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Updated: Sunday, October 23, 2016

Nine Energy-Efficient Fall And Winter Tips

Saving energy is a priority year round, but when the temps start to dip, and those 24-hours-a-day heating bills kick in, finding ways to conserve takes on new urgency. A few tips can make a big difference in keeping your home, your energy usage, and your bank balance, comfortable.

Use the Earths natural heater

In the summer, its all about keeping the heat out by drawing blinds and curtains. But, in the cooler months, using the power of the sun can help you warm your home and keep your heating costs down.

"Open curtains on your south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to naturally heat your home, and close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows," said Energy.gov.


Check for leaks

Do a walkthrough, looking for spaces where air can be escaping or getting in. The space under, over, and around doors and windows is an obvious spot. Also look for gaps near chimneys, recessed lights, behind and inside cabinets and closets, and around areas where plumbing pipes make contact with walls and other parts of the home. This Old House provides guidance on how to self-check for leaks. Or, you can hire a professional to come do a home energy audit.

Insulate the windows

Light, gauzy window coverings may look great, but they could be contributing to a cold home and a waste of energy, especially on windows that are not receiving direct sunlight. If youve addressed leaks and the area close to your windows still feels cold, insulated drapes should help.

Check your heating system

"Dirt and neglect are the top causes of heating system failure," said Huffington Post. "If your heating equipment is more than 10 years old, now is a good time to schedule a season checkup with a licensed contractor to make sure your system is operating at peak performance." You also want to make sure youre regularly checking and changing the air filter - at a minimum of every three months, they said.

Turn down your thermostat

Turning the heat down by 1015 degrees "when you are asleep or out of the house" can save about "10 a year," according to energy.gov. Using a programmable thermostat to adjust the temperature when everyone is out of the home is key. But a smart thermostat ups the ante. Our favorite is the Ecobee3, because it features a remote sensor you can put in another room to regulate the temperature throughout the house, as well as a touchscreen that makes using it even easier.


Take a look at your fireplace

A crackling fire may make the room nice and toasty when youre in front of it, but what about when you dont have a fire burning? Keep your "fireplace damper closed at all times unless fire is burning," said Delfera Heating amp; Cooling. "Keeping the damper open causes the warm air to go up the chimney instead of heating your house. If you no longer use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue to ensure maximum energy efficiency."

Lower the temp on your water heater

If you can stand a shower thats not scorching, lower the temperature a bit and youll see a big return. Typical water heating "accounts for about 18 of the energy consumed in your home," according to Energy.gov. Turn it down "to the warm setting 120F to save energy," said Delfera.

Dont heat unused spaces

If you have rooms that arent being used all the time, close the vents and shut the doors. This will help the heating system run more efficiently by pushing air only to the spaces that need it.

Consider your holiday lights

If its been a while since you changed out your Christmas lights, it may be time to consider a new approach. "For some, LED lights may be the way to go," said USA Today. Frank Skinner, marketing director for ChristmasLightsEtc.com, told them that, "For the most part, all LED lights use up to 90 less electricity than their incandescent counterparts. So right off the bat, there are some savings there with energy.

They may cost a bit more upfront, but will pay off literally in the long run.

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The Benefits for Financing Down Payments and Renovations

Whether youre a professional property developer or a single homeowner, financing your property ambitions comes above all else. Even professional property developers with a proven system of acquiring and renovating homes, condominiums and business properties can run into financing issues.

Weve examined the benefits of financing a higher down payment, purchasing renovations and the cash financing options available for those of you looking to buy and upgrade your home.

Why Save For a Greater Down Payment?

Banks and lenders want low risk scenarios and that ultimately comes down to meeting the required down payment for your mortgage deal, and theyll give you a better deal if you offer a lower risk scenario. Paying an increased down payment comes with a number of fantastic benefits for your financial future. Heres a few key benefits, according to Investopedia;

Reduced Mortgage Payments - Because youve put more cash up front, your monthly payments will be smaller and more manageable

Lower Interest Rates - Lenders will give you a far improved rate since youre deemed a lower risk. Expect interest rates to lower significantly upon 20 down payment.

No Mortgage Insurance Fees - If you cant afford a significant deposit, most mortgage deals will require you to take out mortgage insurance, which will add another 0.5 - 1 interest on top of your existing deal.

Ability to Ride Out Financial Crises - When it comes to a financial crisis, those in most danger of ruin are the ones who have taken out the maximum loan available on the lowest down payment. They have a high interest rate deal and may even face foreclosure.

Why Save For Renovations?

Renovations and upgrades obviously provide that wonderful ability of allowing you to transform your new home into your own dream living space. But aside from that, they can also allow you to significantly improve your homes resale value. Investopedia strongly advise making wise additions to your home that will ultimately boost your bottom line.

According to US News Money, these are the renovations and replacements that will bring the greatest return on investment;

Renovations that bring the greatest percentage return on investment:

  • Entry door replacement: 96.6
  • Deck addition wood: 87.4
  • Attic bedroom: 84.3
  • Garage door replacement: 83.7
  • Minor kitchen remodel: 82.7

Renovations that yield the smallest return:

  • Home office remodel: 48.9
  • Sunroom addition: 51.7
  • Bathroom addition: 60.1
  • Backup power generation: 67.5
  • Master suite addition: 67.5

Financing Options

So now you understand some of the reasons for actually spending more cash on your home But if you dont have a large disposable income, you may need to find a means of financing your purchases.

Saving - Of course, the glaringly obvious method for saving a down payment isnt so straight forward. Thats especially true if youve got student debt, rental payments and bills to pay, with very little disposable income to go towards your downpayment. The internet is a wonderful place however, and fortunately theres a number of down payment saving strategies to help you

Help from your parents amp; family - Its the go to option for many first time home buyers. Loving parents are willing and often able to give you that extra boost in disposable income necessary to make that all important down payment on your first home. Even if you can agree a repayment plan with them, thats going to be far more favourable than turning to a personal loan for financial assistance.

