Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Smart, stylish renovations for any age

(BPT) - Most Americans over 50 want to stay in their home as they age, but few are making the renovations they need to ensure easy and comfortable living for years to come.

In fact, 80 percent of people older than 50 say they would prefer to remain in their home indefinitely, according to an AARP survey. The Hartford and MIT Age Labs found that while 96 percent of baby boomers are aware of the changes they could make to their current home to make it more comfortable as they grow older, only 26 percent have made such modifications.

Consider some of the following functional, yet beautiful, touches that help make a home safer and more comfortable for residents of all ages.

* Hardwood floors

Replacing carpet with hardwood floors can help accommodate difficulties ranging from respiratory problems to decreased mobility. Unlike carpet, hardwood flooring doesn't trap dust, pollen or other particles that cause problems for those with allergies and respiratory issues. Wheelchairs and other mobility equipment can glide more easily over a hard surface, and hardwood floors require far less maintenance. Homeowners can choose from a variety of hardwood flooring options that meet their needs and fit their budget at retailers such as Lumber Liquidators, North America's largest specialty hardwood flooring retailer.

* New furniture

Changing out furniture can make a huge difference in the comfort and style of a home. Enhance maneuverability by allowing ample room between furnishings, and by picking accessible pieces such as counter-height dining tables and chairs. Likewise, it's easier to sit in and stand from firmer sofas and chairs than deeper, softer options.

* Kitchen updates

Kitchen shelves that pull out make utensils, pots and pans, and ingredients much more accessible, and do not require a kitchen remodel. A wide range of products and kits enable homeowners to easily install sliding shelves themselves, or they can hire a contractor to do the job. Also, consider swapping out knobs for handles on cabinets and drawers to make them more accessible and easier to use.

* More lighting

Make sure all areas of your property - inside and outside - are well lit. Pendant lamps, inset ceiling lights and track lighting help illuminate a room from above, preventing glare that can cause temporary blindness. Opt for switches to turn lights on and off, and locate them at the entrances of each room. If a home's wiring isn't set up this way, the homeowner may need to contact an electrician.

As we age, we want to remain as independent as possible, which includes being able to stay in our own home for as long as possible. With a few functional changes, homeowners can create a beautiful space now that can enable them to live more comfortably later.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Why DIY? Projects can pay you back big time

(BPT) - Hiring professionals to get jobs done around the house may be convenient, but it can set your budget back quite a bit. Instead, consider doing it yourself - not only to save big bucks but also to showcase your creativity. Do-it-yourself (DIY) home improvement is a major trend that will pay you back many times over.

Mind-healthy hobby

DIYing is a hobby that many find relaxing, and can be good for the mind, body and soul. For an enjoyable diversion in your spare time, consider reinventing items around the house for a DIY project that you and the whole family can appreciate. Have an old dresser that could use a bit of TLC? Add a coat of paint in your favorite color and updated hardware to make it look brand new. The once impressive chair that your parents passed down may also be in need of a makeover - find a fabulous fabric that matches your design style and use it to reupholster the seat for a fresh look. These projects will not only look good, but will provide a great sense of accomplishment every time you look at them.

Win cash from contests

To give homeowners the encouragement to turn their Pinterest board inspiration into a reality, FrogTape brand painter's tape invites DIYers to submit their painting projects for the fifth annual Earn Your Stripes room makeover contest. The most impressive DIY painting project will win a $5,000 grand prize, while second place collects $2,500, and third place earns $1,000. To enter, document the before, during and after process using a FrogTape product and enter by July 1. Entrants can be as creative as they please with their full room transformations by painting walls, floors, accessories, furniture and more. To enter and see the official rules, visit frogtape.com/earnyourstripes. The prize money could do more than just reward and acknowledge your hard work - you can invest it in your next DIY project.

Saving money

By upcycling items instead of buying brand new, you can save hundreds and even thousands of dollars. In addition, perusing through thrift shops can reveal hidden houseware gems with high potential. Adding your special, creative touch to these items will make them one-of-kind.

Some home improvement tasks on your checklist may also be more feasible to DIY than you think. Those closet shelves you've been pondering or that patio flower garden you've dreamed of can come to fruition in just a weekend; with a little research and the right supplies. However, for the more technical work such as plumbing, structural and electrical work, you may want to enlist a professional for the job.

