July 13, 2011 8:57 pm
By John Voket
Anybody can toss a few items out in the driveway and pronounce a garage sale in progress, but if you want to maximize the effort and profit from proffering your possessions, much like a real estate deal, you’ve got to set the stage. GetRichSlowly.org has some great advice on prepping for that all important day of the sale:
1. Be clear on the purpose of your sale. Are you selling things to make money or to get rid of them? This question affects everything you do, from how you price things, to how willing you may be to negotiate. Surprisingly, you can often make more money (and get rid of more junk) by pricing things low. If your goal is to get top dollar, you should really be selling on eBay or Craigslist.
2. Advertise. Stick an ad in the newspaper. Put up a notice on Craigslist. Post simple, effective signs around the neighborhood. It’s best to use big bold text like “HUGE SALE” with an arrow pointing the right direction. Make sure your sign is readable.
3. Get cash for change. Get a roll of quarters, a stack of twenty-five $1 bills, and a few $5 bills. Do this two days before the sale, so that if you forget, you can still get the change the day before.
4. Prepare your staging area. People will be more inclined to stop if you set up shop in your yard or driveway. Some people are reluctant to enter a dark and dreary garage. Make your sale inviting and easy to browse. You can lure customers by placing highly-desirable items near the road.
5. Think like a customer. As soon as you’ve opened and fielded the initial flood of shoppers, walk through your sale as if you were there to buy something. How does it feel? Are things clearly marked? Is it easy to move around? Are your books on the ground in boxes? Or are they placed neatly on shelves or tables?
6. Display items to their advantage. Be sure to properly display items and make sure everything has its own place. For example, if you have a lot of books to get rid of, take the time to set up a few bookshelves so that people can clearly see what you have to offer.
7. Play background music. Break the silence with a little background music. While some people might find it uncomfortable to visit a garage sale when there’s complete silence, playing some background music might help. Be sure to pick something that is appropriate for your audience.
8. Promote expensive items. Big-ticket items can be tough to sell, but you can do it with a little extra effort. For example, print out a website page from a business still selling the item that shows the original retail price and all the features.
9. Make it easy for shoppers to test electronic items. If you’re selling electrical items, make sure you have an extension cord handy so that people can test them. No smart person is going to just take your word that your television “works great.” Also, have some batteries on hand so a prospective buyer can test hand-held electronics.
July 13, 2011 8:57 pm
By Keith Loria
As home theater technology has evolved over the past 10 years, this popular feature has become a much more integral part of many homes today. Beyond the place where the family comes together to be entertained, studies show that next to the kitchen, the family room is the most occupied room of the house.
That combined with all of the “cool” new technology has created an environment where people want to show off their home theater, so many home buyers are looking for houses that have media rooms available or are already set up to support the latest technology.
Maria Bastone, president of Staging Magic, says that home theater staging has increased dramatically in the past few years.
“These days, people pass more time in their house so they want their house to be practical, big and without renovations,” she says. “Everyone works hard and they need to decompress and relax. They need a room that will satisfy this. Technology is so present in our lives that we need a place to enjoy them comfortably.”
Real estate experts agree that home theatres add value to a home because technology has become more affordable and more present in every family. The 50-inch flat screen with surround sound has become the norm rather than the exception. Having rooms to showcase this equipment is therefore a criteria for a great number of buyers.
“Home theater is a way for the homeowner to bring all these cool new pieces of technology together and fit them seamlessly into their lifestyle,” says David Start, VP of Sacramento, Calif.-based theater furniture manufacturer California House. “You have Apple, Netflix, now Amazon—all these big tech companies with really fantastic products. Home theater allows you to integrate these products into the way you live.”
According to the Home Builders Association, in most new homes built with a $250,000-plus price, home theater or media rooms are almost standard now.
“I think a media room does add value, however it is truly a personal preference based upon what the buyer wants and/or is looking for in a home,” says Teresa Cwik of Showcase Staging Houston. “I have seen a lot of these rooms staged and in my professional opinion I believe the room should be staged with appropriate media room furniture, such as theatre seating.”
