REMAX 440/Central Blog

Lattes: A Nutritious and Delicious Breakfast Complement

November 23, 2012 4:12 am

 There's good news for the millions of Americans who start each day with a cup of coffee. Making a latte at home for breakfast is not only a delicious start to the day, but it can provide much-needed nutrients including calcium, Vitamin D and potassium that most Americans are lacking. Your morning latte delivers a full serving of milk's nine essential nutrients, including eight grams of high quality protein – even more than an egg.

Breakfast with milk, whether in a latte, your cereal or straight from a glass, can help you feel satisfied, focused and energized, so you can make the most of your day. At a time when specialty coffeehouse prices can be high, being your own barista at home could also help save you money. For only a quarter a serving, coffee's latte counterpart, milk, adds nutrients without breaking the bank.

Whatever your personal latte order, the National Milk Mustache "got milk?"® Campaign has at-home recipes for easy ways to make your morning latte the way you like it. Whether it's a simple two parts milk, one part espresso drink or a triple shot with extra foam, caramel drizzle and cinnamon, being your own barista is as easy as:

-Espress-o Yourself: Thinking about getting an espresso machine? Great! If not, no problem... just brew your coffee beans stronger than usual.
-Get Frothy with It: Milk frothers are a great gift. But you can also heat the milk on the stove or in the microwave, then whisk for extra foam.
-Have Fun with Flavor: Check your spice cabinet to add great flavors like cinnamon or nutmeg. You can also buy your favorite syrups for a coffee shop-worthy flavor boost.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Hard vs. Soft Water - What Do They Really Mean?

November 23, 2012 4:12 am

By Barbara Pronin

In a nutshell, hard water, which to one extent or another is most of the water that flows through our neighborhood pipes, is water that contains an appreciative amount of dissolved minerals. Soft water is treated water in which the only ion is sodium.

As rainwater falls, it is naturally soft. But as it makes its way through the ground and into our waterways, it picks up minerals like chalk and lime and a lot of calcium and magnesium.

Hard water is to blame for dingy looking clothes, dishes with spots and residue, and bathtubs with lots of film and soap scum. Because soap is less effective in hard water, it takes more soap and more shampoo to achieve acceptable results, and even appliances will work harder and use more energy in the process.

Most consumers prefer using soft water because chores can be performed more efficiently. Lather is rich and bubbly even when using a minimal amount of soap or shampoo. Glasses will sparkle, hair will look healthier, and the shower curtain will be scum-free.

Soft water users will also save money. In addition to saving on detergents and soaps, appliances have to work less hard, prolonging their productive lives, and energy bills are noticeably lower in households with soft water systems.

There is a downside to soft water in that it is not as healthy to drink. In the softening process, as minerals are removed, sodium content increases. Soft water not only tastes salty, but research shows the risk of cardiovascular disease is lowest where water has the most mineral content.

But the conundrum may be easily solved. Consumers may enjoy all the benefits of softened water while safeguarding their health by bringing bottled water into the home for drinking purposes – or by installing a reverse osmosis system, which may be installed under the kitchen sink for less than $500.

If you are on a municipal water system, the water supplier can tell you the hardness level of the water they deliver. If you have a private water supply, you can have the water tested for hardness. They can also help you evaluate the significance of the test results, so that you can make an informed decision about how – and where – to opt for softened water.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Clean Your House Naturally and Avoid Toxic Cleansers

November 23, 2012 4:12 am

It's time to tackle the annual home cleaning. But just because you're thoroughly washing, scrubbing and disinfecting your home, it doesn't mean you need to turn to cleansers with harsh ingredients and chemicals. In fact, you can easily clean using inexpensive products already in your kitchen, such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. Use these tips to clean your home naturally.

Start seeing clearly: Are your windows coated with a layer of grime? A solution of two teaspoons of white vinegar and one liter of warm water can be used to gently remove dust or dirt from all glass surfaces including windows and mirrors.

