Archive December 28, 2015

Prevent Identity Theft

Tis the season for holiday shopping, but it’s also the season for holiday thievery. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) in San Diego, Calif., estimates that 15 million people are victims of identity theft every year. The not-for-profit group reports that it gets more calls about lost and stolen wallets and purses during the holiday season than at any other time of the year. To make sure identity theft does not spoil your holidays, the ITRC has several tips for safeguarding your personal data.

1) Never share your social security or credit card numbers in a public environment. Instead of verbally sharing requested sensitive information, write it down for the clerk, then take the slip of paper home with you. Also: when talking on your cell phone in public, don’t give out any personal information that could be overheard.

2) Keep store receipts in your wallet, not inside the bag with your purchase.

3) Carry only what you need when shopping, and keep purses, backpacks 
and bags zipped or fastened shut to deter pickpockets.

4) Use debit cards judiciously or leave them at home — they are a direct 
link to your bank account. By using credit cards instead, you can review the billing statement afterward and dispute any suspected fraudulent activity.

5) When shopping online, print out the Web page describing the item(s) you ordered, as well as any email messages and contact information for the online seller.

6) Do not provide your social security number, birth date or mother’s maiden name in an email or within a website.

7) Make sure the latest anti-virus software is installed on your computer before shopping online.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, December 2013

Curbing the Winter Blahs

While the weather outside might be frightful, your home’s curb appeal can still be delightful. The following ideas from HGTV.com can help make your home stand out even when it’s cold and gray outside.

Clean the gutters. Clogged gutters can cause water damage to your home, create ice dams that can damage gutters and attract pests.

Keep visitors safe. Clear the walkways, driveway and stairs of snow and ice so prospective buyers can make it to your front door without slipping.

Provide proper lighting. As the days get shorter, it gets darker earlier. Lights can illuminate the path to the front door, and sconces or lanterns on each side of the door can give buyers a warm welcome.

Colorize the exterior. Bare trees won’t hide your home’s faded or chipped paint, so five your home a fresh coat. A front door painted in a bright color can make it stand out amidst the gray landscape.

Use winter decorations wisely. Keep holiday decorations to a minimum, and use them to show off your home’s best features. A string of white lights around the windows can make your home look festive.

Bring out the green. Evergreen trees and cold-weather plants, such as pansies and witch hazel, can liven up a dreary landscape.

By following these simple tips, your home can make a great first impression in any season.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, November/December 2015

Don’t Ruin Their Holiday

It’s easy to overlook our furry companions during the rush of seasonal celebrations. The holidays can be disruptive to pets’ routines, so it’s important to keep their eating and exercise habits to a normal schedule, according to the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The following tips can help keep pets out of harm’s way during the holidays.

Anchor the Christmas tree so it doesn’t tip and fall over, injuring your pet. This will also prevent the tree water, which may contain poisonous fertilizers, from spilling. Also keep wires, batteries and ornaments out of paws’ reach so pets don’t get hurt.

Consider decorating the tree with bows or strands of popcorn, ribbon or garland. Avoid shiny strands of tinsel that can be tantalizing to cats, but also dangerous. One small nibble can lead to an obstructed digestive tract, severe vomiting and dehydration.

Fresh holly and mistletoe might appear harmless, but when ingested, pets can suffer nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Instead, choose colorful, artificial plants made from silk or plastic.

Don’t leave lighted candles unattended. Pets can accidentally burn themselves or cause a fire if they knock candles over. Place candles in appropriate holders on a stable surface, and extinguish them when exiting the room.

With so much activity going on, give your dog or cat a quiet place to retreat to, complete with fresh water, their favorite toy and snack, and a place to snuggle.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, November/December 2015

Mall Security – Online Version

According to a 2014 Deloitte survey, 55 percent of American consumers say they are concerned about protecting their personal data when shopping online, and 42 percent say they have similar concerns when shopping in stores. With the holiday shopping season fast approaching, consumers need to be more vigilant about protecting their personal data. PC Magazine offers the following tips to shop safely online. ̈

If possible, avoid using a debit card for purchases. Most debit cards don’t have the same level of fraud protection that credit cards have. If a debit card is all you have, protect your PIN by shielding the keypad with your hand or body.

