Tuesday, January 31, 2012

LUXURY HOMES: It's always home sweet home for luxury real estate

A luxury pad in one of the world's most exclusive neighborhoods might be seen as an indulgence for only the super rich. But international real estate developer Nick Candy toldCNBC that for the shrewd investor with access to capital, it can often be a long-term commitment worth making.
  • Luxury real estate can actually be a sound investment, an international developer tells CNBC.
    By Paul Sakuma, AP
    Luxury real estate can actually be a sound investment, an international developer tells CNBC.
By Paul Sakuma, AP
Luxury real estate can actually be a sound investment, an international developer tells CNBC.
Candy is one half of property duo Candy & Candy, whose most high-profile build was One Hyde Park — an apartment block in London's Knightsbridge area and one of the most expensive addresses in the world.
Sitting just yards from Harrods department store, the luxury boutiques of Sloane Street and a short walk away from Buckingham Palace, prices here range from a relatively modest $5 million to an astonishing $215 million for a three-story penthouse. But with 24-hour room service from the 5-star Mandarin Oriental Hotelnext door, wine cellars, bomb-proof glass and even panic rooms, is such an apartment a lavish folly or a wise investment?
"People are buying for the long term," said Candy. "The (properties) will get passed down the generations. Something like this won't get built again for a long time."
And while a home worth $3,000-a-square-foot or more sounds like a big gamble, he is sure that long-term investments like these ride out the ups and downs of economic cycles. "I 100% believe that if you invest in the very best — not just in real estate, but in the rarefied world of commodities — then I believe that you will do very, very well."

Monday, January 30, 2012

RENTALS: Boston rents are soaring

Rents in the Boston area hit record highs in the last quarter of 2011, pushed up by increased demand and declining inventory, maintaining the region’s reputation as one of the country’s most expensive places to live.
Average monthly rents in the metropolitan Boston area, loosely defined as within Interstate 495, jumped to $1,686 between October and December, compared with $1,649 during the same period the previous year and $1,600 in 2009.
At the same time, the vacancy rate dropped to a nine-year low of 4 percent in the fourth quarter, according to new data from Reis Inc., a New York company that tracks commercial real estate.
Nationally, Boston rents ranked fifth highest, after New York City, San Francisco, Westchester County in New York, and Fairfield County in Connecticut, according to Reis.
Locally, rental prices have been climbing for almost two years, despite a slumbering housing market. Many people have chosen to stay in apartments rather than buy during the downturn, while others have been forced to rent because of unemployment or uncertainty about their job status, housing analysts say. Even with a recent burst in construction of rental housing, economists expect monthly rents to keep increasing for several years.
“It shows there is strength in one side of the Boston housing market,’’ said Eric S. Belsky, managing director of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, of the rising prices. “Boston is a desirable place to live.’’
While the increases can benefit landlords, contractors, and the overall economy, they are causing hardship for those trying to keep up with the cost of living in the Boston area, housing advocates say. More families are struggling to pay their rents and cover other household expenses as federal assistance dollars shrink, while students and young professionals - many on their own for the first time - are finding fewer rental properties to choose from at higher prices.
“My listing volume is a third of what it was two years ago,’’ said Linda Patton, assistant director of off-campus housing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “It’s beginning to scare me.’’
Marie Thompson, 21, a Massachusetts College of Art and Design student, is well aware of the challenge she faces. She and three roommates want to move into a four-bedroom apartment in May

Sunday, January 29, 2012

REMODELING: Hot Trends for Bathroom Remodeling in 2012

From toilets that double as sound systems to water-conserving spa experiences, here’s what’s trendy for bathroom improvements for 2012.

Trend #1: Conservation rules

All around the country, water reserves are stressed. In response, regional governments are implementing conservation measures. As a result, there are likely to be new regulations that’ll affect your construction or remodeling plans. Here’s what to watch for:

Your new toilet will have a lower flush-per-gallon rating than the one that’s in there now. Consider a dual-flush version, or any low-flow toilet coming on the market that meets your style preferences. At the very least, your next commode is likely to feature a 1.28 gallon-per-flush rating — better than even the most-recent 1.6 GPF offerings.You’ll find them at home improvement centers from $100 to luxury showroom models for thousands more.

