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Updated: Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Earth Day Special - 10 Easy Ways To Go Green With Little Effort

Earth Day always makes us recommit to eco-friendliness, but I dont think were alone in saying that many of our grand efforts can be short-lived. Thankfully, even if youre not ready to start compositing or devising an elaborate rainwater catching system, you can still have an impact. Another benefit to being nice to the Earth - green measures are also money savers Ready, set, go green

1. Change your light bulbs

What could be easier than swapping out a few bulbs? Choose compact fluorescent bulbs CFL to see the biggest change.

"They consume about 75 percent less electricity and last up to 10 times longer," said Better Homes and Gardens. "Replace one 75-watt incandescent bulb with a 25-watt CFL and save up to 83 over the life of the bulb."

2. Recycle

You dont need to lay out some complicated assembly line to dispose of every piece of trash. Start small by setting aside your plastic bottles and glass containers. If you have a recycling bin, use it. And if you live in an area where you can get money back for your recyclables, by all means, take advantage of it.

Recycling glass alone can reduce ">

3. Ditch the bottled water

Remarkably, close to 90 percent of plastic water bottles are not recycled. A pitcher with a filter can make a huge differenceyou can conserve up to five gallons a day with this one little change.

4. Shorten your showers

Every two minutes you save on your shower can conserve more than ten gallons of water. If you live in California or another area being impacted by the drought, this is probably already on your mind. For everyone else, shortening a couple showers a week is a start.

5. Turn off computers at night

"By turning off your computer instead of leaving it in sleep mode, you can save 40 watt-hours per day," said 50 Ways to Help the Planet. "That adds up to 4 cents a day, or 14 per year."

6. Turn off everything with an LED

Why stop at the computer? "Anything that has an LED light emitting diode that glows even after you turn it off continues to draw energy," said Better Homes and Gardens. Your TV, cell phone charger, and printer are likely culprits. Unplug the offenders from wall sockets and plug them into power strips instead. When you leave a room, flip the strip switch to cut the flow of electricity. Unplug appliances and electronics that glow and you could save 200 a year."

7. Dont forget about video games

Getting the kids into the habit of flipping the games off when theyre done is another easy way to save energy and money.

"Youll win back about 100 per year," said Good Housekeeping.

8. Slash your junk mail

50 Ways to Help the Planet estimates that the average American gets 40 pounds of junk mail per year. That equates to 100 million trees Take an afternoon and go on an unsubscribing spree. Youll save some trees, some space in your mailbox, and your sanity

9. Stop paying your bills

Its estimated that almost 20 million trees could be saved every year if Americans paid their bills online and opted to receive e-statements. We would also eliminate more than two billion tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and 1.7 billion pounds of solid waste, said 50 Ways to Help the Planet.

10. Buy some new appliances

Heres one more reason to go get that French door refrigerator youve had your eye on: it could help save the Earth and save you money.

"When its time to replace a household appliance, choose a product with an Energy Star label," said Better Homes and Gardens. "A household with Energy Star products uses about 30 percent less energy than the average householdan annual savings of about 570. You may even be eligible for a tax credit when you purchase an Energy Star product."

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6 Water-Saving Landscaping Ideas

With the sun shining down on your lawn this spring -- and the chance you could be facing days without rainfall -- youll probably be watering or turning on the sprinklers more often. Rather than watching your water bill dramatically increase, take this opportunity to look at how you can make your landscape water-efficient. Water-efficient landscapes can:

Reduce how much water you use outside by 20 to 50

Help you save almost 10,000 gallons of water per year

Decrease your bill by 30 to 70 per year

Here are some tips on saving water this spring and summer with your landscape. And dont worry, none involve a complete overhaul

1 Choose native plants.

Native plants are the better choice for your landscape because they:

Are established

Dont require a lot of watering

Are resistant to pests and diseases in the area

Dont need a lot of fertilizer

Rather than going wild and planting non-native species that could require a lot of watering and attention, focus on the plants that thrive in your climate. Check out local nurseries and speak to landscapers in the area who know what species to look at. If you really want to add exotic plants to your landscape, do not touch invasive species as they could hurt your natives and cause a headache by the end of the season.

