Month: March 2013

Hiring a handyman for remodeling projects

There are some home repairs and remodeling projects that fall somewhere between a do-it-yourself project and a full remodeling job. If you’re considering a major home repair or remodeling project and don’t want to handle it yourself, take care when hiring a handyman service. You want your experience to be a good one, make sure the job is done correctly, on time and safely.

Here are some things to consider when it comes time to hire a handyman.

Check professional licensing requirements

A quick call to your city building department to see if your project requires that work is done by a licensed professional is a must. Codes and regulations differ depending upon your location, but if you’re talking about plumbing and electrical work, a license is usually required. The work must be done by a licensed professional, or there must be a supervisor on-site while the work is being done by an employee.

Get several estimates

They’re free and there’s no obligation. Get at least three and you’ll have a good idea what the project will cost. Always beware of a bid that is way lower than the others. It also allows you to meet the person who will be working on your home and get an idea of whether or not you like them.

Make sure they’re licensed, bonded and insured

This is personal protection for the homeowner. Asking for verification that your handyman has local business licenses just ensures that he is registered with the city and can do business. He should have a copy of the license with him. Being bonded means he has deposited money with a local bonding company in the event of a homeowner claim against him. The handyman service should also carry insurance; if a worker is hurt on the job, the claim is filed against the handyman’s insurance. If he’s not insured, it will be filed against your homeowner’s insurance.

Always ask for references

Every handyman who has been in business a while should have a list of references available. Always ask, but realize that you may want to take them with a grain of salt; he could be providing you with false names. Make sure to select a few at random and call them to ask about the service they received.

Draw up a contract

It doesn’t have to be so complicated that lawyers have to be involved. Make sure that your agreement spells out what is to be accomplished, specific materials to be used, warranty details, time frame for completion and payment schedule. Never pay more than 50% in advance. And it’s a good idea to withhold a certain amount, say 25%, until you are 100% satisfied with the work.

Hiring a handyman doesn’t have to be stressful. With due diligence, you’ll be protected, the work will be done in a timely manner, and you’ll be happy with the outcome.

Waking up without coffee


One of the rituals of the American morning is coffee. People love it. Coffee makers come in all shapes and sizes. Some people search to find THE coffee makers that match their kitchen. They can be pre-set, they have alarm clocks and some will even brew just one perfect cup of the stuff that wakes them up and gets them moving.

Next to oil, coffee is the commodity that generates the most revenue worldwide. Entire industries have been built on this morning ritual. Starbuck’s corporatized the corner coffee shop, made it cool and built one of the biggest companies in the country. Coffee houses and chains sprang up after Starbuck’s initial success. In response, McDonald’s changed their coffee and started to offer gourmet coffees for the morning commute. And Dunkin’ Donuts, which sells more coffee in theU.S.than anyone, focuses its corporate advertising on the coffee, not the donuts.

Coffee, or more accurately, the caffeine in coffee, is addictive. It can also be expensive. If you find yourself with some of the symptoms of too much caffeine – jitters, heartburn or acid reflux, irritability, trouble sleeping, stack of coffeehouse receipts in your wallet – you might try these alternatives to the morning joe.

Take a cool shower

Not a COLD shower, a COOL shower. A cold shower can shock your system and there’s no sense in that. A cool shower will get the mind and body going. Try an invigorating body wash, too; something with peppermint in it.

Let there be light

Getting some light is a way to make your body realize that it’s time to get up. Getting outside in the sunshine is a great way to start the day; however, like many, you may be up before dawn. Just turn on the lights in the bedroom and the house. Dark is the enemy to waking up.

Listen to something

Set your alarm clock to your favorite radio station. Turn on the TV. Listen to an audiobook. Quiet is the enemy to waking up.

Get moving

Taking a brisk walk or jog around the neighborhood is a great way to start the day. Any exercise is beneficial. Take your dog for a walk. It benefits them just as much as it does you. Stretching, calisthenics, or yoga are also great ways to get moving in the morning.

Drink a glass of ice cold water

A glass of ice cold water, and we’re talking as cold as you can make it, will help wake you up as much as a cup of coffee will.

Don’t skip breakfast

Eating breakfast kick starts your metabolism. Make sure you get some protein and good carbohydrates. If you absolutely HATE eating breakfast, some people find that eating an apple is beneficial. The natural sugars in them give you energy. (And there is some truth to “An apple a day…”)

Try herbal tea

Hot teas may not be your bread and butter, but you probably didn’t LOVE coffee the first time you tried it, either. There are hundreds of different teas to try so you’re likely to find one that you like. Teas have great properties to help your health, too; many are high in antioxidants, which can help you fight certain types of cancer.