The WaterSense label, launched in 2006 by the Environmental Protection Agency to promote water conservation by plumbing manufacturers and home owners, will become as well-known as Energy Star. You’ll be shopping for low-flow shower heads and faucets with the WaterSense symbol on the box. Just as with Energy Star appliances, there is no cost premium associated with WaterSense savings — there are faucets in every price range. WaterSense shower heads are newer on the market, with a more limited selection today — mostly at more affordable prices.

You’ll start seeing more shower heads — especially rain shower models — using Venturi principles that deliver strong water pressure by adding air, not water, to the mix. They’re available in every price range, from ultra-affordable standard heads to luxury rain showers.

Trend #2: Technology advances

You may not think of your bathroom as a high-tech space, but that’s about to change. Here are some of the trends that can benefit your home:

You’ll be able to create a custom showering experience more affordably than ever. For $300 for simple controllers to $3,500 or more for a complete luxury installation, programmable showers let you digitally set your preferred water temperature, volume, and even massage settings before you step in. To achieve a personalized showering experience, you’ll need a 120-volt power source, and a thermostatic valve and controller in addition to your standard shower head or heads. Luxury models may include a steam system, a wi-fi source for music, multiple body spray outlets, tankless water heater, and a secondary controller to start the system from another room.

Dock your iPhone or MP3 player directly with your speaker-equipped, high-tech toilet so

Saturday, January 28, 2012

HOME IMPROVEMENTS: Should you be your own general contractor?

Most general contractors, called GCs, don't pound nails or wire outlets. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers and other subcontractors take care of that. The GC takes care of everything else— and reaps a healthy share of the profits. That's the part that tempts DIYers to manage remodeling jobs themselves.

Why it might work

New construction might be challenging— taking empty space from excavation to finishing. But even big remodeling projects can seem doable because the space is already defined. Some DIY skills will help, of course. But planning and common sense could get you through. How hard could it be to coordinate an electrician and a plumber, a delivery of drywall and a load of cabinets?

But the main incentive is money. Manage the project and you eliminate the GC's cost of doing business— an office, shop, truck or two, lights, computers, tons of tools and workman's comp for the crew among other expenses. And handy DIYers can tackle a lot of the finishing work, some sanding and painting, maybe the drywall and the trim, which would eliminate a subcontractor or two and save even more money.

The idea becomes even more appealing when you run the hypothetical numbers. Materials often run only 40 percent of overall job costs, and even if subcontractors cost almost as much there should be at least 20 or 25 percent to capture. If you can handle demolition to begin with and painting to finish, it might be 30 percent or more. On a $30,000 remodeling job that's nine grand, a powerful incentive. Some DIYers give themselves another five percent or so, figuring a GC will mark up lumber and everything else that's delivered. If there's no GC and the DIYer goes to the lumber yard, total savings might be 35 percent or more. But that's the first of several catches.

Why it might not work

A material markup is considered a handling fee by most contractors. They figure out what you'll need, order it and pick it up or have it delivered. Sounds simple enough for a DIYer, except you may get the order wrong, particularly with technical trades like plumbing and wiring. And the lumber yard may not give you the privilege of picking through the pile or returning twisted timbers. And suppliers generally won't give a one-time buyer like you the discount they give contractors who buy year round.

If the job requires subcontractors you'll have to find them, describe the job in their language, evaluate

Friday, January 27, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Home-Ownership Rate Climbs: Blip or Early Trend?

