REMAX 440/Central Blog

Creating Universal Design in the Kitchen

August 7, 2012 1:40 am

As the term implies, universal design is the creation of products and environments that are accessible to as many people as possible. The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making areas widely accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

Homes that feature universal design not only enhance their owners’ daily lifestyle, but add to the property’s resale value as well. As the hub of most homes, the kitchen is a critical area in which to incorporate universal design. According to Lowe’s, a few simple design changes can make the kitchen more functional today and accessible well into the future.

Here are some tips from Lowe’s for making universal design part of your game plan for cabinets and counters:
  • Build countertops at varying heights for different tasks. Lower levels allow the ability to sit while preparing and cooking meals. The best height is 28" - 32". The usable counter space for a seated person is about 16".
  • Create pullout work surfaces such as counters, breadboards and cutting boards for access from a chair. Drawers with fully extendable glides are easier to get into.
  • Build or install wall cabinets closer to the countertop.
  • Make bigger, deeper toe kicks and knee spaces under counters.
  • Install lazy Susan's and pullout shelves.
  • Install D-shaped loop handles on cabinet doors and drawers.
  • Reduce glare by using low-gloss finishes.
  • Use contrasting colors to enhance visibility for those with reduced vision.
Source: Lowe’s Home Improvement

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Paint Primers Solve Problems, Save Money

August 7, 2012 1:40 am

Many people think that primers are useful only when doing exterior painting, but that's a mistaken notion. Like exterior primers, interior primers make surfaces more uniform and help paint adhere better, but they can do a lot more, according to Debbie Zimmer, paint and color expert at the Paint Quality Institute.

"Interior primers can actually help prevent a host of problems and enhance the appearance of a finished paint job," Zimmer explains. "By choosing the right type of primer for a particular project, it's even possible to pinpoint the performance benefits you'll get."

Zimmer offers the following guide to some of the more common types of interior primers and how they can help improve your next paint job:
  • Stain-blocking primers. Walls and other interior surfaces often have water stains, smoke residue, grease, or other contaminants that can "bleed" right through a new coat of paint to ruin its appearance. To prevent that from happening, Zimmer advises applying a stain-blocking primer before painting to seal off the stain-producing agents. "These primers come in both latex and oil-based formulations, but latex stain blockers have much less odor, which is always a plus when working indoors," she says.
  • Vapor barrier primers. These interior primers are typically used in bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms to help prevent moisture from passing through the walls. By doing so, they help keep the wall insulation dry and reduce the chance of an exterior paint failure due to moisture exiting the interior. Vapor barrier primers also help maintain a comfortable level of humidity inside the home during the heating season.
  • Kitchen and bath primers. These coatings are often used in the same areas as vapor barrier primers, but they serve a different purpose. Specially formulated with biocides and stain blockers, they help control the growth of mildew and mold in rooms that tend to be damp or humid.
  • Drywall primers. While these coatings are called primers, they really function as sealers, which are close cousins of the primer family. As the name indicates, they are applied over drywall and joint compound to help conceal the differences in their appearance and impart a more uniform look to the completed paint job.
  • Latex enamel under-coaters. These primers are excellent for use under semi-gloss or gloss paint to ensure that the paint will develop its maximum gloss. After applying a latex enamel under-coater and letting it dry, Zimmer says it's important to lightly sand off any visible brush marks before applying the glossy paint.
  • Bonding primers. When painting a slick material like glass, tile, Formica, or vinyl-coated paneling, it is always wise to use a bonding primer. These primers are specially formulated to adhere to slippery surfaces and help create a more secure bond between the primer and paint.
According to Zimmer, even if you're on a very tight budget, you shouldn't fail to apply a primer when the circumstances call for one; the primer may actually save you money because you may need fewer coats of paint, especially on a previously unpainted surface. Likewise, if you are applying a dark-colored paint, you can often get away with fewer coats by applying a tinted primer beforehand.

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Mortgage Closing Costs Dropped 7 Percent over Past Year

August 7, 2012 1:40 am

The average cost to close on a mortgage in the United States dropped 7 percent over the past year to $3,754, according to's recently released, eighth annual closing-costs survey. Title insurance and other third-party fees fell 12 percent from 2011, while origination fees edged down 1 percent.

