Tips for Avoiding Scams

Unfortunately, scammers continue to get more creative in their attempts to trick the general public into relinquishing funds and personal information for nefarious purposes. Here are some important best practices from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to help protect yourself next time you connect with an unknown caller, or come across a suspicious link online: Try to only answer the phone when you know who is calling. Our curiosity is piqued by those unknown phone numbers, and many times, they look just familiar enough, but don’t answer your phone unless you know who it is, says the BBB. Today’s scammers are very convincing once you do pick up, pretending to be anyone from your grandchild to a bill collector from your utility company, but think about this: anyone who genuinely needs to reach you (like a family member or someone to whom you actually owe money!) will leave a message. Don’t provide personal information without asking why. In today’s digital environment, we tend to give away our personal information online with ease. But always question if a site really needs your contact information, credit card information, or Social Security Number. In fact, before entering any information at all, make sure the site has ‘https’ in its URL, which signifies that it is secure. Don’t send payments via wire transfer or prepaid gift cards. The bottom line is, no legitimate business only accepts these payment methods, so when this request is made, you can be pretty confident it’s a scam. Wire transfers and prepaid gift cards are the quickest and most untraceable ways to send money, according to the BBB. If you can’t...

5 Steps to a Healthier Home

Believe it or not, being healthy at home isn’t just about what’s happening in your fridge. Sure, it’s a good starting point, but there are actually many ways to create a pro-health environment throughout your home. Here are five simple ways to start. Declutter the kitchen. In this case, we’re not talking about knickknacks—we’re talking about food. Go through your cabinets, pantry, fridge and freezer and say goodbye to anything that’s been lingering for way too long. Donate canned goods you’ve been saving ‘just in case,’ get rid of freezer-burned processed meals and old packages of crackers and snacks. Once your shelves are cleared out, start buying and eating mostly fresh items, picking up just what you need every couple of days as opposed to doing a mega shopping every couple of weeks. Honor your eating area. If you’re wolfing down meals standing up at the kitchen counter or on the sofa in front of the TV, it’s likely that you’ve adopted some poor eating habits. Make sure your dining space is set to sit down and enjoy a mindful eating experience that includes quality time with your loved ones, as well. Not only will this lead to eating better prepared, healthier meals, it will force you to eat more slowly, which will help you avoid overeating. Check the air quality in your most-frequented space. Whether it’s the living room or family room, make sure the air is healthy in the room in which you spend the most time. Dust and vacuum more often than usual (especially if you have pets or use a fireplace frequently), open the windows to circulate air,...

5 Insightful Questions to Ask the Neighbors Before You Buy That Home

It’s tough to get an accurate feel for a neighborhood—especially if you’re new to the area. Sure, you can check crime rates and do online research about schools and local events. But there’s one other very simple thing you can do to uncover a fountain of immediate info: Talk to the neighbors. Because who knows the area better than the people who already live there?Top of Form Although it might seem awkward to approach strangers before or after looking at a house, savvy buyers will make a habit of it. Here are five insightful questions that will help you glean some useful info. 1. “How would you describe the area, and what it’s like living here?” This is a great open-ended question that allows neighbors to spill whatever comes to mind first—which is often the things that they love (and hate) the most about their neighborhood. They can potentially offer realistic information about neighborhood safety, demographics, and anything else you’d like to know. Focus on getting a good feel for the vibe of the neighborhood, and make sure to ask several neighbors the same questions, so you can get a more accurate picture. 2. “If you could change anything at all about the neighborhood, what would it be?” This is a great follow-up question, which will allow the person you’re speaking with to discuss any drawbacks to the area, such as limited parking, barking dogs or other inconveniences that might become big annoyances if you purchase a home in the area. 3. “Do particular schools have a reputation for being strong or weak in a certain area?’” Schools should be a major concern, even if you...

Should I Stay or Should I Go? How to Know When It’s Time to Sell

Part of being a homeowner is dealing with the intermittent thought, “Hmm, maybe I should put my house on the market…” Obviously, deciding to sell your home is no small decision. In fact, it’s right up there with deciding to buy a home in the first place. Here are four indicators that can help you decide whether now actually may be a good time to list your home: You’re out of space. While it might be nice to have more room for your shoes, does that warrant a new home? On the other hand, is there a baby on the way? An in-law moving in? If your household is getting ready to grow, it may be time to move on to a house that will accommodate your expanding needs. You’re in a hot market. If “sold” signs are popping up frequently in your neighborhood and prices are rising quickly, it might be worth talking to your real estate agent. If now is the time you can potentially make a big return on your investment, you might want to consider making a move. You’re sick of yard work. If raking leaves and restaining the deck are no longer considered fun projects, you may be at a stage where you’re looking to scale down to a more streamlined, less work-intensive living situation. Your life has changed. If you’ve had a major life event—marriage, divorce, new job, retirement—it may necessitate a new home and/or a new location that makes more sense for your new life. Consider whether your current home is still the right fit. Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights...

