtains from any windows in your small kitchen, itll let light in and open up the area. Instead of curtains, you can use small blinds that are recessed inside the frame of the window. These are easy to clean and still provide some privacy even when the blinds are open.

    • De-Clutter the counter tops and the walls.Most people have a tendency to let kitchen clutter build up on the counter tops and walls. Removing items from the counters, kitchen table, and even off the walls will make the space feel bigger. Yes, I know these items on the counters are useful but when youre selling your home, a little inconvenience may help you receive a higher offer and youll probably agree, thats worth it Take the appliances and either store them in the kitchen cabinets or, if there isnt enough room, pack them up. Youre moving soon, anyway.

      Clearing off photos and miscellaneous papers that are stuck on your refrigerator door or kitchen walls will also help make your kitchen look bigger. If youre tight for space, mounted storage units can be added to your kitchen walls to free up limited counter-top space. But again, too many storage units, even the decorative kind, will give people a feeling like the walls are closing in on them. The same goes for hanging pot racks from the ceiling. Be sure to leave some open wall space and to use storage units that arent completely solid. The open units, if the shelves arent stuffed, will give a less closed-in feeling.

      Photo by Big Girls Small Kitchen - Search transitional kitchen pictures

    • Opt for lighter and brighter wall color.Going with lighter colors tends to open up a room. Light and bright colors are also very inviting and friendly, making them a perfect choice for the kitchen. You can use a darker accent trim to create some contrast. You can also use decorations including floral arrangements or even some colorful kitchen appliances to add spice to the kitchen.

    • Wall-mounted appliances and reduced counter-top depth.Wall-mounted or under-the-cabinets-mounted appliances can save valuable kitchen counter-top space. You might even have a way to wall-mount your kitchen faucet. In one small home design, the faucet was mounted to the wall, creating a very distinctive look. The counter-top was a standard 24 inches deep but elsewhere the counter-top was reduced just slightly down to 21 inchesvery subtle and hardly noticeable but it allowed more floor space in a tiny kitchen.

      Small kitchens dont have to be an eyesore. Some even prefer less space because theres less to clean. If you know the audience youre marketing your home to, you can play up the homes best featuresincluding, perhaps, a small, quaint, and simple kitchen.

    Full Story >

    Understanding How Credit Scores Work

    Lenders want to give you a mortgage, but they also want to minimize their own risk. The easiest way to retard risk is by using your credit scores to make lending decisions.

    Credit scores are compiled separately by three consumer reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. These credit reporting bureaus calculate scores differently, and base their scores on information that may differ from other bureaus.

    Equifax Beacon 5.0 Facta: scores range from 334 to 818.

    Experian Fair Isaac V2: scores range from 320 to 844.

    Trans Union FICO Risk score >

    Your credit score is a number that reflects the information in your credit report, whether you pay your bills on time, how much you owe creditors, payoffs, and derogatory information such as liens. It also includes inquiries into your accounts from lenders, landlords, and employers.

    When you apply for a home loan, your application includes giving your lender permission to "pull your credit" and base the decision to lend to you and the rate of interest on the information contained in your credit scores. The higher the score, the better terms youll receive from the lender.

    Once your credit scores are reviewed by your mortgage lender, youll receive a computer-generated report of the findings in the mail, but it wont have a copy of your entire credit report. It may include key factors that adversely affected your scores. Some examples might include:

    • Too many inquiries in the last 12 months
    • Time since most recent account opening is too short
    • Proportion of loan balances to loan amounts is too high
    • Too many accounts with balances
    • Amount owed on revolving accounts is too high

    What if youre declined for the loan, or your lender wants to charge higher interest than you were expecting? Is there anything you can do?

    Yes, talk to your lender and ask for help repairing or correcting your scores. For example, you may have innocently done something that resulted in a negative score, such as closing a line of credit. Or, you may not have realized that a late payment would bring your score down as much as it has. The lender will tell you exactly what you need to do.

    Under federal law, you have the right to obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the national consumer credit reporting agencies once a year. There are several sites where you can go to get your free reports including or

    If you find an error such as derogatory data that doesnt belong to you, or an account that shows the wrong balance, simply show the lender your canceled check, >

    Youll also have to correct the information yourself separately with each agency, and it may take a few weeks for the agencies to record the updated information.