"This is the second year in which lenders are required to estimate third-party fees within 10 percent of the final cost. It seems like they're getting more accurate, which helps explain the sharp decrease in these fees over the past year," says Greg McBride, CFA,'s senior financial analyst.

For the third straight year, New York State has the nation's most expensive closing costs at an average of $5,435. The next most expensive states are Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida and Oklahoma. The least expensive state is Missouri ($3,006 on average), which is joined by Kansas, Colorado, Iowa and Arkansas among the five cheapest states.

Bankrate surveyed up to 10 lenders in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia in June 2012. Researchers obtained online good faith estimates for a $200,000 mortgage to buy a single-family home with a 20 percent down payment. Costs include fees charged by lenders, as well as third-party fees for services such as appraisals and title insurance. The survey excludes taxes, property insurance, association fees, interest and other prepaid items.

Source: Bankrate, Inc.

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Travelers Willing to Pay More for Space, Peace and Quiet

August 6, 2012 1:36 am

With airlines continually seeking non-fare revenue sources, GO Airport Express asked its customers exactly what services or amenities they would be willing to pay for. At the top of the list was more leg room, at 48 percent, with WiFi coming in second, at 33 percent. Thirty percent said they would pay more to sit in a designated child-free area.

Some respondents noted they would be willing to pay for amenities that used to be free, such as in-flight meals (21 percent); movies (nine percent) and pillows and blankets (five percent). However, 17 percent of respondents said all the choices listed on the survey should be included in the air fare, with many expressing unhappiness over airlines charging for services that were once complimentary.

At 13 percent, aisle seats beat out window seats, which were selected by just under 6 percent of respondents.

Eleven percent said they'd like the option to submit seatmate preferences when traveling alone and 9 percent would pay for larger overhead bins. At the bottom of the list? Just 4 percent said they would pay extra to sit in a designated child-friendly area.

Source: GO Airport Express

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Americans' Focus on Saving Could Impact National Growth

August 6, 2012 1:36 am

While incomes in the U.S. rose slightly in June 2012, a new report shows that consumer spending stagnated, suggesting Americans are using their earnings to increase their savings and pay down household debt. This trend toward saving more and spending less could have a negative impact on the growth of the economy.

The report from BMO Financial and Harris Bank suggests that the trend toward saving and debt reduction will continue. This could put downward pressure on domestic growth for the remainder of 2012.

The report also reveals that:
  • Americans are now taking on less debt than they did a decade ago.
  • Consumption, which accounts for more than two-thirds of domestic economic activity, was unchanged in June, falling short of economists' predicted 0.1 percent increase.
  • Income rose 0.5 percent for the month, pushing the nation's savings rate to 4.4 percent - its highest level in a year.
  • The number of jobs created from April to June this year was about one-third of those created between January and March 2012.
Source: BMO Financial Group

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Housing Demand Spreads Cross Country for Boomers

August 6, 2012 1:36 am

Despite popular belief, a recent analysis of government data by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reveals that the geographic distribution of households headed by someone age 55 or older is fairly even across most of the country, with more than 30 percent of all households in every state meeting this description. The study sheds valuable light on a key statistic for housing demand among active adults, as NAHB's long-term forecast indicates that the share of 55+ households will grow every year through 2019, when the 55+ category will account for nearly 45 percent of all U.S. households.

“As more baby boomers approach retirement and the average age of the U.S. population increases, many businesses—including home builders—are showing increased interest in designing products that appeal to customers 55 and older,” explains Paul Emrath, NAHB’s vice president of survey and housing policy research. “This research shows that 55+ developments should be possible in every state where population density is sufficient to support new communities of a size that can provide a variety of attractive amenities.”

The data show 43.9 million households are headed by someone 55 years old or higher, accounting for nearly 38 percent of all U.S. households. Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the share of households ranges from 31 to 45 percent. West Virginia tops all states, with 45 percent of its households headed by someone 55 or older, followed by Florida at 44 percent, Hawaii and Maine (each at 43 percent) and Pennsylvania and Montana (at 42 percent). At the other end of the scale, Utah and Alaska are the only states where less than one-third of the households are 55+.

