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

Halloween Drinking Data May Scare You Sober

October 30, 2012 4:20 am

Newly released data on individuals monitored every 30 minutes for alcohol consumption shows drinking increases 20.4 percent on a weekday Halloween, compared to drinking the rest of the year.

The data was compiled by Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), which monitors heavy drinkers 24/7 to ensure compliance with court- or treatment-mandated sobriety. For these individuals, drinking is a violation, and the consequence is often jail time, making the increase particularly noteworthy.

Drunk people generally make poor decisions, and deciding to get behind the wheel of a car is just one of the potential issues. According to AMS, on average, 99.3 percent of the 16,000 individuals they monitor each day have a completely Sober Day, making the uptick in Halloween drinking particularly significant. A Sober Day is defined as a 24-hour period with no drinking and no attempt to tamper or circumvent testing, and the data must be verified and court-validated. The study looked at data from more than 258,000 offenders monitored since 2003 in 48 states.

The Littlest Trick or Treaters
According to a post on Sobering Up, a blog about drunk driving, alcohol addiction and criminal justice, there is never a good night to drink and drive, but with the U.S. Census Bureau estimating that 41 million kids will be out trick or treating this year, Halloween is a holiday that warrants extra care when traveling to and from your Fright Fest.

AMS encourages everyone to make a plan for getting home safely before you leave, rather than deciding how to get home after you've been drinking. Enforcement agencies throughout the country are taking impaired driving on Halloween seriously, and many will be running roadside sobriety checkpoints in conjunction with the Halloween impaired driving prevention initiative, running from October 25 through November 4, and the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign organized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Source: Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Keeping Your Home, Pets and Children Safe During Hurricane Sandy

October 30, 2012 4:20 am

As the East Coast braves the threat of Hurricane Sandy, the American Humane Association has offered the following emergency tips to help keep pets and children safe this hurricane season:

Before the Storm
-Tie down or anchor outside objects that might fly about and injure someone.
-Bring children and pets inside; bring outdoor animals inside with a carrier that’s large enough for them to turn around and lie down in comfortably.
-Review your evacuation plan and double-check emergency supplies, bowls, water, food.
-Have a carrier at the ready.
-If your family must evacuate, take your pets with you.

During the Storm
-Choose a safe room for riding out the storm—an interior room without windows—and take your entire family there, including your pets.
-Stay with pets. If crated, they depend on you for food and water.
-Keep your emergency kit in that room with you (food, water, litter, meds).
-Know your pet's hiding places. That's where they may run; keep them with you.
-Secure exits and cat doors so pets can't escape into the storm.
-Do not tranquilize your pets. They'll need their survival instincts should the storm require that.

After the Storm
-Make sure the storm has fully passed before going outside and assess damages before allowing children or animals out.
-Keep dogs on a leash and cats in a carrier, and children close at hand. Displaced objects and fallen trees can disorient pets and sharp debris could harm them.
-Give pets time to become re-oriented. Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and cause a pet to become confused or lost.
-Keep kids and animals away from downed power lines and water that may be contaminated.
-Keep an eye on children's emotional reaction to the crisis. Talk to children – and just as important – listen to them. Reassure them frequently that you, local officials, and their communities are all working to keep them safe and return life back to normal. Watch for symptoms of stress, including clinginess, stomachaches, headaches, nightmares, trouble eating or sleeping, or changes in behavior. If you are concerned about the way your children are responding long after the crisis is over, consult your doctor, school counselor or local mental health professional.

Uncertainty and change in the environment affect animals, too, presenting new stresses and dangers. Your pet's behavior may change after a crisis, becoming more aggressive or self-protective. Be sensitive to these changes and keep more room between them, other animals, children or strangers. Animals need comforting, too. Comfort your pet with kind words and lots of pats or hugs. If possible, provide a safe and quiet environment, even if it is not their home.

Source: American Humane Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips To Avoid Getting Burned by High-Tech Scams

October 29, 2012 4:20 am

It's easier than ever to get burned these days—in fact fraud and identity-theft complaints tracked by the Federal Trade Commission topped 1.2 million last year, up 19 percent from 2010 and a whopping 800 percent since 2000. And the fraud artists are using new channels and technology that didn't exist 15 years ago, including social media, pop-up ads on your computer, and text-message "smishing" scams.