    In the meantime, work with your lender and do what he/she tells you to do to get the best rate, including paying more than the minimums, paying on time, and making sure that your debt to income is well within your ability to repay all your loans.

    Full Story >

    Why What Have I Missed? Is Not The Best Question

    The summers rolling to a close whether we want to admit it or not. For those whove taken time off to get away on vacation or who unplugged and disappeared into a staycation, a popular question to ask on returning to the office is, "What have I missed?" Realistically, this may not be the best question for real estate professionals to consider first.

    Professionals who take a break, however long, always benefit from asking themselves "What have I learned?" before they get sucked into their old routines and before their mellow state disappears into a bulging inbox.

    Returning vacationers who skip this question and their response to it, lose an important 5-pronged opportunity for painless improvement. Remember, its not the vacation, but what you do with the benefits of taking a vacation that count:

    1. Absence Accentuates

    Putting distancereal or virtualbetween you and the daily grind provides you with valuable perspectives on what has really been going on and what really matters to you. While away, you may become aware of time wasters to eliminate, negative forces to neutralize, and positive forces to strengthen when you return. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" to reveal people and things that matter most to you. Sometimes this realization may surprise you. Reflecting on what you learned while absent from work, friends, home, communitywill help you project into the future as you decide where and how to concentrate your energy and efforts. Whether this enhanced awareness leads to small changes or significant shifts, thats part of why getting away to gain perspective is valuable.

    2. Subconscious ruminating

    Even if you did not consciously give work a thought while on vacation, your subconscious was churning away. Take time to connect with this processing force and learn what you really think about how your life and work have unfolded. If you dread returning to the office, maybe you shouldnt. Asking yourself "What have I learned?" may give rise to the realization that it is time for a change of target client, where you work, how you workor whatever you discover. Perhaps youll decide its time to move to a new home or community. Take the time to reconnect with yourself before the hectic pace of real estate swallows you up again.

    3. Revisit Your Dreams

    At the start of the year, you had dreams of what could happen for you and those that matter to you this year. Did you set goals and identify "A-tasks" which would trigger goal achievement? Find that list of dreams you intended to act on or make a new list. Launch a fresh start at making your goals a reality. Go forward with purposeyour purpose.

    4. Theres No "Back"

    We always say "Im going back to"like "back to work"but theres no "back." When you return to the office, virtual or otherwise, things will have changed. They cannot be put back to what they were when you left. We should say, "Im going forward to work" because we are leaping in at a new point in time, not time-traveling backward. Think about this for a moment. Not "back," but "forward to a fresh start." With that in mind, what will you do differently to make the most of this renewal? What will you eliminate or just not restart? Which new people and things will you make time for? Write down the improvements you decide on; that simple action will help make things happen.

    5. Thanks All Round

    Thank the people who may have helped you get this far. Be thankful you have been able to get away, recharge, and give your brain time to process all that fills your life.

    Whether you craved a break to recharge or sought out pure mindless fun, think things through as you transition.

    Start by repeating this question to yourself a few times: "What have I learned?" >

    If your vacation lies ahead, let these ideas make your up-coming adventure a great get-a-way on all counts.

    Full Story >

    Home Sellers Need to Understand Liquidated Damages

    Liquated Damages Clause Can BE Valuable, But May Be misunderstood

    Is a liquidated damages clause a good thing to have in a real estate contract? If so, for whom is it good? The buyer? The seller? Both? Like so many questions in real estate, and life in general, the first answer to such questions is, "It depends." Before we get into that, though, a word about what a liquidated damages clause is.

    A liquidated damages clause sets in advance -- at the time of contract formation -- what the monetary value of damages shall be in the event of contract breach by one of the parties. Often, a liquidated damages clause actually, a paragraph or section will include a recitation that the parties are agreeing ahead of time, because it would likely be difficult to determine the actual damages should a breach occur. But such a statement is not necessary.

