Category Helpful Everyday Tips

Home Designs for Busy Families

With their calendars crammed with things to do and places to go, today’s busy families want to spend as little time as possible handling mundane household chores. To help families stay organized, newer homes are being built with customized floor plans to allow for more flexibility and better use of space. Here are a few examples of these home design trends.


While mudrooms have been around for at least a decade, they have evolved into a larger, more centralized area for each member of the family, complete with individual cubbies for books and backpacks, drawers for hats and gloves, and a bench for removing wet shoes and boots.

Most mudrooms are 6 feet by 8 feet, although some can be as large as 8 feet by 12 feet, and some include USB outlets, walk-in closets and windows with natural light. These rooms once shared space with washers and dryers, but laundry machines have moved closer to the bedrooms where most dirty laundry collects, builders say.

Study/Computer Stations

Parents want to keep a close eye on their kids as they do their homework, but where that study space is located differs among households. In many homes, kitchen islands double as a study area as well as an area for cooking and eating. Other homes are built with study nooks on the upper floor, a separate study in the lower level or a pocket office located off the kitchen.

Self-Serve Kitchens

Newer homes are designed with the kitchen or pantry set up so family members can grab their own meals while on the go. These self-serve areas are located away from the main food prep area and are equipped with a mini refrigerator or refrigerator drawer to hold fruit and snacks, and a micro- wave at child-sized height for easy access.

Home design features like these can help today’s families stay organized as they go through their busy lives.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, March 2015

No More Closing Surprises

Thanks to new mortgage disclosure guidelines from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that became effective October 3, 2015, homebuyers can expect a more seamless closing process and fewer headaches at the closing table. The new rules simplify the loan paper- work so buyers understand exactly what they owe.

Buyers can expect to receive two documents during the sales process — a loan estimate and a closing disclosure form, which are intended to be more transparent and could save them money on hidden costs and small-print fees that they might other- wise miss.

The loan estimate details the transaction, including the estimated loan and closing costs. Consumers can use this form to do an apples-to-apples comparison when shopping
for home loans. The closing disclosure form, which details the final transaction, is provided to buyers three days before closing so they can confirm whether they are getting what they expected and negotiate any changes. The two documents mirror each other, making it easy to compare estimates with final loan terms.

Because of the strict timing rules lenders must follow, it’s important that buyers provide lenders with all the information they need to process their loan applications quickly. A qualified real estate professional can help ensure that all paperwork and negotiations with the seller are completed in a timely fashion.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, January/February 2016

Accessorize It

If your home decor seems stuck in a rut, updating your accessories can bring more spice to your living space. When accessorizing your home, follow these simple tips and tricks from HGTV and

Highlight a Few Favorite Accessories at One Time. While it’s fun to collect different styles of pillows, artwork and collectables, displaying them all at one time can overwhelm the room. Try showing only 20 percent of your prized accessories at a given time and change them regularly throughout the year.

Highlight a Focal Point in the Room. Perhaps you have a uniquely designed fireplace mantel or a treasured area rug that you want to showcase. Select a piece of artwork to complement the rug, or display a few photographs of your favorite figurines along the mantel.

Choose a Color Scheme and Theme. Before buying accessories, decide on one or two colors that will ad visual interest to each room and complement your furniture and wall colors. If your furniture and walls are neutral, choose bold colors for your accessories to create a vibrant look. Accessories can also play up a theme of a room.

Group Similar Items. To create a consistent, balanced look, display accessories in small groupings. Some designers work by the rule of three. For example, a trio of matching mirrors lined up on the wall with a contrasting background can provide a dramatic focal point.

Light Up Your Space. Create instant impact by choosing light fixtures that complement the design style of the room. To create a certain mood, use wall scones, and extravagant chandelier or recessed lighting.

With the right accessories, your home can go from stale to stunning in no time.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, January/February 2016

Home Work

According to a recent study by Telework Research Network, 30 million people work from home at least once a week, and that number is expected to grow by 63 percent over the next five years. While dedicating an entire room for a home office is ideal, it’s not always practical. With smaller laptops and office furnishings and Wi-Fi connections, work areas can be set up anywhere in the home. Before setting up a workspace at home, here are a few ideas to consider.

Reliable power. Many older homes may not have sufficient power or may lack grounded outlets. An electrician can do a wiring inspection and upgrade outlets and circuits as needed. A strong Internet connection is also important. Make sure your DSL or cable modem is functioning well and can handle a demanding workload.