Photo courtesy of Green Touch Enterprise, Inc. in Bellflower, CA

2 Put plants into groups.

Once youve selected your plants, its time to group them together. If you put plants together by how much water they need, youll cut time and water use down. By putting the plants that need less water together, youll avoid under or over watering. Do the same with the plants that need a lot of water and plant them in the same area.

  • Your thirstiest should go together, potentially near the house to take advantage of rainfall coming off the roof.
  • Put plants that need drip irrigation or sprinkler water further out from thirsty plants.
  • The furthest away from the thirsty plants will be plants that need little to no watering.
Photo courtesy of Senn Lawn Care, LLC in Chalfont, PA

3 Mulch, mulch, mulch.

Mulch -- whether organic or inorganic -- helps save water by keeping soil cool, reducing evaporation and helping roots stay healthy. Mulch needs to be replaced on a regular basis, 2 to 3 inches at a time. There are two options to choose from:

  • Organic mulches like compost, bark chips and pine needles. These break down and add nutrients at the same time.
  • Inorganic mulches like landscaping paper, rocks and pebbles. These are permanent but can fluctuate more in temperature.

Youre usually better off applying organic mulches because of their added nutrients. You can also save some money by using your grass clippings as mulch after mowing.

4 Water efficiently.

Watering should be done efficiently and at appropriate times, so your plants get the most water absorption. You should water early in the morning when temperatures are at their coolest in the spring and summer. If you have new or transplanted flowers and shrubs, they will need less water. Never water in the middle of the day or at sunset--middle of the day is the highest evaporation time and dusk will encourage fungus and mildew growth overnight.

Photo courtesy of Dixon Teter in Paoli, PA

5 Minimize steep slopes.

If you have a steep slope in your yard, theres a chance all the watering you do will be pointless. The water will run away from your garden and down into the sidewalk. To avoid this problem, you have a few options.

  • Install deeper root plants like native groundcovers and shrubs
  • Have your lawn resloped professionally for 900 to 2,400.
  • Install rocks, pebbles and other permanent fixtures around the plants to trap the water.
  • 6 Shrink the lawn.

    Depending on the size of your lawn, theres a chance youre going to spend a lot of money on watering regardless. So why not look at making your lawn smaller? You might not need to have grass everywhere. Restrict it to areas where you actually need it -- the front yard or under a kids playground, for example -- or think about xeriscaping instead. Xeriscaping is a great idea in climates with very little rainfall, like the West and Southwest. Instead of green grass, a xeriscaped yard includes rocks, pebbles and sand. Its not a traditional yard in any sense, but its easy to maintain and you can still have flowers and shrubs sprinkled in.

    For those who still want a lawn, you can plant types of grass that are more drought-resistant. These types include bermuda and buffalo grass, which use 20 less water than other types.

    Andrea Davis is the editor for HomeAdvisor, which helps homeowners find home improvement professionals in their area at no charge to ensure the best service in the shortest amount of time.

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    Seven Ways To Ruin Your Listing Tour

    The Internet is a great tool for looking at homes for sale, but sooner or later, youre going to have to get offline and tour listings in person. That means youll have to find a real estate agent to get you past the lockboxes. Sounds simple? Not really. Here are six ways you could turn your house-hunting trip into an epic fail.

    Calling the listing agent -- Listing agents represent the seller, not you. Some states allow an agent to serve both you and the seller if youre willing to sign a disclosure to that effect. Depending on what kind of agreement you sign, the listing agent cant advise you anyway and could be obliged to report back to the seller every word you said.

    Listing agents also want to sell their own listings, or their brokers listings, so you may not get the full picture of whats for sale. You may not get to see their competitors listings until theyve exhausted showing you the in-house listings first.

    Taking your kids along -- Kids get cranky, theyre distracting, they have to be fed, they wet their pants, and they break stuff. And letting them "pick their rooms" when you havent even made an offer is just stupid. It confuses them and opens you up to a lot of miserable "But Daddy, " questions later. Which you deserve.