There are several ways one can make the home theatre room more appealing prior to showing a home.
First of all, you should clean all surfaces, keep wiring as discrete as possible, and if necessary, store electronics that may look sloppy due to wires or size. Also, although having lots of seating space is practical in a media room, it may be a good thing to reduce the number of sofas to give a spacious look to the room.
There are also smart furniture choices to make the room look better.
“Customers are looking for furniture that will present their TV in style while concealing many of the other components—DVDs, gaming consoles, speakers—neatly out of sight,” says David Adams, marketing director for furniture theatre manufacturer BDI. “Unique features that are integrated into better home theater furniture include hidden wheels, flow-through ventilation, adjustable shelves, built-in media or speaker storage, and integrated cable management systems.”
This is the 21st century and many times rooms focusing on technology can be just as important to a home buyer than a large kitchen or walk-in closets.
July 13, 2011 8:57 pm
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson announced a historic collaborative effort to build upon current federal investments for regions that support sustainable and livable communities. For the first time ever, HUD and EPA will join forces to competitively award $5.65 million to strengthen the capacity of existing sustainable-communities grantees to create more housing choices, make transportation more efficient and reliable, and support vibrant and healthy neighborhoods for American families.
The award program will build upon the Partnership for Sustainable Communities—an interagency collaboration—launched by President Obama in June 2009, between the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), HUD and EPA to provide more sustainable housing and transportation choices for families and lay the foundation for a 21st century economy. Award recipients will form a national leadership network of existing and future HUD and EPA grantees that are advancing sustainable regional planning and development in their respective contexts and areas. The network of grantees will exchange ideas on successful strategies, lessons learned, emerging tools, and public engagement plans. The Capacity Building for Sustainable Communities grant program will award funds to capacity building service providers who will work directly with grant recipients from the FY2010 and FY2011 HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning and Community Challenge, HUD Preferred Sustainability Status Communities, and EPA Sustainable Community Technical Assistance and Brownfield Area Wide Planning grant programs.
HUD will take the lead in administering the notice of funding availability (NOFA) while both agencies will collaborate in the review and selection process of the grantees. The grantees must demonstrate significant knowledge, skills, experience, and a cohesive plan for delivering the specific skills and tactics necessary to build the capacity of existing sustainability grantees. Both HUD and EPA contributed funding to the grant opportunity.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.
July 12, 2011 8:57 pm
Nobody is perfect and oftentimes, consumers make mistakes when shopping that may end up costing them. Here are the top five mistakes consumers make and tips for what you can do to protect yourself in the future:
1. You Don't Know Who You're Dealing With
You wouldn't buy a watch from the sketchy guy on the corner, so why entrust your credit card to a questionable website? The same is true for flyers you receive in the mail for discount services, or an unsolicited e-mail offer. Before you are wooed by a low price:
-Google the name of the company or site plus the word "complaint" or "scam" and see what you get.
-Look up the company's standing on the Better Business Bureau website (bbb.org).
-Carefully scrutinize any "free introductory offer" you receive. (Tip: If they require a credit card number, you should be wary of how "free" it really is).
2. You Forget to Save Receipts
No receipt means no proof of purchase. Without it, you'll only receive store credit if you need to return unused, still-sealed and still-tagged items. Keep receipts for minor purchases in a file for at least one month, particularly for those on your credit card (so you can compare them to your monthly statement). For items with warranties, staple the receipt to the owner's manual or keep in a separate "warranty" file. If you're sending the receipt off to claim a rebate, make a copy of it first for your records.
3. You Don't Use a Product Immediately After Purchase
Return policies and warranties start from the date of purchase. Even if it's July and you bought a snow blower on clearance, remember to start it to make sure it's working. It's also smart to check products you buy and plan to give as gifts at a later date: Do they work properly and are all the parts in the box?
4. You Don't Read Contracts Carefully
When you sign up for a cell phone plan, cable or satellite TV service, gym membership, or diet program, you are most likely agreeing to pay a monthly fee for a specified length of time and to owe a cancellation fee if you decide not to fulfill the terms of your contract. Read all the fine print before signing anything and make sure anything the salesperson tells you is also listed in writing. Ask plenty of questions. Are any additional charges such as taxes or "service fees" above the quoted price? Can you freeze your plan if you go on vacation? Is there a pay-per-month plan at a slightly higher rate? It may be worth considering, if you're not sure you're in for the long haul.