Visit only trusted sites, which are more likely to be secure. Make sure an “https” appears in the site’s URL and a lock icon is visibly displayed. Log out of all shopping accounts after completing a transaction.

Avoid using a public Wi-Fi for your online shopping and financial transactions. Also use a password manager to create strong, unique passwords for each shopping site. Ä

Provide as little information to merchants as possible. Online retailers do not need to know your social security number or birth-date to do business.

Purchase gift cards directly from the retailer, not through a third-party source. Some scammers will auction off gift cards on sites like eBay with little or no funds on them.

Review online bank statements frequently to confirm charges; don’t wait for your monthly statement to arrive in the mail. If you notice any questionable charges, contact your financial institution immediately.

Keep these suggestions in mind, and you can enjoy a secure holiday shopping experience.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, November/December 2015

Guest List

The holidays bring food, gifts, good times — and guests. Hosting houseguests can be joyful and stressful, but you can minimize the hassle with thoughtful planning and preparation. Consider these tips from Real Simple and Woman’s Day.

Get your house in order. Cut out any unnecessary drama by discussing — and approving — houseguests (who, how many and for how long) with your spouse and the rest of your household well before anyone arrives on your doorstep. Next, ensure you have adequate space for the number of guests you’ll have. Sleeping arrangements will be different depending on your guests’ situations. For example, young children may need to sleep in the same room as their parents, so you might want to provide a futon or air mattress.

Stock your kitchen. Avoid the stress of creating daytime meals on the fly by stashing a few easily defrosted dishes that guests can help themselves to throughout the day, such as lasagna or baked mac ’n’ cheese. And be sure to set a specific dinner- time so everyone can plan accordingly. For breakfast, opt for small baskets of muffins or bagels with jellies and butter, and keep a pot of hot coffee with ample supplies of cream and sugar so that guests can wake up and feed themselves at their own pace.

Don’t forget about it. Help your guests settle in by stocking up on the often-forgotten necessities, such as toothbrushes, travel-sized toothpaste and shower products, disposable razors and makeup-remover wipes. Equip each bed- room with extra linens, and add a scented candle or two to make rooms feel like a posh hotel.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, November, 2012

Season Pass

The weather may not be as chilly in California or Florida as it is in New York or Wisconsin, but getting your home ready for a new season is still a good idea. Put these “winterizing” tips from MSN Real Estate on your to-do list.

Clean your gutters.  Autumn leaves are pretty, but once they fall, they can reveal their ugly side — by contributing to clogged gutters. Neglecting your gutters can eventually cause water to seep into your home. Rid gutters of leaves and other debris by hand (be sure to wear thick gloves) or with a scraper and rinse with a powerful hose to ensure proper drainage.

Plug leaks.  Avoid leaks from rain or snowstorms with a simple maneuver. On a windy day, walk around the inside of your home with a lit incense stick or candle and hold it near commonly drafty areas—windows, door frames, electrical outlets — and apply caulk or other sealants to gaps. For more protection against the elements, install storm windows or buy a window insulator kit (about $5 per window) for a cheaper fix.

Bundle up.  Insulation, no matter where you live, is a necessity. Experts say that regardless of where you call home, attics should contain a minimum of 12 inches of insulation. Ensure that your insulation is adequate to help you avoid wasted money in heating or energy bills.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, November, 2012

Universal Appeal

As more homeowners choose to live in their homes longer as they age, many of them are improving their space with universal design features to help them live more comfortably. Before making any improvements, the National Aging in Place Council outlines the most common universal design modifications.

