Margot Aronson Sells Homes, Realtor®, ABR, ASR, CDPE
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Margot Aronson Sells Homes, Realtor®, ABR, ASR, CDPE

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Don’t Let Holiday FOMO Drive You Into Debt

December 15, 2017 1:54 am

Most of us start out holiday shopping with the best of intentions. We make a list, set a budget, scope out sales and get off to a successful start.

As we get closer to the big day, however, we start making rash purchases, often driven by our kids’ FOMO - Fear of Missing Out - over not getting some of the gifts they want. This is when we hit the credit cards and the debt starts to climb.

According to Jeff Dixson (www.nwfts.net), a financial educator and author of “Winning The Retirement Game,” chronic overspending of money we don’t really have can torpedo a family budget, not to mention a retirement plan. He offers these four tips to help keep holiday shopping in line so we can stave off debt:

1. Look at the big picture. Credit card use means putting off paying for something you didn’t have the money for in the first place. So forecast what that mounting credit card bill will add to your regular monthly expenses, and let that act as a deterrent.

2. Use one card. If you must use a credit card, Dixson says, put the rest of your cards aside and use the one with the lowest interest rate. This also makes it easier to track your spending.

3. Make a real budget. While it may be too late to salvage this year’s holiday budget, put the following into effect for next year: Figure out what you can afford to spend (for example, $600 = $50 per month) and set this aside each month in order to have that money available when holiday shopping season rolls around. The trick is sticking to that amount while you’re out shopping.

4. Make it a teaching moment. The holidays are a great time to teach your kids about money, a lesson that could last a lifetime. Most families have budgets, and part of being responsible means not over-spending. “The greater good of the family is served rather than immediate gratification,” Dixson says. “They’ll learn something meaningful about money, appreciation and responsibility that will stay with them when they have families of their own.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Ways to Protect Your Home This Winter

December 15, 2017 1:54 am

Brrr! It's cold in here. When winter weather starts frosting, you're not the only one reaching for a sweater. Your home, too, needs to be protected from the chill.

Joe Todaro, director of operations of Gold Medal Service, offers these tips for homeowners so they can prepare their home for a cold winter:

Protect your outdoor unit – Your outdoor air conditioning unit needs a little help staying healthy throughout the winter. You may want to consider a cover for your unit not unlike the cover you use for a grill or a car. Covers can keep snow, ice and heavy rain from potentially damaging the unit. There are covers available on the market, or you can use a spare tarp you may have laying around in the garage. Be sure to clean any debris away from the unit before sealing it up.

Patch leaks around doors and windows – Check windows and exterior doors for any gaps or openings that would let cold air in or warm air to escape. Leakage like that may not only cause you to have cold spots in your home, but make your heating system run longer than necessary – costing you money on your energy bills. For a DIY approach, especially with older homes, there are several types of gap sealers, as well as insulation kits that can be used to shrink wrap windows and reduce heat loss. Naturally, having your heater tuned up by a professional for peak performance is a proven way of saving on energy bills as well. A well-sealed home is a warmer, more comfortable home when the temperatures get at or below freezing – and your family will appreciate the difference.

Reduce heat loss through the fireplace – If the home has a fireplace, it's a good idea to keep the damper closed when it is not in use to prevent heat loss. Close any doors leading into the room when a fire is burning.  If you have a gas fireplace, be sure that it burns cleanly, evenly, and safely.

Use sunlight to your advantage – You can naturally heat your home by opening curtains and window coverings on south-facing windows during the day. Closing curtains at night will protect your home from losing heat through those same window openings.

Prep the plumbing – As winter approaches, you'll want to make sure you don't have any water freeze-ups – those can potentially become a big headache. To eliminate that risk, drain any water from outdoor faucets, and arrange to have any in-ground sprinkler systems blown out. Drain and roll up garden hoses and store them inside, in a garage, shed, or basement, to shield them from the severest temperatures. If any pipes in the home have been prone to freezing in past winters, consider using heat tape to keep them warmer during extremely cold weather. If you do experience a burst pipe, make sure everyone in the family knows how to turn off the water at the source.

Source: Gold Medal Service

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Empowering Teens through Smart Spending

December 15, 2017 1:54 am

(Family Features)--Helping teens learn to handle money can be a tricky proposition. Mistakes can quite literally be costly, but there's really no substitute for hands-on practice when it comes to managing finances.

Children are the ultimate investment, so teach your teen to be a smart spender with these savvy tips:

Start with saving. As a first step, open a savings account for your teen and involve them in the process. Use this opportunity to teach good habits, such as putting away a percentage of every paycheck, creating an emergency fund and setting savings goals for big purchases. Visit the bank together and explore the account options. Many banks offer incentives for high-balance accounts, and while your teen likely won't qualify, it's a valuable lesson to see the incentives available to big savers.

