Ann M. Ciesielka
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Your Property: Early Fall Color a Sign of Stress

August 4, 2015 2:39 am

The color-changing foliage of autumn is one of nature’s finest shows. If you’re fortunate enough to have mature trees on your property, take note of when leaves start to change – does it seem early?

A too-early transformation may signal a stressed tree, says Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).

“Premature colors can be an indication that a tree isn’t vigorous enough to withstand insects and disease organisms that may attack it, not to mention the usual changes that occur when the weather turns cold,” explains Andersen. “Occasionally, only one or two limbs of the tree will show premature fall color. This could a sign of a disease at work, weakening only the infected limbs.”

The more common situation is for the entire tree to exhibit premature fall coloration, a phenomenon usually linked to root-related stress.

“Trees respond to these stresses by trying to curtail their above-ground growth,” says Andersen.

To better understand how leaves change prematurely, think of them as small factories containing raw materials, products and by-products, all in chemical form and some with color. As the leaf is “abandoned” by the tree, the green chlorophyll – the dominant chemical found in most leaves – is broken down and “recycled,” leaving behind other colored chemicals. Supply lines to the leaves also become clogged. If the major chemical remaining in the abandoned leaf is red, the leaf turns red. If it’s yellow, the leaf turns yellow.

“The yearly variation in color intensity is due to varying weather conditions, which can affect the balance of chemicals and their composition in the leaves," Andersen says.

Differing amounts of rainfall, sunlight, temperature, humidity and other factors may have an effect on how bright, how quickly and how long "leaf-peeping" season will be in any given year.

If the leaves on your trees seem to have gotten a jump start on fall compared to other similar species in the area, it may be time to consult with a professional arborist who can identify problems and offer solutions.

Source: TCIA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Should You Rent or Buy?

August 4, 2015 2:39 am

It’s an age-old question: should you rent or buy? If faced with this dilemma, consider the following questions, courtesy of the American Bankers Association (ABA).

1. How much do you have saved?

Start with an evaluation of your financial health. Figure out how much money you have for a down payment or deposit on a rental. Down payments are typically 5 to 20 percent of the price of the home. Security deposits on rentals are usually about one month of rent and more if you have a pet. Be sure to keep enough in savings for an emergency fund. It’s a good idea to have three to six months of living expenses to cover unexpected costs.

2. How much debt do you have?

Consider all of your current and expected financial obligations like your car payment and insurance, credit card debt and student loans. Make sure you will be able to make all of the payments in addition to the cost of your new home. Aim to keep total rent or mortgage payments plus utilities to less than 25 to 30 percent of your gross monthly income.

3. What is your credit score?

A high credit score indicates strong creditworthiness. Both renters and homebuyers can expect to have their credit history examined. A low credit score can keep you from qualifying for the rental you want or a low interest rate on your mortgage loan. If your credit score is low, you may want to take steps to raise your score, which could improve the terms you’re offered, before entering a loan or rental agreement.

4. Have you factored in all the costs?

Create a hypothetical budget for your new home. Find the average cost of utilities in your area, factoring in gas, electricity, water and cable. Find out if you will have to pay for parking or trash pickup. Consider the cost of yard maintenance and other costs like replacing the air filter every three months. If you are planning to buy a home, factor in real estate taxes, mortgage insurance and possibly a homeowner association fee. Renters should consider the cost of rental insurance.

5. How long will you stay?

Generally, the longer you plan to live someplace, the more it makes sense to buy. Over time, you can build equity in your home. On the other hand, renters have greater flexibility to move and fewer maintenance costs. Carefully consider your current life and work situation and think about how long you want to stay in your new home.

Source: ABA.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Where to Score Summer Savings

August 3, 2015 12:33 am

For savvy shoppers, the summer season means sales, and lots of them. With careful planning, any shopper, savvy or not, can score big savings on everything from household appliances and electronics to toys and clothing. To take advantage of some of the best deals and pricing of the year, FatWallet.com suggests these tips.

• If you’ve been putting off a large purchase for your home, summer is an ideal time to splurge – without really splurging, of course. Home improvement tools and materials are typically on deep discount in summer, along with other big-ticket items like appliances, furniture and décor.

• Families wanting to have fun in the backyard this summer should consider purchasing sale-price outdoor toys and games, including sports gear and apparel.

• Clothing clearance sales on tank tops, sandals, shoes, shorts, swimwear and eyewear heat up during the height of summer. Prices continue to come down as retailers look to move inventory ahead of the back-to-school shopping season.

• Early back-to-school sales bring sharp price drops on laptops and desktop computers. Shopping ahead of these sales will assure parents shop from a better selection of models and features their kids want and need.

