Real Estate

Rx for Pain Relief: 30 Minutes With a Story

RisMedia Consumer News - May 26, 2021 - 4:30pm

(TNS)—If you know or have kids who’ve been suffering from the disruption of the pandemic, there may be a pharmaceutical-free way to alleviate their pain and stress: Read them a story.

Scientists in Brazil who studied the effect of storytelling and riddle-based games on children hospitalized in an intensive care unit found that stories lowered the young patients’ stress hormone levels, reduced their self-reported pain scores and resulted in them speaking more positively about hospitals, doctors and nurses.

“Our findings provide a psychophysiological basis for the short-term benefits of storytelling,” the study authors wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The results offer a simple and inexpensive intervention that could ease the physical and psychological pain of hospitalized children, the authors said. And they hint that storytelling could have a powerful effect on children’s well-being beyond the hospital setting—including for those whose home and school lives have been left in disarray by the coronavirus.

The pandemic has “some kind of similarity to the ICU context, in the sense that we are locked in, we are extremely anxious, afraid of being sick and you don’t know when [things] are going to get better,” said lead author Guilherme Brockington, a physicist at the Federal University of ABC in São Paolo, Brazil.

Humans love stories, whether it’s telling them or hearing them. This is true from childhood to old age, and across language and culture. Studies suggest that love of the narrative may have played a critical adaptive role in human society and allowed us to influence our emotions and forge connections with one another. Psychologically, stories allow us to pull meaning out of a sometimes-chaotic world and to learn the intricacies and pitfalls of social interactions through the safety of vicarious experience.

Mentally stimulating activities from childhood through old age seem to provide a “cognitive reserve,” scientists say.

Researchers have a hypothesis for why stories have such an effect, an idea called “narrative transportation.” By weaving a tapestry of language, text and imagination, stories immerse heart and mind. And as the story world becomes more immediate, more “real,” the actual world becomes slightly more remote or harder to access—at least for a little while.

“If you’re listening to a story, your mind is transported to another place, away from the hospital and into this sort of imaginary realm,” said Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Toronto who was not involved in the study.

“These narrative transportations and mental simulations can help reframe personal experiences, broaden perspectives, deepen emotional processing abilities, increase empathy, and regulate self-models and emotional experiences,” the study authors wrote.

In other words, storytelling seems like a powerful tool that can be harnessed for good. That’s why it’s common for hospitals around the world to have storytelling programs for young patients.

Still, their benefits have remained largely anecdotal. For this study, Brockington and his colleagues wanted to build a case based on scientific evidence.

To do so, the researchers focused their efforts on children in intensive care, who are already dealing with the hardship and pain associated with their illnesses. On top of that, being removed from home and school deprives them of routines that bring comfort and security, can interrupt their development and can affect them in other ways long after they’ve left the hospital.

The scientists recruited 81 children who had been admitted to the ICU at Rede D’Or São Luiz Jabaquara Hospital in São Paulo. They ranged in age from two to seven and suffered from similar conditions, such as respiratory problems brought on by asthma, bronchitis or pneumonia.

The children were randomly split into two groups. In the experimental group, 41 participated in a program in which a trained volunteer read a children’s tale for 25 to 30 minutes. The patients were able to choose from one of eight stories typically found in Brazilian children’s literature. (They could ask at any time to change stories or have one reread.)

In the control group, the volunteer took on a different role, spending the same amount of time asking the remaining 40 children to solve amusing riddles. The idea was to control the amount of time, attention and social interaction each child would receive, regardless of whether they were getting riddles or stories.

The study team examined the children’s responses on multiple levels. The researchers collected saliva samples from each participant before and after sessions to track changes in levels of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress) and oxytocin (a hormone linked to empathy and emotional processing).

The children also took a subjective test to report the level of pain they were feeling on a scale of one to six, before and after each activity. Finally, they participated in a verbal free-association task by describing their impressions of seven cards depicting relevant subjects: nurse, doctor, hospital, medicine, patient, pain and book.

Across the board, the riddles and the stories had a positive impact. Cortisol levels dropped, oxytocin levels rose and subjective pain reports eased.