    Taking a slew of >- Its okay to take Mom and Dad to see homes, especially if theyre coughing up the down payment for you. But be an adult and do the first-viewings without them. You can select your own home, cant you? On the second pass, you can show them the ones youre most interested in, and invite them to weigh in with their opinions.

    Keep in mind that the more people you bring along, the more opinions youll have to listen to. Theres no way to please everyone, so matter which house you pick, youll offend someone that you didnt choose their favorite.

    Staying on your phone -- Millennials were born with cellphones in their hands, but you miss a lot when youre paying more attention to a screen than in screening houses. Texting means youre distracted, and making the most important purchase of your life is not the time to Instagram your friends. Taking pictures makes you look like youre casing the joint for a robbery, so save the selfies for when your offer is accepted.

    Eliminating ugly homes too fast -- Fixer-uppers can be treasures, or dont you watch any HGTV? Dont diss homes because the paint or wallpapers outdated -- that can be easily changed. The beauty of ugly homes is that the price is usually low enough that you can afford to make your own updates. A little DIY could be good for you. Just think of the bragging rights youll have as your friends ooh and aaah over the changes you made.

    Not trusting your REALTOR -- If you dont trust your agent, you picked the wrong one. You do stupid things like take your own car while viewing listings, missing out on valuable information your agent can share about the area, the home, and other homes for sale or that have recently sold. Youll also learn more about how your agent does business. Take notes. If you want to talk privately, simply ask the agent for a few minutes alone.

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    Easy Paint Projects That Dont Include Walls

    Who says you have to stop with paint on the walls? A can of paint can easily transform a number of areas in your home, turning boring into beautiful. Its time to have fun with paint, all over your house and outside too.

    Paint your cabinets

    DIY painting your kitchen cabinets may not be a quick fix, but with a little time and patience, results can be well worth it. Make sure to review the steps and refrain from cutting corners, even when it feels like your arm is about to fall off curse you, sanding, for best results. See HGTV for a tutorial.

    Paint your doors

    And we dont mean white. Go bright, dark, or coordinate with your dcor. Either way, it will change your perspective every time you come and go.

    Paint your furniture

    See that ratty old dresser in your garage? Wouldnt it look so much better in peacock blue yes, it would. A fresh coat of paint can turn a old dusty >

    Paint your moldings

    Pick up a can of green/grey, glossy black, or even neon green to set off bright white walls, and turn those moldings into something that really frames the room.

    Paint your trim

    "Painting your trim is one of the best ways to make a dramatic impact in your homes appearance," said Bob Vila. "For best results, start painting from the corners, using a brush to work your way into small or tight areas.

    Paint your ceiling

    If you have a unique architectural element in your room like interesting angles or a tray ceiling, showing it off with a contrasting paint color or finish is a great way to call attention to it and add allure to the space.

    Paint your floor

    Whitewashed and rustic finishes are all the rage in wood floors today. If you have midtone or dark wood floors, consider a trip to the paint store and a few ok, a few more than a few hours of sweat equity.

    "Painting older solid wood floors can give them new life without the expense and mess of refinishing them," said Houzz. "It can also make your floors a beautiful design element in their own right, particularly with interesting patterns."

    For a how-to, check out their site.


    Paint your concrete

    Gray is on trend as an interior and exterior paint color, but when it comes to your concrete, it just reads boring. "Three coats of latex porch and floor paint plus a concrete sealer are all it takes to take your patio from blah to bold," said Bob Vila.

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    Creating a Glamorous Kitchen

    Used to be the kitchen was a hardwearing, hidden-from-the-rest-of-the-house space that was all about utility, nothing about attraction. Todays kitchens look as good as they live, especially when a few glamorous touches are thrown in.

    "Luxe textiles and reflective pieces add excitement to contemporary interiors," said Houzz. And thats never been more true than in todays kitchen. Just witness the return of brass, now being seen in fixtures, finishes, and even appliances. For warmth and luxe factor, it doesnt get much better than the antithesis of cool stainless and brushed nickel.

