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Updated: Saturday, July 23, 2016

When It Comes To Real Estate, Is It Ever OK To Overpay?

A story broke this week about how Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff overpaid for his 20 million home. The New York Times called it "ironic" that he paid "over 1 million above its Zestimate" for his 12,732-square-foot Brentwood, CA mansion. Everyone whos had an issue with Zillows farcical Zestimates calls it "payback."

"The next time youre surfing popular real estate listings site Zillow for a new home and stumble across a "Zestimate" - the companys estimate for a propertys value - you might want to take it with a grain of salt," they said.

Frankly, we could sit here all day and debate the dangers of Zestimates, especially as they >

"I cannot justify anytime where overpaying for a house is a viable option," said attorney Kenneth Go on Asian Journal.

But others arent so cut and dry.

"Buyer emotions, stiff competition from other buyers - even feelings of losing out on the home you want challenge buyers to overpay," said And while no one ever sets out to pay more than they have to, there are certain circumstances where it may be acceptable, or even necessary. Were debating a few.


In a competitive market

Prices get driven up when demand, well, demands it. A home that lots of people want is naturally going to be more valuable to those trying to buy it.

You may assume that a home that gets multiple offers would be worth more, but thats not always true. A home that doesnt appraise for the sales price can put you in a difficult position where youre expected to pay the difference between the appraisal amount and the sales price in cash. And thats not the only issue.

New York Times

"In a fast-paced sellers market, its not uncommon for prospective buyers to find themselves in a bidding war over a house. And while it may appear an innocent move after all, the lucky bidder gets the house there can be dangerous downstream affects," said "By overpaying for the house, it costsmore money for the down payment on the mortgage, more in closing costs since many mortgage costs are based on a percentage of the mortgage, not to mention thousands of dollars more in interest over the years due to the larger mortgage."

In an especially desirable neighborhood

If youre buying in a neighborhood that traditionally holds its value and where buyers clamor to get into the neighborhood, paying a premium might not be such a bad idea.

"It may seem counterintuitive to pay over the asking price," said Inman. "However, if youre looking for a type of property thats hard to find, and youve looked for long enough to know that the property is what you want for your long-term enjoyment, it might make sense to pay a little more. There is some satisfaction in buying a house that is in high demand. If you keep the property in good condition and price it right for the market when you sell, you might receive multiple offers. There is always a demand for the best houses."

Making a long-term move

You might not be as concerned about immediate return on investment if youre buying a forever home. Traditionally, real estate appreciates over time, with rates that can vary dramatically depending on where and what you buy. If youre in it for the long haul, you may feel more comfortable paying more upfront.

"You shouldnt buy if you dont plan to own the home for a long period of time," said Inman. "It would be a mistake to overpay for a home and then have to sell it the next year. Even if the market was stable, you wouldnt break even due to the costs involved in selling."


In a transitional neighborhood

A transitional neighborhood or one thats also known as an "up-and-coming" neighborhood, might seem like a smart place to buy. And it can be, if the price is right. But its important to remember that not all up-and-comers actually become hot neighborhoods. Overpaying for a home - even one with great potential for gutting and updating or one thats already been redone - can be a dangerous investment to make.

So can buying in an "iffy" neighborhood

"Overpaying for a property should not be isolated from other facts of the purchase," said "For example, overpaying for a house in a stable, appreciating neighborhood may not be as dire as spending too much on a house in a deteriorating subdivision or on the edge of a warehouse district."

At auction

Knowing what to pay for a home you plan to buy at auction or from the bank can be challenging, especially if you dont have access to the property to walk it or inspect it before purchasing. Whether youre planning to live in the house, flip it, or rent it out and collect passive income over a period of time, most experts will caution you against getting caught up in a frenzy, which can lead to you paying more than you planned.

Market value is market value, and a home you cant research properly could end up costing you - dearly. Set a budget, and stick to it, when there are so many unknowns.

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Defining Your Principal Residence

There are now only two real tax benefits available to the American homeowner -- interest and real estate tax deductions, and the capital gains exclusion for your principal residence.

In order to qualify for these tax benefits, the home in which you live must be your legal, principal residence. And although interest and tax deductions are also available for investment properties, this column will address only your personal home.

There is no statutory definition for principal residence in the Tax Code. If you ask an IRS agent for a definition, she will have to admit that "whether or not property is used by the taxpayer as his principal residence . . . depends on all the facts and circumstances in each case, including the good faith of the taxpayer."

There have been very few court cases in which this concept has been defined. But in those cases, the courts give the same answer as the IRS: we will investigate the facts of each case, and make our decision based on those specific facts, on a case-by-case basis.

If you have been living in the same home for a number of years, and consider it to be your principal home, there should be no question that it is your "principal residence." Some of the factors to be considered include the address on your drivers license, your voters registration and where you pay local or state income taxes.

However, if you moved out of your house and have been renting it for some time, you will have to review the specific facts involving your particular situation, to make sure you still qualify for these basic homeowner tax benefits.

In its regulations, the IRS states that "the mere fact that property is, or has been, rented is not determinative that such property is not used by the taxpayer as his principal residence." The IRS volunteers the following illustration: "if the taxpayer purchases his new residence before he sells his old residence, the fact that he temporarily rents out the new residence during the period before he vacates the old residence may not, in light of all of the facts and circumstances of the case, prevent the new residence from being considered as property used by the taxpayer as his principal residence."

The tax courts have also made it very clear that a taxpayer is not required to actually occupy the old residence on the date of sale. The courts -- and the IRS -- will look at the particular facts and circumstances.

However, keep in mind that to take advantage of the new tax saving laws, there are statutory time limits that have to be honored. Under the Taxpayer >

If you meet the statutory time restrictions, we then look to the facts involved in each case. The courts -- and the IRS -- carefully analyze the intent of the taxpayers. Did they, for example, truly intend to sell their house, but were unable to so because of market conditions? Or was their real motive me>

The burden of proof is on the taxpayer. You must be able to demonstrate that you did not intend to abandon your house as a principal residence.

It should be noted that there are times when a homeowner wants to have the house considered as "investment" rather than principal residence. For example, if you have made a significant profit i.e. over 500,000 and are faced with a sizable capital gains tax, you may want to consider doing an exchange under Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code. Keep in mind that you can only exchange investment properties, not principal residences.

If you want to preserve your home as your principal residence, what should you do?

First, it is advisable to try to sell your house before you rent it. According to some tax court cases, evidence of attempts to sell property have been a significant factor when ruling on this question.

Second, avoid any impressions that you are not abandoning your old house as your principal residence. . Periodically discuss the possible sale of your property with real estate professionals and keep records of those conversations.

Third, if you have purchased a new house, until you sell the other one, try to keep your old house as your principal residence. For example, have you changed your drivers license? Have you changed your voting registration? In which jurisdiction do you pay taxes? Have you told anyone you no longer wish to return to your old house?

All of these factors will play a role in determining the facts and circumstances of your particular case.

There is an old adage that your home is your castle. Whether it will also be your principal residence will depend on how carefully you have preserved and documented all of the >

Politics will continue to play heavily on the future determination of all real estate tax deductions. However, the American homeowner is a strong lobby, and it doubtful that Congress will ever repeal the great American dream of homeownership. At best, it may "tinker around the sides" by -- for example --putting dollar limitations, above which you either lose the deduction or it is phased out depending on the facts.

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DIY Workbench: Build a Portable and Inexpensive Table out of 2x4s

So you just moved into a new place and are in need of a sturdy bench to work on DIY projects. Instead of purchasing something ready-made at the store, with a little determination you can build one yourself at a more economical cost for about 100. This workbench design will give you a solid surface with two layers of storage not counting the floor underneath and an integrated power strip. Additionally, it can be broken down if needed, allowing you to transport it to another location in the future.

What You Will Need

10 10 long 2x4 wooden beams

12 ft. 3/8" - 16 threaded rod

16 3/8" - 16 nuts

16 3/8" washers

1 4x8, " plywood sheet

1 Power Strip

12 nails approximately 1" long roofing nails work well


Cut the Wood to Length

If possible, have your local hardware store cut the 1/2" plywood sheet into sections of 22 1/2" x 58" and 19 1/2" x 58". Save the cutoff pieces, which will be used to construct the middle storage shelf. The 2x4s need to be cut as well as listed below, though this may need to be done at home with a miter saw.

  • 14 at 410"
  • 4 at 32" - This will be the total height of the bench, so if you want it larger or smaller, scale appropriately.
  • 2 at 19 1/16"
  • 40 at 3 1/2"

Finish the Plywood Cuts

Once the wood is cut to the correct general shape, to complete this design, youll need to make a few finishing cuts.

  • For the top layer 22 1/2" x 410", as seen in the picture above, cut 4 notches out, 1 " from each 410" length on both sides, 3 1/2" deep and 1 1/2" wide. As this is the shape of a 2x4, you can use a piece of cutoff wood as a template if needed.
  • For the bottom storage level 19 1/2" x 410", cut identical patterns out, this time directly on the 410" edge instead of spaced 1 1/2" from that side. The outside will be open, rather than having a 1 1/2" "tongue" on the corners.
  • Finally, for the middle storage level, cut two of your cutoff pieces to add up to the dimensions of the bottom storage level, then make the same notches in the front as the bottom shelf. In the back, make cuts 4 " wide by 8" deep to accommodate the angled support in the back.

To ensure cuts are made correctly, you may want to wait until the 2x4s are assembled to visualize how things will fit together.

Drill and Finish Cutting the 2x4s

Once cut, youll need to drill 3/8" holes through each piece of 2x4 to attach the bench together. Each hole should be centered on the long axis of the 3 1/2" face.

  • Drill a hole through the center of the 40 3 1/2" 2x4s.
  • Drill holes through each of the 14 410" pieces, 1 3/4" from each end. Counterbore the resulting holes on 2 of these pieces from one side with a 1" paddle bit to 5/8" depth.
  • Through 2 of the non-counterbored 410" pieces, also drill holes 12 3/4" from each side. As pictured above, through one of these pieces, make a rectangular cut inches deep, starting 4 3/4" from one side, and ending 13" later to accommodate your power strip note that this as well as the plywood cutout may vary depending on strip used. If using a handheld jig saw, it can be helpful to mark the path, drill the corners at 1/4 inch or so, then work from there.
  • Drill three holes through the 32" pieces, 2 " and 13 " from one end, 8" from the other end. Counterbore through the 13 " and 8" holes in the same manner as the 2 410" pieces.
  • Drill holes 1 3/4" from each side on the 2 19 1/16" length 2x4s. As shown in the image above, chamfer one piece on either each side to 45 to a depth of 1 1/32" on one side and 2 3/32" on the other measured from either horizontal 2x4 plane. The second will be the same, but both sides will be cut to 1 1/32". This will keep these supports from sticking out upon assembly.

Cut Threaded Rod to Length

Cut the 3/8" rod to the following lengths. Take care to ensure that nuts can still thread onto the rod after manipulation.

  • 2 22 1/4"
  • 4 19 1/4"
  • 2 5 1/2"

Assemble Workbench Frame

Once you have everything cut out, the bench should slide together. Thread a nut with a washer onto the end of each of the six longer cut rods. Push the 2 22 1/4" rods through a counterbored 410" piece, then each should go into the top hole of a 32" piece, with the counterbores on those pieces facing the assembled nuts and washers. Insert 4 19 1/4" rods in the same manner into the 32" pieces.

From here, follow the figures below for how to insert each piece of cut 2x4, remembering to insert the 5 1/2" rods along with corresponding nuts and washers as shown. Exploded views are provided for the top and middle levels of the table. For the bottom, replicate the middle layer, substituting a square 3 1/2" x 3 1/2" spacer for each of the angled support blocks.

Light blue, 3 1/2" square spacer 2x4; dark blue, 32" main vertical supports; grey, 410" horizontal supports; yellow, 19 1/16" angled 2x4 supports

If you have problems with insertion, a rubber mallet can be used to "help" the 2x4s into place. Additionally, if needed, you can bore some or all of the holes oversize at 17/64" or even drill some of them again off-center. As seen in the assembly photos, it can be helpful to lay the 2x4s with the 3/8" rod inserted on the ground, resulting in the 3/8" rod sticking up.

Critically, as you insert the 2x4 supports, ensure that you dont put your body directly over the rods while pushing. It would be possible to seriously injure yourself if the rods slide in faster than you were anticipating. Use a mallet if you need help sliding the rod into place.

Once the rods are nominally in place, loosely attach nuts to the opposite side including the internal 5 1/2" supports. Tighten incrementally until the workbench is secure using a socket wrench. Dont be afraid to use a mallet to force the rods into place, using extra 2x4 material as spacers when needed.

Add Work Surface and Stain

Place your power strip in the 2x4 recession cut earlier, with the power cord facing whatever direction will be convenient for your setup. Place the top piece of plywood on the assembly, with the rectangular cutout aligned with the power strip. Slide the middle and bottom plywood pieces into place. If everything fits correctly, you can use your bench as is or finish it as outlined below.

Make any adjustments as needed, then remove the power strip and finish the surface of the assembly with an orbital sander. Sand the pieces of plywood as well, then wipe each surface down with a rag to remove loose wood particles. Apply a coat of stain and urethane you can buy it combined to save a step to the 2x4 supporting structure as well as the pieces of plywood. Be sure to use gloves during this process to protect your hands.

Once dry, slide the power strip and plywood back into place. Though the plywood surfaces should nominally stay put, use nails on the top layer to secure it to the structure. Other layers can be fastened as desired, but since you will likely only be storing items there, it is not generally necessary.

Use and Disassemble

Once set up, youll find this to be a sturdy workbench, capable of holding tools and supplies underneath of the work surface, while providing you with power. If you do need to move in the future, this bench can be disassembled as needed by removing either partially or fully the 3/8-inch rods that connect the vertical supports.

When this bench was initially built, the 3D modeling program used Onshape, had an app that was used as a reference on a smartphone rather than always referring back to a computer. While you build this, or as a reference during disassembly, its a great idea to have the original instructions or pictures that youve taken of the finished bench literally in-hand for reference.

Jeremy Cook is an engineer and avid tinkerer who can often be found devising his own DIY projects. He writes about his endeavors for, where you can find mobile devices and the electronics he uses to build his designs.

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6 Ways To Get A Head Start On 2017 Home Trends

Looking to remodel, renovate, or design a new home? You probably want to make sure youre on the forefront of modern trends. These 6 items and features will give you a head start on 2017, ensuring that your home is the chicest one on the block.