6 Reasons Why You Should List Your Home During the Holidays

Traditional real estate wisdom may be telling you to hold off selling your home until after the holidays, but there are plenty of good reasons to list your home right now. Consider the following: People who are looking for a home during the holiday season are most likely pretty serious about making a move. In fact, they may be in a bit of hurry. Putting your home on the market now might result in a faster sale at a higher price point. Between family gatherings and holiday parties, you’ve probably got your home in bright and shiny, tip-top shape for entertaining. What better time to show off your home to prospective buyers, too? In most areas of the country, yard maintenance decreases during the wintry holiday months. While you may have to blow a few leaves and clear away some snow from walkways, you won’t have to worry about keeping the lawn mowed, the garden beds weeded and the flowers blooming as you would if listing your home in the spring and summer. The end of the year is usually a slower time for real estate professionals, so you will get lots of attention from your agent if you decide to list your home during the holiday season. You will also have less competition in terms of other homes on the market, allowing your home to stand out more to prospective buyers. You can stage your home to make an emotional connection to the holidays. Work with your real estate agent to tastefully decorate so that prospective buyers envision themselves hosting loving family celebrations in your home during the...

Building a Home? Consider These Upgrades

If you’re in the processing of building a new home, your head is likely cluttered with details. Floor plans, materials, upgrades, oh my! In order to create an ideal space and maximize your home’s value, experts from Moen recommend asking yourself a few questions: – Which spaces help drive resale value? – How will my family live and grow in the home? – Will it cost more to purchase and install in the future? To help, consider the following suggestions from Moen. Begin in the Bathroom: Typically, homeowners upgrade in order to improve style and increase the functionality of a space. Americans, on average, spend 45 minutes in the bathroom each day, making it one of the most used rooms in the house, so the bathroom must be both stylish and durable. Many new construction homes utilize prefab showers and tubs, so if you have your heart set on a large walk-in spa shower or freestanding tub, you can save thousands of dollars in the long run by upgrading your bathroom during the construction process. Installing shower seating, grab bars and multiple sprays offers accessibility, safety and relaxation as you and your family grow in the house. In the Kitchen: As the heart of the home, you’ll spend most of your time with family and friends here, so this is one area that should be both functional and enjoyable. Consider upgrading cabinets and appliances, as these are points of focus for future buyers and are expensive to replace down the road. Items in the kitchen that can help to increase your home’s value include energy-efficient appliances, an island for...

The First Steps for Your First Home

If you’re diving into homeownership for the first time, don’t panic. This is an exciting (albeit stressful) time, and there’s a lot to consider. To help, SunTrust offers the following tips when considering a first-time home purchase: Understand Your Initial Expenses. The down payment and closing costs can really add up, but don’t forget to budget for moving expenses. These include everything from truck rental to setting up water, power, cable, internet and more. Organize Your Finances. While there are different types of loans for different needs, your finances will be thoroughly evaluated during the credit application. Make sure they are organized so you can better retrieve them throughout the application process. Get Pre-Qualified. Lenders can use your income and credit history to give you an estimate of the home loan amount for which you qualify. The pre-qualification amount can be a helpful guideline when you are considering which properties to purchase. Create a Realistic Timeline. Even with a pre-qualification, loans can take weeks to be finalized. Work with a loan officer to decide the best type of loan for your situation and make sure your loan will be ready in advance of your closing. Source: SunTrust Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights...

Simple Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

Buying a home is always exciting, if a bit overwhelming. But when you’re a first time buyer, the process can seem even more complicated. “The biggest hurdle for the housing market in the middle of 2017 is low inventory,” Senior CFP Board Ambassador Jill Schlesinger, CFP®. “Housing starts, housing permits, new home construction and pending home sales have all slowed this summer. This all adds up to fewer options for those looking to buy a house, especially for the first time.” Follow these simple buying tips, from Schlesinger and the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. Run the numbers. Understand how much home you can afford to buy and whether home ownership might preclude you from addressing other important financial issues in your life, like paying off debt. A financial planner can help you understand how your housing choices can support your overall financial plan. Start the mortgage process/correct credit report mistakes. If you have not done so in a while, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request your free copy. It’s important to correct any errors on the report before you start the mortgage process. Conduct research. Even if you are working with a realtor, check out new listings and spread the word throughout your network. You never know who might be about to list a home. Keep your emotions in check. Even with limited supply, there are a lot of houses out there. Be careful not to blow through your budget or put yourself in a position where you own two homes. Source: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2017. All rights...

