DIY Little Free Library (Adorable AND Affordable!)

A lot of people think they don’t have the skills to build their own Little Free Library book exchange, and don’t have the funds to buy one; maybe you’ve thought that yourself a time or two.

After all, so many talented people have built wildly creative Little Libraries that seem like they belong in a museum or fancy gallery instead of on a street corner. It’s easy to get intimated, or to think that you need detailed Library building plans and lots of building experience before you try your hand at it.

But that’s not true! Every day we see cute, thoughtful Little Library designs that didn’t break the bank and required little-to-no assembly.

Take Little Free Library steward Iliana Morton, for example. Her Library #53342 in Oakland, California (pictured above) is a transformed IKEA metal cabinet cube that cost her $25, and the result is a bright, cute, cost-effective Library!

Now, you’re probably thinking that you’re not one of those crafty people like you see all over Pinterest, and that yours would never turn out this good. That’s why we asked Iliana to share exactly how she created her DIY Little Free Library. Read on to learn how you can do it, too!

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Photo credit: Iliana Morton

“I’ve known that I’ve wanted to have a Little Free Library for years … about a year after purchasing our first home, I was excited to set up our own Little Free Library. I knew that I wanted something bright and colorful. I also was unsure about investing a lot of money into the project, not knowing how well it would hold up in our neighborhood … I decided to take a DIY approach to keep my costs down, while giving me an opportunity to figure out what would and wouldn’t work for us,” Iliana said.

How did she make the Library?

She started by purchasing a $25 bright orange IKEA metal cabinet cube. She chose it because it was sturdy, and she knew she could spray-paint the metal later on if she wanted to decorate it further.

To make her fledgling Library sturdier, she used Gorilla Glue (available at hardware stores for around $3) to seal together the pieces as she assembled the box. She made sure to get the glue to seep into the seams on all sides of the box, making those edges water-resistant. If you happen to have polyurethane caulk on-hand, you may be able to use caulk to seal the edges of the box, too.

For extra protection, Iliana applied liquid cement on the interior seams of the box. It didn’t look very pretty, so she then covered the interior edges with some duct tape with fun, bright designs that she found at Office Depot for about $2 per roll.

“On the front door I affixed a faux-chalkboard shape that I got at Michaels. With a 40% off Michael’s coupon, the sign was just $2.50. I do have a Cricut machine, which is what I used to design and cut the vinyl lettering that is on the chalkboard. Once the vinyl was on, I sprayed a clear coat of spray sealant on it to waterproof it,” she said.

If you don’t want to deal with vinyl lettering, consider using chalkboard markers instead to write on your sign.

 Now, what about installation?

“My Library box sits on a plain wood bench that we found on Craigslist for free! I found a wooden crate and used that as a riser for my Library so that it sat at a nicer level for people to reach into. I actually affixed the crate to the bench with Gorilla Glue, and then affixed the Library to the crate in the same way. I did this to prevent the box from accidentally (or purposefully) falling down.”

In addition to Craigslist, Freecycle.org is a good place to look for free items in your neighborhood!

The rest was just a matter of decoration! Iliana found some small pots for plants and succulents which she placed near her Library. She used Gorilla Glue again to adhere the pots to the bench, so that they didn’t “magically disappear” or fall over.

So when all was said and done, how much did it cost? 

“I probably spent around $50 on this. My biggest expense was the box at $25. The rest was a matter of keeping an eye out and finding a deal on what I needed. I used absolutely no tools beyond the screwdriver I needed to put together the IKEA box. I took an easy approach by using gorilla glue, which has been wonderful so far, as it is super durable and waterproof. I’ve gotten so many compliments from neighbors that they enjoy it because of the brightness it adds!”

There you have it! You can DIY your own Little Free Library book box for $50 or less.

There’s one more important step that we should mention here: register your Library! When you register, you get access to all of the benefits of registration that we offer to Library stewards, like a listing on our world map and the use of the name Little Free Library.

For more ways that you can create your own cute, affordable Little Library, check out Little Free Libraries on a Shoestring Budget. And get the basics on how to start your own Little Library, register, and get it on the world map.

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Quibi is a built-for-millennials streaming service!

If Hollywood and Silicon Valley created a baby, they might call it Quibi.

At least, that’s how veteran film mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and tech executive Meg Whitman view their fledgling creation.

Quibi, a Hollywood-based streaming company that stands for “quick bites” of video, plans to take new, premium films shot by award-winning directors like Steven Spielberg and Catherine Hardwicke and present them in short episodic chapters about 10 minutes long. The twist: the stories will be developed exclusively for viewing on mobile phones.

The content will be distributed through a new mobile app, designed by a tech team that has consulted with Hollywood creators to make an interface that is appealing to filmmakers and elusive younger audiences.

“What we say internally is we’d like to be the quality of HBO and offer customers the convenience of Spotify,” Whitman said in an interview from Quibi’s Hollywood office. “We’re not Facebook Watch. We’re not Snapchat. We’re not Instagram TV. We’re not YouTube. We’re Quibi, and it’s not denigrating those platforms at all … but we’re staking out a premium position relative to those.”

In the last year, Quibi has made waves after raising $1 billion in financing from Disney, WarnerMedia, and other major studios and investors, gone on a hiring spree and released a flurry of announcements for upcoming projects with prominent filmmakers.

To hear Katzenberg tell it, Quibi is playing a pioneering role in crafting a new form of storytelling that combines elements of feature film storytelling and episodic television.

“What we’re doing is just merging those two ideas together to what we hope is the third generation of film narrative,” Katzenberg said.

