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Updated: Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The 3 Factors That Have the Biggest Impact on Your Home Insurance

Although your homeowners insurance may seem like an unnecessary expense at times, it is an invaluable safeguard.

Property and casualty risk research firm ISO -- Verisk Analytics states 5.3 percent of all insured homes made a claim in 2014. In addition, the Insurance Information Institute III and SNL Financial reported that the incurred losses for homeowners insurance in the United States totaled 39.84 billion in 2014. This data indicates that even though only a small percentage of homeowners submit home insurance claims, the overall costs associated with these claims can be substantial.

Clearly, home insurance can make a world of difference for homeowners, but that does not mean you should be forced to break the bank to find the proper coverage.

If you understand the factors that impact your home insurance, you should have no trouble picking up the right coverage at the right price. Ultimately, youll be able to insure your home against a wide range of risks for a reasonable cost.

Heres a closer look at three factors that have the biggest impact on your home insurance.

1. Your Homes Value

Consider the price of your house as well as the total cost it would take to rebuild your residence as you study home insurance options.

Remember, if your home is damaged or destroyed, youll want to be insured for the full cost to replace your residence. In many cases, this cost will exceed the price you paid for your home, so you should purchase a policy that guarantees youre fully covered against any damage or destruction.

To determine the replacement cost of your home, get an estimate from a reputable builder who can evaluate your current residence and give you an accurate idea of how much it would cost to replace your house. After a builders evaluation of your home, youll be able to insure your residence accordingly.

2. Your Homes Location

Location is everything. From the town or city where you live to the number of fire stations near your house, many factors associated with your homes location can affect your home insurance.

Some of the key factors linked to your homes location that can impact your home insurance include:

  • Fire Protection -- Insurers frequently use Public Protection >
  • Wind Storms -- III points out that many insurers in coastal states along the Atlantic seaboard and Gulf of Mexico provide homeowners insurance with percentage deductibles for hurricane damage instead of traditional dollar deductibles. This means that some homeowners may end up paying higher deductibles due to wind storm dangers.
  • Crime -- Risk is lower for homeowners in low-crime areas. Thus, these homeowners often pay less for home insurance than those who live in high-crime areas.

Performing research about your homes location is paramount. If you spend some time learning about risks >

3. Your Homes Condition

The age and condition of your home may affect your homeowners insurance, but it is also important to recognize that the design of your residence may impact your home insurance.

For example, a home that features a custom design with many exterior corners may be more expensive to replace than a residence with a simpler design. Therefore, the price to insure the former may be more expensive than the cost to insure the latter.

Insurance companies also consider whats called "morale hazard" when deciding to offer you coverage or not, which is an increase in the risk of hazards caused by a persons apathy due to having insurance. Because of this, maintaining the condition of your home can make you more attractive to insurers. If you fail to perform regular home maintenance, your insurer may have the right to void your coverage in the event of damage or destruction to your residence.

The aforementioned factors will likely have the biggest impact on your home insurance. Furthermore, many insurers now review your credit score to perform a predictive analysis of your risk levels.

Your credit score is affected by a number of factors, including:

  • Payment history
  • Credit report inquiries
  • New and existing credit accounts

A higher credit score means a lower risk. However, if you pay your bills on time, avoid excessive credit card debt and understand your credit history, you may be able to lower your home insurance costs.

Youre entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion once a year. Request a copy of your credit report from these bureaus annually and youll be able to identify any credit report issues that could affect your home insurance.

Lastly, dont forget to work with an insurance agent as you explore your home insurance options. These professionals will help you identify risks and guarantee you can protect your home against loss both now and in the future.

Ryan Hanley is the Vice President of Marketing at TrustedChoice.com and the Managing Editor of Agency Nation. He is also a speaker, podcaster and author of the Amazon best-seller, "Content Warfare." Ryan has over 12 years of insurance expertise and blogs frequently to help consumers understand complicated insurance topics.

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New Windows Changed My House - and My Mind

It was exciting to contemplate city life after living in smaller towns. Apparently, everyone else thought so too, because by the time I decided I liked a house, it was gone from the market.

Between struggling with a tight real estate market and shopping from across the country, it wasnt easy to find a house. While the city offers the charm of older neighborhoods and homes of by-gone eras, it also means that you can be pretty sure that youll be remodeling something.

Thats how my window struggle came into light.

Id snagged a home full of potential. Nestled in a full acre of green grass and big trees, the brick home offered the room I needed and the one-story I desired - plus it had the original hardwoods. Tangled up in an estate, it had sat empty for four years.

So here I stood trying to gaze out the spider web-coated windows of a 1950s-era ranch and see the beautiful maples and oaks. It was like an oasis tucked in the city. As I did, I began to list the key items on my to-do list, like a modern kitchen, repaired air ducts, pipe repairs and a new coating on the driveway.

Windows ba>

As I began to focus on key items, like a modern kitchen, leaking air ducts, plumbing issues and an eroding driveway, so windows ba>

Funny now to think I thought that meant I was done with windows.

Two things came into play nearly simultaneously. Only a day or two after the moving van unloaded, I decided I couldnt take the dirty windows another day. So despite having mountains of boxes to maneuver around, cleaning years of grime got moved to the top of the list. Armed with rags, cleaning supplies and a step-ladder, I marched to dark, dirty glass in the dining room. Thats when I discovered the window would not budge. It had opened on the last walk-thru, but would not open today.

Humidity had played a part in the old wood swelling. Undaunted, I cleaned the inside and headed outside to clean it from that direction. Covering the window were storm windows that probably hadnt been removed in years, if not decades. They were supposed to slide up, but it wasnt happening. As I moved around the house, I noticed a great portion of the windows had issues, including cracks, I could not resolve.

Ultimately, it didnt take long to learn that I couldnt live with the old windows that didnt function. In fact, changing out the windows got bumped up to the top of the list.

My desire for the windows had to do with function. I wanted to see out them and open them. I hadnt really thought about the look. I guess I thought a white window replaced by a white window would be the same. Instead, it was a huge shock to learn what enormous difference new windows made in the appearance and feel of the home.

In one day, the house went from one that looked like it had black widow spiders in the lock box to one that looked loved and inviting. The old windows contained grilles, the pieces of wood which visually divides a pane of glass so it appears to be made of smaller panes. The new windows I chose did not have grilles. That move made every window seem bigger and every room seem brighter. Of course, the new windows, without years of wear and the layer of dirty storm windows, really were brighter.

While I was waiting on windows and other key repairs, like electrical panel upgrades, I was trying to plan that kitchen remodel as well as a bathroom re-do. In trying to save costs where I could, I was working around existing windows. Despite taking down a wall to get more space, no matter how I moved around cabinets and appliances in my kitchen drawing, I could not get good workflow. In the current design, a small table for two sat in front of the only window, a long one that went nearly to the floor.

