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Quartz vs. Granite: Consumer Reports Rates Kitchen Countertops


Is there a kitchen renovation in your future? If so, one of the most crucial and difficult decisions ahead of you is what kind of countertop to choose. Consumer Reports takes a look at two of the most popular options—quartz and granite—to determine which one is the better option.
First and foremost, it’s important to note that Consumer Reports (CR) describes both quartz and granite as “superior materials” that perform equally well in many tests, such as surviving a steak-knife slicing machine, withstanding a 400-degree Fahrenheit saucepan full of heated shortening, and several rounds of scrubbing with 100-grit sandpaper.
However, while both materials earn ratings of “excellent” for cutting, abrasion and heat resistance, neither is indestructible. When it comes to impact testing, both can chip.
So, what’s the differentiator among the two? Stain resistance and appearance.
For stain resistance testing, CR used half-inch splotches of several common substances, such as coffee, chocolate syrup, vegetable oil and grape juice, and recorded the effects after 20 hours. Quartz scored better with certain substances, like beet juice and food coloring, earning a rating that was 2.3 points higher than granite.
Quartz also comes out ahead in the appearance category, due to its ability to achieve the seamless, clean lines most people prefer. Since each slab of granite is unique—whereas quartz is manufactured—it’s more difficult for installers to cut and line up multiple slabs precisely. Quartz also offers more color choices and options for popular marble veining.
While quartz and granite cost about the same, quartz is the current material of choice. According to a National Kitchen & Bath Association survey, the vast majority of folks installing counters these days choose quartz, while granite is a distant second.
Ultimately, as with any renovation decision, the choice is a personal one, so go with what suits your taste and lifestyle.

Source: RISMedia

Title Insurance and Why You Need It


Title insurance can be one of those things that someone says you need when you buy a home, but you don’t understand why.

Without it, you could be left with a nagging question in the back of your mind: “Does the seller really own the property?” If the answer is no, it could be bad if you don’t have title insurance.

Some people or companies other than the title owner may have rights to the property. For example, the property owner may have sold mineral, air or utility rights to someone else. Or a bank with a mortgage on the property may own an interest in it. The government can also have a lien on the property for unpaid taxes.

What does title insurance do, exactly? Basically, it covers events related to the title that have already happened. It doesn’t cover future things that happen to the title after it has been issued.

First, the title company or an attorney verifies that the seller owns the property and is free to sell it. The title search includes searching property records to make sure there haven’t been any clerical errors and that there aren’t any undisclosed heirs, spousal claims, omissions in deeds, unknown liens or fraud with the deed. If there are any errors, they’re fixed before the home purchase transaction is completed.

Second, the title company contracts an underwriting company to issue an insurance policy, called title insurance. This protects you in court if anyone challenges you to the title of your home. If you lose any equity, you’ll be compensated.

Two insurance policies will often have to be bought by the homeowner: one protecting them as the owner, and a lender’s policy protecting the lender. The lender requires the insurance because it is providing a loan with the property as security. A problem with the title affects the value of the lender’s security. Only the amount of the loan will be covered in the lender’s policy, and it will decrease as the homeowner pays back the loan.

Source: RISMedia

6 Kitchen Upgrades Worth Their Weight in Resale Value


If a kitchen renovation is on your radar, and you plan to stay in your home long-term, you can figure on spending $20,000 or more—especially if you plan to rip out counters and re-configure your space.

But if you’re thinking of upgrades that increase your home’s resale value, as well as your own enjoyment, there’s a lot you can do at minimal cost to bring your kitchen up to date.