1. Bar carts

Metal, wood, glass, acrylic, painted, gilded, square, round, on wheels and offbar cars come in so many options its head-spinning. You can find one to match any >

But one thing is certain: theyre hot Elle Dcor calls bar carts "practical, portable, and eminently stylish pieces that are sure to get the party rolling." And we agree


2. Playful and passionate pink

Pink has made it out of the girls bedroom. Trends for 2017 are showing shocking swaths of pink as wall color, on furniture pieces, and as stylish accessories. A few licks of this bright, happy hue can instantly update a space and make it feel fun, fresh, and fabulous.


3. Mixed Metals

We havent seen the end of the metal trend, but a few new twists are making metal feel even fresher now. "

"Were seeing brass and gold still, but also polished nickel and silver coming back, and theres a new metal finish - white plaster," said designer Marie Flanigan in Houstonia magazine. As a >


4. Luxury appliances

Kitchens today are increasingly combining sleek surfaces with commercial functionality, and that trend isnt ending anytime soon. If youre building or remodeling, some emphasis in this area will not only give you an upscale, modern look, but also make the home desirable to buyers when you go to sell.

One to watch: The True 42 refrigerator from commercial appliance manufacturer True Residential. From their new luxury home line, this fridge brings a restaurant look in stainless steel or slate pearl "with an automotive-grade paint application that raises the bar on traditional kitchen appliance offerings," said A Light Reflection.

5. The return of cork

Over the look of reclaimed wood on the walls? Take it up a notch, with cork.

"Cork is making a comeback Cork adds warmth and texture to any home, its also a great way to absorb noise in luxurious open plan homes," said Barry Estates.


6. Deep, rich colors

Not a fan of those light pastels that Pantone chose as the colors of the year? Go dark. But instead of the blue hues weve been seeing for a few years, veer next door on the color wheel.

Photo by erin williamson - Search eclectic living room pictures

"2017 is the year we wave goodbye to navy blues and midnights, because dark shades of green are one of the hottest new trends to come," said Barry Estates. "Dark greens add depth when used as accent pieces, especially among tan leather, brass and natural linens."

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Title Company Sues Realty Firm Over Wire Fraud

While the number of incidents of wire fraud >

The case First American Title Co. v. Tanisha Zapata et al. was filed May 16 of this year. There is a long list of defendants [collectively, "The Fraudsters"] along with 100 John Does. Many of them are business entities in the Peoples Republic of China. We should probably not expect their representatives to show up in Los Angeles Superior Court. Included in the list of defendants are a real estate agent Mark and a Southern California real estate firm Realty. The plaintiff, First American Title Company FATC is suing in >

According to the complaint, the >

The complaint goes on, "Although unknown by FATC at the time the funds were wired, FATC is now informed and believes that the email instruction was not from Mark and was not genuine because on March 18, 2016, FATC was informed by the listing agent, Mark, that the sellers, VU, had not received the sales proceeds via wire transfer as directed. The sellers, Vu, filed a police report with the Glendale Police Department."

Subsequent investigation has shown that the registered agent of TZ is located in Florida. During the period March 16 -- March 18, 2016, 5 other money transfers, totaling 487,500, went into the account of TZ and were then credited to various accounts in the Peoples Republic of China..

Somehow, FATC was able to recover 186,380 of the amount it had thought it was sending to Vu. That reduced the total loss to 327,328.45. Vu has assigned to FATC all claims arising out of the transaction and events as described. Thus this suit.

Naturally, the primary causes of action -- fraud, conspiracy, unjust enrichment, etc. -- are against the Fraudsters and the John Does. Good luck finding them. But there are also causes of action against the real estate agents and the firms involved. And what might those charges be? Negligence and violation of California Civil Code 1798.81.5.In short, Mark and his company are charged for failing to "implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices to protect the personal information of Vu from an unauthorized access, use, modification, or disclosure."

Now, we know that anyone can sue anyone for just about anything. And, at this point, we dont know if there really is anything to this suit. We certainly dont know if FATC followed any industry practices to verify the last-minute instructions they received. But we do know that getting named in a suit is -- even if subsequently dismissed -- the beginning of a series of events that no one calls fun.

Best advice: as early as possible in a transaction, try to ensure that all parties are on board as to precautionary procedures when it comes to wiring instructions.

Also See:

  • Wire Fraud Advisory Will Provide Much Needed Warning

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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Essential 2016 Home Buying Skills

Buying real estate is one of the most complex undertakings of your life. Success is much easier to live with than failure, so decide from the start what "success" means to you in terms of purchasing real estate. Then, be prepared to learn everything necessary to achieve it.

Savvy buyers take two approaches when preparing to excel at buying real estate, especially in hot markets and sought-after neighborhoods:

1. Buyers learn as much as they can about the legal, financial, and decision-making aspects of purchasing; and

2. Buyers leverage the >

Among the practical real estate abilities that give buyers the edge during hot real estate markets, regardless of price point, are two essential buying skills: 1. Million-dollar True-Value Validation; 2. Revved Up Decision Making.

Skill 1. Million-dollar True-Value Validation

For years, "million dollar" was the "Big Deal" label for homes and everything else. Now, its no big deal. Million-dollar homes are commonplace. In neighborhoods full of multi-million-dollar houses, these homes are the "cheapies." For instance, San Francisco has been overrun with million-dollar homes[]an increase of almost 40 since 2012, according to Trulia.

In many cases, this increase in price has not been earned by improvements in architectural design and construction quality. Paying more for less is the really significant aspect of the price-inflation trend. Dont be impressed by 6- or 7-figure-numbers. Be impressed by true value[]location and the quality of design and construction. The more that buyers understand about how location influences local real estate value and how to identify quality construction and building design, the more likely it will be that their 2016 purchase retains its value and appreciates over time.

Skill 2. Revved Up Decision Making

The "Days on Market" statistic for listings was originally an indicator that a listing had problems, in one way or other. High demand and low listing inventories can drive "Days on Market" down and drive up selling price. Buyers benefit from investing time in learning strategies for beating out other offers, instead of just "hoping we get it."

Each buyer or buyer couple will only experience the emotionally-draining roller-coaster contest of multiple offers once if their offer is accepted or a few times until their offer is accepted or they give up. They may not fully understand what is going on, especially since everything may move very quickly and buyers are not directly involved in most of the negotiation.

So who do you think is best equipped to "win" the multiple offer contest? No contest here. Real estate professionals are emotionally-detached negotiators who earn their living successfully negotiating multiple-offers, week in and week out, during hot markets.

When buyers know they are facing the possibility or probability of multiple offers, they will benefit from learning exactly what that means. Select an experienced real estate professional who is an area authority and who has a proven track record of helping client buyers achieve their goals. Ask the professional for details on past multiple offer situations and take notes. Which strategies are there? How do you decide which strategy to use? What are all the common mistakes buyers make? Buyers benefit from understanding the entire buying process before they plunge in and begin viewing properties.

Beyond Price

Purchase price is only one feature of an offer to buy real estate. For instance, closing date, what is included in the purchase, conditions on purchase, financial ability to close, how well sellers >

Bonus: Earned Trust

To backtrack a bit, if buyers do not have complete trust in the expertise of the real estate professional they choose, they are both in trouble. Could you plunge in and agree to significant additional increases in purchase price or dramatic changes in closing date if you did not have full confidence in the professional representing you? Would you listen to suggestions to continue with negotiations or to step away from the property?

When you want to achieve your goals in spite of multiple-offer contests, begin by being sure about your fit with the professional youve chosen to help you become sure about location and value. Then study the multiple offer process to be mentally prepared and financially ready to take steps you can live with and to avoid disappointments you do not want to live with. Then, go looking for that dream home.

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Exterminating Pests: A Guide to Family-Friendly IPM Pest Warfare

Your home is a safe haven for your family, a harbor from the rough waters of life, an abode full of treasured memories and love. But sometimes it can become a home for uninvited guests of the six-legged variety. When this occurs, its time to take action. Addressing and preventing pest infestations keeps your family healthy and staves off potential damages to your home. Here are the steps necessary to take before and after noticing signs of pests in your home.

1: Set a Threshold

In contrast to old-school seek-and-destroy methods of dealing with pests, the more modern, moderate and effective approach is the implementation of Integrated Pest Management IPM. Described as a series of evaluations, informed decisions and control actions, IPM manages pest issues economically, with minimal risk to the environment, property and people.

The first step in an IPM program is to decide what the pest threshold is in your home. Catching a glimpse of one bug scurrying off into the night does not qualify as an emergency. You and your family need to come to a consensus based on the quantity and frequency of sightings as to if the presence of pests in your home poses an economical, environmental or health threat to you or your loved ones.

2: Know Thy Enemy

After defining your problem perimeters, the next step in this process is to know what you are dealing with. By identifying and researching the type of pest, you will know what it is you are up against. Different insects require different tactics, so before declaring war, learn their behaviors and motivations and understand their weaknesses. Plus, the more you know about your unwelcome visitors, the more likely you will be able to prevent infestations in the future.

3: Understand the Dangers

When most people think of pest control, they automatically think of pesticides. Though clearly they are a mild form of chemical warfare, pesticides have been widely utilized since the 1950s. It was not until recently that the health and safety of users, as well as the possibility of negative environmental effects, came into question. In the U.S., the average citizen has more that 40 different kinds of pesticides present in their system, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These are not the ingredients of a healthy, happy family home, especially since children have weaker immune systems than adults and tend to spend more time in close proximity to the floor, the surface where pesticides are usually applied.

Children are also more vulnerable to the toxins found in pesticides and exposure to these chemicals could potentially cause neurological complications. Extreme subjection to weed killers, pesticides and insecticides has been linked to the onset of learning disabilities, and 50 percent of pesticide poisoning cases in America have been in children under the age of six.

4: Prevent and Defend

Not only do traditional pesticides pose threats to humans and the environment, but they are sometimes ineffective. Many products only target pests at one phase in the life cycle, usually the adult phase, leaving larvae to hatch and perpetuate the infestation. In some cases, the insects develop an immunity or resistance to the pesticide, making the infestation even worse.

If you are attempting to fend off your family garden from nefarious attackers, instead of using pesticides, try alternating the kinds of crops you plant, using pest-resistant varieties and prepping the garden area with pest-free rootstock. Inside your home, repair any torn or broken door and window screens and caulk all cracks in your kitchen and bathrooms. Plug any openings that are bigger than one quarter inch with steel wool or cement to prevent vermin like mice from crawling through or chewing through the material.

5: Assert Control

If you have completed steps one through four and still have unwanted guests, it is time to select a method of control. In this phase, the Environmental Protection Agency EPA recommends you take into consideration two things: risk and effectiveness. Try less abrasive pest treatments first, like disrupting and disorienting the invaders through the use of pheromones or non-toxic traps. If necessary, more aggressive control methods should be employed through targeted and limited use of pesticide sprays.

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How To Have The Coolest Home In The Neighborhood

Its the American way to always be looking for the next big thing. Whether youre just looking for some cool new additions to your home dcor, want the latest tech, or need to figure out a few new ways to make life easier, these products will get you there.

1. Self-cleaning sheets

Do you wash your bedding as much as you should? These sheets will actually help you out with that.

"Founded by the creators of The SleepClean Pillowcase, Silvon just introduced a line of bacteria-resistant sheets," said Elle Dcor. "Uniquely, the company doesnt produce its linens with chemicals or nanotechnologybut rather with silver, a naturally bacteria-resistant substance. When the silver-infused linens come in contact with bacteria cells, the positively charged silver ions attack the DNA of the bacteria, hindering the cells ability to reproduce."

Silvon sheets are available as a preorder on Kickstarter, where their original 20,000 campaign has now reached 537,824.

2. A machine that helps with your laundry

You may have already seen the Foldimate. It went viral last month because it actually FOLD S CLOTHES FOR YOU.

"Completing the robot takeover of our laundry chores, the appliance is designed as a third addition to the washing machine and clothes dryer you have lined up in the basement," said Cool Things. "That way, you dont just have to leave the laundry room with your clothes properly washed and dried, you can come out with every item neatly folded, too.

Personally, well like to see a next-generation unit that can hang stuff up. Maybe thatll happen before the Foldimate, which is still in development, goes to marketcurrently slated for 2018.


3. A refrigerator thats helps you write your grocery list

Weve written about the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator before, when it debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show CES. But back then it just seemed like a cool novelty. Now that its out there in stores and being advertised on TV, were kind of obsessed.

"The Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator has a 21.5-inch 1080p screen, which can be used to display recipes, a calendar, notes and more. The screen can also be used to stream TV and music -- and screw sticking your shopping list on the door, you can out and out order your groceries on it," said techradar. "And the Family Hub has another trick up its sleeve, in the shape of built-in cameras that show you whats in the fridge. You can view the contents from your smartphone wherever you are -- so if you get to the shop and arent sure if you need to buy milk you can just take a look on your phone."


4. Transparent speakers

Not loving the way tradition al speakers look in your house? No problem. Just go transparent.

"Transparent speakers usually just show off internal components or an LED-illuminated chamber full of bubbles. Not the Turtle Beach HyperSound Glass, though," said Geek. "These are transparent speakers that you can actually see right through. Theres no cone. Theres no voice coil. No magnet, no dust cap, no terminals. The HyperSound Glass is just a black stand and a rectangular frame that surrounds a completely translucent panel."

Even better, the sound is directional. "The stream of ultrasound they send out is highly focused, and it gradually becomes audible sound as it reaches its intended target. Listeners just a few feet away wont hear a thing."


5. The coolest chair youll ever make yourself

Think Lego meets IKEA meets haute home. This multifunctional chair called SPYNDI from Lithuanian designer Mindaugas ilionis uses 60 handmade wooden elements that click together and can be fashioned into as many shapes as you can come up with.

"In just 15 minutes you can turn this pile of sticks into many different chairs, lounges and tables," said Bored Panda. "The human spine-inspired project has already reached full funding on Kickstarter"

Bored Panda

6. Next-level weather display

Weather apps are so yesterday. This ambient weather display doesnt just tell you the weather, it shows you. "The tempescope is an ambient physical display that visualizes various weather conditions like rain, clouds, and lightning. Based on weather forecasts from the internet, it can reproduce tomorrows sky in your living room," said Tempescope.

This product is not yet available.


7. Keep track of whats going on at home

There are tons of drop cams you can use to provide home security and also watch over your kids and pets at home. We love Circle, which lets you "See, save and share whats happening at home from your mobile device," they said. Our favorite feature: the fact that you can listen in and even talk through the device. The ability to say "Hi" to your dog while on your lunch break? Yes, please

8. Remote pet play

Not enough to just watch your pets and have a few words with them while youre gone for the day? With PlayDate, you can also play with them right through the camera. "Play with your dog or cat from anywhere using a smart ball that you control from your mobile device," said Indiegogo. "You can control PlayDates smart ball remotely from your iOS or Android device after downloading our free app from the App Store or Google Play.

