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DIY tips to check windows and doors and save on utility costs year-round

The typical American household spends $2,200 a year on energy bills, with nearly half spent on heating and cooling costs, according to ENERGY STAR. Updating your home with more energy-efficient window options like Pella’s 350 Series vinyl windows and patio doors can help protect your home from cold weather and save on costly repairs down the road.

“Completing an annual home walk-around is a great way to check for potential maintenance needs and home improvements,” says Kathy Krafka Harkema, spokesperson for Pella Windows and Doors. “Look for leaks, feel for drafts, and replace or repair worn or broken items to help avoid more costly damage.”

How to inspect windows and doors

* Inspect interior and exterior finishes and the space around them. Is the paint or stain in good condition? Signs of flaking and peeling, or water stains may mean that it’s time to refinish or replace the window or door.

* Check windowsills and door tracks for dirt and debris, like sand, leaves, insects or pine needles that could hamper the operation and performance of windows and doors. Remove debris by gently sweeping out the area with a soft, dry brush and vacuuming.

* Check weather stripping around windows and doors, reattaching or replacing loose or torn pieces.

* Feel for uneven sliding and sticking when you open or close a window. Use a non-oily lubricant, like paraffin wax, on the opposing surfaces to help reduce sticking.

* Replace broken or inoperable windows and doors with safer, more energy-efficient ones. Those that do not open and close easily could be a safety risk, especially in the event of a fire.

Here are 10 signs it’s time to replace your windows or doors

* Overall poor performance: Windows or doors are difficult to open or close and air leaks in, out or around them.

* Fogging: Condensation or fogging occurs between panes of glass.

* Chipping: There’s chipping, peeling or deterioration of the finish on or around the window or door.

* Single-pane: Single-pane windows are less energy-efficient than double or triple-pane options.

* Water logged: Telltale water stains remain on or around the wall or floor area surrounding window or door.

* Out-of-date: Replacement parts for older windows or doors can be hard to find or non-existent.

* Energy inefficient: Drafty, leaky windows and doors can make it more costly to warm your home in the winter and cool it in the summer.

* Draftiness: Drafts can be felt through the window or door when it’s closed.

* Unable to open: Windows or doors are painted or nailed shut.

* Won’t stay open: The window or door won’t open easily or won’t stay in place once opened.

To begin your window or door replacement project, visit Pella.com/news for more info on how to connect with a local Pella representative to talk about your replacement project plans, or shop online at PellaatLowes.com.

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Is mortgage refinancing right for you?

The Benefits of Refinancing

Beyond potentially saving you thousands of dollars, refinancing your mortgage can also help you consolidate debt and pay off other bills. Your life has probably changed from the time you first got your home loan. Perhaps you got a better paying job or you have a new baby on the way. You may have new expenses that never existed before, or you may be making more money than when you started. In many cases, refinancing your home loan could save you hundreds, or even thousands of dollars – money which could be well spent in other areas of your life. Ideally, your mortgage should not be costing you above one third of your total gross income. If you’re dealing with a high interest rate, you’ve been hit with an adjustable rate that has skyrocketed, or you’ve experienced a drop in income for whatever reason – it’s a good idea to consider refinancing and locking in a better rate.

Working with a Trusted Lender

Working with a trusted lender is one of the best decisions you can make when you decide to refinance. Trusted lenders, like Aurora Bank (Equal Housing Lender, member FDIC) for example, understand a multitude of product options and can explain those options to you as well as the costs that are involved in the refinancing process.

Know Your Options

There’s no shortage of lending companies vying for your business. But it pays to do your own research as well. Take advantage of online mortgage calculators and run different scenarios based on your income, property tax, and extra payments you can afford to make. See exactly how much home you can afford and create a spectrum of possibilities for refinancing. Then, speak with a home loan consultant who can help you with your financing needs.You may be pleasantly surprised at just how much money you’ll save by refinancing at today’s low rates. Overall, honest, exceptional service and a dedication to customer satisfaction are what make the best mortgage refinancing lenders stand out.
 