The nation’s homeownership rate ticked up in the third quarter compared with the second quarter, suggesting that the three-year decline in home ownership may be starting to bottom out.
The rental vacancy rate also rose, a possible sign that rising rents could be reducing demand, according to a report released from the Census Bureau Wednesday.
The nation’s seasonally adjusted home-ownership rate stood at 66.1% in the third quarter, up slightly from 66% in the prior quarter but lower than 66.7% a year earlier. The rental vacancy rate was 9.8%, up from 9.2% in the second quarter and down from 10.3% a year earlier.
To be sure, industry watchers warn against reading too much into results from a single quarter. The increase in home ownership is small and the number could begin declining again in the chilly fourth quarter, when few Americans buy homes. And researchers at the New York Fed have pointed out that the millions of underwater borrowers mean that the “effective” rate of home ownership is much lower  than the official statistic.
Paul Dales, a senior U.S. economist with Capital Economics, said he was initially surprised by the increases
Still, “I don’t think this alters the long term trends that have been going on,” he said. “The overall housing market will remain weak and the rental market will remain strong.”
During the housing boom, when easy credit made mortgages easy to

Thursday, January 26, 2012

MARKETING YOUR HOME: Sell Your Home With The Right Images

Listing your home for sale is the start of a journey that can go smoothly, if you take some necessary steps to make your home appealing to the right audience. Of course, it can also be a lesson in frustration.

These days much of the shopping for homes, like many items, is done online. That means that images (both photos and video) are rapidly becoming popular marketing tools to entice potential buyers.

The adage is, a photo is with a thousand words and, I add, a video is priceless. Actually, though, both are worth a whole lot. In fact, they could be worth the price of your home because images sell.

Think about the commercial market. Ads on TV and in print are always selling a concept about how consumers will feel, look, and benefit from buying a particular product. When it comes to selling a home, however, some sellers aren't as concerned with how their home is pictured and that can cause the home to stay on the market longer or, worse, generate little or no interest.
With the Internet filled with a sea of homes and sellers everywhere vying for attention from buyers, it only makes sense to make the online photos scream, "I am a must-see home. I won't last long in this market."

But, too often, fatal mistakes are made. Professional pictures and video aren't taken. Instead, a point-and-shoot camera is quickly grabbed and put to work (without special lighting) and, while you can get some nice images, I think most understand that professionals use pro cameras, lights, and editing tools for a reason. This isn't about "doctoring" photos so that they don't tell a real picture; rather it's about making your home look its best-just like getting dolled up for a first date.

In fact, if your professional photographer goes too far and takes too many liberties with touch-ups, you might find that potential buyers are turned off or even angry about what they see when they arrive at your home.

There have been some cases where small areas were enhanced with special lighting,

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

BUYING & SELLING: How Does My Home Compare to Others on the Market?

Real estate agents use comparable sales or "comps" (properties recently sold in the area) to see what the market bears for a listing price or value range marketing.

Ideally, using a comp from a home that is the same model in the same subdivision is key. Even better is if a sold comp closed escrow very recently. Taking comps from many weeks or months before can weaken the comp.But what makes a home a good comp? A few things must line up in order for the agent to utilize the comp to justify your listing price. The same neighborhood, school district, similar street and, of course, similar housing features and size. If these things align, then a comp can be used to provide a current estimated value of your home.

The expertise of a highly knowledgeable real estate agent can save you many hours of research and headaches. Most people don't really know how to compare real estate properties, which is why they hire an agent. Good agents take the work out of selling your home and give you solid reason to understand why the agent is pricing the home at a particular price.

Location, upgrades, amenities, sale date, extras, foreclosures, short sales, and unique nuances of the home all affect the listing price and how your home is compared to a comp.

Taking a closer look at each of these shows exactly what people in your area might be looking for when it comes to buying a home. For instance, a higher price on a home that has a pool can indicate that this is a family neighborhood and buyers put an increased value on amenities that create family/social fun. Your home may not have a pool but it might have another type of

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

BUYING & SELLING: Relying On An Agent

The latest NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers showed a growing trend among recent buyers.

