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

Move Over Kitchen: The Backyard is the New Heart of the Home

June 9, 2014 3:53 am

As millions of Americans ready their outdoor space for the summer season, a new study from SABER Grills reveals just how enamored U.S. homeowners are with their backyards. Eighty-three percent of homeowners across the country say their outdoor living space is the favorite place in their home. It’s also the most used space in American households just behind the kitchen, and way ahead of the game room, living room and dining room.

While spaces like dining rooms and formal living rooms have lost favor in American homes, the backyard has gained popularity each year. The survey showed the overwhelming majority of current U.S. homeowners (81 percent) consider their outdoor space the heart of their home.

"It doesn't matter if your home is valued at $75,000 or $775,000, if you are an American homeowner, you are proud of your outdoor space and consider it an essential part of your home," said Rob Schwing, GM of SABER Grills. "Homeowners use their backyards to relax and reconnect with family – just like the kitchen."

It's not surprising then that 51 percent of all homeowners say they update the space as often as their favorite interior rooms. And, new man-cave trend alert - a full 30 percent of male homeowners say they are solely responsible for decorating their homes' outdoor space. Topping the guy's wish list for 2014 outdoor space additions? A pool or hot tub. One thing they can't live without? Their grill. And, not surprisingly, "access to wi-fi" is now among the top five most common items in demand for outdoor living spaces.

Super engaged with their outdoor space are Baby Boomers who live in older homes, mostly congregating in the Southern and Midwestern U.S., the survey revealed. Their backyard is more likely than others to be equipped with TVs, Wi-Fi and special lighting. They own at least two grills and are adventurous entertainers, frequently trying new recipes with groups of five or more.

Other regional facts:

• Midwesterners are the most interactive with their outdoor space: they update/accessorize most often and 75 percent use it throughout the week.
• Top of the wish of outdoor furnishings for all was a pool or hot tub. Southerners and Westerners are most likely to include "kitchen" in the top three.
• South and Northeast residents have the biggest parties, usually entertaining more than five people.
• Southerners are most likely to own two or more grills; Northeasterners, just one.
• Roughly 40 percent of all outdoor chefs consider themselves average grillers. More than 30 percent of Northeasterners, however, identify themselves as "confident" grillers.

Source: SABER Grills, LLC

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Talk Your Way to the Top: Why Old-School Communication Skills Are the Competitive Edge New Grads Need

June 6, 2014 3:23 pm

You’ve just graduated from college and are (justifiably) proud of your accomplishment. But as you head into the workforce, don’t expect your new credentials or your great GPA to do the heavy lifting for you. Geoffrey Tumlin warns they don’t matter nearly as much as your ability to articulate, influence, persuade, and connect. These days, innovation and collaboration rule, and without the skills you need to do both, even the most prestigious degree is just a piece of paper.

“What stands out to hiring managers are great communication skills,” says Tumlin, author of Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life. “Can you pitch an idea to a supervisor? Can you build a consensus among group members? Can you build rapport with a client?

Here, Tumlin shares eight communication lessons that will give you the competitive edge you need, now and throughout your career:

Take a daily dose of higher-order communication. Most new grads are highly skilled users of social media, text messages, and email. But these modes of communication are characterized by expedience and convenience—it’s easier to send messages this way than to call or to communicate face-to-face.

“Not all of our communication can happen effectively along lower-order channels,” says Tumlin. “Sometimes we need to do difficult things with our communication, like resolve a conflict, persuade someone who’s reluctant, or convey a complicated idea. When we reach for our more difficult and time-intensive higher-order communication skills, we can’t afford for them to be rusty. That’s why everyone should practice higher-order communication every day.

“Even though it takes longer and is more difficult, walk over and talk to a coworker instead of sending an instant message. Call a friend and congratulate her on getting a new job instead of posting it on Facebook. And go visit your client instead of writing him an email,” recommends Tumlin.

Talk (and type) like your grandmother’s watching. While words can build our work relationships only slowly, they can cause damage with lightning speed. A blurted retort, a thoughtless email, or a hasty remark can—and does—land people in hot water all the time.

