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5 Stress Relieving Tips For First-time Homebuyers

June 27th, 2016

By Meghan Belnap
Moving into a new place is both exciting and challenging, and that is especially true if it’s your first time as a homeowner. Instead of allowing the process to overwhelm you, keep some tips in mind to help navigate through this exciting journey in your life.

Don’t Proceed Alone
You don’t need to take on the process of searching for and buying a home without assistance. Maintain contact with a real estate agent throughout the process. A well-qualified agent can assist you in searching for the perfect property.

Open Your Mind
Right now, you may have a list of all the features that you want in a house. You may have decided that you will only live in the community with the lowest crime rate and the best schools. Keep in mind that all of these desires cost money and you probably do not have an unlimited budget. Instead of maintaining such a myopic view of your new home, open your mind to the possibility of making some concessions.

Define Your Financial Ability
Opting for a pre-approval is a good idea so you know how much of a loan you can receive approval for. Once you obtain that amount, you might decide to spend the maximum amount. Doing so will likely prove uncomfortable for your budget. If you or your partner lost your job, you might not have the ability to keep your house at all. Try to start small with your first house purchase and avoid spending money beyond your means.

Take Your Time
Once you decide that you are in the right place to buy a house, you might be so eager that you rush through the process. Weigh the pros and cons of each house you look at. If possible, plan an adequate amount of time around the buying process to ensure that you have considered all your best options.

Prepare for Other Expenses
You need to find out if you are expected to pay closing costs upfront or if you can roll them into your loan. In some areas, the sellers will agree to pay for the closing costs. Not only do you need money for these expenses, but you’ll also need to cover other costs that are associated with moving into a new house.

Buying your first home can be both terrifying and wonderful all at once. Be prepared to invest in a financial investment like this by hiring professionals and making smart decisions. If home is where the heart is, allow yourself the time and care in finding the best possible place for you and your family.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Century 21 AA Realty Long Island

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.

8 Ways to Safeguard against Scams

April 5th, 2016

Scammers have devised every possible scheme—and then some—in attempts to swindle millions out of their hard-earned money. In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more than 2.5 million consumers submitted complaints about scams in the last year alone. Knowing the signs of a con can help you avoid falling prey to these ploys, says Steve Trumble, president and CEO of American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC), a nationally-recognized non-profit organization.

“Scammers often use the Internet, phone, email and pop-ups in an illegal attempt to defraud millions of consumers,” says Trumble. “Understanding all the different outlets and mechanisms used by scammers, and how to best guard against fraud, can help consumers avoid falling for common traps. In an effort to assist consumers, we have created a set of tips to help effectively avoid scams.”

These tips are:

1. Read all statements. Read through all of your bank and credit statements to check for charges you are unfamiliar with. Be sure to report unrecognizable transactions immediately.

2. Do not send money to strangers. Many scammers try to get consumers to wire money. If you are purchasing goods through an online auction, consider using a credit card that offers protection.

3. Do not reply to messages asking for information. Messages from unknown sources asking for financial or personal information are tricks to try to get consumers to unveil sensitive information, also known as phishing.

4. Be cautious when shopping via phone. Cell phones lack anti-virus software, which can leave consumers at risk when entering payment information. Shopping through retailers’ apps often provides more security.

5. Do not share Social Security numbers online. Legitimate websites and businesses rarely ask consumers to provide Social Security numbers.

6. Do not share personal identifying information over the phone. Never provide any personal information, including Social Security numbers or bank information, unless you have initiated the phone call and know who you are speaking with.

7. Choose credit over debit. Most credit cards come with fraud protection, which enables consumers to get their money back if they fall victim to fraud.

8. Use strong passwords. For secure accounts, create passwords that are hard to guess and include multiple numbers and characters.

And remember, Trumble says, that the most common forms of scams are fraud, identity theft, debt-in-collection and imposter schemes.

Source: ACCC

Century 21 AA Realty Long Island

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.