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8 Traits of successful real estate investors


Take a few minutes to think about the successful people around you, not only financially, but also those who embody personal success. Consider the characteristics each of them possess and how these characteristics have fueled their achievements in their given field. Over the past several years I have come in contact with quite a few real estate investors, both directly and indirectly, and have recognized many I consider to be very successful. These people have not only started successful real estate businesses, they also seem to have mastered balance in their life, a very difficult goal to achieve. I have identified 8 key traits that these investors display, (not surprisingly, this same list can be applied to the leaders in any field):

The 8 Traits that Successful Real Estate Investors Embody

1) Passion for investing: The time and personal equity that is required to become a successful investor is overwhelming for many people, which is why most people who plan on becoming real estate investors fail. Passion fuels drive and drive fuels action; without action the chance of becoming successful is zilch. Passion provides the boost needed for difficult days and enthusiasm on routine days. In short, without passion, real estate investing is just another job.

2) Discipline in decision-making: I have yet to meet someone I would consider both undisciplined and successful, and doubt I ever will. While discipline may be a difficult trait to define, I find it is often fairly easy to pick out, as disciplined people plan for the future, work diligently in the present, and learn from the past.

3) Understanding core principles: Failure is almost certain if you do not understand the foundational principles of business, real estate, and the specific niche you are engaging in. Long term success requires not only an understanding of buying and selling real estate, or how to be a landlord, but also basic economic principles. Understanding market fluctuations, economic cycles, monetary policy and other facets of economics will ensure you can react intelligently when changes do occur. Learning the basics is not always fun or exciting, but it is critical in achieving long-term success.

4) Integrity in business dealings: Real estate is notorious for attracting people looking for a quick buck at all costs, but if you look at successful investors, their success spans years and is attained through incredibly hard work. While it may seem easier to look for a short cut (and rip someone off in the process), a long real estate career must be built on a solid reputation.

5) Flexibility: Murphy’s Law is alive and well in real estate, and to survive inevitable surprises, market fluctuations and bad deals, you must be flexible enough to adapt your plan as you go. Planning is absolutely critical, but equally so is the ability to quickly decide when it is necessary to deviate from the plan. Successful real estate investors know when they need to re-evaluate their current blueprint and make adjustments to preserve the long-term success of their investments and business.

6) Money management skills: Most small businesses fail due to poor money management. Forecasting, budgeting, and financial planning is becoming a lost art among small business owners, and it can be lethal to your business. This is why understanding the basics of accounting, tax law, cash flow management, debt management, and other financial principles is so important, even if you have a great accountant and book-keeper.

7) A Team of Successful People: You can only take your business so far, and at some point you will be forced to rely on other people. Real estate is a people business and every real estate transaction requires a team of people to close. Once a transaction is complete, even more people are involved so it is important to form and maintain relationships with lenders, attorneys, contractors, agents, accountants and other people who can contribute to the growth of your business.

8) Superior communication skills: You have probably heard it a million times but that is because it is true, being able to effectively communicate with other is vital. How else will you be able to negotiate prices, interview contractors, screen potential tenants, partner with others, and so many other daily tasks? Communication goes beyond face to face discussions too, email and text messaging are ever-growing in the life of most business people, and the occasional written note will never go away, so make sure you hone your writing skills as well as your verbal skills.

All investors can say they are involved in real estate, but very few can say they are among the best. Find those whom you consider to be the best and study their habits and practices. Try to understand where they have been and how their skills helped prop them up during difficult times and propelled them during good times. Figure out which areas you have mastered and which you can improve upon; self-realization will lead to positive changes and others will begin looking to learn from you.

Author: James W. Vermillion III

James W.’s Website: http://www.kandvinvesting.com

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Strategies for managing and reducing debt



Before you take any action, however, you need to know exactly where you stand financially. Look over all your outstanding debt – credit cards, car payments, mortgage or rent, student loans – to help you determine where you are and which obligations have priority. These tips from Wells Fargo can help you responsibly manage your debt and strengthen your credit situation.

* Organizing debt: Not all types of debt affect your finances equally. Collect recent statements from all your creditors. Write down the creditor, amount owed, monthly payment and interest rate on your account. Knowing which debts have the highest minimum monthly payments and interest rates will help you determine which debt is costing you the most.