Personal loans - Theres a number of reasonable options for taking out a personal loan - Peer-to-peer lending platforms, car title loans see how car title loans work and credit cards are just some of your options for accessing cash.

Tap your IRA - Theres an exemption for withdrawing up to 10,000 from your IRA for the purpose funding your first home. Its an initiative you should consider if youve got money built up

Hustle - Whether its getting a second job or selling off your unwanted possessions on Ebay and Craigslist, theres nothing like a bit of hustle to increase your bank balance and put you in a more financially secure situation.

Whatever you decide, ensure that youre in a stable situation to make the commitment of purchasing property. After all, the 2008 financial crash was a stark reminder that the property market can be a fickle one.

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Living the High Life: How to Safely Install Tall Window Treatments

High ceilings and tall windows make for a beautiful, roomy space. However, it can be difficult to get your curtains and blinds up on windows that are 10 feet high or more. Install your window treatments safely, and enjoy them for years to come.

Proper Preparation

Like with any installation project, taking the time to prepare for window treatment installation can make all the difference in achieving success. Because taller windows are more difficult to work with, preparation is especially vital.

Make sure that you have the correct tools and hardware to begin your project, along with the provided instructions.

Take the time to understand the components, installation parts and directions before you begin working on your project. Read through the entirety of product instructions, not just the first step, carefully ahead of time.

Measure... twice. Ensure all components will fit the window appropriately by repeating all required measurements. Clearly mark all drill spots and ensure everything is level before making the first hole.

Note where the electrical outlets, switches and vents are located so that they are not obstructed.

Ask a friend for help. Larger shades, blinds and even curtains are especially heavy and cumbersome, so its essential to have another pair of hands.

Ladder Safety

When hanging high window treatments, you will most certainly need a ladder. Dont attempt to stand on items not meant for climbing, such as furniture. Basic ladder safety rules of thumb are as follows:

Ensure that the ladder is tall enough for the job: Overreaching may cause you to lose your balance. Determine whether youll need just a step stool, or if an extension ladder is required.

For taller ladders, keep the "3-point rule" in mind: Have three points of contact on the ladder two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand at all times.

Heed any safety warnings about which rung is the highest to climb: Most ladders warn against stepping on the highest rung.

Keep rungs dry and free of obstructions.

Be aware of weight limits.

Make sure all extensions are locked.

Drill Safety

Most curtain and blind installations will require drilling into the window frame or wall. Operate your drill safely to avoid accidents and mistakes.

When drilling into a wall, use an electronic stud finder to locate studs and any live wires behind the wall.

Use the recommended bit size.

Follow all manufacturer instructions and make sure all bits are properly sharpened and attached correctly.

Wear safety glasses.

Other Safety Concerns

Once youve finished hanging your window treatments, enjoy your finished look with these additional safety tips in mind:

Make the right window covering decisions for your home -- especially by ordering cordless window treatments to keep your children and pets safer. Be sure to install and consistently use all safety features included with your window to use your blinds and shades effectively. Move cribs, beds and other childs furniture away from the window treatments enti>

Flowing or "puddling" curtains can be a tripping hazard. Keep this in mind when choosing the length of your curtains. If you opt for longer curtains for a certain aesthetic, make sure they are not obstructing highly trafficked areas.

Safe installation of window treatments involves using the right tools and hardware, taking careful measurements and following basic safety rules with the tools you use. Get the help and support you need from a friend, and ensure a beautiful outcome.

Katie Laird is the Director of Social Marketing for Blinds.com and a frequent public speaker on Social Media Marketing, Social Customer Care and profitable company culture. An active blogger and early social technology adopter, you can find her online as happykatie sharing home dcor, yoga, parenting and vegetarian cooking tips. To learn more about window treatments like those highlighted in this article, please check out the Blinds.com website.

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Charitable Giving: Theres An App For That

The future of charitable giving is here, and its right there on your phone. New charity-based apps like PinRaise, allows users to pay it forward by making a donation right from their smart phone when they make a purchase at a participating business. This instantly eliminates two deterrents in giving back - the time invoiced and the perceived hassle.

"Such apps and services are an offshoot of societys on-demand life. But instead of catering to our whims or solving first-world problems like wanting your Uber ride now with just a few taps on a smartphone, these charitable-giving apps take advantage of technology to make it more impulsive to do good," said CNET. "They make charity instant, easy, social and affordable."

That "affordability" is another key to the growing popularity of charity-based apps like PinRaise. Some people resist giving simply because of the cost involved. But with apps like PinRaise, the donation is built in to the price of the product or service, so it costs the user nothing.

The state of charitable giving

Charitable donations in this country hit a record level last year - the second record year in a row - at an estimated 373.25 billion, according to Giving USA. That includes individuals, estates, foundations and corporations, and many experts think the increase is because charity-based apps make giving back easy.

According to Nonprofit Tech For Good, "Given the opportunity, 48 of American adults would make donations within a mobile app." Giving USA reports that "online giving represents only about 10 percent of total giving at the moment," but is growing fast, "spurred by the convenience of technology, such as mobile apps, catering to people on the go. Patrick M. Rooney, associate dean of academic affairs and research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which researches and writes the Giving USA report, told them he predicts "that percentage will double and possibly triple within five years."

A win-win-win

These charity-based apps arent just beneficial for those who are looking to increase their giving in the easiest possible way; there is an obvious benefit for charities and businesses as well. Businesses are able to increase their charitable contributions while raising awareness and building goodwill with customers, and charities are able to bring in more money while partnering with businesses that share their same commitment to charitable efforts.

