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Archive for March, 2012

What Makes A “Green” Home?

While “green” has become quite the buzzword when it comes to home building and design, what exactly it means isn’t always clear. There are a few standards for eco-friendly homes, but the term “green” doesn’t have a universal definition beyond being a color made by mixing yellow and blue. So how does a consumer know when a home the builder is calling “green” is actually built with an ecological focus, or at least enough of one to justify its price?

Some of the standards for ecologically minded homes include increased insulation. To be really energy efficient, a home should be insulated beyond the minimum local requirements. This includes floor insulation, which in some cases is built right in to the concrete foundation. In addition to the walls, floors and ceilings, windows should also be insulating. Therefore, double paned and/or vinyl windows are becoming the “green” standard.

Energy efficiency should be continued throughout the home. Low water use toilets are a must, and those that have different flush options are extra eco-concious. These options allow you to have a more efficient flush for solid waste, while liquid waste just gets much more conservative flush. Shower heads, washing machines, faucets and dishwashers can also be equipped to limit the water used without compromising function. Air conditioners, refrigerators, heaters and all other appliances within the home should be of the highest standard of energy efficiency. In addition, compact fluorescent lights should be used throughout the home, or replaced by LED lights wherever those are suitable.

Beyond energy efficiency, use of non-toxic, ar at least less-toxic, materials is important in “green” homes. Look for a home with low VOC paints. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, which are toxins that gas-off from conventional paint. Remember the lighter the pigment, the lower the VOC’s, so white or off-white walls are healthier than some of the bolder, trendy colors. This is because it is the paint base that is quality controlled, but it is impossible to take the VOC’s out of some pigments.

Another finishing detail that is popular for eco-friendly homes is bamboo or cork flooring. Bamboo is popular because it grows so quickly. It takes about five years to grow bamboo to the right size to make flooring. It is versatile and comes in a variety of styles and colors. Cork is an option because it is sustainable to harvest – removing cork does not damage the cork tree, as it replenishes its cork bark every year anyway. Cork makes a lovely, soft and springy floor surface that is also naturally warmer than many other flooring options.

For our final indoor consideration, eco-friendly homes will use more natural fabrics such as wool and cotton for carpets and window dressings.

Outside the home leaves plenty of room for “green” considerations, too. Xeriscaping is a popular means of landscaping utilizing plants native to the area being built in. These plants are naturally drought-resistant because they are acclimatized to the local environment, needing less watering and maintenance than lawns or beds full of foreign flowers.

Another “green” outdoor trend is utilizing permeable paving stones. These actually absorb water, which then is naturally filtered through the earth and goes back into the ground-water supply. These avoid the toxic run-off that can be caused by water rushing over cement and into drains, carrying oil and exhaust residue straight into the drainage system, which ultimately ends up being a nearby body of water.

If a home you are looking at is being promoted as being “green”, don’t hesitate to ask the builder about some of these features. If they don’t measure up, don’t buy it.

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What is Pre-Construction Real Estate Investing?

The idea of pre-construction investments when it comes to real estate is actually quite a clever way in which many have made millions. The theory is simple really. Invest in a property before when it is in the planning stage. Those who will be building these buildings need money and investors in order to do get the building off the ground. By investing (in many cases basically purchasing options to purchase) in the units, typically condo units in high demand areas, before the ground is broken investors often have the option of investing for pennies on the expected dollar once the building is complete and can re-sell the property at full market value once the building is complete pocketing the difference in the original investment and the asking price.

This is a win-win situation for many builders or ‘owners’ of the property in questions because ‘pre-selling’ the units allows lending agents to have confidence in the viability of the project as a money earner by selling many of the units sight unseen. The benefit to investors is that they are able to purchase at a much lower price pre-construction than afterwards and can sell afterwards at the full market value (or above in some high demand and under saturated areas for real estate).

This style of investing is not nearly as glamorous to some as flipping houses. There are no beast to beauty renovations. There are, however, some things that should be kept in mind while making this type of transaction.

