Dress your home to impress buyers this summer

Orlando Home Sellers, Home Sellers, Orlando Real Estate, Orlando homesYour home is a place to kick off your shoes, relax and enjoy precious time with friends and family. Nothing quite tops the feeling you get when you walk through your foyer, close the door behind you and forget the day’s troubles. But as families expand, promotions require unexpected relocations or a coveted residence down the street goes up for sale, you might find yourself looking for a new oasis to call home.

Your tastes and personal style have created a beautiful setting for your home until now. But as you prepare for house hunters visiting the space, it might be time to let go of emotional attachment and transform your home into a stunning showpiece that any potential buyer would love.

A touch of color

If your walls need painting, applying a neutral color is usually recommended. But don’t be afraid to have some fun with a color that will leave a lasting impression on people searching for the perfect, stand-out home. A bold color like Azalea married with the soft subtle hue of Chiffon and Swiss Coffee, all from Pratt & Lambert Paints, can create an energetic atmosphere while still giving your home a comfortable and relaxing vibe. Apply the bolder colors to an accent wall or on minor architectural elements throughout the home, to breathe fresh life into otherwise dull walls.

Painting is a small project that can create the most impact when selling your home. But if your home is large and the thought of taking on a painting project seems overwhelming, never fear. Skilled painting contractors in your area can offer the talent and know-how to get any painting project done quickly, without sacrificing on quality. Ask a family member or friend for a reference, or visit an online resource like AngiesList.com for a verified list of professionals who can turn your vision into a reality.

Take your space from aged to staged

Another way to inspire potential buyers is by showing off a beautifully decorated and elegantly styled home. To get an expertly polished palace, hire an accredited staging professional, who will assess the space and plan a design that will have homebuyers stopping in their tracks. In fact, homes that are professionally staged spend 83 percent less time on the market, according to a survey conducted by The International Association of Home Staging Professionals and StagedHomes.com.

The first thing the stager will do is de-clutter your home. Prospective buyers don’t want to be reminded of the home’s current owners, so removing personal photographs, over-the-top decorative items or over-sized furniture is an essential part of the process. They might also reconfigure furniture to improve the home’s flow and function.

Lighting is an important factor when showing a home, as well. Stagers will find a way to warm up the space and highlight focal points of the room using strategic light sources, creating an unforgettable space. And since more than 90 percent of potential buyers are searching online prior to visiting a home in person, professionally staged spaces are better able to communicate through photographs than generic shots.

If you’ve already moved out of your house and into your new home, the stager will bring in key furniture and accessories to help house hunters envision themselves living there. Just like a too-cluttered home might turn off some buyers, a blank ho-hum look can give off a lackluster vibe, so staging an empty house can help any buyer see its true potential.

By investing some time and money into the right kind of home improvement and staging projects, you can be confident knowing you’re a step ahead of the competition and a step closer to giving a new homebuyer the home of his or her dreams.

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Uber-cool gift ideas for kids going to – and back to – college

College in Orlando Florida, Orlando back to School, Orlando Real EstateGraduation season is over, but families with college-bound teens know the gift-giving season is still in full swing. Whether you’re looking for a gift that will ease the transition for a new college freshman or something to milestone the beginning of a senior’s final year, choosing a back-to-school gift can be every bit as important as selecting a graduation gift.

A back-to-school gift is also your opportunity to demonstrate your uber-coolness, and pick something that will entertain, delight and empower your college kid. From items that will dress up any dorm, such as a removable wallpaper mural, to ones that will help them stay healthy, like an ergonomic backpack, back-to-school gifts need to be smart and exciting.

Here are four gifts ideas that are sure to be both useful and enjoyable for college kids heading back to school this fall:

1. Dorm-dazzling decor – Despite fairly recent efforts by some schools to make dorms more appealing, dorm rooms are still hardly a decorator’s dream canvas. Bright, cheerful bedding can help add personality and comfort, but the walls are the biggest workable space for decorating, and often they start out bland. Painting is out of the question, so rock band posters have long been a staple of college dorm decor. For wall decor that really rocks, however, consider giving the college student in your life a creative teen mural from Murals Your Way that clings to virtually any flat surface using space-age technology and no adhesives of any kind. You can choose from a wide range of sizes and scenes, from a full wall cityscape to a window-sized sports theme. You can even customize a mural so your college student can decorate her dorm with an image of friends, family or a favorite memory from high school. Log on to www.muralsyourway.com/ to learn more and view available images.