Why do today's buyers buyers choose to work with an agent? Let's look at just a few of the many reasons an agent can be your biggest ally.The latest figures show that 89 percent of buyers purchased their home with the help of a real estate or broker. This is a sharp increase from a decade ago in 2001, when only 69 percent of buyers enlisted the help of an agent or broker.
First, agents are licensed professionals, which means they had to complete coursework and pass an exam in order to become and agent. They have the education and experience to help you navigate what will be one of the biggest purchases of your life.

They also have access to a wide range of properties and can guide you to those that are the best fit for you, which can save you time and energy. If you are unsure what type of property you're interest in, an agent can help explain the pros and cons of things such as condo life versus single-family detached living.

Where are the up and coming neighborhoods? Which areas are more walkable or have access to better schools? These are all issues an agent deals with daily.

They can also ease the burden of buying by simplifying the process. They set up showings, drive you to appointments if needed, and help you handle the intricacies of negotiations.
Today's market also presents challenges that simply weren't present or didn't dominate the market a decade ago. Buyers are faced with some great deals, but through some complicated

Monday, January 23, 2012

REAL ESTATE NEWS: O.J. Simpson faces foreclosure on Florida home

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- As if being in prison wasn't bad enough. O.J. Simpson's life has taken another sour turn: He's now facing foreclosure on his Kendall, Fla. home.
Simpson's mortgage lender, JP Morgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500), initially filed its intention to foreclose on the former football star's four-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot home in September, according to court records from the Miami-Dade County Clerk's office.

Simpson's attorney, Leonardo Starke, filed a motion to dismiss the foreclosure filing in November. But, according to a person familiar with the matter, the bank is moving forward with its legal proceedings.

Starke did not return messages seeking comment.

Simpson, who is serving a prison sentence of up to 33 years for a 2007 armed robbery and kidnapping in Nevada, has not made a mortgage payment since 2010, according to the source.
Simpson paid $575,000 in 2000 for the house, getting a first and second mortgage to pay for it, according to public records. He refinanced both loans in 2003 with a $592,000 loan through Washington Mutual, the savings and loan that was later aquired by Chase.

Since the house now has an assessed worth of $478,401, according to county records, and he now owes more than $700,000, including penalties and fees, according to the source, Simpson might want to walk away from the home.

Simpson was acquitted of the 1994 murder of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1995, but still owes some $33.5 million to the Goldman estate, a sum won in a civil judgment brought against Simpson by Fred Goldman, Ron's father.

Other than the motion to dismiss, Simpson does not seem to have taken any other steps to keep the home.

In Florida, lenders must offer borrowers in default the chance to save their homes

Sunday, January 22, 2012

RENTALS: Know Your Heating Rights When The Temperature Drops

On this frigid January day, we can’t help but think about our fellow New Yorkers who might be without heat, like one unlucky mom on UrbanBaby.com who says she has been without heat for a week while trying, fruitlessly, to get the attention of her management company.

As commenters there correctly observe, heat complaints are a top priority for the city — meaning you don't have to fight this battle alone.

Here’s a reprise on your right to heat and hot water:

Heat season begins October 1st and runs through May 31st. Apartments must maintain a temperature of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. when the temperature outside is below 55 degrees.

 At night, between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., indoor temperature must be at least 55 degrees when the outside temperature drops below 40 degrees. Hot water must be maintained at 120 degrees during heat season.
If your heat is lagging, first contact the building owner, manager, or super. 

 Still cold? Call in complaints to 311. All complaints are investigated. Building owners can be fined up to $500 a day for first violations and up to $1,000 per day for subsequent violations

Saturday, January 21, 2012

FINANCE: True ways to shrink credit card balance

How much money could be saved with a lower interest rate or increased monthly payments.

The amount you save by transferring your balance to a lower-rate card depends on your old and new interest rates and how much you pay each month. Lowering your interest rate and boosting your monthly payments could shave thousands of dollars off your bills and eliminate months, even decades, of repayments.