If you’ve tried to cut down on coffee, what’s your favorite way to start the day?

Why your down payment should be at least 20 percent


If you’re like most people, you’re planning to have a mortgage in order to pay for your house. It’s almost unavoidable to buy a home without financing.

Conventional wisdom until a couple of decades ago was that a home buyer needed to save at least 20 percent to put down on a house. Recently, though, many people have gotten away from that rule of thumb. In order to promote home ownership, some programs require much less. There are some options that offer zero down.

Simple math

For the sake of this example, the home you’re buying is $200,000. The interest rate is 4 percent. Taxes are 1.5 percent. Private mortgage insurance (more on that later) is 0.5 percent.

Rates calculated using:

Lower mortgage payments
Simple math dictates that the more you put down, the less your monthly payment will be. All things being equal, your mortgage payment drops $191 if you have 20 percent down as opposed to zero down. As a new homeowner, that will definitely help your monthly budget.

No mortgage-insurance fees
Private mortgage insurance (PMI) protects the lender in case you cannot pay the mortgage. PMI is required if your down payment is less than 20 percent in most cases. Your lender requires the fee be paid until you reach 20 percent equity in your home. Mortgage insurance can be expensive, ranging from 0.5 to 1 percent of the home’s value annually.

Lower interest rate
With a larger down payment, you could qualify for lower interest rates, a fact not taken into account in the example above. Using the same example, if your interest rate dropped to 3.5 percent, your monthly mortgage payment would be $926.80 and the total interest payment would be $98,649.74. Compared to the 10 percent down payment in our example, you’d save $30,715 over the life of the loan in interest and PMI payments just by paying an extra $10,000 down.

Patience pays

As stated, the example above is simple math, but there’s nothing simple about mortgage math. Ask your REALTOR® and mortgage lender to crunch the numbers for you. Patience pays: taking the time to save money for a down payment offers solid return on investment. Over a 30-year mortgage, having a bigger down payment can save you tens of thousands of dollars on your starter home, helps you build equity faster and puts you on firmer financial footing.

Curb Appeal Early Spring Lawn Maintenance

One of the best ways to increase the curb appeal and enjoyment of your home is to improve the lawn and landscaping around it. Now is the time to start working on it. Here are a few things you need to do when winter is on its way out and spring is just around the corner.

Early care and repair

The first thing you’ll want to do before mowing for the first time is some cleaning and evaluation. After the soil dries a little, rake it. In addition to getting dead grass, leaves and tree debris, this will help you to identify problem areas. High and low spots will become apparent and can be addressed while the soil is still soft. It’s also a good time to address thatch, which is above ground roots common on many types of grass that can deny the soil water and sunlight. You can buy a rake made especially for this, but for large jobs, you may need to rent a dethatcher.

Seeding in the spring

Although most experts agree that fall is the best time to seed your lawn, if you want to plant warm weather grasses, spring is the best time. Warm weather grasses grow better in the southern states and in areas prone to drought conditions. A good rule of thumb is that if you live in the northern half of the continentalUnited States, you should plant cool weather grass, and the best time for that is in the fall. Some of the major types of warm weather grasses include Bahia, Bermuda, Centipede,St. Augustineand Zoysia.

Spring fertilizing

If your lawn doesn’t need a lot of seeding, it is absolutely essential to get some fertilizer on it in the spring. There are dozens of commercial fertilizers available, however, avoid the weed and feed variety if you’ve just planted grass; the seedlings will not survive.

Plant some flowers

The type of flowers you plant depends as much on the climate and soil as much as your personal taste. For early spring, you’ll want to put out hardier species that can survive late season cold snaps and even snow. Adding splashes of color to the landscape brightens the exterior of the home. Early spring is also the time to think about the flowers you’ll be planting in late spring such as bulbs and perennials. One or two large pots or flower boxes announce the coming season. Fill them with pansies, violas and Johnny jump-ups, all of which can survive the cold temperatures of spring.

If you’re not sure exactly what you need to do, consult the experts. Spend an hour or so at a nursery. When it comes to grass, no one knows better than the greenskeeper at the golf course. Many landscapers will offer a free consultation, too.