2. Super storage – Sure, a dresser or bureau will probably come with the dorm room, and if he’s lucky he may even have a wallet-sized closet. But college kids have a lot of stuff to store throughout the school year. Creative storage solutions that are functional and fun can be a great gift. Whether it’s a pocket sleeve that fits over the back of a standard desk chair to hold those items she needs at her fingertips, or an over-the-door shoe rack to keep all his athletic shoes off the floor, your storage gift can help a college kid stay organized. If the dorm room is big enough, consider storage that can do double-duty as extra seating, such as a foot locker. For smaller rooms, look for solutions that get stuff up off the floor, like cork boards for assignments and jewelry.

3. Safer technology solutions – It’s probably safe to say there’s no such thing as a totally tech-free college kid anymore. Laptops, tablets, smartphones and desktop PCs are all important tools for both school work and fun. Your college student probably already has his favorite mobile device in hand, but you can help him protect it with safety solutions designed specifically for use in college. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations for your student’s favorite device, and give her hardware specifically designed to deter theft, such as an alarm, security plate or cable lock. Ensure that even if his laptop does get lost or stolen, he won’t lose all his data by giving him a year’s subscription to an online backup service.

4. Better backpacking – A backpack is as much a staple of college life as heavy books and lots of studying. Overloaded backpacks, however, can cause back pain. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends limiting the heft of backpack contents to no more than 10 to 15 percent of the carrier’s body weight, but most college kids carry much more than that. Look for a backpack that’s designed to redistribute the weight of contents to minimize strain on the wearer’s back and shoulders. Fortunately, it’s easy to find plenty of good-looking, back-friendly backpack options, both in stores and online.

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Simple ways to save water, money and your landscaping this summer

Save Water, Green Living, Save money, LandscapingWith many states facing drought this summer, homeowners across the country will be looking for ways to save their landscaping while conserving water at the same time. Even if you’re not in a drought-affected area, it pays to keep conservation in mind when it comes to watering outdoors. Using less water is good for the environment and your wallet.

Fortunately, maximizing the efficiency of your watering efforts and taking steps to conserve water outdoors can help trim your water bill this summer, even if you live in a severe drought area, such as in the western regions of the country. Here are simple ways to conserve water, save money and preserve your garden, lawn and landscaping this season:

Efficient, effective irrigation

Traditional watering methods for lawns, gardens and flower beds waste a lot of water through run-off, over-saturation and evaporation. Rather than spraying water over plants, use a method that delivers the right amount of water where it will do the most good – the roots of plants.

Drip irrigation systems, like those offered by Mister Landscaper, can help you water more effectively. These systems deliver water as close as possible to plant roots, allowing you to achieve better results with less water used. You’ll also lose less water to run-off and evaporation. Place the system on a timer, and you can also ensure you’re watering at optimum times of the day to reduce evaporation and waste. A starter kit with 50 linear feet of tubing – ample enough to handle most gardens and planting beds – costs less than $1 per foot. Visit www.misterlandscaper.com to learn more.

Water lawns, gardens and flower beds either early in the morning or as evening approaches to ensure you don’t lose moisture to the hot sun. And if a day is windy, hold off watering lawns altogether as the breeze could leave you watering the sidewalk or driveway, rather than your grass.

Reuse, recycle and preserve

Even during a drought, some rain and condensation will occur. Take steps to capture natural moisture. A rain barrel situated beneath a downspout ensures you can catch run-off from your home’s roof. While using barrel water may not be practical with most irrigation systems, it’s a great option for watering container gardens or even indoor plants. You can also use household water, such as water left over from boiling vegetables or pasta, to water potted plants. Just be sure to let the water cool completely before using it.