Imagine being able to play with your dog when youre not at home."

This product is currently being crowdfunded, with 483,407 raised as of the end of May 2016. Check out the video here.


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The Best Tech Devices To Power Your Smart Home

Technology continues to make our lives easier, or at least more fun, and a new wave of products seeks to do both - and more. Architectural Digest recently featured three of their favorite smart home gadgets - products that are "turning our homes into smarter spaces" with "high-tech gadgets designed to enhance our home experience.

Then, we added a few of our own based on cnets recommendations for smart home products that The Independent says "are making things easier and smarter, rather than getting in the way."

1. Belkin WeMo switch

If youre looking to get started with the basic smart home and arent ready to commit to any large or complicated purchases, the Belkin WeMo Switch is a good place to start. "Belkins WeMo Switch smart power plug is one of our favorite smart-home devices because it provides such a low-risk home automation entry point," said cnet.

The device is a plug-and-play entry point for home automation, with remote device power control and programmability.

2. Jenn-Airs smart oven

The next generation of appliances goes beyond the basic functions to make it easier than ever - and even enjoyable - to complete some of our everyday tasks.

The wi-fi-connected Jenn-Air smart oven, coming in 2017, allows users to "remotely adjust temperature settings through an app, access digital recipes, and even select suggested cooking times by scrolling through a touchscreen," said Architectural Digest.

Digital Trends

3. Amazon Echo

Cnet lists the Amazon Echo as its "best smart home centerpiece," and the device has been widely praised for being a "central control point for your smart home gadgets," they said. "Youll have a hard time finding a better option than Amazons voice-activated smart speaker, or its likable virtual assistant, Alexa."

4. Andersens smart windows

Even windows have gotten in on the smart home game. Architectural Digest loves Andersens smart windows, distinctive for their "VeriLock security sensors, a technology thats embedded in the locks of the brands windows, doors, and patio doors," they said. "When activated, the system alerts homeowners through an app if a window or door is opened. Andersen recently won the 2016 Parade of Products Award, after demoing the product at the recent PCBC homebuilding trade show in San Francisco."


The Echo is essentially a smart personal assistant that can do everything from read the headlines to playing your favorite podcast on demand to setting a timer on the oven. "The Echo is more than a souped-up speaker with Siri-like smarts - its the connected home experience you didnt know you wanted," they said.

5. BeOns smart bulbs

Smart lighting provides a new level of security, and BeOns smart bulbs are another cnet favorite, with "an intriguing mix of security-minded features not found with other smart bulbs," they said.

Electronic House

The bulbs "dont come cheap, but theyll keep shining when the power goes out, turn on automatically when they hear your doorbell or alarm, and even replay your typical lighting patterns when youre not home."

6. Haikus smart light

Truth be told, were suckers for any product you dont actually have to touch, like this and this. But the Haiku smart light is next-level. Not only do you not have to lift a finger to turn on or off a light, the system actually anticipates your need for light.

"Youll never have to touch a light switch again with Haikus connected lighting system," said Architectural Digest. "The program automatically responds to motion and natural light through its SenseME technology, which recognizes when people enter and exit a room and adjusts lighting accordingly. The new product can also connect to Amazon Echo to receive voice commands."

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REALTOR Association Sues Internet Company

Lets face it: when there are lawsuits involving the real estate industry, the real estate profession is usually to be found on the defendant side of things. If for no other reason than that, it is newsworthy to report that a multi-million dollar lawsuit has recently been filed by the California Association of REALTORSCAR against a large internet firm.

The suit, California Association of REALTORS v. PDFfiller et al. was filed in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts on June 2, 2016. It is a civil action seeking damages and injunctive >

PDFfiller is a company that maintains on its website a very large library of forms that a subscriber can pull up and fill out in a pdf. format. Many of the forms maintained by the company are forms used by public agencies such as the IRS. Many are generic in nature. As described, so far so good. The website makes available to the public a useful, time-saving service.

It is not so good, however, if the forms being provided are copyrighted, and no license or permission has been given to use them. This is the core of the CAR lawsuit. It alleges that the PDFfiller website has "maintained a massive document database containing at least 64 separate copyrighted works owned by CAR", and that it has reproduced and sold them without permission.

Now, someone might initially react by asking, "Seriously? You are going to file a lawsuit over that? How much damage could they have caused? Why not just send a cease-and-desist letter and get on with life?"

Well, as to the cease-and-desist letters, the suit does say, "Defendants have received written notice from C.A.R. to cease and desist from further sale and use of all documents bearing C.A.R.s copyright notices and C.A.R.s trademarks, and have failed to remove the Infringed Works and the Infringed Trademarks and have otherwise failed to substantively respond to C.A.R.s demand and notice."

As to the damages: To be sure, the damages in such a situation probably cannot ever be calculated with 100 accuracy. But I think all would agree that they have a lot to do with the number of times the copyrighted material has been illicitly sold. In this regard the company may have engaged in practices that will have harmed it more than helped. Again, we cite from the suit:

"Defendants in fact market their product and services by boasting, on the linked landing pages on the PDFfiller Website, of the number of times its users have downloaded a particular work, and providing a running total. As an example, a true and correct copy of the PDFfiller Website page as of May 23, 2016, reflecting the linked landing page for the search result "car form rpa ca" stating that the California Residential Purchase Agreement and Joint Escrow Instructions work has been filled out 89,471 times,is attached as Exhibit C." [my emphasis]

The suit does not cite a specific damage figure, but it does assert that there would be statutory damages in excess of 9 million.

For Realtormembers, this story offers both good news and a word of caution. The former is that the member benefit forms that we pay for and that many of us have worked hard to provide is not taken lightly by association leadership. If the allegations are true, companies like PDFfiller are stealing from us, and it will not be tolerated.

The word of caution is the flip side of that coin. Dont be providing copies of our copyrighted forms for use by non-members. The "favor" you would do for them is an offense against your fellow members. It could come back to bite you.

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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Debate Rages About Government Intervention In Canadas Housing Market

What to do about the surging real estate markets in Toronto and Vancouver?

While the rest of Canada stares in awe, prices in these two cities and the communities round them keep climbing. In Vancouver, the benchmark home price index is up by 32.1 per cent compared to last year. In Toronto, the benchmark price is up by more than 16 per cent. The average price for detached homes in both cities is now well over 1 million and climbing.

"The warnings are piling higher on the Canadian housing market," says BMO chief economist Douglas Porter in a recent report. "After seemingly downgrading the alert level a few years ago, the Bank of Canada has now ramped up its rhetoric to four-alarm level along with similar concerns from both the IMF International Monetary Fund and OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. While we have heard the message on and off for years, the remarks have been sharpened and are much more focused on white-hot Vancouver and Toronto."

Now the federal government is taking the summer to consult with provincial and municipal housing authorities to see what should be done about the market. In the past the government tried to tame the market by tightening the rules for buyers to qualify for mortgages.

Particularly in Vancouver, there are calls to ban or tax foreign real estate investment; to put a "speculation tax" on properties that are resold within a short period of time; and to tax properties where the house is left vacant. But earlier this year, a report from the B.C. Finance Ministry said the province could lose 1 billion in residential real estate sales and about 4,000 construction jobs if foreign investment was curtailed.

"There is no doubt that heavy-duty buying from abroad is a major factor behind the price surge in Vancouver and Toronto, and is playing a growing role in Montreal," says Porter.

Many in the real estate industry have downplayed the role of foreign investors in the market, but Porter says, "Economics 101 will tell you that the marginal buyer sets the price; and, if you introduce a wave of new buyers on an already tight market, prices will soon reach for the sky as the demand curve shifts even slightly to the right."

Porter adds, "Its worth making the distinction between landed immigrants and those simply seeking to park capital -- the former are not of particular concern given the economic contributions they bring, but the latter think vacant homes in tight markets, potential risk of capital flight do deserve the attention of policymakers."

But he says moves to tighten borrowing standards in Canada "will simply crowd out the domestic buyer and leave the field wider open for foreign capital inflows."

In a report for Mortgage Professionals Canada, economist Will Dunning acknowledges that there have been calls for "further tightening of mortgage lending conditions in Canada to address what is considered excessive risk." But he adds, "From our perspective, the greatest risk to the housing market and consequently to the broader economy is not reckless consumers or lenders -- it is needless policy changes."

Dunning agrees that there is sufficient evidence that "foreign buying is very substantial in Vancouver and that the Vancouver housing market is being seve>

But he says, "changing mortgage lending criteria in response to those pressures would unnecessarily punish Canadians who have reasonable expectations of home ownership. As well, those policy changes would unnecessarily impair housing markets in Canada, which would have economic consequences."

Dunning says, "We do not have compelling evidence that significant numbers of Canadians are taking unreasonable risks in the housing market. Data from the Canadian Bankers Association shows that the mortgage arrears rate 0.28 per cent as of March is close to the lowest all-time rate."

He also notes that research by Mortgage Professionals Canada has consistently shown that Canadians are highly motivated to pay off their mortgages as quickly as they can.

Dunning goes against popular opinion and says there is no housing bubble in Canada.

"Price growth in Canada, even in Vancouver and Toronto, is still consistent with the economic fundamental of interest rates and affordability in combination with another economic fundamental of a moderate rate of job creation," he says. "It is still too soon to speak of a bubble in Canada as a whole or in individual communities."

Porter agrees that economic fundamentals point to little change in the markets unless theres government intervention. In addition to the low borrowing costs, Porter notes that demographics are supporting housing as there are more 25-40 year-olds, the prime home-buying age group. He says Toronto and Vancouver now account for 25 per cent of all Canadian jobs, the highest share in the last 15 years. Other factors such as densification, land restrictions and a lack of single-family home building are also playing a role, Porter says.

"None of the major drivers of Vancouver and Torontos housing market are pointing downward, suggesting that without official intervention these wildfires are likely to continue burning. Given the limitations on dealing with many of the lead accelerants, we would recommend that government policy action be aimed at those it can affect -- foreign investment, speculation and land restrictions, in that order."

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The HOA Manager Balancing Act

Homeowner association HOA management companies retained by developers often must balance the competing interests of the developer and the homeowners. They just as often find the developer pulls one way while the homeowners pulls the other way with the manager in the middle.

It is common for an HOA developer to hire a manager to assist with the transition to homeowner control. It is often assumed that the manager will manage the new HOA. However, after transition takes place, the manager must consider the interests of the homeowners and, if the manager was originally hired by the developer, he may find it difficult to ignore the developers interests. This dual master >

Post-Transition Construction Defects. It is always in the best interest of an HOA developer to minimize warranty and construction defect repairs since they diminish profitability. However, after transition, an HOA may become aware of potential construction defect problems. The HOA manager is placed squa>

Pre-Transition Construction Defects. Sometimes, construction defects are discovered before transition. In one such case, the homeowners hired an attorney to work with the developers attorney to resolve the problems short of litigation. The developer met with the manager and tried to arrange a meeting with the homeowners so he could pitch a repair plan "without the need to get the attorneys involved." If the manager cooperated in this scheme, both the developer and homeowner would lose the benefit of legal counsel in a long term negotiated settlement.

Turnover Accounting. Frequently at transition, there are accounting questions. While state laws vary on audit requirements, questions arise like:

  • Did the developer pay all HOA fees owed?
  • Were expenses paid by the HOA that should have been paid by the developer?
  • Were expenses reimbursed by the HOA to the developer that should not have been?
  • These and other financial questions need to be answered. The manager is the logical one to obtain these answer, however, the answers may implicate both the developer and manager in wrongdoing. Can the manager really remain neutral?

    How to Avoid the Conflict Conundrum. The cleanest way to avoid the conflict-of-interest quagmire is simply to avoid acting as manager for both the developer and homeowners. An HOA management company could either specialize in pre-transition properties on behalf of the developer or post-transition on behalf of the HOA, but not both.

    The next best alternative is for the HOA management company to disclose up front when hired by the developer that the manager will work for the developer up through time of transition, but once the control of the HOA shifted to the homeowners, the manager will act solely on behalf of the interests of the homeowners. This arrangement should be clearly defined and articulated in the management agreement with the developer.

    The least recommended option would be for the HOA management company to try to balance the interests of both clients simultaneously throughout the period of management. It is imperative for the manager to inform both parties in writing of such dual representation and the potential for conflict of interest.

    The HOA manager should >

    HOA management companies are placed in difficult situations every time they serve two clients with conflicting interests. When faced with this dilemma, they should minimize the potential for conflict through written disclosure to the parties and to refer controversial issues to independent, qualified consultants.

    Thanks to Daniel Zimberoff of Barker Martin, P.S. for article input. For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

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    Moving To The Country: 8 Points To Consider Before Buying Rural Property

    1. Analyze Your Location

    Not surprisingly, location is an incredibly important aspect to consider before purchasing any piece of land. Youll want to make sure that youre in the right area, because settling in the wrong place and lead to all sorts of hassle and headache which is best avoided if at all possible. When looking at rural property, youll want to look at what the distance is to other places youll regularly visit, as a long commute can take a lot of time and gas. Researching weather from past years can help you know whether or not youre likely to see flooding, thunderstorms, or blizzards in the future.

    2. Consider Acreage Size and Natural Resources

    The amount of land and natural resources youll need are dependent on what your goals are, so analyzing your ambitions is an important step to purchasing rural property. Will you need a dozen acres, or several hundred? Is a source of water vital for your success, or just aesthetically pleasing? Make sure you know exactly what youll require, as well as what really isnt necessary. Knowing what you want is an important part to being able to make a wise purchase that you wont regret later on.

    3. Double-Check the Property Boundaries

    Making sure you know what youre buying is important with any real estate transaction, but its especially helpful when youre purchasing a rural area which may or may not have any boundary markings or landmarks. Going to a county assessors office and finding out how many acres are being taxed on the property is one way to quickly double-check the property size. If the number they give you is different than what youre hearing from the seller, you may want to do some further investigating.

    4. Connect to Your Neighborhood

    Unless youre planning to live as a hermit, connecting to your local community will be an important aspect of rural living. Getting to know your potential neighbors is a great way to learn about the community youre looking to join. Find out who your local mechanic will be, as well as where local farm suppliers are located. Locating your County USDA Farm Service Agency FSA Office is also important, as they can help you out a lot.

    5. Zoning and Taxes

    Take a look at what local development has recently taken place, and consider how this will affect property values and taxes. Does it seem likely that the area will have significant growth in coming years? You wont want to be rudely surprised to find that your property taxes suddenly spike due to local growth. Considering the current zoning laws is a wise idea, and you should also see if its likely that they will change in coming years.