* Prioritizing payments: -Examine where you can cut back on expenses, and put that money toward your debts. Try paying off your debts with the highest interest rates as quickly as you can, while continuing to pay at least the minimum due on all of your other debts each month. Once you’ve paid off the credit card with the highest interest rate, put that money toward the next highest.

* Calling creditors: If you can’t make a payment or need to make a partial payment, talk to your creditors about setting up a payment plan you can afford. You may be surprised – many creditors will be willing to work with you to find a solution.

* Refinancing your mortgage: If interest rates have dropped since you took out your mortgage loan, consider refinancing to lower your monthly payments. If refinancing isn’t an option, consider other options to repay your loan more quickly. For example, sending additional principal payments with your regular payments decreases the loan balance and reduces the overall interest owed.

* Seeing a credit counselor: These professionals will need to see all your financial material so that they can help you explore your options and make a plan to get you out of debt. To find a reputable credit counselor, visit the website for the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling, www.nfcc.org.

* Consolidating your debt: You might want to consider combining all of your debts into a single loan. This allows you to pay off your debt with one monthly payment, which could be lower than all of your previous monthly payments combined. It will also make it easier to keep track of your debt. Keep in mind that a debt consolidation loan simply transfers the debt to a new lender – you’ll still have debt. Additionally, if your consolidation loan has a longer repayment period, it could increase the total amount you repay. You can pay the loan off faster, of course, by making more than a minimum payment each month.-

There is hope if you are in debt. Creating a manageable plan to chart a path out of debt can give you confidence in knowing that you are in control of your finances and improving your credit health. For more information, visit the Wells Fargo Smarter Credit Center, www.WellsFargo.com/smarter_credit.

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How to plan a memorable multigenerational vacation

“Multigenerational family travel is character building,” says Julie Henning, writer and contributor for destination and activity website LiveLifeLocal.com. “In exploring new places with the people who already know your strengths and flaws – and love you anyway – you can come together in a way that otherwise wouldn’t happen at a holiday or reunion.”

Planning a trip for the whole family doesn’t have to be intimidating. With a few simple tips, it’s easy to coordinate a vacation everyone will enjoy:

1. Keep a “group” mindset

Whether you’re orchestrating an elaborate vacation where the whole group flies across the country, or you’re road-tripping, picking up the grandparents along the way, keep the lines of communication open.

“Planning a multigenerational trip is a little bit like planning a wedding,” says Henning. “If you can remember the trip is not just about you, but a time of celebration for the entire family, chances are you’ll have much fonder memories.”

2. Plan together

“If you have more than one ‘planner’ in the group, involve them all in creating the agenda as much as possible,” advises Henning. This will help ensure everyone provides input and the responsibilities are spread between multiple people.

Online travel sites make it easy to plan multigenerational trips, even if families live in different locations. LiveLifeLocal.com, created by Safeco Insurance, allows users to discover unique destinations, read reviews and map out their travel route at no cost. You can research and save preferred activities to a “collection” on your online vacation portfolio, which can then be shared with your family via email, Facebook or Twitter, making planning a snap.

3. Communicate budgets

It’s important to be open about your vacation budget and expectations to avoid any awkward moments and unintended expenses once you’ve arrived at your destination. Be sure to talk about who is paying for what, or if it will be split equally. With so many people involved, the cost of multigenerational vacations can add up quickly, and no one wants to be surprised by going over-budget.

4. Pack and prepare

Preparing to leave is one of the most difficult parts of multigenerational travel. Each age group will need different things – your toddler needs diapers and her favorite blanket, your teen needs his favorite mobile device and charger, and the grandparents need to make sure they pack any necessary medications. Make lists and start packing early to eliminate the last-minute rush.

If you’re driving, make sure the car gets a tune-up before you leave. If you’re meeting up with the grandparents to use their RV, remind them to have any necessary maintenance done before you arrive. Properly winterizing and preparing RVs, boats and other vehicles is important for a headache-free multigenerational trip … and just good sense overall. Check with your insurance company to see if towing is covered under your plan in case the need ever arises.