Move on to basic checking. Although most banks still refer to their most accessible accounts as "checking" accounts, chances are that your teen is more likely to shop with a debit card or cash rather than checks. Still, knowing how to write a proper check is an important life skill - as are conducting debit transactions and understanding any fees associated with using the account.

Create safe zones. Even after teaching them the fundamentals, letting teens make their own purchasing decisions can be a frightening prospect. Fortunately, if you know where to look, there are options available that offer teens a customizable level of autonomy while still under the oversight of a parent. For example, Amazon introduced a way for teens ages 13-17 to shop using their own, independent login linked to a parent's account. In addition to product recommendations, order histories and lists tailored specifically to the teen's shopping history and interests, teens can exercise smart shopping decisions with access to customer reviews and comparison shopping tools.

Parents have the option to review and approve every purchase, or set spending limits that offer teens the freedom to place orders up to a certain dollar amount on their own. In either case, parents receive notifications for every order and shipment. Find more details at Amazon.com/forteens.

Set a budget. Part of smart spending is learning to shop within your means. Whether your teen's income is from a part-time job, allowance or a combination of the two, building a budget that defines expenses and expectations is essential. Like any budget, it should include all income sources and all expenses he or she is responsible for, including auto maintenance, gasoline, insurance and beyond. Reinforce the importance of saving by including a regular savings allocation. Putting all of these numbers to paper lets your teen see clearly where the money is going and how much is left over for extracurricular spending.

Put safety nets in place. No matter how much planning is done in advance, surprise expenses will inevitably pop up. Teens can prepare for these expenses while also guarding against mistakes and the temptation to over-spend by taking advantage of special services available through banking institutions, such as setting a per-transaction or daily spending limit and investing in overdraft coverage.

Ultimately, money management skills come with time and practice. Creating a safe environment for your teen to practice these life lessons sooner rather than later can pay dividends down the road.


Source: Amazon

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Turn Any Room into a Guest Room

December 14, 2017 1:54 am

Whether you have out-of-town visitors on the way or an unexpected guest who needs to crash for the night, don’t panic if you don’t have an official guest room - you can quickly outfit just about any area into cozy sleeping quarters with a few simple steps:

No bed? No problem! A comfortable sofa will do the trick when you make it as bed-friendly as possible. Remove the back cushions for more space, then make it up with a set of twin sheets, pillows and a comforter, and its sweet dreams in no time!

Choose an area with privacy. If you don’t have a guest room, consider your home office or finished basement. Or, section off an area of your living room or family room with a decorative screen. Anything that makes your guest feel a bit removed from the rest of the house.

Accessorize. Feeling at home in someone else’s home is often about the small touches. So make sure your guest has a few hangers and drawers or shelves to place their clothes, a small table with a lamp that can serve as a nightstand for their book, glasses, keys and other small personal items, access to an outlet for charging their devices, and a small chair where they can relax when not sleeping.

Add necessities. Nothing will make your guests feel more pampered than stocking their space with bed-and-breakfast-like accoutrements. Add a stack of fluffy towels, a set of spare slippers, bottled water and glasses, and a basket packed with shampoo, soap, sunscreen, toothpaste and a spare toothbrush.

Remember, feeling at home is not about how much space a guest has, but how welcome they feel within that space.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Deck Your Halls Safely This Holiday Season

December 14, 2017 1:54 am

Decorating your home for the holidays can be great for family bonding and exploring your creative side. However, as you decorate, you should be keeping home safety front and center. To help, Florida Realtors® offers the following tips.

- Illuminate holiday lights only when another adult is home and awake.

- Place all extension cords out of the normal traffic path and do not place furniture on the cords.

- Check electrical decorations to make sure they're in good condition. Replace any decorations that have frayed, that have exposed wires or loose connections. When buying new lights, select products approved by a testing agency, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which is usually indicated by the agency's symbol printed on the package.

- Use decorations made of fire-resistant materials. Artificial trees, garland and tree skirts are often made of this material, but check the package to be sure.

- If you prefer a live tree, remember to water it daily so the needles stay moist and are less likely to catch fire. There are also some plant-food products designed to extend a tree's life, which may help.

- When you open gifts, discard wrapping paper and ribbons in a metal garbage can. In the event of a household fire, excess paper will increase the speed at which the fire spreads.

- Burn candles only when an adult is present. Make sure there is plenty of space between candles and overhead cabinets, use a candle holder large enough to contain the dripping wax and move nearby items that could ignite. Carefully extinguish the flame when leaving the room and – as always – keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.

- Make sure you have a fire extinguisher in working order, preferably one that will put out all types of fires including electrical and grease fires. Make sure family members know how to use the extinguisher and keep it in an easily accessible place.