Credit card companies must now disclose on your monthly statement how long it will take to pay off your balance if you make only the minimum payment, as well as how much you'll pay in total interest over that time. Say you have a $5,000 balance at 18 percent interest and you make the minimum payment of 2 percent of the balance each month. It will take more than 39 years to pay off your balance, during which time you'll pay more than $13,000 in interest.

"It's so long, some people think it's a mathematical error," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for SmartCredit.com.

One reason it takes so long to pay off the balance is that minimum payments are generally calculated as a percentage of the balance. That means the amount you pay every month shrinks as your balance is reduced. Just boosting your payments to a fixed amount of $200 per month means you'll retire the balance in about 2.7 years and pay a total of $1,314 in interest, even if you continue to pay off the debt at the original 18 percent interest rate.

Combine a larger monthly payment with a lower-rate balance transfer and you can get

Friday, January 20, 2012

WINTER GARDEN: Feeding Birds in Winter: To Stop or Not to Stop?

Heading out the door for a midwinter getaway, you congratulate yourself on your laudable stewardship of all the lives that depend on you--the dog is at the kennel, the goldfish is with a neighbor and a friend will come over to water your plants. But wait a minute! Your birdfeeders are already half empty, and you haven't even left the driveway. What will happen to those cute little chickadees when they fly in for black-oil sunflower seed but find nary a crumb?
Wild birds are resourceful, gleaning most of their food from the natural habitat; except in extreme or unusual circumstances, they manage to find enough to eat to survive. But birds that have become used to supplemental feeding may suffer when that food supply is suddenly missing, especially in winter. Experts offer a variety of tips and insights:
Keep feeders full when winter is toughest. Birdfeeders are most attractive to birds in winter, when natural food supplies are least available. Seed eaters such as finches, sparrows, titmice and chickadees may flock to feeders--in higher numbers than natural food sources alone in the immediate area could support. Seeds that are merely a welcome supplement under normal winter conditions may suddenly become vital in the space of one fierce ice storm or blizzard.
In general, it's more important to keep feeders going in the winter, especially during cold weather, say Donald and Lillian Stokes, residents of Massachusetts and authors of more than a score of nature guides.
"Chickadees have a fixed territory they stay in during the winter," Lillian says. "If they have come to depend on your food source, it's harder on them when it is removed during cold weather."
Feeders aren't birds' only source of food. "The real problems occur when an ice storm covers all the twigs and branches where they usually get insect larva and seeds. Then they really could use the supplemental feeder. Studies have shown that chickadees and their like fare better in winter if they have access to supplemental food at feeders."
Put up large-capacity feeders if necessary. The best suggestion is to find someone to replenish the feeders. "We usually have some large feeders that we use when we are on vacation," she says. "They hold a lot of seed and we have someone come once or twice a week to fill them and also check if there is a bad storm. If you have close neighbors that run reliable feeding stations and your birds could go next door if they needed to, then maybe they wouldn't be as affected if you stopped feeding."
Encourage neighborhood birdfeeding. Florida isn't a landscape that commonly comes to mind when one imagines a harsh winter habitat. But over the last few decades, ornithologists have recorded neotropical migrants overwintering there and in other southeastern states, rather than fleeing to Central or South America. In these cases, it's not so much seed that is in short

Thursday, January 19, 2012

MADISON - The weight of an individual snowflake barely registers. But if you multiply that snowflake several trillion times, you have an amount of weight that can seriously overtax even a strong heart and back.

And you've got to get it off your sidewalk and driveway.

Wisconsin has already seen at least one major snowstorm this winter, and is likely to see several more before we're liberated by the arrival of spring.

With all that snow shoveling ahead of us, cardiology and exercise physiology experts at UW Health want to offer some tips to make sure that your pursuit of clean sidewalks and driveways is a safe and successful one.

Prep Work

If your heart and muscles aren't used to the strenuous level of activity snow shoveling frequently requires-and even if they are, a little pre-shoveling movement (reaching, bending, or leaning) is a smart place to start.