According to a Consumer Reports' investigation, two other factors compound this problem. The first is that according to experts, the need for law enforcement to pursue terrorists has shifted FBI resources from fraud cases. And making the problem even more difficult for consumers is the trend toward "last dollar" fraud, aimed at taking the last dollar from the unemployed or underemployed.

Here are some of the latest high-tech scams and what you can do to prevent getting ripped off by them:

We'll remove the virus we found for $100. Some scoundrels fly under the radar via telephone. A tech-support person, purportedly from a trusted company like Dell or Microsoft, calls to warn you that its security systems have remotely detected a virus on your computer and offers to remove it—for a fee of $100 or more. Of course, there is no virus, so you pay for unnecessary service. The crook may also take the opportunity to install mock antivirus software that later starts "finding" nonexistent malware. That can cost you a bundle for removal. Worse, the tech may also install software that scans your computer to steal your passwords and hijack your computer to generate ads and spread spam.

Protect yourself: Find legitimate antivirus and antimalware software that Consumer Reports has rated, install it on your PC, and keep it up to date. Hang up on anyone outside your home who claims to find trouble on your PC.

You could win an iPad. Start bidding! Hot electronics are commonly used to entice victims into a shakedown. A pop-up ad on your computer invites you to bid on an iPad, laptop PC, or wide-screen TV, but you must include your cell-phone number to play. Submitting your bid sends a text message to your cell phone that, whether you respond or not, may authorize an unwanted $9.99 a month subscription to some useless service. The charge gets tacked onto your cell-phone bill, where you're unlikely to notice it.

Protect yourself: Guard your cell-phone number like a credit card; don't give it to strangers. Demand refunds from your cell provider if you've been crammed. Tell your wireless and landline carriers to block all third-party billing to your account, and check previous bills for cramming charges.

Buy a gourmet dog-food coupon worth $61—for just $16. You receive an e-mail that alerts you to a website—not the manufacturer's—where you can purchase high-value coupons. They're not your typical 25 cents off but special coupons for $2 to $60 off or free high-priced products like shaving razors, pricey pet food, diapers, infant formula, coffee, and even restaurant meals. Such giveaways are rarely circulated, but manufacturers do use them to introduce new products or as a goodwill gesture to win back a wronged customer. The problem is there's no way anyone can accumulate enough of those rare coupons to make a business of it, so the ones hawked through websites are likely to be counterfeit or stolen.

Protect yourself: Avoid such coupons.

OMG. Now you really can see who views your Facebook profile!!! Social-media networks are fertile ground for fakery. You might have received news-feed messages from Facebook friends raving about an app that claims to let you see who's checking out your profile. Such messages can be spam in disguise, leading to "bait pages." Other bait involves bizarre or salacious videos. Consumers who take the bait never get the promised software or film.

Instead, the link drives the curious to a fake Facebook website. You're asked to "like" the app or other bait, which forwards the spam to all of your friends. Then you have to complete a survey, which collects personal information and opinions.

Protect yourself: Don't reveal personal information online to anyone who initiated contact with you unless your trust is certain. Look for the survey company's name and go to its website independently by reopening your browser, or call it. Ignore product promos from Facebook friends. Use caution in granting access to your profile. And think before you "like."

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


3 Pitfalls to Avoid When Paying Your Kitchen and Bath Contractor

October 29, 2012 4:20 am

As the real estate market continues to stabilize, more homeowners are spending money on remodeling projects. If they are not careful, homeowners can end up paying more than they ever expected. Here are some valuable tips on how to avoid three of the most common pitfalls.

A homeowner makes a large deposit, then gets no work done.
This is one of the most common scams among unscrupulous contractors. They ask for a big deposit or to pay for all of the materials upfront, then the homeowner never hears from them again. To avoid this pitfall, homeowners should not pay for work or materials upfront and should avoid any large deposits.

Suppliers or subcontractors come after the homeowner for payment.
Homeowners are responsible for suppliers and subcontractors who do not get paid on their job. They can even put a lien against the home where they did the work. To avoid this pitfall, there are several strategies a homeowner can use:

Pay the supplier or subcontractor directly.
Issue joint checks to the contractor and supplier/subcontractor.
Get an unconditional lien release from suppliers/subcontractors.

