Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Home Prices Jump Most in Seven Years

U.S. single-family home prices rose in March, racking up their best annual gain in nearly seven years as the housing recovery continues to provide a source of strength for the economy, a closely watched survey showed on Tuesday. The S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas gained 1.1 percent in March on a seasonally adjusted basis, topping economists' forecasts for 1 percent. Prices in the 20 cities jumped 10.9 percent year over year, beating expectations for 10.2 percent and the biggest increase since April 2006. All 20 cities covered by the index saw yearly gains for the third month in a row. Average prices in March were back at their late-2003 levels. For the first quarter of this year, the seasonally adjusted national index rose 3.9 percent, stronger than the 2.4 percent gain that was seen in the final quarter of last year.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Great Tips for Spring and Summer Nature Photography

Date: June 1, 2013 Time: 9:00am to 12:00pm Venue: Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary Address: 280 Eliot St, Natick, MA 01760 Cost: Adults $55.00m/ $65.00nm Get great tips from a pro as you learn to overcome some of the top challenges of nature photography. From tricky lighting to moving wildlife, we will cover these and other challenges as we explore beautiful late spring and early summer habitats around the sanctuary. Small class size for individual attention. Tripod recommended. Pre-registration required. Online registration available. Website: Click to visit the site

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How to Save on Energy in the Summer

Summertime means an increase in temperature, and if you’re part of the majority of people in the U.S., it may also mean an increase in your utility bills as well.
There are some changes you can make this summer that will help reduce your energy consumption and still keep you comfortable.
  1. Clean your air conditioning filters every month. Most people ignore the air filters until something goes wrong. Cleaning your air filters every month will help ensure that your system is functioning as efficiently as possible.
  2. Unplug electronics when they’re not in use, or use a Smart Strip. Simply turning off the T.V. or other appliances won’t put a stop to your power consumption. While it might not make a huge difference, keeping items plugged in can add up over the year.
  3. Shut doors and vents of unused rooms and use ceiling fans when you can. This can all lighten the load on your air conditioner.
  4. Turn up your thermostat. Set your thermostat to 77 degrees when you are home and 85 degrees or off when you are away. You will save 1-3% per degree for each degree the thermostat is set above 72 degrees.
  5. Shade your windows. Install patio covers, awnings, and solar window screens to shade your home from the sun. Also, plant trees, shrubs, and vines strategically to properly shade your windows and keep the sun from heating up your house.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Plugged Drain......

Bypass/Sliding Door Adjustment
Yuck…your tub or bathroom sink is draining slowly AGAIN. Every time you remove the trap or use a plumbing snake, you know you’ll be dealing with a major mess. And the hair in the trap is disgusting! But you’re tired of standing in water when taking a shower.

Well, next time you’re at the grocery store or hardware store, pick up a drain cleaner: a flexible plastic strip with small hooks along its length. It looks like a very thin Christmas tree.

Without dismantling anything, you push this thin plastic tool down the drain and pull out all that hair and junk. For some drains, it helps if you remove the stopper for better access.

Just be ready for a mess when you pull it out. Have a rag or paper towel ready to catch the junk. You should also wear rubber gloves.
After the junk is removed, run very hot water down the drain for several minutes.
If you don’t have time to go to the grocery store, you could also try this with a length of thin wire bent to form a hook on one end. This tool is not as effective, and it will take more effort to catch the hair and junk – but it can work.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It's Spring......

Mulch with old newspapers to stop weeds. Wet the sheets and put the layers around plants and garden beds, covering with soil as you go. Weeds won't be able to pierce the wet newspaper layers. You know how kids eat things that aren't good for them? Ants do, too. If you have an ant problem, put small piles of polenta where you see ants; they'll gobble it up, return 'home' and won't be able to digest it. Your ant problem will soon be gone. Use this homemade cleaning formula to scrub your decks: one cup of powdered laundry detergent, a gallon of hot water, and 1/2 cup of chlorine bleach (to kill moss or mildew). Check shrubs and trees for winter damage and prune accordingly. Remove dead wood or broken branches. Replant any shrubs that have heaved out of the soil before the roots dry out. Check your garden hoses for cracks and leaks and examine the washers at the connectors.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Six Tips to Light Up Your Kitchen



Want to create an eye-catching kitchen that adds value to your home, too? Let there be light — but not too much, according to kitchen design and lighting experts. "Since the kitchen is such a draw these days, especially for the gourmet, you want to make sure that you have plenty of task lights to showcase the work spaces," says Frankie Cameron, national account manager for Bellacor Lighting based in Mendota Heights, Minn. "But people tend to over-light, using too much wattage or just one super bright light in the center of the kitchen that leaves you standing in shadows."