"A prepared body tends to function more efficiently," explains Jude Sullivan, an exercise physiologist at UW Health Sports Medicine who occasionally works to help rehabilitate patients who've injured themselves shoveling snow. "A few minutes of warm-up before shoveling can go a long way toward preventing muscle injuries, as well as reduce the soreness one may experience hours later."

Dress for the Part

Wearing a hat and gloves not only protects you from frostbite, but also helps to keep your entire body warm. Dressing in layers can give you the option to remove winter clothing if you end up working up a serious sweat.

Technique is Everything

Remember all that stuff about keeping your knees bent and your back straight when lifting boxes? Well, it turns out it's equally true of lifting snow. Especially heavy, wet snow.

"It's actually even better if you can push the snow rather than lift it;" says Sullivan. "Of course, that gets a lot harder once the snow banks climb over a foot or so, but if you can push those piles, it's much better for your back muscles."

Also be careful of twisting your body sideways as you lift a full shovel-it's easy to throw your back out when you meant to simply throw snow.

"Winter can be very unforgiving," says Sullivan. "The slippery ground and tall snow piles make for interesting choices as to where you put snow and how you do it. Use good judgment, and, if at all possible, plan how and where you're going to move and pile the snow."

Be Wise-Strategize

Shoveling a small amount of snow early in the snowfall and then going back out again may translate into more time spent shoveling, but it's also a lot less likely to overtax your heart and back.

Pace Yourself

This is perhaps the biggest strategy to keep in mind as you attack those snowdrifts. There's no

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

MARKET TRENDS: Pending Sales Rise

According to the latest report from the National Association of Realtors Pending Homes Sales Index, pending home sales are at the highest level in 19 months.

What has precipitated this rise? Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the gains may result partially from delayed transactions. "Housing affordability conditions are at a record high and there is a pent-up demand from buyers who’ve been on the sidelines, but contract failures have been running unusually high. Some of the increase in pending home sales appears to be from buyers recommitting after an initial contract ran into problems, often with the mortgage," he said.

There was a 7.3 percent jump in contract signings in November, up 5.9 percent from the year prior. The last time to market had this many signings was in April 2010 when the deadline for the first time home buyer tax credit was

"November is doing reasonably well in comparison with the past year. The sustained rise in contract activity suggests that closed existing-home sales, which are the important final economic impact figures, should continue to improve in the months ahead," Yun added.

Regionally, the largest rise was seen in the West, which has previously struggled. It rose 14.9 percent for the Month, giving it a boost of 2.9 percent of November 2010.

The Northeast was close to double-digit gains with a solid 8.1 percent rise. It is still 0.3 percent below last year’s figures. The Midwest is doing well. It is 9.5 percent above November 2010 for

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

HOME HEALTH: Your home's age important for child lead exposure

WASHINGTON – If you've been putting off repairing a peeling windowsill, or you're thinking of knocking out a wall, listen up: Check how old your house is. You may need to take steps to protect your kids from dangerous lead.
  • Luis Benitez, foreground, and Jose Diaz, background, clean up lead paint in a contaminated building.
    Chitose Suzuki, AP
    Luis Benitez, foreground, and Jose Diaz, background, clean up lead paint in a contaminated building.
Chitose Suzuki, AP
Luis Benitez, foreground, and Jose Diaz, background, clean up lead paint in a contaminated building.
The risk of lead-based paint from older homes is back in the news, as the government considers tightening the definition of lead poisoning in babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Lower levels than previously thought may harm their developing brains.
That's a scary-sounding message. But from a practical standpoint, it's not clear how much would change if the government follows that advice. Already there's been a big drop in childhood lead poisoning in the U.S. over the past few decades. Public health programs have targeted the youngsters most at risk — poor children living in crumbling housing, mostly in cities — to try to get them tested and their homes cleaned up.
But specialists say it can be a risk in more affluent areas, too, as do-it-yourselfers embark on fix-ups without knowing anything about an environmental hazard that long ago faded from the headlines.
The main value of the proposed change may be in increasing awareness of how to avoid lead in everyday life.
"What we need to do is prevent the exposure in the first place," said Dr. Nicholas Newman, who directs the environmental health and lead clinic at CincinnatiChildren's Hospital.
There are lots of ways people can be exposed to lead: Soil polluted from the leaded gasoline of yesteryear. Old plumbing with lead solder. Improperly using lead-glazed pottery or leaded crystal with food. Certain jobs that expose workers to the metal. Hobbies like refinishing old painted furniture.
Sometimes even imported toys or children's jewelry can have illegal lead levels, prompting recalls if they're caught on the U.S. market.
But the main way that U.S. children are exposed is from layers of old paint in buildings built before 1978, when lead was banned from residential paint.
Sure, the walls might have been painted over recently, and there may be no obvious paint chips to attract a tot crawling around on the floor. But friction from opening and

