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Five basic steps to making a house your home

Owning a home remains a key element of the American Dream. In fact, a recent survey by TD Bank revealed that 84 percent of young renters (ages 18 to 34) intend to buy a home in the future. While it is exciting, home buying can be overwhelming and complicated if you don’t have a general knowledge of the process. 
 
Equipping yourself with the right tools will allow you to navigate the complexities of the home-buying process. Here are five helpful steps to follow on your way to homeownership.
 
Step 1: Learn the home-buying ABCs: Build your homeownership knowledge by participating in a first-time homebuyer class at a local non-profit agency in your community to answer any questions you may have. Staying well-informed will help you feel confident and in control of this major financial decision and nip any initial questions in the bud.
 
Step 2: Get out your calculator: Owning a home requires a large investment of time, energy and money, so make sure you are careful when making the decision to buy. If you’re like 43 percent of survey respondents, staying within budget is the top consideration. It is important to determine how much you can afford - you don’t want to fall in love with a house out of your reach. When applying for a mortgage, the bank will assess your debt to income ratio. By looking at your income and current monthly debts, you can determine your ideal monthly payment. From there, you’ll be able to narrow the focus of your house search to homes in your price range. Be sure to include down payments and other upfront costs in your calculations.
 
A few free, helpful online tools can help you determine just how much you could potentially afford. For example, visit TDBank.com and check out its mortgage calculator.
 
Step 3: Shop wisely: Condo? Single-family home? A fixer-upper or new construction? Once you know how much you can afford, determining your housing needs - and selecting a qualified real estate professional - before you start looking, will help make finding your perfect home much less time-consuming. In addition to being able to answer any questions that come up during the process, a real estate professional will work on your behalf to pre-screen houses and guide you through negotiations.
 
Step 4: Pick your perfect match: According to the survey, acquiring a mortgage and making a down payment is the most preferred method of payment for those who intend to own a home. With the variety of mortgage products that exists today, it’s essential you choose the right one for your needs. How long do you plan on living in this house? Do you plan on making improvements to the home? Answering these types of questions will help you hone in on your financial strategy. Finding the right mortgage is about more than a rate and terms - it’s about finding the right financial partner. Don’t get led down the wrong path by choosing a bank that doesn’t provide flexible options. Look for a bank that offers a hassle-free mortgage guarantee to ensure your first home purchase is as smooth and worry-free as possible.
 
"As a portfolio lender, we are able to set our own lending guidelines and interest rates," says Michael Copley, executive vice president for retail lending at TD Bank. "This allows us to provide our customers with the most adjustable and affordable financing options to suit their borrowing needs."
 
Step 5: Sign on the dotted line: Once your home has been inspected, your contingencies have been met and your mortgage has been approved, it’s time to close the deal. In most cases, a closing officer and your attorney will be present during closing. As the buyer, you should make sure to bring a binder for homeowner’s insurance (document proving you have adequate homeowner’s insurance), a paid receipt for the first year’s premium and a certified or cashier’s check for your down payment and closing costs. Before the closing begins, review your mortgage, mortgage note and settlement statement documents to ensure there are no errors or red flags. Remember to ask questions during the closing, as the closing officer is there to help.
 
After you’ve signed all documents and paid your closing costs and down payment, the closing is finished. Congratulations and enjoy your new home.
 
  To get more information and to download your free TD Bank First-Time Homebuyers’ Kit, visit esecure.tdbank.com/net/firsttimehomebuyers/default.aspx.

How to find relief from fall allergies and hay fever

For many, fall signifies the change of leaves from green to vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. But for one in five people, it’s time to control a seasonal allergy: hay fever.

Despite its ill-suited name that would lead you to believe you are allergic to hay, the allergic reaction is actually rarely triggered by hay. The myth dates back to the 1800s when British doctors discovered that people exposed to cut hay or grass resulted in sneezing and itching, producing nervousness, which was referred to as a “fever.” Thus, the term hay fever was coined.

Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, causes cold-like signs and symptoms such as itchiness of the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes and ears, along with watery eyes, runny nose, congestion, and sneezing. But unlike a cold, hay fever isn’t caused by a virus; it is caused by an allergic response to outdoor or indoor allergens, such as mold, trees, pollen and pet dander.