But Quibi, which will charge about $5 a month with ads and $8 without ads, will face an increasingly crowded video streaming market when it launches next April. Already, there are large subscription platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, as well as free, mostly ad-supported sites like YouTube and Facebook.

“I do believe there is a legitimate audience for it,” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a San Jose-based market research firm. “They will be challenged by the subscription model given that (consumers) already have so many subscriptions for content now.”

The company brings together two heavyweights in entertainment and tech — 68-year-old Katzenberg and Whitman, who turns 63 on Sunday.

In many ways, the pair are opposites. Whitman, the company’s CEO, is a former Republican candidate for governor, with a track record of leading major Silicon Valley tech companies like online auction site eBay and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Katzenberg, Quibi’s chairman and a major Democratic Party fundraiser, rose up the ranks in Hollywood. After leading a revival of Disney’s animation studio, he built DreamWorks Animation into an industry juggernaut with such hits as “Shrek,” “Madagascar” and “Kung Fu Panda.” (He sold the animation studio in 2016 to Comcast for $3.8 billion.)

The seed of the Whitman-Katzenberg partnership began with a phone call. Whitman had just announced she was stepping down as chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise in 2017 when Katzenberg called and asked what she was doing that night. She guessed correctly that she would be having dinner with him. The mogul flew to the San Francisco Bay Area, and the two met to discuss what would become Quibi.

Katzenberg handles the content side of the business, while Whitman runs the company, including overseeing the product and engineering teams, as well as marketing and advertising.

“We cannot be more different from each other, and the fact that we could find a good partnership in that is now turning out to be the superpower in it,” Katzenberg said. “For me, I always have big plans and lots of dreams and, you know, somewhat impractical, and Meg is buttoned-down, ‘Let’s have this plan, let’s figure out this day everything that is going to go wrong’ kind of person,” he said.

Each cites different reasons for why Quibi will succeed. Whitman points to eMarketer research that shows a steady rise in the average amount of time consumers spend daily watching video on their mobile devices: In 2018, it was 60 minutes, up from six minutes in 2012.

“Increasingly people are watching on their phones, but during the day most people don’t have an hour to sit and watch something on TV,” Whitman said. “The ability to see a great show in a series of 10 chapters — people are going to find that super interesting.”

Katzenberg touts his instinct and track record of providing what audiences want even before they know it.

“I’ve spent my life trying to find stories that you will like,” Katzenberg said. “If I asked if you wanted to see a big movie about a big green ogre named Shrek, you would certainly say, ‘I don’t think so.’”

The duo collaborate daily and don’t always agree. In its original plan, Quibi had considered mining and monetizing data, Katzenberg said. When Whitman looked at the plan, she disagreed with that idea.

“It’s just on the wrong side of history,” Whitman said. “It’s not consistent with our brand and what consumers expect today. We zeroed out that revenue line.”

Quibi’s target audience is people ages 25 to 35, and its larger demographic could include people ages 18 to 44. The start-up is focused on providing videos for mobile phones from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Those videos are separated into three categories: long-form narratives distributed to consumers in short chapters; alternative content, which includes reality, documentaries and food shows, and so-called Daily Essentials, which include daily news such as morning and evening shows from NBC News that target millennials.

Quibi said it plans to make money through subscriptions and ad revenue (executives declined to disclose projections). The company said in its first year it will have an ad inventory worth $150 million and that such brands as Google, Walmart and Proctor & Gamble have signed on. The ads will appear in 6-, 10- and 15-second pre-roll ads before Quibi videos and in other formats. Whitman believes that about 75% of Quibi customers will opt for the $5 monthly subscription with ads.

Much of the money Quibi has raised has gone toward buying content and marketing. The company may raise $500 million more in investment in the fall, Whitman said.

The company plans to amass more than 7,000 pieces of content in its first year. Among the upcoming projects is a modern take on the 2003 romantic comedy “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” which is in development with Paramount TV. Quibi has also lined up major filmmakers including directors Antoine Fuqua, Guillermo del Toro and Sam Raimi.

Filmmakers working with Quibi said the platform gives them more tools to lure audiences, such as the use of ring tones and the ability to have content appear at certain times of the day.

For example, Spielberg wanted his scary series, “Spielberg’s After Dark,” to appear in the evening, so Quibi’s team arranged for his episodes to not be shown on the platform until the sun goes down. Quibi users can also view the videos vertically or horizontally by changing how they hold their phones, which opens the possibilities for filmmakers to potentially change the viewer’s perspective based on how they are viewing the content.

Veena Sud, the showrunner for AMC’s crime drama “The Killing,” is working on a Quibi series called “The Stranger,” a thriller about a ride-hailing driver named Clare whose life is in danger after she picks up a sociopath. The drama follows Clare over 12 hours as she seeks safety. Viewers watch a dozen 10-minute episodes that air one hour later each night.

If viewers choose to like the series on the app, they’ll be notified of a new episode with the same creepy ring tone heard on Clare’s cellphone when she receives a text from the sociopath, Sud said.

“Unlike the traditional screens that we watch TV shows and movies on, this is the screen that is attached to most of our hands 24/7,” said Sud. Quibi allows filmmakers to “break every single wall between you and the audience and to draw your viewer out of passivity into actually being part of the story.”

But there are challenges to writing a story when it’s told in 10-minute chapters, Sud said.

“There can only be so much before it feels really repetitive,” Sud said. “Because there are so many very dramatic episode ends, I had to mix that with other types of questions about who the hell this guy is.”

Hardwicke, whose credits include the first “Twilight” film, said she was impressed at the level of collaboration creatives and techies have at Quibi.