One day, someone asked me why I was working around that long window. They suggested I put in a shorter window and place the sink under the window. It was a light bulb moment.

With a brick house, Id not even thought about changing a windows dimensions. It turns out it wasnt hard at all. Since the windows exterior is on my screen porch, I choose wood to fill in the space of the shortened window and painted it to match the window, rather than have a brick mason brick in the space.

The same width was kept, but the shortened window allowed for a changed countertop and sink placement and suddenly made the whole kitchen plan work. I also shortened a window in the remodeled bathroom, which meant the soaking tub could be placed under the window and Id still get plenty of natural light.

The new windows really changed the whole look and feel of the old house. When I get a chance to talk remodeling, I now tell people replacing old windows needs to be at the top of their list.

Lea Schneider is a professional organizer based in Nashville, Tennessee. She shares her experiences on remodeling her 1950s ranch fixer-upper, which included replacing her casement windows. If you are also looking to update your house, visit The Home Depot to see a large selection of casement windows.

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Shop With An Eye For Your Future Home Accessibility Needs

It can be heartbreaking to have to leave your home because of mobility issues at any age or stage of your life. So when youre building, choosing a new home or renovating, keep basic accessibility features in mind. These features will help make it easier for you, your family and guests everyday.

For example, a zero-step entrance makes it easier to get strollers, large or heavy items and things such as groceries and packages into the house. A design with fewer stairs will reduce the risk of falls in the home for young children as well as seniors.

If youre building, try to include an elevator, or rough one in. If youre renovating, try to retrofit your space to include an elevator. Plan to include wide doorways and hallways, which will not only make the space seem bigger and brighter, but will make navigating the home easier for anyone using a walker or wheelchair.

A main-floor bathroom is a must. Include a large walk-in shower instead of a tub. Another popular idea is to include a master suite on the main floor, to be used by in-laws now and you later should stairs become an issue. A broken leg and a long run of stairs isnt a good combination.

Include an attached garage with a door to connect it to the house so you dont have to go outside in inclement weather. Its a handy feature for all ages.

Being able to enjoy your home for the long term is easier if you keep universal design in mind when youre building, buying or renovating. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. CMHC offers design principles for universal design on its website.

It includes some features that can be added during renovations, such as lever-type door handles, which are easy to include when hardware is being updated. Lever handles are easy to open with one hand or an elbow, which makes it easy for small children or anyone carrying objects. These features can be added over time, CMHC says.

Being able to visit friends and neighbours is a simple pleasure, but not one that can be enjoyed by everyone. Nor is being able to maneuver in their own home.

"People who inhabit and visit the houses we live in come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from infants to seniors, with various ever-changing abilities and skills," says CMHC. "As we grow up, grow old and welcome new people into our homes, our housing needs change. A house that is designed and constructed to reflect the principles of universal design will be safer and more accommodating to the diverse range of ages and abilities."

CMHC says universal design is only a subtle shift from what is typically done; designing for greater accessibility is not a new way of designing, simply a more focused one. "By providing flexibility in the selection of design features and incorporating adaptability into the house design, the life and usability of a home is extended, which promotes the concept of aging in place."

The universal house includes many elements that contribute to universal accessibility and are of benefit to everyone, CMHC says. For example, level, smooth, slip-resistant and glare-free floor finishes provide enhanced safety and comfort, and 36-inch wide doors make it easier to carry grocery bags and children into the house.

Other ideas from CMHC include windows that have easy-to-operate opening and locking systems; shades or blinds to help control interior light; and adding extra lighting throughout that can be adjusted to everyones needs.

When renovating the kitchen, choose cabinets that have drawers and pull out shelves to eliminate the need to reach to the back of the cupboards. Handrails on both sides make stairways easier for everyone to negotiate. Bathrooms should include curbless showers that are large enough to accommodate a seat or stool.

"Planning for individuals changing needs and abilities allows for periodic home customization based on changing requirements and reduces the need for future costly renovations," CMHC says. Planning for future needs is good practice. Principles of universal design encourage flexibility, adaptability, safety and efficiency and makes life easier every day.

In addition to universal housing, there is Visitable housing that makes it easier for people using mobility devices to visit a home; adaptable houses that can change to accommodate a variety of family types; and accessible housing that meets the needs of a person with a disability.

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Considering Your HOAs Reserve Funds

In recent years, the importance of accumulating reserves has become a long overdue reality for many homeowner associations HOAs. Proper long range planning drives an HOAs ability to adequately care for the common assets by having both adequate reserve funds and a realistic renovation schedule to follow. A well executed reserve study calls for a funding plan that systematically grows reserves to address future renovation without the need for special assessments which are unfair to many and difficult to collect.

As a rule of thumb, the average garden variety condominium has 15-20 common components to maintain. Based on that, the HOA should have around 8000 per unit in reserves. Do the math for your HOA. However, there are many HOAs that should have much more than that because of deferred maintenance or more common elements. For example, high rise condominiums can easily have 50 or more common components.

Even the most modest homeowner associations should often have hundreds of thousands of dollars socked away in reserves. Larger, more complex properties should accumulate reserves in the millions. To truly know what level of reserves applies, a reserve study must be performed by an experienced and qualified reserve analyst.

The board should only invest in guaranteed and insured investments unless the entire membership 100 votes to be more aggressive. In either case, there should be a clear and written investment policy for the board to follow.

As reserve funds grow, its extremely important to have an investment plan. Wisely investing reserves can reduce owner contributions by many thousands of dollars over time. While your friendly banker always has some investment options available, the board should explore other options. For example, opening an account in an investment advisory company like Edward Jones will give the HOA access to the highest yielding Certificates of Deposit CDs available. Buying CDs with different maturities like 3, 5 and 10 years called laddering will create an average return that is significantly higher than any savings or money market account. By synchronizing CD maturity dates with reserve renovation events, the HOA will have liquid cash when needed.

A word about depositor insurance. FDIC Insurance is currently limited to 250,000. But some banks catering to homeowner association business have additional private depositor insurance that protects a much larger amount of HOA funds. While this addresses the depositor insurance question, the board still needs to consider whether the bank offers the best rates.

When considering your HOAs reserve funds, treat it like your own money. Invest in things that dont risk principal yet return interest at levels that keep pace with inflation.

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

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Budget Bath: Soaker Tubs Thatll Make You Feel Like A Queen Without A Royal Budget

Few things are as luxurious as a big soaking tub in the bathroom, which is why freestanding tubs have become one of the top bathroom trends over the past few years. But the cost of some of todays freestanding tubs can be so high it takes away the ability to >

Knowing where to look, and watching for sales, can help you find the perfect tub for your space, and your budget.

Sometimes, that might mean ordering from places that you may not have thought of. Wayfair has a ton of soaker tubs that are under 1,000, like this modern, elegant, Serenity Acrylic Freestanding Bathtub by Ove Decors. Normally priced at 1,099.99, its on sale for 957.99. Best yet - the shipping on tubs from Wayfair is free.