Are the entryways accessible? Adding a ramp or constructing no- step entries can help those confined to a wheelchair or who have trouble climbing stairs. Open floor plans and wider hallways make everyone feel less cramped and allow people to move around easily. Wider doorways provide easier access to other parts of the home and enable people to move large items in and out of the house.

To improve safety in bathrooms, install grab bars and elevated toilets. Make sure there’s enough turnaround space for someone in a wheelchair, and consider lowering the bathroom sink and adding a roll-in shower with multiple showerheads. A non-slip floor and shower surface will help everyone stay on their feet. In the master bedroom, consider reconfiguring an existing walk-in closet or building a new one with storage at different heights.

In the kitchen, lower cooking surfaces and countertops built at varying heights will appeal to home cooks who have difficulty bending over or have height limitations. Wall ovens and microwaves should be mounted at reachable heights, and storage and shelf space should be abundant and accessible.

Well-placed skylights and ceiling lights will aid those with poor vision and make the home more personable and safe. Installing rocker switches and door leverhandles can aid people with poor hand strength as well as those carrying groceries into the house.

A universally-designed home provides smart solutions for everyday living that everyone can enjoy.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, October 2012

Shaping Up At Home

A home gym may be a practical alternative for people who can’t afford a club membership, are short on time or don’t have access to a health club. With so many types of equipment available, it might be overwhelming to know what to buy for a home gym. These simple steps from Shape Magazine and the American Council on Exercise can guide you in the right direction.

Start by finding a location for your home gym. If you don’t have a spare bedroom, basement or back porch, designate a corner of the home, such as the living room. Make the space as light and airy as possible. Natural lighting from windows and doors work best, but if there are few windows, add recessed lighting or a few lamps with soft white bulbs to provide the light you need.

Full-length mirrors on one wall can not only make the space appear larger, they can be used to monitor proper form during workouts. Bring in a few plants, such as ferns, spider plants and bamboo palms, to boost oxygen levels and naturally purify the air.

Even equipment designed for home use can take more room than you have. Equipment can take up as little as 10 square feet for a bike or 30 square feet for a treadmill, while a multi-station gym may require up to 200 square feet. If the space doesn’t allow for a treadmill and multi-gym, opt for a space-saving rack of dumbbells and several easily storable items such as a jump rope, resistance bands, stability ball and yoga mat.

Start by adding a few pieces of equipment and gradually build up the home gym over time. In no time, your body and bank account will thank you.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, October 2012

App Picking

There’s an app for that.” Tired of hearing that phrase? Well, don’t knock it just yet. When you’re shopping for a home, you’ll want to know the apps that will lead you to the next open house. Consider these tips from AOL Real Estate and CNET.

For starters, real estate websites, such as Zillow, Redfin and Trulia, have free apps with many of the sites’ functions. You can search addresses, contact REALTORS®, and find the estimated value of homes.

Homesnap (iOS, free) is another tool on the scene. Take a photo within the app when you’re passing by a home to get the list price, square footage, number of bedrooms, heating and air conditioning systems, local schools and estimated taxes.

If you’re looking for a home in a specific area, try the REALTOR.com Real Estate App (Andriod, IOS; free) Area Highlighter feature. You can customize the search area by drawing the boundaries directly on the map.

And once you’ve started your search, keep track of the houses and wish list features you like with CrumbTracks’ (iOS, $1.99). Create files—with notes and photos—for each one.

The Home Buying Power app (iOS, $1.99) can help you calculate your down payment, ideal monthly payment, closing costs and more.

And, if you’re just looking to do some home improvements, there’s an app for that, too. Try Photo Measures (iOS, $5.99), which gives you accurate dimensions of rooms and lets you include design notes.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, September 2013

Show Time

End-of-summer sales on patio furniture might be front and center, but it might be just the right time to invest in new indoor chairs, couches or tables. Take a seat and learn how to prepare with tips from Better Homes and Gardens.