Designers advise putting your money into six specific areas to get the most bang for your update buck:

  1. Appliances – Replace basic white or black appliances with stainless steel, which will not only update the look of your kitchen, but will likely be more energy efficient.
  2. Cabinets – It’s amazing what a coat of white paint will do to make your kitchen pop. If tired, old cabinets are beyond painting, re-facing them will save you big bucks over replacing them.
  3. Hardware – Replacing standard cabinet hardware with fresh, bold designs is the easiest (read, ‘cheapest’) way to upgrade the look of any kitchen. Choose hardware that’s trendy, like brass, which is making a comeback, or contemporary styles that make a statement.
  4. Countertops – High-end stone and ornate beveling are in vogue and expensive, but granite is becoming more affordable. Shop around for a good deal, and this upgrade may cost less than you think.
  5. Backsplash – A snazzy backsplash is a focal point in the kitchen, and the right one can draw the eye away from kitchen flaws that might otherwise be glaring. Choose subway tile, which is a classic and sought-after option, or add a splash of color with a variety of reasonable materials available at most home stores.
  6. Lighting – An instant style makeover can be as simple as replacing that old overhead fixture with recessed lighting, under-counter lighting, and/or new accent lighting over a breakfast bar or kitchen table.

Source: RISMedia

How to Pay Down Your Mortgage Faster

Whether you’re looking ahead to retirement or just looking to reduce debt, paying down your mortgage faster makes for a rosier financial future. Here are some relatively painless ways to do so.

First, instead of making a monthly mortgage payment, try switching to accelerated biweekly payments. Not only will this shave years off the term of the mortgage, it will save you thousands of dollars in interest.

Next, try rounding up each payment to pay at least a little more each time. For example, if your payment is $865, round up to $900 instead.
Also commit to putting any unexpected money – from a bonus at work to a winning lottery ticket—toward your mortgage. Doing so will allow you to chip away at your mortgage without feeling the effects in your wallet.

Finally, consider making one extra mortgage payment each year. Most lenders will allow you to do so and will apply it directly to your loan principal.

Source: RISMedia

Tips for Veterans Buying a Home with VA Loan


For veterans or service members looking to buy a home with a Veterans Affairs loan, there are some extra steps to take and home condition requirements that aren’t needed with other types of loans.

The home must be safe, clean, in good condition and move-in ready, partly because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t want to back a loan where the military member’s finances are at risk because they have to make unexpected home repairs.

The extra work can be worthwhile. VA loans are 0.25 to 0.50 percent lower than conventional loans, don’t require a down payment or mortgage insurance, and have more flexible and forgiving requirements. Closing costs are limited and lenders fees are limited to 1 percent of the loan amount.

The government guarantees at least a quarter of the loan amount on a VA mortgage, which is why a down payment and mortgage insurance aren’t needed.

For buyers who qualify, here are some things to be aware of when buying a home with a VA loan:

Look for a move-in ready home. Homes that are structurally sound, safe and sanitary are more likely to pass the VA appraisal. The property must have adequate heating, roofing and safety features, and major issues must be repaired before the loan can close. If the VA expert has to return to reinspect something that needs to be fixed, the borrower will have to pay more inspection fees.

Be ready for an inspection. A home inspection is a normal part of buying a house, but a VA inspector will make sure the property is in good, working order. But a lot of the things they’ll be looking at are cosmetic, which a regular lender wouldn’t be concerned with. Though a VA inspection can sound like a professional home inspection, it isn’t and buyers can hire their own inspectors after the VA one if they’d like.

And more inspections. The VA also requires some inspections that other lenders don’t. A VA loan will require a pest inspection, along with a look at the septic tank, if there is one, and the water well if the property isn’t on a city water line.

Quicker timeline. VA loans have tighter timelines than other types of loans, which is why hiring a real estate agent and loan officer who have experience with VA loans can make the process smoother. Active-duty service members can have short buying windows if they’re ordered to move to another base.

Source: RISMedia

Why Home Inspections Are a Must


Buying a house is one of the best decisions you may ever make, and it’s always a thrill to go through the process. But there are ups and downs on the road to homeownership and sometimes things can get a bit overwhelming. The house you want to buy might seem like the perfect home, but upon further inspection, hiding underneath that dream home could be potentially serious defects that can make your future investment a costly one.

That’s why you should hire a home inspector for every sale. You probably know the general idea behind an inspector’s job—taking a thorough look at the house and finding out if anything is wrong with it—but it’s much more detailed than you think.