“A quick and effective way to improve your communication is to pretend like your grandmother—or someone else who brings out the best in you—is standing by your side when you are talking or typing,” Tumlin suggests. “Acting like someone you respect is looking over your shoulder will give you the pause you need to get in front of ill-advised words and provide the space you need to self-correct when you’re frustrated, agitated, or confused.”

Expect less from technology (and more from people). Because technology does a lot for us, it’s easy to overestimate its role in our success. But our enthusiasm for what our digital communication tools can do shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of the people behind the tools. Our devices don’t possess the communication abilities we think they do.

“A tech-centered view of communication encourages us to expect too much from our devices and too little from each other,” says Tumlin. “We assume that hitting ‘send’ means we’ve communicated, when really, the other person may not have understood the message at all. Even with the most powerful connection and transmission devices in human history in the palm of our hands, communication doesn’t happen until the other person understands.”

Listen like you’re getting paid for it. The digital revolution facilitated hypercommunication and instant self-expression, but made it harder for anyone to listen. Between emails, social media, and texts, there’s just too much communication junk getting in the way. Our thoughts are scattered, our minds wander, and ever-present distractions make it difficult for us to focus on the person right in front of us. We need to make a concerted effort to reinvigorate our listening skills.

Assume you’re a terrible questioner (and set out to fix it). Most of us have poor questioning skills because we don’t think twice before blurting out a query. But questions aren’t neutral; they are powerful communication tools because they change the trajectory of a conversation. As you’ve probably noticed, questions often make conversations worse. Even “simple” inquiries can go awry. “Is this your final report?” or “Did you call John in accounting about this?” can cause trouble if the other person thinks there’s a criticism behind the query.

“Faulty questions contribute to many conversational failures and can add anxiety, defensiveness, and ill will to interactions,” says Tumlin. “Use your questions to open up a conversation and learn about the topic you’re discussing. If you take your questions as seriously as you take your new job, you’ll dramatically reduce the friction caused by faulty questions.”

Act like every interaction might be important. Nothing kills a conversation faster than someone who doesn’t care. And it doesn’t take much more than folded arms, a disapproving scowl, a sigh of boredom, or a well-placed eye roll to make someone feel like what she’s saying just doesn’t matter. And the company newbie, who needs to establish connections all over the office, can’t afford to prematurely shut the door on any relationships.

Don’t “be yourself.” “‘I was just being myself’ sounds harmless, but it’s often an excuse to indulge in bad interpersonal behavior,” points out Tumlin. “Authenticity is good in spirit, but in practice it often torpedoes our goals and harms our underlying relationships.

“I’m not suggesting that you become a fake, just that you don’t cloak impulsive—and counterproductive—communication in the fabric of ‘being yourself,’” says Tumlin.

Let difficult people win. Your coworker Jane loves to argue. Your colleague Jim is incredibly stubborn. Your client in Albuquerque is always moody. Whether they’re controlling, critical, or cranky, the behaviors that make someone a difficult person spark frequent confrontations. Even if you fire a barrage of points and counterpoints into Jane’s arguments, you won’t match her debating skills. You won’t change Jim’s mind on anything. And you’ll be unsuccessful in your efforts to offset your client’s mood swings. Don’t lock horns with difficult people, insists Tumlin.

“Your communication—productive or unproductive, healthy or dysfunctional—is a major factor in how successful you will be in any job,” concludes Tumlin. “For the kinds of productive and meaningful interactions you want—and need—at work, pack a few communication ideas you didn’t learn at college in the pocket of your new suit to show you have the communication skills to succeed in business environments where innovation and collaboration are king.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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5 Ways to Create a Safer Bathroom

June 6, 2014 3:23 pm

(Family Features) According to the National Safety Council, approximately 70 percent of all accidents occurring in the home happen in the bathroom -- accounting for nearly 200,000 accidents each year.

While it's difficult to eliminate risks entirely, you can make your bathroom safer for the whole family by following a few simple steps:

• Choose a textured floor. The splish and splash of taking a bath often leads to slippery surfaces. When choosing flooring for a bathroom, avoid slick surfaces like porcelain and granite, and look for textured choices with better traction. If ceramic is a must, look for certified slip-resistant options. When in doubt, opt for smaller bathroom tiles. The more grout lines, the more resistance your flooring will offer.

