Posted by admin on December 31, 2012
1. Stretch first
Don’t be in a hurry to get outside. Stretch thoroughly using the same sorts of moves that runners, mountain bikers and other athletes use. Stretch your hamstrings, stretch your back, and stretch your shoulders. Then dress in removable layers, grab your shovel and resist the urge to fly at the white stuff just to get the job done. Pace yourself. Start slowly and ramp up to speed.
2. Don’t move snow twice
Before you even take your first scoop, decide where you’re going to dump the snow. Drop the first shovelful farther away from where you are standing, then dump remaining snow closer and closer to where you are. That way, the last scoops that you shovel are moved the shortest distance. Don’t block access to snow that needs to be removed by piling it up in a way that will force you to move it twice.
3. Move snow the shortest distance possible
Consider that everything from a driveway to a patio to a walkway is really a rectangle, and rectangles have a center point. Move the snow from the center of the rectangle to the nearest edge.
4. Clear cars first
Brush snow off cars then clear around the cars.
5. Do the foreground then the background
For example, to clear snow from a rectangle, first shovel a strip clear along the perimeter of the rectangle. Then, moving from the center to the edge, push the snow into the cleared area. Next, lift and throw the snow out of the area.
6. Maintain proper posture:
A. Use your leg muscles as much as possible – push snow when you can and use your legs to lift when you can’t push it.
B. Keep your back straight as you move from the squat position to the upright position.
C. Use your shoulder muscles as much as possible.
D. Hold the snow shovel as close to your upper body as possible.
E. Keep one hand close to the shovel blade for better leverage.
F. Don’t twist your upper body as you throw snow.
7. Keep hydrated
Take bottles of water out with you and keep them accessible, either in the car or on the front stoop or somewhere else convenient.
8. Rest frequently
Clearing an area by hand means that you may lift and carry anywhere from hundreds of pounds to tons of snow.
9. Be thorough but not fussy
The sun is relatively strong this time of year. Clear an area, spread de-icer if necessary and then let the sun do the rest. The fact is, any surface color that you expose in shoveling (gray, green, brown or black) will be far less reflective than a thick blanket of snow, and remaining snow will melt more easily from that darker surface.
10. Don’t overdress
You need to stay warm, but if you overdress you’re going to be soaked in sweat in no time. Dress in loose-fitting layers that you can peel off as you heat up.
11. Whenever possible, team up
Shoveling with a friend or neighbor is inherently more enjoyable than shoveling on your own. Plus, it’s quicker to get the job done with two or three sets of hands.
12. Go easy on the de-icer
Once the area is clear, all you need is a thin scattering of de-icer to keep it that way. If you’re scattering by hand, throw the salt, pellets or granules low along the ground so they bounce and roll into a uniform layer.
13. Whenever possible, get a head start
It’s easier to remove snow in thin layers than wait until all the snow is down to have at it. If it looks like your area is going to get dumped on, try to get out there and shovel it in several passes.
14. Maintain your equipment
The front edge of a snow shovel takes a beating. If it’s metal, hammer it straight when it gets bent; if it’s plastic use a utility knife to carve off the burr that forms on its end. Tighten a loose handle by driving a large hex head sheet metal screw through the blade socket and into the handle.
15. Stretch when you’re done
Stretch gently when you’re done and use an ice pack and ibuprofen to take care of inflamed muscles. Rest and remain hydrated.
How to Use a Snow Thrower
In case all that stretching sounds like too much work, here are some tips for using a snow-throwing machine.
1. Test run the machine before the storm.
2. Keep necessary spare parts on hand: drive belts, spark plugs and shear pins.
3. Keep a wire brush, a scrap piece of wood and spray de-icer handy. You may well need any number of tools to keep the machine’s auger and other moving parts cleared of ice and compacted snow. Never clear a clogged auger with the engine running.
4. Don’t forget the newspaper that’s been thrown into the driveway or onto the sidewalk. A frozen newspaper can clog a snow thrower like nobody’s business. If you spot the paper or circular’s outline under the snow when you come home (let’s say) just remember to go out there and pick it up.
5. Keep a can of spray lubricant handy. Moving parts that worked fine in the garage can suddenly get cranky when exposed to cold, wet conditions.
By: Roy Berendsohn
Posted by Admin on
Imagine the scenario. You have decided to work from home. Just think of how much you’ll get done without no meetings to attend or the interruption of colleagues!
Then there’s the extra hour you can stay in bed every morning that would otherwise be spent on a cramped commuter train, not to mention being able to swap your desk for the comfort of working out of your favourite armchair. And if you have a pet, they’ll be around for company. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Yet the realities of working from home can be very different, a recent study by Regus has revealed. According to the findings, six in ten people said their attempts to work from home are disrupted by having to deal with kids, pets or other family members demanding attention and making noise.
Poor internet connectivity is also cited as hindering work productivity. And working from a makeshift home office can lead to posture problems. The survey, based on interviews with over 24,000 business people from 90 countries, identified 15 main obstacles to working productively from home.
The top three are:
1. Children or family demanding attention (59% of respondents)
2. Difficulty concentrating on work issues (43% of respondents)
3. Children, family members or pets disturbing work telephone calls (39% of respondents)
On the health side, 20% said their posture had been adversely affected by unsuitable home office arrangements, and 21% reported the lack of proper work surface in their home to be a problem.
But if homeworking on its own isn’t the solution, what are workers looking to obtain a reasonable work-life balance meant to do?
Finding a professional environment close to home to work out of rather than actual homeworking could be the answer.