Freshen up the fridge: In addition to food spills, your refrigerator takes on odors from all the different foods stored throughout the year. Discard old items and be sure you are regularly cleaning out the fridge. Help reduce odors year-round by keeping a box of baking soda in the fridge at all times, replacing it every 30 days for best results.

Reawaken your wardrobe: Start the season feeling good in clothes that smell fresh. Even when carefully stored, clothing can still be exposed to dust, and may require a good washing before wearing. Add a cup of baking soda to your next wash to naturally boost the power of your detergent. The combination will help balance PH levels to leave clothing cleaner and fresher. You can also freshen non-washable items like gym shoes, bags and sports equipment by sprinkling baking soda inside.

Renew the everyday rooms: Avoid the fumes of harsh kitchen and bathroom cleaners by naturally cleaning surfaces with baking soda. A sprinkle of baking soda on a damp sponge will clean counters, stainless steel sinks, microwaves, ovens and much more without scratching. For tough grease, mix vinegar and lemon juice to leave your surfaces like new.

Bet on a BBQ: After the inside of your home is looking spic-and-span, get your grill ready to prevent bad tasting hot dogs and hamburgers from ruining your next BBQ. Sprinkle baking soda on a damp brush, then scrub away any residue and rinse clean. For really difficult stains, make a paste with three parts baking soda to one part warm water and use a wire-bristled brush to work away at grime and grease stains.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

The Winter Sun Brings Light and Warmth Indoors, But May Cause Skin Cancer Too

November 21, 2012 4:08 am

Wintertime protection from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays inside a home or office is seldom a thought for concern, but many health experts warn that it's something we all need to be aware of, according to the International Window Film Association (IWFA).

"Many health organizations, from university hospitals and medical research groups, all agree that UVA is damaging to skin and eyes on a variety of levels, from wrinkles to cancer to cataracts," said Darrell Smith, executive director of the IWFA. "A cost-effective and safe solution that starts working immediately is window film. It blocks up to 99 percent of harmful UVA rays, plus delivers many other benefits," he added.

The nonprofit group points out the sun's UVA spectrum passes through glass easily and it's linked to skin cancer and other health problems, while UVB rays that cause sunburn are mostly deflected by glass.

In winter UVA penetration inside a home can be significant. This is because the increasingly horizontal angle of winter daylight hits windows straight on and can be intensified when sunlight bounces off the snow pack.

In fact, the IWFA suggests that parents should think twice before placing toddlers in front of a window for sunlight and warmth, as 75 percent of UVA will pass into the home and onto the skin where exposed.
To learn about sunlight and window film, the IWFA offers a free consumer booklet about window film and its benefits, such as:

• Blocks up to 99% of UV rays
• Slows fading of furnishings
• Protects from harmful UV rays
• Virtually clear, allowing natural light in
• Some films can reflect a home's interior heat back inside
• A more even temperature by reducing hot spots
• Easy to Install and will last for years

The booklet can be downloaded at the IWFA website:

Source: International Window Film Association

Published with permission from RISMedia.

The Top 3 Reasons to be Thankful for Your 2012 Mortgage

November 21, 2012 4:08 am

The end of a year is a time for reflection, a time when you can look back and be thankful for all the blessings in your life. If you purchased a home this year, one of the things you should be thankful for is your 2012 mortgage. 2012 was a rebuilding year for the housing market. After several years of dropping prices, increasing foreclosures, and high interest rates, statistics now show a reversal in those trends, and indicate that the real estate market is starting to dig its way out. Here are three reasons you should be thankful if you were approved for a home loan in 2012:

1. Low interest rates - At the beginning of the year, home sales were still slow, so the Federal Reserve took steps to encourage lenders to reduce interest rates for home mortgages. As a result, mortgage rates have hit new record lows all year long, and it looks like we're going to end the year with average rates on 30-year mortgages well below 4 percent. If you were among those who purchased a home in 2012 or refinanced your mortgage, be thankful for the mortgage rate you received. Although the Federal Reserve is still taking steps to keep interest rates low, including purchasing $40 billion a month in mortgage-backed securities, economists fear the potential "fiscal cliff" that is looming in early 2013 will raise rates.