Hay fever, which affects an estimated 60 million people in the United States, young and old, can really take a toll on your daily routine, and is a nuisance both personally and professionally. Whether you’re affected year-round or during a specific season, learning how to manage hay fever symptoms can be vital to restoring your comfort and quality of life.

This condition can also be expensive to manage. From 2000 to 2005, the cost of treating allergic rhinitis nearly doubled from $6.1 billion to $11.2 billion, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. More than half of that was spent on prescription and over-the-counter medications. Some experts recommend patients purchase store-brand, over-the-counter medicines as an effective means of managing both the condition and its associated costs.

"There are a number of very effective over-the-counter treatments to address the symptoms of seasonal allergies," says Dr. William Berger, professor of allergy and immunology at the University of California, Irvine. "In fact, to help patients save money, I would recommend many of the store-brand, non-sedating antihistamines sold at leading retailers and pharmacies, such as Cetirizine or Loratadine. These products are approved by the FDA, but cost significantly less than the brand names."
 
According to Berger, many allergy sufferers may find better relief of their symptoms by trying one of these newer, more effective treatments now available in the aisle, like Fexofenadine, which just switched from prescription to over-the-counter in 2011.
 
"Even if it isn’t the hay folks are actually allergic to, it doesn’t make ‘hay fever’ any less miserable for those dealing with it. Effective management with medicines, ideally before the symptoms start, is key," he says.

You can find more information about the symptoms and treatments for allergic rhinitis at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (www.aaaai.org), or the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (www.acaai.org).

Three astoundingly simple solutions for big renovation challenges


But virtually every renovation challenge is solvable, and sometimes the answers are surprisingly simple and cost-effective. Here are three common issues you may encounter while renovating, and the astoundingly simple ways to overcome the obstacles:

The challenge: Adding a bathroom over concrete flooring or in a tight spot where traditional plumbing doesn’t work well.

The simple solution: Up-flush plumbing. Bathroom renovations or additions offer a high return on investment - as much as 56 percent of the initial investment when you resell, according to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report. But conventional plumbing can be costly and time-consuming, even in the best circumstances. If you want to add a bathroom in a basement where the floor is concrete or in a smaller space with no room for traditional piping, an up-flush, or macerating, toilet is a simple, cost-effective solution.

Systems like Saniflo’s macerating toilet and plumbing technology eliminate the need to cut through a floor to install new drainage. And the systems fit easily into areas as small as a closet or dead space beneath a stairway. A macerating pump reduces waste and paper from the toilet and sends it under high pressure through piping directly into the septic or sewer system. No waste is stored, and the systems are comparatively low-cost compared to traditional plumbing. Visit www.saniflo.com to learn more.

The challenge: Introducing natural light in a room with no space for windows.

The simple solution: Skylights. The benefits of natural light are well-documented, from improving mood to reducing dependence on artificial lights. Yet some spaces, such as interior powder rooms or walk-in closets, don’t lend themselves to windows. When you want natural light in a room where a lack of wall space precludes a window, or in which privacy is an issue, a skylight can be a great solution. Tubular skylights even allow you to bring natural light into ground floor rooms.

The cost of installing a skylight is comparable to adding quality windows in a room. Choose energy-efficient skylights and you may also reduce home cooling costs in spring and summer, and lighting costs in winter, too.

The challenge: Privacy in a doorway where a swinging door doesn’t make sense.

The simple solution: Pocket doors. A swinging door may not be right for a space for many reasons. Perhaps you need to close a door in a spot so infrequently that a swinging door isn’t needed. Or, maybe the space around the doorway is too tight to accommodate a swinging door, such as in a laundry space tucked into a hallway. Or, perhaps a traditional door will ruin the aesthetic of a space. In all those situations, a pocket door is a great way to achieve privacy without compromise. Because pocket doors tuck away inside the wall, you don’t need to worry about having enough space to open or close a traditional door. Plus, when left open, pocket doors are hidden inside the wall so their visual impact on decor is minimal.

While these solutions may be beyond the abilities of most do-it-yourselfers, reputable contractors can accomplish them easily - and help you decide if one of these options is right for your renovation project.

Make your own masterpieces - freshly painted focal points for any room

(BPT) - Still love the overall design scheme of a space, but feeling a little bored? The best way to breathe new life into it - without revamping the entire area - is by creating a new focal wall. Instead of a decal, stencil or pricey artwork, make a statement that’s one-of-a-kind with a little creativity and painter’s tape.