5 Hot Curb Appeal Trends for 2016

February 1st, 2016

By John Egan

Curb appeal is in the eyes of the buyer. But as Texas Tech University researchers Emmett Elam and Andrea Stigarall point out, the precise factors that influence a homebuyer’s perceptions of curb appeal are debatable. What is not debatable is the lift that curb appeal gives to the value of a home. Improving the curb appeal of your home can boost its value by as much as 17 percent, the Texas Tech researchers found. They say curb appeal ranks second only to home size in weighing a home’s value.

While the notion of curb appeal has been around for decades, its appeal keeps rising. Mischel Schonberg, a spokeswoman for Mason, Ohio-based garage door manufacturer Clopay, says: “Home improvement shows and magazines have drilled the importance of curb appeal into the minds of homeowners looking to increase the value and appearance of their homes.”

Here are five top-of-mind trends for curb appeal in 2016.

1. Update the Front Door
A fresh coat of paint can spruce up a ho-hum front door and help make a better first impression when someone is eyeing your home.

Veronica Solomon, owner and lead designer at Casa Vilora Interiors in Katy, Texas, says: “Painting a front door a bold color is my favorite curb appeal trend. It creates interest and a focal point to the façade of the home. It gives the home personality. It is inexpensive to do, but has an immediate and big impact.”

Pat McGeehan, CEO of a real estate investment company in Spring Lake, N.J., suggests contrasting the color of your front door with the color palette of your front yard. He also recommends installing a new knob on the front door — one that’s shiny and ornamental.

If you replace the front door altogether, beware that you’ll need to pony up more money than if you just touch up the door with a fresh coat of paint. According to the Remodeling 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, the average cost of replacing a front door on a home is $1,230 (steel) or $2,926 (fiberglass), with an owner being able to recover 102 percent of the cost for the steel door or 72 percent of the cost for the fiberglass door.

2. Lighten Up the Exterior

Outdoor lighting can add a touch of elegance to your front of your home. Furthermore, it can enhance the safety of your house. Outdoor lighting should go beyond ordinary lampposts and wall-mounted lighting to make your landscaping really stand out. Try installing stylish and modern lighting on your front porch.

A 2012 survey by the National Association of Home Builders found that 90 percent of homebuyers rated exterior lighting as an “essential” or “desirable” feature.

3. Liven Up the Landscaping

Flowers and fertilizer can be your friends when it comes to bumping up the curb appeal of your home. A study by Alex X. Niemiera, a horticulture professor at Virginia Tech, shows that a well-landscaped home holds a higher value than a home without proper landscaping. The advantage ranges from 5.5 percent to 12.7 percent, translating into an extra $8,250 to $19,050 for a home worth $150,000.

Of course, landscaping goes beyond flowers and fertilizer. Trim any overgrowth and pull weeds to spiff up the front lawn, McGeehan says. “Neatness will make the yard look bigger and will make your plants look greener and more vibrant,” he says.

McGeehan also says you consider putting up a low-height fence around the front yard to create a “welcome boundary” and make the front yard look larger. While you’re installing that fence or planting those bushes and shrubs, don’t overlook the lawn itself. According to a 2015 survey by lawnmower manufacturer Briggs & Stratton, 62 percent of American homeowners say the lawn influenced their home-buying decision.

4. Put Furniture on the Porch

Placing a bistro table or a couple of chairs on your porch can cost an average of $800 to $1,200 but can yield a return on investment of 40 percent to 60 percent, according to Styleathome.com.

“Nothing is more inviting than a pair of matching rockers on a front porch that are visible from the street,” McGeehan says.

5. Upgrade the Garage Door

One of the easiest ways to improve your home’s curb appeal is upgrade your garage door. Schonberg says: “Garage doors can represent up to 40 percent of a home’s curb appeal, especially in markets where lot sizes are narrow and builders have no choice but to position the garage on the front of the house. That much real estate presents a huge opportunity to enhance or detract from a home’s appearance.”

According to the Remodeling 2015 Cost vs. Value Report, the average cost of replacing a garage door on a home is $1,595, with an owner being able to recoup 88 percent of that cost.