    6. Cost of Living

    The up-front buying cost isnt the only expense youll incure when purchasing a property. Sometimes, youll be required to pay for installing electricity, water, and other amenities. Youll need to pay for insurance, as well as normal utility bills and such. The cost of adding sheds, a driveway, fences, and farm equipment to the property should also be taken into consideration, as it may take a large chunk of cash to make your property operational.

    7. Research Available Services

    In suburbs and urban areas, certain services are taken somewhat for granted. In more rural areas, however, these services may be limited or totally non-existent. Even if you can live without these things, knowing beforehand that they wont be available can help you avoid some nasty surprises. Its likely that cell phone service will be difficult to obtain so alternative communication networks will most likely be limited to satellite internet or VSAT services. Finding a trash service might be difficult as well. Your distance to the local schools and fire department may also be further than youd like.

    8. Know Exactly What Youre Buying

    In addition to investigating property boundaries and size, youll also want to have a clear agreement with the seller about what aspects will be including in your purchase. Dont assume that hes planning to sell portable sheds, fences, or farm equipment with the land itself. Anything that can be moved should be clearly discussed and a plan agreed on, and this needs to be stated in the contract. This will help both of you avoid any conflict or disappointment later on.

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    Wire Fraud Advisory Will Provide Much Needed Warning

    This past week the legal staff of the California Association of REALTORS CAR performed a significant service for REALTORmembers and their clients by providing a clear and thorough advisory Wire Fraud Advisory, WFA dealing with the on-going problem of fraudulent hacker activity in real estate transactions.

    The problem has been around for a couple of years now. Rather than diminishing, it seems to be occurring with greater frequency. In short, what happens is this: the hacker gains access to the "network" of participants involved in a real estate transaction. His entry point may be through a real estate agents email account, or escrows, or any one of a number of affiliated services such as title or home warranty. Certainly, the hacking of an agents account seems the most likely. The hacker will monitor the transaction, learning all the names, phone numbers, and financial information involved. Then, at some point near closing, the hacker will send an email -- posing as one of the >

    To date many in the real estate community seem somewhat oblivious to these threats. Certainly, not many of their clients know about them. While CAR had already produced a warning advisory about this scam, it unfortunately only appeared as a five-line item -- number 47 of 56 -- contained in a generic 12-page advisory form.

    The new advisory WFA is a stand-alone on one page. It will be much easier to make it the object of attention, and agents should very much want to do so. The WFA makes 5 specific recommendations.

  • Obtain the phone number of the Escrow Officer at the beginning of the transaction.
  • Orally confirm the wire transfer instruction is legitimate and confirm the bank routing number, account numbers and other codes before taking steps to transfer funds.
  • Avoid sending personal information in emails or texts. Provide such information in person or over the telephone directly to the Escrow Officer.
  • Take steps to secure the system you are using with your email account. These steps include creating strong passwords, using secure WiFi, and not using free services.
  • It is worth noting that the advice does not lean heavily on technological solutions. This is a good thing. In a day when hackers can get into the accounts of Target, SONY, and Mark Zuckerberg -- to mention only a few -- it is probably unrealistic to think that we should >

    Another item to note is that there is much emphasis on getting the right phone numbers at the outset, and then not to be persuaded to switch to another one. Some of the more sophisticated scam operations have call centers set up at the bogus phone numbers, so that if one calls for verification, they will receive a bogus assurance that all is well.

    No clear lines of liability have yet been set with regard to these scams, but you can be sure that no one will forget to include the real estate agents and their companies in the lawsuit. Agents are well advised to use the WFA or something like it early on in their transactions. And dont say, "oh, its just another disclosure we have to fill out." Let clients know that this is serious stuff.

    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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    Action Before Interest Rates Rise?

    If you currently have a mortgage, what should you do before interest rates significantly increase?

    The "when" >

    Does the certainty of rate increases call for action from savvy property owners with one or two existing mortgages on their real estate?

    While rates are near historic lows, refinancing to take advantage of lower interest rates may make good financial sense, but act soon. Combining existing primary and second mortgages into one loan may improve your financial situation and probably lower payments.

    Mortgage contracts, which outline how much must be repaid to the lender according to specific terms, vary from lender to lender and from borrower to borrower, so do not assume anything about your mortgage. Read the mortgage documents yourself or contact the lender to clarify your obligations, rights, and alternatives.

    This is a time of transition for the mortgage industry, so changes outside of your mortgage document may influence your borrowing options. Youll never know until you ask. No one will come knocking on your door to bring you up-to-date.

    Homeowners with existing mortgages will be protected from immediate rate increases unless they have a variable-rate mortgage, also known as adjustable-rate or floating-rate mortgage. With these loans, the interest rate is not fixed, but fluctuates against a reference standard. Vulnerability to rising interest rates depends upon specific terms set out in mortgage documents. Talk to the lender for clarification of any unfavorable effects of rising interest rates and to understand your options.

    Mortgages with fixed interest rates are not vulnerable to rate increases during the term or contractual length of the loan, which can be 6 months, 1 year, or decades long. However long the term is, eventually, the mortgage comes due and payable. Thats when property owners and their mortgages are vulnerable to higher interest rates. If you must re-qualify for refinancing, significantly higher interest rates could pose qualification restrictions and limit the size of mortgage available to you.

    Usually, re-qualification is low threat because, as the existing mortgage ages, the principal, or original amount borrowed, is paid down or reduced. Refinancing for a smaller mortgage at a higher rate should be affordable unless the property owner has had a change of employment or income.

    Even if you expect to refinance with your current lender, shop around for the best rate and mortgage terms. Your current lender may decide to match the best offer you receive from a new lender to retain your business.

    When comparing lenders with the help of a mortgage broker or contacting them yourself, ask questions about fees and terms like prepayment to be sure you are improving your situation by moving lenders. If you gain a half point or a point in interest, but face higher fees or less flexible terms, moving lenders may be an expensive decision. Real estate professionals are often excellent resources when dealing with mortgage issues.

    Dont miss the chance to maintain your mortgage at a reasonable interest rate. Contact your lender if you are unsure about your vulnerability to rate increases. Once rates move up, "if only Id" recriminations will get you no where.

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    Annual HOA Meeting Celebration

    Holding successful homeowner association meetings takes thought, creativity, advance planning and funding. Too many HOAs scramble to cobble together this important event and, guess what? Few show up and the numbers fall short of the quorum requirements. This doesnt need to happen. Just think what you can accomplish at this important event:

    Celebrate Your Success. The annual meeting should be a chance to celebrate successes, hand out recognitions, join members in a common cause and become better acquainted with each other. Use this venue to launch new initiatives or announce good news like awards.

    Invest in Success. If your annual meeting budget is bare bones, only those with a bone to pick show up. Since the event only happens once a year, splurge a bit. To pull this off properly, some money should be invested. If you dont have a clubhouse large enough to accommodate all the members, obtain the best and closest alternative. Local libraries, churches and community centers often have large meeting rooms that are reasonably priced or free. And if the budget permits, reserve a room at a banquet facility.

    Cast Your Bread Upon the Water. While the business of the meeting might be a bit dry, the wrappings do not need to be. Offer food, beverages, door prizes, comfortable seating and a good sound system if its a large room. If the budget is modest, host a potluck and award prizes for the best entree, salad and dessert.

    Lay Out the Welcome Mat. Make the attendees feel welcome and comfortable. Make sure there is adequate heat or air conditioning. Plan periodic breaks if the meeting is long. It will allow the participants to socialize and refresh their perspective on the business at hand.

    Let Them Eat Cake. Serve food and beverages following the meeting so there is a reason to conclude the business meeting and to encourage attendees to stick around. This is a positive way to end the meeting and leave a good taste in their mouths literally.

    Draw for a Prize. Make returning proxies and attending the meeting fun by including a drawing for, say, a Dinner for Two certificate. Add the names of those that return proxies and also those that actually attend the meeting. That way, those that return their proxy get two chances to win if they show up. Either way, youve encouraged members to help satisfy quorum requirements.

    Pump it Up. Cast your annual meeting as the do-not-miss event of the year serves several purposes. You get business done with more members participating and they get to know each other better.

    While the business of meetings can be rather somber, the tone need not be. Use these suggestions and celebrate

    For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

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    Its Time To Refinance Your Mortgage

    Question. BREXIT is a major financial problem, but I recently heard that mortgage interest loan are almost back to an all-time low. And it does not appear that the Federal Reserve Board will increase the discount rate dramatically before the end of this year. I am interested in refinancing my current 5-1/2 mortgage, and want your advice on how to go about doing this. What costs will be involved, and how do I determine whether refinancing makes sense?

    Answer. I have two crystal ball on my desk and still cannot predict the future. But current mortgage interest rates are very low, so you should immediately investigate the possibility of refinancing.

    You should understand that when you refinance, in effect you are going to a brand new settlement. The only difference is that there is no buyer or seller present at closing, and there will be no real estate broker involved.

    There are new rules regarding mortgage disclosures, issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau CFPB and I highly recommend you start your research on their web-site. There is a very helpful publication entitled "Shopping for your home loan: Settlement Cost Booklet which you can download free of charge.

    Shop carefully for interest rates. Determine what the various rates will be for a fixed 30-year mortgage, and compare those rates to a fixed 15-year mortgage as well as to an adjustable mortgage tranaction.

    Now that rates are low, you may want to seriously consider obtaining a fixed rate mortgage.

    When you go to the lender, determine exactly what closing costs will be required. What people often do not understand is that the lender -- whether it is your current lender or a new lender -- will want a brand new title search, will probably want a new title survey unless it is a condominium and you will have to pay for a new lenders title insurance policy.

    The lender is now obligated to promptly give you what is known as "Good Faith Estimate" GFE which will project what you may have to pay in order to get the loan. You are only allowed to pay the lender for a credit report until you get the GFE.

    Make a chart of all of the expenses. Go online to obtain a mortgage amortization schedule so you can determine exactly what your new monthly payments will be. Compare the new monthly payment with your existing; dont include the montly escrows for real estate tax and insurance, since you will still have to pay those fees regardless of what loan you have.

    If you currently have an adjustable rate mortgage, you will probably be thinking that the rates will be going down this year, or at least not increase, and thus why should you bother refinancing?

    This is a major dilemma. You are probably correct. But, if the economy gets better sometime next year as we all expect it will do then rates may very well start going up again, in which case your adjustable will follow on the upward path.

    In my opinion, there is considerable merit in locking in a fixed 30-year rate at a lower interest rate, even though next year your adustable rate may stay the same or even go down slightly.

    Should you consider obtaining a new adjustable mortgage at rates that can be as low as 3 for the initial term?

    Again, much depends on your own personal circumstances. If, for example, you only plan to keep the current house for a short period of time, then clearly an adjustable rate at 3 makes sense. However, if your intention is long-term, in a few short years, your rate could be very high. This should not be acceptable to you, especially when you can lock in now for a lower rate for a long period of time.

    You should sit down with all of the facts, and spend an evening with your calculator, computer and your amortization schedule. Basically, do the numbers.

    We used to have a rule of thumb that one should refinance when rates drop at least 2 from your current mortgage. With the tremendous volatility of the financial marketplace, this 2 rule of thumb does not always makes sense. Since rates are clearly low now, and that may not last forever, everyone should considering refinancing immediately.

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    The Gender Gap In Home Values

    Another thing for women to get riled up about: According to a new report from RealtyTrac, the gender gap goes beyond the workplace, affecting how much their home is worth. "Buying a home is a better financial move for men than women, as the average market value of homes owned by single men is 10 higher than homes owned by single women," said CNN.

    The report showed that "single men have gained 10,000 16 percent more in home value" since they purchased," said RealtyTrac. Even worse for women: the housing gender gap widens with more years of homeownership." After 15 years, homes owned by men appreciating an average of 145 percent to female-owned homes 127 percent.


    The analysis covered "more than 2.1 million single-family homes nationwide owned by either single men 1,139,493 or single women 1,011,572 based on public record tax assessor data collected by RealtyTrac," said CNN. "The average estimated current market value of homes owned by single men was 255,226 - 10 percent higher than the average current market value of homes owned by single women: 229,094."

    RealtyTracs assessment takes into account Bureau of Labor Statistics that show that, "Women earned 19 percent less on average than men in 2015giving them less purchasing power when it comes to buying a home," said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at RealtyTrac. He added that its "not surprising to see the 10 percent gender gap in average home values between single men and single women homeowners; however, the slower home price appreciation for homes owned by single women demonstrates that less purchasing power is also having on a domino effect on their ability to build wealth through homeownership as quickly as single men."

    JS Realty

    A particularly sobering factor is the idea that men are able to parlay their higher incomes into homes in "better-quality neighborhoods that have a better chance of appreciating faster." The RealtyTrac report showed that single women more likely to live in ZIP codes with a higher percentage of criminal offenders.


    This brings up so many questions. We have talked and written extensively about buying a home while single, especially as it >

    What about other mitigating factors? The difference in appreciation cant just be about buying power, can it?

    Maybe not.

    Buyer habit studies have shown that, "Single women look for a home they love; single men prioritize a good value," said The American Genius. "While 46 percent of women buying a home on their own said they >

    London Loves Business

    A study by Country Wide Home Loans took a look at how men and women approach the homebuying process, finding that, "Men and women are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to how much time they put into finding a new home," said "The nationwide survey of 219 adults, who own their homes, found that 43 percent of women surveyed spend less time shopping for their new home. Conversely, 23 percent of men spend too much time searching for homes."

    NewHomeSource took a look at gender roles in homebuying in terms of how they impact purchases in the new-home market. What they found: "Calling it a war between the sexes might be a bit of an overstatement. In fact, gender lines are blurring. But when it comes to selecting and finishing a new home, men and women often look for different things."

    Thats not surprising. Neither is the fact that women are looking for a larger laundry room and men a spacious garage and space for a giant TV. But, "men tend to give more weight to things like cost or how close the home is to other places they frequent, like work, their favorite bar or the golf course, John Egnatis, co-founder and CEO of Dallas-based Grenadier Homes, told them. Theres that location thing again.

    The finding that "Men tend to view their homes in terms of cost while women tend to view their homes in terms of value," they said, may be the most telling - and disturbing, if true - factor of all. Single women continue to outbuy single men. According to the National Association of Real Estates NAR latest "Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends" study, single women "made up 15 of homebuyers in 2015; single men accounted for just 9 of purchases.

    But are they good purchases? Are women making smart buying decisions? Do women need to start thinking like a man when theyre buying a home? Or shift their priorities in favor of factors that are more likely to grow in value?

    The gender gap in the workplace is not likely to become a nonissue overnight. Its up to us to prove that building wealth through homeownership does not require being a male.

