The Mysteries of Light: The 3 Ways of Illumination

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Interior designers know that the real trick behind creating an amazing space is to use these three types of lighting. Each one has a specific use, but they can also be used in combination to make a space seem inviting and practical. Let’s take a closer look at the three types and how to incorporate them in your design:

  • Task: Probably the most important type of lighting is task lighting. This is what helps you see the vegetables you’re chopping in the kitchen or read that book after you settle in bed for the night. The bathroom vanity is also an important place for proper lighting. Use the right lamps or fixtures to create well-lighted spaces for your daily tasks.
  • Ambient: This is what professional designers call overhead or room lighting. Builders put small, dome light fixtures into a brand-new house. Many people replace these with more attractive options, but make sure they provide enough light for the space if you make the change. Chandeliers and other pretty room lights will set the mood of each space.
  • Accent: Last, accent lighting is what draws the eye’s attention to certain features of the room. For example, you may put small lights over paintings the way they do in museums. Up-lighting in a feature corner or in a display cabinet also enhances the viewer’s perception of these items in your home.

7 Statistics About Credit Reports That May Scare You

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You may not give much thought to your credit score in your day-to-day life, but when the time comes for a major purchase or transition, the information in your credit report is crucial. People are often unpleasantly surprised at how much inaccurate information can show up in their credit report when they finally take the time to review it.

It’s important to monitor these reports so that they’re looking their best when it matters. There is no one else minding this store; you’re in charge of your credit.

There are some problems that commonly arise in credit reports, and knowing about them will help you to avoid them. A look at some statistics is a good way to get a picture of how credit reports are affecting consumers just like you.

Do we understand the importance of our credit score?

  • According to Student Monitor research, 74% of college students do not know their credit score.
  • The American Bankers Association found that 44% of adults mistakenly think that the credit report and credit score are the same thing.
  • More than half of U.S. adults had never reviewed their credit reports, according to a 2014 survey by Consumer Reports.
  • Debt collectors are most frequently responsible for errors. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 40% of disputes filed with credit reporting companies are related to errors made by debt collectors.
  • The credit score you see may not be the same as the ones your creditors see. According to the CFPB, about 25% of the time the score supplied to a creditor will differ from the one on your credit report enough to place you in a different credit-quality category.
  • The Federal Trade Commission reports that one in four consumer credit reports contain errors. These can be related to your identity (the report gets your name wrong), details about accounts, or including accounts that you did not open or authorize.
  • It can be difficult to correct credit report errors. The Consumer Reports survey found that more than half of the consumers who attempted to fix problems with their reports ran into significant challenges.

Your credit score doesn’t just affect loans. While an unsatisfactory credit score can stop you from getting a loan, it can also cause you to pay a higher rate of interest on money that you borrow. It affects insurance premiums, as well as your likelihood of being hired for a job. And unfortunately, credit agencies are not able to ensure that your report is error-free, so it’s critical to keep up with this information yourself and be proactive about protecting your credit.

Start by ordering your free credit report annually (maybe each year on your birthday?) at freecreditreport.com. Be sure to get the reports from all 3 bureaus: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax.

6 Ways to Save by Going Green at Home

There are many benefits to going green. You help the environment, protect the planet for future generations, and – let’s face it – you can save money on energy costs and a variety of other household expenses. By changing just a few habits and modifying existing products, you can realize a significant savings and protect the environment at the same time.

If you’re ready to take the leap, try out a few of these modifications to get your feet wet:

#1: Turn Off the Lights

Everyone knows to turn the lights off in a room when it is empty, but sometimes we forget. An easy fix is a light motion sensor.  After the programmed time has passed with no movement detected, it will turn off the lights. This also works as a great anti-theft deterrent.

#2: Change Your Bulbs

Speaking of lights, many people still use incandescent light bulbs. Save money and energy by switching to LED bulbs. LED bulbs don’t produce heat like incandescents do and can help keep your house cooler. What a bargain in a hot season!

#3: Don’t Forget the Thermostat

Consider a timer on the thermostat. While you are at work, set it a bit warmer. No need to keep the air condition on high while at the office. You can do similar in the winter with the heat.

#4 … and the Windows

Tinted windows reduce the amount of sun (read heat!) that enters your home, which makes it easier to maintain a constant temperature throughout your home.

While working with windows, think window treatments! They are much more than decorative. In winter, trap the heat by using a heavy curtain. Think of it like putting on a heavy blanket when you’re cold. Use the opposite idea in the summer: lighter curtains to easily dissipate the heat.  By pairing window treatments with tinted windows, the cost savings from maintaining a comfortable interior temperature can be enormous.

#5: Go Solar!

By adding a solar array to your property you can reduce your draw from the grid. And sunshine is totally free.