First of all, no real estate venture is ever guaranteed to turn a profit no matter what the glossy little brochures tell you. With the current trends in property sales, this is typically not the best environment for pre-construction investing though these things tend to change on a regular basis and that market could be looking up again in the very near future.

Second, networking is more often than not the best way to break into this particular business. There are all kinds of fly by night would be real estate investors. The ones that manage to last are those that network with other real estate agents as well as those who have specific interests and experience with pre-construction investments. Join local groups in addition to online groups that deal specifically with this sort of investment in order to get more information more quickly. The costs involved might appear daunting at first but they are far less than the costs of getting in over your head by not having a grasp of even the most basic ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of pre-construction real estate investing.

Third, develop a close-knit relationship with a realtor that specializes in this particular type of real estate investing. This could prove to be the most beneficial thing you will ever do in order to insure future success. Be developing the right relationship with the right realtor you can get information on new properties before they make it to the public sector. This puts you in the rare and wonderful position of beating the competition to the punch. This gives you a much better shot at receiving the rock bottom prices that are often missed by waiting too long to make the purchase.

Fourth, be prepared to hold onto the property for a little while if you need to do so. The problem with pre-construction investing is that there are no guarantees that when the time comes you will have been able to ‘seal the deal’. Things come up even when you have a buyer that is willing and eager to make the purchase. In other words, there are times when you will need to hold onto the property for a short while and sometimes as a long-term investment. Some options in the case of long-term holds would include renting the property out to vacationers if it is in a high demand tourist area. You can use your realtor to help with that. This allows the property to be earning some income until the sale can be made. Others decided to hold onto the property as a personal vacation home for themselves, friends, and family. In the end, the important thing is that there is a “Plan B” for the property should the deal fall through and you are left paying the monthly note.

Pre-construction real estate investing may not have the ‘name in lights’ appeal that other types of investing carry but it does provide a viable investment style that has the potential to bring in significant profits. The name of the game when it comes to investing is profits so keep this in mind when considering your investment options. This is one of the forms of investing that requires (in most cases) the least amount of capital up front.

A Checklist For Moving

MOVING! The very thought of it can send chills down our spine and can cause us to break out into a cold sweat. Experts say that any kind of “change” creates “stress”. Moving, (and especially if we are relocating to a new city or state), represents a huge change and naturally brings a great amount of stress along with it. This can be a double whammy, because stress can lead to a lack of energy and motivation. Many of us tend to procrastinate during stressful periods of our lives. This is one time, though, when we must rise above that. When preparing for a move we need to put the pedal to the metal and get a lot of things done. This checklist contains many suggestions that may seem like “no-brainers”. However, the very act of printing out these simple suggestions and reminders can become a significant security blanket as the dreaded time approaches. Moving and relocating calls for being proactive, grabbing the bull by the horns and actually completing certain chores well in advance of their deadlines. Hopefully this little paper will help you to accomplish that. In this particular article we are leaving out the “big things” such as finding the best moving company, researching your new neighborhood’s transportation, parking, employment, etc. Those are for other articles on another day. Today we are concentrating on the basics of planning and preparation.

Get rid of what you don’t need.

Many of us are “pack rats”. One thing that we can accomplish immediately is going through all of our “stuff” and getting rid of what we don’t need anymore. Moving unwanted clothing and bric-a-brac from one place of residence to another is a great waste of time and effort. It is surprising how much more in control we feel once we start narrowing down our “inventory” to what we actually need to keep. Getting rid of the unwanted items can be done by having a garage sale long before moving time and then donating the leftovers to the Salvation Army or other charitable groups.

Get all important papers and documents together and secure them.

Since moving is hectic, to say the least, we need to be aware of the exact location of all of our important items. Things that we absolutely must not lose or misplace should certainly be hand carried, not put in a box for the movers:

Address Books, Birth Certificates, Bank Statements, Checks, Credit Cards and Statements, Home Movies, Irreplaceable Memorabilia, Insurance Policies, Marriage Records, Medical and Dental Records, Military Records, Passports, Photos and Photo Albums, Resumes, School Records, Stock Certificates, Tax Returns, Telephone Numbers, Valuables, Vehicle Documents, Wills.