Ove Decors also makes this Houston Freestanding Tub, which offers clean, straight lines for those whod prefer something more angular, for 791.99.

When many people think of soaking tubs, they think claw-foot. And there has definitely been renewed interest in antique claw-foot tubs over the past few years.

"A claw-foot tub is a special place in which to soak, play and dream," said Houzz. "More than just a tub, it may recall a romantic getaway or childhood bath time with Mr. Bubble. The problem that is many of them are nearly a hundred years old and look it" - which is where restoration comes in. You may be able to find a vintage claw-foot tub on eBay, Craigslist, or at local antique and salvage stores for "a few hundred dollars, depending on the size, >

Signature Hardware


If you want the look of a vintage tub without the hassle of having it refinished, you can buy an acrylic reproduction like this Picadilly Soaking Bathtub by Jade.


Or, do a more updated take on the claw-foot tub with a modern shape in acrylic and a variety of options for the feet, at just 830 from Aqua Eden.


This Vanity Art Freestanding Acrylic Soaking Bathtub "features a sleek, modern design that updates the look of your bathroom," said Overstock. Its priced at 964.49. Order from this online retailer and youll also get free shipping.


If youre looking for a super modern tub that doubles as art, you cant go wrong with this AKDY Soaking Tub from AllModern. Even better, its on sale for 795.99, down from 3,999


The Gracie Freestanding Bathtub w/Base provides an elegant presentation with the pedestal, and is extra deep for those long soaks.

traditional bathtubs

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Vacation Rental Owners and Cities Seek Alternatives To A Lockout

lt;pgt;The vacation rental market seems to be going through a bit of a challenge as of late, with many cities opting to just shut down or limit the options for the vacation rental owners. I have had conversations in a few cities around the country about why they are not allowing vacation rentals via the sites that have been so successful for the home owners/hosts. The bottom line has been because of the number of complaints from the neighbors of the vacation rental properties.

lt;pgt;The owners/hosts of many of these properties >

lt;pgt;The growing number of cities that are not allowing these sites to be used seem to have the same issues: rowdy tenants, noises at all hours of the night, people they dont know coming into their community and simply just overall bad behavior. Although the vacation rental sites drive a good amount of revenue to the cities that allow them, increasing visits to restaurants, retail stores and many other services, the cities believe that the negatives outweigh the benefits.

lt;pgt;The companies running the websites say they are doing everything they can to verify that the individuals are who they say they are. There is also a review process that allows for rating the host and the tenant after they have conducted a transaction. While this process seems to work on a majority of the properties, there is still a good number of hosts left very unhappy. Also, the renters that bring the bad reputation are the ones that have figured a way around the current screening processes.

How do we resolve this issue?

lt;pgt;In my conversation with a few of these cities, there seems to be a desire to figure out a process but no real direction has been decided. A common remark has been to create a set of guidelines that the host gives to each of the tenants so they are aware of the community ordinances and guidelines. Most cities also would like a better vetting process to determine that the person renting the property is who they say they are.

lt;pgt;The question is, how do we best vet people without scaring them away from the sites offering the rentals? The guidelines for community may help, background checks would also help, but would it keep potential tenants from using the sites? The field is open for discussion and I am hoping we can find a resolution to this for the sake of both the owners/hosts and the cities. We would love to hear your take on other options.

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Why The quot;Best Place To Raise A Familyquot; May Be All Wrong For You

For those who are looking to >

For most people today, a few hundred Google searches are part of the process. "Best of" lists can help narrow the field. Search "Best place to live" and youll have plenty of reading material. And even more if you get more specific with searches geared toward the "Best place to buy a home," or the "Best place to find a job," or the "Best place to retire," or the "Best place for millennials."

But, while these lists are certainly helpful, theyre perhaps best thought of as a starting point, not a mandate. Because, while its nice that someone else has done some research into the best place to raise kids who are emotionally mature and kind to others not a real thing, but should be, looking beneath the surface reveals important details that might disqualify a particular city, even though its been rated the Most Pet-friendly City or the one where your paycheck will stretch the farthest.

Case in point: Forbes brand-new list, Americas Best Cities for Raising a Family. Heres the full top 10, with Forbes mini analysis that breaks out strengths and weaknesses of each of the cities.

  • Provo, UT Strengths: low crime, young population, quality of schools, light traffic, homeownership
  • Ogden, UT Strengths: homeownership, low crime, young population, light traffic; Weaknesses: quality of schools
  • Oxnard, CA Strengths: low crime, median income, light traffic; Weaknesses: housing affordability
  • Richmond, VA Weaknesses: quality of schools
  • Allentown, PA Strengths: low crime, homeownership; Weaknesses: quality of schools
  • Honolulu, HI Strengths: median income, quality of schools; Weaknesses: homeownership, cost of living
  • Harrisburg, PA Strengths: homeownership, light traffic; Weaknesses: median income
  • Bridgeport, CT Strengths: median income, homeownership; Weaknesses: quality of schools
  • San Jose Strengths: median income, quality of schools; Weaknesses: cost of living, traffic, homeownership
  • Hartford, CT Strengths: homeownership, median income

  • livability.com

    Its the strengths and weaknesses part that could be concerning for people in need of counsel about where to move their family.

    Lets take No. 1, Provo. You dont have to be a practicing Mormon to live here, but youll be in good company in Provo if you do. Its nearly 90 percent Mormon, according to Sperlings Best Places. Its a college town BYU, but also a notoriously conservative one that is said to revolve around >


    No. 3 on the list is Oxnard, CA, a bedroom community north of Los Angeles with homes on and near the water thats known for its strawberry fields, for being the site of the Dallas Cowboys training camp, and for beaches where you can actually spread out a blanket without running into three more. Forbes counts "light traffic" as one of the citys strengths, and while that may be true in town, the commute to anywhere outside of Ventura County is going to be brutal. Expect to spend HOURS on the 101.

    No. 4 Richmond, VA has the the nations fourth-hottest housing market in 2016 behind Denver, Seattle and Dallas-Fort Worth. The city of Richmond credits its "strong and diverse economy" as "the driving force behind Richmonds high income growth, with government, finance, education and manufacturing."

    What it doesnt have: good schools. The plight of the citys educational system has been widely discussed, as Richmonds public schools have been plagued by funding issues, teacher attrition, and low test scores, with several schools recommended for shuttering this year because of budget cuts. What that means for homebuyers is that, even if homes are affordable in the city, you probably have to factor in the cost of private school for your kiddos.

    No. 6 is Honolulu. In addition to making this list, Honolulu has also been named: Americas most overpriced cities, one of the Most Expensive Cities in the U.S., and Americas Most Expensive City for Coffee Lovers, so if thats important to you, BEWARE


    Many of us have heard - at least anecdotally if we havent experienced it firsthand - that Hawaii is expensive. But just how expensive is Honolulu? According to 24/7 Wall St., "The average American household spends 53,495 each year on food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, and other expenses. In Honolulu, Hawaii, prices of goods and services are 23.5 greater than the national average, with prices in the San Jose, California and New York City, New York areas following nearly as high." Better be making some cash if this Hawaiian city is on your mind.