You can help plants retain more moisture by placing organic mulch around the roots. The mulch will also help keep down weeds that would compete with plants for much-needed moisture. Depending on where you live and the type of mulch you choose, you can buy a bag of mulch for just a few dollars.

Finally, adjusting the type and location of plants is a great way to grow a drought-resistant garden or landscaping bed. Check with your local agricultural extension or search online for naturally drought-resistant species that do well in your area. By planting these hardier varieties, you can help keep your environment green and growing through a long, dry summer – and avoid the money drain of high water bills.

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Snacking on the go: perfectly portioned snacks made simple and stylish

Healthy Snacks, Snacks, Orlando Home, Orlando Home InspectionsIn today’s busy world, snacking on the go is a fact of life. However, delicious and balanced snacks don’t need to be boring; or become bruised and forgotten items at the bottom of your purse. Here are some creative ways to spice up your snack routine and help you savor perfectly portioned and portable snacks to help maintain a balanced diet.

Remember this rule of thumb.

Sometimes it’s tough to remember portion sizes for snacks when you’re busy at home or at the office. The best tool to use when portioning your snacks is actually always with you – your hand.

* The size of your thumb = a serving of cheese

* Two thumbs = a serving of your favorite nut butter

* A handful = the number of nuts you should eat

* A balled fist = a serving of fruits or veggies

Add pop – and protection – to grapes.

A simple way to make grapes a grab-and-go snack is by putting them in your freezer overnight. Fill up a serving’s worth of frozen grapes before heading out the door in the morning and enjoy at your leisure – no refrigerator necessary. If you nibble on them while they’re still frozen they have a refreshing popsicle-like taste. By afternoon, the grapes will be thawed, but not bruised.

Make it easy to grab your favorite treat and go.

Carrying snacks in your purse can be dangerous for the other contents inside, for example, a smashed banana gets everywhere. Consider using a carrying case to keep your treats away from your phone and wallet. One option is to use a lipstick case, to bring chocolate with you when you’re out and about.

“I love a little chocolate every day, so it’s really helpful to have a custom carrying case that fits just the right amount for me to enjoy on the go,” says chocolate-lover and do-it-yourself expert Brittany Bailey of the Pretty Handy Girl blog. “Four or five HERSHEY’S KISSES Chocolates fit perfectly in the case and are just 100 calories, or about 20 to 25 calories per piece. They are individually wrapped, so I can savor a moment of happiness or share with someone else.”

In addition to a lipstick case, you can try converting a travel soap box or other container into your own DIY carrying case and add your own personal touch with stickers, decorative tape or rhinestones. It’s a fun and simple way to take your favorite treats with you wherever you go.

Create your own 100-calorie pack.

Looking for something new to snack on, but don’t want to pay extra for pre-packaged convenience? Try measuring granola, nuts, cereal or dried fruit ahead of time and packing them in small plastic bags to create your own individual snack packs. Don’t forget to label them so that reusing the bags is easy. Making these easy grab-and-go snacks will help you keep track of your snacks, even when you’re at home, and these small bites will help keep you satisfied between meals.

Want more ideas on living a balanced lifestyle? Check out www.themoderationnation.com for insights, recipes and tips from lifestyle experts and more.

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Tips and tools to prepare for power outages

storm watch, Storm, Orlando weather, Storms have been packing big punches in recent years. While the debate about the cause might rage on, so do the natural elements that wreak havoc on private homes and public infrastructure. As has been seen in recent years, the aging of the American power grid has resulted in extended power outages – and that increasingly seems that this will be the new norm. However, going without power for long periods of time is non-negotiable for many Americans.

Waiting out a power failure is only an option for so long – and for many people, it’s not an option at all. When power goes out, preparedness goes a long way. As a new season of storms looms on the horizon, consider these tips to keep your household both safe and functional, whatever the weather.

* Generate your own power. A portable generator can provide safety and comfort in both long- and shorter-term power outages. As an alternative energy source, it gives you the option to keep your household running far more smoothly than it would with no power at all. Models like the Powerhorse Portable Generator from Northern Tool + Equipment will power your refrigerator, fans, space heaters, room air conditioners, lights, TVs and more during an outage, with surprisingly quiet and easy operation.