Monday, January 16, 2012

HOME HEALTH: Humidifiers: Drying up?

Humidifier season has arrived. Outdoor temperatures are dipping, furnaces are cycling on and that feeling of dryness is descending across the land: dry skin, dry lips, dry cough and static electricity. A humidifier can help.

Portable room-size models are a popular choice for bedrooms or living rooms; larger consoles can humidify an entire house. More expensive central units, which usually cost $300 to $850 installed, are attached directly to a furnace so they add moisture to air in the ducts.

People with allergies or colds often find comfort in using a humidifier; many then realize it’s much more comfortable to leave it running throughout the winter months to alleviate the effects of dry air. Want to know exactly what the humidity in your house is? Put a hygrometer on your Christmas list so you can measure it.

Weigh InCorrections?


( Kmart / KMART ) - LOW: Honeywell Easy to Care Cool Mist Humidifier, $39.99.


More choices. Choose from ultrasonic (cool mist), evaporative (air is blown through a moistened wick), warm mist (heating elements boil water) or steam vaporizers.

Filling options. Better-designed tanks let you pour water directly into the humidifier much like watering a plant. This is an improvement over having to pick up a unit, lug it to a sink to fill and then reattaching it upside down.

Germ control. Some models use ultraviolet to help prevent the buildup of most bacteria and germs.


Empty and refill daily. Standing water can encourage growth of mold and mildew. Change filters regularly.

Don’t over-humidify. If your windows develop condensation, turn the humidity level down.

Follow directions. Carefully read owner’s manual. Keep units out of the reach of children.


Kmart’s home buyer JJ Klinkert selected three humidifiers from the assortment at Kmart.

Honeywell Easy to Care Cool Mist Humidifier

Two moisture control settings, antimicrobial treated filter, dishwasher-safe parts. Model HCM

Sunday, January 15, 2012

BUYING A HOME: 10 things to keep in mind when buying a home

Buying a home is a trying and complicated process. It often strains relationships and puts an enormous amount of stress on buyers physically, mentally and financially. That's why the folks at the Boston Globe have put together this list of 10 things to keep in mind as you weather the home-buying storm.

1. Get your financing in order
"The seller wants to know that if they do accept the offer, that barring catastrophic title issues or inspection issues, the deal is going to go through," said Gary Dwyer, broker-owner of Buyer Agents of Boston. Another expert recommends having a full pre-approval within the past 30 days: "Six months is no good anymore, because the rules keep changing."

2. Understand your time horizon
"As a shorter-term buyer, you might consider whether the place is a good investment, and if it's the kind of property that's going to be attractive for the next buyer...A house near train tracks, for instance, is probably not what most people are looking for. But for someone who's planning to stay longer, a good school system or larger lot size might make up for the trains thundering past."

3. Know the overall market conditions
Investigate what comparable properties have sold for over the past three to six months, Dwyer advises. If you're not working with an agent, sites with pricing information such Zillow.com or Trulia.com could help.

4. Search and buy within your means
"If the housing crisis has taught us anything, it's that buying with the expectation that prices will continuously go up — and that if you can eke out the payments each month, you'll be in a good spot in the long run — isn't such a good idea."