“It just feels like ‘Wow, there are so many cool possibilities,’” Hardwicke said. “They don’t want to say no. They say, ‘Let’s try it.’ ”

Unlike other platforms, Quibi offers a premium price for content and gives creators more flexibility. The start-up is willing to pay up to $6 million an hour for long-form narrative content.

Another appealing feature for creators is they get to own the content after seven years, during which Quibi has the exclusive license. After two years, creators can take that content, put it in a longer form such as a movie and shop it elsewhere.

But some question whether there’s enough demand among millennials to watch premium videos on their smartphones.

YouTube recently changed its strategy for its premium scripted content, with plans to move programs like “Cobra Kai,” a scripted series based on the popular “Karate Kid” movies, out from behind a paywall and instead support them with ads.

Many subscribers of streaming platforms like Netflix also choose to view programs on their TVs, rather than on their smaller smartphone screens. Other platforms, like Verizon’s go90, failed in generating a large enough audience for shows created for mobile viewing.

“The real test comes once the service is launched and socialized with the world of on-the-go customers,” said Jason Squire, a professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. “Whether these customers will create a loyalty to any number of their shows or otherwise return to the site consistently — that is the key.”

But Katzenberg says he doesn’t need to get all smartphone users to pay for Quibi. If he got just 3% of the 2.5 billion smartphone users worldwide, “Quibi would be a massive success,” he said.

Quibi, which occupies two floors of a modern office building in Hollywood, looks like a typical tech start-up with an open floor plan. Whitman and Katzenberg don’t have offices and sit in the same space as their roughly 160 employees. Employees have their own lockers. Jars filled with various candies line the wall in the lobby.

The executives take pride in building a diverse company of employees drawn from the worlds of tech and entertainment. The company, which is 52% female, has employees who have worked at companies including Google, CBS, Spotify, Hulu, Facebook and Netflix.

“We have created something really powerful in bringing both the entertainment competency and technology competency together,” said Jim O’Gorman, Quibi’s head of talent and organization.

Katzenberg and Whitman said they are ready for any challenges and will face them together.

“We’re not marking our territory,” Whitman said. “We’ve done that.”

Katzenberg agrees, adding they both have marked enough territory in their lives.

“Here is the single thing above all else that bonds us and binds us together: We have a bottomless well of the need to win and whatever it takes to win,” Katzenberg said. “We just want to win. Big.”

Wendy Lee covers digital media for the Los Angeles Times’ Company Town team.

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7 Best Things About Buying A House In The Fall

 

For the first time in recent history, October surpassed June as the most popular month to get married. And these autumn-loving brides may be on to something: Although the spring months are notoriously the best time to buy real estate (as well as have a wedding), fall may be the new ideal season to buy a home.

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One obvious reason is that it’s easier to get from open house to open house without questioning if you’ll need an AC repair ASAP upon moving into that home for sale in Phoenix, AZ. Also, families on a mission to move into a new home before school starts are out of the picture. Besides these two more obvious reasons, here are seven expert insights on why you should consider a fall real estate purchase.

1. There’s less competition

Competition for houses drops off in the fall, a time many people consider to be off-season in real estate. But there are still homes for sale — and in some cases, there’s just as much inventory as there was during the spring and summer. “[Fall] means new inventory and re positioned old inventory that did not sell in the prime season,” says Wesley Stanton, a New York, NY, agent with The Stanton Hoch Team.

This puts you in a great position to negotiate. “Fall home buyers should consider [making] lowball offers, followed by more aggressive negotiation,” says Brian Davis, a real estate investor and director of education at Spark Rental. Davis points out that many sellers are very motivated to sell before the holidays. If possible, buyers should let these sellers know that they can close before Thanksgiving or before the school winter break.

2. Sellers are worn-out

Some sellers who put their homes on the market during the prime selling times of spring and summer might have been a tad overconfident by listing their homes for more than buyers were willing to spend. After months of no action, these sellers are often ready to make a deal. “Sellers who were unrealistic earlier in the year about price will now be more willing to reduce the price come fall,” says Thomas Miller, a Washington, DC, real estate agent. “Because there [are fewer buyers] and because the sellers are now eager to sell, they are more inclined to take the low offer than wait another six months for spring to come around.”
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3. Sellers are serious

Not all homes on the market in fall are summer leftovers. Some people need to sell in the fall because the timing is right. Maybe they were having a home built, and it’s now ready. Maybe they need to move because of a job. “The sellers with houses on the market in the fall tend to be serious,” says Sam Heskel, president of Nadlan Valuation, an appraisal management company in Brooklyn, NY. “That means sellers could be more open to negotiating and accepting a lower offer.”

4. You can take advantage of tax breaks

First-time home buyers, take note: Although you can’t escape paying income tax, you can make a dent in what you owe when you become a homeowner. “Property tax and mortgage interest are both deductions you can take for your whole year’s worth of income, even if you closed on your home in December,” says David Hryck, a New York, NY tax adviser, lawyer, and personal finance expert. “Any payments that are made prior to the closing of the loan are tax-deductible. This can make a serious difference in the amount you owe the government at the end of the year.”

5. Fall is a safer time of year

Did you know that burglars have peak seasons? They do, says Sarah Brown, a home safety expert for SafeWise.com. “July and August are prime months for burglaries to take place,” she says. “Waiting until the fall [to buy] gives you an advantage when learning about a home and the neighborhood.” You’ll be settled in your home and can take precautions — like setting up that new alarm system — before the next burglary season rolls around. Note: Check Trulia’s local maps with the crime filter before you buy.