    No. 9 is San Jose, CA. If youre a techie, it makes sense youd want to be in this Silicon Valley city. But the cost of housing, which Forbes wisely listed as a weakness of the city, makes it unattainable for many people.

    "This weeks new joint analysis by the Point2homes.com and PropertyShark websites points to San Francisco as the costliest housing market in the U.S. and Canada, with a median home price of 1,085,000," said the San Jose Mercury News. "Manhattan captured the No. 2 position 1,059,000, while San Jose 700,000 took the third spot."

    The upshot is this: When looking to >
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    Condo Owners Can Speak Freely

    Question: We live in a large condominium project, and a number of us are quite concerned about our Board of Directors. We are not permitted to attend their Board meetings, we have tried to get copies of the financial statements without success, and we suspect that at least one of the Board members is getting kick-backs from the various contractors that are hired to do work at the project.

    The current Board will continue to serve until next April when there will be an annual meeting and another election. Many of us are interested in having a recall of the Board, but when we have circulated newsletters to other owners, we have been threatened with libel suits by several of the Board members.

    What legal rights do we have?

    Answer. If it is any consolation to you, I have heard these complaints from unit owners throughout the country. Although the great majority of Board members are honest and dedicated, unfortunately, many Board members of condominiums, cooperatives or homeowner associations are on an ego trip. They want to be called "Mr. or Ms. President." They do not understand that there is a fiduciary responsibility owed by the Board member to the constituents who elected them to office.

    You have indicated that your Board meetings are closed to the membership. You should read the law in the jurisdiction where your condominium is located, to determine if there are any specific statutes requiring open meetings. For example, in 1989, the State of Maryland adopted a law which requires open meetings with few exceptions, including a discussion of matters pertaining to employees and personnel, protection of the privacy or reputation of individuals in matters not >

    Even if your state law is silent on this question, you should read your Association documents. You may find some guidance in those basic documents, which could include the Declaration and Bylaws, or the Covenants and Conditions and Restrictions also known as CCamp;Rs.

    Finally, if you cannot find anything specific to assist you in your own documents, you still have the right to demand that the membership vote that Board meetings be open. This vote could come at the Annual Meeting, or pursuant to your Bylaws, you could also force a special meeting specifically for that purpose.

    If your Association documents are silent on the issue, the Board of Directors must follow the wishes of the majority of the Association.

    With respect to your inability to obtain financial information, I feel quite confident that you will find language in your documents giving you the absolute right to inspect and review financial documents of the Association. You should send a demand letter to the Board of Directors, by registered, return receipt mail, and give them ten days in which to make these documents available to you for your review and inspection. If the Board refuses to give you access, you might want to consider filing suit against the Board. You should also talk to a number of other owners in your Association, to see if they will join you in this litigation. Not only will there be strength in numbers, but the legal fees can be divided among more than just yourself.

    You have indicated that you are being threatened with a libel suit when you speak up in opposition to your Board of Directors. You have an absolute, constitutional right of free speech. As long as what you are saying is truthful, you should have no fear by communicating your concerns -- and indeed your opinions -- to other members of the Association. If the Board of Directors does not like what you are saying, they have the right to respond with their own newsletter.

    But you cannot be threatened or harassed me>

    If the situation is so bad, you might want to consider calling a special election for the purpose of recalling one or all of the Board of Directors. This is not an easy task -- but it is possible. Many owners are apathetic, and indeed fearful of raising their voices in protest. You must mount a major political campaign, not only for the purpose of recalling the existing Board members, but to present your own slate of owners who will serve as substitute directors if you are successful in your recall efforts.

    You should invite your neighbors in for coffee or tea to discuss your political campaign. Recruit as many neighbors as possible to be team captains to continue to mount the recall campaign. You cannot do it alone. After all, your Bylaws probably require that you need at least 51 majority vote to recall the Board.

    As is the case in federal or statewide elections, you will find that the incumbents will have the stronger hand, since they are currently in office.

    It is not an easy job to "throw the rascals out." But, you have made a significant investment in your Association, by virtue of ownership of your property. This investment must be protected, and that is the message you should give all of your owners -- including your current Board of Directors.

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    10 Fall Home Improvement Tips

    Now that summer gear has been stowed away, its time to focus on fall home improvement projects. According to Vicki Payne, host of the For Your Home with Vicki Payne television show, autumn is the key time to evaluate your home exterior and prepare it for the harsh winter months ahead.

    "With cooler fall weather comes the realization that your home will soon experience cold, snowy weather," says Payne, a nationally recognized home improvement expert on the countrys longest running home and garden television show. "To get your house ready, start by giving your exterior a thorough review. Everything should be checked, cleaned up and made ready to handle Mother Nature when she comes blowing in within the next few months."

    Payne recommends this checklist for exterior fall home improvement projects:

    Tip 1 - Evaluate your roof. Look for missing or loose shingles, deterioration of asphalt shingles along with mold, algae or splitting of real wood shingles. If the roof is in poor shape, consider upgrading to a synthetic roof, like those from DaVinci Roofscapes. The composite shake and slate products resist fire, impact, high winds, insects and mold, making them an ideal long-term investment for a home.

    Tip 2 - Clean your gutters. Get leaves and gunk out now so that gutters wont get backed up, clogged and frozen in the winter, causing ice formations. Gutters should be secu>

    Tip 3 - Check your siding and trim. Make sure there are no rotting boards or insect infestations in any wood exterior products. Determine if a new paint job is needed before the winter weather hits. Should these items need replacement, research man-made low-maintenance products, like James Hardie fiber cement siding or Ply Gem PVC trim as >

    Tip 4 - Evaluate the deck. If your deck has seen its last summer party, look at replacing it before the winter with either a Western Red Cedar deck or composite decking from TAMKO. Both products stand up extremely well to all types of weather and will make you happy to step out onto the deck every time.

    Tip 5 - Check the functionality of your garage door. Youre in and out of your garage door many times each day. Make sure its functioning properly and has strong air infiltration seals to help keep energy bills down. If youre ready for a new look or a harder-working garage door, consider the steel and aluminum options from Haas Door.

    Tip 6 - Seal up the windows. Make sure your windows have strong weather-stripping in place with energy-efficient glass that is still working. If its time to upgrade your windows, investigate those with ENERGY STAR ratings to help keep your home warmer during the winter months.

    Tip 7 - Consider a privacy window upgrade. Tired of closing blinds or shades to gain privacy in your bathroom or bedroom? Think about replacing key windows with decorative glass or acrylic block privacy windows. Available from Hy-Lite in both operable and fixed >

    Tip 8 - Check out your doors. As with windows, your entry doors should have weather stripping thats not worn out around the entire opening. This helps keep drafty cold air out of your house during winter months.