Schonberg says that 10 to 15 years ago, garage doors weren’t considered a key element of exterior design. Now, she says, replacing the garage door ranks among the top 5 home improvement projects.

“It’s no longer about just about getting a steel door in a different color or with windows. Homeowners can customize their door to fit their home style perfectly and make a statement,” Schonberg says.

John Egan is editor-in-chief at LawnStarter, an Austin, Texas-based startup that helps homeowners manage their lawn care and helps lawn care professionals manage their businesses.

This post was originally published on RISMedia's blog, Housecall. Check the blog daily for winning real estate news and trends.

Century 21 AA Realty Long Island

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.

7 Simple Food Swaps for a Healthier New Year

January 5th, 2016

Even if weight loss is not your goal, nutritionists tell us that making some simple and healthy food swaps can give us more energy and focus.

Here are seven suggested swaps that are easy to incorporate into your menu plan and lifestyle:

  • Swap margarine for butter – Butter gets a bad rap for high fat content, so margarine was made in a lab as a “healthier alternative.” But margarine is a highly processed food full of emulsifiers, colorants and other artificial ingredients that can be toxic to our bodies and digestive tracts.
  • Swap sour cream for Greek yogurt - They have similar consistencies and taste, yet Greek yogurt is a far better option. It has 133 calories, one gram of fat, and 8 grams of carbohydrates, while 1 cup of reduced-fat sour cream has 416 calories, 32 grams of fat, and 16 grams of carbohydrates. Greek yogurt also has more B-12, higher protein, less sugar, and higher vitamin content.
  • Swap rice for quinoa – Even if you are eating brown rice, which is healthier than white, quinoa surpasses both in the fight for the healthiest grain. One cup of brown rice contains 14 grams of fiber, while quinoa has 21 – and quinoa is a complete protein with higher levels of B vitamins, iron, riboflavin, folate, and zinc.
  • Swap mayo for avocado – When making a sandwich, mashed avocado provides the same consistency as mayo but without the junk. Mayo is high in cholesterol, fats, and carbs. A tablespoon contains 115 calories, while one-fourth of an avocado contains 80 and has higher protein and potassium.
  • Swap iceberg lettuce for spinach or kale – Darker greens, including romaine or arugula, have the highest level of nutrients, with more antioxidants because darker leaves are able to absorb more light and synthesize more vitamins. 
  • Swap OJ for fruit-infused water – Slice up a favorite fruit (even lemon works great!) and drop it into a glass of water. You get an immense amount of flavor, but only half the calories and sugar of juice – plus fruit-infused water keeps you more hydrated. Squeeze the fruit into the water for added flavor.Swap beef for chicken – Red meats have bad cholesterol compared to lean meats like chicken and turkey. If you love red meat, eat it once a week instead of three.

Century 21 AA Realty Long Island

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.

6 Kitchen Design Dilemmas and How to Solve Them

November 23rd, 2015

(BPT)—Kitchen design is an art form, one where function and beauty harmoniously co-exist. Achieving that balance, however, isn't always easy. When renovating a kitchen, homeowners can find themselves facing challenging design dilemmas. And they are not alone.

"When redesigning or refreshing a kitchen, the goal is to create a space that is hard-working, yet beautiful," says Nate Berkus, renowned designer and artistic advisor to LG Studio. "Look for items that really represent who you are and your design personality, and you'll create an area you and your family will love both now and 10 years from now."

Berkus points to six common kitchen design dilemmas and offers suggestions on how homeowners can remedy those issues:

1. Space Challenges – When you don't have enough room for the large table your family needs, get creative. Consider building an L-shaped bench around a farm table and adding extra chairs. It's a clever use of space and will create a cozy nook where your family can gather for meals or kids can do homework. Plus, the bench can double as storage space.

2. Last Year's (or Last Decade's) Cabinets – Cabinets are one of the first things you notice in any kitchen, and they're also one of the most important in terms of functionality. If your cabinets provide ample space but look dated, Berkus suggests giving them a facelift with varying materials and finishes, like a wood or paint color that's different from the rest of the kitchen.