6. You’re the center of attention

Because spring and summer are ideal times to buy a home, real estate agents are usually busier then. And that could mean you might not always get the attention you want. This is also true for other professionals you’re working with to buy a house. “Service providers, such as mortgage lenders and title companies, are moving out of the summertime sales swamp and can often respond more quickly,” says John Lazenby, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association in Orlando, FL.

The same goes for movers. “Because summer is the peak moving season, people often experience more delays and service issues, such as moving companies reaching capacity and running out of trucks to pick up shipments,” says Jack Griffin, president and chief operating officer of Atlas World Group. “The probability of experiencing a delay goes way down in the fall season.”

7. You can take advantage of end-of-year sales to outfit your home

There are bound to be improvements you’ll want to make after buying a house. You’ll also probably need to buy items to maintain your home, and if appliances weren’t part of the deal, you’ll need those too. Wouldn’t it be great to coordinate your home purchase with sales on items you’ll need? According to Consumer Reports, the calendar determines when it’s a good time to buy all sorts of consumer goods. In particular, September is a great time for buying carpet and paint. October means lawn mowers go on sale, and appliances and cookware are cheaper in November.

Did you buy your home in the fall? Would you recommend buying in the fall real estate market? Let us know in the comments.

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Questions to Ask Before Deciding on a Real Estate Agent

 

Roughly 5 million residential real estate transactions were conducted in 2014. Of those, nearly 87 percent involved real estate agents, who can help both buyers and sellers of residential properties save time and maximize the value of their home. Before deciding which real estate agent might be the best fit for your needs, you might want to ask yourself—or your agent—the following questions.

1. ARE THEY LICENSED?

Real estate agents licensed by state property boards are usually expected to complete regular training courses and abide by board-approved practices. Agents affiliated with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) are also bound by the organization’s Code of Ethics, which are intended to make sure real estate agents follow NAR’s approved protocols for home sales.

2. HOW MANY HOMES HAVE THEY SOLD IN YOUR AREA?

Because neighborhoods often have their own unique traits when it comes to advertising benefits like school districts and property values, you’ll want an agent who has successfully completed several transactions in the area you’re considering. For sellers, an agent with experience in the local market will know how best to appeal to buyers most likely to complete a sale.

3. HAVE YOU VISITED AN OPEN HOUSE THEY ARRANGED?

One of the better ways to assess an agent’s ability to move a property is to visit an open house to see how they handle prospective buyers. An impressive presentation means they’re likely to devote a similar amount of energy to your own transaction.

4. HAVE THEY WON ANY AWARDS?

While it’s not necessary that an agent’s office be packed with trophies, third-party recognition for outstanding sales or customer service can be a good sign that the agent is proactive and attentive to their client’s needs.

5. DO THEY HAVE THE RIGHT CREDENTIALS?

Agents often come with designations that might resemble a word jumble until you get familiar with details. An Accredited Buyer Representative has had additional training in representing those in the market for a home; a Seniors Real Estate Specialist has had experience working with buyers over the age of 50. Get to know an agent’s abbreviations and find out if they specialize in your situation.

6. HAVE THEY SOLD A HOUSE SIMILAR TO YOURS ALREADY?

As a buyer, you’ll want an agent familiar with the specific type of home sale you’re interested in. That means experience in navigating the details of federal loan programs, dealing with military financing, or having sold more residential properties than commercial. Buyers and sellers of private properties can also have a variety of special interests depending on the type of home being targeted. Rural homes, for example, have different details to work through compared to historic properties or condominiums. You’ll want an agent who has experience dealing with your specific case needs.

7. HOW MUCH DO THEY COST?

Agents typically receive a percentage of the sale price from the seller. Ask for specific amounts (typically three to seven percent), along with other closing costs. Sellers should also know whether an agent charges a fee for things like staging (dressing the home for viewing), photography, and other attempts to stand out in the market.

8. DO THEY HAVE REFERENCES?

Hiring an agent should be like hiring any other employee: You’ll want to know that they have gotten the job done previously. While you can look at online reviews, it shouldn’t be a problem for an agent to provide contact information for buyers or sellers they’ve worked with so you can benefit from their perspective.

9. WILL IT BE A TEAM EFFORT?

Keeping homes visible in the market, analyzing new listings, and communicating to clients requires a lot of leg work, so many agents have workers who assist them in keeping on top of their workload. At the same time, you don’t want an agent who will use assistants to pass along information. Make sure the agent will make keeping you informed their first priority.

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Setting Priorities In A Senior’s Move

Tips For Whittling Down The Options To Find The Perfect Spot

Trying to decide where to live during one’s golden years can be a difficult process. There are many different types of options available and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. When a senior is trying to choose a new place where they will spend their remaining years, it can be helpful to work through their priorities in relation to the new home.

 

Evaluate the reasons for the move and the priorities in a new home

ABC News shares that there are many reasons why seniors consider downsizing in their later years. This type of change may be due to the death of a spouse, financial challenges, or health concerns, or it may be time to retire and free up money to travel. Whenever possible, it is best to work up to a big move like this, as rushing into a relocation can lead to regrets.

Money Sense explains that many older adults are downsizing so they can reduce their expenses or boost their nest eggs, so determine a realistic budget and stick to it. Don’t be distracted by amenities available in a community if the overall cost would cause a financial strain, as this type of stress in one’s later years can be quite detrimental.

Next, do some thinking about how much space is needed. Will you have guests staying over frequently or will you be on your own most of the time? Do you need some unfinished storage space for belongings or will you be able to pare things down sufficiently to transition to a smaller home?