2. Your Good Faith Estimate - A Good Faith Estimate, or GFE, must be provided by a mortgage lender to a customer, as required by the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. A GFE is basically a list of all associated costs you have to pay to purchase the home. This includes closing costs, inspections, title insurance, taxes and other charges. It must be provided to the prospective borrower by the lender in three business days after the customer applied for a loan. It's basically a standard form that allows the borrower to compare and contrast quotes from various lenders. By law, the lender cannot change the fees listed in the origination box once the form has been issued to the prospective borrower. Although GFEs are not new, they have gotten a lot more detailed in recent years, meaning they are something you should be thankful for if you purchased a home in 2012. What other industry is required to give you a price quote before you sign paperwork? And, even if they do, is it required by law like it is with the mortgage industry? Be thankful you had GFEs to compare before you had to decide which quote was right for you.

3. More competition - Ever since the housing market collapsed in 2007, lenders have been more apprehensive to approve home loans. However, if you have a great credit score, mortgage lenders have been fighting for your business all year long! They still want to approve loans, but only to those individuals who they think will pay back their debt, instead of people who will get behind on payments, forcing a foreclosure or short sale. If you have good credit and went house shopping in 2012, you were likely surprised at how accommodating lenders were when you applied for a loan. The better your score, the more competition there was for your business, so that's always something to be appreciative of. With more and more Americans having to file for bankruptcy or struggling to make ends meet, consumers with good credit scores are hard to come by these days, and lenders know that.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Top Five Ways to Find Your Dream Home Now

November 21, 2012 4:08 am

As we look forward to a new year and further economic turnaround, it may be time to think again about finding that "dream home" for yourself and your family. Most first-time home buyers welcome a helping hand (or two) to find and buy their first piece of real estate:

1. Getting Help = Good. Getting Free Help = Great!
Before you go any further with your house-hunting efforts, consider hiring a buyer's agent. A buyer's agent is a well-trained, licensed real estate sales agent whose sole mission is to advise you on the best path to take when deciding which community and/or home is right for you.

2. Walk the Walk Before You Talk the Talk
This tip's a pretty simple one to overlook: get to know the neighborhood you're considering before you see any homes on the block. Do a drive-by in the afternoon. Walk around in the evening. Check out the local shops and restaurants. Talk to the neighbors. The time you spend checking out the neighborhood will pay off for you when you do find "the" house to go see.

3. Don't Time the Market
When's a good time to buy a house? There's an easy answer to that: When you want to. Too many homebuyers waste time waiting for better interest rates or for home prices to hit bottom. While springtime has historically been the peak of the home-buying season, the truth is that homeowners sell all throughout the year. Right now interest rates are lower-than-low; there's less traffic at open houses (read: less competition); and sellers are eager to negotiate with.

4. Spot Your Favorite Room
If you're a homebody, you're bound to hang out in one special spot in your current home. Maybe it's in your home office. Perhaps it's next to the picture window in the living room. Kitchen anyone? There's always a spot or two in your home that you spend the most time just doing nada. So it's all the more important to try to visualize where that new favorite spot might be in the homes you go look at. Visualize how you'll use the house in order to ensure that you'll actually enjoy the house.

5. Measure Twice, Cut Once

This do-it-yourselfer's adage applies to home-buying as well. See the homes you like on the first pass at least one more time. In order to ensure happiness, meet at the home to sign the contract. Follow your gut when finding your dream home, but there's something to be said about impulse control. Don't rush to judgment when making the biggest purchase in your life.

Source: Michael A. Pallares, REALTOR®, ABR

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips for Tipping this Holiday Season

November 20, 2012 4:06 am

The holiday season is upon us! And that means stores are already packed with festive shoppers, eager to find that “perfect gift” for everyone on their list. However, there may be a certain someone you may be forgetting when it comes to holiday gift giving.