5. Cherish meal time

“In many families, mealtime is when everyone comes together to share their days and reconnect,” says Henning. “On a trip, this can be at a restaurant, picnic at the beach, or from the comforts of a vacation home. Make an effort to enjoy regional food, shop at the local farmers market, or cook the meal your family enjoys most.”

6. Expect the unexpected

Remember that nothing is perfect, including your vacation. Be patient and understand flexibility will go a long way toward ensuring a smooth, stress-free vacation.

“Leave time for something to go wrong,” advises Henning. “Camera batteries run out, room keys disappear, and bathroom breaks happen. Keep in mind that everyone needs some down time, even from the people they love most.”

Make this holiday one to remember by planning a multigenerational trip now. These tips will help you create a vacation itinerary everyone will love, helping to forge new bonds and traditions while creating memories to last a lifetime.

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How to plan a memorable multigenerational vacation

“Multigenerational family travel is character building,” says Julie Henning, writer and contributor for destination and activity website LiveLifeLocal.com. “In exploring new places with the people who already know your strengths and flaws – and love you anyway – you can come together in a way that otherwise wouldn’t happen at a holiday or reunion.”

Planning a trip for the whole family doesn’t have to be intimidating. With a few simple tips, it’s easy to coordinate a vacation everyone will enjoy:

1. Keep a “group” mindset

Whether you’re orchestrating an elaborate vacation where the whole group flies across the country, or you’re road-tripping, picking up the grandparents along the way, keep the lines of communication open.

“Planning a multigenerational trip is a little bit like planning a wedding,” says Henning. “If you can remember the trip is not just about you, but a time of celebration for the entire family, chances are you’ll have much fonder memories.”

2. Plan together

“If you have more than one ‘planner’ in the group, involve them all in creating the agenda as much as possible,” advises Henning. This will help ensure everyone provides input and the responsibilities are spread between multiple people.

Online travel sites make it easy to plan multigenerational trips, even if families live in different locations. LiveLifeLocal.com, created by Safeco Insurance, allows users to discover unique destinations, read reviews and map out their travel route at no cost. You can research and save preferred activities to a “collection” on your online vacation portfolio, which can then be shared with your family via email, Facebook or Twitter, making planning a snap.

3. Communicate budgets

It’s important to be open about your vacation budget and expectations to avoid any awkward moments and unintended expenses once you’ve arrived at your destination. Be sure to talk about who is paying for what, or if it will be split equally. With so many people involved, the cost of multigenerational vacations can add up quickly, and no one wants to be surprised by going over-budget.

4. Pack and prepare

Preparing to leave is one of the most difficult parts of multigenerational travel. Each age group will need different things – your toddler needs diapers and her favorite blanket, your teen needs his favorite mobile device and charger, and the grandparents need to make sure they pack any necessary medications. Make lists and start packing early to eliminate the last-minute rush.

If you’re driving, make sure the car gets a tune-up before you leave. If you’re meeting up with the grandparents to use their RV, remind them to have any necessary maintenance done before you arrive. Properly winterizing and preparing RVs, boats and other vehicles is important for a headache-free multigenerational trip … and just good sense overall. Check with your insurance company to see if towing is covered under your plan in case the need ever arises.

5. Cherish meal time

“In many families, mealtime is when everyone comes together to share their days and reconnect,” says Henning. “On a trip, this can be at a restaurant, picnic at the beach, or from the comforts of a vacation home. Make an effort to enjoy regional food, shop at the local farmers market, or cook the meal your family enjoys most.”

6. Expect the unexpected

Remember that nothing is perfect, including your vacation. Be patient and understand flexibility will go a long way toward ensuring a smooth, stress-free vacation.

“Leave time for something to go wrong,” advises Henning. “Camera batteries run out, room keys disappear, and bathroom breaks happen. Keep in mind that everyone needs some down time, even from the people they love most.”

Make this holiday one to remember by planning a multigenerational trip now. These tips will help you create a vacation itinerary everyone will love, helping to forge new bonds and traditions while creating memories to last a lifetime.

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New chart shows RE/MAX has the most productive real estate network, the leading brand and a massive global presence…