Source: FatWallet.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Walk This Way: Accessible Communities a High Priority

August 3, 2015 12:33 am

Americans have a penchant for walkable communities more so than they have in the past, with millennials favoring walkability by a substantially wider margin than any other generation, according to a recent poll by the National Association of REALTORS® and the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University.

Poll findings indicate nearly half of respondents would prefer to live in communities containing houses with small yards, but within easy walking distance of community amenities. While 60 percent of respondents live in detached, single-family homes, a quarter of those would rather live in an attached home in an area with greater walkability. Millennial respondents, especially, prefer to live within walking distance of shops and restaurants and have a short commute.

Respondents also point to community transportation options, such as sidewalks, as positive factors when purchasing a home. Millennial respondents show a stronger preference than other generations for expanding public transportation and providing transportation alternatives to driving, such as biking and walking, while also increasing the availability of trains and buses.

Source: NAR

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Construction, Home Improvement Complaints Top List

August 3, 2015 12:33 am

Construction- and home improvement-related complaints made the top three of the Consumer Federation of America’s (CFA) top 10 list of complaints in the last year, with consumers reporting home professional grievances such as failure to start or complete a job and shoddy work. The worst complaint on the list is debt collection, and the fastest-growing complaint is identity theft.

According to the CFA survey, conducted in conjunction with the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI), debt collection issues run the gamut from callers trying to get consumers to send money to satisfy loans that don’t really exist to abusive practices to collect debts that consumers legitimately owe. Other credit-related complaints include billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services and predatory lending.

Tax identity theft is also particularly troublesome. “Government benefits fraud resulting from identity theft makes it very difficult for the victims to claim benefits that are rightfully theirs,” says NACPI President Amber Capoun, who is also a legal assistant in the Office of the State Banking Commission in Kansas.

A newer consumer complaint involves businesses closing and reopening under the same name but with new owners refusing to honor agreements that the original companies had made.

Rounding out the top 10 list of complaints are:

Landlord and Tenant Complaints – Includes unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promises amenities, deposit and rent disputes and illegal eviction tactics

Auto-Related Complaints
– Includes misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes

Retail Sales and Utility Complaints
– For retail, includes false advertising, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver; for utilities, includes service problems and billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas services

Professional Service Complaints
– Includes misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform

Home Solicitation Complaints
– Includes misrepresentations or failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations and do-not-call violations

Health Product/Service and Internet Sales Complaints
– For health products/services, includes misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver; for internet sales, includes misrepresentations or other deceptive practices and failure to deliver online purchases

Fraud Complaints – Includes bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, fake check scams, imposter scams and other common frauds

Household Goods Complaints – Includes misrepresentations, failure to deliver and faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances

Source: CFA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Americans Say Yes to Gluten-Free

July 31, 2015 2:27 am

America has spoken: gluten-free is the way to be.

According to a recent report by market research publisher Packaged Facts, over a third of respondents say gluten-free is an important factor when shopping for foods, in part due to its superior healthfulness. The “gluten-free” label has been a particularly strong selling point in salty snacks, such as tortilla chips.

“Even those who are not gluten-sensitive are attracted to gluten-free salty snacks because they seem to add another check mark to the list of perceived requirements for better-for-you salty snacks,” explains Packaged Facts Research Director David Sprinkle. Gluten-free salty snacks lead gluten-free sales by an overwhelming margin, dwarfing other popular foods such as gluten-free crackers and gluten-free pasta.

The majority of respondents note the nutritional content and ingredients in the groceries they buy, reflecting a growing trend of rejecting artificial additives, long ingredient lists and unpronounceable food ingredients.

Source: Packaged Facts

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Pest Prevention as Easy as 1, 2, 3

July 31, 2015 2:27 am

Pest prevention is a matter of homeowner diligence – establishing cleanliness habits and maintaining pest-prone fixtures regularly. According to the pest control experts at Assured Environments, pest problems can be avoided in three simple steps.

1. Establish Storage Habits – Keep all garbage in tightly sealed containers and empty trash receptacles regularly. Be diligent about safe food storage. Keep food items in sealed containers and never keep anything past its expiration.

2. Maintain Plumbing System – Keep all pipes in working order. Ensure there are no leaky patches in roofs and do not let water accumulate. Make sure toilets do not back up. Use dehumidifiers in basement storage areas.

3. Inspect Wood Structures – Termites and other small creatures are highly attracted to rotting wood. Ensure all wood structures on the property are well-maintained. Note any openings and seal them to stop small rodents and insects from entering.

Source: Assured Environments

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgage Rates in Flux

July 31, 2015 2:27 am

According to Freddie Mac’s recent Primary Mortgage Market Survey ® (PMMS®), the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) ducked beneath four percent to 3.98 percent amid ups and downs on the home front and overseas.