    Also see: Brass Is Back In Town

    Check out these glamourpuss kitchens and tell us youre not ready to up the luxe quotient in your kitchen.

    Glam doesnt mean overhauling your whole kitchen. Sometimes, one spectacular chandelier is all you need to transform a space from "Just OK" to "Holy cow." A gathering of modern Kelly green chairs doesnt hurt either.


    If youre looking for one spot to start in glamorizing your kitchen, lighting is a good place to start.

    "Chandeliers and pendants are the perfect accessory to not only brighten your kitchen but change the mood of the space," said House Beautiful. "Standard lights that come in most homes and rentals are uniform, change it up and give the most used room in your house some personality or an unexpected element."

    It doesnt get much glam than a room full of Calacatta marble.

    Dont want to update your counters or your lighting? Modern tin ceilings bring in a little shine from the top down.


    Its all in the details. This kitchen featured in Domaine takes showstopping lighting and pairs it with a contrasting paneled island and uniquely detailed range hood.

    Home Trend Design

    You can also achieve glam status without baubles and reflective surfaces, as proven by this modern industrial kitchen, which happens to belong to actress Hillary Duff. The loft-like spaces hard edges are softened by the plush seating.

    Speaking of plush fabricsa banquette can be utilitarian or it can be luxurious. Or, it can be both. The curvy lines of the table legs and chairs and the sleek modern light fixture overhead create the ideal space for dining and >

    Looking for more ways to inject some glamour into your kitchen? House Beautiful has some tips.

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    How Vulnerable Are You to Litigation?

    In any profession, the top 15, or even top 10, are the ones consistently reaping the rewards, and real estate is no different. Regardless of who is making big money, allreal estate professionals are vulnerable to lawsuits.

    The surprise is that only 83 are protected by Errors amp; Omissions Eamp;O Insurance, according to the most recent National Association of REALTORS Member Profile. Eamp;O Insurance is professional liability insurance that reduces risks for real estate companies and professionals against client claims of inadequate work or negligent actions.

    Ted Devine, CEO of Chicago-based Insureon, an online insurance agency for small and micro businesses, shared answers to the top 7 questions asked about business insurance every year by real estate professionals.

    1. Whats the most significant risk to my business today?

    Devine: Non-disclosure of home defects. Failing to disclose the presence of a defect you know about is a huge professional liability exposure.

    2. Where are real estate agents most vulnerable i.e., where do they not realize theyre exposed to risk?

    Devine: One area is in driving clients around to look at properties. Many agents dont realize that their standard personal auto insurance may not cover business driving like this. The key is to tell your auto insurance agent how youre using the car. Depending on the specifics of your case, you may want to invest in commercial auto insurance, though personal policies can be modified to accommodate business driving.

      Another big risk, though, is nondisclosure of defects or otherwise misrepresenting the state of a property. State laws vary on whether an agent can write away liability for this, but its a big exposure that all agents should be aware of.

    3. Is there a time I should review my insurance policy each year?

    Devine: Yes. Sixty to 90 days before your policy is set to expire. At that point, you should ask for new quotes. This will help ensure that your new policy is adequate for any updates or changes that have happened to your business in the last year.

    4. Do I need more insurance during busy periods and can I get away with less during slow periods?

    Devine: No and no. A single policy should be sufficient for the entire year.

    5. If I sold more properties this year than before, do I need to update my insurance? Am I at risk if I just renew the current policy?

    Devine: First of all, take a vacation. But then, yes, you should request a new insurance quote. A lot of policies are based on revenue, so if your revenue changes your coverage needs change. Renewing your existing policy without updating revenue numbers could indeed leave you at risk.

    6. How much is a typical business insurance policy and what does it cover?

    Devine: A typical Business Owners Policy BOP costs about 500 per year [for our clients]. This policy includes General Liability GL and Property Insurance. The GL portion protects against "slip-and-fall"-type injuries and generally against third-party lawsuits alleging property damage or bodily injury e.g., a person trips over the welcome mat at your office and breaks their wrist.