Location and maintenance work are key factors, too

Apartment Guide notes that you will also want to consider whether living in a maintenance-free home is something you want. Seniors often want to let go of any responsibilities regarding snow removal, lawn care, or exterior home repairs, so focusing on maintenance-free living can narrow your options quickly.

Another key priority for many seniors related to the location of the new home. If one needs to have easy access to a specific medical facility, care center, or shopping area, that needs to be factored in during the search. Location also plays a role when a senior depends on extended family for help, wants to be by grandchildren, or hopes to stay near neighbors or friends they have had for years.

Get organized early for a smooth transition

As the search for a new home plays out, start planning for the move itself. Staying organized and starting early are the best ways to ensure a smooth transition for your senior. Keep a notebook containing all of the information related to the move, including an inventory list of what will go to the new home, so that everything is maintained in one spot.

Then, work consistently on purging unwanted or unneeded items. Help your senior decide what will fit in the new place and what can be sold or donated, tackling one small area at a time. Keep similar items together while packing and label or color code all of your boxes to speed up the unpacking on the other end of the move.

Moving in one’s later years is rarely an easy decision. Get organized early on so you can help your senior focus on their best options and keep the move progressing smoothly. Consider factors such as a senior’s financial picture, their reasons for downsizing, and the ideal location of their new place so they can ultimately settle in the perfect spot to enjoy their golden years.

 

Jim Vogel vogel[email protected]

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Selling Your Home for Maximum Value

HomeChecklistSelling a home is almost as exciting and nerve-wracking as buying your first property. Fortunately, if you work with an experienced real estate agent and take the time to prepare your home, it will sell faster (and most likely net you an excellent price.)

Don’t underestimate the power of home improvement projects and home staging—these things can amp up your home’s appeal inside and out, and have buyers fighting to make an offer. Preparing your home for the market is a chance to make money and gain experience—take advantage of this opportunity by working hard.

Home Improvement Projects and Repairs

Small repairs and upgrades often have the biggest impact. Buyers want a home that is move-in ready. Minor things like burned-out lights, broken windows and cracked pavement detract from a home’s perceived value. Make sure everything is in good working order, and then tackle the upgrades. With a return on investment of 130 percent, replacing your front door is the top improvement.

If you’ve lived in your house for years, you probably have a few projects that have been on your to-do list forever. Some of these may be good choices, but others may be prohibitively expensive—projects that have excellent returns share these traits, as they are affordable and reduce maintenance requirements. They improve efficiency, and they address problems.

Improvements for Kitchens and Baths

The kitchen and the bathroom are prime candidates for remodeling, but you might be able to get away with less—replacing drawer handles and knobs is an excellent step. You may also want to repaint or refinish drab cabinets if they are structurally sound. Purchasing a new fridge or oven is also a nice step, as a premium appliance can give a room a measure of quality.

Installing modern light fixtures is another winning effort. In the bathroom, neutral colors create a classic look. Install a new shower head, and make sure the floor and shower itself are in good condition. Replace the caulk. Review thishome improvement guide to see which projects are worth the work.

What about Paint?

Fresh paint is one of the most welcome and recommended improvements if you’re selling your home. This project is simple and inexpensive. With good preparation, paint can cover minor blemishes and nicks—it can also conceal the bold paint in a child’s bedroom (buyers generally prefer neutral colors). You can maximize your return and achieve professional results by completing appropriate prep work, masking the trim, spackling holes and sanding the base coat. Low-VOC paint is an excellent choice and can be a selling point when you’re marketing your home.

Outdoor Upgrades

Exterior improvements are extremely beneficial for improving your home’s market value. Purchase new house numbers, replace broken or drafty windows, or install a new garage door. Invest in new siding, or make sure that your existing siding is free from mildew and stains. If you want to make a more major improvement, build a deck or patio. These functional areas will help buyers visualize a new life in a new home.

Landscaping for Curb Appeal

Landscaping can increase your home’s curb appeal and value considerably—the challenge is knowing where to start. First, how does your landscaping compare to other homes in the neighborhood? Is it lagging behind, or is it leading the way? Second, if your home has overgrown landscaping, it should be trimmed back, or even removed completely. Dying, neglected or overgrown plants will decrease your curb appeal. However, if you add a variety of landscape plants, your home’s value can increase by as much as 10 percent. You can easily double the money spent on plants, mulch and other supplies.

If you spend just 2 percent of your home’s estimated value on landscaping, you’ll see major returns. A study by Virginia Tech found that adding landscaping increased the value of a $150,000 home by more than $8,000. The sophistication of the design, the diversity of the plants and the size of the specimens are generally the most important aspects.

If you’re getting ready to sell, you should have about two months to make changes to your landscaping—a bag of lawn fertilizer and a load of mulch are ideal for sprucing up a home quickly. Outdoor furniture, potted plants and seasonal flowers are excellent choices for improving the appearance of your yard, and adding value to your home.

The Best Times of the Year to Sell

You’ve worked hard to spruce up your landscaping, and you want buyers to see the result. However, this might be impossible if your yard is covered by a foot of snow. Timing a sale is tricky, and it can’t always be helped, but you can maximize your returns by understanding what drives the market. Traditionally, spring has been the best time to sell, though this may not be the same in every case.

Buyers are active, and families want to get their kids settled before school starts. Approximately 60 percent of families who move do so in the summer, which shows how many homes sell in the spring. However, this trend is slowly changing. If you aren’t ready to list in the spring, you still have a good chance to profit—new data shows that November is one of the hottest months for home sales. But why?