- If your home does not have smoke detectors, now is the time to install them. If you already have smoke detectors, check the batteries and replace them if you aren't sure how old they are. Some new-home builders install electrical smoke detectors, which eliminate the need for batteries, but it doesn't protect you or your home during a power outage. Most experts recommend installing at least two battery-operated smoke detectors. You should also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector.

- Discuss escape routes with your family and choose alternate routes in case a preferred exit, such as the front door, is blocked.

Source: http://media.floridarealtors.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Avoid Pipe Damage This Winter

December 14, 2017 1:54 am

Nothing will put a damper on your winter wonderland faster than a busted pipe. But with freezing and thawing all season long, your pipes can take a beating. To help, Best Service offers the following tips to avoid expensive pipe damage:

Look for early signs of hard water – Hard water and issues with scaling can be detected early by keeping an eye on items easily affected by the minerals that may be present in the water. A coffee maker, for example, can provide great early warning signs for hard water. If the maker is failing early in its life due to clogs and requiring multiple descaling treatments, there is a good chance that attention needs to be given to the home's water lines. Noticing spikes in a utility bill with no notable changes in usage can serve as a good indicator that there are leaks in need of attention.

Consider a water-softening system – A water softener is a system that helps lower the hardness of incoming water and therefore, reduces the amount of minerals that can adhere to the inside of pipes and appliances. Purchasing or building a home in a known hard-water area is reason enough to invest in a water softener, and it is best to have it installed and in good operational condition before beginning daily life in the new home.

Install a pressure regulator – Having a pressure regulator installed is a great way to monitor possible clogs and detect any issues before they result in serious damage. As minerals from hard water or other intrusions clog pipes, they restrict water flow and increase pressure on the walls of the pipes. Setting the regulator between 50-70 psi is normal, but noticing pressure between 100 and 120 psi is a sign that something is restricting water flow and may cause damage to the pipes.

Check the landscaping relative to the water lines – In addition to taking hard water into consideration, it is worth noting the approximate distance of trees to the water lines. As pipes age, they can develop tiny cracks and holes that can allow water to begin leaking at rates less detectable by meters and bills. Tree roots, which can grow quite extensively underneath yards in search of water, will sometimes pick up on these sources and try to invade the pipes. These roots can penetrate the cracks in the pipes and begin to grow, clogging the water flow and putting more stress on the already compromised structure of the pipe. If a home is over 25 years old, the piping may be steel or clay. Steel is susceptible to corrosion, and clay is more porous. At this point in their lifespan, both of these materials will be more likely to leak and attract tree roots than modern materials such as PVC or concrete.

Source: Best Service

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Could You Be Setting Yourself up for a Contractor Scam?

December 12, 2017 1:51 am

From simple maintenance to major renovations, millions and millions of hard-earned dollars will be spent with contractors this year.

So we turned to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) for some advice on not only getting the best value for those dollars spent, but for ways to avoid throwing away good money on unscrupulous individuals posing as reputable contractors.

From post-disaster work going on from storm-related damage to wildfire ravaged communities in the west, the NAHB warns that many "fly-by-night" operators will continue pouring into these areas trying to scam distressed homeowners into paying for shoddy repairs or work that they will never show up to perform.

Here are a few warning signs the NAHB asks you to consider when searching for a contractor:

Asks you to sign anything before you've hired them. Look out - they may be trying to get you to sign what is an actual binding contract.

Vastly underbids all other contractors. Such contractors may cut costs on quality, which can end up costing you more when you have to have the substandard work redone.

Cannot provide customer references. Professional contractors should have current references and you should be able to reach those references, not just an answering machine.

Difficulty contacting the contractor. Verify the contractor’s business address, as true professionals have a physical office, mailing address, phone, and email. If they only have a PO box, be wary.

Tells you to obtain building or remodeling permits. Professional contractors go to the county or state offices and get permits for their work themselves. Asking a homeowner to do it is a sign that they are not a legitimate contractor.

The NAHB says if your state requires contractors to be licensed, look them up on the state licensing website even if you've seen a piece of paper that looks like a license. Make sure they don't have a record of consumer complaints lodged with your local Better Business Bureau.

You can find your local home builders association and contact them for a list of reputable contractors in your area. Or search NAHB’s Directory of Professional Remodelers to find a NAHB Remodelers member in your community.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How-To Avoid Customer Service Frustration

December 12, 2017 1:51 am

Whether you need to return that new pair of shoes you bought online, or the product you ordered is weeks late, contacting customer service can elicit dread in even the calmest of individuals.