There was one key difference: The stories appeared to be roughly twice as effective as the riddles. Oxytocin levels rose ninefold after the storytelling intervention, versus a fivefold increase after the riddles. Cortisol levels dropped by about 60% for the children who heard stories, compared with a drop of 35% for those who worked on riddles.

As for pain, children who heard stories saw their average scores fall from 3.85 to 1.15 (a drop of 2.7 points), while the average pain scores for those with riddles fell from 3.72 to 2.18 (1.54 points).

In the word-association game, responses from the story group tended to be more positive for “hospital,” “nurse” and “doctor” than those from the riddles group. For example, when looking at a picture of a hospital, a story child would call it a place where “people go to get better,” while a riddles child would say it was where “people go when they are sick.”

The evidence makes a strong case for the therapeutic power of stories, scientists said.
“Even just doing one psychophysiological measurement would have been impressive; to get two is great; to pair that with a diversity of other kinds of reports is truly a huge undertaking,” Mar said. “And again, the most impressive thing is that you see pretty consistent results across all those four measurements.”

The results speak to the power of narrative, the study authors said.

“You are going to another world through fantasy,” Brockington said. For at least a little while, people can find themselves “in a better place, a less stressful place.”

While the stories deployed in this study were lighthearted or amusing, Mar wondered whether stories with a theme related to the listener’s plight might offer targeted aid. Mar also said he might broaden the definition of stories to include other forms of narrative play.

“I think that any kind of imaginative roleplay that allows children to sort of work through what is currently potentially stressing them is likely to be helpful,” he said.

And it’s not just kids who need stories, said senior author Jorge Moll, a neuroscientist at the D’Or Institute for Research and Education in Rio de Janeiro. Adults can also benefit from letting a story transport them.

With families spending more time together at home during the pandemic, it might be an opportunity to return to long-lost traditions, such as swapping stories around a fire.

“I suspect those should be very beneficial for everyone,” Moll said.

©2021 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

NAR Partners With LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance

NAR Daily News Magazine - May 26, 2021 - 1:00am

"We’re proud to continue leading today’s industry in the fight against discrimination," says NAR's president in announcing the new partnership.

Categories: Real Estate

Most Common Complaints About Neighbors

NAR Daily News Magazine - May 26, 2021 - 1:00am

From speeding in the neighborhood to failing to clean up after pets, would you report your neighbor if you saw them doing something illegal?

Categories: Real Estate

Millennial Military Veterans Fuel Demand for VA Loans

NAR Daily News Magazine - May 26, 2021 - 1:00am

Buyers ages 25 to 40 accounted for 50% of all VA purchase loans in 2020. See where such sales are surging.

Categories: Real Estate

Worsening Affordability Hurts New-Home Sales

NAR Daily News Magazine - May 26, 2021 - 1:00am

Prices for new construction have jumped 20% year over year, squeezing many would-be buyers out of the market.

Categories: Real Estate

Buyer Regret Isn’t Plaguing Most Recent Purchasers

NAR Daily News Magazine - May 26, 2021 - 1:00am

Though millennials have expressed reservations, the majority of buyers overall are happy with their recent move, according to a® survey.

Categories: Real Estate

How High Above Ask Must Buyers Go?

NAR Daily News Magazine - May 26, 2021 - 1:00am

The median existing-home price is now $341,600—a record high, according to NAR.

Categories: Real Estate

3 Steps to Help Minimize Mosquitoes

NAR Daily News Magazine - May 25, 2021 - 1:00am

Check for common breeding areas around a home, and take steps to reduce the swarms, which may be most troublesome in these 20 metro areas.

Categories: Real Estate

Yun: 'FOMO' Behind Some of the Buying Frenzy

NAR Daily News Magazine - May 25, 2021 - 1:00am

NAR’s chief economist says the fear of missing out is partially fueling bidding wars in many hyperactive markets.

Categories: Real Estate

All-Cash Sales Continue to Heat Up

NAR Daily News Magazine - May 25, 2021 - 1:00am

To make offers more appealing, buyers are increasingly offering hard money.