The generosity of tipping the people you interact with on a daily basis is oftentimes an afterthought or entirely overlooked. According to a recent survey, 61 percent of renters who live in an apartment building don’t tip their superintendent, doorman or building staff during this time of year. Luckily this year, has a few tips for tipping etiquette this holiday season:

1) Budget Your Finances: Maybe the reason you don’t tip is because you don’t think you have enough holiday cash left for the staff. Make a budget sheet that includes the doorman and super in order to be sure you have enough cash for them as well. You don’t have to break the bank over their gifts.

2) Standardize the Amount: After you have worked out your budget, figure out the allotted amount of money you would like to give to your doorman and super and divide this equally among them. People talk and the last thing you want is for your doorman or super to be unhappy with the generous tip that you chose to give them. Likewise, if you did give your doorman or super a gift last year, make sure you maintain the giving amount this year.

3) Show You Care: Make sure you thank them for all that they have done for you. Add a card with their tip to show that you truly appreciate all of their hard work throughout the year and that it doesn’t go unnoticed.

4) Make it Personal: Spark up a conversation with your doorman or super and ask for recommendations of their favorite restaurants or their favorite places to shop. Instead of, or possibly along with, a tip, add a gift card for a place they love. It adds a great personal touch to the gift.

5) Get the Neighbors to Hop on the Bandwagon: Talk with your neighbors and see if they’d be interested in a group gift. If you get more people to give a little, you are able to get a nicer gift, while simultaneously getting others in the habit of tipping. So start spreading all of the knowledge you’ve gained on tipping to others in your building.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Freddie Mac to Donate $1 Million to Support Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts

November 20, 2012 4:06 am

Freddie Mac is helping ease the burden for families impacted by Hurricane Sandy by donating $1 million to nonprofits supporting relief efforts, including the American Red Cross.

"We are helping families get the services they need and rebuild their lives in the wake of this disaster," said Freddie Mac Vice President Wendell Chambliss.

The American Red Cross is receiving $250,000 of these funds to support disaster relief efforts. Up to $750,000 is also going to local nonprofits in the disaster area to provide a variety of services such as housing assistance.

Recipients include:

• Faith Fellowship Community Development Corporation to set up a New Jersey meal facility that also provides packaged meals to people who can't access the facility, and will help residents apply for public assistance;
• Make the Road New York to deliver food to affected families in Staten Island and Long Island, New York, and to assist families with federal assistance applications in English and Spanish;
• Neighborhood Housing Services of East Flatbush to distribute cleaning kits to residents in Brooklyn, New York, an area which had extensive flooding;
• Asian Americans for Equality Community Development Fund to purchase basic supplies such as generators and flashlights to help low-income tenants and homeowners in Queens and Brooklyn, New York; and
• Long Island Housing Partnership to help low- and moderate-income residents find temporary housing or remain in their homes with services such as repairing hot water heaters and getting electricity restored.

In addition to these donations, Freddie Mac has extended its full menu of disaster relief options to help affected borrowers in jurisdictions declared Major Disaster Areas and where federal Individual Assistance programs are available. Freddie Mac's disaster relief policies provide mortgage servicers a number of ways to give homeowners relief — helping borrowers protect their credit ratings and financial interests in their homes. Freddie Mac allows servicers to reduce or suspend mortgage payments on Freddie Mac-owned mortgages for up to 12 months for borrowers affected by disasters. Freddie Mac has also directed its servicers to expedite the release of insurance proceeds and has placed a 90-day suspension on all eviction closings and foreclosure sales for those impacted by the storm, in presidentially declared disaster areas where individual assistance was granted.

Freddie Mac employees are supporting relief efforts by making donations to aid organizations through the Freddie Mac Foundation's matching gifts program. The Foundation matches employee charitable contributions dollar for dollar; contributions to housing-related organizations are matched 2-to-1. Employees are also taking part in a company drive for blankets and non-perishable food to help supply shelters and service organizations in the disaster region. Freddie Mac is coordinating delivery of these donations with the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department and the New York City Rescue Mission.

"As a company, we have a shared responsibility to provide relief to American homeowners who have been devastated by Sandy," said Hollis McLoughlin, Freddie Mac senior vice president for Corporate Communications and External Relations. "Beyond that, we want to provide our employees, who have asked how they can help, an opportunity to lend a hand to those in greater need."

