Consumer Real Estate News


    • Weathering the Storm: 5 Tips for Disaster Preparation

      26 November 2021

      (Family Features) Over the past year, homeowners from coast to coast have experienced tussles with Mother Nature from arctic storms and heat waves to powerful hurricanes. Not only can storms wreak havoc on homes, they damage the fragile electric grid, which may result in power outages that can sometimes leave families in the dark for days or weeks.

      While no amount of preparation can stop the forces of nature, planning ahead to manage blackouts can have a significant impact on you and your family. Get your home ready for what lies ahead with these tips from the Propane Education & Research Council and Anthony Carrino, a home designer, developer and contractor with more than 20 years of experience in the industry.

      Outdoor Maintenance
      You may not realize it, but chores like cleaning the gutters and keeping your vegetation trimmed can actually make a big difference in the event of a major storm. If your gutters are full of debris, water rushing from your roof has no place to go, and that could mean major damage to your roof, siding and even foundation.

      Falling branches and trees can create a great deal of damage not only on your home but also to surrounding powerlines, which can easily break, so it’s a good idea to monitor closely for branches that could be affected by high winds and promptly remove dead trees that are especially risky in inclement weather.

      If there’s time, you should also secure any outdoor furniture or belongings that could blow away or get damaged in the storm. If you have them, secure the storm shutters. It’s also a good idea to evaluate your yard’s grading at least once a year to be sure the ground slopes away from the house to keep water from pooling against your foundation.

      Standby Power
      Major weather events are often accompanied by extended power outages. Homeowners may turn to portable generators to turn the lights back on after the storm has passed. However, they are difficult to find and can only power a small portion of a family’s home.

      Unlike a portable generator, which can power only a few appliances in a home, a propane-powered standby generator or backup generator can be a total home solution, depending on the size of the unit. When a homeowner purchases a backup generator, a licensed technician installs the unit outside of the home and wires it to the home’s electrical system. When a power outage occurs, the generator automatically senses the disruption of service and starts the generator’s engine, which then delivers power to select appliances in the home.

      Propane-powered standby generators can supply supplemental electricity in as little as 10 seconds after an outage. They are available in a variety of capacities to fit the needs of any size home and can power several major appliances, including furnaces, boilers, water heaters, cooking equipment, fireplaces and clothes dryers.

      For homes that already run on propane, consider running important systems and appliances like the furnace, water heater, stove and fireplace on propane so they’ll continue to run even during a power outage. The more appliances that run on propane, the smaller and less expensive your standby generator can be. Plus, propane is environmentally friendly and won’t degrade over time like some other fuel sources, ensuring the backup generator reliably powers your home to give you added peace of mind.

      Home Systems
      If your home is struck by a major storm, you may need to manually turn off the power, gas or water to prevent a life-threatening situation or further damage. Refresh your memory regularly on where the shut-off valves are located. If your home has a propane tank, open the lid of the tank to reveal the shut-off valve then turn it to the right to shut off the propane. If there are multiple tanks, turn them all off the same way. If possible, be certain at least two members of the family are able to perform a safe shut-off just in case someone is injured or unable to access the shut-off site. If you turn off the propane, make sure a qualified technician from your propane supplier turns the gas back on and performs a leak check. Ensuring there isn’t an issue is another step to safeguard your family after a disruption of service.

      Insurance Coverage
      When your home is in the path of a major storm, insurance is an important way to protect your investment. Reviewing your insurance coverage at least annually, if not every six months, can help you stay well-informed about possible exclusions and ensure you have the opportunity to increase your limits if you’ve made improvements or values have grown in your area.

      An important aspect of good coverage is a thorough inventory of your possessions that details what you own and could potentially lose in a major storm. Including details like purchase price and condition may help smooth the way if you have to file a claim.

      Emergency Kit
      Storms can blow in fast, so having some emergency equipment you can grab in a hurry may help ease your storm response. Include flashlights, a battery-powered radio, cellphone charger and cash. You should also include first aid supplies, essential medications for everyone in the family, some nonperishable food and an adequate supply of water. Also include clothing and toiletry items, as well as supplies to care for your pets. It’s also a good idea to have copies of important records like your insurance policy, an emergency contact list and any other personal documents you may need.

      By planning ahead with an emergency kit, propane-powered generator and other steps, you can put your family and home in a better position to ride it out as safely and comfortably as possible – giving you peace of mind during and after the weather-related event.

      Find more ideas to help get your home storm-ready at Propane.com/Generators.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • Tips on Tipping as Consumer Prices Rise

      26 November 2021

      These days, as supply chain and staffing issues continue, as well as costs associated with the rapid reopening of the country’s economy, consumers everywhere are dismayed to see prices soaring in just about every sector of the market, including personal services.

