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

How to Safely Slow Cook

February 6, 2018 12:51 am

For those of us who live a busy life and still need to nourish ourselves and our families, slow cookers can be a huge help. Simply load up your cooker before work, set the timer, and go. However, according to the National Fire Protection Association, the popular kitchen appliance causes an average of 150 home structure fires per year. Erie Insurance offers these slow cooker tips for a safe slow-cooked meal.

Not everything is better with age. If you're just starting out and you've been "gifted" your mom's (or grandma's) old slow cooker, there's something to consider: age. While it might be in great working order, a vintage slow cooker from the '70s or '80s with an insert firmly attached to the heating element might need to be upgraded. Some older models also had vent holes or a notch in the lid for a spoon. Slow cooker lids should fit snugly. If it’s warped or has one of the above-mentioned features, steam and heat will escape.

Make the connection. It's important to regularly check the slow cooker's electrical cord. If there's any sign of wear or tear, it's time to buy a new one. Using a slow cooker with a broken plug or wire is a fire hazard.

Location, location, location. It's important to keep the slow cooker away from the edge of countertops, and this includes not having the cord dangle off the edge. The closer it is to the edge, the easier it is for a person (or pet) to bump it or knock it over.

Tips to simmer over. If you're curious to see if your slow cooker is in working order, you can do a simple water test. Older slow cookers may not work as well as they once did, and for temperature and food safety purposes, the water test (see below) will help you decide if you should keep it or toss it.

Fill the slow cooker 2/3 full with tap water (tepid water) and set it on the low setting. After eight hours, use a thermometer to check the water's temperature, which should be at least 185 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Every slow cooker is different, with varying specifications by make and model. Follow the manufacturer's directions and take heed of anything suspicious or concerning.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you pull out your slow cooker or any other small kitchen appliances.

Source: Erie Insurance  

Published with permission from RISMedia.


10 Tips for Making Healthier Choices, Year-Round

February 2, 2018 12:51 am

Many of us begin making healthier choices when a new year rolls around, but as February gets underway, these good intentions can often fall by the wayside. To help combat this, Giant's team of 11 nutritionists came together to share their 10 best tips for extending New Year's resolutions.

1. Find your motivation. Share your motivations with a close and trusted friend, coworker, or relative. They can cheer you on and remind you why you are pursuing change.

2. Make it fun. When it comes to fitness, find something you enjoy doing. Whether it's long walks, barre classes, martial arts, peaceful yoga or pick-up sports games, you're more likely to stick with it if you're having fun! Bored of the same routine? Try a new fitness class or meet with a staff member at your local gym or community center.

3. Amp up your hydration. This one is often overlooked, but it's key to overall health. Add an extra eight ounces of water to your day. More fluids will help you stay hydrated, and those extra walks to the restroom will increase your activity.

4. Try something new. Make 2018 the year of variety and trying new things. Start out by trying a new fruit or veggie each week before moving onto other food categories like grains or healthy oils.  

5. Load up on fruits and veggies. This rule is timeless for a reason. Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and/or vegetables at each meal or snack. If you're indulging with a few bites of a less healthy item or snack, you'll still have a half healthy plate.

6. Find a buddy. It's no secret that working toward and achieving goals is more fun with friends. Plus, when you share a similar objective, you can keep each other up-to-date on your progress and encourage one another along the way.

7. Get cooking. Work on easing yourself into a healthier routine by testing out one new recipe each week. Swap recipe ideas with family and friends to stay motivated. This is also a great way to incorporate tip four as you work to create recipes using one new ingredient each week.

8. Keep yourself accountable. Make a list of the top three reasons why you want to improve your health and stick it on the refrigerator or another space you see every day.  This constant visual will reinforce your new healthy habits.

9. Shop smart. Fill your shopping cart according to MyPlate recommendations. You can't eat half a plate of fruits and veggies at every meal if you don't buy half a grocery cart of fruits and veggies.  

10. Plan for the unexpected. Pack a tote of nutritious snacks when on the go–nuts, seeds, fruit, veggies–so that you won't reach for less healthy snack foods. This is great for day trips with the family or even just a busy day of errands. You'll be glad you didn't need to rely on that soft pretzel at the mall. You can also keep a small bag of nutritious snacks at the office or in your car.

Remember to keep your goals realistic. It's not necessary to attempt all of these tips at once, so pick one or two that seem manageable for you.Source:  Giant Food of Landover, Md.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Prevent a Fire in Your Home

February 2, 2018 12:51 am

Whether you're a lover of candles or toasty fires in the fireplace, watching flames flicker from the comfort of your own home can be lovely. However, home fires are the leading cause of home damage, so keep the following safety measures in mind, courtesy of American Red Cross.