Heavy patterns on every wall can be overwhelming; adding zest to just one is your best bet to make a positive impact. Before you begin, scan the room to determine the best wall to update. When you enter the space, where do your eyes naturally gravitate? If it’s an area that you love, amp up the style to make it really stand out. But if it’s something that catches your eye for all the wrong reasons, pick a different side of the room. Repositioning the focal point will draw attention away from the elements you don’t like or can’t easily change, like architectural features, window placement or heating and cooling returns.

Once you’ve determined where you’re going to paint, it’s time to think about what. Here are a few easy ideas to get the creativity flowing.

Awesome artwork

Purchasing oversized artwork can be pricey - ranging anywhere from hundreds to even thousands of dollars. Don’t shell out a ton of cash to add personality to an empty wall when it’s easy to make your own art. Bring your design ideas to life with new FrogTape Shape Tape - a painter’s tape cut into unique patterns that allows you to quickly and effortlessly create works of art on walls, accessories, furniture and more. The three Shape Tape patterns - Wave, Scallop and Chevron - can be positioned on surfaces in various ways to achieve different results; by staggering the tape or varying the placement widths, you can make your own impressive designs. Best of all, patented PaintBlock Technology on the edges of FrogTape Shape Tape helps prevent paint bleed and leaves precise lines, keeping your artwork looking sharp. For more information visit frogtape.com.

You can create one oversized piece of art directly on the wall, or paint a number of smaller canvases that can be arranged as a DIY gallery. Whatever you choose, you’ll have a new focal point that will surely serve as a conversation starter at your next get-together.

Natural touch

Creating a mural on one wall is extremely popular, especially one that helps bring the feel of the outdoors inside. Trees are an easy element to paint on any wall. For a sophisticated look, keep it simple with silhouettes. Use painter’s tape to create the outline of birch trees from the floor to the ceiling, leaving six to 12 inches between each trunk. Paint all the trees using the same color. Be sure to use a shade that coordinates with the rest of the room, or a neutral like white, gray or beige delivers a crisp look.

Fabulous faux framing

If your house is lacking interesting architectural features like decorative molding, you can mimic the look with paint and painter’s tape. Measuring and installing the real deal can be time-intensive and tedious, but using paint is an easy way to dress up a space without the cost and labor of installing numerous pieces of trim. From crown molding to wainscoting, using paint to imitate intricate trim work will add high style to your home.

For a stunning makeover, apply FrogTape brand painter’s tape three feet up from the floor along the entire wall to emulate a chair rail. Then, add additional squares and rectangles in a repeating pattern below. Apply a fresh coat of paint in a color that coordinates with the original wall color; and once you remove the tape, you’ll have crisp lines that look like molding… without all the work.

Next time you’re looking to spruce up a space, think beyond painting your walls a solid color. With a little imagination and painter’s tape, you can design eye-catching rooms throughout the entire house.

Best backyard bets for your buck


Beyond table ware and seating, what are the best creature comforts to invest in? Which products and amenities will ultimately-provide the most enjoyment and bang for the buck when it comes to outdoor upgrades? Narrowing the options to those with the greatest benefits and versatility is a smart approach. Here are some outdoor accessories that will prove to not only enhance your summer entertaining, but will create pleasure throughout the year.

Music/entertainment

Electronics are an easy place to start. Tech-savvy or novice, most people have a smart device to stream or play downloaded music.-Creating ambiance with music is a great touch for outdoor living and entertaining. Projecting the sound outdoors takes a powerful speaker system.-Starting at $100,-improved quality wireless speakers offer a simple way-to pump out the tunes.-Not only are these speakers lightweight and easy to use, they can serve for a myriad of events or functions outside the backyard realm. Wireless speakers are perfect-to use in other parts of the home such as the garage-and to take-along on family outings such as picnics or camping trips.

Cooling options

On hot summer days, who doesn’t enjoy a cool breeze?-Air conditioning is impractical outdoors, so investing in a backyard cooling product could be a necessity as much as an amenity. Choose a powerful yet quiet portable evaporative cooler. Evaporative coolers, like those offered by Port-A-Cool, are a better option than misters that drench or oscillating fans that simply blow hot air around. The coolers lower temperatures by as much as 30 F, and are powerful enough to COOL an entire deck. The Port-A-Cool Cyclone 3000 and 2000, for example, cool 700 and 500 square feet, respectively.

