Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS
 
Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS

Jeff's Blog

Breaking Down Spring Home Project Costs

March 21, 2016 4:37 am

(Family Features)—Before you grab your toolkit or enlist the help of a professional for spring projects this season, do your wallet a favor and conduct some research.

HomeAdvisor’s most recent True Cost Report found that 38 percent of homeowners don't know how much it will cost to hire a professional for home projects, and nearly 70 percent are concerned about overpaying as a consequence of not having reliable cost information.

If you’ve got any of these projects on the agenda this spring, keep in mind these tips.

Repairing the roof: Maintaining the roof protects a home from the elements and can raise property values. Small repairs keep a roof in good shape for several years and help avoid costly damages. Most homeowners assume repairing a roof can be costly. In fact, the average roof fix only costs $550, according to the True Cost Report.

Remodeling a kitchen: Kitchen remodels boost a home's resale value and add functionality to the most utilized space in a home. Many factors go into remodeling a kitchen, including flooring, plumbing, appliances and electrical, so bear in mind these additional costs when budgeting.

Remodeling a bathroom: Homeowners can choose from different types of bathroom remodels, depending on style preferences and budget. The average cost of remodeling a bathroom is $9,000, says HomeAdvisor.

Painting the home's exterior: Painting the home's exterior not only boosts its curb appeal, but it also acts as a home's primary defense against weather, insects, and other damage. Consider your region’s climate before selecting a color and/or finish.

Installing landscaping: Landscaping can dramatically change the look of a house and property. Adding landscaping such as an outdoor patio, flowers or shrubs can increase the value of a home. The True Cost Report points to an average cost of $2,938 for landscaping.

Source: HomeAdvisor

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Student Loan Borrowers: 4 Tips to Avoid Scams

March 18, 2016 4:34 am

To date, there are over 43 million student loan borrowers in the United States, owing a total of nearly $1.3 trillion dollars of debt. Many of them, who are already at risk financially, could become targets of debt relief scammers.

“It’s hard enough to finance school, get through it and then manage your debt load once you leave,” says Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®). “Unfortunately, being targeted for student loan-related scams is one more thing graduates may have to deal with.”

To fend off these types of scams, McClary and the NFCC advise the following guidelines:

1. Remember looks can be deceiving. Official-looking emails or websites are intended to lead people into thinking they are legitimate. One way to verify that correspondence is from a reputable organization is by checking their Web addresses and looking for reviews or complaints online.

It’s also worth noting that the Department of Education’s Web pages end in .gov, not .com. Bear in mind, also, that the government doesn’t send out email or use advertising to encourage students to take out loans or borrowers to consolidate debt.

2. Verify before trusting. The same rules for protecting personal information in all other aspects of life also apply to student loans. Don’t provide information, especially a Federal Student Aid PIN, to someone who calls or writes. Instead, ask for a case number, then call the creditor, bank, credit union, credit card company or lender using their published number. This verifies that they are actually trying to reach out regarding a problem with an account.

3. Urgency is a red flag. Whenever pressed to make a quick decision involving a “special offer,” step away and take a hard look at the deal and who is presenting it. Scammers use urgency the same way magicians use distractions—to focus attention away from what they don’t want others to see.

4. Don’t buy into “instant” solutions. While there are many programs that offer debt forgiveness or cancellation, borrowers need to apply to them directly. There aren’t any middlemen who can negotiate special deals.

However, there are certified counselors, like those who work with nonprofit NFCC member agencies, who can help identify opportunities for debt relief and provide guidance toward the right option based on an individual’s unique financial situation. Anyone seeking assistance with student loan debt is encouraged to reach out for counseling by contacting the NFCC at 877-406-6322 or online at studentloanhelp.org

If you suspect that your student loan information has been compromised, call the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General Hotline 1-800-MIS-USED.

Source: NFCC

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How to Prevent Tree Roots from Damaging Your Property

March 18, 2016 4:34 am

Trees are hardy plants, and their roots fight back against man-made limits around them. In urban and suburban landscapes, tree roots are often forced to grow between buildings or under driveways and walkways—and they can cause costly damage if left unchecked.

“Before you plant a new tree in your yard, you need to understand how a tree could damage your property, and take appropriate measures to prevent that damage,” says Tchukki Andersen, a board-certified Master Arborist and staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).

Woody tree roots thicken as they grow, gradually pushing shallow roots toward the surface. Since soil near the surface is best suited for root growth, most tree roots are just below the surface, placing them directly in conflict with man-made obstacles. Where the soil is covered by a solid driveway or patio, upward growing roots will grow against the underside of the pavement or pavers.

“Most damage is found six feet or less from the tree, since roots become smaller and less damaging the further they are from the trunk,” says Andersen. “Keep this in mind before you plant. That small sapling could become a large shade tree with roots spreading 30 or 40 feet outward from the trunk.”