Today, more than half of home buyers are retirees, single millennials, and couples without children. The school calendar doesn’t affect these individuals—in fact, listing in the autumn and winter is advantageous, because the housing supply is lower. It becomes a seller’s market!

As a general rule, homes listed in the fall and winter are 10 percent more likely to sell for the listing price, and to sell within six months. Don’t fear the holiday season either! If you can handle showings during this hectic time of year, feel free to list your home. Wintertime buyers are often in a hurry to relocate for a job, and thus need a home quickly. If your home is available, they may be willing to pay a premium price.

Staging a Home

Homes that are staged sell faster, and for more money. You could hire a professional, but many of these things can be done on your own (and for a fraction of the cost). Home staging starts with a thorough cleaning—strip waxed floors, shampoo carpets, and make every surface spotless. How much light a home has is also a major selling point.

Wash the drapes, or buy new curtains. Clean the windows and screens to let in more sunlight. Put in high-wattage bulbs that show off your home.

After you’ve cleaned, it’s time to declutter. Remove family photos and keepsakes. Clear out the garage. Donate items that you don’t use. Then, store the rest!

Ideally, your home should be 90 percent packed when it’s time for a showing. Closets and storage spaces are especially important to buyers. Make sure closets are tidy and no more than half full.

Finally, arrange furniture to give each room a distinct purpose. Multi-purpose rooms give buyers a mixed message—it’s better if the buyer imagines a home office in a spare bedroom, rather than seeing a computer desk crammed next to a daybed.

Test your improvements by walking around your home and looking at everything like a buyer would. Staging gives you the power to decide what potential buyers see (and what they don’t see), including your children and your pets. This process starts before you list your home, and continues through the showing. It can be a good idea to brainstorm a variety of home staging ideas in advance.

Aromatherapy for Home Sellers

Staging makes your home look great in listing photos, however, pleasant smells can make your home appealing in person. Before you get out the air freshener, it’s important to remove unwanted odors. Pet odors and cigarette smoke are two of the biggest turnoffs for home buyers. If you have a problem with either, take steps to address these issues early in the process.

Some homes suffer from musty odors. Open the windows regularly to draw in fresh air. Clean the walls, carpets, upholstery and any surfaces that harbor unwanted odors.

Scientists know that olfactory experiences have a great effect on behavior. Neutral and natural scents, such as lavender, orange, lemon and pine, appeal to potential buyers. Avoid overbearing blended fragrances or artificial air fresheners. Studies show that strong scents create a mental disturbance and inhibit the decision-making process that is critical when someone is making the biggest purchase of their life.

Vanilla extract and essential oils are excellent choices for perfuming various areas of your home. You can also boil cinnamon sticks or orange peels about an hour before a showing.

Think seasonally, and consider what fits your home and the buyer. Avoid derisive scents like patchouli, and keep in mind that many people are sensitive to powerful fragrances.

Hiring the Right Realtor

All of your hard work up to this point won’t pay off without an effective real estate agent. The right realtor can make the process of selling your home easy and profitable. It’s tempting to hire the realtor who originally sold you the home or who found the perfect property for a friend, but these choices can prove to be less than ideal.

A selling agent needs to be on top of the market and understand all the nuances of your neighborhood, including the sale prices of comparable homes—pricing a home is an art!

If you start with the right number, you’ll get more offers and still have room to negotiate. If you start too high, your home might sit on the market, face price reductions and eventually sell for less than it would have.

Look for an agent who is experienced and works in your area regularly. You need an accurate market analysis, not an inflated valuation. Here are a few questions to ask to help you find the right realtor.

1. How quickly are your homes selling? How does this compare to the average selling time?

2. Did the homes sell for more or less than the listing price?

3. What will you do to market my home locally and online?

4. How often will you update me on any progress?

5. May I speak to your most recent clients? Ask about the agent’s communication skills, sales strategy and interaction from the listing through the closing.

How well you prepare your home for the market can alter a buyer’s perception and help you get top dollar. Everything you do should send the message that your home is well-maintained and ready for new owners. If you’re preparing to move, you’re probably ready to buy, which means that you should be able to see your home from a buyer’s perspective. These strategies will help you sell your home quickly, and capitalize on its full value.

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Start an Online Business without Breaking the Bank

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But here’s the thing: Instead of jumping on the bandwagon to start an online business, make sure you do your homework first. Most people launch a product and market it later. Big mistake!

You want to do the opposite – study the market first, launch next. How? Since it’s going to be an online business, start looking at online forums, comment sections of your competitor sites and what people are searching in Google (using Google Keyword Tool).

Once you pass stage one successfully, you can think about launching a website/product/service. That’s where the real magic happens.

Here’s what comes next:

  • Writing content
  • Starting a blog
  • Having a presence on social media
  • Establishing an expert status for yourself
  • Email marketing
  • Outsourcing tasks you don’t have the time or inclination for
  • Following influencers closely
  • Launching a product or paid service

The list is unending.

It’s easy to get burned out in the sea of tasks and strategies when starting an online business. Thankfully, there are tools available to help you get off the hamster wheel and launch a successful online business.

The best part? You don’t have to spend a fortune on these tools. Here are eight tools to start an online business without breaking the bank: 

1. Hostt

An online business needs a website domain name and space to “host it”. Hosting is an ongoing expense for your business and it usually incurs a monthly cost with an option to pay it upfront on a yearly basis.

And that’s where Hostt.com is revolutionizing the hosting world. What I love about Hostt is that it offers free hosting for all your websites. They also have a 24/7 tech support and a cpanel that makes website management quick and painless.