You’ll still be able to work alongside and interact with other professionals, and without interruptions from family you can remain productive during working hours. Then, at the end of the day you can switch off, thus avoiding the strain working from home can put on family life.
Posted by admin on
1. Too many photos
All of those picture frames clutter up table tops and walls. Besides making your space look smaller, they’re also a haven for dust. (And if you’re trying to sell your home, they’re a surefire way to make sure that potential buyers feel like a guest in your home – which is the exact opposite feeling you’re trying to generate!) If you’re sentimental about your memories, we don’t blame you. However, put out a few select picture frames. Then, stick the rest of your photos in neatly-organized albums that you can pull out and pour over anytime you want.
2. Turning your living room into cable heaven
We get it… you love your TV, surround sound speakers, Blu-Ray player, and game consoles. However, your living room now looks like a spot where cables go to die. It’s not a good look!Keep the cords hidden by neatly arranging them in the first place. You know, by making sure they aren’t tied in knots as they go from the back of your TV stand into your power strip. Then, get a cord cover that matches your wall color. Just like that, they’re invisible!
3. Not keeping up with the times
OK, so you don’t have the time, the money, or the inclination to update every room of your home every few years when the trends change. That’s fine. You can keep your basic pieces of furniture for as long as you want. Luckily, it’s easy (and relatively inexpensive) to keep up with the times just by changing your accessories! For example, a new comforter can give new life to your entire bedroom set. Or, new drawer pulls can make your kitchen and bath cabinets instantly look more modern. Or, a new lamp can make that old end table look cool and chic again.
We’re all guilty of it at some point, but having clutter is a giant no-no. The more clutter you have around your home, the worse you’re going to feel about the entire place. So, no matter how busy you are, take some time to get rid of it – whether it means re-organizing, throwing stuff away, or donating stuff to your favorite charity. It may take some hard work, but in the end, your home will look (and feel!) a whole lot better – all without you having to spend a dime on home décor upgrades!
Posted by admin on December 30, 2012
1. “You will bolt the door when I’m gone.”
As the old saying goes, guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days. Turns out, that assessment may be optimistic. A 2010 survey by travel-rental site HomeAway.com concluded that, during the holidays, nearly a quarter of relatives have overstayed their welcome after just one day. Of course, vacation rental websites may have an invested interest in travelers not imposing on their friends and relatives. Nonetheless, that statistic doesn’t bode well for the thousands of households now breaking out fresh soap and crisp linens.
More than 93 million Americans are expected to travel to visit friends and relatives during the year-end holiday season, according to the American Automobile Association. And while many will stay in hotels, almost 50% will stay at the homes of friends and family, according to the 2012 “December Holiday Travel Survey” by travel website TripAdvisor.com. And that is where the problems begin.
Experts suggest laying out firm ground rules — starting with the exit date and continuing on to out-of-bounds areas, whether pets are welcome and where guests can smoke. That allows the host to plan activities and know there is an end in sight. “This is probably the most important decision to make before your guest arrives,” says Daniel Post Senning, great-great-grandson of the grand dame of etiquette Emily Post, who founded the Emily Post Institute. “The three-day guideline is phenomenally good,” he says. “The host can get through so much more when that is already established.”
2. “Some relatives are more equal than others.”
When the houseguest is a family member, some surveys suggest, dads are dearest. Nearly 30% of visiting siblings will most likely grate on the nerves of their hosts, a 2012 HomeAway.com survey of holiday travelers found. Adult children (22%), mothers-in-law (16%) and even mothers (11%) will likewise become a nuisance. Fathers and fathers-in-law, meanwhile, appear to be the most popular (or least offensive) guest, with just 6% and 4% getting complaints, respectively. Adding to the risk of personality clashes: 55% of travelers plan to spend the December holidays with nine or more people.
Why do mothers and mothers-in-law get such a bad rap? “Women are generally more involved in planning vacations,” says Kathy Bertone, author of “The Art of the Visit: Being the Perfect Host; Becoming the Perfect Guest.” Women are also more likely to deal with more of the logistics of hosting. And consequently, they may be more likely to interfere. But to be fair to the guests, hosts sometimes have unrealistic Norman Rockwell-like expectations when it comes to dealing with family — wanting everything to be perfect — and may experience heightened anxiety about being judged by their guests. “The stress level will be higher than it normally would be, because we want to impress,” Bertone says.
One way hosts can avoid trouble, experts say, is to set expectations before the relatives roll up with their excited kids and a barking dog. “Guests can take relationships for granted,” says ChrisYoung, executive director of The Protocol School of Washington. Comfort and ease — the hallmarks of good hospitality — can also be the death knell to a friendship, he says. “It allows us to slack on our manners,” he says, which can lead to such egregious improprieties as “teaching the host’s kids bad words, eating the last slice of cake or hogging the television.”
3. “I’d prefer a hotel, but your place is free.”
Houseguests often hang their coat in your closet not for love, experts say, but for money. It’s understandable that many people would rather stay with family than pony up for a hotel, given the still uncertain economic outlook, but long-lost friends may be a different story, says Ummu Bradley Thomas, an etiquette expert and the founder of the Freddie Bell Jones Modeling & Finishing School in Denton, Md. “If they phone you when they’re in town and need somewhere to stay, chances are, it’s because you were the only local contact that agreed to offer them room and board.”
