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

Eight Plumbing Tips for the Dog Days of Summer

August 18, 2011 8:57 pm

You probably noticed an increase in your water bill this month. During peak water use, usually in late July or early August, the average American uses about four times as much water than they do the rest of the year. From taking more frequent showers to watering the lawn to even washing additional loads of laundry, it all adds up.

"Aside from watering your lawn later in the day, there are many other summer water-saving tips that many people don't think about," says John Senescall, general manager of a Minneapolis-based plumbing and drain-cleaning service provider.

Here is a recommend list of plumbing precautions to save your wallet from the summer heat, while saving energy and staying within the family budget.

1. Check the temperature setting on your water heater. It should be set no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding and reduce energy use. Summer is a good time to turn the temperature down, especially when away on vacation.
2. Replacing an old shower head can save up to 7.5 gallons of water per minute without sacrificing water pressure. To clean mineral deposits from the showerhead, unscrew it, soak it in vinegar overnight and then gently scrub with a toothbrush to remove deposits.
3. Check washing machine hoses for rupture. Turn valves on and off to check for leaks.
4. Make sure that yard drains, gutters and downspouts are cleaned out, open and free of debris.
5. Check outdoor faucets and hose bibs to make sure water flows freely.
6. Beware of standing water. Excess water can result from leaky or broken pipes or a damaged sewer line. Standing water is not healthy for children or pets, and is a breeding ground for insects and germs. Inspect the yard for areas that are too wet or have unusual plant or grass growth.
7. Conserve water. Water your lawn before sun up or after sun down to reduce usage.
8. In humid weather, ductwork may sweat and cause condensation. This can cause a backup if the drains are not clear. If you have an attic installation, be sure to check for water in the drain pan, which could potentially ruin your ceiling.


What You Need to Know Before Refinancing

August 18, 2011 8:57 pm

With interest rates lower than they've been in 15 years a lot of consumers are looking to save money on their monthly mortgage payments. Although this is a great option for many borrowers, choosing the right type of refinance is a very important decision.

You can save money by refinancing at the similar term you started with or you can shave years off your mortgage by refinancing into a shorter term mortgage, potentially without upfront costs. Some borrowers are waiting for the rates to bottom out before considering a refinance; the problem with that is there is really no consistent, verifiable way to predict which direction rates will go in the future. At this time with the current financial markets in such a "perplexed" state, no one can reliably predict the short term direction of mortgage interest rates.

The best refinance option depends on the specific borrower and their current economic condition and what the near future holds for them and their lifestyle choices. For example, an ARM may be the right fit for someone who knows they are going to be moving for one reason or another in the next five to seven years. They can get a short term ARM that will have a very low interest rate for a number of years. This could add up to be a significant savings over their current mortgage. If you are not planning on moving but would like to cut down on the number of years you will be paying your mortgage you could reduce your term in a refinance from the most popular 30 year fixed to a 20, 15 or 10 year fixed. The rates will be more attractive and the amount of interest you will save could be very significant over the term of your loan.

Before considering any refinance, you should take a very good look at the current mortgage, the interest rate, and how long you have been paying it off. Additionally, in today's environment it is very important to have a good understanding of home values in your neighborhood. In most cases, values have come down over the past few years and a reduced value on your home could influence your ability to refinance. Lastly, as mentioned above, know what your short- and long-term ideas are for staying in the current home or possibly moving to a new location.

It is important to ask a lot of questions about your lender and their way of doing business. Are they brokers? What banks do they use for mortgages? How long have they been in business? Can they supply references? It is also important to shop around for competitive rates on your transaction. Referrals are a great way to locate a mortgage person that you can trust. Ask your friends and family who they have had experience with and start your search with those that get favorable remarks.

When refinancing, be sure to understand the costs associated with the refinance. In some situations, the breakeven point when paying closing costs can be way too long to make it an effective move. However, if your mortgage lender offers a true no-point, no-closing- cost loan, it is probably a good reason to start the process right away.

For more information please visit

Are You Addicted to Coffee?

August 17, 2011 8:57 pm

The number of cups of coffee you have per day could signal a possible addiction to caffeine. Although many of us often kid about needing coffee for survival, how serious is coffee addiction and when should you cut back on your intake?

The more coffee you drink, the higher your tolerance for caffeine. Since caffeine affects your body's performance, it is still technically a drug. With consumption rising around the country, Americans are finding that they need more and more coffee to wake up in the morning and get through their days.

For those who crave coffee or feel lethargic without it, it could mean early warning signs of addiction. Irritability and trouble sleeping at night are also red flags to be aware of if you are consuming copious amounts of the beverage every day. If you drink five or more cups per day, you may want to think about how you can cut back, decrease your tolerance or maybe even stop drinking it at all.