#6: Reduce Your Footprint

In summer, grow a garden and herbs to reduce your trips to the store. You’ll not only save on gas to get there, but also the cost of fruit and vegetables, as wells as grocery bags. Additionally, your community most likely has a recycling program. Brush up on items that your recycle center can accept or find new lives for old products.

Going green at home is an accumulation of small actions, paired with smart investments, which add up to big gains. A few small changes every day over time will help you achieve a greener lifestyle.  For even more ideas, give me a call or send me an email.

How to Get the Latest Design Trends into Your Home

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We all want a little luxury in our lives, and staying up-to-date on current design trends is just one great way that we can incorporate a bit of luxury style into our everyday décor. Whether you’re just looking for a few new pieces to spice up your living room or you’re ready to revamp your entire master bath, taking a few design cues from luxury real estate can be a great way to stay current and fresh.

Rather than have you sift through countless magazines to stay abreast of these trends, here’s a list of some of the biggest trends to watch for in 2016.

Bringing Nature Inside: Elements from nature elevate your décor. Invite green plants into the house in all shapes and sizes. Lush ferns and delicate succulent gardens help to calm you by grounding you with nature. Look to natural fibers for accent pieces, such as sisal and wool and organic shapes, found in uncut tree trunks or rough-cut stone.

Brass Accents: The warm metal is poised for its shining moment. Aged brass accents will continue their meteoric rise. Add burnished bronze and brass pieces for a bold statement.

Mix and Match Metals: Don’t be afraid to clash. Brass paired with silver and copper have been spotted in the upcoming trends. Metallic shades will channel their retro roots and reboot for a modern touch.

Stealth Electronics: Nothing feels more luxurious today than total integration of your home placed into the palm of your hand. Control your lighting, entertainment system, and environmental controls, even your garage door, with just your phone. Integrate your security as well. Several options are available that allow you to access strategically placed cameras in any room in the house.

Electronic Entry: Never get locked out again. Electronic integration continues to customize the residential market. Smart locks feature unique identification codes in a sleek touchpad. Available in many fine finishes, smart locks also boast high-end craftsmanship.

The Rustic Farmhouse: Farmhouse kitchens blend rural charm with modern design. Traditional kitchens have evolved to transitional style, merging rustic design with contemporary utility. Pair a farm-style tub sink with stainless appliances in an open floor plan to achieve this balanced style.

Smart Gardening: Reflect the beauty of your local landscape by Xeriscaping. This method utilizes local vegetation intelligently to create a stunning sustainable landscape. Incorporate native grasses and flowers along with natural pieces to cultivate a striking garden.

Library Retreats: Distinguish your home with your own literary sanctuary. The home office has advanced to a tranquil library to accommodate your interests. Unplug from modern life and sink into a relaxed pace, surrounded by priceless pieces of literature and culture.

Luxury in 2016 will incorporate sophisticated technology with natural and timeworn accents. Striking the balance between sleek modern and the rustic yesteryear, with added lush finishings and natural elements will elevate your style for the coming year.

5 Steps to Deciding How Much Homeowners Insurance You Need

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Homeowners are often puzzled when faced with deciding how much homeowners insurance to purchase. Mortgage companies and banks require insurance for those seeking loans to buy a home, but is it enough? What if you do not have a loan from a bank — do you still need homeowners insurance?

Although states generally do not require homeowners to carry insurance, having enough homeowners insurance to cover losses and liabilities is a must for most homeowners. (If you have a mortgage, your lender almost certainly requires you to carry insurance.) A homeowners policy, also called an HO-3, can offset the cost of major repairs due to fires and other catastrophes, as well as cover your personal assets if a visitor to your home is injured. In order to assess how much homeowners insurance to carry, use these simple steps to estimate your coverage needs.

Ask yourself these five questions to estimate your homeowners insurance coverage needs.

  1. How much is your home worth? Don’t look at current market values in your town. These can fluctuate wildly, as seen in the real estate market bubble of the past few years. Instead, ask a contractor to help you estimate how much it would cost to replace your home — brick by brick, board by board. This forms the basis for your insurance estimate.
  2. Are you living in an area with weather risks? Ask your insurance agent about flood insurance coverage, which may be additional, as well as special coverage for tornadoes and hurricanes.
  3. How much liability coverage do you need? Standard homeowners policies cover your personal assets in the event that a guest to your home is injured and decides to sue you.
  4. What special assets do you own? If you own expensive jewelry, antiques, artwork or similar items, you may need a rider on your policy that lists and covers these assets separately. Some policies will not cover diamond engagement rings, for example, or the cost to replace antiques.
  5. Do you have a dog or a swimming pool? While dogs and swimming pools seem unrelated, both increase your risk of unintentional injuries to others. You may wish to increase your liability coverage to account for these issues.