    Tip 9 - Secure or replace railings. Loose or unstable railing systems can be dangerous. Check all balusters, handrails and elements of front and back rail systems to assure theyre functioning properly. If its time for a replacement, consider a new look by adding cable rails or glass balustrades from Fortress Railing Products.

    Tip 10 - Spend time with your landscaping. Once the leaves have fallen, get out the rakes. Remove dead leaves and underbrush around the house and garden area before the snow falls. Re-mulch key landscaping areas. Trim back trees and bushes away from the house to get your home ready for winter snows.

    "Home ownership means continually maintaining the exterior elements of a house," says Payne. "With its cooler weather, autumn is the ideal time to evaluate, upgrade and improve those key exterior elements to assure your home is ready for the winter months ahead."

    Vicki Payne is a nationally recognized designer, home improvement, gardening and decorating expert. Each week, for over 15 years, millions of viewers both nationally and internationally have tuned in to watch her popular television show, For Your Home. Read More gt;gt;gt;.

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    Ask the HOA Expert: Applying Barkmulch To Planting Beds

    Question: We apply barkmulch to our planting beds every year. A member complaints of the smell, dust and sloppy application by the contractor. What are your suggestions?

    Answer: Barkmulch application to planting beds is used for curb appeal, retarding weed growth and reducing irrigation water needs. Its best to apply it during the rainy months to avoid the dust problem. Because windows are generally closed, the smell is less likely to bother anyone and the smell largely dissipates after a couple of weeks. Of course, the contractor should clean up and unbury anything that should not be covered. Someone should quality check the work and have the contractor return if it isnt done right.

    Question: Our HOA has a natural area with tall trees, natural ground cover and a small wood chip covered pathway. An adjoining homeowner has appropriated a portion of it by permanently leaving lawn chairs and a table in this area. Can we require them to remove their possessions?

    Answer: No homeowner has exclusive rights to the common area. Ask them to remove their furniture or move it for them.

    Question: We have a homeowner who hasnt paid dues since closing on the property. We have sent out notices and they all come back Unable to Forward -- No Address. We are limited to a 1 late fee. Since our dues are only 100, the late fee is hardly a deterrent. What can we do?

    Answer: If the HOA doesnt already have one, the board should adopt a formal Collection Policy which details the procedures and penalties. The policy must conform to any specific requirements found in your governing documents. If the governing documents state a 1 late fee, the members need to vote to change it or eliminate it and allow the board to use its discretion. There is a sample Collection Policy available to Gold Subscribers of www.Regenesis.net

    Finally, its generally advisable to use a either a knowledgeable attorney or professional collection service if your letters dont solve the problem. They have ways of tracking down missing owners and getting them to pay.

    Question: We have an issue with bees and mice. Do HOAs typically take care of insect and rodent infestations?

    Answer: Yes, if the HOA has common wall construction. Since pests move from unit to unit, the only practical way to eliminate them is to treat a whole building and the HOA is the logical one to do it.

    Question: Can the board spend reserve funds for day to day operating expenses? I realize this is not a smart thing to do but is it prohibited by federal or state law?

    Answer: There are no federal statutes that deal with HOA reserves. Some state HOA statutes have provisions about how reserves are spent like California, Oregon and a few others. However, if the HOAs governing documents dont forbid it, the board can spend reserves for operating expenses. As you say, it is not a smart thing to do unless the reserve money is only being borrowed for an emergency or unanticipated shortfall. If the board is regularly under budgeting and using the reserves to make up for it, things must change. Reserves are intended for specific and future renovation, not the boards poor budget planning.

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

    Full Story >

    New Online Education Empowers Home Buyers

    What you dont know can hurt you when youre buying real estate or arranging a mortgage.

    The worse cases are those where home buyers dont realize how they have lost out - now and over years of homeownership. Some eventually end up with financial problems that cost them the home. Other wanna-be buyers lose out completely and dont achieve ownership. Too many give up before they even investigate how to own their own home.

    In all these cases, ignorance is not bliss, but a waste of time, money, and opportunity.

    However, in all these cases, ignorance is curable with education. Losing out can be replaced with buying well, gaining from the real estate investment, and leveraging that first purchase into an expanded real-estate-enriched life.

    As a futurist and business achievement strategist, I long ago discovered the vital connection between real estate and business success. Owning your own home and owning your business premises is real security for your work and your life. Over my years of writing, teaching, and speaking about real estate to the public, entrepreneurs, and professionals, I found that the more audiences learned about real estate, the more they wanted to learn.

    Caution: Once the "real estate bug" bites, youll be hooked on learning about buying and selling - and everything in between - and how all this can work to your real estate advantage.

    If you dont understand enough about how buying and owning real estate really work, how can you make informed decisions about anything, including which property is truly best for you and how much its really worth? Blindly, let others guide you and you may be misled, unconsciously or deliberately, never realizing where you lost out.

    Dont assume you know; be sure you know

    Learn Before You Look: If you concentrate on decor, youre buying the wrong thing. Real estate value is tied to location and many other factors that generate appreciationover years of ownership. Decor goes out of >

    GoogleTM Is Not a Substitute for Your Brain: Substituting internet searches for learning is acting on general information, not acquiring specific knowledgethere is an important, expensive distinction here. If you dont fully understand something, your GoogleTM search may not ask the right questions in the right context. Without you realizing, GoogleTM answers may be too general, slightly off topic, or may overlook specifics >

    Real Estate Professionals Are Not Teachers: These professionals are not there to advise or educate. Their task is to search out the real estate you request and facilitate the buying process. Dont expect them to school you in real estate.

    Decide How Much This Means to You: Why wouldnt you learn everything you could to ensure the largest, most expensive purchase of your life is a huge triumph? Why wouldnt you be intent on protecting yourself against other peoples agendas, doubtful practices, and salesmanship when you buy? Real estate education forestalls buying mistakes and ownership problems like foreclosure. Buyer beware is a great starting point, but buyer be aware is the sane, long-term approach.

    New Mobile-Friendly Education Empowers Home Buyers

    Even if school is a not-too-pleasant memory, you can learn online using your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. User-friendly online learning transforms education into convenient, at-my-own-pace, on-my-chosen-platform experiences. Review-as-you-go confidence building transforms seemingly complex topics into mentally-digestible, practical knowledge.

    One strong buyer-be-aware starting point is the mobile-friendly home buyer course that Fannie Mae has made a requirement for the HomeReady Mortgage. This online courxe, with optional downloadable content, is available in English and Spanish through course-designer Framework. This course meets or exceeds education standards for HUD and the National Industry Standards for Homeownership Education and Counseling.