Some folks, though, go out of their way to avoid being a burden. Around 15% of houseguests say they will stay in a hotel to sidestep the strain of staying with family throughout the holiday season, according to TripAdvisor.com — even though they pay for the privilege, with the average hotel room in the U.S. running upwards of $150 a night, according to American Express. Plus, travel experts say, some hotels in popular winter destinations increase their rates during the holiday season.”In some cases, it’s better to get a hotel room,” says author Kathy Bertone. For those who do decide to stay with their hosts, she says, guests on a tight budget can show their gratitude by offering to cook their hosts a meal or even to order a pizza.
But plenty of people forgo hotels not just to save money, but also for the simple joy of it. One person’s free room for a night is another person’s cultural exchange program, Bradley Thomas says. Case in point: One online community, CouchSurfing.com, has a membership list of 5 million people who choose to sleep in random homes for free in over 9,700 cities around the world. CouchSurfing.com, which went public in 2004, envisions “a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter,” according to its website. The upside: If it goes horribly wrong, you never have to see the person again, Bradley Thomas points out. If it all goes swimmingly, on the other hand, you’ve made a new friend.
4. “The service around here stinks.”
A place to rest is not the only free gift hosts bestow on their guests at Christmas. Cooking and cleaning is a time-consuming and expensive business. And that’s even before you account for the cost of doing the laundry. Just over a quarter of hosts say the most annoying habit of guests is not helping with cooking, according to HomeAway.com. “Some guests prefer for you to treat them as if they were dignitaries and not houseguests,” says Bradley Thomas, the etiquette expert.
Like children, guests need boundaries, experts say. Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, CEO of interiors website ApartmentTherapy.com, says his favorite hosts greet him with two welcome choices: the offer of a shower and/or a nap. “Anticipate what your guests need, give it to them and leave them alone,” he says. Invite them to help themselves — though perhaps not to your $4,600 Highland Park Reserve 1902 vintage Scotch. Close family should be given clear instructions to pitch in, which will make them feel like they are doing their part, says Jon Gray, senior vice president of North American business at Hotels.com. If your guests are arriving in time for a dinner party, he says, “don’t hesitate to ask them to bring a dish.”
5. “The less well I know you, the more harshly I’ll judge you.”
For those who live near holiday tourist destinations, spare beds can be turned into spare cash. But experts say paying guests can be notoriously hard to please. What’s more, they often won’t come back — for reasons that go beyond price or even location. “A guest could be put off by something as simple as the d cor,” says Christine Karpinski, an independent consultant who advises owners on renting properties.
There’s a lot at stake: Homeowners can make $25,000 to $35,000 a year by renting their home, Karpinski says. That’s one reason why San Francisco-based Airbnb — which was founded in 2008 and helps people rent out their room, apartment or home via its website — already has listings in over 33,000 cities and 192 countries. As such, it’s important for hosts to make sure rental spaces are modern enough to suit all tastes, but not so bland that they’ll be unappealing to potential guests perusing online ads. For instance, paisley wallpaper could conjure up images of rustic chic — or make prospective guests think a place hasn’t been redecorated (or perhaps even renovated) in 20 years.
Nor does the roll of good judgment stop at the choice of curtains or other interior design elements. One of the first things guests do when they enter a home is eye the list of titles on the bookshelf, says Post Senning. A political book by a well-known pundit might lead to snap judgments about where the host falls on the political spectrum rather than give the impression that the host has a vast and unbiased intellectual curiosity, he says. Of course, people may not be able to help themselves from judging their hosts by their book covers. “It’s human nature,” Post Senning says.
6. “I will cost you your apartment.”
Chris Dannen, a journalist and consultant, had a steady stream of houseguests helping him pay his rent, but last June, it cost him his New York apartment. Over 13 months serving as an Airbnb-facilitated host, renting out a spare room in his three-bedroom apartment, his earnings covered more than half the cost of his rent — after Airbnb received its cut, which is typically 10% of each transaction. “There were other people in the building who were making as much as me, but I had a higher turnover,” he says. His houseguests were often from Europe and, on occasion, could be found in the corridors wielding their luggage.
The reason he lost his apartment? His lease required him to seek permission first. His landlord’s legal counsel claimed that Dannen was running a hotel, but Dannen contends that they were just temporary guests.
Airbnb’s terms warn prospective hosts to be careful not to break their building’s regulations, a spokeswoman for the company says. Airbnb’s responsibilities are limited to serving as the limited agent of each host for the purpose of accepting payments from guests on behalf of the host, according to the company’s policy. That is, all bookings will be made at the host and guest’s own risk. That hasn’t stopped others from doing what Dannen did. To date, Airbnb has logged over 10 million bookings worldwide, at least some of which could break landlord-tenant agreements.
7. “…but not before I trash it.”
The downside to playing host to a stranger: a broken glass may be the least of your worries. In June 2011, an Airbnb customer arrived home to find her San Francisco apartment trashed by her houseguest: “They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother’s jewelry I had hidden inside,” the Airbnb customer wrote in a blog post that went viral.
While the Airbnb host, a corporate events planner who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals should any other suspects be still at large, was initially complimentary about Airbnb’s customer support in the wake of the incident, she later wrote that a co-founder of the site asked her to “shut down the blog altogether or limit its access,” and suggested she “update the blog with a ‘twist’ of good news” to complete the story. (A spokeswoman for Airbnb declined to comment on the host’s claim.)
Because the site facilitates the reservation details and payment information, the spokeswoman says, Airbnb was able to pass details of the guest to the authorities, to assist with the investigation. (Two individuals eventually pleaded guilty to first degree residential burglary in the case.) “Thousands of people are staying at properties through Airbnb every night and virtually all of these experiences have been incredibly positive,” the Airbnb spokeswoman says. Additionally, Airbnb has instituted a “$1 million host guarantee” to reimburse hosts in the rare event of guest damages, but this doesn’t cover cash, collectibles, rare artwork or jewelry, and shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for home insurance, she says.