"I always appreciate a simple, clean style, but with cabinets, I tell my clients they shouldn't be afraid to mix it up," Berkus says. “I recommend sticking with a neutral palette for cabinets, whether you're installing brand new ones or painting your existing cabinets. White, charcoal and gray will always be elegant, and you can't go wrong with black - it's absolutely one of my favorites. It makes a dramatic statement and looks fantastic paired with stainless steel appliances."

3. Small Budgets, Big Taste – When you long for that sleek, built-in look but don't want to break the bank, counter-depth appliances are a great design choice. They seamlessly integrate with cabinetry no matter what the material, supporting that clean look you ultimately want your kitchen to reflect.

4. Unattractive, Inefficient Lighting – Lighting is one of the most important design elements in any room, and it's the one thing people often overlook when re-designing their kitchens. "Lighting can instantly change the whole feel of a space," Berkus says. "I believe it is one of the most important decisions you can make in any room, especially the kitchen, which, let's be honest, is usually the hardest working room in your home."

To create lighting that is both useful and beautiful, remember to light the room in layers - from above, under cabinets to illuminate work areas and all-around accent lighting to create ambiance.

5. Counter Space Confusion – Figuring out how much counter space you'll need is always tricky. Start by considering all the ways you'll be using your counters. You'll need food prep areas, of course, but will you also want a breakfast bar where your family can sit for meals and snacks? Will you need extra room for countertop appliances?

"My rule of thumb is, to always double the amount of counter space you think you'll need," Berkus says. "You can never have too much, especially if you like to cook and entertain."

6. A Too-Clean Slate – A large, open-concept kitchen can seem appealing, but it can also be daunting to design and decorate.

"Don't be afraid to do something unexpected in the kitchen to break up the space," Berkus says. "I love the idea of creating an unexpected seating area in your kitchen. Shop your weekend flea markets or online stores for a vintage sofa, coffee table and rug to set up an area for your family to relax in."

Ultimately, Berkus says, keep in mind that the kitchen truly is the heart of the home. "Kitchen design is about creating a space in your home that brings the whole family together, and is the best place to reflect your sense of personal style."

Century 21 AA Realty Long Island

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.

Fall Maintenance: 10 Safety Tips for Ladders, Rakes

October 8th, 2015

Here’s a statistic: In the last year alone, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported more than half a million fall home maintenance-related injuries – and 40,000-plus of those incidents were caused by raking!

“Never underestimate the task at hand while cleaning,” says Dr. Patrick Osborn, spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ (AAOS). “Even the most mundane or simple chores can cause strain, injury, or even a fall if not done correctly. For instance, when using a ladder, never stand on the top rung.”

Dr. Osborn and the AAOS strongly advise homeowners to keep safety in mind when tackling fall clean-up this year. Here are some tips.

1. Use a comfortable rake. Select a rake that is suitable for your height and strength.

2. Service equipment. Have equipment such as leaf blowers serviced before using for the first time this season.

3. Inspect the ladder. Check the ladder for any loose screws, hinges or rungs and clean off any mud or liquids that might have accumulated on the ladder.

4. Properly set up the ladder.
Every ladder should be placed on a firm, level surface. Never place a ladder on ground that is uneven and watch for soft, muddy spots. The same is true for uneven flooring. Remember to always engage the ladder locks or braces before climbing. If working outside, make sure the ladder — when extended — will not hit electrical wires, tree limbs or any other obstructions.

5. Remember the one-to-four rule. The bottom of the ladder should be one foot away from the wall for every four feet that the ladder rises. For example, if the ladder touches the wall 16 feet above the ground, the base of the ladder should be four feet from the wall. If you are going to climb onto a roof, the ladder should extend at least three feet higher than the rooftop. And, the upper and lower sections of an extension ladder should overlap to provide stability.

6. Avoid using ladders in adverse weather conditions. It’s unsafe to use ladders outside if there is rain, wind, snow, ice or some other factor that can increase the risk of slipping and falling.

