REMAX 440/Central Blog

Get the Most Out of Your Bathroom Remodel

March 4, 2015 3:24 am

Remodeling a bathroom is one of the most worthwhile investments you can make in your home – aside from the enhanced comfort and functionality of an updated space, an upgraded bathroom is a must for many buyers. If you’re planning a remodel, consider this advice from the experts at HomeAdvisor.

Set a Budget
– Major renovations require a budget, and the bathroom is no exception. Whether you’re planning a simple aesthetic upgrade or a full-on gut job, research typical costs for bathroom remodels and shop around for quality materials.

Make Room for Ventilation – No matter what changes you decide to make, make room in your budget for an improved ventilation system. Poor ventilation can lead to increased humidity, which can damage metal fixtures and paint and encourage mold growth. A reputable HVAC professional can help you select a ceiling fan that will work best with your space.

Go Green
– Because they’re so often used, homeowners can benefit significantly from energy-efficient fixtures in bathrooms. Inexpensive fixes, like LED lights and low-flow shower heads, and more costly upgrades, like dual-flush toilets and double pane windows, can trim big bucks off your monthly bills.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Mortgage Rates Reverse Course, Move Lower

March 3, 2015 3:24 am

According to’s weekly national survey, mortgage rates unwound a recent increase last week, with the benchmark 30-year fixed mortgage rate pulling back to 3.90 percent. The 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.29 discount and origination points.

The average 15-year fixed mortgage dropped to 3.15 percent while the larger jumbo 30-year fixed mortgage settled at 4.07 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages were down also, with the 5-year ARM falling to 3.22 percent and the 7-year ARM sinking to 3.44 percent.

Mortgage rates moved lower last week after indications that maybe the Federal Reserve isn’t going to raise interest rates as soon as markets had thought. The minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s January meeting showed a hesitancy to raise interest rates on the part of Fed members. The concern was that despite recent signs of improvement in the job market and overall economy, raising interest rates too soon could douse the recovery. Since mortgage rates and long-term bond yields move in anticipation of Fed interest rate moves, any change in the outlook for Fed action can have a pronounced effect on mortgage rates.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Traveling? Get Legal Documents in Order

March 3, 2015 3:24 am

Whether you’re planning the vacation of your dreams or going on an annual family getaway, the legal counsel experts at ARAG recommend addressing the following before traveling.

1. Update Crucial Documents – Creating essential legal documents, like a will or a healthcare power of attorney, is always a good idea, but updating them before you travel becomes even more important. "Make sure these documents contain the most current beneficiaries and instructions," says Ann Cosimano, ARAG General Counsel. "If you don't have a will, you may leave important decisions – such as guardians for your children – up to the court system and the laws of the state."

2. Consolidate Important Information – It's helpful to put your personal, financial and legal information in one place before you leave town. "Tracking all critical information is incredibly useful for a trusted family member or friend to reference in case something happens to you," says Cosimano.

3. Get Your Travel Documents Together
– If you plan to travel internationally, you'll be required to have a passport or a passport card if you are traveling to certain countries or regions by sea or by land. The application process involves several steps and takes approximately 4-6 weeks to complete. Visit for more information.

Additionally, a state-issued driver's license is considered valid proof of ID at the airport, so remember to bring it along when you fly. Before you go, remember to check the expiration date and make sure all your information on the license is current.

4. Complete Healthcare Forms for Children – If you are a parent or guardian, it is a good idea to complete a form referred to as a Medical Treatment Authorization for Minors. This document provides information regarding your child's medical history as well as insurance information and authorizes medical personnel to treat your child in the event you are not physically present or you cannot be located or contacted.

5. Review Rental Contracts Carefully – If you're planning to rent a car, vacation home or a boat, make sure you understand the terms and conditions involved. Some rental cars, for example, impose strict mileage restrictions for first time renters. It may be a good idea to have an attorney review the document before you sign on the dotted line.

Source: ARAG

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Buying vs. Renting a Home Solar System

March 3, 2015 3:24 am

Looking for ways to cut costs as a homeowner? Go solar!

According to Consumer Reports, installing a solar system at home can reduce your utility bills by 50 percent or more. And solar systems are here to stay – the U.S. Department of Energy expects 900,000 homes will have a solar component by 2020.

Before you hire a solar specialist, consider how much direct sunlight your home gets on any given day, in any season. Homeowners with more exposure to sunlight will have greater opportunities for savings. It’s also important to evaluate the exterior of your home – an older roof will not be an ideal platform for solar paneling.

