REMAX 440/Central Blog

Hiring a Contractor? Do This First

March 23, 2018 12:57 am

Nothing is more exciting than embarking on a home renovation project! Hire the wrong contractor, however, and your dream remodel can quickly turn into a nightmare.

That’s why it’s essential to do your due diligence when hiring a contractor, such as getting multiple estimates before signing a contract. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), when you get multiple bids, you can learn a great deal about the proposed project, such as what type of work is needed, the quality of the building materials, how long the job may take and the total cost.

The BBB offers these other tips to help find the best, most ethical contractor to work with and ensure a successful home renovation:

- First, check - BBB’s business profiles can tell you how long the contractor has been in business, as well as provide contact information, verified customer reviews, complaint details and how the business responded.

- Be wary of ‘today-only’ sales pitches - This is a sales tactic designed to get you to sign a contract or put down a deposit, without giving you the opportunity to do your research. Watch out for these and other ‘bargains’ that rush you into a deal.

- Get references from recent customers - Speak with other property owners who had work done recently, and ask what they did or did not like about a particular contractor. A reputable contractor will be happy to provide client references.

- Get everything in writing - Make sure all verbal promises end up in the written contract as well as a detailed description of the work, the cost of materials and start and completion dates. Contracts also should include specifics about the deposit and payment schedule and guarantees for the quality of work and materials.

- The contract should specify required permits - Renovation work often requires permits from the town or municipality. If you’re contractor suggests going without permits, it might be a sign they have a poor reputation at city hall.

- Compare apples to apples – Choosing a prospective contractor is simpler if you ask for quotes based on the number of hours needed and the same quality of materials.

- Avoid putting down a large deposit - A typical payment schedule should follow the “rule of thirds.” The first payment is given when signing the contract and helps pay for materials, the second payment when work begins, and the final payment when the job is finished and you are satisfied with the quality of work. Ask the builder to walk you through the work to explain what has been done.

By sticking to the above steps, you’ll head into your renovation with peace of mind, knowing you’ve done your homework and taken the necessary steps to select the best possible contractor.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Home Safety Tips to Protect Tots

March 23, 2018 12:57 am

When your child first finds their legs, the home can become a playground - and sometimes, it can become a hazardous one.

The Up and Away campaign urges families to follow these five tips to keep their children safe and healthy:

Clean surfaces. Disinfect surfaces and objects that are touched often, like countertops, doorknobs, keyboards, faucet handles, phones and toys.

Store safely. When you're done cleaning and reorganizing, store everything you wouldn't want your kids to get into, like cleaning products and medicines, in a safe spot up and away and out of sight and reach of young children. Remember to put medicines back in their safe place after you use them every time.

Dispose safely. Dispose of any expired, unused, or unwanted medicines in your home. Make sure to follow recommendations for safe disposal to prevent exposures to medications that have been discarded. Consider bringing expired or unwanted medications to medicine take-back programs.

Be prepared. Check your first aid kit for expired medicines and supplies; medicines that are past their expiration dates may not work as well as they should. Make sure your first aid kit is stored in a location that is accessible to adults, but not to your young children.

Update your contacts. Make sure you have the Poison Help number stored in your cell phone and available to your children's caregivers: 800-222-1222.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Smart Seniors: Planning Your Final Years

March 23, 2018 12:57 am

If you're in or approaching retirement, you're likely dreaming of days filled with friends, family, and hobbies. But you should also consider planning for your final years.

Final years planning can bring families comfort and ease. Home Instead, Inc., along with experts at Genworth Financial, developed the following questions for seniors to consider when planning for their final years:

How do you want to live your final years? Seniors should consider what they want to do during their final years.

Where do you want to live? Older adults should consider if they want to spend their final years at home and, if so, what type of assistance might be required to help them do so.

What's your plan if you need help? Many seniors will need long-term care at some point in their lives and they need to consider how they will be able to afford that care.

Do you know the cost? Older adults should consider the cost of care and anything else they would like in their final years.

Are products and services in place to support a plan? Seniors and their families should explore the long-term care plans that exist to help them meet their needs.

Is your plan flexible? Seniors and their families should ensure their plans are adaptable to the changes that may occur as time goes on.

Does your family know about your plans? Families should have conversations and take the time to share specifics about their plans and the types of products and services they have in place.