The survey also indicates the average 15-year FRM declined to 3.17 percent, the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) moved down to 2.95 percent, and the 1-year Treasury-indexed hybrid ARM decreased to 2.52 percent

“Monday’s eight percent decline in Chinese stock prices triggered similar–though smaller–sell-offs in global equity markets,” says Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sean Becketti. “The associated flight to quality drove U.S. Treasury yields down nearly five basis points. Accordingly 30-year fixed-rate mortgages fell six basis points to 3.98 percent.

“Recent housing data exhibited the same good news, bad news pattern as overseas developments,” Becketti continues. “Coming into this week, existing-home sales for June and the latest FHFA house price measures both suggested a stronger tone in the housing market. However, this week brought nothing but bad–or at least weaker-than-expected–news. New-home sales and pending-home sales both weakened and the Case-Shiller house price indices, while positive, fell below the lower end of expectations. Finally, the inadvertent release of Fed staff projects increased uncertainty over the timing of future Fed rate moves.”

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Summertime Safety Tips for Your Pet

July 30, 2015 12:27 am

While enjoying the dog (and cat!) days of summer, it’s easy to lose sight of your pet’s safety. Whether you and your furry friend are out soaking up the sun, traveling on a road trip or playing host to a backyard barbecue, keep in mind these summertime safety tips recommended by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

1. Train your pets for travel.
Traveling can be highly stressful for pets. If you’re planning a road trip, prep your pet in advance by taking short rides in the car and getting them used to riding in a crate or car harness.

“Pet owners should never leave their animals unattended in a parked vehicle,” says ASPCA Animal Hospital Vice President Dr. Louise Murray. “Parked cars, even with windows open, become very hot in a short amount of time and could lead to heatstroke or death.”

2. Hydrate your pets often.
Dogs and cats can become dehydrated quickly, so give them plenty of water when the weather is hot. Always make sure your pet has a shady place to escape the sun. Don't let your dog linger outdoors, especially on hot asphalt – their bodies can heat up quickly, and sensitive paw pads can get burned.

3. Avoid feeding your pets festive foods. Food and drinks at backyard barbecues or parties should be served only to people, not pets. Keep alcoholic beverages away from pets, and remember that any change of diet – even just treating them to a bite of your festive food – may give your dog or cat severe digestive ailments. Make sure to avoid raisins, grapes, onions, chocolate and products with the sweetener xylitol, which are all toxic to pets.

4. Outfit your home for “high-rise syndrome.”
During warmer months, many animal hospitals and veterinarians see an increase in injured animals as a result of “high-rise syndrome,” which is when pets fall or jump out of windows and are seriously or fatally injured. Keep all unscreened windows in your home closed and make sure screens are tightly secured.

5. Always use a leash. Warm weather can inspire longer walks, and while this is exciting for both dog and owner, it’s important that dogs are always kept on leash – with collars and up-to-date ID tags and microchips – to protect them from getting loose and injuring themselves or others.

Source: ASPCA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Paint Like a Pro in 5 Steps

July 30, 2015 12:27 am

(BPT) - Nothing transforms the look of a home as simply and inexpensively as paint. Whether you’d like to liven up a dated design or refresh your entire home to sell, paint like a pro with these tips.

1. Look for high-quality products. When it comes to paint, quality matters. Search for a combination paint-and-primer to save a few steps and ensure complete coverage and deep color saturation. The paint should have high hiding ability and resist dirt and scuffs.

2. Get inspired online. Color selection can seem intimidating, but it's a chance to infuse your personality into your home. Many online resources are available for homeowners to explore, coordinate and experiment with different looks. Pinterest, Houzz and Apartment Therapy are great websites for browsing images, finding home décor inspiration and colors that speak to you.

3. Use paint samples, rather than chips. The most realistic way to envision the color in your home is to see it in action. Many paint retailers offer small sample cans for just a few dollars. Use these to paint a few stripes of each color option in the room you'll be painting. Note how color changes in different lighting conditions.

“Sunlight, shadows and furniture can all alter the appearance of paint in your space,” says BEHR Vice President of Color Marketing Erika Woelfel. “Before fully committing to a hue, make sure it's one you'll love morning, noon and night."

4. Use the right painting supplies. High-quality painting tools save you time over the course of your project and produce the most beautiful finish. For best results, use a lint-free roller cover. Select brushes made of nylon and polyester. For flawless edges, use a painter's tape specifically designed for your surface type.

5. Prep before painting. Begin by removing all wall fixtures, such as pictures, doors and light switches. If you have small cracks or holes in your walls, remove any dust and apply a patching material. Make sure to allow this to dry completely before sanding the finished area. Wash away oil, grease or wax stains by dampening the surface, applying mild detergent with a sponge and then rinsing the wall clean. Once dried, you'll be ready for smooth application and beautiful color.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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