If you’ve determined that your home is well-equipped for a solar system, your next step is to decide whether you’d like to finance your own system or lease one from a reputable company. Installation can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000, but you’ll immediately profit once the system is paid for. The government also provides tax credits and rebates which may lower costs overall.

Leasing a system may be a better option if you anticipate rate hikes in the future. A contract generally lasts for 20 years, so talk to your utility provider about foreseeable increases. It’s also a good idea to research past increases to gauge how volatile any changes may be over the next few years. Contracts typically include an escalation schedule that indicates expected payments over the life of the lease, so compare those with information from your utility provider to make the best decision.

Whether you plan to buy or lease your home’s solar system, be sure to shop around for estimates. A professional contractor will suggest the optimal size needed for your home and outline projected savings.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Healthy Job Growth to Boost Housing Recovery

March 2, 2015 3:21 am

The economy is poised for a pickup in growth in 2015 amid a strengthening employment sector, rising income growth, and declining commodity prices, according to Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research (ESR) Group. The labor market has started the year on an upbeat note and is expected to lift consumer confidence, in turn helping to boost consumer spending, manufacturing activity and the pace of the housing recovery. Economic growth may face some headwinds as a strong U.S. dollar weighs on the trade deficit. However, the economy is expected to climb to 2.9 percent for the full year, up from 2.5 percent growth in 2014.

"We expect housing to shift up a gear in 2015 following the uneven and ultimately disappointing activity last year," says Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. "Our forecast calls for a number of factors, including strong hiring and income growth, stabilized housing affordability, and modestly easing lending standards, to translate into improving housing demand throughout the year. We continue to anticipate that the Fed will begin to hike short-term interest rates later this year, although weak global economic growth and geopolitical headwinds will likely limit the rise in long-term interest rates.”

Source: Fannie Mae

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips to Avoid Tax Identity Fraud

March 2, 2015 3:21 am

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, 1.6 million Americans fell victim to tax identity theft in the first half of 2013 alone. The Government Accountability Office estimates that identity thieves stole $5.2 billion in 2013 as a result of this fraud. With Tax Day quickly approaching, the National Consumers League (NCL) urges taxpayers to be on the lookout for fraud.

“While most Americans dread Tax Day, fraudsters increasingly are cashing in with lucrative tax identity fraud scams,” says John Breyault, NCL vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud. “What makes this scam particularly pernicious is the ease with which fraudsters can steal personal information, file a false tax claim, and then turn the fraudulent refund into untraceable cash before the consumer realizes they have been a victim of a scam.”

Consumers receive W-2 forms from their employer by the end of January, but often wait to file their taxes closer to Tax Day on April 15. Since the IRS aims to process refunds quickly, fraudulent claims often go undetected.

The NCL recommends the following to avoid becoming a victim of tax identity fraud.
  • File your taxes as early as possible during tax season. Scammers depend on the fact that many taxpayers wait until late in tax-filing season to file. Filing early reduces the risk that a tax ID thief will be able to use your personal information to file fraudulently ahead of you.
  • Check your annual Social Security Administration earnings statement carefully. If there are earnings listed that you don’t recognize, someone else could be using your identity to obtain employment.
  • Review your credit report for any suspicious activity.
  • Never give out personal information, such as your SSN, date of birth, or bank account information in response to unsolicited emails, postal mail, over the phone or via text message, social media or other platform.
Source: NCL

Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Steps to a Burglar-Proofed Home

March 2, 2015 3:21 am

Is your home safe from break-ins? Don’t rely on a guard dog to deter criminals – consider these tips from’s James White. Protecting likely the largest investment you’ll make in life will be well worth it.

1. Invest in a complete home security system.

Authorities may arrive long after the criminal has gotten away, but in the moment, a blaring alarm may scare away burglars before they can wreak havoc. Thieves may also move on to other homes if they spot a sign in your yard indicating your home is outfitted with a security system. Consider installing cameras with an automatic upload feature – if the burglar disables the camera, evidence of that will be available instantly online.

2. Don’t tip them off.
In effect, social media has opened the door to burglars. Many spend hours scouring the Web for individuals in their area who post about being away from their home for long stretches of time. Don’t make it easy for them.

3. Fortify all entry points.

Entry points are a thief’s target, so strengthen your doors and windows to prevent them from gaining access. Opt for laminated windows, which are much more difficult to break (and much noisier!) than standard ones, and install a deadbolt connected to a strike plate attached to the stud – not the jamb.