Make money

As social media has surged in popularity over the last 10 years, so have independent businesses. Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook all provide a platform for self-promotion and many DIYers have used this to their advantage to display their projects for sale. In addition to selling via social media, many opt to sell on websites such as Etsy or Ebay. These websites provide a win-win situation for both the consumer and the DIYer, as the buyer can often request custom items for special occasions typically unavailable at retail stores. Plus, the seller is able to earn cash based solely on their crafting talents.

DIYers can also expand their business and increase profit by creating a blog with tutorials on how they completed certain projects. It takes a lot of passion and patience, but if the website garners a sizable audience, bloggers can make a living from advertising and sponsorships on their site. Bloggers may also have the opportunity to partner with a corporation to use their product in various posts in exchange for compensation.

There are infinite reasons to venture down the DIY path. In addition to cost savings and the rewarding satisfaction of creating pieces on your own, there's always potential to turn your passion into profit.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Turn over a new leaf this season with a home energy makeover

(BPT) - As the seasons change, turn over a new leaf and give your home an energy makeover. You can improve your home's comfort while helping the environment by making your home more energy efficient, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, a variety of compatible technologies are available to help manage your home's comfort systems more efficiently and economically. Here are some tips to get you started.
  • Schedule an overall home energy audit: How does your energy use at home measure up? Annual analysis of home energy efficiency can save you money in the long run and ensure your home runs smoothly. A certified energy auditor will complete an energy analysis of your home by measuring windows and checking insulation, ductwork and building materials. You can identify local certified professional energy assessment services through Residential Energy Services Network. Taking five minutes with energy bills at hand, you can also input your information online at Home Energy Yardstick by Energy Star to receive a topline home energy analysis.
  • Improve comfort while staying efficient: Up to 72 trillion allergens find their way into your home every day. Not only can dirty air make your family less comfortable, but it can also pose problems for how efficiently your systems continue to work. By installing a reliable indoor air cleaner, you can remove irritating particles such as dust, pollen, pet hair and dander, dust mites, mildew, lint, fungus and bacteria, which can slow the performance of your overall heating and cooling system. For example, an energy-efficient model, such as the AccuClean from American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning, an Ingersoll Rand brand, removes up to 99.98 percent of allergens down to 0.1 micron in size, making it 100 times more effective than a standard one-inch throwaway filter.
  • Adjust your thermostat: Another way to manage home energy is to simply adjust your thermostat. For every degree you raise your thermostat in the summer, you can cut cooling costs up to 6 percent, and for every degree you lower your thermostat in the winter, you can save about 3 percent. (Potential energy savings may vary, depending on such factors as your lifestyle, system settings, equipment maintenance, local climate, equipment and duct systems.) A programmable thermostat is loaded with a multitude of built-in sensors, reminders and alerts, and it allows you to program as many as four energy-saving schedules for every day of the week, to reduce energy consumption up to 15 percent.
  • Manage energy efficiency from anywhere, even while you're away: For the ultimate in convenience, you can even monitor and adjust your home's ecosystem from anywhere using most Web-enabled mobile devices. For instance, Nexia Home Intelligence, also a brand of Ingersoll Rand, combines wireless technology with simple Web access. You can use it to reduce energy consumption and costs by putting your heating and cooling system into an energy savings mode while you're not there, plus control numerous other functions to manage the comfort, safety and efficiency of your home while you're away.
  • Choose energy efficient products: If you're looking for new energy-efficient products such as doors, heating and cooling systems and windows, ensure they are labeled with the Energy Star designation. The EPA's Energy Star program was created to reduce the nation's energy consumption. For more information on reducing energy use, visit www.epa.gov/greenhomes/ReduceEnergy.htm.

By taking steps to give your home an energy makeover, you'll not only keep your family more comfortable, but you'll also save money by streamlining home operations - so you can spend more time enjoying the seasons.

Tips to navigate the real estate landscape and find the perfect home

Annette Lawrence, academic director of design programs, at The Art Institute of Ohio - Cincinnati, and Marissa Alexander, interior design program coordinator at The Art Institutes International Minnesota, offer these tips to navigate the real estate landscape.

Before you ever step out of your current home, make a list says Alexander. Your list should include one column for "must haves" and another for "wants." "The wants you can compromise on," advises Alexander. If you know what you are looking for and what you can't live without, it's a lot easier to find it.

Many people get caught up on the basic aesthetics of a home. "The paint is not a big deal," says Lawrence. "Countertops are not a reason to choose a home or cross it off your list." The shag carpeting can be ripped out and replaced. These are all easy fixes.