    Full Story >

    Best U.S. Markets to Invest in Real Estate

    Dabbling in the world of real estate investment for the first time can feel like risky business... but if you play your cards right, you can also strike it big. For new would-be investors, this fine line can seem all too easy to cross. So, whats the secret? According to experts, its all about paying attention to the trends and using those numbers to make projections about the future health of various real estate markets. This includes looking at stats such as unemployment rate, population growth, and housing price growth forecasts.

    That said, you dont have to go about interpreting these numbers all on your own; thats what the experts are for Here are the best U.S. markets for investing in real estate according to the pros.

    Florida: the land of investment opportunity.

    Based on a study completed by Local Market Monitor, a data company based in North Carolina, Florida is one of the top booming markets in terms of real estate investment opportunities. All in all, seven Florida cities snagged a spot on the companys list of 20 "Best Buy Cities" for 2016. These cities include Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Cape Coral, North Port, Jacksonville, Tampa and West Palm Beach. Miami was also called out as a hot real estate investment market by BiggerPockets, thanks to its 18.6 year over year ROI and public perception as a great place to live.

    Orlando, the number two overall city on the Local Market Monitor list, boasts 6.7 population growth from 2011 to 2014, 3.7 annual job growth, and a 28 three-year home price growth forecast. The current average home price is 202,809. Combined, these figures point to an increasingly strong and therefore profitable investment market.

    Texas: a robust market and high livability.

    According to the Local Market Monitor report, Texas was the state with the second greatest number of flourishing real estate investment cities: San Antonio at number three, Dallas at number six, and Austin at number seven. Thanks to the states strong energy sector, real estate damage caused by the 2008 recession was >

    Jonathon Smoke, Chief Economist at, confirmed that Austin and San Antonio are among the top housing markets and the top places to live in the U.S., and BiggerPockets included Houston on their list of the top ten investment opportunities. Livability is certainly a big factor to consider when investing in real estate; after all, if people arent moving to the area where youre investing, whats the point? New residents are flocking to the Lone Star State as quickly as they can, securing Texass ranking as a top real estate market.

    The Carolinas: affordable investments and a growing market.

    Several cities throughout North and South Carolina were included among the best real estate markets, including Charlotte, Charleston, and Columbia. The Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord metropolitan area has an average home price of 220,758, a 22 three-year home price growth forecast, 5.5 population growth, and 3.6 job growth. confirmed the investment prospects of this region, and also added Charleston and Colombia in South Carolina as both ideal places to invest in and to move to.

    This combination of overall growth and affordable housing makes the Carolinas an important market to keep an eye on.

    Michigan: low prices with high ROI.

    Based on the findings from Local Market Monitors analysis, the number one U.S. city for investing in real estate is Grand Rapids, Michigan. Surprised? According to, Grand Rapids is one of the most affordable cities in the nation in terms of living expenses and housing costs, making it an attractive and growing market. Additionally, the citys job growth is 14th in the nation. As a result, Grand Rapids flaunts an impressive 3.1 population growth rate. The three-year home price growth forecast is 22, with a current average home cost of just 154,348.

    Similarly, Detroit is slowly but su>

    Final thoughts on smart investing.

    Theres a lot to take into consideration when it comes to investing your money in the housing market. The world of real estate can be unpredictable and risky even at the best of times, but with a bit of careful planning and foresight, anyone can reap the benefits of smart investing.

    Are you surprised by any of these hot housing markets? Let us know in the comments below Looking to make a move to one of these booming real estate regions?

    Full Story >

    Brexit And U.S. Real Estate: Is Britains Folly Our Fortune?

    Last week, Britain voted to leave the European Union, an unexpected and historic decision that has been scrutinized all over the world - and is causing the kind of political hindsight and regret within Britain that has many asking if the vote can be undone. Or redone.

    But while Brits wonder what comes next for them, aftershocks are reverberating through the rest of the world. The net worth of the worlds top earners got clobbered post vote, and the U.S. stock market took a big hit, dropping sharply as of the next full trading day. American 401ks lost as much as 100 billion, according to a speech given by Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

    But a run toward "safer" assets as a reaction to Brexit could actually present a huge opportunity for Americans. Looking to buy a house? This could be your best chance in years.

    "Britains decision to leave the European Union could benefit a group thousands of miles away," said the Wall Street Journal. "Several lenders posted rates for 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages of about 3.5 on Monday, nearing a 3.5-year low, and analysts expect coming reports to show that average U.S. mortgage rates have decreased since the Brexit vote Thursday. The main reason: Investors have flocked to the safety of U.S. Treasuries, pushing interest rates lower as riskier assets such as stocks tumbled. Mortgage rates tend to move up and down with 10-year Treasury rates, though the >

    Bankrate agrees its a great time to lock in a rate, with the "average 30-year fixed-rate mortgagedown 10 basis points from a week ago."

    Mortgage activity is up in the days since the Brexit vote - "Lenders across the country said refinancing applications since Thursday are up between 10 to 40 compared with typical volume this time of year, said the Wall Street Journal - with buyers looking to take advantage of low rates and new hope for refinancers.

    In fact, this may be one of the best opportunities "since the Great Recession - for mortgage borrowers to lower their monthly payments, reduce the term of the mortgage or take out some cash," said the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. "With interest rates already hovering near historic lows - and then getting kicked down a notch by the "Brexit" surprise - another chance for homeowners to refinance a mortgage at near-bottom rates appears to be under way."

    Lower rates have created anticipation of "a miniwave of refinancing in coming weeks" by lenders, said the Wall Street Journal. "In all, 40 of borrowers have loans with a rate of 4.5 or higher, according to Co>

    Another boon to those looking to buy: an expected rise in interest rates will now likely be delayed until 2017. "Economic turbulence could prompt the Federal Reserve to hold off on raising interest rates until next year, which would likely help keep mortgage rates low," said the Wall Street Journal.

    And then theres the popular idea that turbulence in international markets could pump up the interest in U.S. real estate by foreign buyers. Many experts think U.S. home equity could get a boost as demand for American real estate continues to grow.

    "Some analysts believe that Britains exit from the EU could lead to added demand for American real estate, especially in major cities like New York and Los Angeles," said Fortune. "Investors are primed to look at the U.S. real estate market as a reasonable alternative to the London market, which has long been a haven for the global rich to stow their excess wealth."

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    Time to Remodel or Buy? Consider Insurance in Your Decision

    Desirable location: check. Good infrastructure: check. Quality school districts: check. Neighbors you can stand: check. What if you have all this but your house is no longer the perfect fit? Maybe the bathrooms too small, youd like to finish that room over the garage or perhaps you have another child on the way and youre going to need lots more room. What do you do?

    Is it time to remodel, or is it time to buy a new home and move?

    There are a lot of economic factors to consider in your decision, and insurance should be included in that list. Knowing how your home insurance company operates will make you a better homeowner whether you decide to improve the home you live in or find a new one.

    Buying a new home

    In short, insurance companies love new homes. They are built to the latest codes and ordinances and use the latest materials, making it less likely that issues will occur. For example, leaky plumbing that can cause considerable damage to a structure is far less likely in a new home than in an older one. New plastic composites used in todays construction are practically crack and break proof, dramatically reducing the chance of a big leak.

    Additionally, people have a tendency to treat new things with more care than they would with something theyve owned for a while. Remember when you got that new car? At the beginning, you probably swore never to eat inside it or leave bags of stinky gym clothes or beach chairs in it, right? Well, the same goes for a new home. We tend to be more gentle with new homes - we dont want to mess up the carpeting, ding the paint or crack a window. Believe it or not, insurance companies keep that in mind.

    Finally, most new homes are generally built in lower crime areas. Builders want to sell the homes, so they are not going to invest their time and money in locations that are going to be a deterrent for buyers. Insurance companies look at crime rates when it comes to writing your policy.

    Completing a remodel

    What if you just dont want to move for one reason or another? Maybe you want to wait until your kids finish high school, you are involved in your neighborhood association or just have sentimental connections to your home. Whatever the reason, consider your personal connection to the home first before remodeling.

    Then, its important to think about the size and scope of the remodel. If you are going to redo the upstairs bath, knock out a wall between the kitchen and the dining room or another smaller project of this scope, then you dont need to call your insurance company before you begin work but youll need a policy reassessment once the work is complete.

    However, if you are looking to add significant square footage or even vacate your home while major renovations are completed, you need to consult your insurance agent first because you might need a builders risk policy. This policy takes into account the fluctuating value of your home during the construction period elements of the home will be inhabitable, the fact that building materials will most likely be on the property and the future higher "replacement value" of the home.

    If you leave your home during renovations and rent another residence while your primary one is under construction, you might need a renters policy too. Both of these additional policies are written separately while your homeowners insurance remains in place. Once the construction is complete, the primary policy is revised for the new value.

    If this is the route youd like to go, these are the questions that your agent will have for you when you contact him or her. The more you can answer, the smoother the steps to begin remodeling will be:

    • How much square footage is going to be added/involved in the remodel?
    • What are the general construction lines you have in mind?
    • Do you have construction plans?
    • Are you going to stay in the residence during the construction phase?

    Its up to you but you have help.

    Basically, it comes down to this: are you planning to sell in a few years or are you looking to live in your home permanently? Contemplate the idea of a "good investment" versus a "lasting legacy" for your family.

    Whether you decide to purchase a new home or remodel your current one, consulting with your insurance agent can help you answer some important questions. Ultimately, you want the feeling of satisfaction with your home, and taking these questions into account can help you achieve it.

    About Ryan

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

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    Double up Stylish Solutions For Shared Bedroom Spaces

    Fitting multiple kids in a house can be challenging, and when they have to double - or tripl - up or more in one room, >

    The obvious choice with multiple kids and beds is often a traditional side-by-side approach. But if youre looking for a more interesting or unique layout that has all the function with a little more flair, thats only the beginning.


    How about putting the beds next to each other? Head to head probably wont foster an easy sleeping environment, but foot to foot might. This layout is also great for a smaller space because the placement of the beds along the wall leaves the rest of the room open.

    "Gaining in popularity, this layout allows for more open space in the room for playing," said Apartment Therapy.

    Apartment Therapy

    If the idea of bunk beds brings to mind ugly framing with zero flair, you havent seen some of todays more modern options. This room with four built-in bunks can work as a full-time solution or a vacation home, giving each sleeper a private space with their own light control and storage.


    Beachy-chic >

    Elle Dcor

    Building in two bunks on either side of the room allows the area in the middle to become a chic, shared gathering space. The fir-paneled walls, custom built-ins, chandeliers, and luxe fabrics amp up the >


    Dont want to build in your bunks? This bunk bed improves on the typical store version with a modern and minimalist look.


    Its Murphy bed meets European train car with this smart solution.


    Cool and compact but still with a bit of whimsy, this built-in maximizes space and gives kids their own fun little nook to love.


    Dont have the space to spread them out? Stack em up.


    Housing two kids of the opposite gender can prove difficult if you want to give them their own space and still maintain some >

    Interior Design Ideas

    You can achieve a similar idea by splitting the room in half and using a bookcase as a separator.

    Theme Rooms

    If the rooms size or layout makes it difficult to avoid side-by-side beds, placing a softer barrier in between them and adding in color and texture can help make the space feel luxurious and more private.

    "This shared kids room design begins with a black and white base in the form of a huge geometric rug and forest themed wallpaper," said Home Designing. "On top of the monochromatic base scheme, small bursts of glorious color cover the two kids beds and matching desk chairs. The twin beds are connected by a shared couch that provides a perfect perching place for the siblings soft toy collection."

    Home Designing

    Full Story >

    The Lazy Homeowners Guide to Living Well

    Keeping your home looking and functioning great isnt easy. We all have less and less time to do the things we want to do today. Sometimes the "have-tos" can seem overwhelming.

    But high >

    1. Lighter wood floors

    Dark wood floors can be beautiful, but they may not look that way for long. You know how a black car only looks clean for about five minutes after you wash it? Same goes for dark wood floors, and the darker they are, the harder it can be to keep them looking good. If having every speck of dust, every crumb, every scratch show doesnt sound so great, go lighter. Just remember not to go too much lighter than the color of your backyard dirt, or youll have the same problem, only in reverse.

    2. Wood look tile

    The growing popularity of wood-look tile isnt surprising. It gives you a hardwood look with almost no maintenance.

    Photo by Design Studio by Raymond - Discover traditional kitchen design inspiration

    3. Quartz

    The same idea has led to an explosion in growth for quartz countertops. Get the look of granite or marble without the fear of stains, chips, and scratches, and no resealing

    4. Faux grass

    It looks green all the time, and saves energy and water, which is great for those looking to be environmentally conscious and those in a drought area. Is it time for you to go faux?

    "With more realistic-looking options than ever, synthetic turf can be a boon," said Houzz. "Synthetic turf requires no mowing, trimming, watering, fertilizing or pesticides. It reduces your water bill, looks great year-round and is widely available for installation in most metropolitan areas. Very natural-looking types are available, making it almost impossible to tell fake grass from real grass unless its closely inspected."

    Be sure to check with your HOA, if you have one, before spending money on installation. Some communities dont allow synthetic grass.

    Install It Direct

    5. An electric cooktop

    Many people prefer a gas range, but if youre looking for an easy-clean solution and you dont cook a ton, an electric cooktop may be for you. Wiping the surface clean is a lot easier than having to remove grates and get in all those nooks and crannies to clean up crumbs and spills.

    6. An easy-clean shower door

    A frameless, clear-glass enclosure for your shower looks modern and sleek, and eliminates the frame that can attract gunk and goo. The downside is that this glass often needs to be squeegeed after every use to keep it looking nice. If you think thats not going to happen in your house - especially in the kids bathrooms - look into easy-care glass that may not require the same commitment to maintenance.

    7. Touchless faucets

    The advantages to having a touchless faucet in the kitchen are numerous, especially for those who cook a lot and often have their hands full or have dirty fingers. A simple swap out from your existing faucets to touchless versions in the bathrooms can also provide a valuable update and minimize germs - great for anyone with kids.


    8. A gas or electric fireplace

    Like a fire but dont like the effort it takes to make one? Wood-burning is lovely, but not always practical or easy to achieve. You know what is? A fireplace you can turn on with a push of a button.

    9. Home automation technology

    What once seemed like The Jetsons technology is now standard in many homes. If youre looking for the best home automation options to make your life easier, start with:

    A smart hub - PC Mags "current Editors Choice for home automation hubs" is the Samsung SmartThings Hub, which can control up to 200 products and "got major improvements after Samsung bought SmartThings, including support for video surveillance cameras."

    A smart thermostat like ecobee3 - This smart thermostat has surpassed Nest in the minds of many experts because of its ability to measure the temp in several spots throughout the home. "With remote sensors and a central user interface, the ecobee3 does things better than most smart thermostats," said Top Ten Reviews. "It also includes smart auto-adjustment functionality, which is easy on the environment."