      So, if your hairdresser, massage therapist or your favorite coffee hangout is charging more for their services, does your tip need to increase incrementally? 

      The answer, according to consumer advisors and even consumers is, yes. While you are always free to adjust the amount of your tip depending on the quality of the service received, certain criteria still set the bar for customary tipping—and that means your tip will increase as prices rise.

      For reference, here are some typical tipping percentages expected in today’s world.

      • Restaurants - 15 to 20% of the bill is still the norm for average service by your wait person, including those of a sommelier. The average tip for a bartender is $1 per alcoholic drink. 
      • Barber/Hairdresser - It is advisable to tip 15 to 20% of the bill, even if your hairdresser is the owner of the shop.
      • Spa Services or Manicure - A 15 to 20% tip is expected in most cases, but in the case of spa services, no tip is expected if the service is provided by the owner.
      • Food Delivery - Tip 10% of the bill, more if the delivery was complex or difficult in some way. For pizza delivery, $2 per pizza is acceptable.
      • Drivers - A taxi driver should be tipped about 15%, a bit more if they provide heavy baggage handling. For ride-hailing services, like Uber or Lyft, the basic rule is to tip about 20%. For short trips, a good rule of thumb is to tip between $2 and $4.
      Tips are always optional in coffee shops or take-out places where there is a tip jar on the counter, but it’s nice to reward the barista or server who regularly makes your morning coffee stop more pleasant.

      There is no need to tip a handyman who provides a single service, but gardeners or others who provide regular service should be tipped $20 to $50 once a year. For newspaper delivery people, think $10 to $20 at holiday time, perhaps more if they provide daily porch delivery.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • How to Sell a Home During the Holiday Season

      26 November 2021

      If you decide you’re ready to sell your home and the calendar is flipping to December, there are some who believe you’re better off waiting until after the holidays to list it, with the rationale that people are too busy shopping and preparing for family celebrations to worry about looking for a home.

      But others argue that the time between Turkey Day and New Year’s actually makes perfect sense to list a property because there’s less competition on the market, more people take time off so there’s more time to house hunt and friends and family of your neighbors—who may be thinking about moving—could be visiting and want to live nearby their loved ones.

      Plus, if people are making appointments to see your home during this time, odds are they are pretty serious and not just out for some prospecting, as people in the summer are known to do.

      Those who decide to wait, and put their house up for sale in January, may find that others have done the same thing and that could create competition and cause prices to fall. That could put a damper on any holiday season.

      One downside for listing a home during the holidays is that it is a bustling time of year and between getting ready for parties and wrapping gifts, having your house in “showing” shape could be more difficult than at other times of the year.

      On the “bright” side, your home will be decorated with beautiful lights and festive decorations, creating an elegance that could attract buyers.

      For homes that have lingered on the market for some time, removing it for the six weeks or so that the holiday season encompasses will allow the house to go back as a new listing in January, thereby drawing more traffic because it’s fresh. But of course, you risk losing that potential buyer who may have been looking in December.

      And don’t forget, people are generally in a happier mood during the holiday season and might be more inclined to see all the positives in a home instead of focusing in on any negatives.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • Managing Cold and Flu Season

      25 November 2021

      (Family Features) As temperatures drop, the risk of illness – including cold and flu – rises. It can be easy to mistake the flu for a common cold since many of the symptoms are the same, but muscle aches, cough, fever, headaches and sore throat are some of the more common signs you may be suffering from the flu, which tends to come on quicker than a cold.

      In fact, a random, double-opt-in OnePoll survey of 2,005 Americans commissioned by Mucinex found sore throat pain to be one of the top three most debilitating symptoms along with fever and migraine.

      While there’s no way to ensure you and your family members won’t get sick, there are steps you can take to reduce the chances.

      Get a Flu Shot
      The flu spreads differently than colds and can be transmitted before symptoms even arise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all people older than 6 months of age get the influenza vaccine, or flu shot, annually to help protect against the strains of flu expected to be the most common during the current flu season. The injection, which does not contain a live virus, goes into the arm muscle to generate antibodies that protect against future flu infection about two weeks after receiving the vaccine.

      Practice Self-Care
      While important year-round, maintaining regular self-care practices can go a long way toward maintaining your health during cold and flu season. Eating a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins can help strengthen your immune system, as can working out moderately each day. Regular exercise also helps reduce inflammation. In addition, proper hydration can help maintain many important body functions, and getting the National Sleep Foundation-recommended 7-9 hours of sleep can help keep antibodies strong and build a defense against illnesses.

      Prepare for Symptoms
      As one of the common symptoms of the flu, sore throat pain can flip your life upside down with the constant nagging, disruptive pain and irritation. However, 55% of those surveyed said they were likely to “power through” a sore throat and continue working, going to school and completing other tasks while dealing with sore throat pain. To make powering through easier, the Mucinex InstaSoothe line includes lozenges and sprays designed to numb, soothe and relieve sore throat pain.