• Make it level. You don't need a large, walk-in shower to get one with a low threshold. As trips can be as dangerous as slips, look for a safe shower pan that is level with the floor, making it easy to step inside.

• Get a grip. Installing grab bars in the shower and next to the tub is a good idea for everyone, but it's especially important for those looking to stay in their home as they age. Some products, such as the new Decor Assist accessories and Decorative ADA-compliant Grab Bars from Delta, exceed ADA load requirements and come in a variety of designs and finishes to coordinate with any aesthetic.

• Keep kids in mind. Locks for every style of cabinet or drawer are readily available at local hardware stores. If you have small children (or if they visit), remember to lock away medications, small electrical appliances and cleaning supplies. Above all, never leave children unattended in the bath or shower.

Don't get burned. Water heater thermostats can be preset up to 140 degrees, a temperature that can easily burn sensitive skin. Reduce the risk of burns by setting your water heater to 120 degrees. For added peace of mind, install a shower system that provides a digital temperature read out. Some shower heads and hand showers, such as the new options from Delta Faucet with Temp2O Technology, indicate the temperature of the water via an LED color indicator, as well as a digital numerical readout, and can be installed within minutes.

No matter what age or stage of life, mishaps can happen to anyone and making a few simple adjustments could make all of the difference for your family's safety in the bathroom.

To learn more about home safety, visit www.NSC.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Only Certain Home Improvements Pay Off

June 6, 2014 3:23 pm

The Appraisal Institute encourages homeowners to exercise good judgment when deciding which home improvement projects to take on, saying that not all renovations enhance property values.

"It's very important that renovations stay within, but not exceed, community norms," said Appraisal Institute President Ken P. Wilson, MAI, SRA. "If they don't match what's standard in a community, owners could have difficulty recouping their investment when selling the property."

According to Remodeling magazine's most recent Cost vs. Value report, some of the projects with the highest expected return on investment are entry door replacement (steel), deck addition (wood), garage door replacement, attic bedroom and minor kitchen remodel. Other renovations with high expected pay-offs include window replacement (wood and vinyl), siding replacement (vinyl) and basement remodel.

Wilson advised homeowners that it may be best to hold off on major renovations if a homeowner isn't sure how long they will be in the home. The longer a homeowner stays in a property, the greater the opportunity for a return on investment, he said.

"Consumers should be aware that cost does not necessarily equal value," he added.

For an unbiased analysis of what their home would be worth both before and after an improvement project, a homeowner can work with a professional real estate appraiser -- such as a Designated member of the Appraisal Institute -- to conduct a feasibility study.

During a feasibility study, the appraiser will analyze the homeowner's property, weigh the cost of rehabilitation and provide an estimate of the property's value before and after the improvement.

Some green and energy-efficient renovations, such as adding Energy Star appliances and extra insulation, are likely to pay the homeowner back in lowered utility bills relatively quickly. Lower utility costs also are a draw for potential homebuyers. When appraising a home, the appraiser evaluates local supply and demand for green and energy-efficient properties and features.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Survey Says Father's Day Sales Offer Best Time to Find Tool Deals

June 4, 2014 6:17 am

FatWallet.com announced results from its Tools Shopping Survey* (TNS Global). Of 1,000 American adults surveyed online, more than 8 in 10 said they buy tools every year, with nearly 4 in 10 saying Father's Day is the best time to find deals on tools (compared to 18 percent on Black Friday). Lawn and garden tools were most in demand this year (38 percent) over combination power tool kits (20 percent), while Craftsman leads the way as most popular tool brand (38 percent) over Black & Decker (26 percent) and DeWalt (19 percent).

Overall, home improvement spending is expected to grow 6.8 percent this coming year to nearly $313 billion in 2014 (Home Improvement Research Institute). FatWallet's tools shopping survey also reveals that 87 percent of those that buy tools will spend up to $250 on tools this year (13 percent will spend more than $250).