7 Things Every Homeowner Should Do Once a Year

When you bought your house, there were a million things you needed to do. Then real life set in, and those driveway pavers you always meant to replace are still staring you in the face. Stay on top of your home maintenance to-dos by making sure you tackle each of the following once a year. Clean your gutters. Old Frisbees. Dead leaves. Dead rodents. Nasty stuff can accumulate in your gutters, and keeping them clear is important for getting rain off that fancy new roof you just replaced. Here’s the best part: If you get them cleaned right now, you won’t have to think about them again for another year. Steam clean your carpets. Yes, you’re a hygienic person who generally doesn’t track gross stuff into your house. But over time, buildup has a way of accumulating ― especially in wet or dusty regions, or if you’ve got children or pets. Rent a steamer (or hire a professional), and relish in a pile that’s as plush and vibrant as the day you bought it. Wash your windows… like, for real. Again, you’re probably already Windex-ing the inside of those suckers on a weekly or monthly basis. But the outsides need love, too. Most modern windows pivot inward, so you can wash the whole thing from inside your house. But if you live in an older building and can’t get to windows on the second or third floor, hire someone with a squeegee and a ladder. Empty all your drawers. OK, this one isn’t just for home owners. Everyone should really be in the habit of emptying and assessing every drawer...

How to Find Money around the House

By Maria Patterson Need to start adding some more money to your monthly credit column and reduce the amount in the debit column? If you take a good look around your house – and no, not under the sofa cushions – you can upturn money in several different areas. Evaluate your cable needs. Take a good look at your cable bill. Are you paying for a landline you don’t use anymore? Channels you never watch? Cable boxes you don’t need? Chances are you can slash your bill dramatically. In fact, if you’re mostly watching Netflix, using an Apple TV or Roku, you might not need cable at all. Be more energy efficient. Talk to your energy company about the options available to you. Thanks to deregulation, you now have a choice of providers. Also consider solar panels. After the initial installation cost, your monthly energy spend will drop significantly. Be proactive with your mobile provider. Take a good look at your mobile bill for unnecessary expenses and to make sure you’re getting the best plan. Carriers are always introducing new package deals and specials, so be proactive and ask them how you can reduce your bill. You also might want to consider going without a contract and paying month to month. Bundle insurance. Insurance providers want your business and will offer discounts when you bundle your various insurance needs with them–auto, home, life, etc. But discounts for bundling vary widely – from 3 – 22 percent, according to insure.com. So make sure you shop around before you choose a provider. Drive less. Economic indicators point to gas most likely...

What to Do before You Get Settled in Your New Home

By Mikkie Mills Buying a new house is an exciting adventure to embark on. Whether you are a newlywed just beginning your life with your significant other or a retiree looking to downsize, purchasing a new home is a time of new beginnings. Despite all of the anticipation of owning a new home, there are some housekeeping items that should be taken care of prior to settling in. Committing to a Final Walk-Through As eager as you may be to finally move in after weeks of paperwork and waiting, completing a final walk-through with your REALTOR® and/or inspector is beneficial. This is the time to make sure all of the requested updates and repairs have been corrected prior to signing the final binding paperwork. Have your inspector ready to make any last-minute notes or perform any additional tests to confirm the state of the home. Investing just a few minutes in this process can save you thousands in expensive repairs later on. Making Sure You Have Adequate Homeowner’s Insurance Prior to closing on your new home, it is often required to provide proof of homeowner’s insurance. As a new homeowner, it is your responsibility to do your due diligence in researching insurance companies and selecting the best fit for our needs. Be sure to consider different coverage and research terms, such as “replacement cost,” “actual cash value” and “depreciation,” to help you better understand what you are paying for. Examine your policy thoroughly, select appropriate deductibles and make changes as necessary. Considering Different Contracts While homeowner’s insurance covers many catastrophic events, what happens if your furnace goes out or you have a...