      “What separates these lozenges from others is they’re clinically proven to numb sore throat pain fast,” said Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, otolaryngology, and head and neck (ENT) surgeon. “Both lozenge varieties contain Hexylresorcinol, a local anesthetic for topical use on the mucous membranes of the throat and mouth. As a lozenge dissolves in the mouth, it starts to deliver a local ‘numbing’ anesthetic effect directly to the throat within seconds, lasting up to two hours. For those needing relief from a sore throat and cough, the Mucinex InstaSoothe Sore Throat + Cough Relief Lozenges also contain the active ingredient Dextromethorphan HBr to provide cough suppression.”

      Stock Your Medicine Cabinet
      Be ready before cold and flu hit your household. Take inventory of your medicine cabinet, get rid of any expired medicines and make note of any you need to replace and replenish. Make sure you have pain relievers, fever reducers, decongestants, antihistamines and cough syrups that can be used to help fight cold and flu symptoms. In addition, think about other supplies you may need to have on hand such as tissues, cough drops, hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial soap, a thermometer and a humidifier.

      Disinfect Household Surfaces
      Cold and flu viruses can live outside the human body on hard, non-porous surfaces such as metal, plastic and wood for hours, and sometimes even days. Regularly cleaning often-touched household surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, remote controls, faucet handles and countertops with a disinfectant spray or wipe can help kill germs that cause the viruses. Look for Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectants containing bleach, alcohol, pine oil, sodium hypochlorite, citric acid, hydrogen peroxide or quaternary ammonium compounds for best results.

      Remember Healthy Habits
      One of the easiest ways to help avoid getting sick is to practice proper hygiene. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible, as these are areas where cold and flu germs can most easily gain entry into your system. Remember to cough and sneeze into a tissue or into your elbow if a tissue is not readily available. Frequently wash your hands with warm water and anti-bacterial soap for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom, before eating and after touching surfaces in public places. A good rule of thumb is to sing “Happy Birthday” twice to judge the time. Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also suffice when a sink isn’t within close proximity. Also avoid sharing items like utensils and cups, even with family members, to help avoid spreading germs.

      Have a Plan for Sick Days
      During cold and flu season, you or one of your family members may become ill and need to miss work or school. If you typically work in an office space, check to see if working remotely is possible and verify your office’s policies about sick time. Saving sick time or a couple vacation days for the season can help avoid having to take unpaid time off if you need to stay home for any reason. Also consider enlisting the help of friends or relatives to help with sick children in the event you’re unable to take time off from work, and coordinate with your children’s teachers to ensure your little ones receive any schoolwork they may have missed while home sick.

      Find more self-care remedies and tips for managing cold and flu season at Mucinex.com.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.

    • Saving for a House No Matter How Much Your Earn

      25 November 2021

      Saving money to buy a home remains a big part of the American Dream. In fact, 84% of Americans said buying a home is a priority, up significantly from 75% in 2018, according to the latest NerdWallet Home Buyer Report.

      But with home prices steadily rising, some younger Americans fear they will never get ahead of the game when it comes to saving enough to buy.

      Financial advisors offer these suggestions to help put the dream within reach no matter how much you earn.
       

      • Improve Your Credit Score - The better your credit, the less you pay in mortgage interest. According to FICO, if you have a credit score between 620-639 and buy a $374,900 home on a 30-year mortgage, you could pay $282,893 in total interest. The same mortgage with a 760-850 credit score could reduce the interest to $164,213—a savings of $118,680 in interest over the life of your loan. You can build credit by putting small amounts on your credit card and paying them off monthly. You can improve credit by paying down high balances and by disputing misinformation.
      • Check Out Available Assistance Programs - Putting 20% down on a home is not the rule. FHA loans offer lower down payments for first-time homebuyers. Active-duty service people and veterans are entitled to special options. Some states offer reduced down payments and down payment assistance for Emergency Medical Service providers, police officers and healthcare professionals, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides special loan programs in eligible rural areas. Search out other available homebuyer assistance programs in your state and/or at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
      • Know How Much You Can Afford - A good rule is to plan on paying about 30% of your income on combined mortgage and maintenance costs. Test drive your ability to manage this by setting that amount of money aside for a few months to see if it's doable. If the cost is equal to or less than your current monthly rent, you should be able to move forward. 
      • Save Diligently - Start by slashing your spend. Keep a record of everything you spent money on in the last 30 days. Then go line by line to see where you can reasonably cut back—and you can’t spend money you don’t see. Use automatic deposits to move money from your paycheck directly into savings. 

      Published with permission from RISMedia.