Key Results from the Survey:

How Often: Eighty-one percent purchase tools at least once this year, and 40 percent more than once (50 percent under the age of 40). Twenty percent buy tools three to four times a year (25 percent for those w/children). Nineteen percent have "never" purchased tools (13 percent of males).

Best Time to Buy: Thirty-nine percent say Father's Day is best time to find deals on tools, more than Black Friday (18 percent), Cyber Monday (1 percent) and December Holiday (12 percent) combined. Thirty percent said Spring Sales offered the best tool deals.

Tool Spend, or Not: One-third of males said the only thing to stop them from buying tools is if they "run out of money." Fifty-eight percent will spend less than $100 while 29 percent will spend between $100-$249 (36 percent under the age of 40). Thirteen percent will spend $250+. On the contrary, one-in-four said they either have way too many tools or are too busy to take on home projects and one-in-five admit they have tools they've never used before.

High Demand: Lawn and garden tools are most coveted (38 percent), especially for females (46 percent) and those with children (44 percent). Cordless-combo power tool kits and hand tools (20 percent) are next followed by power drills (15 percent), tool box/storage (13 percent) and circular saws. Note: two-thirds of respondents say Quality/Durability is the most important feature for power tools.

Top Brands: Four-in-ten choose Craftsman as their most desired tool brand, while 26 percent like Black & Decker, 19 percent go for DeWalt, and 5 percent or less would choose either Makita, Ryobi, Bosch or Milwaukee.

"Technology allows us to build and repair stuff around the home–faster, easier and cheaper than ever before," stated FatWallet spokesperson, Brent Shelton. "Deep discounts online for newer tools and tech gadgets during Father's Day promotions have created a windfall of savings and selection for early June shoppers."

Source: FatWallet

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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How to Win a Competitive Bid for Your Next House

June 4, 2014 6:17 am

With housing prices continuing to increase due to a low housing inventory, the market is proving to be competitive as buyers attempt to secure their dream home. According to Don Frommeyer, CRMS, President of NAMB (The National Association of Mortgage Professionals), there are several techniques potential buyers can utilize to make sure their offer sticks in the midst of a bidding war.

“Many people think the real estate market is easy for buyers, but in reality, it’s still quite vigorous and with fewer houses on the market, buyers must set themselves apart with competitive bids,” says Frommeyer.

Below are the techniques Frommeyer suggests considering to maintain a competitive bid:

- Escalation Clauses: An escalation clause offers $1,000 above the highest bid and automatically kicks in when other offers are present. Buyers can set a cap on their escalation clause to ensure their bid doesn’t unknowingly go above what they’re comfortable with. This technique allows the seller to know the bid is serious, while also offering buyer protection by safeguarding a realistic offer from the potential buyer instead of a random counteroffer.

- Cash Offers: CoreLogic reported that all-cash offers have grown to almost 40 percent nationwide. Having a cash offer with proof of the funds is extremely valuable in a competitive housing market as it typically involves fewer obstacles making it more likely to close. However, all-cash offers do not mean no financing is required—buyers may be using alternate forms of financing that count as cash by leveraging assets.

- Quick Closing: Have all financials in place before placing an offer. A pre-approved loan and regular contact with a lender can show the buyer how serious the bidder is.

Source: www.namb.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Creating Inviting Outdoor Spaces for Entertaining

June 3, 2014 6:05 am

(BPT) - From barbecues and games of bocce to parties and candlelit dinners, your outdoor space can be a hub for entertaining friends and family.

"Try to create a living room for your outdoor space," says Kate Anthony, owner of Kate & Company Design Studio and Interior Design instructor at The Art Institute of California - San Diego, a campus of Argosy University. People spend a lot of time on their indoor living room spaces, and she recommends extending the interior home out to your exterior.

Whether you have a small patio or sprawling backyard, interior design experts from The Art Institutes system of schools provide six simple tips for making the great outdoors a great place to eat, play and entertain.

1. Focal points
Edward Varias, owner of E.V. Design and Interior Design instructor at The Art Institute of California - Hollywood, a campus of Argosy University, says a focal point brings everyone together, and can include furniture, a fountain, a fireplace, or any piece that will provide a "wow" factor. An outdoor rug can serve as a focal point and help define an area, and a fire pit makes a great place for guests to gather.