    10. A sound bar

    If you have a flat screen, you know the frustration of trying to hear the dialogue without turning the volume all the way up. Get a sound bar, which directs the sound out into the room instead of back into the wall, and you may actually be able to hear what theyre saying the first time instead of having to rewind over and over. Sound bars can cost up to and exceed 1,000, but this Vizio Soundbar has been widely praised and hovers around 300350.

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    How The Internet Isnt Changing Real Estate

    "This is going to change the way real estate is purchased forever" Thats a claim I hear about once a week at the real estate magazine that I edit. Usually its for a new app or website that provides a nifty way of doing something >

    But does it change the industry? Not really. Yes, most buyers now do their real estate searches online and they use the Internet to gather mortgage information and maybe compare interest rates. Its not like the old days when only real estate agents had access to listings of homes for sale and only banks and mortgage brokers could explain the ins and outs of getting a mortgage.

    But when it comes down to actually buying a house and arranging a mortgage, a large majority still turn to real live people to help with the transaction, rather than taking a do-it-yourself path.

    When first-time buyers are looking for a real estate agent, half of them pick one based on a personal recommendation from family for friends, according to the 2016 Mortgage Consumer Survey by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. CMHC. The survey also found that family members and real estate agents have the most influence in consumers choice of which mortgage broker or lender they will use.

    When looking for advice, 64 per cent of first-time buyers spoke to a real estate agent, the same number that asked family members for guidance. Others contacted for advice were lawyers, mortgage lenders and mortgage brokers.

    For specific mortgage advice, a survey of adults under the age of 40 who dont currently own a home but plan to do so, conducted by Mortgage Professionals Canada, says that 66 per cent consulted with a bank first, followed by mortgage brokers 36 per cent, financial advisors 36 per cent and friends or family 33 per cent. Twenty-two per cent first went to a mortgage comparison website, while 20 per cent consulted other websites. The survey found 21 per cent asked their real estate agent for mortgage advice.

    Entitled The Next Generation of Homebuyers, the survey found that despite the talk of real estate bubbles in Vancouver and Toronto, and much publicity about the high debt levels of Canadians, young people still want to buy a home.

    "The majority believe in a recovering economy and feel that Canadian real estate is a good long-term investment," says survey author Kyle Davies. "Much like generations before them, most dream of homeownership."

    The survey says 76 per cent of respondents think that real estate is a good long-term investment, and 72 per cent said mortgages are "good debt".

    Davies says that historically, "Canadians have viewed mortgages as good debt compared to other forms of debt, which typically carry a range of negative emotions."

    Why are Canadians so interested in buying a house? Again, the reasons are likely the same as their parents and grandparents cited: starting a family, getting a promotion or a raise, getting married and moving to a new job were the most common responses.

    And like their parents, 80 per cent are hoping to live in a low-rise dwelling rather than a condominium. Fifty-nine per cent are looking for a detached home, 18 per cent a condo and 13 per cent are looking for a semi-detached property.

    Davies says a nice neighbourhood and safety are the most important features the next generation of home buyers is seeking in a home. Next on the list are potential for resale value, type of home and a short commute.

    "There are long-held beliefs in real estate concerning what buyers will pay a premium for when deciding on a home purchase," says Davies. "We decided to investigate this, and presented 26 features to respondents in an exercise to determine the must-haves as well as the nice-to-haves."

    He found that neighbourhood, short commute, safety, type of home and potential for resale were most commonly cited as things for which the potential buyers would pay a premium. They were willing to sacrifice smart technology, rental units, finished basement, quality of schools and age of building if it was necessary to stay within their budgets and timelines.

    Most of those who plan to buy a home 73 per cent will use personal savings as the source of their down payment. Thirty-three per cent will use a loan, 33 per cent a TSFA and 29 per cent an RRSP. Although an estimated 750 billion is expected to be inherited by Canadians in the next 10 years, only 21 per cent expect to fund their down payment with a gift from family, with 15 per cent planning to use a loan from family.

    When it comes time to renew a mortgage, the CMHC survey found that 81 per cent of respondents stay loyal to their current lender.

    Full Story >

    Why Get Involved In Your Community Association?

    Question. I have lived in my community association for a number of years. Unlike the horror stories we occasionally read about regarding bad Boards or illogical enforcement of covenants, our community seems to be working fine. We have a good board of directors and a competent manager. One of our long time board members plans to resign for personal reasons, and a number of residents have encouraged me to "throw my hat into the ring." I am seriously considering this possibility, but seek your guidance.

    Answer. You have lived in your community for a long time, and are pleased with the way it is working. Do you know why? Most likely it is because there is a conscientious, hard-working board of directors, who are concerned about the welfare -- financial and otherwise -- of your association.

    A community association does not function -- good, bad or otherwise -- without leadership. Often, as you have read about, boards of directors are on ego trips. Even though they may care about the welfare of the association, they are more interested in preserving and fostering their own personal agendas. Indeed, I know of one association in which the outgoing Board President seriously considered putting his picture in the social room, as a reminder of his long-term service to the Association.

    But the great majority of board members are hard-working and honest. Service on the Board is not fun; the hours are long and the pay is zero. Budgets have to be planned to meet the needs of the association while at the same time satisfying the pocketbooks of the owners. Rules have to be adopted -- and then enforced. Delinquencies have to be addressed, and it is often difficult -- if not embarrassing -- to have to approach your neighbor or your friend to remind him/her there is a delinquency.

    I do not know how many owners there are in your community. But regardless of size, boards must understand they are running a business -- and some of these businesses have budgets which are as large or larger as corporations trading on the New York Stock exchange.

    This is a serious responsibility, which cannot be taken lightly. Many years ago a Court ruled in the State of Maryland that Board members only have to exercise good business judgment in carrying out their board responsibilities. This means that unless someone can prove fraud, cheating or stealing, a court of law will not second guess the decisions of a board of directors -- even if their decision turns out to be the wrong one.

    Despite this "good business judgment" rule, I still maintain that a member of the board has a fiduciary duty to the owners who elected him/her to the board. This means that a board member must act fairly, honestly, openly and -- of most importance -- use common sense in making decisions which impact on the entire community.

    Many years ago, the President of a large association gave his "state of the community" speech at the annual meeting. I take the liberty of quoting some of his remarks:

    For the past two years, I have served as your President. You have called me at all hours of the day and night; you have pushed me into the swimming pool, and have poured molasses into my gas tank. The hours are long, and the pay is zilch.

    But, if I would not have served, you [expletive deleted] would have screwed it all up.

    I cannot add much more to this erudite speech. You have an investment in your association, and service on the Board of Directors is a way -- perhaps the only way -- of preserving that investment.

    Full Story >

    Ask the HOA Expert: Issues With Termites And Mice

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

    Answer: If the HOA has common wall construction, the HOA must take care of this kind of problem. 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: 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: In cooler, wetter climates, barkmulch application to planting beds is highly advisable. Besides consistency in look and curb appeal, it has several practical functions of reducing weeds and reducing irrigation water needs.

    But its better to apply barkmulch 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 general common area and no board has the authority to grant it. 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 you dont 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 usually the best option.

    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: 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 is no federal statute that deals 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 homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to

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    Simple Staging Tips to Sell a Home Fast

    When you are hosting an open house or showing your property to potential home buyers, you want them to see it as a home they could live in. Thats where staging comes in. According to Coldwell Banker, homes that were staged spent half the time on the market than homes that were not, and they also sold for about 6 percent more. There are several ways you can stage the home youre selling without spending a fortune on a decorator or doing any major renovations. Here are a few to consider.

    Dont Underestimate Curb Appeal

    The outside is the first thing buyers see when you show them a house, and if they dont like it, it can turn them off to the entire property. Updating the curb appeal of your home will draw house hunters in immediately and may even attract buyers you wouldnt expect from simply driving by. Fixing the outer aesthetic of the home doesnt have to be pricey or time consuming, either. Houzz suggests some simple upgrades you can do yourself around the property, including power washing the sidewalks and sides of the house, cutting the lawn, planting new flowers and shrubs, and repainting house numbers so people can easily find it. A fresh coat of paint on the front porch or door is another good way to refresh the outside of your home.

    Create A Scene

    The National Association of Realtors suggests creating life>

    Be sure to use life>

    Clear Out The Clutter

    While staging may make you want to decorate the entire house the way you would want it, a common mistake is to use too many items throughout the house. It can make the home seem smaller and dirty, as well as distract from some of the better features of the property. Pack up about 90 percent of what is in the home before showing it. Kids toys, personal photos and mementos and anything worn out or broken should be put away.

    Go Neutral

    While bright purple might be this seasons color, it wont be the most appealing design approach for everyone. The same goes for decor that is too masculine or too feminine. You want people or families to see themselves living in the home, so using neutral colors and decor can help them imagine their own stylish touches throughout each room especially the master bedroom. Make sure the walls and bedding are a neutral color and use clean linens and modern artwork to create a fashionable space with potential.

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    Payment Of Referral Fees To Unlicensed Persons Is A Tricky Subject

    More than a few real estate agents are confused about the laws governing referral fees. Some dont even know that there are any laws governing referral fees. Some know, but dont care.

    Particularly problematic is the issue of paying referral fees to people who do not have a real estate license. An agents unlicensed brother in-law might ask for a sum of money in return for referring to him a person who intends to buy a house; and the agent very well might agree. Indeed, agents will sometimes solicit referrals from unlicensed persons. They may even advertise that they will pay a certain fee for the referral of buyers or sellers.

    Real estate transactions and the activities of real estate agents are subject to a variety of both state and federal laws. The fact that there are these two different authorities provides some explanation for the common confusion about referral fees.

    California real estate law permits the payment of referral fees to unlicensed persons. Other states may prohibit that. In California, the only restriction is that the recipient of the referral fee must not have any involvement in the transaction itself. Their sole role can only be to introduce the buyer or seller to the agent. They must not get involved in such things as valuing the property or trying to arrange financing.

    Federal law is different from California law in this regard. It allows the payment of referral fees from licensee to licensee; but it prohibits, in most cases, the payment of referral fees to unlicensed persons.

    The >

    There are a number of exceptions to the RESPA prohibition against referral fees. If the transaction is a residential building that is greater than four units, it is exempt. If it is commercial, or vacant land, it is exempt. The same goes for transactions that are for cash, or those that are seller-financed.

    Given the number of cash transactions occurring in the past few years, a lot are exempt from the RESPA prohibition against referral fees.

    Still, it is >

    Nor is this just a matter of interest for real estate agents. It is also of concern to those unlicensed persons who want to receive referral fees.

    12 USC Section 2607 a says, "No person shall give and no person shall receive any fee... [pursuant to a referral agreement]". My emphasis. Subsequently, Section c3 goes on to exempt referral fee arrangements between licensees. But it does not exempt referral fee arrangements between licensed and unlicensed persons. In short, if a referral fee is paid to an unlicensed person in a transaction covered by RESPA i.e. the vast majority of transactions, both the agent and the recipient will be guilty of a violation.

    This being the great country that it is, there are always those with a creative solution. "We dont call it a referral fee. We say it is a finders fee." The response, however is: No, it still quacks like a duck.

    Violations of Section 2607 are punishable by fines of up to 10,000 and a maximum of one year in prison. Its something to think about.

    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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    7 Overlooked Traditional Methods To Generate More Business

    Like most industries, real estate has been overtaken by digital marketing. Which is a good thing. A historic number of homes are now listed online, and the vast majority of homebuyers, including people born pre-internet, are discovering homes via Google and other web sources. All of these things only help the industry.

    Perhaps the biggest proof of the webs influence is that youre reading this article, and your colleagues and competitors get a lot of information from sites like this. The consumer side is doing the same thing, literally "consuming" everything the web has to offer. The internet is mostly free, it conveniently travels in your pocket, and its full of valuable content.

    Everything new eventually gets "less new"

    Savvy agents know how to successfully leverage digital media to attract prospects. They take advantage of a vast array of proven real estate sales tools, such as lead generation apps, social media, email newsletters, and other methods. Theres no question that if you know what youre doing, these techniques work incredibly well.

    Yet with all that said, once most people catch on to something, it loses some effectiveness. "New and innovative" doesnt work if millions of people are doing it. The first business to advertise on TV soap operas in the 1940s made a killing. Soon other businesses caught on, and it lost its impact. A more recent example is Google. Remember when their ads were still fresh and cutting-edge? In 1999, only the forward thinkers advertised with Google search ads, and they raked in the cash. Today, everyone and their grandmother has figured out that Google is the modern day yellow pages, making it way more competitive and less profitable.

    Old-School methods still work

    Ironically, now that agents are flocking to the online world, you can actually stand out from competitors by using traditional marketing methods. To be clear, Im not suggesting you reduce your digital marketing, social media, apps, or anything else. In fact, my company ScoreApprove has helped thousands of agents stand out from the crowd to boost their leads.

    Rather, my point is that since most of your competitors have figured out how to use Zillow and Facebook, and many old school methods are as effective as ever, it seems like a no-brainer to supplement your new-school techniques by investing at least some time into the old brick and mortar approach.

  • Dont wait for inbounders to come to you. Marketing is about building connections, and it doesnt happen by itself. Strangers wont magically flock to you. You need to find them at local events, like family fun days, political rallies, carnivals, little league games, concerts, and other venues. Chat with young couples and smile at their kids, then hand them your business card. Theyre guaranteed to remember you, and not the faceless agent they discovered on Facebook.
  • Connect with local influencers. Despite all the nifty stuff out there, nothing trumps good old-fashioned word of mouth referrals. People may trust Google and Facebook, but they trust their local community leader a lot more. Hook up with local churches, neighborhood civic associations, newspaper editors, and other people in leadership positions, who will likely to recommend you to local residents looking to buy or sell a home.
  • Put your cell number and email address on every "For Sale" sign. This is a slam dunk, yet inexplicably, most agents neglect it. Buyers hate calling a strange office, and going through phone tree menus, pressing zero repeatedly until they get a hold of a live person. Your personal contact number and email is way more appealing. Want an even better response? Tell prospects to text you. Its unintimidating, making it everyones favorite to contact someone for the first time.
  • Sponsor educational events. Invite the community to an evening of expert lectures, teaching people how to qualify for a mortgage, repair their credit, refinance, remodel their home, or any other topic >
  • Remember these 3 things: Follow up, Follow up, Follow up. It seems obvious, yet most agents get busy and forget this one. Send an email, leave a voicemail. If youre worried about being intrusive, explain that youre just checking in to say hi, or better yet, think of a specific listing or information you want to share, and clearly explain that its for the CLIENTs benefit.
  • Network The oldest form of marketing, this still works like a charm. Speak to local business owners, mortgage brokers, contractors,
  • Post lots of flyers. Make them yourself, ESPECIALLY if you dont know Photoshop. Im serious. Believe it or not, people love the personal touch. The more homemade and hands-on your flyer looks, the more faith people will have in you, because youll seem like a regular caring person they can trust, not some "slickster" trying to make lots of sales.
  • If you want to generate more qualified leads, faster than ever, you need a combination of new and traditional marketing methods. One great digital tool is ScoreApprove, used by thousands of agents to get better leads by offering homebuyers their credit score, credit protection, score tracking, and many other amazing benefits.