Some homeowners, masons and landscapers manage intrusive roots by grinding down or removing them. This can be expensive, and is harmful to the tree. Wounding a tree's roots creates points of entry for pathogens, leaving a tree vulnerable to disease. Cutting major roots also reduces a tree's ability to absorb nutrients and water, leaving it more susceptible to drought. In addition, cutting roots can reduce a tree's structural support, which increases the danger the tree will topple onto your house in high winds.

When cutting problem tree roots, remember:

• The farther you cut from the trunk, the less threat to the tree’s health, and the less danger of creating a hazard.

• Avoid cutting roots greater than 2 inches in diameter.

• Prune roots back to a side or sinker root (one that is growing downward) when possible.

• Roots recover from being severed when you cut them cleanly with a saw, instead of breaking them, and mulch and water well after pruning.

• Consult a qualified arborist when cutting within a distance equal to five times the trunk diameter to the trunk.

To avoid cutting tree roots altogether:

• Installing physical root guides and barriers that redirect tree roots down and away from hardscapes with minimal impact on the tree.

• Curve new hardscape features, such as a driveway or patio, around the tree roots.

• Suspend hardscape features on small pilings to bridge over roots.

Ultimately, the best way to keep the trees and their roots on your property from causing damage is to select species that match site conditions, Andersen says, and to avoid planting large shade trees within 12 feet of hardscapes. In areas within five to seven feet of a paved area or structure, plant trees that grow to a mature height of less than 30 feet. In areas within seven to 10 feet of a paved area or structure, plant trees that grow to a mature height of less than 50 feet. Reserve trees that mature to higher than 50 feet for areas with at least 12 feet of clearance around the trunk; this allows adequate space for the roots.

A professional arborist can assess your landscape and work with you to determine the best trees to plant.

Source: TCIA

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Remodeling and Relationships: Compromise Is Key

March 18, 2016 4:34 am

Remodeling a home shared with a spouse or significant other can (understandably) place strain on the relationship, given the expense and time involved. But in most cases, the end result is worth it—in fact, remodelers who’ve completed their projects said they feel happier and more comfortable in their newly renovated spaces, according to a recently released survey by Houzz (www.houzz.com).

If you’re undertaking a remodel with your partner, be wary of these common sources of tension:

• Agreeing on Finishes, Materials and Products – Thirty-four percent of respondents to the Houzz survey cited this as a top point of contention during a remodel.

• Communicating with One Another – Thirty percent of respondents to the survey cited this as a top point of contention during a remodel. (Seven percent of respondents admitted to tossing something belonging to their partner without their knowledge!)

• Agreeing on Design and Style – Twenty-nine percent of respondents to the survey cited this as a top point of contention during a remodel. When it comes to style compromises, just 20 percent of respondents had the same style preference as their partner.

The good news is, the majority of couples addressed these challenges through compromise, according to the survey. Remodelers who’ve been through the process recommend establishing a budget from the get-go, and coming to terms with what you both want prior to starting any project.

Source: Houzz

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Parents: 5 Ways to Teach Responsibility to Children

March 17, 2016 4:31 am

Raising well-behaved and conscientious kids is one of the joys of parenthood—but given the mercurial nature of young children, it is not always an easy task.

The lifestyle editors at ABC News recently interviewed a panel of child-rearing experts, including early childhood education professors from several universities. They suggest five tips to help you raise responsible children:

1. Give Them Chores Early – Studies have found that one good predictor of a child’s success is that they begin helping with chores by the age of two or three, beginning with putting away their toys. Doing household chores instills a sense of cooperation with others and trains them to take pride in accomplishment.

2. Make Your Expectations Clear – Set clearly stated rules about what you expect of your children and the consequences of not living up to them—and follow through. If your child is expected to be responsible for getting his own things to and from school every day, for instance, then don’t go running to school to deliver the book report he left behind on the kitchen table.

3. Set a Good Example – Give your child plenty of opportunity to observe your own responsible behavior—keeping appointments, doing household chores, volunteering and more. Children observe more than we sometimes think they do, but talk to your child about what you are doing—and why—as you go through your daily routine.

4. Reinforce Responsible Behavior – When your child exhibits responsible behavior, reinforce it. Tell your child how good it makes you feel when she sets the table or takes out the trash without being asked. Reward her good behavior by having extra story time or playing a favorite board game.

5. Expect Them to Make Mistakes – Children’s operating systems are not fully developed. They may be forgetful or easily distracted—and sometimes stubborn or defiant. If a chore is neglected, offer a firm reminder and refer back to number two or four above to manage the situation.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Home Flooded? 10 Cleanup Tips to Reduce Damage

March 17, 2016 4:31 am

With rainfall levels breaking records across the country, many homeowners have had to deal with costly property damage as a result of excess water. If your home has been flooded (or may be flood-prone in the future), use these tips, courtesy of the experts at ServiceMaster Restore®, to mitigate the scope of damage.