Not only are they great in the backyard, these portable coolers are easily wheeled anywhere throughout the yard. They work great for spot-cooling in the garage or even on the go while camping or tailgating.-To learn more about portable evaporative coolers, visit www.port-a-cool.com.

Lighting

Outdoor lighting options have come a long way in recent years. Solar options have made lighting simple and versatile. Styles range from traditional lanterns and landscape stake options to more decorative variations. When upgrading your solar lighting,-consider the light styles that will give you mileage beyond the summer. For example, solar string lights commonly used for sun umbrellas are an excellent choice for reusing in the fall around Halloween decorations, around trees and as part of holiday decor. Get even more creative by packing these lights for nighttime family excursions such as fireworks shows or at the community center’s movie showing on the lawn.

Beyond grilling

Installing an outdoor kitchen is a significant investment, but it’s useful all year long. Research the bells and whistles that enhance your cooking habits and family lifestyle. Consider adding a pizza oven, rotisserie, refrigerator and warming drawers. Once your dream kitchen is built, you’ll want to maximize it. It sounds trite, but don’t forget you have it. Keep the house smelling like a bed of roses during a Lobster boil or crawfish feast by preparing it outside. When it’s time for dad to make his famous chili, it can simmer for hours on one of the outdoor burners.-Get the kids involved in making their favorite grilled cheese, pizza or even dessert. The key is using this area for more than grilling burgers or hosting a couple of parties. Incorporate it into your daily life.

At the end of the day, buy what brings enjoyment. The added benefit is the versatility.

Raising the bar on bath safety

(BPT) - The bathroom is your daily sanctuary to retreat to and enjoy a few moments alone. For that reason, it should be serene, stylish and of course, safe. Think that words “safety” and “style” can never go together? Think again. Fortunately, it’s easy to incorporate essential bath safety elements that will leave your room feeling more like a resort instead of rehab.

A twist on towel bars

When entering or exiting the bath, many homeowners reach for a towel located on a towel bar just outside the bathtub or shower. While this is a convenient location, unfortunately bathers instinctively grab onto the towel bar to ease in and out of the shower or tub. This can be a serious fall risk, since towel bars are not designed to support a person’s weight. Fortunately, Moen has combined the functionality and beauty of a decorative towel bar with the safety benefits of a grab bar with the Moen Home Care Grab Bar with Towel Bar. Available in the most popular finishes to seamlessly integrate with the style of your bath, this unique product is easy to install to ensure a safe - and stylish - addition to the bath.

Safety with shelves

From shampoo to shaving cream, razors to rubber duckies, the bathtub or shower is an area where we store a multitude of items. With this in mind, homeowners are always looking for ways to conquer the clutter. Shelves are an excellent answer - especially when you can combine them with safety and peace of mind. Look for shelves that combine the functionality and style of a shelf with the safety of a grab bar. Some are featured in both corner and straight designs and will help solve your storage woes, while providing extra stability in the shower or bath.

“Grab bars are an important safety element for all ages - in fact, we could all use a little extra assistance in the shower,” says Adam Ference, Moen Home Care brand manager. “By incorporating grab bars into common bathroom accessories, we hope to encourage homeowners to make every bath a safe - and stylish - bath.”

Serenity with showerheads

When you think of resorts, you may recall the spectacular spa showers. You can dramatically enhance your daily shower experience by simply updating your current showerhead. There are many types, but a combination showerhead, such as the Moen Caldwell Brushed Nickel Slide Bar showerhead, can offer a relaxing retreat while also adding safety features. Combination showerheads feature both a standard showerhead and a handheld showerhead attached to a slide bar, providing users multiple spray options. And, with the added benefit of a handheld shower, users who choose to bathe in a seated position can also easily and safely enjoy the sensational experience.

Luxurious illumination

For the final step to your safety-upgraded bathroom, increase the amount of lighting. Add higher-wattage bulbs in your current lights, nightlights or additional lamps to the room for improved illumination. Another option is adding skylights. Not only will it help reduce bumps and falls, but a well-lit bathroom will also make the space feel more open and spa-like.

Increasing your safety does not mean decreasing the style in your bath. In fact, with these easy, inexpensive and attractive updates, you can quickly raise your level of bath safety, while creating a more enjoyable and stylish bathroom retreat.

For more information on Moen products, visit www.moen.com.