- Keep all potential sources of fuel–paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs–at least three feet away from sources of heat.
- Never leave portable heaters and fireplaces unattended.
- Place space heaters on a level, hard and nonflammable surface. Keep children and pets away from space heaters. Look for space heaters that shut off automatically if they are to fall over.
- Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
-  Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen.

Source: American Red Cross

Published with permission from RISMedia.


4 Things to Do on Groundhog Day

February 1, 2018 12:48 am

Groundhog Day is nearing, and regardless of whether we get a few more weeks of winter or a splash of spring, below are a handful of ways to celebrate the peculiar tradition, with or without kids.

Learn about groundhogs. If you have kids—or if you're just curious—use Groundhog Day to dive deep into the internet or your local library and learn all about groundhogs. From nature documentaries about woodchucks to articles about the history of the day, bolster your brain with knowledge about this strange tradition and the animal that started it all.

Craft. From groundhog masks to finger painting, groundhog-themed crafts are endless if you're creative. Have kids? Make a few groundhog masks with construction paper, googly eyes and pipe cleaners, then take your troop outside to search for shadows.

Binge watch. If you're not a parent or a teacher and are looking to celebrate Groundhog Day with some good adult fun, create a cocktail bar or a selection of snacks, invite your pals over and have a party with 1993 Bill Murray classic “Groundhog Day” on repeat in the background.   

Plant a tree. Groundhog Day is all about that search for spring, right? If your ground isn't frozen, consider using Groundhog Day to plant bare-rooted or root wrapped deciduous trees and shrubs.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Winter Heating Safety From Sports to Space Heaters

February 1, 2018 12:48 am

Although chilly, winter can be a magical season full of cuddling by fires and flying down ski slopes. However, winter also brings many Americans to the emergency room annually. Read the following tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for navigating the winter weather safely.

Space Heaters – Give Them Space

- Keep flammable materials, including curtains and bedding, at least 3 feet away from space heaters.
- Place the heater on a stable, level surface. Make sure it will not be knocked over.
- Never power the heater with an extension cord or power strip. Do not leave the heater on while you are not there or while you are sleeping.
- Have working smoke alarms on every floor and in every bedroom. The early warning provided by smoke alarms can save your life.

Snow Blower Hazards – Clear Snow Safely

- Most snow blower injuries occur when consumers try to clear snow from the discharge chute.
- First, stop the engine. Use a long stick, NOT your hands, to unclog wet snow and debris from the  machine.
- NEVER leave the machine running in an enclosed area. The exhaust contains poisonous carbon monoxide which can kill in minutes.
- Finally, don't add gasoline to a running or hot engine, and always keep the gasoline can capped correctly.

Carbon Monoxide – The Invisible Killer

- Use portable generators outside your home and place them at least 20 feet away. Never use a generator inside a home, basement, shed or garage. The exhaust from portable generators contains poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) which can kill in minutes.
- Have your heating system inspected and serviced by a qualified technician every year, including furnaces and chimneys.
- Never leave a car running in a garage even with the garage door open.
- Most generator-related deaths from CO poisoning occur during the cold months. Have working CO alarms on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas.

Winter Sports Safety – Helmets Make a Difference

- Helmets aren't just for kids—they're for adults, too.
- Wearing a properly fitted helmet can reduce the risk of a head injury.
- Choose a certified helmet that is designed for the particular activity you're involved in, e.g., bicycling, snowboarding, or snowmobiling.

Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Hitting the Slopes? Here's Where to Go, and When

February 1, 2018 12:48 am

Are you a ski lover? As winter sports enthusiasts and beginners alike hit the slopes this season, Expedia plowed through travel data to determine the optimal month to save on hotel bookings in and around some of the world's most coveted snow destinations. From Colorado to the iconic Swiss Alps, to some lesser-known ski resorts in New Zealand and South Africa. Judging by the data, travelers have plenty of options to consider for their midwinter escape.

- Alta, Utah: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Snowbird, Utah: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Breckenridge, Colo.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Jackson Hole, Wy.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Zermatt, Switzerland: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Banff, Canada: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Gulmarg, India: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Livigno, Italy: cheapest average daily rates can be found in January
- Aspen, Colo.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in February
- Keystone, Colo.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in February
- Lake Tahoe, Calif.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March
- Vail, Colo.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March
- Park City, Utah: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March
- Mammoth Lakes, Calif.: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March
- Whistler, Canada: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March   
- Mayrhofen, Austria: cheapest average daily rates can be found in March
- Tiffindell, South Africa: cheapest average daily rates can be found in July
- Queenstown, New Zealand: cheapest average daily rates can be found in September


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Wood Flooring Trends to Watch

January 30, 2018 12:42 am

When it comes to trends in flooring for the year ahead, what’s old will be new as vintage and retro looks take center stage in the hardwood flooring arena, according to SMART Carpet and Flooring. Here are their top five hardwood trends to watch:

Wide plank hardwood floors. Featuring planks that are five or even seven inches wide, this look works well with both modern and rustic decor. Added perk? Wide planks make any space look larger.