PinRaise reports that their users "buy 90 more often, spend 60 more per transaction, and are five times more likely to return to the same business."

So far, the Orange County, CA-based app has 400 merchants using PinRaise - each identified as a "Business with HeartTM" - that consumers can locate in the PinRaise network via the GPS-enabled app, make a purchase, and direct their online donation toward one of PinRaises 84 nonprofits, both large and small. Additional cities will be rolling out soon, following the same model.

For more information about how to give back with PinRaise, please visit the website, or search for partner merchants on the Merchants List page. You can also learn more about becoming a PinRaise Business with Heart here. If youre a nonprofit who would like to be involved with PinRaise, please visit the "For Nonprofits" page.

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Staying Focused and Energized in the Real Estate Business

Real estate brokers are a unique breed of professionals, with the freedom to work anywhere and everywhere at all times of the day. Being a great broker, in particular, requires a constant shifting of gears, which includes:

The ability to build your own business or infrastructure.

The talent to find business, and get new listings.

The skill to cultivate current and prospective clients.

The competence to prep homes for sale.

The consistency to close deals, sell homes and earn commissions.

These demands, despite their tremendous upside, can take a toll while you engage in different types of work, from different places, at different times of the day and week. If youre a broker or broker in training, here are five "hacks" or habits that will give you more energy and make your business more sustainable.

Collate Two Times a Day

Build the habit, at least twice a day, of stepping back to "scan" your brain. Write down all the miscellaneous tasks, reminders and actions that run in the background of your mind. By practicing this exercise on a regular basis, you will reclaim the bandwidth needed to think deeply and act more energetically. Remember: When you are on the move for most of the day, it is essential to have mobile strategies for capturing opportunities. Make a record of these things.

Sort through Your List

Identify what is essential, and eliminate whatever is not vital to your business. Next, explore who is the best person to execute a series of tasks. There are many tasks that clients can execute as well as you can, assuming they are given the right instructions.

Commit and Refine

Once you have built a system, commit to executing it rigorously for 30-60 days. Part of this project involves the act itself, while the other part concerns making notes at least once a week about where you are and what is or is not working well for you.

Get Real

You know the importance of maintaining your client >

Create Your Own Balance

You may love the thrill of a deal, and the liberty of not being forced to sit at a desk, so make sure everyone in your life "loves" the rhythm of your work as much as you do. Also, given your weekend commitments, remember to carve out time for your own weekends.

The key is for a broker to have effective habits and a sustainable strategy about work. Those advantages are the result of creating systems that further tasks and priorities, while enabling you to strengthen business >

This approach will let you concentrate on the project at hand without losing focus over vital alliances and of course, your own well-being.

Dr. Camille Preston is the founder ofCreate More Flow, which accelerates business results by improving individual, team and organizational effectiveness and leadership capabilities from the inside out. A psychologist by training, Camille is masterful at recognizing underlying patterns that inhibit performance. She is a thought leader in virtual effectiveness, cracking the code for understanding how to leverage technology, how to rewire for results, and how to create collaborations with people you do not see face to face. Camille holds an undergraduate degree fromWilliamsCollegeand a doctorate from the University of Virginia.

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Ask the HOA Expert: Abstaining From Voting At a Board Of Directors Meeting

Question: If a board member abstains from voting at a duly called board of directors meeting is this abstention vote an affirmative vote?

Answer: No. The vote is not counted at all. But not voting may have the effect of a negative vote if a certain number of affirmative votes are required to pass a motion.

Question: A unit owner called and said their toilet is overflowing. Is the HOA responsible to clean drain lines that cause back ups?

Answer: It depends where the back up occurs. If the blockage occurs in a line that serves only one unit, it is common for the unit owner to be responsible for the repair. If the blockage occurs in a common line shared by two or more units, the HOA is usually responsible unless the source of blockage can be traced back to a specific unit.

Question: One of our residents has complained of a mold odor within their unit. The board has been investigating dryrot repairs in this building but has not decided on a repair schedule. What should we do?

Answer: If the board is aware of dryrot issues in this building and an unit owner has complained of mold issues, the board should order an air quality inspection immediately. If that inspection indicates dryrot >

Airborne mold in sufficient concentration can be a real health hazard, especially to those that suffer from asthma and other respiratory ailments. Take this issue seriously and proactively. The source of the mold, of course, could be from a source within the unit itself failure to use kitchen and bathroom ventilation, resident installed humidifiers, etc.. So, the source of the mold dictates the proper course of action.

Question: We have a disgruntled owner a former board member who publishes a newsletter following every board meeting filled with what he calls, "The Real Story". His spin is often inaccurate and filled with implications of wrong doing by the board. This behavior has been going on for years and he has cost the HOA thousands of dollars by delayed renovation projects, CPA audits and other expenses incurred to prove the boards innocence. No wrongdoing has every been discovered. But several board members have resigned because of the badgering and it is getting difficult to recruit replacements. Suggestions?

Answer: America is the land of free speech but free speech does not entitle someone to yell "FIRE" in a crowded theater when there is no fire. And just because a member makes claims does not require the board to react to it. To help counteract his misinformation campaign, the board should publish a recap of the meeting shortly after the meeting to tell the real story.

If this person continues to spread lies or defame board members, have the HOAs attorney send him a letter about the consequences for defamation of character which include charging him with legal expenses incurred by the HOA to put a stop to them. Hopefully, he will understand that there could be a high price to pay. The board should, however, be prepared to take legal action if necessary. Some people are slow learners.

Question: Our HOA has been in existence for a couple of years. The main entrance is very unattractive and needs lighting and a sprinkler system. The cost of these improvements would be 5000 and we only have 1000 in reserves What would be the best way to handle this matter?