A home inspector will do a complete physical inspection of the entire structure and systems of your prospective home. While you may love how beautiful the living room’s wood floors are, your inspector can tell if the flooring itself will stand for another 20 years.

A typical inspector’s report will cover the condition of the home’s heating system; central air conditioning system (temperature permitting); interior plumbing and electrical systems; the roof, attic and visible insulation; walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors; and the foundation, basement and structural components.

Best of all, an inspector is an objective voice that will determine not only the condition of the home, but will also provide details of any immediate or future risks based on what’s in the report. Those are future costs you will need to consider.

A complete inspection will list the positive and negative aspects of the house, as well as the maintenance that will be necessary to keep it in good shape. Once an inspection is over, both parties in the transaction will have a much clearer understanding of the property value and what it needs in terms of repairs and maintenance.

Understanding these issues could help you at the negotiating table, as well. The home in good working order may have been worth $350,000. But if $20,000 of work needs to be done to fix the roof or replace faulty wiring, you may be able to argue that the price should be lower.

Before jumping into any contract signing, you should hire an inspector to look over the good, the bad and the ugly of what your new home really offers.

Source:  RISMedia

Carbon Monoxide Safety Steps

If you have a carbon monoxide alarm in your home, you're on the way to providing superior safety for your family. However, do you know how to maintain your alarm, and practice CO safety in your space?
"We all have busy lives and other priorities, so it's easy to take life-saving measures like installing CO alarms for granted once they've been implemented," says Tarsila Wey, director of marketing for First Alert, a leader in residential fire and CO detection devices.

In addition to replacing CO alarms as they reach expiration, Wey recommends the following tips and tools for keeping yourself and loved ones safer from the dangers of carbon monoxide:

Properly install alarms. CO alarms are the only way to detect this poisonous gas. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends installing alarms on every level of the home and near each sleeping area for maximum protection. Also make sure the alarms are installed at least 15 feet away from sources of CO to reduce the possibility of nuisance alarms. It is also important to test alarm monthly and change batteries every six months, unless the alarm is powered by a sealed, 10-year battery.

Test alarms regularly. All First Alert alarms are equipped with a test/silence button for easy testing.

Never use generators indoors. In the case of a power outage, portable electric generators must be used outside only (at least 15 feet from your home). Never use them inside the home, in a garage or in any confined area that can allow CO to collect. And, be careful to follow operating instructions closely. Also, refrain from using charcoal grills, camp stoves and other similar devices indoors.

Be mindful of the garage. Never leave a vehicle running inside an attached garage, even if the door is open, it is hazardous, as CO can leak into the home.

Have fuel-burning appliances inspected regularly. Arrange for a professional inspection of all fuel-burning appliances (such as furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers, water heaters and space heaters) annually.

Call 911. If an alarm sounds, leave the home immediately and move to fresh air. Then call 911 and do not go back into the home until the home is inspected and cleared.

Source: First Alert

7 Tools Every New Homeowner Needs in Their Toolbox

If you recently purchased a home and have a big move looming in the not-so-distant future, preparation is key to ensuring the process goes as smoothly as possible—and that includes making sure you have the right tools for the job. Here are some common tools you should have at the ready when moving to a new home.
1. Cordless Drill. From hanging shelves to photos—and assembling furniture—a cordless drill will help you get any job done quickly and easily. Going cordless is also a great option when it comes to working around the nooks and crannies of your new home.
2. Tape Measure. Whether it’s making sure the TV is centered on the wall or ordering a rug to fit a specific space, a tape measure will undoubtedly come in handy as you unpack your belongings. Invest a few extra dollars and purchase a retractable tape measure that won’t break or tear easily.
3. Level. Hanging art or photos is often more challenging than most people think, and the last thing you want is a bunch of frames hanging crookedly throughout your home. Purchasing a level is a surefire way to ensure everything gets hung with precision.
4. Extension Cords. Typically an afterthought, extension cords can come in handy during parties, around the holidays and in rooms where electrical outlets may not be conveniently located.
5. Pliers and Wrenches. Good for tightening shelves and cabinets and many small plumbing jobs you may need to tackle in the bathroom, pliers and wrenches are a must-have for any homeowner’s toolbox.
6. Socket Set. No home is complete without a set of ratcheting wrenches with metric and standard sockets in different drives.
7. Screwdrivers. Be sure to stock up on screwdrivers of different sizes (both flat- and Phillips-head), as this is the tool you’ll reach for most often. Whether it’s for hanging items up, replacing smoke detector batteries—and many other ordinary fix-it-up jobs—you’ll want to be prepared.
While this list is just the tip of the iceberg, these tools will come in handy for years to come.
Contact me today to learn more about preparing for a move.