Gray wood floors. While this is not a brand new look, its execution will be a bit different this year. While 2017 saw a trend toward warmer grays and "greige" (a combination of gray and beige), 2018 will usher in cooler tones.

Distressed wood floors. Whether eco-friendly reclaimed wood or budget-friendly, wood-look vinyl plank, distressed wood is one of the hottest new flooring trends. Incorporate distressed wood flooring - particularly the cooler gray tones mentioned above - to instantly put your home in style this year.

Varied-width wood plank floors. A trend that began gaining interest at the end of 2017, it’s expected to pick up steam in the year ahead. Reminiscent of historic homes, mixed-width wood flooring, which allows you to choose any combination of widths for a given room, creates a one-of-a-kind look driven by your personal aesthetic.

Parquet floors. The vintage, mid-century chevron flooring look is back in style, however, it now incorporates contemporary trends, such as cool gray flooring, distressed wood, or even wide planks for a modern take on parquet.

Source: SMART Carpet and Flooring

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Room-by-Room Renovations

January 30, 2018 12:42 am

(Family Features)--If your favorite room is outdated and dingy, a renovation may be all you need to make the old feel new and to fall in love with your home all over again.

Upgrading your home can be a big job, and unless it's part of a pre move-in plan, few homeowners find it practical (or even possible, from a budget standpoint) to execute a large-scale project. However, tackling the updates one room at a time and focusing on small changes that bring big returns can put those overdue enhancements well within reach.

It's the heart of the home, and it's where many homeowners sink big money to make upgrades. Kitchen renovations don't have to require a second mortgage though. Re-facing rather than replacing cabinetry can bring about a whole new look for a whole lot less money. This is a good option when the existing cabinets are still in good working condition and you're just looking for an aesthetic change. Other small-scale options, include swapping out the countertop and sink, changing the lighting fixtures and updating tired floors with contemporary wood or tile.

When plumbing is involved, project costs can skyrocket, but there are some relatively simple ways you can give your bathroom a facelift on a modest budget. For starters, swap out all the fixtures from lighting to faucets. A new vanity is another instant upgrade, whether you opt for an updated version of the original or select a whole new style for a completely fresh look.

Also consider upgrades that can increase natural light and fresh air without compromising privacy, such as the addition of skylights to your ceiling, or "fifth wall," which can completely change the lighting dynamic of the room. In addition to balanced, natural light, skylights can open to help refresh your space and keep it odor- and moisture-free.

For extra style and light control, consider complementing the room's decor with skylights featuring colored blinds, which are available in more than 100 colors and styles, and also offer remote control operation for convenience in raising and lowering the blinds and opening skylights to let in fresh air.  

Living Room
A common space where the family gathers is likely to sustain the greatest wear and tear, and because you spend so much time there, it's also a room where you're likely to find a list of things that irk you. Creating a new color scheme is a simple fix that transforms the space, but changing the palette of the walls is just the beginning. Also consider taking your redesign to the ceiling with vibrant colors, creative wallpapers or even exposed beams. Round out the room by swapping out lamp shades, adding vibrant throw pillows, replacing old curtains or blinds, or tying the color scheme together with a new area rug.

In your private sanctuary, all the typical options for updates apply for sure. However, this is a space where the furnishings can be an especially impactful way to influence the ambiance, especially if a construction project in the room where you sleep is impractical. Changing out the style of the bed frame and complementary pieces creates a whole new vibe for the room. Then bring in a new collection of textiles for the bedding and drapery to help round out the pseudo-renovation.

Laundry Room
If you're looking for modest ways to update your home, be sure to consider spaces like the laundry room. Although you likely use this space less frequently than common spaces like the living room or kitchen, plenty of essential activity happens in the laundry area. Practical features like added storage space, cheerful color on the walls and easy-to-clean flooring can all make this room's tedious tasks more enjoyable.

Which Skylight is Right?
Skylights can serve multiple functions, both aesthetic and practical. Understanding the different types of skylights can help you choose the right fit for your home.