* Invert for an alternative power source. Inverters are another handy, portable option for added power. They convert power from sources like batteries into AC current, which can be used to power a wide array of necessities, from medical devices to phone chargers and beyond. The NPower Portable Digital Inverter features high surge capacity, overload and high-temperature shutdown, and even a USB port.

* Be charged up. If you plan on using an inverter, be sure to keep batteries charged during stormy seasons. Having battery chargers on hand will help you be prepared to get through the aftermath of a power-disrupting storm.

* Keep your home supplied. A stock of candles, batteries, flashlights, first aid supplies, prescription medicines and other helpful items like duct tape and a digital thermometer will serve you well in a short-term outage, but will also be essential if it lasts longer.

* Remember food and water safety. Because tap water might become unsafe to drink, a stock of bottled water is a critical supply. If power is out for more than two hours, it’s time to start thinking about food safety. Remember that meat, poultry, fish, and eggs need to be refrigerated at or below 40 F, and that frozen food has to be kept at or below 0 F to remain safe to eat, according to the USDA.

When storms strike, it can result in chaos, no matter where you live. By taking steps to prepare ahead of time, you’ll be able to cope with power outages and get life back to normal sooner than you might have expected. For more ideas and information, visit the Centers for Disease Control Emergency Preparedness page and www.northerntool.com.

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Five reasons why buying a home is still a good idea

real estate orlandoA still murky economy and uncertain real estate market may have you wondering if buying a home is a good idea. Whether you’re thinking about buying, or already have and just need some affirmation, you may find it comforting to know there are still plenty of good reasons for financially stable people to buy a house. Here are a few:

* Homeownership can help make good credit even better. If your credit is in poor shape, you’ll want to monitor it before seeking a mortgage. But if you have good credit, live within your means, and consistently make good financial decisions, a mortgage can be the kind of “good debt” that helps your overall financial health. Making regular payments on a mortgage shows potential lenders that you’re a less risky candidate for a home loan. Before you begin home shopping, it’s a good idea to check your credit. Enrolling in a product like freecreditscore.com can help you better understand and leverage your credit.

* A mortgage can function like an automatic savings plan. By now, you’ve read the news reports about how little we Americans save these days. Well, every year you pay on your fixed-rate mortgage, is a year of building equity, and equity is like money in the bank. When it’s time to sell – whether you’ve stayed in your home seven years or the full 30 year term – you’ll have created equity and should be able to sell your house for more than you owe.

* Homeownership comes with plenty of financial perks, including an income tax credit for property taxes you pay on your home. For detailed information on tax breaks check out IRS.gov. Buying a home also affords you the opportunity to halt your housing costs. Rent will always go up from year to year, but if you have a fixed-rate mortgage (avoid adjustable rates) your biggest annual expense – housing costs – will be locked-in.

* Mortgage interest is a good deal when stacked up against other types of interest that don’t do much for you – such as high credit card interest rates or low rates on savings accounts and CDs. Mortgage rates are low right now, meaning you can pay less over the life of a loan than at practically any other time in recent history. Plus, it’s the only kind of interest that you can deduct from your taxes.

* Prices are still relatively low and inventory is high. It’s been a buyer’s market for a long time, but that’s going to change. The question is: when will the market start to improve in your area, taking home prices with it? You’ll have to do some legwork and astute research to determine when is the best time for you to buy.

If you monitor your credit and are on a sound financial footing, buying a home can still be a good idea. And now is as good a time as any to make your purchase.

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How to create the perfect kids room

orlando real estateNurseries and playrooms on television and in magazines might have you thinking your child could use a more playful environment. Some of the more elaborate designs undoubtedly cost more time and money than you may want to spend, but don’t let that discourage you. Creating a space your kids can call their own doesn’t need to break the bank or require too much of your time. With a little creative thinking, you can transform any space into the perfect kid-friendly retreat.

