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

8 Ways to Cook Healthier Meals

September 5, 2013 2:15 am

Some Moms sneak veggies into their picky eaters’ diets by grating a little carrot into the tuna salad or even zucchini into chocolate cookies. Nutritionist Rachel Warren suggests eight more easy ways to make all your family meals more nutritious:

Split the fats and spare the sugar – Most recipes don’t need to be followed exactly. Sautee ingredients in a mixture of butter and olive oil instead of butter or corn oil – and you can shave a quarter cup of sugar from most cake and cookie recipes without sacrificing taste.

Dress chicly – Instead of using dressings made with oil, puree an avocado with herbs of your choice and pour it over your salad. Or use a little balsamic syrup (thicker and sweeter than balsamic vinegar) to dress salads or drizzle on meats before grilling.

Skim the cream - Take fat and calories out of classic comfort foods by mashing potatoes with unsweetened almond milk and roasted garlic – or creaming spinach or other vegetables with tapioca flour and unsweetened almond milk instead of butter and heavy cream. You can even halve the suggested amount of cheese without giving up much flavor.

Tenderize with yogurt - The naturally occurring lactic acid in Greek yogurt helps break down protein to make meats, fish, and even veggies more flavorful and tender. Combine nonfat plain Greek yogurt with fresh herbs and seasonings to create an oil-free marinade and save about 110 calories per tablespoon.

Add a leaf to the beef – Boil or steam kale, a nutrient-rich veggie, then chop finely and add a half cup to a pound of ground beef for delicious, more nutritious meatballs.

Pick the right pan – Using a good quality non-stick pan will enable you to cook with less fat and still keep foods from sticking.

Turn up the heat on veggies – Cut up assorted veggies, toss them with a bit of olive oil and herbs on a baking sheet and roast them in the oven at 425 degrees for 15 or 20 minutes. Yummy flavor with crunchy, toasted edges and without any butter at all.

Curb the carbs - Lighten pasta dishes and boost nutritional content by replacing half the noodles with lightly sauteed julienne vegetables like peppers, snow peas, and mushrooms.

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Best Backyard Bets for Your Buck

September 5, 2013 2:15 am

(BPT) - From entertainment systems and fully functional kitchens to luxurious furnishings and decor, it's easy to drop a bundle on improving your outdoor living spaces. The choices seem to be unlimited. But no matter how much you love your deck or patio - and most Americans do - you probably don't have an unlimited budget for equipping your outdoor space.

Beyond tableware and seating, what are the best creature comforts to invest in? Which products and amenities will ultimately provide the most enjoyment and bang for the buck when it comes to outdoor upgrades? Narrowing the options to those with the greatest benefits and versatility is a smart approach. Here are some outdoor accessories that will prove to not only enhance your summer entertaining, but create pleasure throughout the year.

Music/entertainment
Electronics are an easy place to start. Tech-savvy or novice, most people have a smart device to stream or play downloaded music. Creating ambiance with music is a great touch for outdoor living and entertaining. Projecting the sound outdoors takes a powerful speaker system. Starting at $100, improved quality wireless speakers offer a simple way to pump out the tunes. Not only are these speakers lightweight and easy to use, they can be used for a myriad of events or functions outside the backyard realm. Wireless speakers are perfect to use in other parts of the home such as the garage and to take along on family outings such as picnics or camping trips.

Cooling options
On hot summer days, who doesn't enjoy a cool breeze? Air conditioning is impractical outdoors, so investing in a backyard cooling product could be a necessity as much as an amenity. Choose a powerful yet quiet portable evaporative cooler. Evaporative coolers are a better option than misters that drench or oscillating fans that simply blow hot air around. The coolers lower temperatures by as much as 30 degrees Fahrenheit, and are powerful enough to cool an entire deck.

Not only are they great in the backyard, these portable coolers are easily wheeled anywhere throughout the yard. They work great for spot-cooling in the garage or even on the go while camping or tailgating.

Lighting
Outdoor lighting options have come a long way in recent years. Solar options have made lighting simple and versatile. Styles range from traditional lanterns and landscape stake options to more decorative variations. When upgrading your solar lighting, consider the light styles that will give you mileage beyond the summer. For example, solar string lights commonly used for sun umbrellas are an excellent choice for reusing in the fall around Halloween decorations, around trees and as part of holiday decor. Get even more creative by packing these lights for nighttime family excursions such as firework shows or at the community center's movie showing on the lawn.