Remember to keep track of contract dates. Some services, such as cable TV and phone companies offer "introductory" deals of a flat rate for the first year or two and then significantly increase the price when the term is over.
5. You Don't Examine Warranty Policies
Right after buying a product, check the length of time of your warranty coverage and exactly what the warranty covers: Parts only? Repairs? Replacement?
If you save your receipt, you usually don't need to send in the Warranty Card. Companies typically just use these to collect customer data; the main consumer benefit is that you'll be alerted if the item is recalled.
When making a warranty claim, gather all paperwork before you call or e-mail, including your sales receipt, the model number of the malfunctioning item, and a detailed description of what went wrong. Take careful notes on your phone call, including date, time, and full name or customer-service ID number of anyone you speak with (or print out any e-mail correspondence). Get concrete instructions, including expected dates or time frames, and follow up if they don't follow through.
July 12, 2011 8:57 pm
It's often hard to decide when to repair older appliances and when to replace them. If your home's refrigerator is puttering, hissing or leaking, it may be time to make a game-time decision to ensure that you're never without a fridge in the home.
A good rule of thumb is to compare the cost of each. If replacing your fridge will cost you more than half the price of buying a new one, you're better off taking the plunge and purchasing anew. If the replacement will only cost a couple hundred dollars or less and your refrigerator isn't too old, replacing will be the better bet.
Side-by-side fridge/freezer combos with icemakers attached are more than twice as repair prone as top-or-bottom freezer models without an icemaker. The repair rate for side-by-side refrigerators with an icemaker is 36%; the rate for top-and-bottom freezers with an icemaker was 28%; and the rate for top-and-bottom freezers without an ice maker is 15%.
Always remember, the age and configuration of your refrigerator should always be taken into consideration. Generally, built-in fridges are worth repairing; side-by-sides should be considered repairable within five years; Bottom-freezers should be repaired within seven years; top-freezers should be repaired within three years and replaced if they are older than seven years.
Although replacing an entire appliance is an expense that no homeowner is ever ready for, there is a benefit to replacement. When shopping for a new fridge, find a model that uses less energy than older ones, particularly one that is Energy Star qualified. This will help you save on your monthly utility bills and assist your transition into becoming a green household.
For more information about repairing or replacing a fridge, visit consumerreports.org.
July 12, 2011 8:57 pm
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently expressed support for a five-year extension of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to ensure that the federally-backed flood insurance program remains efficient and effective in protecting flood-prone properties and creates more stability in the housing market.
Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, Barry Rutenberg, first vice chairman of NAHB and a home builder from Gainesville, Fla., told lawmakers that because the NFIP has had to undergo a series of short-term extensions over recent years, it has created a high level of uncertainty in the program and caused severe problems for the nation’s already troubled housing markets.
“Unfortunately during this latest interruption, many home buyers faced delayed or cancelled closings due to the inability to obtain NFIP insurance for a mortgage,” says Rutenberg. “In other instances, builders themselves were forced to halt or postpone construction on a new home due to the lack of flood insurance approval, adding unneeded delay and job loss. NAHB believes a long-term extension will ensure the nation’s real estate markets operate smoothly and allow the nation’s home builders to continue to provide safe, decent and affordable housing to consumers.”
The current reauthorization of the program expires on Sept. 30.
While NAHB supports reforms of the NFIP to ensure its financial stability, Rutenberg urges lawmakers to proceed with care, noting that steps that Congress takes to bolster the program’s balance sheet have the potential to greatly impact housing affordability and the ability of local communities to exercise control over their growth and development options.
To improve the solvency of the program and its attractiveness to potential policy holders, NAHB supports several reforms designed to allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the NFIP to better adapt to changes in risk, inflation and the marketplace:
• Creating a more expansive “deluxe” flood insurance option, or a menu of insurance options from which policyholders could pick and choose, could provide additional homeowner benefits while aiding program solvency.