Categories: Real Estate

Help Protect ‘Sight Unseen’ House Hunters

NAR Daily News Magazine - May 25, 2021 - 1:00am

More than 40% of home shoppers say they would put a contract on a home without physically stepping inside. Here are three ways to lower their risk.

Categories: Real Estate

What Are the Costs Associated With Buying a Home?

RisMedia Consumer News - May 24, 2021 - 4:58pm

(TNS)—When you come across a favorable mortgage offer, you may think, “Great! I can afford my dream home.” You may be able to, but the costs associated with buying a home go beyond the mortgage payment. To determine how much house you can afford, it’s important to factor in additional expenses, such as closing costs, insurance and taxes, before committing to a mortgage.

Complete Costs of Buying a House
Matt Hester and Ross Hester, father and son co-founders of The Hester Group, Harry Norman Realtors in Atlanta, Georgia, encourage all of their clients to prepare for the funds needed to purchase.

“If you do not consider all the costs, your monthly expense budget can be flipped on its head,” Matt Hester says.

These costs include:

Down Payment
The down payment is the part of the home’s purchase price you pay upfront, rather than financing it through a mortgage. If you’re buying a $200,000 home, for example, and put 10% down, or $20,000, you’d be getting a mortgage for $180,000.

If you choose a conventional or FHA loan, a down payment is required. The amount of the down payment that’s needed is based on the home’s price and property type, as well as the loan product.

For a conventional loan, exactly how much depends on the lender and loan type—you might put down 3%, 10%, 20% or more. With an FHA loan, you could be able to put down as little as 3.5%.

It’s important to note that there are loans without a down payment requirement: USDA loans, for borrowers buying in designated markets (generally rural), and VA loans, for eligible service members and veterans.

Closing Costs
To close on your home loan and get the keys to the property, you’ll need to pay closing costs, which are all of the fees associated with the mortgage. These range typically from 2% – 5% of the loan principal, and can include:

– Application fee
– Appraisal fee
– Credit check fee
– Origination and/or underwriting fees
– Title insurance
– Title search fee
– Transfer tax (if applicable)
“There are a number of standard closing table items for which the actual cost will vary based on the value of the home and also the partners you work with,” Ross Hester says.

If you’re lean on savings, however, many lenders offer a no-closing-cost mortgage option, in which the closing costs are added to your loan principal or otherwise paid for in the form of a higher interest rate. Both save you from having to bring cash to the closing upfront, but can cost you more in the long run, especially if you intend to stay in the home long-term.

Property Taxes
In most places, your city or county government requires you to pay property taxes on your home for as long as you own it. Typically, property tax is included in your monthly mortgage payment, but separate from the interest and principal.

For instance, if you own a home with an assessed value of $100,000, and the tax rate is 2%, your annual property tax would be $2,000, paid in $167 increments added to each of your 12 monthly mortgage payments throughout the year.

Keep in mind that the assessed value is not the same as the price you paid for your home. If home values go up in your area, your city or county could assess your home at a higher value, meaning you’ll pay more in property tax.

Homeowners and Mortgage Insurance
When buying a home, there are two kinds of insurance to consider: homeowners insurance and private mortgage insurance, or PMI.

Homeowners insurance protects you financially from unexpected events that damage your home, such as natural disaster, theft or vandalism. Though homeowners insurance isn’t required by law, most mortgage lenders require it in some form. The cost significantly varies, and there are many options, so it’s best to compare offers to keep the expense as low as possible.

If you get a conventional loan, PMI is generally required if you put less than 20% down. This kind of insurance protects the lender if you default on the loan and can considerably increase your mortgage payment. According to the Urban Institute, annual PMI premiums range from 0.58% to 1.86% of the loan amount.

PMI isn’t permanent, however. As you pay down your mortgage and build equity in your home, you can get rid of PMI.

HOA Fees
If you’re buying a condo or another kind of home in a community overseen by a homeowners association (HOA), you’ll likely be required to pay a monthly fee, known as an HOA fee. HOA fees are determined by the association and highly variable. These funds go toward the services the association provides, which may include security, a pool or gym and landscaping and maintenance.