There is no catch – no ads. The hosting is 100% free. They only ask you to have one domain name with them (which costs $13.95 a year).

2. WordPress/Shopify

Once your website is set up and hosted, you’re ready to install a CMS or a platform on which your web pages and content will sit.

WordPress, originally a blogging platform, is the most popular solution in existence today. Most top bloggers use and recommend WordPress. The best part? It’s free to use.

Once you have your website hosted (see #1 above), your hosting company’s cpanel should let you install WordPress using the “1-click install” functionality.

WordPress is great for any type of website; but, if you want to create mainly an e-commerce store (in other words, an online store with a checkout shopping cart), you have better options out there.

Although WordPress is pretty flexible and a full-blown CMS now, it was originally built for blogging, not for e-commerce purposes. If you predict having a large product catalog and lots of e-commerce relevant features, try a service such as Shopify.

Most e-commerce experts will advise you against WordPress for an online store. Shopify is highly customizable, robust and affordable for a professional shopping cart. There are other alternatives available in the marker too, so make sure you do your research before launching a web-store.

3. BuzzSumo

Once you have a platform ready, you need content. And not just any content but good, solid content one that your readers find educative, interesting and engaging.

BuzzSumo is a neat little tool that analyzes what works for your readers. It helps you find content and topics that will do best for your type of audience.

Just open their webpage and enter your main keywords in the top search bar. You can also add a domain name to see what’s working well for them.

BuzzSumo returns a list of articles with the number of shares (so you know what is popular and can get ideas from those topics for your own website).

Super-helpful from SEO perspective also. So go on, give it a try!

4. MailChimp

But you can’t just stop after creating juicy content. The next step in line is to promote your content and one of the best ways to do it is email marketing.

Mailchimp is an email newsletter service that is used by more than 7 million people. You can get started with their “free forever” plan if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers and send less than 12,000 emails per month (which is very likely when you’re starting out).

To get add-ons such as autoresponders and delivery by time zones, you can upgrade for as little as $10 per month. I’ve been using MailChimp for years now for my own websites and that of my clients, and have no regrets.

5. Buffer

Apart from promoting content and educating your readers via email, you can also use social media to share and push your new posts out there.

Buffer is a nice little tool to schedule all your posts across different social media. The clean and easy to use interface is one of the reasons it’s so popular. What I personally love is their “Suggestions” tab on the dashboard.

Buffer scours the web for best posts on other websites that you can instantly use to share with your own followers. When I’m low on the shareable content reserve, this feature is super-handy – all I have to do is read the suggested article and (if I like it) click the link to share or schedule it for my own channels.

6. ClickMeeting

If you are in a freelance/service-provider business model like I am, you have a constant need to communicate with your clients or collaborate with your team all over the world.

ClickMeeting is a platform to meet and record audio and video conferencing with your clients (for up to 25 participants). It’s perfect for briefing and presentation purposes. You can also brand all your meetings and impress your clients like a pro. Plus, they have a translation service if you’re exploring international markets.

They also offer a sister-product called ClickWebinar to conduct virtual trainings (for up to 1,000 participants) and webinars with your audience.

7. FancyHands

Let’s face it – despite all the tools in the world, you will still need external help. That’s where services such as FancyHands come into picture.

FancyHands brings you a team of virtual assistants who can do a lot of things at less than $1 a day, if you’re using their basic plan that costs $29.99/mo.

Here are some services for which people have requested in the past (as per the company’s website):

 My co-worker is in the hospital after a bad car accident. Can you call the gift shop there and ask them if they sell fun things to do to pass the time that they could send in a gift basket type of thing to him? Crossword puzzles, trashy magazines, stuff like that. I’d like to spend about $50. If they don’t do that sort of thing, please find a place that can.

Please make a lunch reservation at Barolo under my name for Friday at 1pm and call Jennifer Wilson’s office and let her know that the meeting is confirmed. Please add it to my schedule as well.

Please fill me in on the top 5 trending topics on Twitter today, both worldwide and locally in Los Angeles.

A fun way to get your time back, right?

8. Xoom

I saved the best for last – getting paid. Xoom is a perfect alternative to Paypal. Where Paypal is notorious for charging hefty transaction fees (try this calculator to find how much you’re being charged), Xoom charges a flat fee of $4.99 for up to $2,999.

With their 24/7 customer support and faster money transfers, Xoom is one of the easiest ways to send money.

Your Turn

Are you starting an online business? Which one of the above tools is your favorite? Would you like to add more? Tells us your thoughts in the comments below.

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Fireplace Maintenance and Safety

Tend to your chimney with care with these expert tips!

 

Enjoying a warm, cozy fire requires a clean, safe fireplace.
Here are some tips for keeping it that way.
Fireplaces should not be used as furnaces. Use a fireplace for a short-duration fire — no longer than five hours.Keep the glass open to allow air to be drawn up to cool the chimney, but keep the screen closed to prevent sparks from jumping onto the carpeting.
 

 

 

 

Never leave a fire unattended when children are in the house. Adults, even if near, should not allow children to play near or with fire tools and equipment.

 

Open a window when using the fireplace to prevent the room from becoming smoky. The air coming in from the window will go up the chimney.

 

 

Before making a fire, open the glass doors, pull aside the screen curtains, and place the kindling, newspaper and logs inside. Next, open the damper and a window. The window needs to be open only a few inches. You can check to make sure the smoke will go up the chimney properly by lighting a match, quickly blowing it out and watching the smoke to see whether it’s going up and out.

 

Keep a nonflammable rug (available at fireplace-supply stores) in front of the fireplace so that sparks won’t melt or otherwise damage your carpeting.

