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

Choosing the Right Vacuum

February 15, 2012 3:34 am

The wide variety of models and price ranges can make vacuum shopping a confusing process for many homeowners. Fortunately, Consumer Reports recently tested 100 models and identified nine worthwhile picks priced under $200.

In Consumer Reports' tests, Hoover's WindTunnel T-Series UH30300, $140, and Pet UH30310, $150, both whisked away embedded grit and pet hair, and are two additions to a long list of picks that include models priced at $200 or less. For those who prefer a canister, Kenmore's Progressive 21614, $300, did well on carpets and is among the lower-priced bagged models that scored high in Consumer Reports' Ratings.

For those willing to invest in the possibility of never having to buy another vacuum in their lifetime, Consumer Reports recommends the Kirby Sentria, $1,350—an upright, bagged model that was a top-performer in tests and comes from a brand that scored high in Consumer Reports' brand-repair survey.

Consumer Reports reminds shoppers to be wary of manufacturers' claims as they may not tell the whole story, and to be aware that lighter-weight vacuums may also be light on performance.
According to Consumer Reports' tests, uprights do better overall on carpets, while canisters are easier to maneuver, especially on stairs. Here are some other points to keep in mind when shopping:
  • Check the features. Look for a brush on/off switch to safeguard bare floors and prevent scattered debris. Another major feature to look for is a motorized brush, rather than suction alone. Manual pile-height adjustment is also a plus, as is suction control for drapes and edge tools for corners.
  • Consider bagless carefully. Bagless vacuums eliminate the expense of buying bags but still require filters, which require maintenance and regular replacement. For those with asthma or allergies, the dust and mess of emptying their bins is an added concern.
  • Try it out. Even shoppers who plan to buy their vacuum online should visit a store to push, pull, turn, and lift the models they are considering and check out the model's controls and features. Also, it's worth asking whether or not the store is willing to meet or beat the lowest online price.

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Money Management for Couples

February 15, 2012 3:34 am

Arguing over financial issues is not uncommon for many couples. In fact, according to a study conducted by Money Magazine, 13 percent of couples say they fight about money several times a month.

Financial expert Kara Kaiser advises that agreeing on certain financial points is essential for couples. She suggests that every couple discuss the following four topics:
  • Budget: Establishing a budget for certain monthly items like dining out, entertainment purchases, and grocery spending can help make future arguments disappear. At least once a month, there should be a regular "budget night" where you and your partner get together to discuss your joint financial status. You can review spending and savings activities, and then make financial adjustments and decisions together.
  • Prior debt: Coming into a relationship, you or your partner may have student loans, a car loan, credit cards, overdraft lines of credit, etc. Cash flow can be greatly affected by previously accumulated debt. Additionally, a big influence on your financial health as a couple is the way you each handle your debt obligations. Knowing your partner's credit history can offer a glimpse into the future. If either or both of you have had problems making payments in the past, that can have a negative impact on your ability to rent an apartment, get a joint loan, and will result in higher rates charged by utility and insurance companies. Developing a plan to improve upon past mistakes can remove a lot of strain from your relationship.
  • Savings goals: Whether you want to save for a trip around the world or want to put money in your 401(k), financial goals need to be established up front. For most, the top three financial goals include buying a home, saving for retirement and building up an education savings account. Making your wishes known to your partner can help the two of you establish a financial plan that incorporates what is important to both of you.
  • Major purchases: Be open and honest about major purchases. Simply discussing a purchase beforehand can save you from a potential fight.
Financials do not have to become a stress point within a relationship. By discussing financial topics and handling resources as a team, managing money as a couple can be a little easier.

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Green Homes to Exponentially Increase by 2016

February 15, 2012 3:34 am

As home builders and homeowners become increasingly aware of the quality design and cost value associated with environmentally-sound construction, production of green homes will rise significantly over the next several years. In fact, according to a survey released at the 2012 International Builder’s Show in Orlando, Fla., green homes—which comprised 17 percent of the overall residential construction market in 2011—are expected to grow to between 29 percent and 38 percent of the market by 2016. By value, this equates to a five-fold increase, growing from $17 billion in 2011 to $87-$114 billion in 2016, based on the five-year forecast for overall residential construction.