• Raising the minimum deductible for paid claims would provide a strong incentive for homeowners to mitigate and protect their homes, thereby reducing potential future losses to the NFIP.
• Establishing a Technical Mapping Advisory Council, as seen in House bill H.R. 1309, would ensure the scientific validity of Flood Insurance Rate Maps.
• Keeping the Special Flood Hazard Area and any mapping to the 100-year flood level (1% annual flood risk), because any expansion would substantially increase the cost of home construction and severely impact housing affordability.
Established in 1968, the NFIP offers affordable flood insurance to homeowners and businesses in flood plains and other low-lying areas that otherwise might not be able to obtain coverage.
More than 20,000 communities nationwide participate in the insurance program, which currently covers about 5.5 million policyholders.
For more information please visit www.nahb.org.
July 11, 2011 2:57 pm
Depending on the distance and type, moving can sometimes be a stressful time, requiring lots of patience and keen problem-solving skills. When all is said and done, some families may want to stay close for the summer to save funds and really settle in to the new area. If a vacation isn't in your near future, consider the following tips for planning the perfect "staycation."
Explore the local scene. Since you're new to the area (or even if you're not) go explore a nearby area that is brand new to you. Untouched stores and parks in your area could offer up some fun and change of scenery for you and your family. More active homeowners can try an elongated bike ride to new territories. There is a world of possibilities all around you.
Try a new restaurant and ask for recommendations. Finding new eateries is always a great way to explore. Ask locals for recommendations--it's a great way to make friends and find places that are worth your hard-earned time and money.
Check out local fairs and carnivals. Dig through the local papers and try to find surrounding fairs or carnivals to entertain the family with. Flea markets and farmers' markets are always fun to discover, and carnivals are also very popular throughout the summer months. With a little research, you could find hours' worth of fun and entertainment.
Plan a day trip. There is even more to enjoy if you're willing to take a drive. Check for sources of entertainment up to three hours away from your home. By expanding the circumference of your search, you can still stay within driving distance from your home and save on the cost of hotel rooms. Full-day trips can offer a break from your neighborhood locale and allow you to enjoy another town or city in the surrounding area.
A "staycation" can offer loads of fun for the entire family but still be affordable. For recent movers or those looking to cut back this summer, don't overlook the many options that await you right in your own backyard.
Source: Relocation.com Blog
July 11, 2011 2:57 pm
Despite the current recession that has maintained a firm grip on the U.S. real estate market, the majority of Americans still view homeownership as the American Dream, according to a recent survey by Money Management International.
The 2011 survey conducted on behalf of Money Management International (MMI) found 81% of people still place a lot of value in owning a home, considering it to still be a key component in achieving the American Dream.
Despite an overall feeling of optimism regarding homeownership, the number of people who rent has increased from 34% to 38% since December, reflecting a nationwide trend toward renting.
Some other significant findings in the survey include:
• Income is key when purchasing a home. A majority of respondents indicated that the ability to comfortably make a monthly payment is the most important factor to consider when purchasing a home. Only seven percent of respondents cited the ability to afford a down payment as a key factor when making the decision to become a homeowner.
• Owning a home is a good investment. According to survey results, 69% of people believe that owning a home is still a good investment, despite the housing bubble.
• The desire to own a home trumps renting. Reflecting attitudes consistent with the importance of homeownership to Americans, 66% indicated in the survey that they would prefer to purchase a home rather than rent if they were in the position to change residence.
• Lenders and financial professionals are the first choice when seeking help. When asked where they would turn in the event that they are unable to make their monthly mortgage or rent payment, 35% of people responded that they would contact a lender or financial professional. Attaining a second job was a close second, with 32% indicating they would look for more work in order to stay in their residence.
For more information, visit MoneyManagement.org.
July 11, 2011 2:57 pm
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced recently that HUD will provide $5.4 million to public housing authorities in 18 states to supply permanent housing and case management for 676 homeless Veterans in America. This is the fourth and final round of the FY 2010 Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) funding to support homeless Veterans.