Answer: The governing documents generally provide the authority the board needs to raise money to care for the common elements by special assessment if necessary. But have you done an Operating Budget that includes insurance, utilities, landscape care and other expenses >

Question: Our HOA has a entry gate with access control that uses smart cards which cost less than 5 each. The HOA charges 50. The boards justification for the high charge is to discourage multiple cards per resident.

Answer: It does make sense from a security point of view that only residents should have smart cards. If extras were easily and cheaply available, they would likely be handed out to friends and >

Question: Our board received a complaint about a resident running a business out of their home. They apparently ship a lot of items and the neighbor wants us to do something about it. Should we ban home businesses?

Answer: Banning home businesses is a bad idea since many people do it in a way that has no impact on the neighbors whatsoever. However, controlling how home offices impact the neighbors and the common area is a good idea. The HOA should have guidelines for home offices as they >

For more innovative HOA management strategies, subscribe to www.Regenesis.net

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Messing With The HOA Can Be Expensive

Most homeowners in a common interest development probably understand that it can be a real hassle to get into a dispute with the Homeowner Association HOA. Not so many, though, may know that it can become pretty expensive as well. A recent case from Californias Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal makes the latter point abundantly clear. Rancho Mirage Country Club Homeowners Association v. Thomas B. Hazelbaker et al., August 9, 2016

Thomas and Lynn Hazelbaker owned a condominium in the Rancho Mirage Country Club development. The development was subject to regulations and CCamp;Rs which were enforced by the Rancho Mirage Country Club Homeowners Association Association. According to the Court record, heres what happened:

"In November 2011, defendants [Hazelbakers] applied for and received approval from the Associations architectural committee to make certain improvements to the patio area of their property. Subsequently, however, the Association contended that defendants had made changes that exceeded the scope of the approval, and which would not have been approved had they been included in defendants November 2011 application.

"On June 19, 2012, the Association sent defendants a request for alternative dispute resolution pursuant to [Civil Code 5930], identifying the disputed improvements and proposing that the parties mediate the issue. Defendants accepted the proposal and a mediation was held on April 8, 2013. A Memorandum of Agreement in Mediation dated April 9, 2013, was reached The agreement called for defendants to make certain modifications to the patio, in accordance with a plan newly approved by the Association The agreement provided for the modifications to be completed within 60 days from the date of the agreement. It also provided for a special assessment on defendants property to pay a portion of the Associations attorney fees incurred to that point

"The modifications described in the mediation agreement were not completed within 60 days. The parties each blame the other for that circumstance."

On September 4, 2013, the Association filed a lawsuit seeking specific performance of the mediation agreement. Subsequently, the parties reached an agreement regarding the modifications, slightly different from those agreed to in mediation. Those modifications were completed in September 2014. However, the parties continued to have disagreements about who should bear the costs of litigation to that point.

On October 15, 2014 the Association filed a motion seeking attorney fees. The motion was based on Civil Code 5975c which is part of a large body of law, commonly referred to as the Davis -- Stirling Act, concerning common interest developments. 5975c says, "In an action to enforce the governing documents, the prevailing party shall be awarded reasonable attorneys fees and costs."

On December 2, 2014 the trial court issued an order granting the Association 18,991 in attorney fees, plus 572 in costs. The Hazelbakers appealed.

The central question for the Appellate Court was "is a lawsuit to enforce an agreement that was reached during mediation or another form of ADR an action to enforce the governing documents in the meaning of section 5975, where the mediation was initiated pursuant to the Davis -- Stirling Act? And the Courts answer was "yes", at least in circumstances similar to this case. The Court acknowledged that the answer might have been no had the mediation involved other matters.

The Hazelbakers also questioned the amount the trial court had awarded. They should have been satisfied with what was assessed. The amount initially requested by the Association was 31,970. In any event, the Appellate Court upheld the trial courts figure of 18,991, noting that "It is well settled, however, that the trial court was not required to issue any explanation of its decision with regard to the fee award."

Finally, the Appellate Court noted that, as prevailing party in the appeal, the Association is entitled to recover its appellate attorney fees. That figure will be set by the trial court.

We dont know what the patio improvement itself cost; but we do know that you can add to that figure the Hazelbakers own attorney fees plus those of the Association.

This all started with a decision to depart from or modify the plans as approved by the Association. Typically, it would really be a bother to go back to the architectural committee and seek approval for the change. But it might have been a whole lot cheaper. Maybe theres a lesson there.

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

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The Ethan Allen Disney Collection: Six Reasons to Spend All Your Christmas Gift Money On Yourself This Year

Forget about Christmas gifts. This year, its all about you. And the Ethan Allen Disney Collection. Your friends and family will understand, right?

After all, this first-of-its-kind collection is far from juvenile. No stuffed Goofy doll here. These surprisingly stylish pieces, described by the Orlando Sentinel as "funky" and "fresh" and by Refinery 29 as "playfully elegant" may just be impossible for you to resist.

"Ethan Allen teamed up with Disney, the makers of all our wildest childhood dreams, and together theyre bringing us a brand new collection thats both chic and cheerful," said Refinery 29. The full collection is set to be >

If youre successful in getting your brood to forgo gifts this year, heres an introduction to the Mickey and Minnie Mouse-inspired pieces youre going to want to get your hands on, ranging from "coasters to bedding to chairs with the infamous duo on them," said simplemost.

Character Chest: 1,599

Crafted from white oak and maple, the Character Chest "depicts - adorably - Mickey and Pluto talking an old-time selfie," said simplemost. A prime spot in a childs room would be the obvious choice, but this chest is chic enough to be used in adult spaces as well.


Bravo Chair: 1,479.00

The >


Mickey Shadow Cabinet and Minnie Shadow Cabinet: 499 each

"Mickey and Minnie are a perfect pair, and so are these cabinets," said D23. "These are the ultimate his and hers nightstands for Disney fans."