According to the Green Home Builders and Remodelers Study, conducted by McGraw-Hill Construction, a part of The McGraw-Hill Companies, construction industry professionals report an even steeper increase in green home remodeling: 34 percent of remodelers expect to be doing mostly green work by 2016, a 150 percent increase over 2011 activity levels. Many home builders have shifted to the remodeling market due to the drastic drop in new home construction. In fact, 62 percent of the builders who do both new and remodeling work verified that the economy has increased their renovation work.

By 2016, many more builders anticipate that they will be dedicated to green building work on over 90 percent of projects— 33 percent expect to be dedicated to green work in 2016, up from 17 percent in 2011. Remodeling will grow even more dramatically—22 percent of remodelers report that they anticipate they will be dedicated to green work in 2016, nearly triple the 8 percent who report being dedicated to green work in 2011.

Many factors are driving the green homes market, with "higher quality" and "increases in energy costs" topping the list, indicating that today's green homebuyer is not just a green consumer. Buyers recognize that green homes have lower bills due to higher building performance. The reported costs of building a green home have also gone down significantly. Builders report that the cost to go green is now 7 percent, as compared to 10 percent in 2008 and 11 percent in 2006.

While green is growing across the U.S., three regions are seeing higher than average growth. The West Coast has seen the highest green growth; the Midwest's northern region, west of the Mississippi, is second highest; and New England ranks third.

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Zillow Launches Zillow Mortgage Marketplace Android App

February 14, 2012 3:34 am

Real estate information source Zillow® recently announced the launch of the free Zillow Mortgage Marketplace Android™ App, giving home shoppers on-the-go access to the loan shopping experience of Zillow Mortgage Marketplace. Also available for the iPhone®, Zillow Mortgage Marketplace offers personalized loan quotes, lender ratings, real-time rates and mortgage calculators all in one place.

The Zillow Mortgage Marketplace Android App gives home shoppers access to:
  • A payment calculator that helps consumers estimate what their monthly payment will look like for a particular home.
  • An affordability calculator that helps shoppers narrow their home search to homes within a specific price range, based on income, down payment and monthly debt information.
  • A refinance calculator that allows consumers to compare their current loan and new loan quote to estimate potential savings if they refinance.
  • A mortgage shopping experience that enables users to request and receive personalized loan quotes, read lender reviews and connect with a lender.
  • Sharing functionality that allows shoppers to share current mortgage rates, calculator results and loan requests via email, Twitter or text message.
The Zillow Mortgage Marketplace apps are available for download for free in the Android Marketplace and iTunes® App Store.

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How to Make Cohabitation Work

February 14, 2012 3:34 am

The majority of couples marrying today cohabited first, with the 2011 U.S. Census report revealing there are about 7.6 million unmarried couples living together. In light of this news, Apartments.com asked their 2011 Roommate of the Year Jesse McLaughlin—who recently turned his cohabitation into a happily-ever-after by proposing to his girlfriend Lisa Harbin—for his advice on successfully sharing space with a significant other. McLaughlin, who has lived with Harbin for the past year, offers five tips to make living with your sweetheart a success:
  1. Talk money before the move. Discuss finances up front–even before you start looking at apartments. Before the apartment becomes something tangible, make sure you establish what each person is comfortable contributing financially. When you have this discussion, remember to include the cost for Internet, utilities, parking, and any other fees that may arise.
  2. Respect personal space. When you move in, make sure you each give yourselves some space that is your own, especially if this is the first time you are moving in with a significant other. As crazy as you are about each other, spending every minute in the apartment together may drive you both a little batty. Ensure each person still has some alone time carved out for themselves.
  3. Discuss décor. Hand in hand with respecting your significant other's personal space is respecting their personal decorating style—or lack thereof. Before either of you hang (or purge anything), sit down and talk about your decorating styles and how you can make them blend harmoniously.
  4. Don't forget dates. Once you live together, it's easy to mistake seeing each other around the apartment for quality time. Be sure to make time for a night out on the town together or plan a special evening at home. Remember, this is your potential soul mate, not just a roommate you split the bills with.
  5. Consider going halfsies on large purchases. Shared purchases are an interesting issue. To fill your apartment, you may need a new couch or dining room table—or you may just want that new big screen TV. So, who pays for this major expense? Consider splitting it 50/50 (or in whatever way makes financial sense for you as a couple). Making these purchases together shows your partner you're committed to the relationship and investing in your future together.

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Americans Spending Less this Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2012 3:34 am

According to a new survey from Visa, Inc., even love is on a budget these days—Americans are spending less on Valentine's Day gifts, flowers, dining and other items this year. Americans plan on spending $117 this Valentine's Day, down 3 percent from $121 in 2011. The biggest culprit? Women.