Fresh Air
Solar-powered skylights rely on the sun's energy to open and bring both air and natural light into your home. Some models, such as those offered by Velux, feature a rain sensor that automatically closes the skylight at the first sign of precipitation. They're also easy to operate with a touch-screen remote control.

Electric skylights are wired into your home electrical system and open and close via a radio frequency, touch-screen remote control.

Manual skylights open with a hand lever; a control rod is generally available for out-of-reach installations.

An economical choice for visually expanding areas such as hallways, stairwells and other closed-in, dark spaces, these static skylights are intended to fill a room with natural light.

Energy Performance
Adding a solar blind to a skylight results in more savings via potential tax credits as well as reduced energy usage. The blind functions to block heat penetration when closed, but during cooler weather it can stay open to allow warm, sunny rays to supplement the home's climate control system.

Source: Velux

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top 5 Cities for Aspiring Millennial Homeowners

January 30, 2018 12:42 am

Are you a millennial dreaming of owning your own home? You're far from alone. Becoming a homeowner is high on the list for many millennials, and a new study from GoBankingRates broke down the best spots to buy.
To determine the best cities for millennial home buyers, GOBankingRates analyzed the top 50 metro areas in the U.S. based on the following factors:

- Unemployment rate, sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
- The percentage of millennials who own homes, sourced from Adobo
- The average millennial home value, sourced from Adobo
- Mortgage affordability, sourced from Zillow

The outcome? Turns out, more than 40 percent of millennials in Minneapolis, St. Louis and Detroit are homeowners. Despite relatively high home prices and mortgages in Nashville, the city ranks No. 3 on the list due to its thriving job market. Pittsburgh has the most affordable mortgages of any city included in this study. The city also boasts a high percentage of millennial homeowners, with 37.5 percent owning their living spaces.

Below are the 5 hottest home owning spots for millennials.

1. Minneapolis
- Percentage of millennial homeowners: 42.4 percent
- Average millennial home value: $222,528
- Unemployment rate: 2.3 percent

2. St. Louis
- Percentage of millennial homeowners: 40.2 percent
- Average millennial home value: $167,791
- Unemployment rate: 2.7 percent

3. Nashville
- Percentage of millennial homeowners: 37 percent
- Average millennial home value: $213,090
- Unemployment rate: 2.3 percent

4. Indianapolis
- Percentage of millennial homeowners: 37.4 percent
- Average millennial home value: $161,856
- Unemployment rate: 3.2 percent

5. Kansas City, Mo.
- Percentage of millennial homeowners: 37.1 percent
- Average millennial home value: $170,254
- Unemployment rate: 3.2 percent

Source: GOBankingRates

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Home Buying: 5 Steps for Beginners

January 29, 2018 12:42 am

Venturing out to search for your first home is one of the most exciting times of your life! Unfortunately, it is also one of the most daunting. Between a lexicon of new terms and an onslaught of online information, the process of shopping for a home is understandably overwhelming for first-timers. First, take a deep breath. Then follow these steps and you’ll be on the path to finding your first home in no time:

1. Start searching for a real estate professional. You’ll need a well-informed, trusted guide throughout this process so start looking for a real estate agent to work with. Ask friends and family members for recommendations then do your research online to evaluate any individuals and conduct in-person interviews as well. Be sure to speak with at least three agents before choosing someone to work with.

2. Figure out what you can afford. Before you start looking at neighborhoods and homes, determine what you can comfortably afford... the key word being “comfortable.” There are many unexpected expenses that arise when you’re a homeowner, so don’t stretch yourself too thin. Determine how much you can afford for a downpayment, then use an online mortgage calculator to see what your monthly payments might be for various-priced homes. Once you’ve arrived at your budget, stick with it.

3. Pick your neighborhoods. Choose your location before you start looking at homes, as where you live will ultimately be more important - both in terms of your day-to-day happiness and your investment - than the home itself. You may have to compromise a bit on location depending on the home you can afford. Your real estate agent can help advise you here.

4. Choose your musts. When thinking about the home you’d like to buy, take an honest look at needs vs. wants. Sure, there are a lot of things we’d love to have in our dream home, but figure out what are the nice-to-haves vs. the must-haves.

5. Search online. Once you’ve got your price range, your neighborhoods, and your must-haves down, start your search online to narrow down your options. Your real estate agent may also know of some homes that fit the bill right off the bat. This will mean fewer homes to visit in person and hopefully, lead to a quicker selection.

Above all, be open minded, flexible and patient in the home-search process. Your opinions and priorities may change as you learn more, and despite the best planning, curve balls happen. The journey will be well worth it, however, once you’re happily settled as a new homeowner.

Published with permission from RISMedia.