 

Use fireplace tools to handle burning logs. Never use your hands.

 

Use a chimney cap to prevent water damage, to keep animals from nesting and to keep debris from blocking the chimney and causing carbon monoxide to flow into the house. Use a spark arrester to help prevent sparks from flying out, which could start a fire on the roof or lawn.

 

Glass doors may develop tough stains from flames and heat. To clean them, make sure the glass doors are cool, then scrape off any thick gunk deposits with a razor blade. Add a squirt of liquid dishwashing detergent to a bucket of warm water, or add a cup of vinegar to a gallon of water. Spray or sponge the cleaner on, and then wipe it away with newspaper (which is lint-free). Another option is to buy glass cleaner at a fireplace store.

 

Fireplace coals can remain hot enough to start a fire for up to three days, so always wait at least that long before removing the ashes. At that point, close the damper to prevent cold air in the flue from stirring up excess dust while you’re removing the ashes. Be sure to wear a dust mask and open a window in the same room as the fireplace to prevent negative air pressure. Use a shovel to scoop the ashes into a metal container. Store the container far from combustible materials and surfaces and wood floors.

 

Never use a vacuum to clean up ashes, because live coals may remain in those ashes.

 

Have a certified chimney sweep inspect and clean the chimney when necessary. Have him show you how to check it yourself, too. The chimney should be checked at least once a year or after about 80 fires.

 

Shine brass fireplace utensils with Worcestershire sauce and a toothbrush.

 

Clean the firebox (the area where the logs burn) at least once a week during the months you use it, when ash builds up. Leave about an inch of ash because it acts as insulation, allowing the coals to heat faster and retain the heat easier.

 

Keep the firebox completely clean during the months when the fireplace is not in use.

 

To clean an exterior slate hearth, wash, dry and coat it with lemon oil every six weeks to make it shine. For cleaning exterior brick hearths, buy a brick cleaner at a fireplace shop.

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Worthwhile renovations to increase the value of your home

Home renovations are a headache and they can be expensive. If you’re going to undertake them, you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Some renovations will add more value to the price of selling your home than others. These are the best recommended renovations to increase the sale value of your home.

Curb Appeal

The inside of your home might be renovated from top to bottom, but if the outside looks unappealing, you might not even get potential buyers in the front door to marvel over (and pay top dollar for) your granite counter tops and sunken whirlpool tub.

Little things do matter and that’s good news for you because little things are cheaper and easier to do. Believe it or not, one of the best ways to improve your home’s value is to get a new front door. This small improvement adds an average of 96.6% of what it cost you to the value of your home, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Is your home looking a bit dingy on the outside? Before you put it on the market, rent a power washer which you can get for about $75 a day. This simple chore can add as much as $10,000 to $15,000 to the value of your home, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Landscaping is an important part of curb appeal. It can add as much as 28% to the home’s value, says NAR. Strategically-planted trees not only beautify your home, but they can help cut energy costs too.

Plants aren’t the only aspect of landscaping. Outdoor lighting is valuable to prospective buyers too, and it’s another one of those things that can save you, or the new owners money. Lighting reduces the risk of break-ins and some homeowner’s insurance policies will give you a discount for installing it.

Beyond Cosmetic

It’s nice to walk into a beautiful home, but there are some renovations that are well worth the money that have nothing to do with aesthetics. Installing central air in a 2,400-square foot home can cost around $10,000, but it can add as much as 10 to 20% to your home’s value, reported Real Simple.

It can also save you energy costs long term, as they are less costly to run than window units and don’t have to be removed and stored after each summer. Plus, central air units don’t obstruct the view of all that beautiful landscaping you did the way that bulky window units do.

Peace of mind goes a long way to making your home attractive to buyers. Having to replace the roof a few years after moving in is not on any buyer’s wish list. Because no one wants to deal with that, a new roof can add a lot of value to your home, between 15 and 40%, says Signature Exteriors, one company that installs them. It can also increase your home’s energy efficiency.

Kitchen is King

Even those people who eat take-out most nights dream of a beautiful kitchen, cozy family dinners around the table or entertaining friends. Extended family are still powerful draws when people look for a home.

Kitchen remodels can return as much as 83% on your payout, according to Investopedia.

Granite counter tops seem to be a deal-maker for many people, so if you have yet to replace your old Formica counters, get on it. Storage space is important too. We buy lots of kitchen gadgets, and even if they’re merely “aspiration,” they need a place to live.

Just repainting the kitchen can make a big difference. If you have spent a lot of time cooking, the walls can be dingy from smoke and grease. You may not notice it any longer, but you can bet a prospective buyer will.

Add a Bathroom

Remember when you were in college and had to share a bathroom with one, maybe more, roommates? So does everyone else and they don’t want to do it when they’re adults who own a home. If your home only has one bathroom, adding another will make a big difference.

Adding or remodeling a bathroom can recoup between 80-plus% of your investment. People want porcelain tiles on the walls and the floors, an upgraded shower stall with multiple shower heads, and lots of counter space, with two sinks if you have room for it all.

Outdoor Space

Much like home-buyers dream of entertaining in a newly-renovated kitchen, they also dream of outdoor entertaining. Adding a deck to your home can provide a return on investment of 73%. A patio, while still desirable, adds less return, between 30-60%, according to Inman.

You might think most buyers would like to do all this outdoor entertaining pool side, but a pool actually adds little value to a home. Pools do require a lot of upkeep and some people don’t want to be bothered. Also, if your home is in a neighborhood that appeals to young families, some would prefer not to have a pool because of the danger it poses to young children.

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