Color the walls
Children are drawn to bright colors that stimulate their creativity. And, though you don’t want them taking matters into their own hands when it comes to wall art, there are other great ways to create a beautifully colorful environment. With Dutch Boy’s Crayola palette, a more fun and playful kids room is just a few paint strokes away. Featuring vibrant shades that match your kids’ crayons, this palette offers an easy way to bring life into your child’s hideaway. Whimsical colors like Inch Worm, Cream Soda, Little Princess and Tropical Rain Forest will instantly transform your child’s room into a fun-filled, lively space. You don’t need to stick with one shade, either. Paint an accent wall or even do custom designs or stripes. With a few hours and a little creativity, you can quickly and easily turn the kids room in your home into a magical, youthful escape.

Fun-size furniture
Adult-sized furniture can leave your child feeling like Goldilocks, so bring in some pint-sized pieces to make them believe the room is specially meant just for them. Even if your budget is tight, there are plenty of options for fun-size furniture available. Kids’ chairs and tables are great additions to help them comfortably color, read books, do crafts and exercise their creativity. And there is no need to spend a fortune. Garage sales commonly offer kids furniture, which can easily be restored. Even if a find appears worn, a fresh coat of white paint and some bright chair cushions will instantly make it good-as-new – for a fraction of the price. Let kids help choose the furniture, fabrics and color to give them the feeling the space is their own and turn the restoration into a fun project.

Dreamland bedding
Making sure your little one has a cozy, restful space to sleep is important, and balancing comfort with creativity is easier and less costly than you might think. There are endless bedroom options to suit every style and age, and letting children choose bedding or a quilt cover they love can make their bedtime routine go more smoothly. Matching pillows can help create a cohesive look, and fun cushions or bright body pillows can help kids sit comfortably on the floor with a book or game. Whether they choose polka dots, bright patterns, cartoon images or solid white, a new design that’s all their own will make bed and naptime something they may actually look forward to. Don’t worry about matching the bedding to other decoration in the room – dreams are fun and unpredictable, so let your child’s preference lead the way.

Crayons, and teddy bears, and games, oh my! Storing all of your child’s precious belongings can be challenging, especially if the room is small. To avoid the “warzone” look, invest in a few storage options that will improve the look of your child’s room while teaching him to clean up after himself. Closed cabinets and clear tubs are great for storing stuffed animals, craft items and action figures, while open bookshelves work well for books, games and puzzles. Open cubby systems are also a good way to teach young children organization skills while keeping their favorite toys easily accessible. Color-coded bins can help keep kids rooms bright and youthful while keeping their things off of the floor.

With a little time and minimal cost, you can help transform your child’s room into the perfect place to learn, dream and play for years to come.

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New mobile app puts flooring in hand

orlando realestateApplications for smartphones and tablets are everywhere today. And more than ever, people are using these applications to save time and money while finding that perfect product to enhance their busy lives.

In 2011, there were almost 1.2 billion mobile Web users worldwide, the International Telecommunication Union estimated. This includes nearly half (46 percent) of Americans, according to a 2011 study by comScore.

Naturally, many of these mobile Web users are homeowners and maximizing the value of their biggest investment is at the forefront of their minds. Flooring is vital to achieving that goal, and a new flooring application for iPhone and iPad is leading the way.

Lumber Liquidators – North America’s largest specialty retailer of wood flooring – recently introduced a new version of its Floor Finder application with features that make finding the perfect floor a breeze.

In addition to providing mobile access to every floor in Lumber Liquidators’ inventory, the latest Floor Finder app includes a feature called The Visualizer. This allows users to see how a floor will actually look in their very own room, using a room photo taken by the user. These photos can also be uploaded to social media platforms where friends and family can share their opinions on the new, virtual flooring.

Users can also make purchases directly from the app or scan QR codes located in stores or in catalogs to get more product information and exclusive deals. And when they’re ready to buy, there’s a store locator in the application and a calculator to help customers determine the amount of flooring needed for the upcoming project.

Lumber Liquidators Founder Tom Sullivan believes everyone deserves to get the best for less and find flooring that’s right for their home. “Now, in addition to the free samples and expert advice homeowners can get at a Lumber Liquidators store, they have a new app to help them pick the perfect floor,” Sullivan says. “And just like our advice, it doesn’t cost a dime.”