Source: Home Instead, Inc., Genworth Financial.

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Simple Home Safety Measures That Can Save Your Life

March 22, 2018 12:57 am

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there are more than 360,000 fires in homes each year, resulting in approximately 2,200 deaths and 11,000 emergency room-related injuries. Proper installation, operation, and maintenance of smoke alarms plays a significant role in reducing the risk of property damage, injuries, and death.

In addition to smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms are also essential. Carbon monoxide is known as an invisible killer due to the fact that it’s colorless and odorless. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, just 42 percent of households report having a working carbon monoxide alarm.

While changing the batteries in your smoke and CO alarms is the easiest way to ensure protection of your loved ones and your home in the event of a fire, the CPSC recommends taking these other safety measures:

- The CPSC recommends that smoke alarms be placed on every level of your home, outside sleeping areas and inside bedrooms.

- You can also install a smoke alarm that has a sealed-in battery that will last 10 years.

- Install both photoelectric and ionization smoke alarms.

- Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed on every level of the home and outside each sleeping area.

- Test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms once a month to make sure they are working.

- Have a fire escape plan and practice it with your family.

- A smoke alarm can't save lives if everyone doesn't know what to do when it sounds. Have two ways to get out of each room and set a pre-arranged meeting place outside.

- Children and the elderly can sleep through the sound of a smoke alarm and not hear it go off, so a caregiver needs to be prepared to help others get out of the house.

- And remember, once you are out of the house, stay out. Do not be tempted to go back inside to retrieve belongings. Let firefighters take over at that point.

Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

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Solo Traveling for the Smart Woman

March 22, 2018 12:57 am

With more solo female travelers hitting the road these days, it's time to brush up on your smart, safe traveling tips. Below are a handful, provided by

Do your research. There are some places that are very welcoming for female travelers and others that should be visited with caution. When choosing your destination, it's a good practice to research local laws, customs, and travel advisories. This will come in handy when you're deciding where to go, where to stay, how to get around, and even what to pack.  

Talk to a travel agent. With all the information available online, sometimes reviewing your options can get overwhelming. A travel agent can help you sort through all of the flights, hotels, rental cars, and activities to find the best options for you. They can also help plan your entire itinerary from start to finish to ensure everything fits together perfectly. Some travel sites even have special phone-only deals that can help you save money. Talking to an agent might sound old-fashioned, but there's nothing wrong in working with an experienced travel professional to make sure you get the exact trip you want.

Be aware of your surroundings. Once you've selected where you want to go, study maps and travel guides on the places you plan to visit. Try to find out if there are any areas or neighborhoods that are considered unsafe or should be avoided by tourists. Knowing where you are will not only make you feel more comfortable, but it will also help you look more confident. The more confidence you have, the less vulnerable you will seem to anyone looking to take advantage of tourists.

Get outside of your comfort zone. Solo travel is a great time to really challenge yourself. Put your devices away and talk to someone you wouldn't normally talk to, go on an excursion you wouldn't normally go on, and embrace the fact that you are the sole decision maker and it is only your opinion that matters for the duration of the trip.


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Home Safety in the Spring

March 22, 2018 12:57 am

Winter is over, but that does not mean your home safety woes are behind you. Spring weather is among the most unpredictable Americans will experience all year, but there are certain proactive steps that can help mitigate damage in many situations. Jim Taylor, head of claims customer experience for Farmers Insurance notes, "Many of us are in the habit of spring cleaning our homes, and by adding a couple of simple home and auto maintenance practices to our to-do lists, we may help minimize potential weather hazards."

There's no action capable of fending off every challenge that blooms alongside those spring flowers, but there are practical tips to keep in mind as we head into the stormy months ahead. Drivers and homeowners should consider the following, according to Taylor:

On the Road

- Park with care. Hail never fails to make an impact in the spring. If you don't live or work in areas with a garage, consider parking near large buildings or under secure structures that provide some shelter if there's even a hint of hail in the forecast. Alternatively, you can purchase a car blanket designed to protect your car from hail or similar cover if you're short on options for covered parking.

- Be flexible. If severe weather is in the forecast, consider making use of public transportation options, or call a ride share or taxi service for door-to-door transit — whatever alternative you choose, make sure to park your vehicle in a secure, covered location to help prevent damage.