Prepare well in advance for living at your new location.

There are many things that we can do at our new location well in advance of our move that will help smooth out the bumps and grinds of our relocation process when the actual event occurs: Open up new bank accounts. Open up a new Safe Deposit Box. Contact the new area utility companies and arrange for your new services. These can include Cable TV, gas, electric, oil, telephone, water and Internet access. Arrange for new medical providers. If you are moving to a new state, contact the DMV and get forms necessary to re-register your vehicles. Contact your insurance companies and find out if your car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, etc. can be transferred. If not, find an Insurance Broker in your new area and discuss your needs and requirements for new policies. Go to the post office and get a moving kit. Prepare change of address forms for all of your correspondents; credit card companies, other credit accounts, banks, insurance companies, current utility companies for final statements, magazines and other subscriptions, family, friends, and any other persons or businesses that you correspond with on a regular basis.

As the time approaches, get a nice new legal pad.

As moving day approaches and when the moving process actually begins, you don’t want to be hunting for phone numbers in wallets, purses, or address books. Have a nice new legal pad ready with all important phone numbers written clearly and legibly for both your old and new contacts: Banks, Doctors, Emergency contacts, Family members, Friends, Landlords or Real Estate Brokers, Movers, Pharmacies Schools, Storage Facilities, Utilities.

With proper planning and preparation the moving process, though never fun, can at least be sane. With proper planning and preparation the utilities at your present address can be disconnected the day after you move and the utilities at your new address can be connected the day prior to your arrival. With proper planning and preparation you will not be frantically searching for a new doctor or pharmacy, if that unfortunate need arises. With proper planning and preparation you will have all of your important documents at the tip of your fingers at all times. With proper planning and preparation your mail will start arriving the day after you move in to your new abode and your life will endure a minimum of chaos and clutter.

Good luck with your move and good luck in your new home or apartment.

10 Tips to Buy Real Estate Without Breaking Your Budget

1. Get pre-approved for your home loan. This means, fill out a loan application and go through the process of securing financing. That way, when you’re ready to seriously evaluate   real estate, you’ll know exactly how much home you can afford. And you can prove to a seller that your offer is sincere.

2. Explore creative financing options. During the home loan pre-approval process, ask about ways to get creative with your financing. Low down payment options, first and second mortgage combinations and first time buyer programs might help you afford more funding. Many lenders are now offering interest-only home mortgages; just make sure you thoroughly evaluate the terms for this type of home loan. Down payment grants are also available in some instances and might be worth investigating or discussing with your   realtor.

3. Sell your existing home first. Although selling your existing home before finding new   real estate to buy can be a little nerve-wracking, any inconvenience will be offset by your ability to make an offer with cash in hand. Contingent purchases are not the best when negotiating to buy a home. Having your financing in order and your bags packed will give you the advantage in a competitive market.

4. Look for vacant real estate. Perhaps a seller’s job has transferred him out of the area. Or maybe a family purchased a new home before putting their existing one on the market. In any case, a vacant home could be just the deal for a savvy home buyer, so have your realtor look for vacant property in your preferred neighborhoods. And keep in mind, the longer a house stays empty, the greater your negotiating power will be.

5. Consider cosmetic fixers. If you’re handy with a paintbrush, a tool set and gardening equipment, consider buying   real estate in need of cosmetic fixing. Property that lacks curb appeal needs minor handiwork or the yard overhauled could end up being the home of your dreams for a price you can afford. You just need to look beyond the ho-hum to see the potential of a cosmetic fixer.

6. Buy a home that’s a major remodel project. If you want to live on Lake Washington, but can’t afford a $2M home mortgage, consider buying a dilapidated cottage on a fabulous lot with western exposure. In time you’ll need to gut the existing home and build from the ground up or contract significant home improvements. But in the end your property value will skyrocket. And if your carpentry and other construction skills are well-developed, you can save even more and accrue “sweat equity” during your remodel by doing much of the work yourself.