HOAs can also charge occasional special assessment fees for urgent repairs. These financial obligations may be overlooked when buyers tally up the costs of buying a home, but they add up quickly.

Home Maintenance, Repairs and Utilities
No matter where you live, you’ll need to plan for home maintenance and repairs. Wear and tear happens, so it’s important to have extra funds on hand for repairing or replacing appliances and major structures and systems, such as the roof or HVAC.

Many experts recommend budgeting 1% of your home’s value for home maintenance each year, as well as maintaining an emergency fund to address urgent, non-budgeted concerns as they crop up.

You’ll also need to pay for utilities, likely including water, sewer, gas and electricity. These costs vary according to location, but the general rule of thumb is the larger the property, the more utilities will cost.

Home Prices Today
The price of the home you buy is undoubtedly a big factor in your overall costs. If you’re looking to buy a home today, expect higher prices and tougher competition. As of March 2021, the median existing-home price was $329,100, according to the National Association of REALTORS®, a 17.2% increase from the same time a year ago. Existing single-family home prices were at a record high of $334,500, an 18.4% hike from last year. Meanwhile, the median price of a new-construction home was $330,800, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Keep in mind that home prices in your market might be much higher or lower than these national figures, and the price you’ll pay also depends on the type of property you buy.

Bottom Line
The costs of buying and owning a home can add up quickly, so it’s important to prepare. You’ll want to save money, improve or maintain your credit and compare lenders to get the best mortgage rates possible.

“When it comes to determining their budget based on their individual situation, lenders, accountants, financial planners are the folks I recommend buyers reach out to,” says Matt Hester.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Contingent vs. Pending: Real Estate Lingo Explained

RisMedia Consumer News - May 19, 2021 - 4:29pm

When your real estate agent puts your home in the multiple listing service, it will have an “Active” status. This indicates that it’s available for showings. However, this is just the start with many things to do before the status changes to “Closed.”

There are other statuses in the MLS listings like “Pending,” “Contingent,” “Coming Soon” and “Expired.” What do they mean and how will they affect your home sale? One of the most confusing things for buyers and sellers to understand is what contingent means vs. pending.

To help you understand the process, we look at some of the lingo used in real estate listings.

Contingent vs. Pending?
Two important statuses in the MLS are “Contingent” and “Pending.” They show that you have a buyer who has signed a contract with you. It means that both parties have accepted the terms within the contract, now legally binding. Despite this, there can still be room to negotiate the conditions of the sale.

Contingent Meaning
The contingent label in a listing indicates that the seller has accepted the offer; however, certain things need to happen before things can move on. It shows that the contract has been agreed upon, but some work still needs to be done before closing.

The contingent status typically allows the home to be shown to other possible buyers, allowing backup offers to be made. This protects the seller should something go wrong, giving them the option to move on to another buyer quickly, if necessary.

Not all sales will have contingencies with them, but most will. Common real estate contingencies include the following:

Inspection Contingencies
The most common contingency is the home inspection contingency. Around 60% of sales have this contingency, and it ensures that the buyer isn’t buying a property with serious faults.

If the home inspection finds severe problems, or the seller doesn’t agree to repair or provide credits, the buyer can walk away. The home inspection can lead to some delays in the process, too, for around 10% of cases.

Financing or Mortgage Contingencies
The majority of homebuyers use a mortgage to finance their purchases. The financing contingency makes sure that the buyer can secure the amount of finance they need for the purchase. This type of contingency is found in around half of the purchase contracts. Financing problems delay closing in around a third of all real estate transactions.

Buyers need to keep track of their mortgage contingency to make sure it doesn’t lapse. Doing so could mean the forfeiture of their earnest money deposit.

Appraisal Contingencies
Lenders aren’t going to provide money for a property that the buyer’s offer has overvalued. To ensure that they aren’t lending more than the home is really worth, they will use a home appraiser to find the fair market value.