Keep Your Home Safe Without Compromising Style

(Family Features)–Home accidents cause nearly 13 million injuries a year. Some simple updates to your home can help you avoid these accidents, as well as give your rooms a facelift. “People often think that home improvement projects mean a complete overhaul of a room,” says Matt Muenster, a licensed contractor, designer and HGTV and DIY Network TV host, “but there are dozens of smaller updates that people can DIY that can have a big impact on the room. It’s the subtle details that make a difference in how you use and enjoy the space.” To get your home makeover underway, try these tips from Muenster, who has teamed up with 3M, to keep your home both safe and stylish: The Less Clutter, the Better: Sometimes the bulky knife block can be an eyesore or take up too much space on small countertops. If you are looking for new and interesting ways to store sharp knives, try installing magnet strips on the backsplash in the kitchen. This will not only keep your counter clutter free, but give your kitchen some flair. So Fresh and So Clean: Enjoy fresh, filtered water at home without having a bulky filter attached to the faucet or the hassle of constantly refilling a pitcher. The new 3M Maximum Under Sink Water Filtration System stays out of sight while allowing high water flow from your existing faucet. The system, which is available at Lowe’s stores or Lowes.com, is easy to install using just a screwdriver, wrench and drill, and the quick-change filter lasts up to six months. Best of all, it reduces contaminants that may be...

Barsch Family Peanut Brittle Recipe

Peanut brittle. There’s just something about that salty-sweet crunch that is enjoyed by young and old alike. Created by accident by a Southern woman around the turn of the twentieth century, it continued to grow in popularity outside of the warmer, peanut-growing climates and around the world. For years, the Barsch Family has continued the tradition shared by many households by making their own peanut brittle. Like chili, pizza, or hamburgers, everyone seems to have their own recipe for this sweet treat. Ingredients: 2 cups raw peanuts 2 cups sugar 1 cup white corn syrup ½ cup water ½ tsp almond extract ½ tsp butter flavoring 1 ½ tsp baking soda Cooking Utensils: Mixing bowl Cooking pot Jelly-roll pan Candy thermometer Directions: In a large bowl, mix sugar, corn syrup, and water. Grease the jelly-roll pan and set aside. Cook in a pot at medium to high until mixture reaches 236 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring often. Add peanuts and increase heat until it reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring constantly. Once the desired temperature has been reached, remove from heat, mix in the almond extract, butter flavoring, and baking soda. Pour immediately onto jelly-roll pan and allow to cool. After the brittle has cooled, it will harden. Break into small pieces and...

Top Tips to Become a Proactive Homeowner

We’ve all heard homeownership sometimes referred to as “a money pit.” Sure, homes are expensive, but there is no substitute for the sense of pride and comfort you achieve from living in a space that is truly your own. That said, it’s true that from the day you move in to the day you sell your home, there will always be something that will need to be repaired or even  remodeled as you—and your family—grows, shifts and changes. But to be a proactive homeowner, you will want to keep an eye out for the small issues that could cost big bucks down the line—like a crack in the foundation or a drafty window. Below are a few top tips for forward-thinking. This information will protect your real estate investment far into the future: Take Inventory Get in the habit of taking an inventory at least once every year of every nook and cranny of your home to check for potential problems. Examine the roof, foundation, plumbing, electrical wiring—basically everything. Try to fix trouble spots as soon as you uncover them. This proactive approach will help you avoid larger expenses later on, so leave no stone unturned when taking inventory. Budget Accordingly Some say you should expect to spend one percent of the purchase price of your home every year to handle a myriad of tasks, including painting, tree trimming, repairing gutters, caulking windows and routine system repairs and maintenance. An older home will usually require more maintenance, although a lot will depend on how well it has been maintained over the years. Tell yourself that the upkeep of your...

7 Considerations for Surviving the Holidays

The holidays can be a stressful time of year for many different reasons.  Here are seven considerations that could alleviate the pressure. 1. If money is tight, set a realistic budget. If you know in your gut that you can’t afford a gift, don’t buy it!  Take steps to manage expectations in advance.  Let people know if you prefer not to exchange gifts with every co-worker, relative, and person you know. Now is a great time to have that “let’s not exchange gifts” conversation. 2. Don’t entertain in a way that is more work than fun. Overdoing a hosted event can turn the fun into work. Don’t be afraid to ask people to bring a side dish or dessert — or even a main course. And as for the clean-up, learn to say “yes” when your guests offer to help. 3. Don’t have inflated family expectations. Someone else will ask if you’ve put on some weight or want to know why you are still in “that job.” Take deep breaths and remember most of them mean well. 4. Don’t say “yes” to everyone. This is the season when people tend to throw more parties, arrange more events, make more demands on your time. Not every “group” in your life — carpool moms, soccer team moms, bridge club, book club, golfing buds — needs to have a special holiday party. If you see half these people on a regular basis, consider just saying “happy holidays” at your next gathering and skip the additional holiday obligations. 5. Put dates in your calendar as far in advance as possible. Beginning in October,...