7. Don’t discount bank foreclosures. One person’s loss could be your gain if you buy  real estate in foreclosure. Although the search for a decent foreclosure may take a while, your   realtor should be able help. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (http://www.hud.gov/) can be an excellent resource for foreclosed properties. Because HUD houses are sold at market value, your best bet will be homes that need cosmetic work or even major repair.

8. Land with a manufactured home. Sometimes, to buy a home on a budget, you need to look beyond convention. Even if your wish is to buy   real estate, you may have to settle for a piece of property in an outlying area with a mobile or manufactured home. Discuss this option with your   real estate agent and try to keep an open mind about this possibility.

9. An older, smaller home. Older homes are typically priced much less than newer construction and don’t tend to create buyer bidding wars. If you can enjoy life in an older and smaller home in a neighborhood or suburb off the beaten path, this could be your ticket to real estate ownership.

10. The cheapest house in the best neighborhood. You have your heart set on a specific   and expensive     neighborhood. Maybe it’s the schools that you’re interested in. Or perhaps it’s the close proximity to downtown or the waterfront. In any case, a budget-savvy buyer will look for the least expensive home for sale in the neighborhood. If you’re not in a hurry, you can even play the waiting game to see what properties come on the market. Your   real estate agent can be a real asset in this case by investigating potential sellers.

Buying real estate without breaking your budget will require research and compromise. On moving day, however, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that your homework paid off!

3 Tips to Staging the Outside of Your Home Like a Pro

Are you considering putting your house up for sale, but not sure where to start? Afraid it will take too long to sell, or that you won’t get the price you want? Think about “staging” your home, or in other words, setting the scene for immediate buyer interest in your property.

To be really effective, you need to look at both the outside and the inside of your home. Here are 3 tips to get you started with the outside of your home:

1. Go stand on the street to see what clients see when driving up to the house. Be aware that any negative impressions they get outside the house (landscaping not maintained or non-existent, peeling paint, etc.) is just going to make them think that the house itself has not been well taken care of. So even if you have spent the time and money to fix up the interior, it would all be wasted if the clients get a bad first impression as they drive up to the house.

2. Next, step outside your front door and close the door; then stand on the stoop and look around for 5 minutes. While the realtor fumbles for keys and tries to figure out how to open the door, the clients are standing behind and looking around. So what are they seeing? Dead plants, old Halloween decorations in the middle of January, cobwebs?  Again, not a good first impression!

It’s definitely worth it to take some time and clean it up. Want to go a step further? Try a new coat of paint or some new furniture or accessories.

3. Don’t forget the backyard. While that might not be part of the potential buyers’ first impression experience, you still should make sure it’s in the best condition possible. Pull up weeds, water plants, do some sweeping (if that’s applicable in your case) and maybe even purchase new furniture or accessories (plant pots, bird houses, etc.)

And the biggest tip of all? Imagine yourself as a potential buyer looking at your property for the very first time. What impressions are you getting? Would YOU buy your house? What would you like to see changed before you put an offer on your house?

And don’t worry about spending several thousand dollars to get your house ready to sell   you’ll get it all back when your house sells. Proper staging helps you sell your house in a shorter time and at the price you want.

NYC National Parks Offer Glimpse of History

If you are considering a vacation in New York, planning ahead is the only way to go. There are simply so many things to see and do that you must have at least a general idea of how you want to spend your days before you can even begin to get started. New York is one of the greatest cities in the world, it didn’t get that way without a reason and it has a long history that is part of its greatness.

If I were to choose how to spend my time in New York and what wonderful things about New York City to introduce my child to, I would choose to introduce her to those things that bore the most historical significance first in order for that to really sink in and not be competing with the Nintendo Store or the really cool keyboard at FAO Schwarz. I would want my child to understand the history of our country good and bad and I want them to someday instill in her own children the importance of that history.

By visiting the national parks first, I will have enjoyed the benefits of the price tag (free is good almost anyway you slice it, particularly when you and your child are getting an education) in addition to fresh minds on which to impart this crucial knowledge about the birth of our democracy. Ellis Island is a great place to visit, but I think I will show them the statue from afar rather than taking the ferry ride out there. There is just so much to do in New York and every second counts. I want her to have a wonderful time as much as I want her to gain some wonderful insights that they can share with their friends at school as well (something other than the latest and greatest new Game Cube game that is coming out soon).