    To learn more, visit today.

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    Home Automation Evaluation: Will Automating Your Home Increase Its Value?

    Many people are inundated with commercials and advertisements that try to sell home automation to them. For individuals who plan to stay in their houses for their entire lives, the decision to purchase a system depends solely upon their wants. However, people who want to sell their house need to decide if a home automation system is appropriate. Making the wrong decision can lead to the house staying on the market for a protracted period of time or to a lower sum of money offered for the property. Considering the benefits and drawbacks of home automation and house value is important.

    Actual House Value

    You must understand that the precise definition of value and the abstract definition of value are not the same. When you first consider home automation systems, you likely feel that they add a greater level of security to your home, which, in abstract terms, is added value. However, when appraisers come to your house, they are unlikely to add the home automation system in to the appraised cost. They may provide you with extra value for your security system. Therefore, in a literal sense, the system might not add value to your house.

    Attachments and Costs

    When you sell a house, anything that is physically attached to the house is included, unless your sales proposal and contract call for something else. Knowing that the home automation system will remain can help to draw buyers to the property. Also, they may be willing to spend more money because they want the system. On the other hand, that means youll need to purchase a new home automation system when you move to your new house. You have to weigh the costs of buying a new system in comparison to how much more money you will make from installing one in your current house. If you dont currently have one, you are essentially installing the system twice, so you need to make sure that you have the money to do so.

    Monitoring and Safety

    Most people searching for new homes do make safety a priority. They want to check to see what the surrounding community is like, but they are also concerned about the house itself. A home automation system absolutely adds a layer of security. People can monitor their houses from virtually wherever they are. For some, that is a benefit. However, others view constant monitoring as a drawback. They may have privacy concerns and wonder if anyone else has access to their personal lives. Also, they may feel uncomfortable that you were the previous owner of the system and question if your access is enti>

    Aesthetic Appeal and First Impressions

    When people first walk into a house in which they are interested, they immediately begin to make assumptions about it. Therefore, if an element of your home automation system greets them at the door, you are making a first impression that says your house is modern and up-to-date. Many buyers will enjoy that appeal, but that isnt true for everyone. Some people might actually see your use of the automation system as a ploy to make them ignore other problems that may exist in the house.

    Your Target Buyers

    You have to consider what makes your house appealing to you, but if you are selling, you also must think about what your target buyers want to see. Your target buyers are the people who are most likely to buy your house. For example, if you have a small two-bedroom house, your target buyers are likely singles, couples or couples with one child. No matter who the targeted group is, you must consider if a home automation system is what they want. Some people, for example, are more interested in butcher block countertops or brand new bathrooms than home automation systems. However, others are interested in if your home automation system can save them money on homeowners insurance or other security systems.

    Money-saving Properties

    A home automation system can also attract buyers and add value in terms of saving money. Make sure that prospective buyers know how a home automation system could help to save them money on energy bills. Buyers generally want to save money; however, you will have some buyers who are concerned about how much the home automation system costs to maintain and run.

    Whether or not a home automation system adds value to your house varies. Each element has two sides to it, and getting to know the current market in your area can help you make the right decision.

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    The Art Of Tree Pruning In Your HOA

    Trees are living artwork that decorate the common area. They are beautiful and soothe the soul but are constantly changing. Like all living things, they need care and attention.

    Trees are pruned to produce an effect in the landscape - thats the "art" side of pruning. Understanding and being able the trees growth and health response to pruning is the "science" side.

    When done properly, pruning can improve a trees appearance as well as increase its life expectancy. Proper pruning opens the canopy of the tree to permit more air movement and sunlight penetration. Done improperly, pruning can decrease the trees life expectancy or even kill it. Because trees are living organisms, they can be profoundly affected by pruning practices.

    The American National Standards Institutes criteria for tree pruning called "ANSI A300" was adopted in 1995. It should be followed in all pruning situations and geographic areas.

    Making Cuts: Branches should be removed with thinning cuts. A thinning cut either removes a branch at its point of origin or shortens it back to a lateral branch that is large enough to assume the terminal role.

    Branches should not be removed with heading or topping cuts. A heading cut is when a currently growing or one-year-old shoot is cut back to a bud, or when a larger limb is cut back to a stub or a lateral that is not big enough to assume the terminal role. Heading should not be used in shade and ornamental tree pruning, since it forces the growth of sprouts that are weakly attached to the parent stem. Drastic heading can kill the tree outright.

    Branch Size: A minimum or maximum diameter size of branches to be removed should be specified in all pruning operations. This establishes how much pruning is to be done.

    Pruning Objectives: Pruning objectives should be established prior to beginning any pruning operation. A300 provides two basic objectives:

    Hazard Reduction Pruning: This is recommended when the primary objective is to reduce the danger to a specific target caused by visibly defined hazards in a tree. For example, hazard reduction pruning may be the primary objective if a tree had many dead limbs over a park bench.

    Maintenance Pruning: This is recommended when the primary objective is to maintain or improve tree health and structure, and includes hazard-reduction pruning. An example here might be to perform a maintenance pruning operation on a front yard tree.

    Pruning Types: Hazard reduction pruning and maintenance pruning should consist of one or more of the pruning types noted below.

    • Crown Cleaning consists of the selective removal of one or more of the following items: dead, dying, or diseased branches, weak branches and watersprouts.

    • Crown Thinning is the selective removal of branches to increase light penetration, air movement, and reduce weight.

    • Crown raising consists of the removal of the lower branches of a tree to provide clearance.

    • Crown reduction, also called crown shaping, decreases the height and/or spread of a tree. Consideration should be given to the ability of a species to sustain this type of pruning.

    • Vista pruning is selective thinning of framework limbs or specific areas of the crown to allow a view of an object from a predetermined point.

    • Crown restoration pruning should improve the structure, form and appearance of trees which have been seve>

    When you contract a company for tree care, you should obtain a written commitment that, "All pruning shall be done in accordance with the ANSI A300 standard for tree pruning." This means:

    • Proper cuts will be made.

    • Spikes wont be used to climb. Spikes are injurious to the living tree and should only be used in emergency situations or when the tree has very thick bark.

    • Not more than 1/4 of the foliage of the canopy or individual limbs should be removed in any one season.

    • When pruning is completed, at least of the foliage should remain evenly distributed in the lower 2/3 of the canopy.

    Trees are one of a homeowner associations biggest assets and need to be treated with respect and care. Use only a trained arborist and budget in your reserve plan for recommended pruning.

    For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, see

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    Niche Staging For Your Home

    You wont always know who your buyer is going to be when listing a home for sale. But, with many homes, you have a good idea of the general target group. While many homes for sale attempt to appeal to the largest number of buyers, niche staging may actually get a home sold sooner.

    "Whether you are marketing your home to first-time home buyers, young families or empty nesters, all of them are looking for some of the same characteristics in a home - along with a few special preferences that meet their specific needs," said "Of course, home buyers are individuals, too, so the feature in your home that most appeals to one buyer - such as an extensive backyard with space for gardening - could have zero appeal for another buyer. As a seller, there are some things you may not be able to change easily about your home - but the more you know about what attracts buyers, the more you can emphasize those features in your marketing materials and by staging your home."

    And the more your home is staged for a particular group, the better your chances of being able to influence who the buyer is.


    Yes, millennials are buying houses. They may even be looking to buy your listingif it has what they need and appeals to them visually. Bankrates No. 1 tip for attracting millennials: "Dont make it look like Grandmas house."

    Yes, thats a solid strategy, because, "Millennials... want a home thats move-in ready, modernized and furnished with all the colors and comforts of a Pottery Barn store," they said.

    If your home for sale isnt quite there yet, a few tricks can help:

    • A fresh coat of paint: Keep it neutral but stay away from beige. This reads old and dated to millennials.
    • Fix whats broken: Millennials dont want fixer-uppers.
    • Swap out furniture: Forget the comfortable, cushy couch and heirloom sideboard. Think modern, clean lined, and glamorous. If thats the opposite of what the house has, pack it all up and hire a professional stager.
    • A sleek kitchen: It might be that your listing needs a new everything in the kitchen to attract buyers and get the price your buyer wants. Most of todays buyers are looking for solid surface countertops and stainless steel appliances. In lieu of a big redo, painted cabinets, updated lighting, and new fixtures can help distract from what hasnt been done.
    • New fixtures and accessories: "Shag carpeting, original light fixtures, heavy draperies, which just scream old, and mirror walls" need to go, Kathy Streib, a home stager at Room Service Home Staging in Delray Beach, Florida, told Bankrate. Inexpensive blinds or drapes and contemporary light fixtures can give an updated look without a large financial output.
    • Bedding: A fresh, new comforter in a graphic pattern can help transform an old, outdated bedroom into something a millennial could see himself living in.

    Finally, think about the marketing. Does the listing talk only about the home? Think about including the things that are important to millennials: area entertainment, including bars, cafes, and popular restaurants; recreation and shopping; and major employers nearby. Emphasizing these factors as part of the listing may push it over the top.

    Chicagoland Home Staging

    Young families

    If the home for sale is in an area that attracts a lot of home families, but the home is designed for a Hollywood bachelor, theres some work to do.

    Data has always supported that women are the decision makers when it comes to buying a home, and thats especially important to consider for this buyer group. MarketWatchs article titled "What moms look for when buying a house" touches on a few of the more obvious choices - "Open floor plans, a mud room, and an office so parents can keep tabs on their kids" - as well as tons of storage. If your listing doesnt tick these boxes, consider making changes. Bringing in a few smart storage items and, especially, setting up a play room where toys and books are all nicely put away, can do wonders.

    Speaking of a play roomdoes the home have one? If not, families with young kids may not even come tour it. Staging an existing home office or guest room as a play room for young families or a game room for older families depending on what your market research indicates can help the home connect with these buyers.

    Warm gathering spaces and open sightlines are key to creating the kind of home that will attract families. If the home has walls in all the wrong places, a little money spent knocking them down to create an open plan could pay off big on the back end. The same could be said about making sure the kids bedrooms are sufficient. If the owners are currently using bedrooms for a craft space, home office, or guest room while the kids are doubled-up, you turn off buyers, giving them the impression that the home doesnt have enough space for their family.

    For marketing purposes, its also important to highlight neighborhood amenities that are important to this buyer. Creating a map that lists nearby shopping and family-friendly restaurants and activities is that something-extra that will resonate with buyers.

    Important tip: Pay special attention to schools, making sure you have the right ones in the listing and highlighting good test scores and any other important factors. Buyers will look online at listings on sites like Zillow and Redfin, and often the schools listed are incorrect. Making sure you have the most up-to-date info about schools is critical for young families who may be looking for a specific district or elementary school.

    Angies List

    Retirees/empty nesters

    Think your buyer might be a retiree or empty nester? Perhaps you need to rethink that game room or play room.

    "Empty nesters are at a unique stage in their lives: They are free of child-rearing responsibilities, yet they remain young enough for an active life>

    Staging to show off entertainment areas is key, as is making sure "multipurpose rooms appeal to childfree active adults." Have an extra bedroom? Think about turning it into a craft space or reading room.

    When it comes to the main living areas, pay extra attention to the furniture arrangement. Having too much furniture in the rooms can not only make them look smaller, but may also be a hazard for those who arent as mobile as they used to be. A thoughtful space plan will make the room look better and can also make it safer.

    Outside, simplifying the landscape where possible can also make a retiree feel better about the home. A small garden area may appeal to this target, but a large lawn and English garden that needs to be maintained regularly can seem overwhelming.

    From a marketing standpoint, thinking about other aspects that make the home desirable to this group of buyers can also help it stand out. Does the home have walking trails or community amenities that would appeal to an active, older buyer? Local restaurants and cultural hotspots should also be included. How about the medical services nearby? A local map that points out points of interest will be helpful - and memorable.

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    9 Reasons To Visit A Home At Night Before Buying

    Everyone knows someone who knows someone who moved into what seemed like a perfectly great house on a perfectly nice street only to have a complete nightmare unfold. But the truth is that your neighbor doesnt have to be practicing Santeria on the front lawn for you to hate where you live. So many things can turn what seems like your dream home into a disaster. You may not be able to avoid every one of them, but doing your due diligence can help.

    Step 1: Visit the homes you are considering at night. You may get a completely different perspective on the neighborhood once the streetlights go out - one that could change how you feel about living there. Need some concrete reasons to visit at night? How about:

    1. To find out if your neighbors are weird

    If you toured the house during a weekday or even on a weekend, you may not have gotten a true feel for who your neighbors could be. Come at night, and you might see the guy next door walking his pet iguana in the nude the guy, not the iguana, or see the shady couple from around the corner make their nightly pilgrimage to the elementary school to ride the swings in a very curiously happy state.


    2. To figure out if its not active enough

    Do you even have neighbors? You may not be too sure if they never emerge from their house. If youre looking for a social experience in your new neighborhood and the one your potential new house is in looks like a ghost town after 5, this might give you second thoughts.

    3. To see if its too active

    There can be too much of a good thing. If you swing by and see that everyone is out mixing, it may make you look further into how often this occurs. Does living there mean youll never have time to play a board game with the family or sit and watch your reality shows, or even prepare your own dinner or take a bath? That could be a deal breaker.

    4. To gauge the noise level

    Noise ordinances arent something homebuyers want to have to familiarize themselves with, but, for some, thats the reality of life in a loud neighborhood. You may not know that the dog across the street barks for 20 minutes every time the sun goes down - and then every time someone has the nerve to walk by the house - or that several teenagers on the street have formed a garage band and their practice schedule is not compatible with your childrens sleeping schedules until youre spent some time there at night.

    5. To figure out the commute

    Drive from work to your potential new house and make sure the commute is doable. Even if its around the same distance to work as your current home, traffic patterns could make the drive unbearable.

    6. To make sure there are enough kids

    Envisioning a neighborhood where the kids all play together on the street and ride their bikes and families are out walking with their dogs and strollers just not every minute of every day? Spend some time in the neighborhood before and after dinner. If you dont see much activity in the time before the sun goes down, there may not be much to see at all.