Adequate storage. Storage solutions don’t have to be fancy or expensive, but they do need to be tailored to hold everything you need, including reference books, office supplies and files.

Sufficient lighting. Tasks like reading or drafting require lighting that shines directly on the work. For task lighting, use energy-efficient, long-lasting LEDs and a dimmer switch to control levels.

Work surface. The type of work you do will determine the size of work surface you need. A longer, wider area is better for spreading out papers, while a smaller desk may work best for reading documents and making phone calls. If you use a printer every day, place it within easy reach.

Seating. If you sit for long periods, invest in an ergonomic chair. Though it may cost more, it can provide better comfort and support for your back.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, January/February 2016

Common Scents

There is a strong connection between smells and human emotions. Given that homebuying can be a very emotional process, you’ll want to make sure home looks and smells good to appeal to more buyers. Make sure your home passes the smell test by following these tips from HGTV.
If there are any foul odors in your home, don’t just cover them up by baking cookies — try to identify the source and focus on eliminating the odors. Old carpets are often the biggest culprit. If you don’t have the time or budget to replace old rugs with new carpet or hardwood floors, wash the carpet with mild detergent soap and water solution, then go over it with a damp towel to neutralize the odor. And open the windows on opposite walls to circulate fresh air.
After you’ve rid your home of bad scents or if you just want to fill it with more pleasant smells, consider boiling fruit peels, spices or herbs in water. Rather than throwing away lemon or orange peels, boil water and let the peels sit for a few minutes, adding water every half hour or so. You can also mix the peels with other soothing scents. Using oils such as sandalwood, lavender, tea tree and eucalyptus can be therapeutic and inviting.

CRS Your Home Newsletter – March, 2013

Holiday Home Selling Tips

Were you considering putting your house on the market but waited until after the holidays because you weren’t sure how to handle decorating and winter landscape?  Here are some helpful tips to help you prepare for the next holiday season if you are  considering selling.

There are a few advantages to selling your home during the holidays. Buyers shopping for homes this time of year tend to be more serious, and because fewer homes may be on the market, there’s less competition. offers several tips to attract buyers during this busy season.

Don’t go overboard on holiday decorations. Large decorations can make your home seem smaller and they can distract buyers. If you choose to decorate, opt for fewer and smaller items with a general winter theme.

Hire a reliable real estate agent. Ask family and friends to recommend a Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) agent who will work hard for you during the holiday season.

Seek motivated buyers. Individuals shopping for a home during the holidays must be highly motivated. Target buyers who need to move soon, such as people relocating for jobs, college students and university staff on break, and investors on tax deadlines.

Price the property to sell. No matter what time of year it is, a home that’s priced appropriately for the market will attract buyers.

Pay attention to curb appeal. Maintaining your home’s exterior is just as important in the winter as it is during any other season. Touch up the paint, clean the gutters and spruce up the yard. Also keep buyers’ safety in mind by keeping stairs and walkways clear of snow, ice and leaves.

Make your home cozy and inviting. When showing your home, crank up the heat, play soft music and offer homemade holiday treats. It will encourage buyers to spend more time in the home, which gives them a chance to admire its best features.

CRS Your Home Newsletter, December 2013

The Tipping Point

Did you question how much to tip this holiday season?  There are no hard and fast rules on holiday tipping, experts say. How much to tip, or whether to tip at all, depends on several factors, including the quality and frequency of service, the relationship you have with the provider, how long they have worked for you, where you live (since amounts can be higher in large cities), and your budget.

The Emily Post Institute offers the following guidelines for holiday tipping, but also advises consumers to let common sense and the holiday spirit be your guide. If financial circumstances limit what you can give, a handwritten note is always appropriate.

Babysitter – One evening’s pay, plus a small gift from your child(ren)

Barber/Hair stylist – Cost of one haircut or a gift

Child’s teacher – Check the school’s policy. If allowed, give a small token gift of appreciation, not cash

Day care providers – $25 to $70 for each staff member, plus a small gift from your child for providers who 
give direct care to your child(ren)

Dog walker – One week’s pay or a gift

Pet groomer – Cost of one session or a gift

Personal fitness trainer – Up to the cost of one session

Housekeeper/maid service – Up to one week’s pay or a gift

Doorman – $15 to $80

Garage attendant – $10 to $30

Massage therapist – Up to the cost of one session or a gift

Handyman service – $15 to $40

Yard/garden worker – $20 to $50 per worker

CRS Your Home Newsletter, December 2012

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 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