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

Ten International Christmas Traditions

December 15, 2011 3:50 pm

Here in the States, people celebrate Christmas with caroling, presents, seasonal music, and more, but have you ever wondered how other countries celebrate the holiday? Here is a list of 10 international Christmas traditions showcasing how people all over the world celebrate the spirit of the season.

Brightly lit, decorative stars light the night and day in this dark country. Christmas Eve is ladies night out - or rather off - because the men-folk take care of their families and fun family games are played after the Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, barbequed caribou is served – poor Rudolf!

While we often complain about how commercial Christmas has become, India is a great example where multiple religions come together in celebrations with their Christian neighbors - a true world peace on earth experience! Christmas Day is called 'Bada Din' (Big Day) in Hindi. It is a national holiday in India and people from all religions join their Christian friends to make the most of the joyous celebrations.

“Christmas Old Man” (as the translation goes) is greeted by muslin stockings for the Christian children. The season ushers in the Chinese New Year and is a great time of celebration, vacation and honor of ancestors. The Chinese are truly on to something because they take the rest of the year off...and most of January too!

“Arahaba tratry ny Noely.” Might be a good clue for a guessing game? Merry Christmas is the answer! In this hot climate, the people still find ways of decorating for Christmas including holly and snow. The best however, are the giant Poinsettias which flower at Christmas and are also the national emblem of Madagascar.

“Ded Moroz and Snegurochka and the golden troika.” Sounds like a great title huh? It depicts the delightful tale of Father Frost and his granddaughter helper as they travel to deliver gifts to Russian children. Beware parents, if your children hear that some Russians celebrate two Christmas’s we may never hear the end of it.

South Africa
Carols by candlelight and campfires! Christmas falls during high summer and while North Americans are gathering firewood to keep warm inside, the South Africans are heading out to take in the stars and go camping. Perhaps they can get some reindeer from Greenland for the “Braai’s” or summer barbeques.

British kids have to wait until the afternoon following Christmas Eve to open their gifts from “Father Christmas.” Not to worry, however, because with actors called “Mummers” and celebrations everywhere, there is plenty to do during this magical time and of course you can get the traditional plum pudding from the actual place it was invented.

The Netherlands

The merry old soul many know as “Santa Claus” evolved from the Dutch figure of “Sinterklaas.” The Dutch celebrate Sinterklaas on the fifth of December with small gifts and a personal note or rhyme. SinterKlaas has a helper and a white horse. The best part is if you are naughty, you get put in Sinterklaas’ sack and sent to Spain.

“Prespio,” The Nativity Scene and “Papa Noel” rule in Brazil and the celebration of Christmas reflects the diverse population throughout Brazil. Traditions from European roots exist and the best part of the Brazilian Christmas is plenty of wonderful Brazilian food and the warmth because it is summertime! Feliz Natal!

Logs, luck and the reason for the season! Like the Dutch, the children are taken care of early in December and the celebration of Christmas is a true celebration of Christ’s birth. Many traditions are involved and many offer reverence of the birth of Christ. Our favorite is that even though the children get gifts in early December, they leave treats out on Christmas Eve - not for “Pere Noel,” but for the Blessed Virgin Mary!

Source: Whirled Peas

What You Should Know About Carpet, Asthma and Allergies

December 15, 2011 3:50 pm

Not only does carpet add warmth and comfort to any room, it also helps keep the air free of allergens and pollutants when properly vacuumed and maintained.

Simply put, what falls to the carpet – such as allergens, common dust, pet dander and other pollutants – tends to stay on the carpet until it is vacuumed, unlike smooth surfaces that allow these particles to re-circulate. Properly maintained carpet leads to improved air quality and a healthier indoor environment because regular vacuuming with a Carpet and Rug Institute-certified vacuum cleaner locks pollutants in the machine and removes them from the air you breathe.

Here are several facts that support the use of carpet to help prevent asthma and allergy symptoms:

There is no scientific study linking the rise of allergy and asthma to the use of carpet. Indeed, several studies actually disprove any correlation.