    The 75 fee can be reduced or eliminated with discounts and coupons scholarships available from your local nonprofit homeownership advisory agency local nonprofit homeownership advisory agency and growing numbers of lending and real estate professionals before you sign up. The free bonus is Smart Start for Homeowners. Once youre completed the course, youll receive monthly email content designed to further assist new homeowners.

    Join the more than 80,000 who learned how to confidently navigate the essential steps of home buying and mortgage borrowing, including:

    • How much you can afford
    • How to fix or improve your credit
    • How "closing" works, and
    • How the 10 professionals involved in most home purchases can help you.

    Frameworks national network of nonprofit homeownership advising partners also provides one-on-one unbiased advice specific to your situation and location. Even before you take the course, do you need help reviewing loan estimates, clarifying credit issues, or understanding refinancing options? You wont be talking to salespeople, so you get the facts from a local expert without a sales pitch. If there isnt a Homeownership Advisor near by, contact Framework directly and theyll connect you with an advisor: or 855-659-2267; weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Central Standard Time.

    Boston-based Framework Homeownership, LLC is a social enterprise, launched in 2012, to elevate home-buying education to new standards nationwide using "superior curriculum, technology, dedication to customer service, and innovative >

    Resource:To learn more about Frameworks business design, visit my blog: whatsyourpoint.mobi.

    Full Story >

    Important Things To Know About Home Inspections

    If youre hiring someone to inspect the home you want to buy, or youre a seller trying to find out if there are any hidden problems that need fixing before you put your home on the market, here are five things you need to know:

    1. You can choose your home inspector.

    Your real estate professional can recommend an inspector, or you can find one on your own. Members of the National Association of Home Inspectors, Inc. NAHI, must complete an approved home inspector training program, demonstrate experience and competence as a home inspector, complete a written exam, and adhere to the NAHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics.

    2. Home inspections are intended to point out adverse conditions, not cosmetic flaws.

    You should attend the inspection and follow the inspector throughout the inspection so you can learn whats important and whats not. No house is perfect and an inspection on any home is bound to uncover faults. A home inspector will point out conditions that need repair and/or potential safety->

    3. Home inspection reports include only the basics.

    A home inspector considers hundreds of items during an average inspection. The home inspection should include the homes exterior, steps, porches, decks, chimneys, roof, windows, and doors. Inside, they will look at attics, electrical components, plumbing, central heating and air conditioning, basement/crawlspaces, and garages.

    They report on the working order of items such as faucets to see if they leak, or garage doors to see if they close properly. Inspectors may point out termite damage and suggest that you get a separate pest inspection. The final written report should be concise and easy to understand.

    4. Home inspectors work for the party who is paying the fee.

    The NAHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics clearly state that members act as an unbiased third party to the real estate transaction and "will discharge the Inspectors duties with integrity and fidelity to the client." A reputable home inspector will not conduct a home inspection or prepare a home inspection report if his or her fee is contingent on untruthful conclusions.

    The inspector should maintain client confidentiality and keep all report findings private, unless required by court order. That means it is your choice whether or not to share the report with others. If youre a seller, you dont have to disclose the report to buyers, but you must disclose any failure in the systems or integrity of your home.

    5. Inspectors are not responsible for the condition of the home.

    Inspectors dont go behind walls or under flooring, so its possible that a serious problem can be overlooked. Keep in mind that inspectors are not party to the sales transaction, so if you buy a home where an expensive problem surfaces after the sale, you wont be able to make the inspector liable or get the inspector to pay for the damage. In fact, you may not be entitled to any compensation beyond the cost of the inspection.

    As a buyer, you need the home inspection to decide if the home is in condition that you can tolerate. You can use the report to show the seller the need for a certain repair or negotiate a better price. You can also take the report to a contractor and use it to make repairs or to remodel a section of the home.

    One thing you should not do when buying a home is skip having the home inspected because of cost or undue pressure by the seller. A home inspection is reasonable, it can save you money in the long run, and its required by many lenders, particularly for FHA loans. Theres a reason why buyers should beware, and a home inspection gives you the information you need to make a sound buying decision.

    Full Story >

    Real Estate Assistants Are Often Misclassified As Independent Contractors

    It has become commonplace for high-producing real estate agents or teams to have one or more assistants. Sometimes these assistants are licensed real estate agents themselves, sometimes not. In either case, what has unfortunately also become commonplace is for these persons to be mis>

    The motivations for such mis>

    There are a number of both state and federal tests to determine whether or not a >

    In California, real estate agents often seek to hire real-estate licensed assistants, thinking that this will bring them under the general rule that makes real estate agents independent contractors for I.R.S. purposes. But this rule requires a three-element test:

  • The individual must be licensed.
  • There must be a contract between broker and agent.
  • Payment to the agent must be based on the results they produce i.e. commissions, not on a fixed wage or time-based scale.
  • Usually, the >

    The California Association of REALTORS CAR provides a contract that can be used between an assistant and an associate licensee. It also produces a three-party agreement that can be used between a broker, an associate licensee, and an assistant to the associate licensee. In both it is clear that the assistant is, with respect to the associate licensee, an employee. For example, the agreement provides for the associate licensee to identify his workers compensation carrier.

    Some think that they can legitimize the independent contractor status of an assistant by creating a contract wherein the parties can agree that the assistant will be an independent contractor. This is simply not the case.

    It is not a good idea to attempt to dodge around this issue, as many agents may be inclined to do. A few years ago, The U.S. Department of Labor signed agreements with Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Utah, and Washington to work together to target employers who are guilty of mis>

    The State of California is estimated to have lost in the neighborhood of 7 billion in tax revenues over the years as a result of mis>

    A California employer who is found to have willfully mis>

    Agents who have assistants, and brokers who have agents with assistants, would all do well to review their employment agreements and practices.

    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 .

    Full Story >

    Kitchen Renovations That Will Give You The Biggest Bang For Your Buck

    For some, the idea of a kitchen renovation is thrilling. They cant wait to get in there and rip out countertops, replace or paint cabinets, and choose shiny new finishes. Others just had a small anxiety attack upon reading the words "kitchen" and "renovation" together.

    The idea of redoing a kitchen, especially if it involves demolition and you dont know what surprises await behind the walls, can be scary. And whether youre approaching a renovation with enthusiasm or something more closely resembling abject terror, you still want to make sure you get the value out. Those countertops might be gorgeous, but youll probably love them even more if they bring in good ROI.

    Mosaik Design reports that the national average of an 83 ROI, and the best way to achieve the max is to "focus on kitchen upgrades that are energy-efficient, reasonably priced, and low-maintenance." Thats especially important if youre looking to sell your home sometime soon.

    "If you have a dated kitchenand a buyer walks into that kitchen, theyre going to think that in order to redo that kitchen, theyre going to have to spend 40,000 or 50,000," said US News. In reality, "the average cost of a minor kitchen remodel -- new cabinet doors, appliances, countertops, sink, faucet, paint and hardware" -- is 20,122 nationwide, according to the most recent Cost vs. Value report. "Savvy shoppers can do it for less than the buyer assumes."