HUD-VASH is a coordinated effort by HUD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and local housing authorities to provide permanent supportive housing for homeless Veterans.
“As our young men and women return from Afghanistan and Iraq, they deserve to be treated with dignity and honor. Yet our nation's Veterans are 50% more likely than the average American to become homeless,” says HUD Secretary Donovan. “These vouchers continue to get more of our Veterans off the streets and out of homeless shelters into permanent housing.”
“Our mission is to end Veterans’ homelessness,” says VA Secretary Shinseki. “This effort is an excellent example of how VA works with HUD and our community partners in that shared mission. The project-based vouchers will provide dedicated permanent housing for Veterans and allow them to live in support of each other, as neighbors.”
The vouchers announced are part of a set-aside of project-based vouchers HUD announced last September that would be competitively awarded to housing authorities that received HUD-VASH vouchers in 2008, 2009 or 2010. Under HUD’s project-based voucher program, housing authorities can assign voucher assistance to specific housing units. These vouchers will enable homeless Veterans to access affordable housing with an array of supportive services.
With the announcement, HUD will have funded 10,186 housing vouchers for homeless Veterans nationwide for FY2010. HUD will announce the 2011 HUD-VASH funding during the summer. VA Medical Centers provide supportive services and case management to eligible homeless Veterans.
Veterans are referred to the public housing authority for these vouchers, based upon a variety of factors, most importantly the need for and ability to benefit from supportive housing. Supportive housing includes both the financial help the voucher provides and the comprehensive case management that VAMC staff provides.
Veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program rent privately-owned housing and generally contribute no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. VA offers eligible homeless Veterans clinical and supportive services through its medical centers across the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.
July 8, 2011 8:57 pm
In cities and the suburbs, sometimes the air inside a home is more of a problem than the air outdoors. The sources of air pollution can come from anywhere—air fresheners you use to mask various odors, your shedding cat or dog, dusty furniture (and the aerosol spray you use to clean it), dust mites in bedding, a poorly ventilated kitchen range, and so on. If you want to neutralize and refresh your home, consider these easy steps to reduce the fumes.
Prevent problems. To cut down on dust mites, put your pillows, mattresses and box springs in dust mite-proof covers. Wash very dirty or dusty laundry in the hottest water. By doing so you’ll not only cut down on dust around the home, but you’ll protect your family from any sort of related allergens from popping up as well.
Ventiliate. Cooking, cleaning, using hair spray and polishing your nails can release volatile organic compounds that are linked to a variety of health problems. Use fans in the kitchen and bathroom to reduce your exposure and minimize humidity that can cause mold and mildew. Poor ventilation can allow pollutants to stay in the air.
Ban smoking. Don't smoke or allow others to do so in your home or car. Smoke is a hard smell to get out of clothes, fabrics, carpeting and drapery. The clinging odor will last awhile. Prevent any sort of lingering smell by not allowing smoke in your home.
Eliminate odors, don't mask them. Find the source of bad smells (bad food, musty sheets or blankets, pet-related smells, etc.) and tackle the problem the old fashioned way—by cleaning it up. Use a box of baking soda in the area instead of air fresheners, which cost more and can contain VOCs and phthalates.
Make your cleaning count. Because dust can harbor pollen, pet dander, bacteria, mites, mold and mildew, dust furnishings regularly with a damp rag or an electrostatically charged duster. Vacuum often, ideally with a low-emissions vacuum. There is no replacement for a hardcore cleanup.
Control critters. Seal cracks and crevices and properly seal and put food away. You'll be less apt to attract pests and need to use pesticides. To minimize your exposure to pet dander, banish pets from sleeping areas and upholstered furniture.
Rethink pricey fixes. There's little medical evidence that an air cleaner alone can ease allergies and asthma; try low-cost solutions first. There's also no proof that cleaning ducts prevents health problems or that dirty ducts increase airborne particulates.
If your home is stuffy and you want to decrease the amount of air pollution, try simple tactics first. By keeping your house clean and tidy, you’re already halfway there to improving your family’s air quality.
Source: Consumer Reports Health blog