For 97 percent of all 3,143 counties, the share of households age 55 or older is more than 30 percent. At the high end, 44 counties have a 55+ household share of over 60 percent. Mineral County, Colo., and Sumter County, Fla., are the highest ranked counties in the U.S. with 77 percent of their households headed by someone 55 or older. Sierra County, N.M., follows closely behind at 74 percent, while both Esmeralda County, Nev., and Wheeler County, Ore., come in at 71 percent each.

“The demographic that 55+ builders and developers are focused on is the largest growing group of buyers that we have ever seen in this age group, and it continues to grow,” says NAHB 50+ Housing Council Chairman W. Don Whyte. “It is also a group that is radically different from what it was only a few years ago. The customers are fitter, more computer savvy and plan to live an entirely different lifestyle from what they might have thought previously, or what we would have aimed at providing for them.”

Source: NAHB

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Improving the Mental Health of City Dwellers

August 3, 2012 1:30 am

With more than half of the world's population living in cities, researchers are paying more attention to how social conditions, such as poverty, violence and isolation, in many urban areas can harm the mental health and well-being of underserved individuals and communities — and are working to identify what can be done about it.

This September, leading global experts on the social determinants of mental health will join the Adler School of Professional Psychology to discuss the many ways in which city living can affect the well-being of urban residents, particularly the most vulnerable. The conference is hosted by the Adler School of Professional Psychology's Institute on Social Exclusion (ISE), led by Lynn Todman, Ph.D., ISE executive director and a prominent U.S. expert on the link between public policies and the mental health of urban communities.

"The Social Determinants of Urban Mental Health: Paving the Way Forward" conference takes place Sept. 19 and 20 at the Chicago Marriott Downtown.

Leading speakers will share recent and emerging research on the social determinants of mental health, and how the findings inform and shape government agencies' and philanthropic organizations' programming and funding priorities.

This conference is jointly sponsored by University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Medicine, the UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work, and the Adler School of Professional Psychology.

Source: The Adler School of Professional Psychology

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U.S. Employee Confidence Index Heats Up

August 3, 2012 1:30 am

While U.S. second quarter growth and hiring outlooks remain sluggish, employees are surprisingly more upbeat about their personal employment situation. Randstad's Employee Confidence Index increased by 1.1 points to 52.2 in July after declining for three consecutive months. Compared to this time last year, the Index is measuring 4.4 points higher and still remains above the positive confidence threshold of 50.0.

The online survey was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Randstad. It surveyed 1,248 employed U.S. adults, aged 18 and over between July 11-13, 2012.

"Similarly to the U.S. Consumer Confidence Index rising for the first time in months, our index also ticked up a bit," explains Joanie Ruge, SVP & chief employment analyst for Randstad U.S. "Our own report suggests that workers believe in their abilities to not only find a new job if they had to, but nearly 40 percent are likely to do so. While many employers remain cautious about making full-time hires, temporary or contract hiring, is continuing to be of interest. In fact, many employers who remain reluctant to add permanent staff are re-evaluating their workforce to determine the right mix of talent moving forward. Even though economists still expect U.S. growth to occur, many are pointing towards sustainability at this point. All eyes are certainly on tomorrow's jobs report."

With fewer than a quarter of employees indicating their optimism for an improving economy, others are split on whether the economy is staying the same (38 percent) or getting worse (39 percent). Women indicate more confidence in the future of their current employer at 63 percent versus men (55 percent). Seventy-four percent of both men and women say it is not likely they will lose their jobs, and men (42 percent) are more likely than women (34 percent) to look for a new job in the next 12 months.

In July, employees' confidence in the security of their current job continued to remain strong with an increase of three percentage points to 74 percent. Despite the gloomy attitude around the economy, 59 percent of employees are confident in the future of their employers.

Source: Randstad

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81 Percent of Refinancing Homeowners Maintain or Reduce Mortgage Debt in Second Quarter

August 3, 2012 1:30 am

Freddie Mac released the results of its second quarter refinance analysis showing homeowners who refinance continue to strengthen their fiscal house.