Some of the important national parks I’d like to take my child include: Federal Hall, where Washington was inaugurated, Grant’s Tomb, Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthplace, and Castle Clinton, which was designed in order to keep invaders out. I would also like to take her to Saint Paul’s Church. Not for religious reasons but for Religious freedom issues. I think there is an important lesson to be learned here even today, perhaps especially today.

I think the lessons that can be learned about the history of our nation in New York City are just as important as the lessons that can learned in Washington or Philadelphia. This country has taken many steps along the road to democracy and we’ve stumbled a few times along the way. There would have never been the Salem Witch Trials, the Civil War, or the Civil Rights Movement if he hadn’t but we’ve come so far and still have so far to go. I want my children to learn from our past and to look forward to our future.

I think these are the lessons we can learn from our state parks and those are much more valuable than the lessons we can learn in toy stores and throwing Frisbee in Central Park. I want my child to visit museums and toy stores and see new cultures, I also want her to take home with herself a deep sense of the history of our great nation.

Being a Nursing Assistant can lead to a Career as a Nurse

A Nursing Assistant certificate allows you the opportunity to secure employment at entry-level in the medical field. This position requires compassion and dedication to assisting others. It also requires a high level of effective communication as well as attention for detail. Most people entering the Nursing Assistant profession find it to be a rewarding and challenging career. However, many choose to use it as a building block for becoming a Nurse.

The program for becoming a Nursing Assistant is very fast compared with the time it takes to earn a degree in Nursing. Therefore, many see it as a logic choice to gain experience in the medical field. It is an excellent idea for those that aren’t sure if Nursing is for them. It is better to spend four to twelve weeks in training to find out then to spend two or more years working on a Nursing degree.

There are individuals who must maintain employment while pursuing their education degree for financial reasons. For individuals in this position, completing the Nursing Assistant program offers them a way to secure employment that is related to what they are going to school for.

Others choose to advance their career once they have been working as a Nurse Assistant because they see many of the tasks Nurses are responsible for. It is a level of responsibility they wish to acquire. Since they work so closely with the Nursing staff, it is a perfect opportunity to explore more of what takes place. Others have a sincere desire to further their education, but for a variety of reasons have not been able to.

There is a significant pay difference between working as a Nursing Assistant and having a degree as a Nurse. The dollar amount varies based on location, but on average the difference is $4 to $9 per hour more. It doesn’t take long at all for the overall income difference to be seen. Nursing assistants often decide that they want to work in the medical field, but definitely want to be paid more for their work. Of course, the level of responsibility differs greatly between a Nursing Assistant and a Nurse.

Working at a medical facility as a Nursing Assistant can work to your advantage when you decide to pursue a degree in Nursing. It might help you get into the program if there is more interest in the program than enrollment opportunities.

Due to the continuous demand for qualified trained professionals in the area of Nursing, most medical facilities will support you in your efforts to further your education. They will often adjust your work schedule to accommodate you whenever possible.

Tuition assistance programs are offered by many employers in the medical field. They work in a variety of ways. Some will cover a percentage of your tuition; others will pay up to a particular dollar amount. Often, you will be required to agree to work for them for a particular length of time or have to reimburse them for any tuition paid on your behalf. Others won’t pay anything while you are attending school, but will offer tuition reimbursement upon completion of your Nursing degree.

Another advantage of working as a Nursing Assistant prior to obtaining your degree in Nursing is you will have an edge over other recent graduates. You will have work experience to offer in combination with your degree while many others will only have their degree.

Employers like to maintain their quality employees. If you are able to show outstanding work ethic as a Nursing Assistance, it is very likely they will offer you a position as a Nurse upon your completion of your degree. This often depends on the job openings at the medical facility you work for.

Your certificate and work experience as a Nurse Assistant can help make career opportunities appear. It may peak your interest in returning to school to work on your Nursing degree for a variety of reasons. It can help you be accepted to a Nursing program, as well as help you secure employment after completing your Nursing degree.