The drop can largely be explained by the plummeting enthusiasm among women for spending on Valentine's Day, falling from $101 in 2011, to a meager $87 in 2012—a 14 percent drop. In contrast, men are actually planning on spending more this year, $149, compared to $140 in 2011, an increase of 6 percent. The gulf between what men and women now spend on Valentine's Day is dramatic. Men will spend 71 percent more than women on what has now become a one-way holiday.

Indicating a generation gap in enthusiasm for the holiday, younger people (18-24 years old) plan on spending the most of any age group at $132, while those 25-34 expect to spend $124. Consumers between the ages of 35 and 49 will spend an average of $123 and people 50-64 years of age plan to spend just $98.

Significant regional disparities continue to exist in Valentine's Day spending. In 2011, the Midwest came in dead last in spending for February 14, but in a surprising result this year, the region led the pack at $139. Bringing up the rear in 2012 is the South at $97. In addition, consumers in the Northeast plan on spending an average of $137 while people in the West expect to spend $112.

The survey found that people in the lowest income bracket—who earn less than $20,000 per year—plan to spend more than consumers earning between $20,000 to $50,000 on Valentine's Day.

"Those who try to impress by overspending on Valentine's Day may find it has the opposite effect," says Jason Alderman, Visa's senior director of financial education. "The key is to know what you can afford and stick to your budget."

Source: Visa, Inc.

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The 7 Jobs You Shouldn't Ignore

February 13, 2012 3:34 am

Contractors across the country were recently surveyed by Angie’s List to determine the most common home aches and pains, and how to remedy them before you have to seek emergency care.

Angie's 7 Signs Your House Needs Professional Care 

1. Up on the Roof: If you notice loose shingles, have attic leaks, suspect chimney issues or see other signs of damage up high, call in a reputable roofing, gutter or chimney expert, or a handyman to give you great advice about what you need done.
2. Leaks don't fix themselves: Leaky faucets, running toilets and other small plumbing issues will just get worse, so do yourself a favor and get those fixed before major damage occurs. If you notice a jump in your water bill but haven't increased your usage, you likely have a hidden leak, which left undetected could lead to mold, wood rot and severe water damage.
3. Caulk it up: The caulking around your tub and shower prevents moisture penetration, which can lead to mold, tile and wall damage and warped cabinetry. Keeping everything watertight will save you a bundle, so be sure to repair any caulking failures. But don't stop there. All homes get cracks and voids in their outside walls over time. Look closely at where two boards come together, because cracks often start there. Also look for damage from animals that are looking for a way in. Caulk any cracks you see to avoid water penetration, subsequent wood rot and to keep the critters out.
4. Sparks fly: Lights that dim on their own schedule are a clear signal that you have an electrical problem. Experts say too many homeowners tolerate this situation for too long, which puts their homes at risk for electrical fire. Another often tolerated-too-long issue is when using one device causes another to switch off because you've blown a fuse. This is a sign you have a capacity or circuit box issue. Less dangerous but still signal-worthy are springy outlets that don't hold plugs. If you have any of these issues, call in a licensed, reputable electrician.
5. Drafty doors and windows: Improperly sealed windows and doors will bring cold air inside during the winter and let cooled air out in the summer, costing you big bucks on your energy bill. An energy audit can tell you where your leaks are and how to seal them.
6. Filter it out: HVAC experts say 60 percent of their service calls result from systems stressed by dirty air filters. Changing air filters regularly (every quarter or so; more if you have pets) can save you up to $100 each year on your energy bill, and will keep you from needing emergency repair. Many highly reputable heating and air conditioning companies offer maintenance plans that include an annual inspection. Doing this will give you an early alert to any issues you have with your entire HVAC system so you can stave off breakdowns.
7. Pump it up: Take a look at your sump pump from time to time. If it's in good shape and its batteries are good, it could save you thousands of dollars in flood damage. But you don't want to find out it needs repairs after the water starts rising. Get an annual inspection and check the batteries at least quarterly.

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Survey Reveals Consumer Attitudes Towards Homeownership, Design and Function

February 13, 2012 3:34 am

Better Homes and Gardens magazine recently released proprietary research and insights into the ideas, inspirations, and strategies driving consumers as they consider the function, style and efficiency of their homes.