    A liquidated damages clause could be directed toward both parties. For example, "If either of us fails to perform, he will owe the other 10,000." But it need not do so. Commonly, a liquidated damages clause will be directed towards only one. E.G., "If the commercial landlord doesnt deliver the property within fifteen days of the date promised, he will owe the tenant 10,000."

    The standard residential purchase contract produced by the California Association of REALTORSCAR contains a liquidated damages clause. It says this:

    "If Buyers fails to complete this purchase because of Buyers default, Seller shall retain, as liquidated damages, the deposit actually paid. If the Property is a dwelling with no more than four units, one of which Buyer intends to occupy, then the amount retained shall be no more than 3 of the purchase price. Any excess shall be returned to Buyer. >Three items are worth noting: i This provision is asymmetrical. That is, it burdens only one party, the buyer. It does not provide for any preset damages should the seller breach. Presumably, a seller breach could lead to a suit for performance. ii It is limited. For residential properties of less than five units, one of which will be occupied by the buyer, the amount cannot be more than 3 of the purchase price. This has been set by legislation Civil Code 1675. iii Payment of the damages would still require the agreement by signatures of both parties. That is because there has to be agreement that there has been a breach. Otherwise, a judicial or arbitration conclusion will have to be reached.

    Signing or initialing a liquidated damages clause is optional. Although it is preprinted into the CAR purchase agreement, it will only apply if both parties so indicate. This is where problems, based on misunderstanding, may arise.

    Commonly, when encountering a liquidated damages clause, a principal is liable to ask, "What does this mean?" It would not be unusual for an agent to say something like, "This means that if the buyer breaches, the seller gets to keep the deposit." That, unfortunately, does not go far enough in explanation for many sellers. They need to know that it means that, in the event of breach, they would be entitled to no more than the deposit or no more than 3 of the purchase price, if the deposit is larger than that. Often, when buyers have breached a contract, the seller feels wounded and entitled to more than the deposit. If a liquidated damages clause is in effect, that will not be an outcome.

    Let us consider some possibilities. Say the purchase price of a single family home intended for owner occupancy is 300,000. The liquidated damages limit is 3 of the purchase price -- 9,000. Suppose the CAR liquidated damages provision has been signed and that the buyer subsequently breaches.

    a The deposit is 5,000. The seller has a right to the 5,000; but not to pursue the buyer for the additional 4,000. Liquidated damages is limited to the amount of deposit actually paid.

    b The deposit is 15,000. The seller is entitled only to 9,000, the statutory limit.

    c The original deposit is 5,000, but it had subsequently been increased by another 5,000.

    i If the increased deposit was accompanied by a separate liquidated damages provision CAR form R.I.D., Increased Deposit/Liquidated Damages Addendum, signed by both parties, then the seller would be entitled to 9,000 of the 10,000 actually paid.

    ii If the deposit had been increased by 5,000, but no separate liquidated damages provision had been executed, then the seller would only be entitled to the original 5,000.

    Is a liquidated damages clause a good thing? For both buyers and sellers the answer may be yes and no. It depends. Suppose the buyer backs out -- breaches -- very early into the transaction. Typically, that would not cause a lot of damage to the seller. A liquidated damages provision may give too much to the seller. Conversely, a seller who has gone through a long escrow and who has made plans and commitments -- sometimes financial -- may feel that limiting the damages to the deposit or 3 of the price is not sufficient.

    For both parties, though, if they have agreed to a liquidated damages provision, they at least know what is at stake.

    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 .

    Full Story >

    8 Essentials For Cooling Your Home

    When the temperatures spike, most families crank up the air conditioning to keep their homes cool. While blasting the AC is often viewed as the first step in cooling a home, there are a number of other ways to keep your home comfortable in the summer.

    1 Open Windows at Night

    If you live in a region of the country where nighttime temperatures tend to dip into the lower 70s and upper 60s, open your windows at night and turn off the AC. Once the sun is down, that cool air can flow into your home overnight and help maintain a cooler starting point for the next day. Turning on any fans you have around the house will help circulate that cool air.