The easiest way to start the treacherous task is to start small. If you wake up in the morning and have three cups, cut it down to two. If you purchase coffee each morning, try turning your large into a medium or a small. Over the course of the week, you'll see some substantial differences in the amount of coffee you are consuming.

For those bold enough to quit cold turkey, remember to get rid of any coffee products in your cabinets or fridge so you don't tempt yourself. Although it will take lots of will power, some may find this method easier than trying to control a modest amount of caffeine intake. Headaches and irritability may come with the territory, but all side effects will fade after four to seven days. Once over the hump, you will be well on your way to controlling those cravings.

Some coffee drinkers may have genes predisposing them toward high consumption of caffeinated beverages, but with enough determination and willpower, anyone can break the habit or at least cut way back.


Add the Finishing Touch to Your Room with a New Rug

August 17, 2011 8:57 pm

When you've finally chosen the perfect color tone for your walls and added furniture to a newly decorated room, a new rug is often the final piece in the home decoration puzzle. With the ability to add a touch of character or ambience to your room, the right rug serves as an essential style tool.

Choosing Between a Traditional and Modern Rug

The type of rug you choose will depend on many factors, including room setting, personal style and the space available. Traditional rugs will support a room's natural design without overpowering it. Crafted from a range of sumptuous fabrics and warm weaves, the function of a traditional rug transcends mere design. Add warmth to a wood floor, add tone to natural carpets or just create a sophisticated ambience in any room. The function of traditional style and design is multiple.

However, traditional rugs are not for everyone. If you have already selected a neutral color or base palette for your room, a bold and colorful modern rug could be the creative spark that really brings your room to life. With a wide range of colors, styles, sizes and patterns available, the only thing holding you back is your own taste or imagination.

Weaving Magical Comfort

Once you have settled on a style, you will need to choose a fabric. Whether you want the soft feel of synthetics or the warm feeling of pure wool between your toes, you're sure to find a rug suitable for you. For example, fans of a contemporary rug design can choose a super stylish shaggy rug. As well as adding a textured dimension to any room, these rugs provide greater durability and stain resistance.

Choosing the Perfect Rug
Despite so much choice, choosing the perfect rug is not always easy. Match your personal style with the latest trends in color, pattern and fabric to make your room work for you.


Embracing Color on Your Home

August 17, 2011 8:57 pm

The growing trend of homeowners staying in their existing houses longer due to economic challenges has had a colorful effect on homes. People are taking the opportunity to personalize their homes more with colorful exterior accents and they're not stopping with just a splash of paint.

According to national color expert Kate Smith, homeowners are taking steps to express their personalities by adding color to everything from their roofs to their entry doors to their window frames.

"Today's homeowners are looking beyond variations of whites and beiges to set off the key accent points of their homes, such as louvers, trim and window frames," says Smith, president of Sensational Color. "With the realization that they're going to be staying in their current houses longer comes the commitment by people to truly personalize their homes. This has resulted in eye-catching neighborhoods.

"As homeowners replace major components of their homes, they place greater value on finding products with a long life span, lower maintenance and style. They are seeking out both a noticeable change and an improvement from existing products on the home. The ability to add a creative element, personal touch or signature color tends to 'bond' homeowners even more closely with their living spaces."

According to Smith, one of the hottest trends for exterior enhancements is to select vinyl windows with exterior color frames that complement the overall look of the home. She cites color, energy efficiency, style and low maintenance as being qualities that today's consumers are looking for.

"With their minds on sustainability and their eye on good design, many homeowners are investing in color as a way to express themselves and reinvent their current homes," she says. "A window is like a two-sided canvas. The colors on the frame exteriors enhance the home's overall appearance from the street. When you get inside and select stylish woodgrain frame interiors and premium hardware finishes, you're adding beauty to the room settings. That's a 'win-win' experience for any homeowner."


4 Steps to Discovering a Hobby

August 16, 2011 8:57 pm

By Paige Tepping

There are countless books and websites dedicated to hobbies, but many of us aren’t certain where to begin when we say that we want to choose a hobby. While many people still find enjoyment in participating in activities they took part in throughout their youth, there are those of us who are constantly looking for something new to try. If you’re looking to get involved in a new hobby, the following steps can help you get started.

Step One: Create a list. Write down any hobbies that you may want to take part in. Is that clarinet you played throughout high school sitting in the back of the closet collecting dust? Have you always been interested in painting but could never find the inspiration to get started? Even if you aren’t 100% sure what type of hobby you want to pursue, let the sky be the limit.

Step Two: Think through the pros and cons. Go through your entire list and write down the pros and cons associated with each potential hobby. Be sure to think about what will make it easy/difficult to take up and stick with each hobby you listed. Take the time to really think through each reason you are jotting down and don’t be afraid to write down why you are skeptical about starting a particular hobby. By putting your fears in writing, you may be more apt to work through them and pick a hobby that you never thought you’d enjoy.