Check back with us from time to time. We’ll be offering tips and advice for homeowners to help you maintain your landscaping, which will not only increase the curb appeal, it will increase the enjoyment of your home.

From dump to décor


The recycling, restoring, repurposing revolution

As the old saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Whether you call it shabby chic, DIY, upcycling, recycling, repurposing, restoring, refurbishing, reusing objects to decorate your home has become a worldwide revolution over the past few years.

The movement was born out of the philosophy that many people have begun to embrace – the need to live a more sustainable lifestyle. They understand that it is better on the environment to reuse things rather than throwing them out. This is harmful to the environment in two ways. First, it puts an extraordinary amount of waste into landfills. Second, it puts more strain on natural resources because something will have to be made new again from scratch.

Some proponents have gotten involved for financial reasons. The economic climate over the past few years has been fairly unstable, to say the least. People are making do with what they have. An entire industry has sprung up around this movement. The people who find the items (have you seen “American Pickers” or “Storage Wars”?) get paid for the service. There are artists and craftsmen who take an older piece and turn it into something new, functional, beautiful and stylish. This also means that retail space is filling up with these items.

This also offers an opportunity for a creative outlet. The number of projects do-it-yourselfers can create is practically endless, limited only by their imagination, materials and budget.

Some are saying that the movement is in the decline; however, the number of places that sell repurposed furniture continues to grow. Do a search for information and you’ll find blogs, websites and Pinterest pages dedicated to it.

Whether you are interested in the movement to help the environment, save some money, or simply because you like the style, no matter what you call it, there’s not really a downside. And if you decide to do it yourself, you’ll have a hobby that is both relaxing and rewarding.

Check back from time to time. We’re going to have posts on a regular basis dedicated to this revolution and share ideas for projects, decorating and tips from people who do it for a living.

The Art of Herb Gardening

Are you interest in stretching your green thumb this spring? Perhaps a gourmet herb garden is the solution for you. Not only will herb plants fill your home or yard with their lush color and beautiful smells, but cooking with fresh herbs is a great way to give your meals that extra splash of flavor. Here are a few tips to help you get started on your own fresh herb garden, so you and your family can enjoy flavor-enhancing herbs all year long.

Which herbs should I grow?

When deciding on what herbs you’d like to plant in your garden, be sure to consider your favorite meals; you want to make sure you’re growing the right herbs for you. If you’re unsure which herb plant to include then take a look at these chef favorites.

Rosemary – This is a warm climate herb, so if you live in climates with cold winters it’s probably best to grow this plant inside. Rosemary is primarily used in a lot of Mediterranean dishes and nothing beats a rosemary-roasted chicken.

Chives – From the onion family, chives have a similar but milder taste. If you’re a fan of eggs in the morning or a baked potato for dinner chives would make a great addition to your garden.

Thyme – This woody stemmed sweet herb is very popular in French cuisine and pairs well with lamb, chicken and tomatoes. It’s commonly found in stews and sauces.

Mint – You will find mint in two varieties, peppermint and spearmint. Spearmint is milder in flavor and can be used in cooking and even in beverages. Peppermint is nature’s own cure for an upset stomach. 

How do I care for my herbs?

Before you start your herb garden, there are a few things you’re going to want to consider. First is light, because most herb plants will require about 6-8 hours of light. If you find your herbs with long stems and few leaves, this is the tell-tale sign they aren’t getting enough light and are seeking it.  Next is space; most herbs will grow to fill the space you provide, if your garden is relatively small, you will have to prune your herbs more regularly; not only does this stimulate more growth and better harvest, but it will also prevent herbs from crowding out other plants it shares the garden with. Tip: Mint is a super invasive plant; it’s probably best planted in its own container. Lastly, you need to take water and soil into consideration. Most plants will require about an inch of water per week. Also, if you decide to plant your herbs inside, they’ll occasionally require fertilization. To make sure they’re growing in healthy soil, add vegetable potting mix once during mid-growing season.

More care tips.

  • Potted herbs need good drainage, so make sure there is a large hole at the bottom of your plant’s pot and a dish underneath to catch water runoff.
  • If you live in an area with hard winters (below freezing), you need to plant your herbs inside to maintain a healthy garden all year long.
  • Make sure you’re regularly harvesting or pruning your herb garden. This will encourage stronger growth from your plants.
  • Be sure to harvest in the morning, when freshness and fragrance will be at their peak.
  • Make sure you give perennial herbs time off in the fall. You can harvest them all year, but they’ll require some time to prepare for winter.