In a presentation given at the International Builders Show, Jill Waage, editorial director for Home Content for Better Homes and Gardens revealed survey results about consumer attitudes towards home ownership, upkeep and renovations, design and personalization, and more. A primary point revealed in the presentation shows that, despite continuing economic uncertainty, consumer thoughts toward homeownership remain strong with 8 in 10 saying home ownership is still a good investment and an important part of the American Dream. The BHG survey also found that consumers are more proactive in designing and curating their homes and, in fact, are spending more time planning design changes for the home (up to 38% from 33% the year prior).

Among the survey's key findings:
• Owning a home is still an important part of the American Dream (According to 8 in 10 surveyed).
• Consumers are taking more time to plan for home improvement projects (39% in 2011 compared to 33% in 2010) and are shopping around for more deals and bargains before committing to home improvement plans (42% in 2011 compared to 40% in 2010).

• Consumers find it more important than ever to get the most value out of every dollar (61% in 2011, up from 56% in 2010), and will spend more time looking for bargains and deals in order to get the most value for their money (Up to 54% in 2011, from 52% in 2010).
• Consumers are more willing to get rid of excess "stuff" and not willing to mortgage for more storage space. Multi-purpose rooms are a necessity in the home. Consumers aren't interested in "bonus rooms" or "media rooms" unless they have a multi-functional purpose.
• Style upgrades claim even greater prominence as being the most important feature in consumers' upcoming home improvement plans, followed by storage. For future projects, style upgrades on countertops, flooring, faucets and fixtures is up to 55% in 2011 from 50% in 2010. Expanded/improved storage space stayed flat at 39% in 2011, same as in 2010.
• In terms of remodeling priorities for consumers, baths are outpacing kitchens. Bathroom remodeling stayed constant in 2011 and 2010 (31%) and kitchen remodeling was stable at 25% in 2011, compared to 24% in 2010.

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Keep Children Safe at Home

February 13, 2012 3:34 am

While some safety measures around the house are routine, there are some potential hazards that could be dangerous for young children. According to information provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, since 1990, more than 200 infants and young children have died from accidentally strangling in window cords. With this in mind, here are a few tips provided by the Window Covering Safety Council (WCSC) reminding parents to practice window cord safety and to make safety a priority in the home: 

• Install only cordless window coverings in homes with young children. Replace window blinds, corded shades and draperies manufactured before 2001 with today's safer products.
• Move all cribs, beds, furniture and toys away from windows and window cords, preferably to another wall.
• Make sure cribs are properly assembled and meet current safety standards, and that crib mattresses fit snugly.
• Keep all window pull cords and inner lift cords out of the reach of children. Make sure that tasseled pull cords are short and continuous-loop cords are permanently anchored to the floor or wall. Make sure cord stops are properly installed and adjusted to limit movement of inner lift cords.
• Lock cords into position whenever horizontal blinds or shades are lowered, including when they come to rest on a windowsill.

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Enhancing Family Time at Home

February 10, 2012 3:30 am

Today’s technology-centric, fast-paced culture often leaves little time for family bonding. However, building family ties and a sense of security at home is needed more than ever given the upheaval generated by current events around the world.

The good news is that it doesn’t take much time or effort to foster a bit of family bonding, yet the impact is significant and lasting. “Family activities that make the ordinary day special build memories that can last a lifetime,” says family counselor Jeanne Richards. She suggests trying the following fun ideas to start strengthening family ties.
  • Family game night – One night a week, turn off everything electronic in favor of family game night. Even the youngest children can participate in simple board games. Once in a while, try Charades or Pictionary to keep the evenings lively.
  • Family dinner night – Whether it’s pizza, pasta or simple sandwiches, plan weekly or monthly evenings when the whole family can work together in the kitchen to prepare a shared meal. Be sure someone is responsible for a simple dessert like cupcakes, cookies or brownies.
  • Movie night – If board games bore you, choose a movie the family can watch at home together. Pop some popcorn and/or pack up individual “goodie bags” that everyone can enjoy.
  • Wilderness walks – As weather permits, take a nature walk together. Identify plants and animals. Help the youngest kids collect pine cones or shells, or even leaves from which they can make collages.
  • Craft night – Children can make tons of things out of simple things like beads, feathers, pasta, glue and string. Add some paints and colored paper and let everyone’s imaginations take hold.
  • Check the library – Most public libraries schedule regular shows and special events, many of them free of charge. Check the program and choose one or two events the family can attend together.

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