Source: RISMedia

Take Action Against Radon

Homeowners should make sure they and their families are safe from the dangerous effects of radon. The EPA encourages everyone to have their homes tested - here's why.

The EPA defines radon as a gaseous, toxic radioactive element that comes from the natural decay of uranium in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation.

Your home can trap radon inside, where it can build up. New and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements can be affected.

You can’t see, smell or taste radon, but it could be present at a dangerous level in your home. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to EPA estimates, and overall, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

The EPA recommends that you have your home tested, which is easy and inexpensive. Find a professional in your area or purchase your own test kit.You can find a radon test kit order form online along with a coupon. Some home improvement stores also sell radon test kits. Follow the directions on the package for where to place the device in your home and where to send it to receive your reading. 

If you'd prefer to have a professional inspect your home, find out who your state radon contact is and the particular requirements for your state. Your state may also be able to provide you with a list of certified contractors. 

If you're considering a new home, look for builders who use radon-resistant new construction. Fuad Reveiz of the National Association of Home Builders says building techniques to prevent radon from entering a home are practical, straightforward and an inexpensive way to offer families a benefit that could reduce their risk of lung cancer.

Visit for more details on radon and how to prevent it from risking your family's health. 

Source: RISMedia

Getting Your Garage Ready for a Sale


When you have a home on the market and start cleaning out the rooms and making everything presentable, one area that often gets overlooked is the garage. In fact, the garage sometimes ends up looking worse as it’s used as a storage spot for items from other areas of the home.

The problem with this centers around the fact that many buyers care about the garage, and if they don’t see a place where they can envision parking their car, setting up a workspace or storing their own stuff, it could put a damper on a possible sale.

After all, a cluttered or messy garage may send the wrong message to a prospective buyer, as it’s next to impossible to visualize what a garage can offer if all buyers see are old boxes, oily floors and junk piled everywhere.

However, a clean garage can subconsciously imply that you take better than average care of your home. It may also give a feeling of newness to a property.

Start by getting rid of everything you don’t need. For years, the garage has probably been the dumping ground for old clothes, unused gym equipment and broken toys and appliances. Either donate things to a local charity, hold a garage sale, sell things on Craigslist, or put it all on the curb for pickup. The idea is to minimize the best you can.

While you don’t have to remove everything, you should organize your belongings. Start by getting a bunch of cartons or crates and storing everything neatly. This means putting all your holiday decorations together, placing your garden tools in one spot and putting all those trash bags full of nicely folded clothes inside a container.

Lighting is vital to a garage, as most tend to be dull and drab. Replace light bulbs in all the fixtures with the highest wattage allowed, and if the only light operates on a pull string, replace it so that it’s not dull. If your garage has windows, keep them clean so the light shines in.

If you really want to go all out, some larger upgrades include adding industrial flooring, painting the walls and ceiling and replacing any parts of the garage door that are rusty and not working properly. Also, if you have an automatic garage opener, check to make sure the batteries work.

While it’s true that no one is probably looking at photos of the garage when they do their initial search for homes they want to visit, once a house hunter comes in and sees your dreamy garage, it could be the final factor in selling your home.



Source: RISMedia

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