2. Seating groups
"Define the space for the type of entertaining you need," says Varias. Determine the size of your space, the number of people you will typically be entertaining and whether you will use the space for eating, drinking and socializing, or playing games. In a larger space, you can mix dining, hanging out and garden spaces to provide your guests with more areas to enjoy.

For a small space, seating can be a simple bistro table and two chairs. For larger spaces, you can incorporate sofa and chair groupings, along with a small coffee table. Anthony adds that a circular furniture pattern allows everyone to see each other, which is great when playing cards.

3. Vistas
"Select several vistas or view points for people to explore depending on the space; utilizing the space in several locations creates gathering areas, such as a garden to explore or seclusion for meditating," says Varias. Anthony encourages people to think about creating areas for games such as bocce and says that seating or rugs can help establish designated areas without fences or barriers.

In creating vistas, you can use a combination of natural and manmade elements. This can include creating garden areas with rocks and fountains and adding little surprises such as statuettes, pagoda lanterns and seating for two, says Varias.

4. Landscaping
The first step in landscaping is cleaning up the space and trimming bushes, trees and overgrown plants to create a fresh palette. Anthony recommends hiring a professional landscaper as they will be able to tell you what plants are appropriate for your climate. If a landscaper isn't in your budget, Varias encourages you to take advantage of the people at your local home and garden stores. They will be able to make recommendations based on your climate and the look you are trying to achieve.

Plants can help add color, style and definition to your space, and Anthony says not all plants need to be in the ground. "You can create great little vignettes throughout the yard by using varying sizes of planters." Potted plants can also be brought in during the winter to keep them looking great year after year.

5. Lighting
Lighting can set the tone for any type of nighttime event. Varias recommends providing ample lighting for your focal points and providing a mix of electric lighting and ambient lighting such as candles and candelabras. Other easy DIY lighting includes strings of lights, which can be used year-round and simple solar lights.

6. Accessories
Anthony recommends bold accessories for outdoor spaces. Your starting palette will be very neutral, with a lot of greens and browns, and you can add pops of color with pillow cases or colored plants. Storage is another area to consider. You won't want your hose and garden tools lying around the yard, so a storage bench or shelving can keep everything nicely organized.

The tips above can be adapted for spaces of varying sizes and can range from simple DIY to high-end customized projects.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Prepare for Hurricane Season with Expert Tips

June 3, 2014 6:05 am

Over the last 10 years, hurricanes have caused more than $300 billion in damage to homes and businesses, affecting tens of millions of Americans.

"While it's impossible to prevent a hurricane, there's a lot homeowners can do to prepare for the damage they can cause and to help minimize disruption and loss," says Peter Duncanson, director of disaster restoration training for ServiceMaster Restore. "From developing an evacuation plan to making small investments around the home, homeowners can take simple steps to make sure they're prepared in the event a hurricane hits their area."

Below are tips from the experts at ServiceMaster Restore on how to prepare for a hurricane:

Communication is Key – During a hurricane, power and cell phone tower outages are common, literally breaking down lines of communication. One of the best and easiest steps to help prepare for the worst is to communicate your evacuation plan in advance to friends, family and loved ones.

Secure the Basic Necessities – When preparing for something that could likely uproot you and your family from your home – or leave you without the option of going to the store – be sure to have at least one week's worth of the basics: water, non-perishable food, medicine and clothing.

Protect Your Investment – If you have to evacuate your home, make sure to protect what's left behind, including insurance and financial documents. Make a list of your possessions and take pictures of everything inside and outside your home. Keep copies of important financial documents and insurance policies with you, so you have a record if you need it.

If a Hurricane Strikes – Never underestimate the power or strength of a hurricane and make sure you're prepared to the best of your ability. If you have to evacuate, do it. If you need help during the cleanup process, call a professional who has the experience, resources and expertise to work with you and your insurance company to help restore your home to normal.