A 15-year Swedish study found no link between carpet usage and the incidence of allergy or asthma. In fact, even when carpet usage in Sweden decreased by 70 percent, allergy reactions in the general population increased by 30 percent.

Carpet may even be helpful to people with asthma: an 18-nation study of nearly 20,000 people found a statistical relationship between carpeted bedrooms and reduced asthma and allergy symptoms and improved breathing.

A 2003 study of more than 4,600 school children in New Jersey found that having carpet in a child’s bedroom was associated with fewer missed school days and less need for asthma medication.

Studies have compared the distribution of airborne dust associated with normal activities on hard and soft flooring surfaces. Findings show that walking on hard surfaces disturbed more particles. These particles became airborne and entered the breathing zone. In contrast, carpeted surfaces trapped more particles so that walking disturbed fewer particles. The result was less dust in the breathing zone over carpeted floors.

What You Can Do

Vacuum regularly and thoroughly. It may come as a surprise that something as simple as regular vacuuming can have a big impact on the air you breathe. When vacuuming, remember to keep the following guidelines in mind:

Use slow, repetitive front-to-back motions in an overlapping sequence. A quick once-over doesn’t do much. Move slightly to the left or to the right every four strokes.

Don’t ignore the corners or crevices where dust builds. Use the proper attachments to clean those difficult-to-reach areas.

“Top-down” cleaning saves you the step of vacuuming after dusting. Dust blinds, windowsills, and furniture surfaces first and then vacuum away any fallen dust.

Remember to remove and replace or empty vacuum bags when they are half to two-thirds full.

Use CRI Seal of Approval cleaning products. An independent laboratory tests solutions, spot removers, vacuums and deep cleaning extractors and systems. Only those that meet high performance standards receive the Seal of Approval.

Professionally clean your carpet every 12 to 18 months. Regular vacuuming removes soil and dust, but periodic professional cleaning is needed to remove embedded dirt.

For more information, visit

HUD Offers More Than 40 Million Dollars in Grants for Housing Counseling

December 15, 2011 3:50 pm

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that more than $40 million is available for a broad range of housing counseling programs to help families find and preserve housing. These grants will be awarded competitively to hundreds of HUD-approved counseling agencies and State Housing Finance Agencies across the nation that offer a variety of services, including how to avoid foreclosure, how to avoid mortgage scams, how to purchase or rent a home, how to improve credit scores, and how to qualify for a reverse mortgage.

“The HUD-approved counseling programs this funding will support not only help families make more informed choices about buying or renting, it is crucial in helping thousands of families avoid foreclosure and remain in their homes,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “We fought hard to persuade Congress to restore funding for housing counseling in HUD’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget and I’m pleased that they did so. We will now work to make these important resources available to help families as quickly as possible.”

HUD-approved counseling agencies also provide counseling as well as financial literacy education to renters and homeless individuals and families. This year HUD’s Housing Counseling Grant program will provide $36.05 million for comprehensive counseling and $4 million for Reverse Mortgage Counseling.

National and regional agencies distribute much of HUD’s housing counseling grant funding to HUD- approved community-based housing counseling organizations that provide information and guidance to low- and moderate-income families seeking to improve their housing conditions. These larger organizations help improve the quality of housing counseling services and enhance coordination among their counseling providers. In addition, HUD approved counseling agencies provide services in a variety of languages to meet to the needs of the population in the service area as well as ensuring communications and access is provided for persons with disabilities.

HUD will award grants to approximately 500 applicants. Instructions are posted on

The Art of Great Listing Photos

December 15, 2011 3:50 pm

Real estate listings are full of slideshows and photos showcasing houses, condos or apartments for sale. There is no better way to get potential buyers or renters on the hook to reel them in for an in-person showing. There is nothing worse, however, than a listing with terrible photos.