7. Select the right ladder for the job.
If you’re washing windows inside the home, choose a step stool or utility ladder, which are often used when working at low or medium heights. Extension ladders are ideal for use outdoors to reach high places, like when cleaning the gutters on the rooftop. The weight the ladder is supporting also should never exceed its maximum load capacity.

8. Move materials with caution when on the ladder. While cleaning the garage or closet, be careful when pushing or pulling items from shelves. It is easy to be thrown off-balance and fall.

9. Always position the ladder closer to the work. Over-reaching or leaning too far to one side can make you lose your balance and fall. Your belly button should not go beyond the sides of the ladder!

10. Wear proper footwear.
Make sure your shoelaces are tied and the soles of your shoes are free of any debris or greasy, oily or wet substances. Do not wear leather-soled shoes, as they are slippery. Pant legs shouldn’t be too wide or too long.

Most importantly, be safe and ask someone to hold the ladder while you climb. Stay in the center of the ladder as you ascend, and always hold the side rails with both hands.

Source: AAOS

Century 21 AA Realty Long Island

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.

Great Tips for Easing into Back-to-School Mode

August 5th, 2015

By Barbara Pronin

One minute you’re thinking it’s time to shop for school clothes, and the next minute they’re off to the bus stop – and while nobody wants to rush those last lazy days of summer, now is the time to prepare your kids for the school year ahead.

Teachers and child care experts offer thoughtful tips for easing the family into fall:

  • Talk it up – Offer your kids positive vibes about the upcoming school year. Is this the first time they will ride their bikes? Play in the school band?  Join swim club? Paint word pictures that will ignite their excitement about going back to school.
  • Get organized – Set aside time for them to try on last year’s clothing, shop for replacements, and take advantage of school supply sales.
  • Have a discussion to set school rules - What will be your teen’s school night curfew? What’s the after-school schedule? What are school night and bedtime routines? When and where is homework to be done?
  • Plan the first week’s routine - Know what the kids are going to wear that first week and what will be packed in school lunches. Planning ahead can save time and tears later.
  • Plan a fun back-to-school breakfast – Get the year off to a happy start with a favorite family breakfast on the first day of school.
  • Reset their inner time clocks – At least a week before school starts, begin to wean your child away from staying up late and sleeping-in in the morning.
  • Have a dress rehearsal – Will your child be walking to a new school? A different bus stop? An after-school center? Do a run-through before the first day, and reinforce stranger-danger rules.
  • Prepare for their first evening home – Kids may come home on that first day with a school calendar, a stack of papers to fill out, or a list of needed supplies. Keep your calendar clear so you have the time to attend to whatever is necessary.
  • When you ask how the day went, mean it – Ask questions if your child is not forthcoming, and really listen to what they say. Knowing you are interested will help keep them talking as the school year progresses.

Century 21 AA Realty Long Island

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.

4 Ways to Erase the Most Common Household Messes

July 20th, 2015

(BPT) – No matter how neat you keep your home, odors and stains will occur. These can be especially challenging to remove in areas prone to spills and smells. According to the KILZ paint and primer experts, here’s how you can freshen up even the most stubborn spots in your household.

1. Eliminate Refrigerator Odors - Refrigerators are subject to a variety of spills and odors. To clean your fridge, begin by emptying its contents and throwing out, recycling or composting any food that is expired or beginning to smell.

Next, pull out any removable drawers or shelving and place them in the sink. Using a damp, soft cloth or non-abrasive sponge, wipe down these pieces, the interior of your fridge and the door with a multi-purpose cleaner. Or, mix two tablespoons of baking soda with one quart of hot water for a natural soap alternative. Don’t forget the seams of the shelves and rubber door seal.

If your fridge requires an extra-deep cleaning, unplug it while you work to avoid wasting energy. Before putting all of your food back into the fridge, wipe down the exterior of each jar or container with a damp cloth.

2. Conceal Wall Stains with Primer - Have your kids made artwork of your walls, or has a leaky roof caused a water-damaged mess? Tough wall stains like these can be hard to get rid of, but are easily sealed by applying a high-quality, stain-blocking primer.