Source: ServiceMasterRestore.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Tips for Hiring a Fire Damage Firm

June 3, 2014 6:05 am

Fire is probably one of the worst disasters that can happen to a homeowner or business owner in our modern time. We tend to surround ourselves with a variety of items that might cause a fire to occur, whether it be a faulty electrical outlet or a faulty kitchen stove. However, when a fire occurs, the after effects can affect the home for long periods of time. When looking for a professional fire damage company there are some key factors that you need to observe and take note of.

One of the first things that a professional fire restoration firm looks at is what can or cannot be salvaged. Certain items can be salvaged and reused if you as a customer choose to have them restored to their original condition. Also, these experts have the required and necessary training needed to ensure that the residue left over from the fire is removed properly along with the deodorization of the materials that were smoked damaged. This plan of action needs to be taken quickly in order to prevent even more damage to your possessions.

Begin the fire damage restoration as soon as possible. The main reason is that there is a cost issue in the restoration of fire damaged goods. This price can go dramatically up. One of the key reasons for this is the time it takes to remove all of the ash and smoke residue from the items increases dramatically in a period of only a few weeks. Also, there are acidic effects that fire damage causes which can result in the destruction of metals and carpeting in a home, and this will more than likely bring about higher replacement costs. Examples of this may include the discoloration of plastic materials, the wearing down of metals, and the distortion of wall colors.

Fire damage restoration firms should be IICRC certified. This will signify that they have the professional capabilities to handle the intricacies of fire damage. Fire damage may appear to be a simple job, but in actuality there are a number of details that need to be looked over in order to prevent the issues from spiraling out of control. Ask fire damage questions in order to help you understand the factors that play into the situation. If you have the unfortunate chance of having a fire occur, always choose a qualified fire restoration firm.

Source: SI Restoration

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Five Simple Tips to Enhance Your Home's Personality

June 2, 2014 5:53 am

(Family Features) Your home can say a lot about you. A state-of-the-art kitchen outfitted with a double oven likely means you enjoy cooking and entertaining friends and family. Likewise, a backyard complete with play sets, a treehouse or a basketball hoop is a sure sign your house is also a hangout for the neighborhood kids.

“My house is more than just a haven for my family. It’s a real life scrapbook, art gallery and personal sanctuary,” said Michelle Hinkley, mom to three young boys and the lady behind the home and lifestyle blog www.4men1lady.com. “As much as I want it to be functional, I enjoy spending a little extra time finding ways to keep our home uniquely us.”

If you’re thinking about ways to add some personality to your space, consider these five simple (and wallet-friendly) improvements:

1. Paint your front door.
First impressions start at the front door. Consider your home’s exterior and outdoor surroundings as you’re selecting a new hue, but when narrowing down your paint palette, also focus on the tints that best reflect your family’s vibe.

A bright green door is both welcoming and fun, while a shiny black finish adds glamour. Even a crisp, white hue can be anything but boring, offering a clean backdrop for potted plants and accessories that change with each season.

2. Replace a fixture.

If cooking is integral to your personality, consider updating one of your kitchen’s most frequently used appliances: the faucet. Today’s kitchen faucets come equipped with a variety of features and make for a relatively simple DIY project.

3. Install new hardware
Small details can make a big impact. Customize furniture, closets or built-ins with stylish drawer pulls. Styles range from the whimsical, hand-painted options available at craft fairs to more substantive handles and pulls available at your local hardware store. Take your time selecting pieces you love for a look that’s both unique and functional.

4. Start a collection
Showcase your personality by decorating your space with small items or collectables. A collection of sea glass bottles or vases, for instance, could pay tribute to a favorite vacation spot, while ceramic animals in bright colors show off your quirky and creative side. To create a cohesive focal point, focus on collecting items similar in colors, materials or textures.

5. Build or craft something
If you’re really daring, try creating some inexpensive home decor for your space. Sites like Pinterest.com are great resources for compiling inspiration; many blogs also offer step-by-step guides for a variety of projects for the home. Whether you’re creating a one-of-a-kind piece of art or building a coffee table from scratch, your next project could be a fun opportunity to help truly customize your home.

For more great tips, visit www.DeltaFaucet.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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