If you want your listing to sell, the photos should match its description. Often, listing photos are bogged down by lack of focus, terrible lighting or messy appearances. You don’t want to turn away potential buyers before you even get them through the front door! To quicken your turnaround, you need clean and sharp images that highlight the home’s more attractive qualities.

Clean up. Mowing the lawn and cleaning up the yard may seem like obvious suggestions, but this first step is often overlooked. First impressions count, as does curb appeal. The photos taken of the exterior should look stellar and put the home’s best foot forward. Clean up the inside of the home as well before snapping photos. If the home is currently occupied, try to move as many things out of a room as possible before shooting.

Good exterior shots go a long way. A good shot of the exterior of a home is the equivalent of curb appeal and could be the make-or-break aspect of your listing. Take a shot 10-20 feet above street level and be sure that cars, garbage cans and For Sale signs aren’t included in the shot. The less foreground elements, the better—unless they add to the appeal.

Using available light is softer and more appealing than a strobe or other artificial light, which washes out textures in wood, flooring and cabinets. Use a tripod if you have one for help in low-light situations.

Watch the weather and sun. The time of day you take photos is extremely important, especially if you’re shooting into the sun. Too much natural light will make your image feel flat, providing no contrast between light and dark. This will affect the overall appeal of the photos and the home. A professional photographer can make your home look great rain or shine, but if you’re going it alone, pick a day with great weather to shoot.

Try different angles. Sometimes moving a few feet from center really makes the home feel open. Having too many shots from the same angle fails to provide shoppers with enough views. Mix it up and try new, fresh ways of taking pictures of the home.

Hide those pets. Keep your pets, or any signs of them, out of listing photos. Some people are pet lovers, but those who aren’t associate pets with bad smells, dirty homes and germs. Get all pet toys, dishes and cages out of the way so everyone can look at the home with an unbiased eye.

To be successful, your photos need to accentuate the home’s potential and they need to be professional. Even if you can’t afford a professional photographer for every listing, you can still take these steps toward making your listing photos more presentable. After all, a picture’s worth a thousand words.

Plastics Recycling Sees Increase in the U.S.

December 15, 2011 3:50 pm

A recently released study by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. found that a much larger portion of the U.S. population has ready access to recycle commonly used plastics than previously believed. Specifically the study, "Plastics Recycling Collection: National Reach Study," found that 94 percent of Americans have access to recycle plastic bottles and 40 percent of the population also can recycle other types of plastic containers, such as yogurt cups, dairy tubs and lids.

Although the study surveyed nearly 2,500 communities across the United States, it found that within the 100 largest cities, the percentage of the population with access to recycle plastic containers in addition to bottles has nearly doubled since 2008.

The study did not look at recycling film plastics—a category that includes plastic bags and many product wraps—but it is well documented that these materials are collected separately at more than 12,000 locations across the country.

Recyclers—typically small community-based businesses—rely on consumers to recover a steady supply of used plastics, such as assorted bottles, containers, bags and wraps. Recycled plastics can be made into a variety of innovative products, including soft T-shirts, durable backyard decks, storage containers, car parts, decorative moldings and other home building products, cutting boards, and even fashionable hand bags.

The study also noted that it is more effective to communicate which plastics are recycled in various communities by listing shapes (e.g., bottles, tubs, trays, lids, etc.) than by listing resin codes (numbers 1-7), which can be confusing.

Below are some tips to make it easier to recycle more of the plastics we use every day:

Bottles: For recycling purposes, a bottle is any container with a neck or an opening that's smaller than its base. Include the following wherever plastic bottles are recycled:
• Milk jugs
• Beverage bottles (e.g., water, soft drinks, juice and beer)
• Bottles from shampoo, toiletries, laundry detergent and other household cleaners
• Salad dressing, cooking oil and condiment bottles
• Food jars, such as peanut butter and mayonnaise
• Tip: Twist caps back on before placing in the recycling bin; recyclers want those, too!