"Contacting your retailer is not something that people look forward to, but it doesn't have to be as frustratingly painful as it used to be. Today, there are more ways than ever for consumers to connect with companies and advancements in technology that help you get faster service," says Rachel Faulkner of Genesys, an expert in customer experience solutions.

Here are five easy tricks that will help you get better, faster customer service:

Send a message instead. Contacting customer service doesn't require sitting on hold for 10 minutes. Dialing into a contact center to speak with a live agent remains popular, but companies also staff communication channels such as text messaging and web chat. You still get the human touch to resolve issues – just without the wait time.

Social channels aren't just for bad reviews. While it can be therapeutic to vent via social media, it's also a great way to reach support centers. Social channels such as Twitter and Facebook may be staffed by senior agents who are empowered to take action immediately on your problem. Feel free to post your positive comments, too!

Don't fear the chatbots. Great strides have been made in artificial intelligence that help systems recognize and quickly address your concerns. Use these advances to your benefit by messaging a chatbot to resolve routine or simple requests for super-fast response time.

Please hold? You don't have to anymore. If given the option, ask for a return call instead of waiting on hold when trying to access customer service over the telephone. It's usually more convenient and will allow you to move on to other things so you're not stuck listening to bad hold music.

Be nice. Customer service agents deal with hundreds of anxious customers a day — and are often on the receiving end of their frustration. Engaging in "small talk" allows agents time to review your case history. If you can be patient for 30 seconds, it may help the call go more smoothly and get your issue resolved faster.

Pro tip: Most agents aren't empowered to fix everything. Some issues need advanced support and can't be resolved by the average support agent. However, you can search the Internet for executive support contact information or ask for customer retention when you dial the main service line, which usually leads to more qualified agents.

Source: Genesys

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How-To Survive Awkward Holiday Party Talk

December 12, 2017 1:51 am

Looking forward to that holiday party, but not having seven separate conversations about the weather? You're not alone. According to the experts at Toastmasters, "natural" conversations don't come naturally to many of us.

Below are a handful of Toastmasters tips for a more successful party experience.

Look for a friendly face. When arriving at the event or when you're feeling out of place, seek out the people you know and enjoy spending time with. Remember to navigate toward people who seem to be popular, because it's likely they're good communicators and will help you feel at ease.

Watch your body language. Be sure to face the individual who is speaking, make eye contact and nod to let them know you're paying attention, listening and understanding. Refrain from texting or repeatedly checking your phone, as this is disrespectful.

Share your stories. When the timing is appropriate, share your humorous and happy holiday memories. People like to share their own holiday experiences, so this conversation should go over quite well during this time of year.

Set your expectations. It's difficult to have in-depth conversations at holiday gatherings, so prepare for others to join in and even interrupt at times. Conversations will typically be brief so don't expect to resolve any pressing business or personal matters at the event.

Know when and how to exit. Before leaving the event, navigate your way around and try to say a brief hello to the people you haven't had the chance to converse with. Be sure to say thank you to the hosts of the party. They likely put in a great deal of effort in the hopes that you would enjoy yourself.

Source:  www.toastmasters.org/findaclub.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Pros and Cons of Listing Your Home During the Holidays

December 11, 2017 1:48 am

This time of year, the last thing most folks are probably thinking about is selling or buying a home. That is, except for the thousands of people who are in a position where they need to sell or buy a home.

While this presents a somewhat limited range of opportunities for both home sellers and motivated prospects, there are a number of things to consider if you are among that small but no less important demographic.

At FortuneBuilders, Konrad Sopielnikow blogs that by selling a home during the cold, winter months of the holidays, you can unearth lucrative opportunities that would be difficult to find the rest of the year.

Sopielnikow says the cyclical and seasonal lack of competition, greater flexibility of scheduling for sellers and buyers, and the ability to achieve a quick and profitable outcome are just a few advantages.

He also notes that the end of the year is typically when many businesses offer positions to new employees. As a matter of fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics posted a gain of 151,000 jobs in January of 2016.

Sopielnikow suspects in many cases, these were jobs in which the employee relocated. And if there’s one sector of holiday homebuyers who are highly motivated, he says it’s the individual and/or family relocating due to a new job.

So anyone ready to move on from a property quickly can gain the advantage by tapping into this powerful, psychological motivator.

Elizabeth Weintraub at thebalance.com says sellers face a measurably higher challenge at year's end because they will be appealing to a much smaller inventory of buyers who have very specific needs.

Also, both parties' agents might be on vacation or otherwise unavailable in December as markets move into a seasonal slowdown.

But Weintraub counters that this could be a perfect opportunity for anyone marketing a hard-to-sell home, which might rise to the top when there are fewer homes for sale over the holidays.

And if you are selling through to the New Year, she says don't block or cover up important selling features such as fireplace mantels, stairs, stained-glass windows with decorations.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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