Instead, both Cameron and Mark Lambert, a contractor and owner of DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen in Bellingham, Wash., recommend a combination of ambient, task and decorative lighting. Here are their tips for achieving that balance:

1. Start Underneath
"The least expensive, easiest layer to add is under-cabinet lighting," says Cameron. "Manufacturers like Sea Gull and Kichler make reasonably priced xenon lights, which are cooler than halogen and make the kitchen more user-friendly."
Cameron suggests low-voltage xenon bulbs in varying lengths to light counters or islands below shelves or cabinets, but recommends steering clear of small "puck" lights. "They give your counters and shelves these odd spots of light and you can see some models plainly," she says.
Xenon lights like Kichler's Series II are also inexpensive to retrofit and ordinarily plug into existing outlets without new wiring.

2. Choose a Ceiling Light for Now and Later
"If your ceiling mount fixture is outdated, replace it with a newer model that has a nice finish and gives off a nice light, but isn't overly embellished," says Cameron. "You want to make sure it will work with a contemporary or traditional decor."
One model she recommends is the ceiling mount fixture from Access Lighting, which comes in brushed steel, white and rust finishes and is a plain, contemporary looking bubble.

3. Pick Out the Popular Stuff
For mood-setting (or ambient) lights, Lambert says you can't go wrong with two established trends: the pendant light and the track light.
"One of the more interesting brands of track lighting is Tech Lighting — a bit costly, but very cool stuff over an island or counter," he says. The brand's Single Circuit T-trak light, for example, features a satin nickel and white powder coat finish, curves in numerous configurations, holds eight lamps and has dozens of models from which to choose.
Glass pendant lights have also been holding their own in the kitchen market for some time, says Cameron, because they are fresh and pretty and can still work with different decors. One model that's beautiful and stylistically flexible is Restoration Hardware's Clemson Double Kitchen Pendant — its glass is a plain prism and the nickel-plated brass frame works with traditional, contemporary or eclectic designs.

4. Decorate, but Impersonally
A little decorative lighting is a nice touch in a kitchen and that, too, can be achieved with art-glass pendant lamps, says Cameron: "Many of the hand-blown fixtures can really add to the overall aesthetic in a kitchen, and that's important when you're trying to sell a buyer on a luxury kitchen."
Many high-end lighting manufacturers, individual designers and craftspeople offer larger fixtures that make prominent artistic statements. While these arty, expensive pieces are not a necessity, they're a nice add-on when you're positioning your kitchen as a luxury retreat. One such fixture is the Old Candle Tray Suspended Lamp from Kichler, manufactured to resemble a soft collection of blown-glass candle holders.

5. Suit Someone Else
Whether you're choosing modest or lavish decorative lights, remember you're not looking for the style that most appeals to you but for the one that's most likely to enhance the value of the kitchen.
"I always try to be cautious about choosing things I personally like, because they may not appeal to people looking to buy a house," says Lambert. "If you are really concerned about adding value to your home, check the home improvement magazines and online sites for trendy but popular decorating ideas. If your budget allows get help from an interior decorator or designer."

6. Stick to One Look
There are a lot of really nice, really pretty kitchen lights on the market, and potential buyers will probably expect to see some of them in the finest kitchens. That said, make sure any replacement lights your purchase match the current decor or are neutral enough to work with the wishes of the future home owners.

"Mixing and matching is probably not the best approach for the novice," says Lambert. "Stay with your theme."

Any time you're tempted to imprint your personal style, remind yourself that your goal is added value, not artistic expression.

Housing Recovery Shows Up In Job Gains:


Believe it or not, interest rates do not drive housing demand.  Jobs do.  We have had some of the hottest housing markets on record when Unemployment Rates were low but interest rates where high.  Simply speaking - if you feel more secure about your job, you are more likely to purchase a home.

Friday's Unemployment Rate dropped from 7.6% to 7.5% but more importantly, the economy added 165,000 non-farm jobs.

Stronger housing means more jobs, not just construction jobs, all jobs. When consumers feel more confident about the value of their homes, they spend more money. Their homes, after all, are likely their single largest investment.

They may not take the money out of their homes, but they just feel more financially comfortable, and that comfort sends them out spending. They also spend more on home improvement.

Residential construction jobs increased by just over 6,000 in April from the previous month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and residential specialty trade contracting jobs (plumbers, electricians, roofers, etc.) grew by over 7,000.

Retailers are also seeing the effects of housing growth. Homeowners spend an average $7,400 furnishing a newly built home, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

"Spending at furniture and appliance stores is finally coming back, which has meant more hires there since the start of the year," added Swonk.

Home prices were up just over 10 percent nationally in February, according to CoreLogic, which continues to bring thousands of homeowners out from underwater on their mortgages. That has allowed more borrowers to refinance to lower monthly payments, which in turn gives them more spending money. It also gives them more confidence that they will be able to afford more in the coming year.

"Consumers' views regarding the housing market have been increasingly more positive," noted Fannie Mae's chief economist Doug Duncan. "Our April National Housing Survey, to be released next Tuesday, is expected to show that the housing market is gradually approaching its sweet spot, as the share of consumers who believe that it is a good time to buy remains high while the share of those who think it is a good time to sell continues its upward trend witnessed over the past year."