Containers: Include the following wherever containers, tubs and/or lids are recycled:
• Yogurt cups
• Butter tubs
• Deli containers
• Dairy containers
• Frozen food trays
• Produce containers (hinged or lidded)
• Lids

Bags and Wraps: Clean and dry plastic bags and wraps should be returned to grocery and retail stores for recycling instead of being placed in curbside bins. Include the following wherever plastic bags are recycled:
• Grocery bags
• Retail bags (remove hard plastic or string handles)
• Newspaper bags
• Dry cleaning bags (remove paper and hangers)
• Bread bags (with crumbs shaken out)
• Produce bags
• Sealable and non-sealable food storage bags
• Product wraps from paper towels, bathroom tissue, napkins, bulk beverages, and diapers

For more information, see:

Last Call for Energy Efficiency Homeowner Tax Credits

December 15, 2011 3:50 pm

The Alliance to Save Energy urges American consumers to give themselves the gift of energy efficiency this holiday season – and reap the benefits when they file their 2011 federal tax returns – by taking advantage of tax credits for energy efficiency home improvements. The tax credits of up to $500 are set to expire on December 31 and Congress may not renew them for 2012.

"The outlook for renewal of federal energy efficiency tax incentives is uncertain at best," stated Alliance President Kateri Callahan, "so we encourage homeowners to complete those upgrades before the ball drops in Times Square at midnight on New Year's Eve.

"Making efficiency improvements this year will lower home energy bills and improve home comfort for years to come, while also reducing 2011 federal income tax bills," Callahan added.

The specific home improvements that qualify for tax credits fall into a number of categories:

Exterior windows, skylights and storm windows.
Insulation, exterior doors, roofs, storm doors and products to seal air leaks such as caulking, weather stripping and foam sealants.
Highly-efficient heating and cooling equipment, including central air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces, boilers, water heaters and biomass (e.g. corn) stoves.

Each product category also must meet specific energy efficiency requirements, which are spelled out on the Alliance's tax credits web page.

Percentage and/or dollar limits on particular energy-efficient upgrades include:

• 10% of the cost of insulation and sealing materials, exterior doors and roofs.
• 10% of the cost, up to $200, of exterior windows or skylights.
• Up to $300 for electric heat-pump water heaters, electric heat pumps, central air conditioners, biomass stoves and natural gas, propane or oil water heaters.
• Up to $50 for advanced main-air circulating fans.
• Up to $150 for natural gas, propane or oil furnace or hot-water boilers.

For more information, visit

Holiday Survival Guide for Busy Families

December 14, 2011 3:50 pm

Lets face it: sometimes the Holidays are stressful. With all of the parties, shopping and other obligations to tackle in a very limited time, families must somehow manage to balance it all. Here are a few tips on how to survive the holidays and enjoy yourself in the process.

Get Organized: Have the kids make their wish lists and then organize them on a master shopping list. Create a gift spreadsheet if you feel you need extra organization. A column for each recipient, rows with product name, price and ordering info for each gift. For Holiday cards, invest the time in creating a mailing address label template on your computer that you can print out and just update each year.

Shop Online: Once you have your master shopping list, do as much shopping online as possible. No hassles at the store or in traffic equals more time enjoying the season at home with your family. Buying gifts can even be relaxing if you follow this lead and online shop with your well-organized list while watching The Daily Show from bed.

Don't Over Commit: Remember it’s okay to say no, even to a business opportunity. If taking on a new project means you will be uncomfortably above capacity during the holidays, everyone will lose. Schedule new projects for start-dates after the holidays instead of turning business away.

Share the Work: Make a new tradition and get the family in on the action! Have the kids stuff, stamp and label all the holiday card envelopes. They'll be happy to be part of the process. If this is your business crunch time, plan to be a guest rather than a host. Offer to host a different holiday at another time of the year.

Stock Up On Extra Gifts: There are always those last minute gifts you forget about—whether for holiday toy drives or unanticipated reciprocation—that fail to make it onto the most organized of lists. Buy a little extra (especially when you find a great sale). If they don’t get used this year, donate them or recycle them next year. There’s nothing worse than realizing you have to enter the fray on those final days after you’ve already taken that deep breath thinking you were all done!