Step Three: Do some research. Do some preliminary research and figure out exactly what you’ll need to get started. For instance, if you’re interested in getting started in music, you may need an instrument, lessons, music books, etc. Ask your friends and family if they have any of the items you need lying around—you may be able to take up a new hobby for not a lot of money.

Step Four: Get started. Pick one hobby that you want to focus on and be sure to pick up all the required tools, material, etc. that you need. Keeping a journal or blogging about your experience in starting a new hobby is a great way to hold yourself accountable and keep tabs on your progress.

Fannie Mae Marks First Year of "Know Your Options" with Nearly Half-Million Visits

August 16, 2011 8:57 pm

Over one year ago, Fannie Mae launched, a consumer website to educate distressed homeowners about options that may be available to them, which has welcomed more than 400,000 visitors and more than 1.5 million page views.

" has seen almost half a million visits in the last year, with the most popular pages being our interactive Options Finder and the modification calculator," says Jeff Hayward, senior vice president of Fannie Mae's National Servicing Organization. "These tools are reliable, informative and easy to understand. In addition to our network of Mortgage Help Centers and Mortgage Help Network Partners across the country, Fannie Mae is using the Web to reach struggling homeowners. is an integral part of our effort to prevent foreclosures whenever possible and stabilize neighborhoods."

Key features of include:

• Interactive Options Finder to help homeowners identify options that might be right for their situation;
• Calculators to help borrowers understand how many of the options would apply to them, including refinance, repayment, forbearance and modification;
• Videos featuring real homeowners discussing how they received help and housing counselors providing advice;
• A virtual assistant to walk homeowners through key areas of the site; and
• Next steps and helpful forms, including a financial checklist and contact log to help borrowers be prepared when contacting their mortgage company or housing counselor.

The site features interactive tools presented to homeowners within two categories: options for those who want to stay in their home and options for those who may want to leave. A very popular feature on the site is the award-winning interactive video simulation called WaysHome™. Viewers choose from several role-playing options, and then play the part of a homeowner struggling to make mortgage payments. They make decisions for their character and experience the positive outcomes or negative consequences of those choices. Helpful tips and advice are included along the way. is designed to bring the best information and guidance together in one place so that struggling borrowers can focus on finding solutions that work for their particular circumstances.

For more information, visit

Shopping on Mobile Phones is Becoming More Common for Americans

August 16, 2011 8:57 pm

Marketers attempting to understand consumer habits that influence mobile marketing can get a revealing glimpse into the mindset of the mobile consumer through the newly released 2011 Mobile Consumer Report from Experian Simmons.

According to exclusive research from Experian Simmons, a part of Experian Marketing Services, 29% of cell phone owners today believe their phone will be the primary device for their entertainment needs in the future. The report provides marketers with vivid insights that they need to prepare for the mobile revolution, including how consumers use their phones to manage social connections, consume media, get information, plan shopping trips, interact with mobile advertising and more.

"The explosion in usage of mobile technologies is an industry game-changer, and marketers need reliable insights to better understand this rapidly changing landscape," says Ken Wollenberg, general manager of Experian Simmons. "This report will help them devise plans that are timely, relevant and more effective in driving incremental sales and building brand awareness in the mobile space."

Other findings from the report include:
• More than nine out of 10 adults, seven out of 10 teens and one out of five kids own a mobile phone;
• Fifty-six percent of smartphone owners access the Internet from their phone; 27% watch video;
• Thirty percent of iPhone owners want to make purchases in stores using their phone;
• Twenty percent of social networkers access their account from their phone; and
• Sixteen percent of mobile owners downloaded a mobile app last month.

This report also includes an illuminating profile of five distinct mobile consumer segments developed by Experian Simmons, including a look at each segment's receptivity to traditional and mobile advertising.

To download a copy of the Experian Simmons 2011 Mobile Consumer Report, visit

Massage Therapy: Simple but Effective Relief for Non-Specific Back Pain

August 15, 2011 8:57 pm

The Back Institute cites a recent study from The Annals of Internal Medicine stating that massage therapy is actually more effective and produced better results than more advanced procedures such as the use of painkillers, muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatory drugs.

Chronic neck and back pain is among the most common reasons people seek medical care in the United States, with treatment costs approaching $100 billion annually. That amount is almost double what it was a decade ago. Technology has advanced, giving the back pain industry new tools to work with such as Vax-D and other spinal decompression methods designed to relieve the problem, but despite researchers’ best efforts, the number of back pain sufferers in the country has continued to rise.
The back is composed of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and disks, injury to any one of which can cause back pain. However, the most common causes are strained muscles and ligaments due to improper or heavy lifting, or sudden, awkward movements.