    Even if you have no plans of selling soon, or ever, choosing the kitchen upgrades that can have the biggest impact on the look and function of your space while providing the best return on your investment is key. Put your money in the following areas to give you the best shot at both.



    "Replace basic black appliances with stainless steel," said Forbes. That goes for white appliances as well. Stainless will instantly update the look of the space, and if your old appliances were, well, old, they probably werent functioning great anyway, nor were they energy efficient. "To keep this upgrade within your budget, try to find a deeply discounted appliance at an outlet or local "scratch-and-dent" store where almost-perfect pieces come with perfectly approachable price tags."



    "Cabinets make up a big chunk of the total cost for kitchen upgrades, sometimes one-third of your total budget," said Mosaik Design. But you can easily update your space by painting them. As long as your doors and drawers are in decent condition, a few coats of paint will make a huge difference. Choose white for a fresh look that will also make your space look larger. Doors not looking so hot? Refacing can save you tons of money over the cost of brand-new cabinets.


    New hardware

    Youd be surprised how impactful new hardware can be in making your cabinets look fresh and new, especially if they represent a fancy new trend, like the return of brass, which has never looked better.

    "One of our favorite tips for updating a kitchen is to swap out standard hardware," Marika Meyer of Marika Meyer Interiors LLC told Money magazine. "Hardware can change the feel of the space, making an out-of-date kitchen feel more modern, or noncustom cabinetry feel like an upgrade."

    Photo by Design Manifest - More transitional kitchen photos


    Investing in new countertops can be pricey, and if youre getting ready to sell, you might not want to make the investment in high-end materials. "Make your decisions with thriftiness in mind: choose one of the more affordable granite countertops such as Napoli, Baltic Brown, or St. Cecilia," said Forbes. "Leave higher-end stone and more ornate beveling for your next home.

    Add a backsplash

    If your backsplash is icky, ugly, or ba>

    "Add a splash of color with a new backsplash," said HGTV. "New tile is attractive." And if you want to do it yourself, "Home improvement stores teach >

    Not sure what to choose? Subway tile is both >


    New lighting

    The only thing worse than a dark and dreary kitchen is dark and dreary kitchen with ugly light fixtures. Swap out the chandelier in your eat-in kitchen for something more fresh, and concentrate on the area over your island or breakfast bar by adding a few trendy pendant lights.

    "Jeffrey Osborne of Hark and Osborne Interior Design recommends sourcing stylish yet affordable pendant lights he likes Schoolhouse Electric amp; Supply Co. Lighting to hang above an island or countertop," said Money. Add undercabinet lighting to give the kitchen a higher-end look or simply change out the bulbs in existing fixtures to cast the kitchen in a better light you might be surprised at the results."

    Full Story >

    9 Ways To Inject A Little Fun Into Your Home Dcor

    Why so serious? If home is where the heart is, shouldnt it also be where the happiness is? You can create a home that makes you smile by making sure that, even when youre following most of the design rules, you remember to have a little fun, too.

    "Personality is what makes a space great," said Houzz. "Make your own statement and have fun. The more you try, the more you will begin to see what works and what doesnt."

    Here are a few ideas to get you started Bonus: they also make great, unique gifts for friends or for the holidays.

    These 10 West Elm Dapper Animal Plates caught our eye thanks to their fun images. The plates were "based on paintings of real animals, which designer Rachel Kozlowski then dressed and accessorized" to give each character its own sense of >

    West Elm

    If youre going to make your house fun, why not start right at the front door. This Reed Wilson doormat definitely shows your sense of humor. Its just one of many products showcased at Las Vegas life>

    "We love the idea of injecting a little fun into home, and into life," said Carrie Sheerin, CEO of Amusespot. "That was one of the main ideas behind the concept of Amusespot, and it helps guide our product selection. Were always excited to find a new accessory, housewares essential, or novelty item that we know is going to make people smile when they own or gift it."


    Whats more fun than a fuchsia couch? Nothing. The answer is nothing. Youre guaranteed to smile when you walk into this room.

    Design Sponge

    We also love these tongue-in-cheek candles from Amusespot. Designed in Italy but manufactured stateside, "The Coreterno candles combine an eighteenth-century Victorian heart with elements of teenage slang, rock symbols and punk icons."


    Maybe youre looking for a different kind of candle. Like this sassy soy version from Etsy. You know someone who needs it It might be you Is it weird that we want both?


    Love your pet more than life? Then youre going to dig this pillow from Uncommon Goods, a company known for an array of distinct gifts and items, that lets you personalize your pillow to look JUST LIKE YOUR PET.

    Uncommon Goods

    I may or may not know someone who actually had one of these billiards-dining room table hybrids and several others for whom this may have been a marriage saver. The greatest thing about this versatile table: If you dont have space for both a dining room and a play room, you can both still get what you want


    Admittedly, this is gross. But you kinda want it, right? Because itll get the kids to wash up, of course.


    Your walls are an ideal place to express your personal >


    Full Story >

    Smart Home Technology: 6 Gadgets That Will Increase Home Efficiency

    For bolstered efficiency and enhanced convenience, its worth it to equip your home with the newest technology. There are practical smart home devices that will help you save on utility costs, ensure the safety of your home and assist in home maintenance. There are also more personalized gadgets that will help you monitor health, ensure your pets safety, and also provide multifaceted assistance in home management. Tailor your home with the right technology for you and your family. Here is a list of the best smart home gadgets you should invest in:

    Nest Thermostat

    The Nest Thermostat pays for itself with its energy efficiency programs, which yield significant savings on utility costs. The device learns the temperatures you like and will program itself in about a week with an automatic heating and cooling schedule. It also automatically turns itself down when no one is home, which saves energy. You can remotely control your Nest system from your phone, tablet or laptop. Nest will guide you toward the best temperature schedule that will save you both energy and money.

    Philips Hue

    Philips Hue bulbs help you control your houses lighting via your smartphone. You can create light schedules for home automation so lights turn on when you arrive home or turn off once youve left. Doing this will help you reduce energy usage and also provide you with a means of remote theft deterrent. The away-from-home controls let you adjust your lights remotely. This is handy if you have forgotten to switch your lights off or if you need them on during a non-scheduled time. The Philips Hue kit is compatible with Apple HomeKit technology, which can be voice-accessed on the iPhone 6s Plus through Siri or manually through the app.

    Withings Aura

    The Withings Aura is a high-tech alarm clock disguised as a sleek, modern lamp. It offers a personalized, gradual wake-up experience that will help you feel refreshed and energized. The light on the Aura provides a simulated sunrise, at your designated alarm time, for a gradual wake up. At night, the light provides optimized colors that promote the secretion of sleep hormones while its attached speaker projects soft ambient sounds that will enhance your sleep.