The homeowner is liable for an injury on the job, including lost wages.
If the general contractor does not have valid insurance, the homeowner is liable for any injuries on the job. This includes paying lost wages, if someone gets hurt and cannot work for a period of time. To avoid this pitfall, check that the general contractor has valid liability and workman’s comp insurance.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid these and other potential pitfalls is to work with a reputable contractor who has a history of paying suppliers and subcontractors on time. Happy remodeling!

Source: Cornerstone Design & Remodel

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Is Your Furnace Ready For Winter?

October 29, 2012 4:20 am

As temperatures cool down, homeowners are advised to inspect their home-heating appliances and perform any needed maintenance to avoid health or safety hazards.

Now is the time to perform maintenance on your home-heating appliances to check that they can be operated safely and efficiently. Customers are beginning to turn on their furnaces for the first time in months. Heating appliances should be serviced annually to keep them operating safely and efficiently. Failure to perform annual maintenance on gas appliances may result in exposure to carbon monoxide, which can cause nausea, drowsiness, flu-like symptoms, and even death.

Since home heating typically accounts for more than half of the monthly winter gas bill, the best way to keep bills lower is to get gas appliances serviced.

Here are some tips for a safe, warm and energy-efficient winter:

• Have natural gas furnaces checked at least once a year by a licensed heating contractor.
• Vacuum and clean regularly in and around the furnace, particularly around the burner compartment to prevent a build-up of dust and lint.
• Never store items in, on or around the appliance that can obstruct airflow.
• Most forced-air units have a filter that cleans the air before heating and circulating it throughout the home. Check furnace filters every month during the heating season and clean or replace the filter when necessary.
• When installing a new or cleaned furnace filter, be sure to re-install the front panel door of the furnace properly so it fits snugly; never operate the furnace without the front-panel door properly in place because doing so may create the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
• Check the appearance of the flame. If the flame is yellow, large and unsteady, the furnace needs to be inspected immediately by a licensed heating contractor to have the condition corrected.
• Never use your oven, range or outdoor barbecue to heat your home because these appliances are not designed for this purpose.

Source: SoCalGas

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How-To: Take the 'Labor' out of Housecleaning

October 26, 2012 4:20 am

It's the stacks of dishes, piles of papers, and toys strewn everywhere that makes cleaning seem like an overwhelming chore for most homeowners. But once the clutter is removed, spaces look bigger, homeowners experience less stress and every room is easier to clean.

Below are five tips to make things easier:

Get organized
De-cluttering a home takes more effort and time than any other chore, but once it’s done, cleaning will be a snap. Start by tackling one room at a time. Go through the room and decide what to keep, what to sell or donate, and what items will go directly into the trash bin. Once that is finished, find a place to stow away all of the items you want to keep. Remember, the floor or the tops of tables, dressers or countertops are not storage areas. If you don't have enough storage space, invest in bookshelves, under-the-bed containers, or wicker baskets. Once your home is organized, don't bring in new items without eliminating something you already have.

Clean as you go
Housework is easier, less intimidating, and less time-consuming if you integrate individual chores into normal, daily activities. In the kitchen, for instance, clean as you cook. Fill the sink with soapy water and wash items as you use them or immediately place them in the dishwasher. While you wait for food to cook, get out the broom and dustpan and sweep the floor, or go through the mail and recycle what you don't need. In the bathroom, wipe down the tub or shower stall immediately after you've finished your morning routine. Do the same after you've used the sink. Remember to wipe the adjoining counter, too. All through the day, as you move from room to room, keep an eye out for items that are out of place and give them a home.

Keep cleaning supplies close at hand
Keeping supplies in the rooms where you will use them saves steps and time, and you will be more likely to clean up a mess as soon as you see it. Store a whisk broom and dustpan, a sponge or cleaning cloth, as well as other necessary cleaning products in the kitchen. Place appropriate cleaning supplies in each bathroom, too. If your home has several levels, keep a vacuum cleaner on each level.

Follow a schedule
For most busy people, it helps to build time to clean into their schedules. Clean the toilets every Saturday morning, for instance, and do the laundry on Thursday nights. Or you might choose to focus on one room each day. Schedule small cleaning tasks throughout the week, too, to make chores less onerous.