In the second quarter of 2012, 81 percent of homeowners who refinanced their first-lien home mortgage either maintained about the same loan amount or lowered their principal balance by paying-in additional money at the closing table. Of these borrowers, 59 percent maintained about the same loan amount, and 23 percent of refinancing homeowners reduced their principal balance; the share of borrowers that kept about the same loan amount was the highest in the 27-year history of the analysis.

According to Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, "The typical borrower who refinanced reduced their interest rate by about 1.5 percentage points. On a $200,000 loan, that translates into saving about $2,900 in interest during the next 12 months. Fixed-rate mortgage rates hit new lows during June, with 30-year product averaging 3.68 percent and 15-year averaging 2.95 percent that month, according to our Primary Mortgage Market Survey.”

The net dollars of home equity converted to cash as part of a refinance, adjusted for consumer-price inflation, was at the lowest level in 17 years (since the second quarter of 1995). In the second quarter, an estimated $5 billion in net home equity was cashed out during the refinance of conventional prime-credit home mortgages, substantially less than during the peak cash-out refinance volume of $84 billion during the second quarter of 2006.

The median interest rate reduction for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was about 1.5 percentage points, or a savings of about 28 percent in interest rate, the largest percent reduction recorded in the 27 years of analysis.

Among the refinanced loans in Freddie Mac's analysis, the median depreciation of the collateral property was 16 percent over the median prior-loan life of 5.1 years. The prior-loan age was the oldest in 13 years, surpassed only by the prior-loan age recorded in the third quarter of 1999.

Property-value change and loan age varied between Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and other refinance loans. For loans refinanced during the second quarter through HARP, the median depreciation in property value was 34 percent and the prior loan had a median age of about 5.5 years (to be eligible for HARP, the prior loan had to be originated before June 1, 2009). Excluding HARP loans, other loans refinanced during the second quarter had a median property-value decline of 2 percent over a median prior-loan age of about 4 years.

Source: Freddie Mac

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5 Tips for a Great New School Year

August 2, 2012 1:28 am

Experts agree that it takes 21 days to form new habits, so if you want to start the school year off successfully, it's time to start preparing now. Here are five important tips for getting the new school year off to a great start:

1. Get on a “school schedule” at least three weeks before school starts: early bedtime, early wake-up, limited TV/video games/computer, healthy lunches and (yes) even a little homework.

2. Why is a good sleep schedule so important to your child’s success? Extensive research on sleep is well documented in the best-seller “Nurture Shock” by Po Bronson. Researchers found that even one less hour of sleep in children drastically affects their IQ, emotional well-being, ADHD and obesity.

3. Brush up on math, grammar, geography and foreign language before the school year starts. Why? In the mega best-selling book on success, “The Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, academic success was measured between rich kids and poor kids and also between American kids and Asian kids. Gladwell says, “America doesn’t have a school problem. We have a summer vacation problem.” His extensive research finds that by the end of a school year in June, the poor kids are slightly ahead of the rich academically and the American kids are equal to the Asian kids. But when these same kids are re-tested in September after returning from summer vacation, the poor kids are far behind the rich kids and the Americans are overall far behind the Asian kids. Why? American kids have 180 school days versus the Japanese kids having 243, so the American kids fall into a greater “achievement gap.” So invest in workbooks and other curriculum to help keep your children’s brain cells moving over the summer. Early childhood specialist, Naomi Schafer says, “It doesn’t matter what you do—just do something. Talk about fractions as you make dinner—say, ‘do you think these apple pieces are a quarter or an eighth? How can you know?’ Vary it based on your child’s ability.”

4. Mentally prepare your child for new social or emotional challenges she might face in a new school year. A new year might bring a new bully to the classroom. It is much easier to overcome these challenges when you talk to your child before she is challenged with them – not after.

5. Work with you teacher. How easy is it to manage 25-30 unruly children in today’s classrooms? Not easy at all. Teachers have extremely stressful jobs. Any teacher will tell you that the No. 1 component of a successful year versus a stressful year is the amount of participation she receives from the parents. Be involved. Volunteer in the classroom. Always attend teacher meetings…and listen to her needs and requests. Talking consistently with your child’s teacher will help you to handle and deal with issues in advance that, if left unchecked, could become stumbling blocks.

Source: Southwestern Parents

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