5. If you're waiting for prices to go lower, think again
Real estate is a bit like the stock market, Hillman says, in that it's unpredictable. Though some people might be waiting on the sidelines for housing prices to dip lower, she says, "looking at the numbers, I can't see them continuing to go down."

6. Don't get too sucked in by appearances
Buyers should keep in mind that many sellers will try to present their homes in the best possible light. "If the house has been staged, what [potential buyers] forget is that all that stuff is going out when [the sellers] leave," says Needham realtor Harriet Lieb. "Sometimes you're better off buying something that needs a little decorating, because it's going to take on your own look anyway."

7. Have questions prepared
"Sellers and their agents should be prepared to answer questions including how old the roof,

Saturday, January 14, 2012


If you're thinking of remodeling your bathroom anytime soon, you might not realize just how many bathtub options you have. In addition to an amazing palette of color choices, you also have options in materials, sizes, design, jets, controls and installation methods. Let's take a look at a few of those basic options to get you started on the right path.

Some bubbly with that tub?

A basic choice you'll be making right away is whether you want a jetted or nonjetted tub. Jetted tubs utilize a pump to circulate water though pipes that surround the tub, pushing the water into the tub through adjustable jets. Air is also introduced into the water through various means, creating bubbles.

The combination of the water jets and the air bubbles create a sensation in the water ranging from mildly soothing to invigoratingly therapeutic.

If you're thinking of a jetted tub, be ready for lots of additional options. Depending on the price range, you'll be looking at different types, sizes, and locations of jets, as well as different types and sophistication levels of control panels.

Besides the jets, you'll have options for chromotherapy (different colors and patterns of lights) as well as tub heaters, which keep the tub water heated without continually adding more hot water.

You'll also need to be ready for some additional expense. Jetted tubs cost anywhere from a little to a lot more than their nonjetted cousins. They also require dedicated electrical circuits, as well as a means of accessing the motor for future maintenance.

Installation methods -- choices upon choices

Knowing where the tub is going to be in the room and how it's going to be installed is a crucial first decision, and will dictate a lot of the rest of your design choices. Here are the basic options:

Drop-in: The drop-in tub is perhaps the most popular. Drop-in tubs have a lip around the upper edge, and as the name implies, they're designed to be dropped into an opening in a platform. Since you can make the platform any size and style you like, drop-in tubs also give you a lot of design flexibility, and let your creativity have free reign.

Drop-ins come in a wide variety of sizes and styles, as well as in jetted and nonjetted configurations. With jetted drop-ins, the controls may be in the top lip or the inner sidewall of the tub. If you opt for a jetted tub, remember that the platform design needs to make allowance for a

Friday, January 13, 2012

Apartment rents are expected to jump again this year as the U.S. economy creates more jobs and demand for rental housing grows.
  • A "For Rent" sign in Chicago.
    By Scott Olson, Getty Images
    A "For Rent" sign in Chicago.
By Scott Olson, Getty Images
A "For Rent" sign in Chicago.
A 2012 increase would make the third straight year of rising rents. More annual increases are expected as apartment builders hustle to catch up with demand.
"You could see 10 years of a strong apartment market," says Ronald Johnsey, president of apartment market researcher Axiometrics.
The firm, which surveys 20,000 properties a month, expects apartment rents to jump 5.5% in 2012. MPF Research sees a 4.5% increase, while researcher Reis expects a 3% increase, although that forecast may change, says senior economist Ryan Severino.
Reis estimates rents rose 2.3% last year. Axiometrics says 4.4%, and MPF says 4.7%.
Driving rents higher:
Job growth.IHS Global Insight expects the U.S. to add an average of 150,000 jobs a month this year compared with about 133,000 a month last year.
New jobs spur household formation. But with home prices still falling in many markets and tight lending standards making it harder for many to buy homes, more consumers will rent, Severino says.
Declining homeownership. The homeownership rate rose slightly in the third