Now, not later
It only takes a few minutes to do some chores, so don't put them off. Make your bed every morning, throw out the trash as you leave the house for work, wash and fold the clothes while you're watching television, and pick up toys every night before bed.

Source: The Maids

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Take Steps to Scare Away Foodborne Illness

October 26, 2012 4:20 am

Halloween officially starts the holiday season, which means more get-togethers with family and friends and more festive meals prepared at home. But lots of people and little time can create opportunities for mishandling and improper cooking of raw food products.

It is always important to consistently follow certain safe food handling practices, whether making a meal for yourself or your family, or preparing a feast for 12. That's because all raw agricultural products – whether its produce, fruit, meat, or poultry – could contain bacteria that might make someone sick. But, there are steps people can take in the home to reduce their risk.

Four simple words – clean, separate, cook and chill – can serve as reminders to always handle and cook food safely to reduce the risk of illness to you and your family:

• Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, cutting boards and utensils thoroughly with soap and hot water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry, including frozen and fresh products. Hands should be washed before handling food and between handling different food items.
• Wash cutting boards between preparing different cuts of raw meat or poultry.

• Avoid cross-contaminating other foods. Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, your kitchen and in your refrigerator.
• Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
• Do not rinse raw poultry in your sink - it will not remove bacteria. In fact, it can spread raw juices around your sink, onto your countertops or onto ready-to-eat foods. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry can only be killed when cooked to a safe internal temperature.

• Cook poultry thoroughly. Poultry products, including ground poultry, should always be cooked to at least 165 °F internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer; leftovers should be refrigerated no more than two hours after cooking.
• The color of cooked poultry is not a sure sign of its safety. Only by using a food thermometer can one accurately determine that poultry has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F throughout the product. Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, older adults and persons with impaired immune systems.

• Make poultry products the last items you select at the store. Once home, the products must be refrigerated or frozen promptly.
• After cooking, refrigerate any uneaten poultry within two hours. Leftovers will remain safe to eat for two to three days.
• Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40°F or below.
• Thaw frozen poultry in the refrigerator — not on the countertop — or in cold water.
• When barbecuing poultry outdoors, keep refrigerated until ready to cook. Do not place cooked poultry on the same plate used to transport raw chicken to the grill.
• Always marinate poultry in the refrigerator, up to two days. Marinade in which raw poultry has been soaking should never be used on cooked poultry, unless it is boiled first.

Source: National Chicken Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Choosing Between Big-Business Retail or a Custom Solution

October 26, 2012 4:20 am

Every homeowner at some point has struggled with the furniture buying process. "Where should I go to find the item I need?" "Will this item match the other item from the last store?" "How long will this item really last?" Overwhelmed, these are often the questions that people ask themselves before exploring a custom solution. In addition to solving the common problems above, here are five important reasons to consider choosing custom furniture:

1. Your dining room looks exactly like your neighbor's – scary.

• "Keeping up with the Jones's" does not mean copying shopping at the same furniture store, and buying the same items. Having custom-made furniture means creating something that's unique and not settling for the same items you see elsewhere.

2. You don't actually believe that furniture should be disposable.

• The most expensive items are the ones that are never used. Instead of filling attics and landfills with items you thought were "good enough" but that ended up being no good, it's far more practical and less wasteful to have something custom made for your purposes.

3. Humans are better than machines.

• Whether you have a rustic trestle table, chair, or a home accessory custom made, you can and should develop a relationship with the artisan. The maker is not nameless and faceless; he or she is a real human being.

4. You want more than just a piece of furniture, you want a conversation piece.

• Custom-made items have a story behind them and you'll want to remember and share that story time and time again. The next time someone asks, "Where did you find that?" you'll never be at a loss for words. Specifically, no furniture has more history than that which is made from American barn wood; reclaimed wood from American barns 100-150 years old.

5. You want to commission tomorrow's antiques today.

• Do you see the value in a piece that lasts for generations? Your sense of style and personal touch will go into a custom-made piece of furniture that will be valued for years to come - how amazing will it feel to know you helped in its creation?

Consider these five factors for future home purchases as well, as the reasons for going custom are not limited to the world of furniture.