Ethan Allen

Mickey Mouse Club Chair and a Half: Price not yet >

Large enough for cozying up with a loved one, this bright red chair and a half will make the perfect addition to our, we mean your, home.


Mickey Pull-Up Ottoman: 359

We all need a place to kick our feet up. This Mickey-shaped ottoman is adorable and practical.

Coasters: 39

Actually, we take back what we said about Christmas presents. The collection also includes several reasonably priced gift items, like this cute six-piece coaster set.


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8 Amazingly Easy Tips For A Pet-Friendly Home

For many of us, its an absolute pleasure to share our homes with our four-legged best friends. But theres no denying that our pets can sometimes lead to wear and tear on our homes. Yet with careful planning and some redesigned elements, we can enhance our house so that its conducive to our pets and ourselves. If you live with a beloved pet, the following design trends and home-living tips are sure to promote a home thats comfortable for everyone -- and everything -- that lives there.

Avoid Wall-to-Wall Carpeting

If you have wall-to-wall carpeting, your guests are bound to note from the moment they enter your home even if pets arent present that you live with animals. In spite of routine cleaning, carpeting harbors pet odors and allergens. If you cant live without carpeting, opt for a low pile thats easy to clean. You might also consider adding easy-to-clean area rugs in your home -- just be sure to add slip proofing beneath these rugs to keep them secu>

Durable Flooring

A hallmark of a pet-friendly home is durable flooring. While hardwood and eco-friendly bamboo are durable, they may show wear and tear i.e. scratching sooner than a concrete or tile floor will. Your pets likely spend considerable time on the floor, so it makes sense to install flooring that is ideal for them. You may also want to consider other pet-friendly types of flooring like vinyl and linoleum. Be sure to research your flooring in order to choose the best type for your home and your particular pet.

Install a Dog Door

Many homeowners love the convenience of a dog door, which allows dogs and even cats to let themselves in and out of the home as they need. With a dog door, you dont have to rush home from work to ensure that your dog gets out on time and you dont have to worry about forgetting to let your pets in and out. You can also opt to install a custom door that includes pet-friendly access within its design.

Stain-Resistant Fabrics

Even if you have strict rules about no pets on the furniture, there comes a time when your pet is bound to leave a mess on your fabric. By choosing stain-resistant materials, you can take the headache out of pet messes. Similarly, easy-to-clean fabrics like microfiber will also hold up to pet wear and tear better than many other types of fabric. Leather is quite easy to clean, but if you have large dogs youll need to take extra care with their nails to ensure that your leather upholstery isnt punctured or scratched.

Built-In Feeding Station

Do you ever wish you could fill your pets water bowl in place? When you create a custom feeding station, you can install a faucet that allows you to fill up your dog or cats water bowl right in its place. You can also install attractive cabinetry where you can store your pets food and treats. This type of station is easy to integrate into a kitchen, mud room, laundry room or wherever you choose to feed your pets.

Designer Bed

Although many people dont mind snuggling with their pets, others may dislike the wear and tear four-legged creatures impart on bedding. If you dont allow your pets to bed with you, you can still enhance their comfort by getting them a deluxe bed that brims with comfort. With so many >

Outdoor Hardscaping

Pet urine can lead to unsightly patches on your lawn. To keep your landscape looking its best, consider installing an outdoor area behind your home where pets can take care of their basic needs. You can also install hardscaping, which makes cleaning up after pets a breeze. Concrete is not only effective as a hardscaping material, its also an affordable option.

Pet Apparatus

To keep your pets from becoming bored when youre working or busy with household chores, add a pet apparatus to your home. Cats love to climb and look out of windows, while dogs often enjoy dog housing where they can >


Naturally, youll want to make any changes to your home with your pets in mind. With these general tips, youll be able to create a pet-friendly environment that youll love as much as they will.

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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Smart Investments In Your Kitchen Cabinetry

At an average of 50,000, a kitchen remodel is a major undertaking. A good return on that investment means different things to different people. You may be considering resale value, your bank balance at the moment, the elements of your dream kitchen-or all of the above. Whatever the case, kitchen cabinets are a key component of every remodel.

In order to make the best choices for your particular needs and desires, and to make an investment of time and money that really pays off, a little homework is in order. Lets get you started with a little background on the basics that will have you making decisions with confidence and cooking in >

Talk to the Pros

When it comes to considering the return on investment for remodels, youre really talking about what your home will sell for after that remodel is complete. No one will be able to answer that question better than real estate professionals and professional interior designers who work in your neighborhood. Consult with at least one of each to find out what finishes and extras other clients in your area are looking for, and what theyre willing to pay for those amenities.

Start With a Great Floor Plan

So much happens in the kitchen-a good floor plan can really help you direct activity flow in that high-traffic space. Buyers are looking for their dream kitchen, and they are surprisingly informed about what makes a good floor plan. Make sure your cabinets are conveniently placed for maximum accessibility. Whether thats surrounding the refrigerator with floor-to-ceiling pantry cabinets, or giving up some cabinet space in order to mount the oven on the wall, think carefully about how you operate in the space. Where are the prep, cooking and cleaning zones in your kitchen, and how will cabinetry best serve them?

Keep It Simple

Any real estate agent will tell you that, if resale value is a consideration in your remodel, you should avoid ornate or trendy >

Make a Good Match

Of course, open floor plans are very desirable right now, so thats definitely a consideration to make if your remodel budget will allow it. If youre already working with an open floor plan, be sure that your new cabinets are faced with doors that complement the design >

Its All in the Details

With kitchen remodels, it really is all in the details. One thing buyers today are willing to pay for are those little extras that make cooking and cleaning a much more pleasant affair. Roll-out drawers are definitely worth consideration and are really not the budget buster most of our clients expect them to be. A vertical, pull-out pantry near the fridge or cook top is another favorite, as are quiet-close drawers. We love the look and warmth of under-cabinet lighting, which also makes for great task lighting. And while glass front cabinets are not for everyone, if you do make that choice, be sure to go the extra mile with interior lighting-it makes the kitchen a show stopper.