To learn more about the Lumber Liquidators’ free Floor Finder app, see a video of it in action, or enter its sweepstakes to win an iPad plus $1,000 toward Lumber Liquidators flooring, visit http://www.lumberliquidators.com/ll/flooring/FloorFinderApp.

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Eight red flags that could get you audited

orlando real estateScary but true: The Internal Revenue Service audited almost 1.6 million individual taxpayers in 2010. That’s an 11 percent increase over the year before and more than double the agency’s pace just eight years earlier. With Uncle Sam confronting a trillion-dollar budget deficit, that pace may continue rising as the government works harder to collect every dollar it’s owed under the tax code.

To help you avoid the spotlight, Texas-based financial services provider USAA points out eight IRS attention-getters and offers eight IRS survival tips if you catch the taxman’s attention.

1. High incomes. According to IRS 2010 enforcement results, your chance of being audited triples once your income crosses $200,000.

2. Large itemized deductions. “Deduct every penny you’re entitled to – but realize that if your itemized tax deductions are bigger than most people’s at your same income level, your return may get a second look,” says USAA certified financial planner June Walbert.

3. Home offices. You can only take a home office deduction if you regularly and exclusively use part of your home as your principal place of business. If your office doubles as the kids’ playroom, forget about it. For details, see IRS Publication 587.

4. Missing investment income. You know those 1099 forms that financial services companies send you to summarize your interest and dividends for the year? The IRS also gets a copy. Make sure your return matches them.

5. Incomplete returns. If your return is missing a few pieces, the IRS may wonder what else you forgot. Tax preparation software can help you avoid clerical errors that raise auditors’ eyebrows.

6. Business losses. “In a tough economy, business losses are more common – but they’re still something the IRS likes to double-check,” says Walbert. Make sure your expenses are legitimate, and that your business isn’t just a thinly disguised hobby.

7. Charitable deductions. You’ll need a canceled check or dated receipt for any cash contributions, and contributions of $250 or more require a written acknowledgement from the charity. If you made a noncash contribution valued at more than $5,000, you’ll need an expert appraisal to back up your claim.

8. Medical expenses. You only can deduct these costs to the extent they’re greater than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income, and it’s important to have detailed records. “Don’t get carried away,” cautions Walbert. “You can’t deduct the cost of over-the-counter medicine, health club dues or most cosmetic surgeries.”

If you’re doubtful about the decisions you’re making on your tax return, consider hiring a professional. Spending some money for expert guidance today could help you avoid paying back-taxes and penalties tomorrow.

Audit survival tips

If you get a letter from the IRS, don’t take it personally. “The government isn’t accusing you of dishonesty, it just wants to make sure your return is accurate,” says Walbert. To get through an audit as smoothly as possible, follow these common-sense rules.

1. Know your rights. Before your audit, read IRS Publication 1, “Your Rights as a Taxpayer.”

2. Be honest. Lying to the IRS can trigger heavy fines and even jail time.

3. Consider hiring help. You can be represented by an attorney who has experience in IRS audits and processes, a CPA or a federally authorized enrolled agent or tax practitioner.

4. Get organized. You’ll have more credibility if you can quickly answer questions and produce what’s asked of you. If you need time to get your act together, request a postponement.

5. Stick to the topic. Whether you’re answering a question or responding to a request for records, only give the IRS what it requests.

6. Take notes. Keep track of the examiner’s questions and your answers.

7. Be courteous. Don’t be hostile. If you think you’re being treated unfairly, share your feelings with the examiner’s supervisor.

8. Consider an appeal. If you disagree with the auditor’s findings, you might first try talking to a supervisor. You also can send a protest letter to the IRS Office of Appeals within 30 days of receiving the report.

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Save time and energy with tips for smart home improvement

Orlando Sentinel Real EstateThе weather іs warm аnd thе sun іs shining, making іt thе perfect tіmе tо start your home improvement projects.

Whether it’s а lіttlе tidying up, оr а full-on home repair, sоmе tips wіll hеlp yоu complete your projects wіthоut а lot оf headaches. [Read more…]

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