8. “Snooping through drawers is for amateurs.”
Last summer, Kat McDonald, owner of Art+Farm Wine vineyard in Napa, Calif., invited a friend of a friend to stay at her home. The next day over breakfast, her guest told her that he tried all night to get into her Wi-Fi. “I tried your dog’s name,” he reportedly said. “I tried your baby’s name, and I even looked in your baby’s books to find a date of birth.” McDonald was stunned. She does usually give guests the Wi-Fi password, but after hearing how hard he tried to break into her system, she made an exception and withheld the password. “I thought, ‘Forget it,’” she recalls.
McDonald was right to be cautious, experts say. The number of victims of identity theft rose by 13% last year to 11.6 million adults, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, a research and consulting firm. “A great deal of identity theft occurs between people who know each other,” says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. “We advise people to be careful about what others have access to in their home.” But that’s not always possible. The mean direct financial hit suffered by victims of the misuse of personal information was $13,160 in 2010, up from $5,400 five years earlier, the Department of Justice found.
And 21st century snooping can be far more sinister than rifling through an underwear drawer, says Post Senning, the etiquette-family scion. When houseguests use their host’s computer, lists of previously searched items and visited sites will often automatically pop up. Looked up a financial adviser, divorce lawyer, psychiatrist or a therapist recently? Unless the search history has been cleared, most browsers are programmed to provide a list of auto-fill guesses based on previous searches. Not everyone knows how to use their browser’s “private” setting, Post Senning says, “and you don’t have to be a sleuth to figure that out.”
9. “These bed bugs are my parting gift.”
This is the time of year when that friendly neighbor from the apartment upstairs decides to pop in for a glass of port or your favorite aunt or uncle travels hundreds of miles to spend the holidays with you. Be warned: They may both bring the same plus-one — the dreaded bed bug. Unlike some guests, bed bugs are not fussy about their hosts. “The primary vector for a bed bug infestation would be luggage or clothing of somebody coming to stay with you,” says David Hedman, CEO of ThermaPure, a Ventura, Calif.-based company that specializes in the eradication of bed bugs without the use of pesticides.
Bed bug-infested rental cars are showing up with increasing frequency, Hedman claims, especially as bed bugs easily develop resistance to pesticides and can survive freezing temperatures tucked away in a pair of socks in the trunk. “We have companies driving their rental cars to our offices, telling us, ‘We’ve got bed bugs in our car,’” Hedman says. One thing the bugs don’t like: heat. “If you have bed bugs after your guests leave, the first thing you should do is put all your clothes and linen in a dryer.”
Neighbors may be most likely to cause your place to become infested. “If your friends and neighbors do have a problem with bed bugs, they will typically carry them on their clothes,” Hedman says. If one apartment gets treated, he says, the responsible thing to do is tell your neighbors. “It’s the last gift you want to leave after the holidays.”
10. “Thanks for having me. I’m going to cost you a fortune.”
For many Americans, the holiday houseguest season may start with a chocolate on the pillow and a round of air kisses, but it can end in recrimination, empty pockets and regret. People often spend a lot of money while on vacation. But without hefty hotel bills to contend with, houseguests can literally go to town on their spending, and sometimes the hosts feel pressure to keep up with their guests’ large holiday budgets. In fact, Airbnb says its customers spend around $740 on their vacation activities, 40% more than those who stay in hotels. For those who stay with friends and relatives for free, experts say, the spending is likely even higher. Hosts who want to avoid overspending, Bertone says, should send an email several weeks before the guests arrive. Suggesting low-cost or free activities for the stay can open up a dialog, she says.
It works both ways: Hosts who are planning a fancy cocktail party should give their guests a heads-up, so they can pack the right clothes and avoid an expensive last-minute shopping trip, Bertone says. Meanwhile, “if the guest wants everyone to go a Broadway show at $150 ticket, this request should be made upfront,” she says. Same goes for a night out at an expensive silver-service restaurant, she says. And if those same guests have turned vegan in the past 12 months, they should inform their host before they buy a 20-pound turkey. Otherwise, Bertone says, all parties might prefer to wait another year until they see each other again
By: Quentin Fottrell
Posted by admin on December 19, 2012
We hope that the coming year will bring you peace, good health, good cheer and much prosperity, best wishes for a wonderful holiday and a very Happy New Year.
Posted by admin on December 10, 2012
When renter Cathryn Schmaltz wanted to book the perfect place for her wedding rehearsal dinner three years ago, she didn’t have to look any farther than her apartment building. With a little help from concierge Kelli Taylor, Schmaltz was able to host a memorable prenuptial feast in the party room at Eugenie Terrace on the Park in Chicago.
“(Kelli) didn’t just reserve the room for us,” said Schmaltz. “She helped us pick out the flowers, catering and decor; made sure our audiovisual slide show worked; helped us pick our wedding day limos; and even gathered all of our mail while we were on our honeymoon.”
The charge for all this assistance? Zero. As with many apartment and condo buildings, concierge services like restaurant and ticket reservations, mail pickup, trip planning and exclusive events are provided free to Eugenie Terrace tenants.
In Chicago’s highly competitive condo and rental markets, concierge services are a given at many luxury properties.