        A typical Errors amp; Omissions Insurance also called Professional Liability policy ranges from about 500 to about 900 per year. These policies cover third-party lawsuits over mistakes or oversights you made in your professional capacity as a real estate agent. For example, if a client sues you for failing to disclose a property defect, an Eamp;O policy may be able to cover the lawsuit.

    For both GL and Eamp;O, the policy covers legal costs, including lawyers fees, court costs, settlements, and/or judgments. Commercial Property Insurance, included in the BOP, can cover the rental office and equipment or gear within it furniture, computers, printers, etc..

    7. Do I need different coverage if I have any employees?

    Devine: Yes. Two policies:

  • Employment Practices Liability Insurance: This is not mandated, but can be useful to have. It covers the cost of lawsuits brought by employees alleging discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and a whole range of other hiring- and work->
  • Workers Compensation Insurance: This is required by most states Texas is the exception for any business that has employees. It covers the costs of on-the-job injuries and illnesses.
  • Insureon Tip: Dont underestimate the value of Workers Compensation Insurance.

    "While real estate and title professionals may seem to have a fairly safe work environment, its important to remember that much of your and your employees job might involve driving around and / or spending time in properties other than your office. Protecting yourself and your employees regardless of where you do your work can save you serious money in the event that someone is injured."

    Be prepared. If you dont have Eamp;O insurance, get it. Make sure you understand the terms and conditionswhats covered and whats not.

    You may not be able to control the real estate market, but you can control your legal vulnerability. Clear your mind for what really mattersthe success of your clients.

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    California REALTORS Urge Legislators To Vote No On Service Tax

    Last week approximately 2,000 REALTORSfrom all areas of California showed up in Sacramento, the state capital, for the purpose of spending some in-person advocacy time with their respective legislative representatives.

    Legislative Day, as it is called, is an annual event for the California Association of REALTORSCAR. No year goes by without a sizeable number of bills being introduced that would affect property rights, housing, and/or the real estate business. The annual appearance of these representatives from the states largest trade organization approximately 180,000 members currently is an effective reminder that someone is watching, and with more than casual interest.

    This year, one of the bills that received particular attention from the REALTORSwas Senate Bill 8 Hertzberg, a proposal to impose taxes on services -- something that is not currently done in California.

    Real estate transactions are service intensive. Among the services that would be taxed under the Senate Bill 8 proposal are appraisal, home inspection, natural hazard disclosure reporting, pest control inspection and repair, title insurance, loan origination, and brokerage. They add up to a substantial number.

    CAR legislative analysts estimated that service fees comprise about 13 of a sales price. That number seems a bit high to me, although they were including "services to prep for sale painting, cleaning, landscaping, staging, etc.etc.". But even a more modest estimate -- say 8 - 10 -- yields some significant numbers.

    The REALTORS point to the legislators was that California doesnt need anything that will increase the already too-high cost of housing. With the state-wide cost of a median-priced home at 447,000 4th quarter, 2014, California has an affordability crisis. Fewer than 40 of its population can afford the median-priced home. Nationally, 59 can afford the U.S. median. Californias home ownership rate has dropped below 55.

    A 5 tax on the typical services for a median-priced California home would increase the transaction costs by more than 2,000; a 7.5 service tax would add about 3,000 to the total cost. Those numbers have real consequences. At todays financing costs, the 5 tax would eliminate close to 25,000 potential buyers from that purchase. The 7.5 tax would similarly affect more than 36,000.

    Its easy to look at a tax proposal at a fairly high level of abstraction. Last week, on Legislative Day, 2,000 REALTORStook it upon themselves to show legislators some of SB 8s possible effects in the real world of high-cost, hard-to-afford housing.

    Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtors. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way.

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    Updated: Tuesday, April 28, 2015

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    Used to be the kitchen was a hardwearing, hidden-from-the-rest-of-the-house space that was a...

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