Actual Value Versus Replacement Cost

When discussing the value of items in your home with an insurance agent, two terms may come up that you should know. Actual value refers to the value today of an item in your home. Many items such as clothing, furniture and electronics depreciate in value the minute they’re brought home from the store. The actual value of the item is the value today if you chose to sell it. Replacement cost, on the other hand, is the value of the item if you had to replace it. Always choose replacement cost (if possible) for better coverage.

Umbrella Policies

Families with significant financial assets may wish to obtain an umbrella policy in addition to automotive and homeowners insurance. An umbrella policy covers excess damages from both home and auto claims when they exceed the value of the respective policies. Like an umbrella covering you on a rainy day so you don’t get wet, it covers your personal assets in the event of a catastrophe. Most umbrella policies require you to obtain coverage with the same firm that handles both your auto and homeowners insurance.

With the right insurance coverage, you can sleep at night knowing that you, your family and your property are covered.

Make Some Big Plans for Small Spaces

Just because a room is small in square footage doesn’t mean it has to be relegated to storage or remain unused. Small spaces can create personal experiences within a home and can become a favorite retreat — such as a guest bedroom, an office or a reading nook. Here are some ideas to keep in mind.

  • Utilize convertible furniture: One of the best ways to maximize a small space is to make it functional. Use a sofa that converts to a bed. Use ottomans that have storage inside. Use modular and movable furniture to change the layout regularly with any need.
  • Loft it: If a convertible bed isn’t a good option, consider building a lofted space in the room. A loft can provide a relaxing place to sleep and create usable space beneath for a sitting area or a desk. This is great for children, students or guests.
  • Space under stairs: Do you have a staircase in your house? If so, the space beneath it could have a lot of potential. You could convert it to storage, a small half-bath, a reading nook, a dog kennel or even a small office. Don’t forget about these random spaces that might be considered unusable in your house. They may have plenty of potential.
  • Use mirrors: One of the simplest tricks for maximizing a small space and making it look larger is to use a mirror. This strategy is especially great in a small bathroom, but can be applied anywhere. You don’t have to be limited to the type of mirror either. Decorative tile can have a similar effect and create a very rich design.

Escrow: Are You Doing It Wrong?

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“Escrow” is a strange word, and one that most people don’t hear every day. Yet if you’re closing on a home or seeking a mortgage from a lender, you’ll likely encounter the terms “escrow” or “impound account” sooner rather than later.

To hold funds in escrow means that the lender requires you to deposit certain funds into a special account (also called an impound account) to ensure that the money is available to pay bills such as real estate taxes and insurance. Many mortgage companies and banks require purchasers to open an escrow account, especially if they’re putting very little money down on a home.

Not everyone is required to have an escrow account. Banks or lenders sometimes waive escrow if the buyer deposits 20 percent or more on a real estate purchase as a down payment. Typically they view such buyers as good risks because these buyers have saved a considerable chunk of money, and therefore the lenders have more confidence in such buyers to pay their bills over time.

How Escrow Works

Most escrow accounts are opened to collect and distribute money to pay real estate or property taxes as well as homeowners insurance. Lenders prefer escrow accounts because it assures them that these bills will be paid. The amount of both property taxes and homeowners insurance for the year is added up and then divided by 12. The resulting amount is added to the mortgage payment each month so that homeowners pay all three bills — the home loan, property taxes and insurance — monthly.

If insurance rates or taxes rise, the escrow payments will rise accordingly. Lenders often can’t calculate the exact amount to the penny, since tax bills can quickly change, but if they collect considerably more than necessary, they will need to give you a refund.

Should You Use an Escrow Account or Not? 

Whether you need an escrow account is often up to a lender. If you have a choice in the matter, consider the following:

  • Are you disciplined with money? If you have no trouble saving your money, then you may not wish to use an escrow account. People who are disciplined about saving for large payments don’t feel the sting of paying their insurance and taxes at the end of the year. On the other hand, if paying such a hefty bill is terrifying, then breaking it into 12 payments via an escrow account makes better sense.
  • Will your money work harder elsewhere? A corollary to the above is that disciplined savers often invest their money. Such investments can yield good dividends. If the chunk of money you’d invest into the escrow account can make more for you elsewhere in a good investment for the remainder of the year, then it may make sense to forgo escrow, invest the amount and pay the bills when they are due instead of monthly.

Escrow payments aren’t for everyone, but they are a standard in the world of home ownership. Talk to your mortgage company or lender to determine if you’re required to open an escrow account when you buy your home.

How to decorate an “open concept” home?

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When your kitchen opens to your living room, you can’t really use opposing décor in each space. Your entire home needs to flow. Here are some tricks to creating a space that is both cozy and functional.