Do your homework. First, measure everything. Write down room dimensions, accounting for the door and other details of the space. Also, have an idea of what you like. Get inspiration from home décor magazines and online research. But, remember, you will need to touch, sit and even lift furniture before deciding if you should bring it home.

Ask yourself the right questions. What is the purpose and function of the furniture? Is comfort or aesthetic the priority? It may help to bring to the store the measurements, photos of the room and magazine pages so that you can refer to them while you’re shopping.

Pay attention to detail. Check the cushions and stitching. Run your fingers over the woodwork and finish. Take time to examine every detail. Make sure that the furniture piece is exactly what you are looking for.

Don’t settle. If you aren’t sold on a piece, don’t get it. Every detail should be perfect. Many stores now even have a custom design division. Still feel overwhelmed? Ask your CRS REALTOR® for an interior designer referral.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, September 2013

Poison Control

Kids are naturally curious about their surroundings. But sometimes they can get into things that are dangerous and even deadly. Safe Kids Worldwide, a global not-for-profit group, provides several tips for keeping children safe in their own homes. Following these simple steps can help keep kids out of harm’s way, giving you peace of mind.

1) Store all household products out of children’s sight and reach. Young kids are often eye-level with items under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, so any items located there should be moved to a place they cannot reach. Install child safety locks on cabinets where hazardous items are stored.

2) Read product labels carefully to find out if the item is harmful to kids. The most dangerous items include makeup, personal care products, plants, pesticides, lead, art supplies, alcohol and carbon monoxide.

3) Don’t leave hazardous products unattended while in use. Many accidents occur when adults are distracted. Keep cleaning products in their original containers, and never put a potentially dangerous product in something other than its original packaging, such as a plastic soda bottle, where it could be mistaken for something else.

4) Check your garage, basement and other storage areas for any cleaning supplies you no longer need and discard them.

5) Check your purse for any medications or makeup that could pose a danger, and store handbags out of reach. Keep all medications and vitamins stored where children cannot reach them, and always put medicines away after every use.

6) If a child has been poisoned, call the Poison Control Center at 800.222.1222, which offers fast, free, confidential help in English and Spanish. If the child has collapsed, call 911 immediately.

7) Install a carbon monoxide alarm on every level of your home, especially near sleeping areas, and keep them at least 15 feet away from fuel-burning appliances.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, September/October 2015

Shopping For Green

Today’s buyers are more concerned than ever about living green, and that means finding an eco- friendly home. How do you know the home you want is truly green?

Green means different things to different people. Buyers focused on energy cost savings prefer homes that have basic energy-efficient features, such as Energy Star appliances, weatherproofed windows and good insulation. Buyers concerned about personal health issues prefer homes that use non-toxic materials such as low VOC paints and bamboo flooring. Still other buyers want to contribute a more sustainable future. They look for building materials that are produced locally or use reclaimed wood.

At the most basic level, Energy Star appliances, double-paned windows and efficient heating and cooling systems can lower energy bills and give buyers peace of mind. Other factors include:

Cost – Expect to pay more for a green home. A recent study by the University of California finds that green-certified, single-family homes sold for 9 percent more than a comparable home that wasn’t green.

Square Footage – The larger the home, the more energy it consumes. Buying a smaller home is more economical.

Paint – Use water-based paints that contain lower levels of VOC’s that conventional oil-based paints. VOC’s emit gases that can cause health issues.

Carpeting/Flooring – Choose carpeting made from recycled or renewable materials. For wood flooring, bamboo or reclaimed wood are popular choices.

Utilities – Review past utility bills to determine typical monthly energy costs. Also request documentation on any green features that have been added to the property.

Landscaping – Choose plants and trees that don’t require the same level of maintenance as a lawn.

If in doubt, ask questions. The more questions you ask, the more confident you wil be that you are getting a truly green home.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, September/October, 2015