You should beware of the fixes that can break the bank. Will the roof need to be replaced? What about other big-ticket items like the heating and cooling system? Does the perimeter of the house slope toward it? That could mean flooding during a heavy rain. And what about the structural integrity of the foundation? A good inspector will spot the red flags and could keep you from making a costly mistake. That inspector will also check the chimney, the insulation in the attic and the gutters and spouts.

And there are things you can check on before you call in an inspector. "If you want to know whether a floor is warping, just take a ball and roll it across the room," says Alexander. If it doesn't roll straight across, it could signal issues with the foundation.

Figure out what kind of layout you want for your house. "Ask yourself what kind of floor plan you like," says Lawrence. "Those are the kinds of things that are costly to change." If the floor plan is right for you, the cosmetics will be a fairly easy and inexpensive fix.

While you may think that this home purchase will be one of many, you should consider the possibility that this could be your home for decades to come. That's why Lawrence is a big proponent of finding a home that allows you to "age in place." She suggests you find a home with a first floor master bedroom and laundry room. Also consider how many steps there are from the driveway into the home. Are the hallways and doorways wide enough for a wheelchair or a walker?

Even if you do not think you'll need these accommodations, consider your home's "visitability." If you have elderly relatives or friends with disabilities, are they going to be able to come to your new home? "My grandmother was one of my most frequent guests," explains Lawrence. "I had low lighting and had painted the walls dark colors. Consequently, she couldn't see too well when visiting."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Small improvements indicate Americans taking steps toward better credit

When you're struggling with thousands of dollars of debt, saving a few bucks here or there may seem like a drop in the bucket. Yet in financial terms, those drops add up, and can ultimately create a more positive overall picture. That seems to be the case for the country, as evidenced by a recent report on credit scores and credit habits among American consumers.

Experian's third annual State of Credit report, which analyzes the average VantageScore (an industry-leading consumer credit risk score with scores ranging from 501 to 990, with higher scores representing a lower likelihood of risk), debt levels and credit use of people living in more than 100 U.S. cities, found that in the past year:

* Americans' average credit scores edged upward for the second consecutive year.

* Average debt decreased slightly.

* Income rose by nearly one and a quarter percent.

* Foreclosures fell by 12.59 percent.

* Among the 10 cities with the highest credit scores, eight had improved average scores over last year. Among the 10 cities with the lowest average scores, seven also improved their credit scores.

The cities with the highest average credit scores were: Minneapolis (787); Madison, Wis. (786); Wausau, Wis. (785); Sioux Falls, S.D. (784); Cedar Rapids, Iowa (783); San Francisco (783); Green Bay, Wis. (781); La Crosse, Wis. (779); Boston (778) and Duluth, Minn. (777).

The lowest average scores were found in Harlingen, Texas (688); Jackson, Miss. (702); Corpus Christi, Texas (706); Shreveport, La. (708); Monroe, La. (709); Augusta, Ga. (710); El Paso, Texas (710); Myrtle Beach, S.C. (710); Memphis (711) and Savannah (713).

While many of these indicators point toward a renewed focus by Americans on wise credit habits, there are also signs that consumers still have room for improvement, says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for Experian. In uncertain economic times, credit and debt management is often viewed as an indicator of Americans' overall financial well-being. As our nation and individual consumers struggle to emerge from recession, establishing and maintaining good credit has never been more important.

Sweet offers consumers some basic credit information:

If you haven't already done so, check your credit score and report so that you have a benchmark for improvement. It's important to understand the financial behaviors that influence the information in your credit report. Once you understand how your financial behaviors affect your credit report, you'll be able to take steps to improve your credit history and, subsequently, improve your scores. Factors that affect your credit score include:

* Bill payment history - Paying bills on time is the single most important contributor to good credit. Late payments negatively affect your ability to get credit since they indicate a stronger likelihood that you will make late payments again or will be unable to pay your debts in the future. Even if the debt you owe is a small amount, it is crucial that you make payments on time.

* Credit card balances and other revolving credit - If you max out your credit card or charge balances that are very close to your limit, you will increase your balance to limit ratio, or utilization ratio. A high utilization ratio may indicate that you are tempted to charge more than you can pay and therefore, negatively affect your credit score.

* Length of credit history - How long you've had certain accounts matters for your credit history. What's more, if you have negative information on your credit report, time is your ally in improving your credit score. While steps like catching up on late payments and paying down debts can help improve your score, there is no overnight fix for a low credit score. Improving your score will require time and discipline.

To learn more about building and maintaining a strong credit history, visit LiveCreditSmart.com.