  • Choose coordinated color palates: Decorating your kitchen in bold primary colors while keeping an autumn palate in your open living room will be torture for the eye. It is critical that you choose colors for each of these spaces that coordinate with one another. Choose one color to tie everything together and coordinating shades to blend the rooms together.
  • Create rooms within rooms: Not everyone loves large, open floor plans and sometimes it is important to create visual breaks. Use design tricks to create rooms within rooms. Use a rug, a love seat and two chairs to form a conversation area in one corner of the large space. Set your primary sofa with the back to the center of the room to break up the space and create a walking path.
  • Match your lighting: If you have a large crystal chandelier over your dining room table but your living room has a series of modern lamps, this can be confusing. Do what you can to create symmetry in lighting throughout the open space. Match the colors or the design aesthetics of lamps and light fixtures to tie the entire area together.
  • Add personality with accessories: Of course, you don’t have to have one design concept for the entire house. You can use accessories to personalize each space. Maybe you would love to have owls in your kitchen. This doesn”t mean you have to extend that décor into the living space. Use different accessories around your house to separate the functions.

What are reverse mortgages all about?

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You’ve seen the television commercials. A well-known actor sings the praises of reverse mortgages and promises fast debt relief if you agree to one. But what is a reverse mortgage? Do you qualify for one? When should homeowners consider a reverse mortgage?

What Is a Reverse Mortgage?

A reverse mortgage is a loan available to homeowners who are age 62 or older. A lender agrees to pay you an amount each month based upon a portion of the equity in your home. Each month, you receive a payment based on this amount. As long as the borrower remains in the home, the loan doesn’t have to be repaid. However, when the borrower moves from the home, the loan must be repaid. Typically, the home is sold and the proceeds repay the loan.

Who Might Benefit From a Reverse Mortgage?

Reverse mortgages are available to people age 62 or older for a reason: many of them face high medical bills. Some people facing terminal or chronic illnesses have only the equity in their homes as their primary asset. For these people, a reverse mortgage may provide the cash needed to pay outstanding medical bills — while letting them remain in their homes.

Reverse mortgage payments, according to the Federal Trade Commission, do not affect Social Security or Medicare coverage. You can still receive both even if you are tapping into a loan based on your home’s equity.

What Are the Drawbacks of Reverse Mortgages?

Banks need to make money off of the transaction, so they charge fees and interest for reverse mortgages. These amounts are added to the loan amount; consequently, when the final repayment is due, it may be considerable. Additionally, the interest rate is variable instead of fixed. Over time, rising interest rates may add greatly to the cost of a reverse mortgage.

Because you’ll still own the title to your home, you’re responsible for its upkeep and maintenance. Bills for repairs must be paid and the home must be kept in good condition to satisfy the loan.

How Does a Reverse Mortgage Impact Estate Planning?

When the borrower dies, some reverse mortgages allow the surviving spouse to remain in the property without penalty. Others do not. It’s important to check the fine print to make sure your spouse isn’t going to be left homeless after you pass away.

If you’re single, divorced or widowed, your estate must repay the entire cost of the loan, including the accumulated interest. Usually the home must be sold to cover these costs. If you are hoping to leave your home to someone, a reverse mortgage may make that impossible.

There are several types of reverse mortgages, each with its own rules and requirements. Be sure to read everything in the documents presented to you by the lender and discuss the situation with your spouse and a financial professional. Reverse mortgages offer financial relief to some, nightmares to others. Consider your options and choose wisely.

4 Steps to Plan Early Retirement

If working a corporate job for the rest of your life sounds like your worst nightmare, you may want to consider arranging your finances in a way that can give you some freedom at a younger age. Many people love the idea of working until they’re over the age of 60, but if that thought fills you with anxiety it might be time to make a plan to be able to retire young. Here are four tips that can help you retire faster.

  1. Don’t spend all you make. It is really easy to get caught up in our consumer culture and buy all the latest gadgets and a new car every couple of years. If you want to retire early, it is important that you step out of this mindset. Do what you can to avoid living paycheck to paycheck, and if that means driving a used car or not upgrading your phone, then do those things.
  2. Max out your 401(k). From the time you start your first professional job, max out your 401(k) contributions. This is especially important if your company offers a match. But even if it doesn’t, keep up this habit. You won’t miss that money each week because you never had it to begin with. That 401(k) will be your lifeline in the future.
  3. Keep debt and expenses low. Student loans are one of the biggest problems for young people and their financial future. Do what you can to keep your debt low and pay it off as soon as possible. You want to maintain good credit. And keeping your expenses low will help you save more money for the future. Avoid financing anything other than a mortgage.
  4. Find fulfilling, part-time work. While it sounds great to golf every day or sit on your porch and read, early retirement isn’t usually about the lack of activity in your life. You may want to do something riskier, like turn your hobby into a job. If you have the security of a good retirement plan, your second career could be a real life-changing experience.
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