Beyond grilling
Installing an outdoor kitchen is a significant investment, but it's useful all year long. Research the bells and whistles that enhance your cooking habits and family lifestyle. Consider adding a pizza oven, rotisserie, refrigerator and warming drawers. Once your dream kitchen is built, you'll want to maximize it. It sounds trite, but don't forget you have it. Keep the house smelling like a bed of roses during a Lobster boil or crawfish feast by preparing it outside. When it's time for dad to make his famous chili, it can simmer for hours on one of the outdoor burners. Get the kids involved in making their favorite grilled cheese, pizza or even dessert. The key is using this area for more than grilling burgers or hosting a couple of parties. Incorporate it into your daily life.

At the end of the day, buy what brings enjoyment. The added benefit is the versatility.

Source: www.port-a-cool.com

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NFCC Poll Reveals Consumer Preferences When Seeking Financial Help

September 5, 2013 2:15 am

The August poll hosted on the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) website revealed that when consumers are in financial distress, they prefer reaching out to a qualified professional for help as opposed to other options.

Most poll respondents, 45 percent, indicated they would contact a certified financial professional, while fewer would utilize online education, a financial self-help tool, or attend a financial workshop.

“Regardless of which option someone selects, the important thing is to take that first step, because financial distresses rarely resolve themselves. Consumers should choose the course of action that is right for them, as the path to finding the appropriate solution can be as varied as the financial concern itself,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC.

Examples of options offered by NFCC Member Agencies include:

• One-on-one financial reviews either in-person, by phone or online with a certified financial professional.
• Dozens of NFCC Member Agencies offer online education courses through webinars, podcasts, videos and printed materials. Topics include the basics of banking, building wealth, buying a home, identity theft protection tips and holiday planning.
• MyMoneyCheckUp, the NFCC’s free financial self-assessment tool, is available at www.MyMoneyCheckUp.org or on the NFCC website at www.DebtAdvice.org. After answering simple questions related to topics such as budgeting and credit management, saving and investing, planning for retirement, and managing home equity, the tool evaluates the results and provides suggestions for improvement if necessary. The tool is also available in Spanish at www.miayudafinanciera.org/.
• Group workshops are offered at NFCC Member Agency locations, at community
events or on-site for employees of local companies. If interested in finding an upcoming workshop in your area, or to schedule a presenter, search online at www.DebtAdvice.org for an agency near you.

The actual August poll question and answer results are below:

Q: If I were having financial trouble, for help resolving it I would most likely:

A. Reach out to a certified financial professional: 44%
B. Attend a group workshop related to my concern: 3%
C. Take advantage of online resources related to my concern: 35%
D. Utilize a financial self-assessment tool to help pinpoint the problem: 17%

Source: Debtadvice.org

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Fall into Better Sleep for the Whole Family

September 4, 2013 2:15 am

School time is here, and as families switch from the looser schedules of summer to the schedule-driven fall, sleep is a critical factor of that transition. ResMed, a company working toward developing solutions for treating sleep-disordered breathing and other respiratory conditions, offers tips for getting the whole family on a successful sleep schedule that will set them up for sound sleep in the year ahead, as well as a host of solutions for combating sleep issues.

"Bedtime is one of the first things to change as school starts, and one of the smartest things parents can do with the summer-to-fall sleep schedule transition is to follow a routine themselves," says Susie Justus, sleep coach and licensed vocational nurse for ResMed.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?
The first step to setting a family sleep schedule is figuring out how much sleep each person needs for their age group. According to the National Sleep Foundation, preschoolers ages 3-5 years old need 11-13 hours of sleep per night; school-aged children ages 5-10 years old need 10-11 hours of sleep per night; preteens and teens ages 10-17 need 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep per night; and adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Setting the Schedule

With long, lazy summer days, kids are used to staying up and sleeping in later—as are their parents. Here are some tips that can help smooth the transition into fall.

• Tell the summer sun goodnight. At the beginning of the school year, the days are still long: To counter this, create cozy sleeping spaces for the whole family using blackout shades. White noise in the form of fans can also help encourage rest by blocking distractions and keeping warm rooms closer to the ideal sleeping temperature of 65-72 degrees.
• Set and enforce a bedtime ritual for everyone. Universally turn off screens an hour before bedtime—that means you, too, Mom and Dad—and establish wind-down plans that work.
• Promote days that will promote sleep. Welcome the sun in the morning by pulling back drapes or enjoying breakfast outside. Exercise, limit excessive caffeine intake and avoid daytime naps. Don't go to bed too hungry or too full, as that can disrupt sleep.