Source: eCustomFinishes

Published with permission from RISMedia.


'Tis the Season to Use Mobile Apps to Save Money for the Holidays

October 25, 2012 4:18 am

Mobile shopping continues to grow with more than 110 million smartphone users in the U.S. and thousands of shopping apps available to consumers free of charge. As the holiday season approaches consumers are looking for ways to improve the shopping experience using mobile devices. According to a recent survey, 31 percent of consumers already have shopping-related apps on their smartphone, and 82 percent of those consumers plan to use those apps to help save money when purchasing holidays gifts. With the ever-increasing shopping app marketplace, it's no surprise that 32 percent of respondents with smartphones said they plan to download new shopping apps in preparation for the upcoming 2012 holiday season.

Shoppers plan to deck their phones with apps to find coupons and deals

When consumers were asked what types of shopping apps they plan to download for holiday shopping, coupon apps were the most popular with 70 percent of the vote. This was closely followed by 66 percent of shoppers who said they will download comparison shopping apps; 63 percent plan to download price check apps with the ability to scan barcodes; and 54 percent of respondents will download apps dedicated specifically to searching Black Friday deals. Forty-three percent of consumers plan to download deal-of-the-day apps from daily deal websites such as Groupon® and Living Social®; 32 percent selected price calculator apps to determine discounts, tax and total cost of purchases; and 30 percent plan to download a gift list app to manage their shopping lists.

Consumers plan to purchase gifts at every price point from their mobile device

As tablets and smartphones have increased in popularity, shoppers are not only using their money-saving apps to compare prices and look for coupons, they plan to follow through with purchasing products at every price point. Forty-two percent of consumers said they plan to purchase both big- and small-ticket items with a mobile shopping app; 41 percent will purchase small-ticket items under $100; 10 percent plan to purchase all of the holiday gifts on their list using shopping apps; and 7 percent will purchase big-ticket items over $100.

Almost half of shoppers plan to reduce trips to retail stores this season

Saving money, time, or just for fun, holiday shoppers are turning to new shopping apps to complement their in-store buying this year. When survey respondents were asked how many trips they plan to make to retail stores for holiday gift purchases this year, 45 percent of consumers said they plan to make the same amount of trips, 7 percent indicated more trips, and 48 percent said less trips this year. Of those respondents, 57 percent of consumers said they plan to make between one and five trips to retail stores to purchase holiday gifts. Thirty-three percent plan to make six to 10 trips; 8 percent of shoppers plan to take 11 to 20 trips; and 2 percent plan to make more than 21 trips to brick and mortar stores.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


A Winning Kitchen Remodel Recipe: 4 Secret Ingredients for Success

October 25, 2012 4:18 am

For the first time since 2008, kitchens have become the number one remodeling project for homeowners, according to the "Fall 2012 U.S. Remodeling Sentiment Report" from But before you join the rush to remodel your kitchen, you should carefully consider whether the project is a good idea for your finances and family.

To help you make the right decisions there are new and free tools available online to help you decide if remodeling is a good decision; estimate how much it will cost to remodel your kitchen, find, save, categorize, and share kitchen design ideas and pictures, and get answers to your remodeling questions.

Here is some sage advice to help you get started the smart way on your kitchen remodel:
First, decide if remodeling is right for you. You should consider a multitude of variables, such as: Can we comfortably pay for this remodel? Is my family emotionally ready to deal with the disruption? Would it be easier or less expensive to move instead?

Next, get a cost estimate. Remodel cost calculators are available to give you an instant estimate. It's important to get an estimate early in the planning phase to give you plenty of time to arrange your finances, compare prices on everything from appliances to countertops to cabinetry, and make sure your kitchen remodel is as budget friendly as possible.

Make organization a top priority. You'll be dealing with a thousand tiny details, ranging from paint colors to cabinets to floor plans. Letting any one of these details fall through the cracks could mean extra expense and delays.

Bring in the experts for answers. You may find that talking with a real estate agent, interior designer, architect, mortgage banker, or remodeling contractor can help you understand the true costs and benefits of remodeling.

If you approach your kitchen remodel with an eye for cost-effectiveness and organization, not only will you have a gorgeous new space to cook in, you can even increase the value of your home.


Published with permission from RISMedia.