“Today, to be considered a luxury building, you need to have a concierge available for residents,” said @properties broker Phil Skowron. “These types of amenities have not always been as detailed or personalized. However, expectations are always changing, and now the presence of a concierge is customary the way that a glass of champagne is on any first-class flight.”
Skowron said buildings offer different levels of concierge services. A building with more affordable units may staff one part-time concierge, while high-end Chicago properties such as Park Tower and The Elysian Residences pamper occupants with white-glove service offered daily by highly trained staff.
Condo owners at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, for example, can have dry cleaning placed in a closet, groceries unloaded from their car to their kitchen by a bellman and their home staged for an impromptu dinner party.
“We receive a lot of requests that are handled in-house by our trained staff, including in-home housekeeping, dinners prepared by our hotel chefs, and tables and chairs provided by our banqueting team,” said Adora Manalo, director of owner services for Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago.
“Our program is a twist on the traditional concierge concept,” said Vanessa Casciano, community relations director for Magellan Development Group, whose Chicago properties include condos at Aqua at Lakeshore East, town homes at Benton Place Parkhomes, and apartments at The Shoreham and The Tides. “At these buildings, we offer a complimentary rewards program, which allows residents to take advantage of discounts through local hotels, restaurants and other businesses, as well as different exclusive complimentary events.”
Magellan residents can, for example, partake in seasonal movies in the park, happy hours at area steakhouses, a monthly book club, creative classes, building mixers, healthy cooking demos, wine tastings and annual get-togethers like a dog parade and kids Halloween party.
Adam Basey, a renter at Presidential Towers in Chicago, said his understanding of a concierge changed dramatically after moving into the building in April and getting to know the concierge, Anna Cornille.
“Before, I thought a concierge was an information desk where you could get brochures and have a few questions answered,” said Basey. “But I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that this person can not only provide information but also fulfill special requests and follow up on making something happen.”
Since Basey has settled in, Cornille has helped him score reduced-price movie tickets and meals and is planning a special “guys night out” itinerary for when his out-of-town friends visit soon.
Taylor, like Cornille, said she plays many roles in her job, from a community liaison who connects Eugenie Terrace residents with resources like baby-sitters within the building to a city travel guide who directs occupants to hot spots and deals throughout the neighborhood.
“I’m a one-stop-shop matchmaker who makes connections on behalf of residents, and I’m prepared to go beyond the call of duty when necessary,” she said.
Taylor recently overnighted a passport to a desperate resident detained in New York who needed to travel overseas, and she located a country house in Iceland on short notice per a renter’s request.
Thanks to Taylor’s efforts, “I do feel very spoiled, and things are much easier living in this building,” said Schmaltz, a personal trainer who is often referred by her concierge to fellow tenants looking to start a fitness program.
Booking events, fulfilling reasonable requests, and connecting residents to people and places of interest continue to be among a concierge’s most in-demand duties.
Lately, there are requests for a variety of personalized services too, including pet-sitting/walking, in-home massages and in-building conveniences such as fitness trainers, wellness providers, and Fooda (a service that brings and sells restaurant food to the building), said Linda Jasinski, general manager for Alta at K Station apartments in Chicago.
“A lot of residents today are busy and on tight schedules and want recommendations for where they can visit while traveling for business or pleasure,” said Cornille. “They’re looking for more referrals to different resources in other cities and suggestions on good weekend getaways. They also appreciate special events, such as our No-Cook Wednesdays and Food Truck Fridays, along with conveniences like Zipcars — six of which are available in our building at a discount for residents.”
For prospective renters and buyers, Basey recommends asking about the free resources available and talking with the building’s concierge prior to committing to the property.
“A concierge can give you a more down-to-earth perspective on what’s really going on in the building, and they may be able to offer help with moving, introduce you to other residents, and ease your transition,” said Basey.
Posted by admin on
Record low interest rates coupled with an overly extended bull market for Canadian residential real estate has some investors questioning the validity of investing in a rental property.
Current economic indicators support these fears: mortgage rates scheduled to rise, a global economy not yet out of the recessionary trenches, residential real estate prices in Canada that have clearly outpaced increases in general earnings over the last decade.
This all paints a compelling picture supporting the hesitation some investors have when dealing with rental properties. But is this hesitation legitimate? Is there ever really a good or bad time to get into the real estate rental market? The answer is yes, and also no; it all depends on your current financial situation.
If the Toronto residential market is used as a barometer we can see that residential real estate has treated us quite well over the past 20 years. During the period from 1992 to 2011 the average sale price for a home in Toronto increased from $214,971 to $465,412 according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB).
That’s a 116.50% ROI over 20 years or 3.94% compound annual return, and that’s just the price increase not including any potential rental profits. In fact, over the last 20 years we have only seen four years of negative returns in the Toronto market and they all fell between 1992 to 1996.
Assuming you were to have purchased an average single-family Toronto rental property in 1992, put 25% down, taken a mortgage for the rest, and found a tenant who’s rental payments covered only your property’s basic operating expenses, taxes, maintenance and the interest portion of your mortgage (leaving you to cover the principal portion yourself) you’d have achieved an 11.40% annualized return on investment as at the end of 2011.
Not bad considering that the TSX would have given you 8.69% over the same time period. Using the same assumptions in the previous example on rolling 20-year periods from 1966 to 2011 the average investor would have achieved annualized compound returns of 13.96%.
In fact even if you were to have purchased a property at the bull market peak just before the infamous GTA real estate crash of 1990 you would still have achieved an 8.94% ROI if you held the property with a decent tenant until 2008 even though the value of your investment would have dropped by 25% over the first 4 years.