Source: www.resmed.com

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Mistakes Homeowners Make When Moving and How to Avoid Them

September 4, 2013 2:15 am

Now that you’ve found your dream home, be sure the actual moving process goes just as smoothly. Here are five common mistakes movers make and a few suggestions on how to avoid blunders when moving to your new home:

Getting a quote over the phone or Internet.
A big mistake that consumers make when planning their moves is obtaining a quote over the phone or the Internet. Any quote obtained in this manner is a non-binding quote. The only way to obtain a guaranteed or binding quote is to have a visual survey of your household goods by a reputable mover. If you choose to accept a quote over the phone or Internet you are setting yourself up for a nasty scenario when the mover shows up at your new home and demands more money.

Waiting too long to line up a mover
Allowing time for a visual survey, receiving a written and binding quote, and reserving a truck for your move takes a lead time of four to six weeks. Although moves can be arranged in a shorter period of time, many consumers find that their choices are limited by availability, especially in the busy summer months. The time to obtain estimates for your move is before your home sells so that you are prepared when it does.

Misrepresenting what you are moving
It is very important to show the surveyor or estimator everything you are planning to move. If you forget to show items in a basement, garage, attic, or off-site storage unit and then add those items at time of pick-up, your estimate will no longer be binding. In the same vein, if you commit to packing your own items but don’t have time to finish, the van line will pack your items and charge you for the service. If you are uncertain of whether you will be taking something, or are not sure if you will have time to pack everything, ask the surveyor to put the items or service in the estimate. If you decide not to take something, or do not require the packing, the cost will be adjusted downward.

Paying a deposit upfront
Reputable movers do not ask for payment upfront to reserve trucks or dates. This is a classic red flag in moving. A reputable mover will expect payment upon delivery.

Finding a mover based upon price rather than reputation and service
If a mover gives you a price that is significantly lower than other movers, it is likely that you are being low-balled. If a surveyor has underestimated your weight in order to give you a lower price, you may find, on moving day, that the moving truck does not have enough room for your shipment. This is called an overflow. An overflow means that your items will not all travel together, will not all arrive at the same time, and will generally cause you a big hassle. Another way to lower costs is to compromise service. Look for a competitive bid from a professional mover who is certified and reputable. Although price is an important factor, don't base your decision on price alone.

If you are planning a move in the near future, be sure to avoid these five mistakes. By planning ahead of time and being honest with the movers about your plans and expectations, you can be well on your way to a smoother move to your new home.

Source: The Move Advocate

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8 Handy House Upgrades That Boost Resale Value

September 4, 2013 2:15 am

REALTORS®, house flippers and even economists all agree: when it comes to selling your house, time is money. And the more time it takes for your house to sell, the less likely it is that you'll receive your asking price. That’s why it pays to unleash your creative side and make home upgrades that will boost the appearance and appeal of your house in the current market. These worthwhile remodeling investments can be completed in a timely manner and ensure major resale returns!

Exterior Enhancements
If you're working on a limited budget and need to choose between interior and exterior enhancements, experts suggest that it's best to start with the exterior. Exterior home improvements give buyers a favorable impression of the home before they even step inside. This is especially important as more and more buyers are making preliminary visits to houses even before visiting with a REALTOR®. Here are some home improvement ideas you could follow:

• Replace Exterior Doors - Entryways, front doors, and garage doors are a focal point for visitors entering your home, so the sharper they look, the more excited buyers will be to see the interior. Plus, replacing a garage door, on average about $1,200, can generate an average resale value of $2,064!
• Renovate Landscaping - Cleaning up and landscaping your yard is a fairly inexpensive update that improves the overall appearance of your house's exterior environment. Landscaping increases the invitingness of your home, whereas lifeless and drooping plants can repel buyers.
• Replace the Roof - Though replacing a roof is generally an expensive endeavor, it also leads to big monetary returns. The average reroofing cost ($20,000) can lead to over $30,000 in resale value!
• Repaint the Exterior - Exterior paint freshens up the appearance of a house and gives it modernity and that very sought after curb appeal. This home improvement project is also one of the most recommended updates by REALTORS® as it greatly improves a buyer's first impression of the residence. If you can't make any other home improvements, the best option is to invest in some paint.