1. Use fans to circulate the air and assist drying. If the outside temperature is above 80 degrees, use dehumidifiers. If damage occurs during a cool season, leave the heat on; if in summer, use an air conditioner if possible.

2. Turn the main switches in the circuit breaker box to the off position. Do not go into rooms with standing water if the electricity is still on. Do not use an ordinary household vacuum to remove water, and do not use electrical appliances on wet floors.

3. Remove as much water as possible by mopping and blotting.

4. Wipe furniture dry. Prop up wet furniture cushions for even drying, and place small wood blocks or aluminum foil under furniture legs.

5. Remove wet area rugs or other floor coverings and open furniture drawers, closet doors and luggage to assist with drying. Do not lift tacked-down carpet without professional help. Lifting the carpet incorrectly could promote shrinkage. Lift draperies off carpet, loop through a coat hanger, and place the hanger on drapery rods.

6. Remove wet fabrics and dry them as soon as possible, preferably within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold. Hang furs and leather goods to dry separately at room temperature.

7. Move photographs, paintings and art objects to a safe, dry location. Remove damp books from shelves and spread out to dry.

8. Throw away any wet items you don't consider valuable. The replacement cost may be less than restoration.

9. Never mix bleach with other cleaning products. The combination of chemicals may create toxic fumes.

10. Avoid direct contact with affected mold areas as much as possible. Wear protective clothing while sifting through items that were beneath the flood waters or where mold has begun to spread.

Source: ServiceMaster Restore®

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The 15 Most Popular Kitchen and Bath Features

March 17, 2016 4:31 am

Kitchens and bathrooms remain the primary focus for homeowners upgrading their homes—and many are introducing cutting-edge features into their designs. These modern appointments, according to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), are mostly centered in the kitchen.

“Because kitchens are so central to the home, people feel it’s important to spend time and money selecting materials and appliances that reflect who they are and make them feel good,” says Dawn Zuber, chair of the AIA’s Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN). “Architectural lighting is a key component in good kitchen design, too, as it allows people not only to see what they are doing, but to highlight the cabinets, countertops, and appliances that are important to them.”

According to the AIA, the most popular kitchen features and products are:

1. LED Lighting
2. Computer Area/Recharging Station
3. Upper-End Appliances
4. Larger Pantry Space
5. Drinking Water Filtration System
6. Double Island
7. Adaptability/Universal Design

“Many of the new kitchen features that were really growing in popularity a few years ago have leveled off, such as larger pantry space and double islands,” says AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. “Popularity in LED lighting and upper-end appliances continues to grow at a strong rate.”

In bathrooms, the most popular features and products are:

1. LED Lighting
2. Stall Shower (No tub)
3. Doorless Shower
4. Large Walk-In Shower
5. Adaptability/Universal Design
6. Water-Saving Toilets
7. Radiant Heated Floors
8. Upscale Shower

Source: AIA

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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The Best and Worst Times to Book a Flight

March 16, 2016 4:28 am

Did I really get the best deal, or should I have waited for more savings?

With airline rates seemingly changing on an hour-by-hour basis, it can be difficult to determine the best time to book a flight. A recently released study hopes to narrow down that window.

“54 days [out] is a good number to start with, but it’s important to know that every trip is different," says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, which conducted the study. "That's why we have what we call the ‘Prime Booking Window,’ which is between 21 and 112 days before departure. For most domestic trips, the best time to buy will be somewhere in that range.”

The Prime Booking Window is ideal for bargain hunters because fares fluctuate often, sometimes day to day. Look for cheap airline tickets frequently during this period, and don’t hesitate to book if a deal pops up, Klee says.

This finding debunks the perception that first-comers reap the most savings. Those booking 197 to 335 days out may have their pick of flight times, nonstop options and seats, but they also pay an average of $50 more per ticket than they would during the Prime Booking Window. Similarly, those booking 113 to 196 days out pay an average of $20 more per ticket than they would in the Prime Booking Window.

On the other end of the spectrum, fares vary wildly 14 to 20 days out. Depending on how full flights are, travelers may get a fantastic deal, or they may pay significantly more, Klee says. As expected, popular flights during peak seasons are less likely to have low fares in this window, according to the study.

And last-minute bookers— those making arrangements at zero hour—pay an average of $75 more per ticket than those booking in the Prime Booking Window. That premium shoots up to $200 in the six days before the flight.

“Generally, a trip price starts off high, slowly drops and then starts to climb a few weeks before the flight,” Klee explains. “People ask all the time if it's true that at the last minute the airlines have unsold seats that they practically give away, but that's rarely the case.”