The Nitty Gritty

Now youve got a sense of the choices and amenities available and those that buyers are currently looking for. But when it comes to a return on your remodel investment, what should you look for in the cabinets themselves-high-end for the high rollers or down-and-dirty to make that sale? Its true that you can see the difference in upscale cabinetry created from specialty woods, but most buyers arent expecting that extra. On the other hand, you dont have to be a real estate agent or designer to spot cheap cabinetry, and buyers definitely dont want to walk into a kitchen they know theyll have to remodel themselves.

In our experience, there are lots of quality, mid-range cabinets out there that give you the best chance of making your money back. You need cabinets with the design and craftsmanship that allow you to offer those quiet-close drawers and sliding shelves in the cabinets, and finishes that work with all kinds of design >

What are you looking for in your next set of kitchen cabinets?

Award winning interior designer, Kerrie Kelly, writes for The Home Depot about what kitchen remodel features will give you the most resale value. For more info on kitchen cabinets like the ones Kerrie talks about in this article, visit the Home Depot here.

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You May Think Its Trash But It Could Be Treasure

Stephen Ranger walked into "one of the worst houses in the city" and found a rolled up blanket under the bed. The find -- a Second Phase Navajo chiefs blanket worth more than 100,000, -- was unexpected. A find such as this is rare, says Ranger, vice-president of Waddingtons Auctioneers in Toronto, but it does happen. So when you decide to downsize or purge, its a good idea to call in an expert before you toss everything in the trash.

"Theres never a downside to calling in a local auction house to do a quick walk through," Ranger says, adding a Waddingtons expert costs 200 per hour. "It gives peace of mind."

"If you think something is worth money, chances are it isnt. If you think something is worthless, theres a possibility it may not be," says organizing company Downsizing Diva co-founder Karen Shinn. "Two sisters asked an antiques auctioneer to visit their house and look at their most valuable possession, a dining room set. It was the biggest thing in their house, they had spent the most money on it and used it for important times -- it had emotional value.

However the auctioneer told them it was worth about 400. Then he asked about the two vases sitting on the buffet. The sisters were going to donate them to a church yard sale. Those vases were Moorcroft," Shinn says.

Old magazines, postcards and even vintage cereal boxes are among the items people think are worthless but can actually have value, she says.

"When youre downsizing and want to make sure you dont get rid of valuable items, the best advice is to do your homework. There are a lot of resources out there -- the Internet, antique and art appraisers, books, senior move managers -- so check to make sure you have an idea what something is worth before you let it go. Items may have heart value to you and your family, but when youre talking about dollar value do your research."

If you have something thats been in the family a long time, you may want to have it checked out, Ranger says. "Send a photo to your local auction house." The auction house should give you feedback about whether its worth auctioning or not.

Larger cities usually have qualified specialists working for established companies. "What you want to avoid is someone who comes in and scoops up that van Gogh in the closet," before you know whats happening, Ranger says.

However be prepared for the negative too. The value of most household goods has depreciated, he says. "The next generation doesnt collect like the last one.

Millennials are not collecting figurines or traditional furniture." That said, there are collectors for just about everything, antique, vintage, new and everything in between.

"Every fall when our crews go into homes during back-to-school season we come across valuable items that parents were ready to toss that are actually worth quite a bit of money to collectors," says Mike Thorne, president of St. Catharines, Ont.-based JustJunk.com.

JustJunk and Shinn have been in the business for 15 years each and put the knowledge theyve gained over the years to work to help their clients spot treasures. It doesnt mean theyll catch everything of value, but a seasoned eye is an asset to your downsizing/purge project.

Here are some of the top kids items with money-making potentialthat JustJunktells parents to look out for when decluttering:

Pokemon: Pokemon Go may have taken the world by storm this summer, but theres plenty of money to be made from the original Pokemon for Nintendo Game Boy. Original game cartridges in good condition are selling to collectors for a few hundred dollars.

Polly Pocket:These tiny dolls and play sets that were popular in the early 90s can fetch 500 or more if theyre in top condition.

Furbies:Launched in 1998, these strange owl-like robotic creatures are still highly sought after. Collectors will pay about 600 for one of these guys in mint condition - sometimes even higher if its in the original packaging.

Harry Potter:If you happened to get on the Harry Potter train early and bought a 1998 first edition of the first book in the fantastically popular series - Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone - you could be in for a payday. Copies in great condition are currently selling for about 6,500 each. Add a signature from author J.K. Rowling and the price more than doubles to about 15,000.

LEGO:Some LEGO sets and mini figures can sell for hundreds of dollars to the right collector. Before getting rid of any LEGOS, its a good idea to check online to see whats hot on the collectables market.

If you have the time and the inclination, you can search items on the Internet to get an idea of their worth. Consignment shops, selling items online and garage sales are ways to cash in on your unwanted items. But you have to gauge whether the time spent will be worth it.

When they are downsizing, people typically make three piles -- keep, donate and toss. Adding a fourth pile could make good financial sense.

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How Color Help Sell Your Home

Yes Just like curb appeal matters, the colors of your home can and will influence buyers. With that in mind, we explore which colors tend to appeal to the masses.

The color scheme of your home, from the outside in, sets the tone. Its like going to see a theatre play and seeing an intricately crafted and appropriately painted set for the production. It can immediately intrigue youbefore the play has begun and even if you know few details about the play.

When it comes to color, be sure to consider the location. A peach-pink home in a retirement community might be okay, but that same color in an upscale, urban city may be unappealing to younger city dwellers.