Interior Investments
Though well-crafted exterior home improvements entice potential buyers to visit the house, interior improvements turn those potential buyers into new homeowners. These upgrades are known for impressing home buyers at reasonable costs to the seller.

• Install Wood Flooring - Wood flooring is currently one of the most popular, if not the most popular flooring option for homeowners. But when it comes to resale value, it isn't necessary to go for a custom hardwood option. Laminate flooring for a 1,200 square foot home, which costs about $4,000, has an average resale value of $8,400!
• Repaint the Interior - In addition to giving a home a cleaner, sleeker appearance, interior painting in light, classic colors makes every room in your home feel larger and more open.
• Invest in Kitchen Remodeling - Though a kitchen remodel is a costly home improvement project, it also has the potential to significantly increase your resale value. Kitchens and bathrooms are the most important rooms for potential buyers and therefore, deserve attention when it comes to upgrades. By individual project:
 -New Kitchen Counters - Cost = $5,000; Resale Value = $8,600
 -New Kitchen Cabinets - Cost = $870; Resale Value = $1,496
 -New Appliances (stove, dishwasher and refrigerator) - Cost = $4,000; Resale Value $6,640
• Bathroom Remodeling - Even if your bathroom fixtures and cabinets are a bit older, updating the tile will give the entire space a bright, clean finish. If you would like to do a more complete bathroom remodel, consider upgrading your guest bathroom. Guest bathrooms are usually smaller than master baths, and so require a smaller investment for major improvements. Replacing a guest bathroom's counter and vanity gives an average resale value of $1,620.

Source: Handyman Connection

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Prevent Unwanted Bacteria by Organizing Your Fridge

September 3, 2013 2:09 am

Most people judge older food by smelling or looking at it, but what many don’t know is that some types of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness don’t affect the smell, taste or appearance of the food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It might seem like a no-brainer, but there really is no way of telling how good leftovers are if you don’t throw them out within three or four days. Organizing your refrigerator can help.

After coming home from the grocery store, many perishables can start to turn in as little as one hour, so it’s important to unpack your food items and place them appropriately in your home. Even different sections in your fridge can make a difference. The back of the fridge is the coldest area and is the perfect spot for milk, eggs or other dairy products. Milk should be thrown out one week after the sell-by date, while eggs last much longer, three to five weeks.

Raw meat, fish or poultry should be placed on plates and put towards the back of the fridge, but make sure to put these on lower shelves, says Consumer Reports. This will prevent them from dripping or contaminating other foods. As always, if you aren’t using them for a few days, it’s always best to freeze.

Never pack your fridge too full. Consumer Reports recommends spreading out your items in the fridge to make sure there’s enough room for air to circulate throughout. For the freezer section, don’t stack foods until they are completely frozen through.

For cold cuts, cheeses and fresh fruits and veggies, Tupperware or other plastic containers with lids on them always extend shelf life. In addition, check your fridge temperature and make sure it’s set between 37 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit; the freezer should be set at 0 degrees.

By taking these simple steps, you can ensure that your food stays fresh longer and that everything you serve to your family is bacteria-free and healthy.

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Five Inside Credit Secrets for Getting a Great Mortgage

September 3, 2013 2:09 am

With home prices rising and interest rates well below historic norms, many potential buyers would like to get into the marketplace but are stymied by one hurdle: credit.

"The credit process mystifies many borrowers," said Ray Brousseau, executive vice president of a nationwide lender. "They worry that their credit may be imperfect or that a late payment from long ago will doom a loan application, when the reality is different."

Brousseau explained that "lenders and borrowers have similar goals. They both want the mortgage application to go through. The lender will create a package to provide a full picture of the borrower's financial status. In many cases, borrowers will be surprised that their credit standing is stronger than expected."

So, how do you make sure you have tip-top credit when applying for a mortgage? Here are five strategies that can lead to a faster - and better - mortgage credit review.

First, prepare for your mortgage application.
Since 2010, most real estate financing has been in the form of "qualified mortgages," loans that meet the standards outlined by Wall Street Reform. A qualified mortgage - or QM - must show that the borrower has the ability to repay the loan. To meet QM requirements, you can expect lenders to want signed tax returns or W2s for at least the past two years, year-to-date pay stubs from the past 30 days, plus complete copies of all financial statements, usually for at least the last two months. If self-employed, a lender might also want a balance sheet as well as a profit-and-loss statement. Having such information in hand can greatly speed the mortgage review process.