Before covering the problem area with primer, clean the wall thoroughly with a grease-cutting solution and lightly sand the area to be painted.

3. Remove Dirty Grout Lines - Tile surfaces are prone to dirt and debris, especially in bathrooms or high-traffic areas. To keep tile looking fresh and new, grab an old toothbrush or electric toothbrush for a deeper scrub. Before you start, wash the surface with water then mix two parts baking soda with one part water. Scrub the resulting paste into the cracks and crevices, then douse with water again. If the grout lines are stained, spray a mixture of equal parts vinegar and warm water onto the area and brush. After a final rinse, the grime will be gone.

4. Fight Off Washing Machine Mold
- If you own a front-loading washing machine, you’ve probably noticed the unpleasant smell that can linger after completing a load of laundry. Despite being more energy-efficient, these machines have a tendency to hold odors and harbor mold. To clean and prevent grimy buildup, try this: instead of detergent, cycle two cups of vinegar and a quarter-cup of baking soda on a hot setting. When it’s done, use a clean sponge to scrub down the inside. Finally, rinse with a plain-water cycle, and you’ll see (and smell) the results

Century 21 AA Realty Long Island

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.

Don’t Sweat It: A/C Maintenance Tips

June 16th, 2015

As the temperature rises outside, it is becoming more challenging for homeowners to keep energy costs low while keeping cool inside. According to the HVAC Inspection, Maintenance and Restoration Association (also known as NADCA), there is a way to decrease energy usage and still beat the heat.

“Air conveyance systems are the largest sources of energy within a home, so it’s important to clean the units whenever needed, in order to avoid increased costs and energy usage,” says NADCA President Bill Benito. “When the units are not in use, they collect a lot of dirt and dust; when they are turned on during the summer months, all of that dust and dirt gets blown back into the home.”

NADCA recommends hiring a certified contractor to inspect air-handling units and test for efficiency. Proper duct cleaning and sealing of the air handling unit will help maximize system efficiency and performance during the hottest months of the year, when the air conditioners run the most often.

“Dirty or contaminated filters and poorly maintained air handling systems can reduce air flow and efficiency. Dirty coils can cause a unit to work harder to pump out cool air, which will ultimately lead to increased energy costs,” adds Benito.

A complete and proper cleaning, according to industry standards, will remove built up particulate and contaminants, resulting in improved indoor air quality. The standard defines complete cleaning to include the inside of air ducts from where air enters the return duct, through the air handler (blower, coil and heat exchange), to the exit, where the air is released to condition the home.

Source: NADCA

Century 21 AA Realty Long Island

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.

Perk Up Your Patio with These Plants

May 14th, 2015

Nothing brightens up an outdoor space quite like blooming flowers and thriving greenery. Whether you’d like to upgrade your deck, porch or patio, consider planting these florae, recommended by the experts at garden plant grower Monrovia.

  • Hydrangeas – Beloved for their large, colorful blooms, hydrangeas thrive in full sun to part shade and should be planted in moist, rich soil. If you live in a drier climate, water them two or more times each week. 
  • Gardenias – Known for their distinct fragrance, gardenias can be grafted onto hardy rootstock to make them easier to grow and less prone to disease.
  • Peonies – Available in an array of colors, peonies are a popular pick, especially itoh peonies, which are a hybrid of herbaceous and tree varieties. Itoh peonies have an extended bloom season and disease resistance, and are much less expensive than when they were first introduced.
  • Peruvian Lilies – Great for cut flower arrangements, Peruvian lilies will provide fresh flowers to adorn your home’s interior all summer long. To boost growth, start off with a bulb and give them ample space in a container or within a garden.
  • Roses – A welcome gift for many, groundcover roses are pest and disease resistant, and require minimal pruning and no dead-heading.
  • Edible Plants – Fruit-bearing plants like blueberry or raspberry shrubs make great long-lasting gifts. They flower in spring, fruit in summer and display colorful foliage in the fall.

Source: Monrovia

Century 21 AA Realty Long Island

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.


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