Serve up an ideal space for summer outdoor entertaining

(BPT) - The arrival of milder temperatures means dining al fresco, hosting neighborhood cookouts and enjoying intimate cocktail parties under the stars. When creating a backyard oasis to entertain family and friends this summer, it’s important that it be both inviting and able to withstand the wear and tear that goes hand-in-hand with warm weather fun.

The outdoor living experts at Trex suggest the following tips:

Maximize your space. Think about your deck in terms of different activities - and dedicate separate areas for relaxing, grilling, dining and socializing. Consider creating a simple seating nook or an elegant outdoor bar. Structures like trellises, or even tall potted plants, can help establish settings for cozy conversations between guests - while a pergola may offer much-needed relief from the summer sun.

“When you take a situation where you can entertain and move it outside, it immediately feels special,” says Tyler Florence, culinary artist and one of the faces of Trex’s new Engineered Artistry campaign. “First and foremost, think about how your space interacts with the environment and use that as inspiration to create a deck that suits your personal interests and preferences.”

Create a “full service” outdoor kitchen. If you’re planning to spend most weekends entertaining on your deck or patio, consider adding an exterior kitchen to your home. Incorporate elements like a grilling station, cooking range, sink, compact refrigerator - or even a built-in rotisserie or pizza oven. You’ll be able to prepare and serve food while outside conversing with guests - rather than being stuck inside behind the stove. Just remember to build your outdoor kitchen in an area protected from the elements and make sure that its style - whether modern stainless steel or rustic country - complements the look of your home’s exterior.

Choose low-maintenance materials. Spills, splashes and other mishaps are inevitable when entertaining outdoors. If you want to spend more time enjoying - rather than maintaining - your deck, choose materials that need only a soap and water cleaning to retain their enduring good looks.

“Because I have so much going on, I try to keep things as simple as possible and avoid situations that require an enormous amount of upkeep,” says Florence. “If you’re going to make the investment in a gorgeous outdoor living space, use decking and railing that will look amazing for decades to come.”

High-performance, wood-alternative decking like Trex resists fading, staining, scratching and mold growth thanks to an exclusive protective shell and high-traffic formulation - even after several summers of dropping grill tools, spilling barbecue sauce and moving around heavy outdoor furniture. And while these materials offer the natural look of wood, you never need to worry about sanding, staining or painting.

Design with distinction. Select a style and color scheme for your deck that best complements your home’s exterior and reflects the natural environment. Today’s wood-alternative decking offers high-definition wood grain patterns and rich, saturated colors inspired by the outdoors - with a vibrancy that remains unchanged for years. When combined with a modular railing system that provides similar high performance and long-lasting beauty, composite decking offers endless mix-and-match options for incredible design flexibility to suit the style of any home.

“Go online and experiment with different resources and tools to figure out how your outdoor living elements can be integrated,” says Florence. “With Trex, for instance, the ideas are endless because you have so many more opportunities to create a really luxurious space.”

Don’t forget the finishing touches. Customize your outdoor living space to make family and friends feel truly welcome. Add ambience for evening cookouts with dimmable LED deck lighting, and create an inviting lounge area with comfortable, durable furnishings - or even outdoor speakers. You can choose to truly “deck out” a space with luxuries ranging from flat screen televisions to stone fire pits, but if the budget is tight, adding vibrant pillows or tropical flowers and plants serves as a quick and colorful pick-me-up.

For more inspiration to create an amazing outdoor entertaining space - or for favorite outdoor living recipes from Tyler Florence - visit www.trex.com.

Final Walk-Through: What to Expect at your Final Walk-Through before Closing

Final Walk-Through: What to Expect at your Final Walk-Through before Closing
It’s smart to perform a final walk-through before closing. It’s your last chance to make sure the home you’re about to buy is in the condition you’re expecting. Here’s some great tips that you may not have thought of in preparing for your final walk-through.

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Financing: Advice for Homebuyers

Financing: Advice for Homebuyers

This YouTube channel, provided courtesy of Chase, offers the ins and outs of mortgages, how the loan process works and how to select a lender. Worthy of viewing regardless of whom you select as your lender.


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Staging your Home: Advice for Sellers

Staging your Home: Advice for Sellers

Ten inexpensive real estate staging tips to help create a ‘mood’ or ‘emotion’ to entice and connect with potential home buyers.


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