Back pain may also occur as a result of bulging or ruptured discs, arthritis, sciatica, or skeletal irregularities (such as spinal curve, Scoliosis), or osteoporosis (compression fractures of your spine’s vertebrae, the result, of bones becoming porous and brittle).

Oddly enough, in spite of all the advances in technology and procedure, one of the most effective cures for back pain is quite simple, the age old technique known as massage therapy.

The Annals of Internal Medicine group study involved 400 adults in their mid-40s who experienced chronic and moderately severe low back pain. The subjects were randomly chosen to receive either their usual care or a one-hour massage once a week for ten weeks. Massages were either the more traditional type, or specialized procedures targeting specific regions and releasing tension in specific tissues and joints. At the end of the study, the ones who received the massage therapy showed marked improvement over those who had received more traditional care.

Massage recipients reported a decrease in their level of back pain, with a greater ability to go about their normal routines, spending less time in bed and missing fewer work days. The balance to the argument was that after a year, there was virtually no difference between the massage groups and the usual care groups, indicating that traditional methods of back pain treatment still had their place.

The benefits of back pain treatment include:

Improved movement in the neck, shoulders, back and torso;
Improvement in posture;
Provide relief from headaches, neck and back pain;
Prevention of work-related muscle and joint injuries
Enhanced athletic performance;
Improvement of flexibility and range of motion;
Relief of pregnancy-related back ache; and
Correction of gait and foot problems.

For more information, visit

12 Steps for Household Mold Removal

August 15, 2011 8:57 pm

Elevated levels of indoor household mold growth are very unhealthy for both homeowners and renters. Here are 12 steps for safe and effective, do-it-yourself household mold removal in houses, condominiums and apartments.

1. Locate, fix and prevent all sources of mold growing water problems, such as severe winter-caused roof ice dams and broken, frozen water pipes, plus leaky roofs or siding, recurring flooding, plumbing leaks, air conditioning condensation, and high humidity (e.g., above 70%), especially for homes in communities near the ocean, a lake, or a large river.

2. Find all visible mold growth by thorough, visual mold inspection. Use a strong flashlight and your sense of smell to help locate mold growth.

3. Inspect for hidden mold growth inside, above, below, and next to water-damaged ceilings, walls, and floors, as well as inside heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and air ducts. Cut one inch by one inch or bigger core dry wall samples. Remove and look in the middle and back of each core for visible mold growth. Then, use a flashlight to look inside each hole for mold growth.

4. Use do-it-yourself mold test kits to test room air and the outward air flow from each HVAC air duct register and all window air conditioners for the possible presence of elevated levels of airborne mold spores. If there are serious mold problems anywhere in a home, airborne mold spores from those mold infestations will enter into the HVAC to cross contaminate both the HVAC and the entire house through the air duct registers.

5. When doing mold inspection, testing and removal, wear proper personal protection including at least: (a) N-95 breathing mask; (b) disposable vinyl gloves; (c) eye goggles with no air holes; (d) head covering; and (e) washable or paper disposable coveralls. These items are readily available at large paint, hardware, and home improvement stores.

6. Contain the mold work area to keep airborne mold spores from cross-contaminating the rest of the house. Tape or staple wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, clear plastic sheeting as mold containment walls, with a lift-up plastic sheeting flap door for easy entry and exit.

7. Dry the work area (especially if still wet from flooding or a now-fixed plumbing or roof leak) with one or more dehumidifiers and/or large fans located right in front of open windows to dry the area and to exhaust dangerous airborne mold spores to the outdoors.

8. Remove visible mold growth by scrubbing it off with a hard bristle brush or wire brush dripping with boric acid powder (mix two cups per gallon of warm water). You can also use a wire brush attachment for an electric drill, hand sander, electric sander, hand-held planer and power planer to remove mold growth from building materials.

9. If you cannot remove all of the mold growth to a visibly mold-free condition, then remove, discard and replace the moldy building materials.

10. Don’t use chlorine bleach because it is not an effective or long-lasting killer of toxic mold growth and mold spores on and inside porous, cellulose building materials such as wood timbers, drywall, plasterboard, particleboard, plywood, plywood substitutes, ceiling tiles, and carpeting/padding. In addition, bleach treatment does not prevent future mold growth.

11. If you have mold growth inside your HVAC system, first have your equipment and air ducts professionally cleaned, and then use a fogging machine to fog boric acid powder (two cups per gallon of warm water) for one hour into the fresh air entry duct of your HVAC to kill any remaining mold and to coat the insides of your equipment and ducts with mold-preventative boric acid crystals (left inside after natural drying). Do this procedure while the system is running on fan ventilation (no heating or cooling) to deliver substantial amounts of boric acid powder throughout the HVAC.

12. During the mold removal process, the residents should move temporarily to a mold-safe place until the successful completion of the mold remediation project and until clearance mold testing documents that it is safe to return.