So what’s the point? Are rental properties a good investment and is this the right or wrong time to make a move? The answer is yes but only if you’re in it for the long-haul and only if your current financial position allows you to do so. Novice investors tend to follow market momentum and stretch themselves thin. They see prices increasing year over year then go out and take massive amounts of leverage to get in on the action “before it’s too late.”
What often happens is they buy more than they can handle, they don’t do proper due diligence on their tenants, and they get caught with a dud investment that they can’t support with their personal cash flow. This frequently leads to panic selling in order to raise funds to pay off large amounts of debt consequently resulting in losses.
Smart investors take their time. They seek out properties in desirable neighbourhoods, scrutinize their tenant’s ability to make rent payments before they take them on, manage the property with a keen eye, but most importantly they do not over-extend their leverage. Smart investors realize that there may be times that tenants can’t make rent or that markets may temporarily turn south.
Even if the original intention for a real estate investment is a short term flip, the smart investor will not purchase a property they aren’t able to hold over a long period of time should price momentum not go their way in the short run.
Direct investment in real estate is not like buying a passive investment such as a mutual fund. It requires a time commitment, experience, and patience but the long-term results can be superb when done properly.
By: Fabio Campanella
Posted by admin on August 17, 2012
You keep a pretty clean home. Sure, sometimes your rigid cleaning schedule has to bend here and there to accommodate life, but your house/apartment/condo stays pretty darn tidy.
You’re not bragging or anything, but you certainly have nothing to be ashamed of. You clean all the usual suspects: kitchen sinks, counters and floors. Bathroom countertop, toilets, showers. You vacuum the carpets, dust the furniture, and maybe even hit the blinds and curtains now and then.
Good to go? Maybe, maybe not. There’s a whole host of everyday objects and high-use home appliances that may often go overlooked during cleaning jags. And failure to be a completist when it comes to cleaning may not have that many obvious repercussions, but it can cost you in terms of appliance and electronic performance, allergy attacks and general hygiene.
So go ahead. Grab a bucket, a can of compressed air and a little extra bleach. Roll up your sleeves and get ready to expand that household chore list by a couple of items this weekend.
Difficulty: Minimal. Some grossness factor, though.
You religiously clean your toilet, because, y’know, ewww. But do you make sure to clean the mechanism that cleans the toilet?
“Your toilet brush should be cleaned every time you use it,” cautions Shana Cowart, area district customer service trainer with Bed Bath & Beyond. “Rinse it after every use and replace the head when needed.”
Not doing so could mean growing a little Petri dish of germs in the corner of your bathroom.
Cowart doesn’t recommend doing anything extreme. “Just rinse it after every use. If you feel like it’s still not clean, pour some bleach on it.”
If the brush has replacement heads, all the better. Replace periodically when it’s showing a bit of wear and tear, she said. And if it doesn’t have replacement heads, consider going with a new brush whenever ol’ reliable starts looking a little tattered.
Ceiling and attic fans
Difficulty: Varies, from rather simple to a little bit complex.
Fans pose a little bit more of a challenge than toilet brushes because they’re quite a bit less accessible.
That being said, “if you stay on top of keeping ceiling and attic fans clean, it’s a pretty easy process,” says Bryan Dunning, assistant store manager of the Lowe’s in Gladstone, Mo.
Ceiling fans are rather simple, though you may need a long duster or stepladder to really get the job done (“with a vaulted ceiling, it may not be as feasible,” Dunning said).
The key is dedication. Hit the ceiling fan blades with disposable dusting pads every couple of weeks, and you should be fine. Naturally, if you wait significant stretches between cleanings, expect a lot of dust falloff when you finally do get around to it. For $3 a pack, you could also invest in a filter that sits on top of the blade, but cleaning is still recommended, Dunning said.
Attic fans are a bit trickier.
“Step 1 is to definitely make sure you have your breaker turned off. Since the switch is usually below the fan, you don’t want to be near one when someone turns it on,” Dunning said. “They can put out a lot of power.”
Cleaning attic fans is fairly similar to ceiling units.
“You can use a mild cleaning solution and wipe off the metal blades,” Dunning said. “And with the motor, you can use a can of compressed air to clean out any dust and dirt in the motor.”
Dunning suggests syncing attic fan cleaning with your furnace filter changing schedule.
Cleaning both kinds of fans gives the same benefit: less debris in the air and a longer appliance life span. Dunning also notes that dirty and dusty motors run hotter, meaning less efficient cooling.
“If you work these things into your cleaning routine, you should be fine,” he said. “It’s like preventative medicine. It heads off problems down the road.”
Home audio speakers
Difficulty: Simple. And a light touch is definitely preferred.
Fans aren’t the only household staple where dust may affect performance. Consider your home theater and stereo speakers.
Jennifer Braniff-Harmon, local covert operations agent with Best Buy’s Geek Squad, says that if noticeable dust is building up on the exterior of your speakers, it’s time to clean them.
It’s not just for aesthetics. “Keeping your speakers clean will help keep the sound quality in tip top shape,” she says.
Gentleness is the key.
“Remember not to spray the speaker case or grill directly and especially avoid using harsh chemicals,” she cautions. “A dry or water-damp cloth is the ideal cleaning method.”
If you actually have to go under the grill to get at dust buildup, do not use anything abrasive. Braniff-Harmon recommends a feather duster.
Difficulty: Varies based on use and your fine motor skills.
Speakers, of course, come in all shapes and sizes — from floor-filling subwoofers to the ubiquitous earbud. And just because your headphones aren’t typically subject to public scrutiny doesn’t mean they don’t need the occasional once-over.