4. Conceal and secure all valuables.

Burglars can easily access drawers or cabinets, so consider purchasing a safe to store jewelry, cash and other valuables. Avoid leaving cash on the counter or in otherwise plain view.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Heating Your Home Safely

February 27, 2015 3:18 am

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), home heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires in the U.S. Unattended equipment is the number one source of these fires, says Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s Vice President of Outreach and Advocacy. Carli urges homeowners to monitor all heating equipment carefully, particularly space heaters. Whether portable or stationary, space heaters account for a third of home heating fires each year.

To greatly reduce the risk for heating fires at home, the NFPA suggests homeowners follow these guidelines.
  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment. This includes furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves and portable space heaters.
  • If there are children in your home, create a three-foot “kid-free zone” around space heaters and open fires.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • For fuel-burning space heaters, always use the right kind of fuel, as specified by the manufacturer.
  • Plug only one heat-producing appliance (such as a space heater) into an electrical outlet at a time.
  • Remember to turn off portable heaters when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home.
Improperly used or malfunctioning heating equipment can also result in carbon monoxide, a poisonous, potentially fatal gas, in the home. Homeowners can avoid this by following these tips from the NFPA.
  • Keep portable generators outside, away from windows, and as far away as possible from your home.
  • All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside of your home.
  • If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not light the appliance. Leave the home immediately and call your local fire department or gas company.
  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
  • During and after the storm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
  • Test your carbon monoxide alarms to make sure they’re working properly.
  • If you begin to feel sick or dizzy while your generator is running, you may be breathing in carbon monoxide. Get to fresh air quickly. 
  • Turn portable generators off and let them cool down before refueling; don’t refuel it while it’s running.
  • Make sure fuel, including gasoline and other flammable liquids, is stored in properly labeled safety containers. Place them outside all living areas and away from any fuel-burning appliances such as a gas hot water heater.
  • Always use extreme caution when operating electrical equipment in a damp or wet environment.
  • Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a heavy duty outdoor-rated extension cord. Make sure the cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin. Do not try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet.
Source: NFPA

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Online Shoppers: Are You Reading the Fine Print?

February 27, 2015 3:18 am

Today’s online shoppers aren’t bothering to read the fine print when they shop, often jeopardizing their legal rights if something goes wrong, according to a recent survey from More than half of online shoppers (54 percent) say the either quickly skim or ignore any user agreements, terms of service or other legal language they are agreeing to.

The survey found that just 22 percent of online shoppers read and understood every word thoroughly; 24 percent read most agreements and attempted to understand them.

“Most people don’t realize that they are often giving away some of their legal rights when they click ‘Agree,’” says Stephanie Rahlfs, attorney-editor at “Many websites require that customers scroll through and review legal language and click a button stating that they agree with the terms before completing their purchase. But that’s largely meaningless if the person doesn’t actually read the agreement.”

Many e-commerce websites have terms and conditions that limit a customer’s ability to sue in the event of a dispute. Customers are instead required to use arbitration. Some attempts to sue websites – either through individual or class-action lawsuits – have been dismissed by the courts because the customers agreed to the website’s conditions.

Despite a $100 billion dollar surge in online shopping since 2011, the numbers from the survey remain largely unchanged from that year.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Designer Tips for Layering Decor at Home

February 27, 2015 3:18 am

(BPT) – A growing trend among interior designers is layering unique patterns and textures for heightened visual interest. Get inspired to layer elements in your home with these ideas.

Fancy Frames – An empty wall holds endless potential. If the room is small, expand your space with a mirror collage featuring a variety of shapes and varnishes. Is your heart set on colorful patterned wallpaper? Showcase your favorite print in a large frame for a beautiful living room backdrop to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Art fans should collect a variety of frames in different 
finishes and styles to create a living room gallery.

Pillow Patterns – While it's fun to mix and match pillows, certain textures complement each other better than others. For example, linens and wool tend to look better with woven fabrics, while shiny and matte fabrics are best kept separate. Mixing contrasting textures such as silk and corduroy calls for a strong sense of design confidence, but it can be done.

Rugs on Rugs – Start with a flat, neutral rug as your foundation and add a smaller, accent rug on top. Investing in a large rug with a subdued color is wise, but have fun with the accent rug. Whether cowhide or a geometric print, choose a similar color scheme and play with the positioning by placing the top rug at a purposeful angle.

Old, Renewed – When thinking about your space, it's important to remember that design inspiration can be found anywhere. Look for antique candle holders or paperweights. Check out antique shops or thrift stores for hidden treasures. When traveling, visit flea markets and local art fairs. Transform an old object like a rustic slab of wood into a glossy countertop for your kitchen island. No matter where you travel, keep an eye out for timeworn treasures for your home.

Layering textures and patterns, combining modern with rustic - blending home design can result in a truly transformative space that captures your individual style.

Source: Brizio

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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