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Why Should You Buy a Home in December?

November 20, 2012 4:06 am

This is the time of year where many people begin shopping for the holidays. They purchase gifts for their friends, family and loved ones. But one item that you may want to consider buying for yourself this holiday season is a new home. There are many benefits to purchasing a home in December, like:

1. Less competition. Many consumers who are interested in purchasing a new home wait until after the holidays to start searching through the listings. While the malls have more customers this time of year, the real estate market actually experiences a decrease in shoppers during the holiday season. So, if you find a home that is perfect for you, you'll probably have fewer competing bids from other prospective buyers.

2. Good deals if a house has been on the market for a few months - and didn't sell during the late summer and fall seasons - the seller may reduce the price during the winter months. In fact, in many areas of the country, homes prices are typically at their lowest during the month of December.

Homeowners who are showing their homes during the holiday season are often hopeful to sell it before the end of the year because of tax purposes, so they may also be more willing to negotiate on the price.

3. It's a slow time of year for REALTORS® and lenders, too! Sellers aren't the only ones affected by the drop-off in home sales during the winter months. REALTORS® and lenders also feel the sting of their industry's slow season. That means you may get more personalized attention from your real estate agent, and a lender may shave a few points off your interest rate, just so they can get one final sale and home loan on their books before the year is over. Also, because they are juggling fewer deals in December than at other times of the year, it's likely your paperwork will be processed faster as well.

4. Tax deductions. We've already addressed that many homeowners are hoping, because of tax purposes, that their home will sell before the end of the year, but if you buy a home in December, it can also be to your benefit during tax season as well. Closing on a home before the end of the year means you can deduct certain settlement costs from your taxes for 2012. That includes any pro-rated property taxes and prepaid mortgage interest paid at closing. And, since discount points are considered prepaid interest, you can deduct those from your taxes as well.

There's one more thing to remember if you plan on house-hunting in December. Fewer homeowners may be showing their homes during the holidays, and REALTORS® may be on vacation during this time of year. However, if you can find a home you are interested in, and one where the seller and the real estate agent are willing to fit you into their holiday schedule, there are many benefits to purchasing a home before the end of the year.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Dine Safely this Thanksgiving

November 19, 2012 4:04 am

Many people have ceased to cook our stuffing inside our birds, like grandma used to do it. But what are some other food safety tips you can follow? The National Restaurant Association (NRA) estimates that more than 30 million Americans enlist the help of restaurants for their Thanksgiving feast by dining out or using takeout, but cooking at home remains popular during this holiday. Preparing that meal safely will ensure an enjoyable holiday with family and friends, so the experts at the NRA offer food safety tips for holiday meals:

Thaw your turkey in the fridge
. While you can thaw a frozen turkey under running water or in the microwave, the best way is in the refrigerator overnight (or longer). Be sure to follow the instructions on the package.

Store raw turkey away from ready-to-eat food. Make sure your raw turkey is covered and stored in a leak-proof container on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. You want to keep it away from foods that are ready to eat, such as desserts and salads, to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.

Clean and sanitize your sink and counters. After rinsing your raw turkey thoroughly, properly clean and sanitize the sink and surrounding area before starting to prepare any other food.

Cook your turkey to safe internal temperature.
 Use a properly calibrated meat thermometer to check that your turkey has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Insert the thermometer to the dimple on the stem in the thickest part of the breast and thigh for accurate readings.

Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. 
Prep salads, cranberries and other colds items first and store them in the fridge until ready to serve. Then prep your hot dishes closer to serving time so they stay hot. Keep all food items outside the "temperature danger zone" (41 to 135 degrees) as much as possible.

Safely reheat leftovers. Whether from a meal prepared at home or picked up from a restaurant, leftovers are part of the holiday tradition. Store each dish separately in clean, sealable, leak-proof containers and reheat to 165 degrees when you're ready to enjoy round two of your Thanksgiving meal.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

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