The outside of your home is one of the largest areas potential buyers will see. So make your decision carefully and be sure to have a professional paint job done. If you choose white for the exterior, your home is likely to appeal to the masses, according to one study that indicated upwards of 40 percent of people liked white homes.

The great thing about a white home is you have plenty of options to make the home stand out by using an accent color for the trim. The downside is that white gets dirty very fast and shows it more than other colors. So before you list your home, make sure that you have a fresh coat of paint applied or pressure wash the exterior to bring back that newly painted look.

Also take into consideration the color of other homes on the block. Typically, white will not look out of place. However, if you had a purple home on a block where the homes are mostly beige and neutral colors, youll get noticed but wont likely get the kind of attention you want.

Beige with neutral-colored trim is another popular color scheme. Both beige and white are safe exterior colors. They dont turn buyers off.

Theres also been a trend to paint just the front door a deep, rich color like red. This may not be appealing to all. However, buyers would tend to overlook it because its a simple change as well as one that can easily and cheaply be changed to the new buyers choice. As long as the colors look good together, this wouldnt necessarily turn buyers away.

The paint inside your home is equally important. In fact, one good tip for sellers is that if they can do nothing else, they should get some fresh paint up on the walls. The new paint helps showcase the home and gives it a new-home feel.

There are a wide variety of interior colors. Dont feel like you have to go with only beige. You can be a little more daring, using bold accent colors. Just make sure the paint colors you choose dont give a dark, closed-in feeling. Aim to create comfort, a sense of calmness, >

For a more chic and sophisticated look, interior designers often choose from the grey palette. A dark grey color can create a bold statement and attract the eye to a particular area.

Whatever colors you choose, remember that your aim is to appeal to the masses. Test the colors out first. Get opinions from the experts.

Your real estate agent has likely been in hundreds of homes and can offer you some very good guidance.

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Breaking Down The 50 Worst Cities To Live In

People looking to buy a new home or potentially >

You know, those cities where the home prices so far exceed the national average you need the income of a small, oil-rich country to afford to buy there?

Or one whose real estate market and/or job market is stagnant, or worse?

Or one with a crime rate that is enough to scare off literally potential buyers?

There are also lists that outline where not to buy for these and various other reasons, like this one from 24/7 Wall St. that whittled down 550 cities into a scroll of "Americas 50 Worst Cities To Live In." Their methodology was based on data "in nine major categories: crime, demographics, economy, education, environment, health, housing, infrastructure, and leisure."

Many of the cities on the list are expected - places like Detroit that have been hard-hit by the economy and show few signs of recovery more on that below. But, you might be surprised by the No. 1 city on their list of: Miami.

Miami Herald

"No city in the United States is worse to live in than Miami," they said. "The citys median home value of 245,000 is well above the national median of 181,200. However, with a median household income of only 31,917 a year, well below the national median of 53,657, most of these homes are either out of reach or a financial burden on most Miami residents."

Unlike the images of seaside mansions and bikinied beachgoers that may spring to mind when you think of Miami, it turns out the city is not all glitz and glamour, thanks to a mindboggling disparity between the tippy-top of the citys wealthyand everyone else.

"According to recently >

Second on the list, the aforementioned Detroit, whose problems have been well-documented. Low home values and a high poverty level, not to mention the citys bankruptcy in 2013, make progress a challenge. But the high crime rate and educational issues might be the most upsetting factors.

"Although its hard to pick out the citys biggest problem, crime is a worthy contender," said Area Vibes, who named Detroit No. 1 on their list of worst cities. "A criminality rate thats 155 above the national average will have residents huddled in their homes after dark. Detroits struggles extend to the >

Detroit was also No. 3 on Neighborhood Scouts website of the Most Dangerous Cities. This site breaks out crime rates by violent and personal, and then further breaks down the data by type - a useful tool for those who want specific info >


The rest of the "worst" according to 24/7 Wall St. include:

3. Patterson, NJ - "Like many American industrial cities, Patersons economy is no longer prospering as it once was," they said. "More than 30 of the areas residents live in poverty, nearly double the national poverty rate."

4. Hawthorne, CA - "The poverty rate is not as high as in some other cities on the list, but the home values that are just astronomical make it near impossible for many of Hawthornes residents to afford a home," said Cities Journal. "It should also be pointed out that Hawthorne is a very polluted city where the air is hazardous about 15 percent of the year. The national median is about 6 percent."

5. Fall River, MA - "The median household income in Fall River is only 35,037, just roughly half the income a typical Massachusetts household earns and about 18,500 less than the income the typical American household earns," said 24/7 Wall St.

6. Birmingham, AL - Low home values, low incomes and a poverty rate of 30.5 - almost double the rate across the country - put Birmingham on the list.

7. Memphis, TN - Despite its deep musical roots, Memphis has experienced hard times of late. About a third of those in the city are living in poverty and violent crime is nearly five times higher than the national rate.

8. Flint, MI - The city of Flint, Michigan "has seen more than its fair share of struggles in the past few years, said Business Insider. "Its known as one of the most dangerous cities in America, and the poverty that afflicts the city is part of the reason its residents have been exposed to such dangerous levels of lead," which led to a state of emergency in the city. Flint has the second - highest poverty rate of any city in the U.S., at approximately 40.

9. Cleveland, OH - At just 24,701 a year, Clevelands median household income is the second lowest in the country, and its 39.2 poverty rate the fifth highest.

10. Gary IN - "Gary was called the murder capital of the world in the 1990s, but violent crime is down dramatically in Gary in recent years," said Forbes on their list of Most Miserable Cities. Still, the city is "plagued by high foreclosures and migration out of the city."