“Earwax can interfere with the sound quality of your earbuds, so I recommend cleaning them whenever you see the buildup,” said Jennifer Braniff-Harmon, local covert operations agent with Best Buy’s Geek Squad. “If you are able to remove the plastic bud, you can get a more complete clean inside the ‘canal’ with a cotton swab where the buildup can really affect sound quality.”
If the gunk is particularly resistant to cleaning efforts the detached buds — not the actual speakers — can be given a soak in a light mix of water and dish soap, she added.
Naturally, if you’re a workout warrior who can’t exercise without your iPod, you may find your earbuds picking up dirt and sweat at a higher rate. If they’re dying out at an alarming rate, Braniff-Harmon recommends tracking down a set specifically designed with exercise in mind. Several manufacturers, including Yurbuds and Phillips, offer such models.
Keyboard and mouse
Difficulty: More time-consuming than you might think, especially if you eat near your computer.
A quick rule of thumb from Jennifer Braniff-Harmon, local covert operations agent with Best Buy’s Geek Squad, when it comes to cleaning tech equipment: “You don’t have to overspend on cleaning products, as most devices can be cleaned with common household ingredients. Eyeglass cleaning wipes are cheap and contain rubbing alcohol for sanitizing, making them my favorite for cellphone, keyboard, headphone and monitor cleaning.”
And the computer keyboard (and sometimes mouse) “are some of the dirtiest gadgets in your tech lineup.”
Braniff-Harmon recommends sanitizing after any illness or at least every three months. If you eat near your keyboard and it’s growing fairly crumby, take care of it sooner. Crumbs in the keyboard can cause damage.
Before attempting any cleaning, turn the computer off.
“Then you can take one of the eyeglass cleaning wipes that are great for cleaning gadgets to wipe down the keyboard. Cotton swabs with a little rubbing alcohol diluted in water are perfect for getting those stubborn stickies and upping the germ killing,” she said.
Those eyeglass cleaning wipes are also a good solution for your computer mice.
What about the computer itself? It’s important to keep it relatively free of dust.
Feel free to dust off the exterior, but exercise caution inside the tower. “Do not vacuum inside your computer,” Braniff-Harmon said. “Static electricity caused by vacuuming does not like your computer parts and can cause serious damage.”
Go with compressed air instead.
Refrigerator ice maker
Difficulty: Involved. Varies with model.
Dust isn’t likely to be a significant issue with your refrigerator ice maker, but other concerns may arise.
“If you look at your ice, and it’s getting discolored, that’s a sign that it’s a good idea to clean your ice maker,” Lowe’s Dunning said.
First, check your owner’s manual for step-by-step guides.
Typically, Dunning said, it will involve turning off the ice maker and shutting off the water to the water line. You’ll probably have to let the water run through, then use a mild detergent to clean the line. A mild detergent solution can also be used on the various parts of the ice maker.
“A lot of units now have a filter with the ice maker. These filters can last for different times, and some will give you an indication when they need to be changed,” he said.
By: John Shultz
Posted by admin on August 4, 2012
Companies that sell products tend to be meticulous about the photography of the merchandise they’re advertising — the pictures are almost always crisp, detailed and attractive. So why is real estate photography so bad?
If you’ve surfed online for houses, you know what I’m talking about — the offending photos are so dimly lit you can’t tell how big the family room is. Or toys and family clutter are all over the place. Couldn’t they even bother to take the dirty dishes out of the sink before they photographed the kitchen?
Brian Balduf runs a company that provides photography services to real estate brokerages, and he has seen it all. He said the quality of real estate photographs didn’t used to matter much, but the growth of online real estate marketing and the advent of the iPad and photo-sharing sites has changed that. Balduf, chairman of Chicago-based VHT Inc., explained how it’s crucial these days that photographs of your house must really sell it:
Q: I suppose it’s easy to blame the real estate agents for poor real estate pictures — after all, they’re agents, not photographers. But why are so many of the photos so bad?
A: Agents, in the past, just marketed homes to other agents (by generally only placing photos on their multiple listing service). They weren’t marketing to consumers. Then the Internet came along, and (the photo quality) still didn’t matter a lot.
Until the iPads and tablet displays became really popular recently, all real estate photos on the Internet originated from the MLS, and the images just weren’t very detailed. But as soon as you started presenting them full screen on iPads or people were able to look at them on 50-inch, flat-panel television screens, consumers started realizing, gee, these photos are bad.
It’s interesting, because consumers aren’t used to seeing bad (marketing) photos. Every other product, even if it’s a $2 bucket atWal-Mart, is going to have a good photograph.
And the photos are going to be critical for grabbing the attention of the people who are cruising through houses on the Net — if you didn’t get them with that first impression, you may never get that buyer back.
Q: If you’re listing a home for sale, what should you ask an agent about photography?
A: First, ask to see samples (of photos of previous listings), just like with any other service provider. And ask for photos (of current listings) that are being used to market the houses you’re competing with. If you’re selling a three-bedroom, two-bath, ask to see the photos of other three-bedroom, two-baths nearby.
You’re starting to see more progressive real estate firms saying this is important, and they’re having their listings professionally photographed. But it varies a lot, regionally, and the number of professionally shot houses is small, maybe 10 to 20 percent of the market. Chicago is fairly good about using professional photography. It’s starting to pick up more on the coasts. On the West Coast, you probably see the most professional photography in San Diego.