Source: CheapAir®

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An Entertainer's Dream: The Blueprint for a Built-In Bar

March 16, 2016 4:28 am

(BPT)—Planning to entertain guests in your home? Become the host or hostess with the most (or most-ess) with a feature that’s a mainstay at most parties: the built-in bar.

“Today, the term ‘built-in bar’ covers a variety of possible set-ups,” says Linda Jovanovich of the American Hardwood Information Center (www.hardwoodinfo.com).

At its simplest, a bar may occupy the end of a kitchen island—nothing more than a short length of dedicated countertop above a neat grid of cubbyholes to store wine and a small fridge. Slightly more ambitious bars comprise a niche or door-less closet fitted with wood shelves and cabinets, a countertop and perhaps a faucet and sink. A step above are more imposing versions, like the modern equivalent of a traditional butler's pantry—fully-plumbed stations where not only drinks, but also hors d'oeuvres can be prepared and served.

"Many houses and apartments have a closet or unused space that can easily be converted into an attractive and useful built-in bar," says Laura Bohn, a New York-based interior designer. "If you live in a house with stairs, the space beneath them is often an ideal place to install a small, modestly-equipped drinks center. It should be able to accommodate enough countertop to prepare cocktails, enough storage for a liquor cabinet, and maybe enough room for a fridge or wine cooler."

One advantage of using such confined spaces for built-in bars is that they can be closed off when not in use, so that a commandeered closet looks just like a closet, or an appropriated staircase looks just like a staircase.

However, "a well-designed, well-crafted hardwood mini-bar needn't be hidden. Made of walnut, cherry or some other distinctive wood—my favorite is maple—it can be an integral and pleasing a part of the décor," Bohn adds.

Ideally, larger butler's pantry-style built-in bars are located discreetly in transitional spaces between kitchens and adjacent dining or living rooms. In today's open-concept homes, such built-in bars, often dubbed buffets, are likely in either the kitchen or living area itself—wall-spanning installations in full view of guests.

"Walnut is very popular right now for this type of bar," says Christine Donner, a Connecticut-based kitchen designer. "It is an elegant wood and its cool tones complement the white-and-silver palette that my clients currently favor. It can be bleached to a lighter tone, left natural or stained much darker, almost all the way to black. Limed oak, bleached to a lovely honey-blonde color, has a marvelous midcentury-modern feel that is slowly catching on, too."

And functionality is as important as aesthetics. "Wine connoisseurs often have an extensive collection of varietal-specific glasses that they want displayed, so I get asked a lot for glass-fronted cabinets with interior lighting," Donner says. "Much of this stemware is oversize or extra tall, so I make sure the shelves can accommodate their height. And I always include solid-door cabinets to stow motley collections of assorted liquor bottles."

Cabinetry can also be used to conceal icemakers, refrigerators, bottle-cooling drawers, dishwashers and other unsightly appliances and equipment.

A sink, while not a necessity, can be practical, as well.

“Less for the water coming out of the spout than as a place to dump out old drinks or melted ice,” says Donner.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Make a Note: 8 Home Maintenance Chores to Stay on Top Of

March 16, 2016 4:28 am

Regularly scheduled maintenance checks can help prevent equipment breakdowns while keeping all of your mechanical, plumbing, HVAC and other critical home systems running smoothly and efficiently.

Homeowners should schedule the following checks once every six months, according to Homestructions.com:

Check Washer and Dryer – Check hoses for leaks, replace the hoses if needed and clean the lint from the ducts of your dryer.

Clean A/C Coils – Dirt and dust will settle on the condenser coils of your A/C, and this prevents your unit from cooling down the air. Be sure to clean the dust that is sitting on the coils and grills of your unit to extend the life of your A/C.

Seal Tile Grout – The only way to prevent the moisture from accumulating under tile is to seal the grout. Prevent mold and mildew growth by sealing once every six months and you can prevent moisture from sitting in areas that will not dry out.

Homestructions.com also recommends adding the following chores to your maintenance calendar each month:

Change A/C and Heater Air Filters – If you have a forced air system, by changing the filter, you can improve the air quality in your home and also reduce the stress you put on your A/C and heating system.

Check Water Softener Salt Levels – If the amount in the salt drum is low, add salt to prevent hard water.

Clear Dishwasher Clogs – If you use your dishwasher on a regular basis, make time to clean out the drain bin on a monthly basis. All of those food particles that are caked onto your dishes will wash down into the drain bin and clog the drain if it is not cleaned.

Maintain the Garbage Disposal – If you do not flush the disposal with hot water and baking soda, the grime will accumulate and lead to a serious problem.

And lastly, be sure your fire extinguisher is charged—this is more of a safety reminder than a maintenance issue.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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