Second, check your credit report in advance.
The better your credit report, the better your credit score, thus the reason to check credit reports for errors and outdated items.
Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), consumers can get one free copy of their credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies every 12 months. This can be done in a few minutes by going to the official website, AnnualCreditReport.com. Print out your report or save it as a PDF.

Third, know how credit scores work.
In basic terms, credit scores weigh the answers to five questions:

Have you paid bills on time?
How much of your credit is now in use?
How long have you had credit and when was the last time you used selected accounts?
What is your mix of credit card debt, auto loans, student debt, mortgages, etc?
Have you recently opened additional lines of credit?

"Once a loan application is made, most lenders will automatically provide borrowers with a free copy of their credit score," said Brousseau. "A good credit score can greatly help in the application process, and a lower score can often be overcome by selecting a certain type of mortgage product."

Fourth, a lower credit score does not always mean no credit.
Borrowers can readily finance and refinance with an 800 credit score, but it's also true that mortgages are available with lower credit scores. For instance, more than 40 percent of recent FHA borrowers had credit scores between 620 and 680.

Fifth, beware of surprise credit snags.
It used to be that lenders checked credit reports when a loan application was first made and then again just before closing. Now lenders have the ability to even check for daily credit report changes. When new debt or credit lines show up, lenders re-calculate the ability of borrowers to qualify for financing.

Avoid opening new lines of credit, making big purchases or getting more credit in the middle of the application process. When your credit reports are re-checked, and new credit activity shows up, that activity can sometimes scuttle a once-solid mortgage application.

Source: Carrington

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Tackle Fall Home Improvement Projects Now to Improve Your Home

September 3, 2013 2:09 am

As summer fades away, now's the time to start fall home-improvement projects, like caulking windows, exterior painting, or even building a backyard patio.

Design online
Online shoppers can design a window or door using a product configurator to help choose stylish products for their home.

Spruce up your home with weekend projects

Start with the focal point of your entryway: the door. Paint or refinish a scratched or faded door, and dress it up with new hardware. Is the door leaky, drafty, broken or just plain worn-out? It's probably time to replace it with a new energy-efficient ENERGY STAR-qualified door. There are many popular and durable choices available like fiberglass, economical steel or natural wood options. Weigh your options and picture how your new door will fit your home.

Next, spruce up your yard's landscaping by trimming overgrown shrubs and trees. Install outdoor lighting to enhance your home's architecture and light the walkway. Finally, add a few fun finishing touches, like a new welcome mat, potted mums or a fall-inspired wreath on the door.

Build a patio or add a new patio door
Use flagstones or bricks to build an outdoor patio in a weekend. Buy potted plants, outdoor seating and tables at end-of-summer prices to create a peaceful backyard getaway.

Need a new patio door? You can install a new patio door in a weekend or let some pros do it for you. Look for doors with retractable screens that help keep insects out, as it allows more light into your home and stays protected from kids, pets and the weather when not in use.

Replace drafty windows, save energy
Replace old windows, especially those that face prevailing winter winds, with new high-efficiency windows. If your home features single-pane windows, replace with more energy-efficient double- or triple-pane options with insulating glass for greater energy efficiency.

Source: Pella

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Moving Tips for Those Heading Back to Campus

August 30, 2013 2:00 am

Between tuition costs, everyday school stresses, and decreasing job opportunities for graduates, college-bound students have enough to focus on without having to stress about moving their belongings from home to college.

Below are easy-to-follow tips to simplify the move to college:

Use the right supplies – It's worth the small investment. Don't make the mistake of using grocery store boxes, garbage bags, or laundry baskets. Boxes that once stored food items often carry bugs, and garbage bags and laundry baskets are not dependable. Instead, buy moving boxes and use packing tape. Sturdy boxes can easily fold up, be stored for the entire school year, and are ready to use again for summer break.

Pack like items together – Moving back to school can be a little overwhelming so the more organized the better. Label boxes clearly – there's not a lot of room in campus housing, so organizing boxes can prioritize unpacking without the huge mess.

Pack smart – Don't make the mistake of overstuffing boxes. Too many items can cause the box to collapse and it may be impossible to lift. Just remember: the heavier the object, the smaller the box.

Try to use original packaging for large electronics – A new computer, TV, mini-fridge, and microwave all come with packaging to keep them secure and protected. It's much more likely that these items will arrive unharmed if they remain in manufacturers' packaging.

Source: Two Men And A Truck®

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