In fact, 24/7 Wall St. reports that, "Garys population is shrinking faster than that of any other U.S. city. The number of people that call Gary home has dropped by 26.7 in the last decade and by 25.5 in the last five years. A declining population is not especially surprising given the citys bleak economic conditions."

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Apathy And The Condo Owner

Question. I live in a condominium development consisting of more than 200 townhouses. Our Bylaws state that to have a quorum, we must have a majority of the homeowners of the Condominium Association, either in person or by proxy. A majority did not attend the recent annual meeting, either in person or by proxy. The Board of Directors said we could not elect new Board members or have an official meeting because there was no quorum. We returned for second meeting and again could not meet the quorum requirements.

A few of us about 100 in person and by proxy are quite upset because we cannot elect new members to the Board or have our concerns raised with respect to such items as budget, maintenance and repairs. What recourse do we have?

Answer. If down the road you ever get the chance to amend your Bylaws, drop the quorum requirement down to 33 1/3 percent.

Unfortunately, those of us who work in or with community associations have to admit that apathy is often very strong. Indeed, often the reason given why people are purchasing a condominium unit is because they do not want to get involved anymore. They do not want to shovel the snow, or to cut the grass. They want others to handle all of these matters.

The most obvious answer I can give is to sell your unit. You are facing the beginning of what appears to be significant problems in your community, and if a majority of owners are not interested in casting their votes either in person or by proxy, the democracy of the community will fall to the will of the minority.

Obviously, it is clear you do not want to sell but would like to get more deeply involved in the day-to-day activities of your Association. I suggest you start a major political campaign within your community, quite similar to the political campaigns of candidates for public office.

Ask the Management Company for the names, addresses and phone numbers of all unit owners -- whether they reside in the complex or are absentee owners. This should be public information, although I dont believe that private phone numbers should be >

Before the meeting it will be your responsibility to line up as many proxies as possible. Even if you have to stand on the street corner when people are on their way to or returning from work, you have to educate your fellow owners about the serious nature of the problems within your Association.

The purpose of the special meeting should be to elect directors so that the Condominium will be run by the will of the majority. If it is a special meeting, the only business that can be held is that which was spelled out in the meeting notice.

One caveat: read your Bylaw provisions on proxies. There may be restrictions on the number that can be given any one owner.

You also should have a lawyer review local law to determine whether there are any comparisons that can be drawn from corporate law. Often, there are provisions in the law dealing with the inability to obtain a quorum, and there may be other legal avenues available to you that have not yet been addressed.

I also suggest you plan to run for the Board of Directors. Obviously, you are concerned enough about the stability and the future of your Association, and people like you should not sit by on the sidelines. You should get involved; that is the essence of condominium living.

One final solution is to go to court and have the court appoint a receiver to run and manage the Association until the Board has an opportunity to establish a new election. I am not advocating this severe remedy, because it is not only time-consuming and expensive, but the courts should not get involved in running your own Association.

After all, the court might take the position that if the membership of your condominium is not interested in attending the annual election or even giving proxies, why should the court get involved?

Unfortunately, the problems facing community associations today are varied and complex. The condominium is a community. It has to be run by a strong Board of Directors, with full authority from the membership. The Board, however, must recognize that, like any other elected official, it owes its allegiance and gets its authority from the community at large.

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Et Tu, Draperies? The Rise of Roman Shades

Sometimes, regular blinds just wont cut it. Your living space is warm and inviting, or bright and energetic, and adding regular or faux wood blinds feels a little too ordinary. You need a little more character, a little more texture, or you want to add some color to your window treatments. This is a perfect time to consider adding roman shades for a >

The Benefits of Roman Shades

Roman shades, also known as roman blinds, are window coverings used to block out intrusive sunlight while giving your living space a modern look. But unlike standard blinds, these are fabric treatments, which stack up evenly at the top of the window when pulled open. When they are down, theyre flat or hobbled, and their fabric is typically more adept than standard blinds at blocking out sun and keeping rooms cool or warm in the winter months.

Since these shades are fabric, the color and design options are seemingly endless. Roman shades come in every solid color in the spectrum and hundreds of patterns and designs to fit any room of any home. They also come lined or unlined, so you can decide whether you want some sunlight to peek through or you want complete darkness.

Choosing the Fabric and Size

To decide on what sort of fabric you want for your roman shades, consider what you need the shades to do and what matches best with your living area. Is your furniture patterned or solid? Consider countering it with an opposite look in your shades.

Choosing the "face fabric," or the fabric you will see in the room, as well as whether a liner is present, is important, because it will change the look of your room and determine the translucency and maneuverability of the shades. Lighter colors and thinner materials versus darker colors and more rigid fabrics are self-explanatory. Take a few samples, hold them up against an open window, and fold them in your hand to determine how much light they do or do not block, and how flexible theyll be when you raise and lower them.

Once you figure out your preferred material, as well as the color and pattern, think about whether you want the shades to be >

There are a number of other aesthetic choices when it comes to roman shades, and once you have all the bells and whistles ironed out, its time to decide on how to control the shades. They can be raised and lowered with different cord systems, or they can be remote controlled using a small electric motor.


Its important to know before you purchase the shades whether you want to install them inside or outside of the window frame, as this will affect the size of the shade. Installing shades on the inside of the frames is the most common approach; you just have to make sure the frame is wide enough.

As with any installation, measurement is key. Carefully measure your windows based on the inside or outside mounting, and follow installation instructions closely. Specific installation instructions will vary based on the type of shade you choose.

Viola You have new, modern, beautiful roman shades accenting your home, adding even more character and comfort to your living space.

Katie Laird is the Director of Social Marketing for Blinds.com and a frequent public speaker on Social Media Marketing, Social Customer Care and profitable company culture. An active blogger and early social technology adopter, you can find her online as happykatie sharing home dcor, yoga, parenting and vegetarian cooking tips.

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