    Amazon Echo

    The Amazon Echo is a hands free speaker that you control with your voice. It can play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather and more. You can connect the Echo to your music libraries from Prime Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and TuneInthe music will fill the room through the devices 360 degree omni-directional audio. Even while music is playing, the Echo can detect your voice for instruction. You can connect the Echo to your other smart home devices like the WeMo, Philips Hue, Nest, Wink, Samsung SmartThings, Insteon and ecobee.


    Keep track of your furry friend, while youre out of the house, with Petcube. The cube contains a wide-angle lens video camera that provides HD live video so you can monitor your pets activity from your smartphone, tablet or computer. There is also two-way audio, which allows you to listen-in on your little friend and also chat with them through your smartphone. A built-in laser toy lets you interact with your pet so they get in some play time during the middle of your workday.

    Belkin WeMo Switch

    The WeMo Switch lets you remotely control the power source to your electronic devices. The switch uses your Wi-Fi network for wi>
    Full Story >

    How To Have A Game Room When You Dont Have The Space

    So youve always wanted a dedicated game room -- one full of the latest and greatest gaming consoles, stellar surround sound, a television geared specifically toward the art and tons of functional storage. The problem is, you dont have an extra room to spare.

    Enter the convertible game room. It can be your living room, your den, or even the bedroom of your teenage son. All it takes is the right hardware, good acoustics, comfortable seating, room-darkening drapes and an organized storage system.

    The Right Hardware

    All hardcore gamers have their favorite system -- you know who you are. Whether youre a fan of Microsoft or Sony, its worth investing in one of the newer gaming consoles on the market in your quest to create your own gamers paradise. Each has features that benefit you beyond regular game play, such as the ability to play DVDs, stream movies instantly, connect you to the Internet and more. Couple your new console with a big-screen LED TV that boasts a low input lag, and a nice surround-sound stereo system, and you have the beginnings of the ultimate convertible game room.

    Photo by kevin dooley via Flickr

    Good Acoustics

    Unless you live in a palace, your game room needs something to help absorb the sound of first-person shooters and indy car racing. Todays acoustic panels come in an amazing array of designs that install easily on your walls. Check out Audimute Acoustic Panels for a selection of printed panels that look like artwork, making those days of having a game room that always looks like a game room, over. With designer acoustic panels, once the lights come back up and the gear gets stowed away, your room converts back into >

    Photo of Acoustic sound panels on ceiling by George Halt via Flickr

    Comfortable Seating

    Go with something that looks good, feels good and doubles as storage, like Lane Furnitures Arcade Gamer Chair. At the end of the day, it just looks like a regular recliner, unless you fold it up into an ottoman, of course. The neat little storage feature under the seat is a nice perk too.

    Room-Darkening Drapes

    Ripple-fold drapes are the perfect solution for a room that must convert easily between light and dark. For example, the Shade Store drapes feature easy-glide movement and are easy to operate. Theyre designed to open and close easily along a track -- making them a quick, easy option for game rooms. Add room-darkening roller shades behind your drapes for added functionality.

    Photo by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

    Organized Storage

    Storage may be the most important element in your convertible room. Finding a way to stash all your gear effortlessly away at the end of day makes the room truly multi-purpose. A console unit with doors that sits beneath your television is one of the more discreet ways to go. The Abbyson Living Malibu Media Console fits the bill nicely. When youre done playing, simply close the doors on your game systems, and youre left with a lovely piece of furniture for guests to envy.

    Full Story >

    Written Contract Essential For Major Home Renovations

    Question. We plan on adding two rooms and a bath to our house. What protection should we include in the contract with our architect and contractor?

    Answer. I receive a number of questions on this topic every year. It is an area where an ounce of prevention can make a significant difference to the homeowner, and yet it always amazes me that homeowners will hire contractors for major renovations to their homes having only a loosely written one or two-page "letter agreement" or nothing in writing at all.

    In my opinion, it is absolutely essential to have a written contract with your home improvement company the contractor that spells out all of the terms and conditions of the proposed renovation.

    We lawyers have to be concerned with "horrible hypotheticals," because all too often these turn out to be real situations. If they are anticipated, homeowners can avoid unhappiness and extra expense.

    More and more homeowners are improving and adding onto their residences in lieu of buying new homes.

    Selecting a good licensed contractor is often a difficult task.

    Ask every contractor you interview for references. You also should inspect the contractors previous work, to assure yourself that he or she is right for you. It is also important to make sure that the contractor is licensed in your jurisdiction. Keep in mind that no contractor will provide you with an unhappy homeowner.

    Once you have selected a contractor, it is extremely important to enter into a contract spelling out in detail all of the terms and conditions under which the remodeling or renovation job will be done.

    Do not >

    Here are some suggestions for mandatory provisions in any contract that you sign:

    Do not sign the typical one or two-page proposal submitted by your contractor. I call this the "two page special". Although this is a contract -- legally binding on you -- these one or two-page proposals unfortunately provide very little, if any, protection for the homeowner. The American Institute of Architects sells standard form contracts you should use in your dealings with a prospective contractor. You may contact the American Institute of Architects, and ask for AIA document A107, entitled "Abbreviated Owner-Contract Agreement Form For Small Construction Contracts." It is available to non-AIA members at a nominal cost.

    The contract should contain a payment schedule that has been carefully worked out. Regardless of whether you or your bank will be making the actual payments, it is recommended that at least 15 percent of the payment be retained until the job is completed. All too often a contractor will leave a job unfinished after he has been paid in full, and homeowners are caught in a double bind. There is no money to pay anyone, including subcontractors, to finish the task, and you have already paid most if not all of the entire contract price.

    What kind of warranty is the contractor willing to provide? This should be discussed in detail with the contractor before you sign, and the exact terms of the warranty should be spelled out in the contract itself.

    The contract should state that "time is of the essence." One common problem with remodeling contractors occurs when the contractor is unable to finish the job within the estimated time. It is also suggested that the contract provide for a daily penalty from the contractor for each day the work is not completed after the time specified for completion in the contract. This provision will give the contractor a real incentive to complete the work within the promised time period. As an additional incentive, many homeowners offer a bonus to the contractor for early completion.

    Are you properly insured against possible claims by workers who may be injured on the job? Insist that the contractor be adequately insured, and check with your own insurance company to determine the limits and extent of your liability.

    You should have the absolute right to terminate the contract if, after reasonable notice to the contractor, you are dissatisfied with the work. Of course, you have to be reasonable and cannot terminate the contract arbitrarily.

    Arbitration must be provided for in the contract. You should not have to go to court to resolve any disputes that may arise. Legal fees, court costs and the time involved can be a deterrent to a prompt resolution of your dispute. Your contract should provide that all disputes be resolved through binding arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association. I am not an advocate of arbitration, but it is certainly cheaper and faster than litigation.

    Before final payment is made, have the contractor give you a signed statement >
    Full Story >

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    Today's Real Estate News and Advice Updated: Wednesday, September 28, 2016

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