In Florida, you’re seeing it more, and you’ll see more aerial photography there — that is, they might shoot a house from a crane or boom because buyers want to see what’s behind the house — a waterway, a pond, the Everglades.
Q: What goes into good real estate photography?
A: It’s harder than most people realize. Room photography is lighting, lighting, lighting. And when you photograph a home, you may be dealing with every kind of lighting — exterior lighting, incandescent, fluorescent — so without controlled lighting, every room is going to come out different. You may see a lot of bluish bathrooms and kitchens. Outside, you want to time the photograph to control for weird shadows; you also want to get rid of parked cars or garbage cans in the driveway.
And it takes a real camera. Technology is making it easier to shoot bad photos — camera phones don’t have enough flash or depth of field (for rooms). Your drunk friend at a Cubs game, a camera phone is great for that. But if you have a room that’s deep, you want to be able to see it.
A room needs to be shot on a tripod — it’s a must, because the shots have to be level. It can be a gorgeous home, but if the photos are dark or crooked or pixilated, you have either helped the buyer pass your home up or they’ll place less value on it.
Q: What if you have a very simple, ordinary, unadorned home? It may be a great place to live, but what if there’s nothing in it that would look particularly “gorgeous,” by room photography standards?
A: If you don’t have anything that’s unique about your property, then you want to make it look as good as possible. Good, clear photography of a neat, clean home may be your one competitive advantage if you’re on the market and competing against 20 similar starter homes. You may be able to make it sell before the guy who has the same house across the street.
By: Chicago Tribune
Posted by admin on July 5, 2012
If anyone needs to stay cool right now, it’s Shane and Jennifer Schick. The Scarborough parents of toddlers aged 2 and 4 are expecting their third child in about two weeks.
The couple also recently moved to an apartment in a fourplex after renting in the Mount Pleasant Rd. and Eglinton Ave. E. area for several years. That means they are making many adjustments to living in their new home as they unpacked during the recent heat wave. When you have two kids and one on the way and no air conditioning, finding relief in 30C and high humidity can be difficult.
To top it off, the Schicks learned after moving into their new apartment that the owner of the building did not want them to install a window air conditioner because he had just replaced all the windows.
“We’re using table fans right now and it doesn’t really do the job,” says Shane. “We used to live in a main-floor apartment and we’re finding that the heat seems to travel upstairs to the second floor. It’s been really challenging. I’ve even slept in the basement on a few nights.”
The alternatives aren’t that appealing, either.
“The floor model air conditioners take up a lot of space (and can be expensive) and look like a small washer or dryer,” he says. “This is probably the last year we will rent so I’m not sure we want to make an investment in something like that.”
There’s also the cost consideration of running air conditioning units if you pay your own hydro.
According to a recent survey conducted by Direct Energy, 77 per cent of Ontarians use air conditioning to escape the summer heat and 69 per cent are concerned about what the cost will be to keep a steady temperature.
Any AC units 12 to 15 years old may not be energy efficient. Most units older than 12 years operate at around 10 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating), which means they are a lot less efficient than newer models.
“The age of the equipment can impact not just the cost, but the overall effect and comfort level of the equipment as well,” says Dave Walton, director of home ideas with Direct Energy.
So if you rent and your landlord doesn’t offer central air or window air conditioners, what are your options?
If the home you’re renting has a programmable thermostat use it, or ask your landlord to install one. By raising the temperature by 5C at night and when no one is home, you can save as much as 10 per cent on an energy bill.
“Set it to keep the home just a little bit warmer during the day and have it start to cool down around 4:30 or 5 p.m. as you’re heading home,” says Walton.
Other tips include closing all the blinds and curtains on a hot day before leaving the house. “You can leave a few windows open, but especially on the south and west facing windows, keeping window coverings closed is quite an effective way of keeping the house cool,” says Walton.
When the sun goes down, open the windows. Opening selective windows so that cooler night air is blowing in throughout the evening can make a big difference, especially when combined with a good fan. Leaving all the interior doors open can help as well. Be sure to get up and close the windows and blinds as soon as the sunlight hits.
Avoid using heat sources in your living spaces, such as the stove, if you can avoid it. Eat cold meals, or use the microwave. Some light bulbs can also create heat, so switch to compact fluorescents. Turn off your lamps and computer when you’re not using them. The TV can give off a lot of heat, as well as some plug-in power adapters.
If you can use a window air conditioner in your unit, know that they have their limitations. “They typically can only cool so much of the room or home, can be noisy and not as energy efficient as a central air conditioning unit is, and they can also pose a few headaches like dripping water and rattling window frames,” says Walton.
Window units also need to be taken out in the fall and put back in the spring.
Like any new technology, efficiencies are improving and new units operate better than ones that are 10 years old. “A new window air conditioner does work a lot better than an old one,” he says.
If you’re in the market for a new window unit, Hydro One is having a saveONenergy exchange event Saturday and Sunday at participating Canadian Tire stores.
Take your old window unit and/or portable dehumidifier (in working condition and a minimum age of 10 years old) to the store and receive a $50 coupon towards a new model. Go to hydroone.com for more information.
By replacing your old, inefficient appliances with an Energy Star model, you’ll save energy and help the environment.
According to Hydro One, the savings amount to about $50 a year when you replace an older dehumidifier with an Energy Star model and about $14 a year when you exchange an older room A/C with an Energy Star model.
For now, the Schicks say they plan to investigate some of the newer, more expensive fans offering better air circulation, such as the Dyson air multiplier — and perhaps there will be more sleepovers in the basement.
By: Jennifer Brown