    7. To make sure the mixed-use neighborhood isnt a little too mixed

    The idea of being within walking distance to shops, cafes, and restaurants sounds great to many people. But have you thought about how the noise and traffic thats created in areas like this might affect your peace of mind at night?

    8. To ensure its safe

    A neighborhood can look fine during the day and transform to something a little iffy when the lights go out. Make sure you check out the park down the street to make sure it isnt a drug hang and that area businesses dont attract a questionable crowd in the evenings.

    9. Because there could be a serial killer living next door

    Are you going to find out in one night of sitting outside in your car or strolling down the street? No, but you may observe some odd behavior that gives you pause. Maybe its just a gut feeling you get spending time in the neighborhood at night. If youre trying to decide between a few homes, this may provide the tipping point you need to make the right choice.

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    4 U.S. Cities Best for New amp; Experienced REALTORS

    A career in real estate can be immensely rewarding and challenging, while providing ample opportunities to grow and succeed. While many REALTORS start and end their careers in whichever city they currently reside, some would like to branch out a bit and test the real estate waters in other parts of the country.

    Now that the real estate market is much healthier than it was several years ago, there are numerous cities across the United States that have recovered especially well and offer a great working environment for Realtors of all experience levels. With that in mind, check out four cities that are especially great for newbie Realtors who have just gotten into the industry, as well as more seasoned veterans of the real estate market.

    Houston, Texas

    a great place to start a career

    Good Call lists the Houston metropolitan area as number seven on its Top 10 Places for Real Estate Agents list. The region, which includes The Woodlands and Sugar Land, offers a median salary of 56,390 and a housing affordability index of 24.34 percent. Homes remain on the market an average of 69 days and the sale-to-list price is an impressive 97.85 percent. ForRent confirms how booming the housing market in Houston is. In addition to homes for sale, the community offers plenty of apartments and condominiums. Young real estate agents who are starting their careers will find a lot of inventory, clients and great selling prices in the Houston area.

    Eugene, Oregon

    low competition ideal for new Realtors

    Eugene, Oregon, is more than the home of the University of Oregon and its rabid group of Duck fans. It is also a perfect place for fledgling Realtors to test their wings Duck or otherwise. Although the region has a >

    Rockford, Illinois

    beckons industry veterans

    Rockford, Illinois, is a vibrant community with plenty of jobs in the health and aerospace industries. Even though there is a >

    Reno, Nevada

    hot market with no signs of slowing down

    According to the Reno/Sparks Association of Realtors, everything about the Reno real estate market is red hot. The average sales price is 310,000, which is a 5 percent increase and the inventory is up as well. Realtors who have been in the business for some time will enjoy working in a competitive marketplace that is also a haven for retirees. With Realtors incomes typically coming from commissions, higher home values in Reno mean bigger paychecks, and the competitive market is perfect for seasoned Realtors who are knowledgeable about working in an active area with eager buyers ready to pounce on properties.

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    The Ps Of Community Living: Rules Enforcement

    Question: We live in a nice community, but every so often someone breaks one of our rules. Sometimes the infraction is minor -- such as washing their car on the public street. Other times, the violation is more serious, such as yelling, arguing and even threatening people. The violators may be unit owners or tenants. Can you outline in general terms what our Board of Directors can do to curtail these various infractions?

    Answer: In my years of representing community associations, I have developed a long list of "Ps" of community living, including pets, people, presidents, prostitutes, parking, pianos, pigs vietnamese, pools, psychiatrists, portals, plumbers, etc.

    Lets address the most serious matters first. Whether the person creating the problem is a tenant or an owner, if criminal conduct is involved, call the police immediately. Neither the Board of Directors nor management is competent to handle such matters. More importantly, you do not want to be involved in obstructing the authorities in their investigation.

    If the problem is not criminal, but involves an infraction of your association documents or your rules and regulations, we then have to determine if the alleged perpetrator is a unit owner or a tenant of an owner:

    1. Owner: Here, the situation is >

    Make sure the alleged conduct does in fact violate your rules or your associations documents. If you have any uncertainty, discuss the matter with your association attorney.

    Once you are satisfied you have a strong case, advise the owner that the Board or an authorized committee will hold a hearing, for the purpose of giving the owner an opportunity to defend his or her position. The owner can be represented by counsel at the hearing if he or she so desires. The hearing is informal and can be held before a panel of board members or other owners selected and approved by the board.

    If the Board or the committee determines the owner has violated the governing rules, the Board has a number of options at its disposal. It is important to note that these comments are general in nature; some association documents may not permit some of these options or may even have others:

    • fine the errant owner;
    • suspend voting;
    • sanctions, e.g., the owner cannot use the Association amenities -- the pool;
    • take the owner to court seeking declaratory or injunctive >
    • have the owner sign a statement an agreement to the effect that the problem will not happen again. Such statement should include language spelling out what happens should the situation occur again.

    2. Tenant: Many associations over the years have adopted -- and implemented -- a requirement that each owner and each tenant sign a "lease addendum". Such a document allows the association to step into the shoes of the owner and take all appropriate legal action against the tenant if there are violations created or caused by the tenant. If your association does not have such a "lease addendum" policy, again, it is strongly recommended that you immediately adopt such policy.

    On the other hand, if the tenant did not sign a lease addendum, you may find it more difficult to take legal action against him/her. However, you should follow the same procedures as discussed above concerning owners with the owner receiving copies of all the notices and documents mailed to the tenant. In some cases, the Board may need to explain to the tenant that this is a community association, and that everyone is expected to honor and follow certain rules and regulations. Often, I have found that tenants are not aware of the applicable rules, and welcome the opportunity to learn about them.

    If the tenant shows no concern -- or indeed is hostile to your overtures -- advise the tenant and owner that the Board has to follow the rules and that legal action will be taken if the alleged violations do not cease.

    Full Story >

    Is The Gray Hardwood Floor Trend Right For You?

    Gray floors starting popping up as a trend a few years ago, and theyve grown in popularity and desirability alongside gray walls and gray kitchens and gray everything else. But you dont have to have gray in every part of your home to embrace this trend. Cool and sophisticated, gray hardwood provides a solid foundation upon which an array of dcor >

    Lumber Liquidators called gray "the new neutral," and they hit on what has connected so strongly with consumers and designers: banishing the brown and bringing in the gray introduces a new perspective and a modern feel.

    "Already a fashionable look for walls, furnishings, and home accessories, gray has also emerged as the must-have stain for floors," they said. "And its no surprise. This versatile hue provides a stylish and modern look that works well in casual and coastal settings. Gray flooring will give your home a fresh new look that is both timely and timeless."

    Gray hues are endless and make picking the right shade an adventure when painting your walls, and the options for gray hardwood floors are vast. Choose from wide plank or narrow, sleek and shiny or weathered, light or dark finish, or even painted. And then theres the huge array of wood-look tiles that gives the feel of wood with other advantages including lower maintenance and durability.

    "Different shades and hues of gray blend well with a variety of colors, and understanding the undertones in your floor color is necessary before you surround it with complementary colors," said Home Guides. "Gray is subtle, sets the tone for a room, and quietly adds depth to its surroundings."

    Check out these options to see if gray hardwood floors click with you.

    "Weathered wood floors grayed from years of wear go so well with the ubiquitous reclaimed wood and industrial furniture in todays market," said Bob Vila. You can also get that look by finishing or refinishing floors using a product called Monocoat.

    Photo by Perpetua Wood Floors - Search eclectic home design design ideas

    This version is Vintage French Oak Alaska, an engineered and prefinished product thats perfect for a modern, chic living room.

    Photo by Unique Wood Floors - Browse modern living room ideas

    Some of todays gray wood floors are really more of a gray-brown hybrid, which makes those who still may be having a hard time leaving traditional flooring hues behind feel a little more comfortable.

    Coats Homes

    This barnwood look in light gray is cool and contemporary with a touch of rusticity.


    Dark, wide planks bring a sleek look perfect for any modern space.

    Wide Plank Flooring

    This floor may resemble petrified wood, but its actually glazed porcelain.

    Daily Press

    Using gray as a base and building in beachy colors gives this wood-look floor a seaside feel perfect for its setting.

    Full Story >

    Summer Smarties Solve Winter Disasters With Your Home

    Summer time is the right time to think about heading off winter disasters.

    What? Are you crazy?

    Why would anyone want to sit in the summer sunshine, cool drink in hand, and conjure up cold, nasty, expensive breakdowns or problems that are months, maybe years away?

    Because the alternative is desperately struggling to discover last-minute solutions to emergency needs in the midst of your already too busy life. Under the gun, youll be attempting to avoid being forced into high-pressure deadlines, rushed decisions, and inflated costs that have significant impact, financially and otherwise. And, if you wait until trouble arises, youll only have self-serving, dodgy, or even dishonest "repair people" to provide guidance and protect your back.

    Whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, choosing when and how to make expensive home maintenance decisions is always right. Having the time and support to make sure these are confident decisions at reasonable prices, beats under-the-gun desperate buys every time.

    Things that keep you awake worrying in the cold months can benefit from close examination under the summer sun. Theres little benefit to waiting for a crisis to hit before you start arranging to make the transition from your current almost-worn-out anything to the most suitable new efficient version:

    1. Start with the most expensive or most urgent worry, based on your personal-worry meter and priorities.

    2. Clarify and define the problem. Whats wrong or what could go wrong with what? Is that noisy 20-year-old furnace or odd-looking roof on its last legs? Gather details about the existing system, so you have a reference point. Do you have the original installation details and receipts? For furnaces, where size matters, measure what counts, including the furnace room, access doorways, and stairwells. When contemplating a new roof, get out the binoculars or ladder and count shingle layers. After two, everything must be stripped down to the sheathing before the new roof goes on.

    3. Clarify the budget. Consider exactly how much cash on hand and monthly cost is comfortably yours to spend on an affordable solution. Whats the budget upper limit, that is, tight, but doable? Estimate how long youll continue to live in the house and what other big expenses lie ahead so you can set a practical budget. Once research and quotations are complete, you can fine tune the finances.

    4. Explore alternatives. This is where youre back sitting in the sun with a cool drinkgo online and collect details on every solution you know about, those that have emerged recently, and those just coming to market.

    • For roofs , consider the range of materials available. What else can or should be done at the same time the roof is replaced, like adding roof vents, exhaust fan outlets, skylights, an antenna, gutters, leaf guards, de-icing coils, solar panels... Not that all of this will be done, but thinking ahead reduces "if only wed thought of..." regrets later.
    • For furnaces, initially consider the full range of heating options. What if you changed from oil to natural gas, or switched from a hot water system to solar-supplemented electrical? Would a heat pump make sense, financial and otherwise? Understand the pros and cons of different alternatives and youll learn what the key heating and cooling decisions are for the system you eventually settle on.
    • Back to the summer time research .... gently add your questions to conversations and youll discover what knowledge friends, guests, and neighbors have accumulated. Those that made solid informed decisions and those who reacted to disasters will have lots to share. Anyone with solar panels or other environmentally-friendly systems is usually ready to extol virtues. The goal is determining which features are musts for you and which will help keep the price down.

    5. Create the brief or request for proposal. Distill what you have learned into a clear email-able, numbered list of what you need and want regarding all the features and details involved:

    • Send out the brief to ask for quotations from those on the list of names of heating suppliers or roofing contractors youve collected from research and summer chats.
    • Keep personal details out of email quotations. For instance, dont broadcast that your house is vacant all summer.
    • Include questions about deposit and payment schedules, how long the quote is good for, and work availability. Ask for at least three references. Check out contractors with local and state trade associations. Asking questions saves you headaches later.
    • You may not want the furnace replaced until the fall or the roof done before next spring, but an amazing price for replacing it sooner and ahead of the seasonal rush could be an incentive for you. Just listen to your "spidy" senses in case this "unbelievable price" is a come-on, gimmick, or scam.

    Summer is the right time to think about heading off winter disaster. Even making a start on what keeps you awake on winter nights will pay off. The goal is to dodge some of the pressure and expense of last-minute decisions when the furnace, roof, or any major system let you down at the very worst, most expensive, inconvenient time.

    Full Story >

    Broker-Owned Escrows Need To Submit Activity Reports

    It appears that the California Real Estate Commissioner is more than a tad annoyed with one segment of the real estate community. That portion would be the brokers who a operate an escrow company pursuant to their real estate license, and b have not timely filed escrow activity reports with the Bureau of Real Estate BRE.

    The annoyance is justified. The numbers would suggest that many brokers that should have been filing have, in fact, not been doing so. Moreover, the Bureau has actively been soliciting them. For at least the past two years, at BRE forums held in conjunction with meetings of the California Association of REALTORSCAR, the Commissioner has made a special point of reminding members about the filing requirement. Now, earlier this month, the Bureau has issued a special alert, through its web presence, to address this issue.

    Not every California Broker has an escrow division. Many own escrow companies that operate under the Department of Corporations. Many others simply have no ownership interest in any escrow operation. Then, there are those who operate a "broker controlled escrow", pursuant to their real estate brokers license. These escrows are restricted to transactions in which the >

    Broker-controlled escrows are, then, significantly restricted as to their potential market when compared to the more common escrow company operating under the Department of Corporations. Nonetheless, broker escrows require less capitalization and can still bring a decent profit into a brokerage.

    In October of 2011, Senate Bill 53 Calderon was signed into law adding section 10141.6 to the Business and Professions Code. It set forth filing requirements for broker-controlled escrows. If such operations conduct escrow activities for five or more transactions in a calendar year, or whose activities equal or exceed one million dollars in a calendar year, it is required that a report be filed within sixty days following the completion of the calendar year.

    So, how has that been working out? In the first year the requirement went into effect, for calendar year 2013, 206 real estate brokers reported such broker escrow activities totaling 8.63 billion. In the next year, for calendar year 2014, 161 real estate brokers reported broker escrow activities totaling 5.52 billion. For calendar year 2015, 143 brokers reported broker escrow activities totaling 8.45 billion.

    Thats right. The number of reporting brokers has declined each year since the reporting began. Moreover, there is little reason to believe that even the highest reporting number represented a majority of those brokers who should have been reporting. In its recent alert, the BRE said this:

    "In spite of these reports of very large volumes of escrow activities statewide, the Bureau has reason to believe based on prior Audits, and complaints received and/or investigated regarding brokers or broker controlled escrows that hundreds of brokers who are required to report escrow activities have failed to do so. The Bureaus Audit Section will conduct audits of the activities of some of these brokers to determine if these brokers are in compliance with Bamp;P [Business and Professions Code] 10141.6 and are properly handling and accounting for the escrow trust funds."

    Fines for failing to file a timely report can run up to 10,000. The cost of a BRE audit can also be substantial. Brokers who have escrows that meet the >

    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 >



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    Updated: Saturday, July 23, 2016

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