    2 Leave Interior Doors Open

    During the winter months, its a good idea to close doors to unused rooms to avoid wasting money heating those spaces. But closed-off rooms can become heat blankets in the summer if you dont open them up and allow for even airflow throughout your home. To help keep the house cooler, open your interior doors.

    3 Close Blinds During the Day

    Its nice to open the shades and let in some sunlight, but up to 30 percent of the unwanted heat in your home comes from windows. Shut your shades to limit the house-warming sunlight allowed into your home. Focus on closing only west- and south-facing windows to still give your home the benefit of natural light. This can help lower the mid-day temperature of your home by almost 20 degrees.

    4 Using Appliances at Night

    Your oven, washer and dryer are the primary culprits when it comes to unwanted heat in your home. Using your grill to cook is a simple way of keeping unwanted heat outdoors. As for your chores involving laundry, leave those for the nighttime hours when temperatures are naturally lower.

    5 Keep the Furnace Fan On

    The vast majority of thermostats give you the power to manually control the fan that blows hot air through your home in the winter. If you turn this fan on during the summer, it can help to distribute the cool air from your basement to the other levels of your home. This provides better airflow in your home and an overall cooler feeling.

    6 Leave the Bathroom Exhaust Fan On

    The steam from your shower will create a pocket of hot air in your home that will exit the bathroom the moment you open the door. Its already a good idea to run the exhaust fan while youre in the shower, but consider leaving it on for 20 to 30 minutes after your shower to help blow out the hot air.

    7 Consider Upgrades Outdoors

    There are two big things you could do to the outside of your home to help keep it cooler in the summer months. First, you could repaint the siding of your home with a lighter color to deflect more of the suns rays. The siding on your home is just like any dark surface or dark clothing. The darker it is, the more heat it attracts and retains. The same can be said for your roof. Slate, concrete, clay and various tiles offer better protection from heat than standard shingles.

    8 Install New Windows

    Old, single-pane windows are a significant source of heat gain in your home during the summer months. These old, outdated models make it too easy for hot air to creep in and cold air to leak out. Replace your older windows with newer models if you can. Or, install new weather stripping to reduce the temperatures in your home.


    These seven house-cooling tips are sure to keep you comfortable and lower your utility bills -- all without resorting to the constant use of your AC.

    Full Story >

    How Colorados Legalization of Marijuana Sparked a Homebuying Frenzy

    "Youre going to Denver? Dont drink the water," he said with a half-chuckle to a passenger. Theres THC in it. You dont want to come back and fail a drug test."

    This helpful statement came courtesy of a TSA agent in the security line at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, and, not surprisingly, prompted lots of chatter among the other passengers, and then a bit of research on my end. The upshot: Earlier this year, the Denver Post warned residents in Hugo, a "town on Colorados Eastern Plainsnot to drink, bathe in or cook with its tap water" because "multiple p>

    The pot wasnt flowing, at least in my environs, despite the fact that recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado thanks to a voter referendum in 2012. But just because you dont witness an ounce of growing, dispensing, or partaking firsthand doesnt mean its not happening. In fact, the economic impact of legalized marijuana statewide has been huge. Revenue in the first five months of this year totaled 486 million. Thats up from 356.8 million in the first five months of 2015, per the Colorado Department of Revenue.

    Motley Fool took a look at the legalized industry in an in-depth, three-part piece and found one "small but opportunistically located cannabis shop" in Denver that the owner said was "on track to do 130,000 in sales today." And that was in 2014.

    "Needless to say, in an almost exclusively cash-based business, thats a lot of dough," they said.


    Money talks

    Its not surprising that those who have capitalized on this growing economy are looking for places to put it by pouring their all-cash profits into all-cash property purchases.

    "In the red-hot Denver real estate market, cash is king," said RE/MAX of Cherry Creek. "Increasingly, buyers are coming to the table with cash offers and edging out others who require loans to acquire the property."

    Just how many? "The Denver Business Journal reports that in January, cash sales of homes in the metro area made up 19.21 of all sales. Statewide, that number increased to 25 of all sales."

    Not surprisingly, market conditions are keeping some area real estate professionals on their toes, as everyone from first-time buyers to those who have - gasp - the nerve to seek an actual mortgage, take a hit.