Set Boundaries Between Work and Family Time: For those working from home, it is a blessing and a challenge. The temptation to work all the time is always there, especially during a busy season. Work while the kids are at school and activities, complete online tasks while the kids do homework and get in some evening work after the kids go to bed.

Don't Forget To Breathe: Maintaining a calm attitude while getting through a mountain of work, for both business and holiday prep, takes less time and energy. Do one task at a time, calmly, and then move on to the next. It will all get done as it always does. Forget non-essentials like making sure the house is spotless and the beds are made. Having a relaxed attitude even if there's no time to relax can make all the difference.

Source: Susan Miller,

New-Home Sales Rise 1.3 Percent in October

December 14, 2011 3:50 pm

Sales of newly built, single-family homes inched up 1.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 307,000 units in October, according to newly released data from the U.S. Commerce Department. The gain is from a downwardly revised rate in the previous month, and marks the best pace of new-home sales activity since this May.

"Builders have been seeing some marginal improvement in sales activity over the past few months, particularly in select markets where consumer confidence is higher due to improved economic conditions," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "While this trend is encouraging, overall sales activity is still well below normal due to the effects of overly tight credit conditions for builders and buyers, the continued flow of distressed properties on the market, and inaccurate appraisal values on new homes."

"Today's report is right in line with our forecast for modest and gradual improvement in sales activity through the remainder of the year," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "Particularly encouraging is the fact that builders continue to hold down their inventories to match the current sales rate, with the number of new homes for sale now down to a sustainable, 6.3-month supply."

Regionally, new-home sales held unchanged in the Northeast and gained 22.2 percent in the Midwest and 14.9 percent in the West in October.

Meanwhile, the nationwide inventory of new homes for sale held at an all-time record low of just 162,000 units in October, which is a 6.3-month supply at the current sales pace.

For more information, visit

Help for Community Associations and Homeowners

December 14, 2011 3:50 pm

With more than 60 million Americans living in 315,000 U.S. homeowners associations and condominium communities, tension, frustration and conflict are inevitable.

Associations can face a range of problems—from financial strife related to the current economic climate and housing crisis to conflict between homeowners and association leaders. Issues can involve mandatory homeowner fees, budgetary shortfalls, home foreclosures, architectural guidelines and rules enforcement related to yard signs, holiday decorations, flag poles, pets and parking.

Fortunately, there is free help and information—for homeowners, association leaders and community managers.

The nonprofit Community Associations Institute (CAI) offers free, downloadable information that can help homeowners better understand how associations should function and how to improve communities that are failing to meet resident expectations. Included are:

• An Introduction to Community Association Living—an online presentation that explains the nature, obligations and benefits of living in a common-interest community.
• Rights and Responsibilities for Better Communities—42 principles and practices to help associations promote harmony and reduce the potential for conflict.
• Community Association Governance Guidelines—12 principles that can help association boards identify and meet basic benchmarks of responsible governance.
• Model Code of Ethics for Community Association Board Members

By knowing your rights and the rules and regulations of normal homeowners associations, you can know what to expect and better your living situation.

For more information, visit

Home Builders Applaud Congress for Restoring Higher FHA Loan Limits

December 13, 2011 9:50 pm

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently applauded Congress for reinstating for another two years the higher conforming loan limits for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), noting that this is an important step to help mend the struggling housing market.

“We commend congressional leaders in both parties and each chamber of Congress for taking this action to boost overall mortgage liquidity in the marketplace, create jobs, and provide homeowners and homebuyers with safe and affordable financing,” said NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev.

“Restoring the higher FHA loan limits will help to stabilize home values, provide constancy while private investors re-enter the market, and enable millions of creditworthy consumers to get home loans with the best mortgage rates and lowest fees and down payment requirements,” he adds.

For more information, visit