- Watch out for water features. Whether the result of snowmelt or a healthy rainstorm, water can accumulate quickly and creates numerous risks for drivers, including the potential to encounter downed power lines with an active electrical charge, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If you're heading downhill, pay close attention to any standing water that waits ahead because it might be deeper than it appears.

- When in doubt, take another route. Take this same caution with you on every route and know when you may find yourself near a drainage channel or underpass, where flash flooding can occur at any time. If you have reason to think you might encounter a problem, make a detour.

- Beware the potholes. Potholes can crop up in no time and can be easily concealed by water following a storm. Slow down to give yourself time to identify and avoid these potentially dangerous little craters.

At Home

- Look after the lightweights. If heavy wind is in the forecast, bring lawn furniture, plants and other small or lightweight items inside. Secure larger items and take an inventory of your possessions.

- Batten down the hatches. If you have storm shutters, use them! If you don't, consider protecting your windows with plywood panels.

- Clear out those gutters. Clogged gutters are basically a shortcut to water damage, especially if you live in an area that experiences significant temperature changes in the spring. Clear gutters can reduce the risk of overflow and ice dams. Likewise, you're more likely to notice loose sections and make simple repairs before further damage necessitates further repair.

- Pay attention to your foundation. Overtime, the soil around homes tends to settle and exposes foundations to rainwater and potential seepage. Check your foundation for any potential points of weakness, including cracks and worn floor slabs, and water seal your basement to prevent seepage.

Additionally, make sure your soil grade allows water to drain away from your home, and whenever possible, remove snow near your exterior foundation before it has a chance to melt.

Source: Farmers Insurance

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Getting a Bump From the Tax Change? Put the Money to Good Use

March 20, 2018 12:51 am

Earlier this year, the IRS released guidelines requiring employers across the country to apply new federal tax withholding tables to paychecks by February 15th. The U.S. Treasury estimates 90 percent of all payroll employees will experience higher take-home pay as a result. The monthly increase for a single person earning $50,000 is expected to be about $200.

This increase is good news for those seeking to get ahead of debt, however, financial counselors at Money Management International (MMI) say consumers must put a plan in place. Credit card, student loan, and auto lending have reached all-time national highs, while personal savings is just shy of its all-time low, according to the Federal Reserve. A survey conducted by Pollfish suggests many consumers intend to use the extra money to pay down debt, but the tax break may also compel them to spend more.

Experts warn that financial inertia and projected interest-rate hikes could impede borrowers' progress. Rising rates will increase minimum payments and the total cost of carrying debt, while curbing promotional-rate balance transfer offers. MMI notes the tax break is not permanent and encourages employees to view the tax break as an opportunity to formulate – and fund – an achievable plan to improve their financial health.

Now is a good time to learn what your best options are for effectively reducing debt, so consult a financial advisor to find out what will work best for you. While it may be tempting to spend the increased income you may receive, assess your financial picture to see if those funds are better spent by paying down debt.

Source: Money Management International

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Slash Seasonal Home Allergies, Now

March 20, 2018 12:51 am

As spring moves in, the sneezing starts. Red, itchy eyes and skin, and a constant cough. Sound familiar? If you suffer from seasonal allergies, the spring struggle is real. With spring approaching, Aire Serv offers its top tips for alleviating allergies in the home.

- Start in the bedroom. The number of allergens that build up in your bedroom is tremendous, but it can be managed. First, encase your pillows, box spring and mattress in a sealed tight dust-mite-proof cover. This will prevent build-up in an area that your face is touching every single night. In addition, make sure to wash your sheets once a week to rid your bedding of any unwanted allergens.

- Vacuum and deep clean the carpet present in your home. You should vacuum carpets at least once a week.

- Choose furnishings that are easy and accessible to clean. With you and your family spending so much time in the living room, cleaning essential pieces of furniture will prevent your furniture from being a source of sneezes.

- Remove unnecessary clutter. Old knick-knacks and piles of clutter will collect dust. Store items that you wish to save in plastic bins and store in your attic or a storage unit.

- Open windows and allow for cross ventilation in your home. The air quality inside your home is usually much worse than outside, so allow the fresh air to come in and purify your home.