    "The pot industry has changed multiple industries in Colorado," said Judy White, Broker/Owner of Judy Judy Judy, Metro Brokers Front Range Professionals. "A lot of money has and is coming into the state. Most notably, industrial/residential real estate. Cash Cash Cash"

    One of the most significant impacts on the market has been the dwindling inventory. Yes, it seems the pot folks are bogarting the homes.

    Christian Mulhern of Give Back Homes noted on the companys blog that, "The legalization of marijuana in Colorado has been an exciting adventure. It has brought success to many in the marijuana industry, but has also put a lot of stress on the housing market. Colorados population increased by 101,000 in 12 months. Listings go under contract in less than 72 hours on the market and sell for well over asking price. With the amount of people moving here, we are seeing multiple offers, which continues to raise home prices."


    The impact on property values

    And that brings up an important question: Is the Denver market overvalued?

    Denver has been smoking the competition when it comes to sales for a few years now. Its currently the No. 2 housing market in the country by city size behind Austin, according to WalletHubs new "2016 Best Real Estate Markets" list. The list considers everything from "median home-price appreciation to housing affordability to job growth," which makes it easier to justify values. The Denver Post calls the Metro Denver market "frothy" but points out that "home prices are about 18.3 percent higher than what income gains can explain and justify, according to a first quarter update from Arch MI.

    Thats on the high side among metro areas and above the excess appreciation rates seen a decade ago during the housing boom. In fact, they havent been so high in Denver since the oil boom days of the early 1980s."

    But, theyre not expecting a dip in the market, despite the fact that "The state is the third-most overvalued after North Dakota and Texas." In fact, "The odds that metro Denver will suffer a home price decline over the next two years remains at a low two percent due to a strong economy and the regions continued popularity among those >

    Perhaps the most interesting comment from Arch MI: "States dependent on natural resources are at the greatest risk of a housing downturn as they shed jobs and population gains slow."

    Natural resources. Funny.


    Side benefits

    CNN noted last year that "Denvers housing market is on fire," with home prices up by double-digits, inventory way down and "multiple offers with bidding wars" having become common thanks to legalized marijuana in the state. They also took a look at job growth >

    "The pot industry is creating jobs we didnt have before," Kelly Moye, a Re/Max real estate agent who has worked in the Denver area for 24 years, told them.

    Beyond the growers and dispensaries, "Legal marijuana has also been a boon for existing businesses like security and HVAC companies who service the new green businesses," said CNN.

    For the first half of this year, "Colorados employment growth is meeting expectations and the economy continues to outperform the nation: Employment is growing faster here, housing is hotter and incomes are higher, according to a report >

    "And Colorados fledgling marijuana industry - which, in the grand scheme of things, is just a tiny sliver of the economic pie chart - is backfilling retail sales lossesand bolstering otherwise sluggish manufacturing segments, according to the Colorado Business Review report."

    Some of that revenue is being poured back into the economy and used to benefit its residents in Denver and surrounding areas, making necessary improvements, adding amenities, and funding public programs.

    "This may not be the city that cannabis built, but Colorados most famous cash crop could soon be the driving force behind construction of a 7 million, 40,000-square-foot civic center in this tiny community wedged between Lakewood and Denver," said the Denver Post. "Edgewater is exploring using sales tax revenue from marijuana sales to cover more than half the cost - 4 million - of building a facility that will house a new city hall, police station, fitness center and library. "Its a project that likely wouldnt move forwardat least not for yearsabsent the tax remittances made by the citys half-dozen pot shops."

    Previously, metro Denvers Adams County "devoted more than half a million dollars in sales tax money from recreational pot sales to fund scholarships for 50 low-income students, while Aurora is dedicating 1.5 million in pot revenues to helping the homeless and Pueblo West is putting 200,000 toward street repairs."

    Edgewater also used 3 million from its medical and recreational pot sales to repave streets and fix sidewalks, "which, essentially cut in half the time needed to do the repairs, compared with the budget before pot was legalized."

    Perhaps this solves the age-old argument: Pot really is a gateway drugto staggering wealth, real estate ownership, and better infrastructure.

    Full Story >



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