- As much as we love to have plants indoors to spruce up our home, this can be an area for mold build-up. Find a new home for your potted plants or cover them with aquarium gravel to prevent mold growth.

- Use a vented exhaust fan to remove cooking fumes and avoid moisture build up when cooking.

- Having a hot, humid house is the perfect growth spot for mold and dust mites. Maintain a temperature of 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Replacing air filters monthly will also help with this problem.

Source: Aire Serv

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The Homeowner's Secret Weapon: Vinegar

March 20, 2018 12:51 am

You’ve probably heard that vinegar can be used for a myriad of household purposes, but you probably never would’ve imagined some of the problems it can solve around the house. Check out some of these creative uses for vinegar from home improvement maven, Martha Stewart:

Banish odors. Have a foul smell permeating a room? Fill a dish with a half inch of white vinegar and let it stand in the room until the smell dissipates.

Get rid of rust. To get rid of rust build-up on a knife or pair of scissors, pour white vinegar over the blade then sprinkle it with coarse salt and rub with a cork. Rinse with water and wipe dry to prevent further rusting.  

Make your whites whiter. Add anywhere from 1/8 cup to 1/2 cup of vinegar to the first rinse cycle of your laundry to boost the whiteness your white clothes.

Wash your windows. For streak-free windows and mirrors, clean with a solution of one part vinegar and one part water.

Clean your coffee maker. Get a fresher cup of coffee by filling the reservoir of your coffee maker with equal parts water and white vinegar. Let it run through several cups with this solution, then several more with just water before brewing your first cup of coffee.

Prevent pests. To get rid of pesky ants, pour equal amounts of water and white vinegar into a spray bottle, shake, and spray in areas where ants often appear, such as crevices by your baseboards, cabinets and window sills. Also use this solution outdoors on your deck or patio and bring to your next picnic.

Unclog the showerhead. Fill a plastic bag with undiluted white vinegar and submerge your shower head in the solution overnight, secured with a rubber band. Scrub with an old toothbrush the next day to remove all residue.

Banish weeds. Spray weeds with vinegar instead of harsh chemicals. They’ll usually wither away in a day or two.

Clean your shoes. Get rid of salt and water stains on leather and suede shoes by rubbing them with a paper towel dampened with vinegar.

No more fruit flies. Fill a small container with apple cider vinegar, cover it in plastic wrap and punch a few holes in it with a needle. The flys will get trapped underneath the covering.


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Planning Your Spring 'to Do' List? Don't Forget to Go Outside!

March 19, 2018 12:51 am

I know it's warm and cozy doing your spring cleaning inside, but remember that spring cleaning plans should include a thorough walk around outside as well.

The Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC (MMA) in Minneapolis tells homeowners that an early inspection and maintenance of their property is extremely important to prevent risk. To assist in that, MMA has compiled a checklist of things to inspect each year:

Review the roof. The company suggests starting by inspecting your roof for broken or missing shingles and interior rafters for water stains. Most water stains will be found around or below an inadequately flashed chimney, skylight and other openings.

Gutt the gutters. MMA says gutters are able to perform when kept clean, so remove dirt and debris from all gutters and downspouts.

Look at lights. Lighting maintenance includes inspecting street lights, outdoor light fixtures, and indoor common-area lighting to promote safety and security. Make sure lights are clean and void of any dust, dirt or salt, which can result in lost energy and money. If lights are burnt out, think about replacing them with high efficiency CFL or LED bulbs.

Don't miss the deck. When inspecting a deck or porch, look for peeling, splintering or rotting boards, and whether the wood is unprotected. If left unprotected, wood will soak up moisture and could lead to very serious damage. If a deck or porch needs to be resealed, clean it first with soap and water to clear off any mildew or mold, then after it is clean and dry, apply sealant, stain or paint.

Take care of trees. Remove dead wood and broken branches from trees or bushes. Replant shrubs, bushes and/or flowers that have worked their way out of the soil, and rake the ground.

Freshen with fertilizer. If necessary, add new soil, mulch and/or sod and lay fertilizer. Then, plant any new seeds or plants and implement a watering schedule.

Patch potholes. Finally, MMA says spring is a great time to repair cracks and potholes. First, determine the source of the issue so you can address and fix the root of the problem. It is always best to make these repairs as quickly as possible to prevent any type of hazardous conditions.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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