If the appraisal comes in lower than the amount the buyer has offered, it could stop the purchase in its tracks—problems like this account for nearly 20% of delayed contracts.

Title Contingencies
A title company is used to make sure the home isn’t claimed by someone else. If the home has a clear title, there won’t be any debts or liens on the property, and there shouldn’t be any possible disputes over ownership later on. Title contingencies can be responsible for around 10% of delayed sales.

Home Sale Contingencies
Sometimes a buyer needs to make sure they have sold their current home before they can purchase another. The home sale contingency isn’t that common but can slow down the process.

Pending Meaning
When a home is listed as pending, it means that there aren’t any contingencies to deal with or that they have already been dealt with. This shows that the house has gone through the contingent stage, and the buyer is expected to close on the home.

What Other MLS Statuses Are There?
There are hundreds of different MLSs in operation across the country, so you can see some slightly different terms used. For example, “Active Contingent” and “Active Under Contract” can be used instead of “Contingent.”

Other Common Statuses You Might Find Can Include:

– Coming Soon: When there is a contract or listing agreement with a broker or listing agent, but things aren’t quite ready yet. Perhaps the seller needs some time to fix up the home before it is ready for the market or it is new construction. Sometimes these “Coming Soon” statuses are limited in the MLS to a few weeks.

– Withdrawn: This can happen if the seller has decided to pause showings and offers on the home.

– Canceled: The listing contract for this home has been canceled in writing.

– Expired: Listings contracts only run for a certain amount of time, and when they expire, the home will no longer be on the market.

– Closed: The home has been sold.

As well as these statuses, real estate agents can leave other comments to clarify the situation.

Status updates need to be made fairly quickly within the MLS. Most MLSs will have rules that real estate agents have to follow to ensure the statuses are as accurate as they can be.

The Differences Between Pending and Contingent
The meaning of contingent puts more potential roadblocks in the way of a completed sale. On the other hand, a pending status means that the selling process is nearly completed, and things are about to close.

With a contingent status, the seller is still open to accepting offers on their property. This gives the seller a backup, should their first buyer back out of the deal for whatever reason.

Though it is fairly rare for sales to fall through, perhaps happening less than 10% of the time, it is good to have a backup. For this reason, it helps the seller if their agent is proactively lining up alternatives, should their current buyer back out. And if their buyer does back out, the seller could find that they’ve got another buyer ready to go who has an even better offer.

Having a better understanding of the real estate lingo used in the MLS allows you to follow the progress of listings better. Changes in the statuses of a listing show the sale is progressing toward closing step-by-step.

Bill Gassett is a nationally recognized real estate leader who has been helping people buy and sell MetroWest Massachusetts real estate for the past 33 years. He has been one of the top RE/MAX REALTORS® in New England for the past decade. In 2018, he was the No. 1 RE/MAX real estate agent in Massachusetts.

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Categories: Real Estate

What Happens to My Escrow Account If I Refinance?

RisMedia Consumer News - May 18, 2021 - 4:15pm

All mortgages require a monthly payment. Typically, the monthly payment consists of the principal repayment, prorated property tax, prorated homeowner’s insurance payment and interest. Of these, your taxes and insurance payments are held in a trust account with the lender, called the escrow account. When you refinance a mortgage, existing escrow accounts are usually closed and a new one is opened specific to the new loan.

To better understand the advantages and disadvantages of escrow accounts and how they work, read below.

Understanding Escrow Accounts. When you pay your monthly mortgage payment, your taxes and insurance are kept in an escrow account held by your mortgage company. When these bills are due, the bank is responsible for paying them for you in a timely manner. Some lenders require you to open an escrow account in order to grant you the loan; others will let you pay the bills yourself.

The Previous Escrow Account. When you refinance a loan, the original escrow account remains with the old loan. Escrow funds, unfortunately, cannot be transferred to new loans, even if it’s with the same lender. All the property tax and insurance payments you have made to that account, since the last payment was made, will be returned to you, usually within 45 days via wire transfer or check.

Using Old Escrow Funds. Because the funds will be sent to you at a later date, it is usually not possible to use held escrow funds from a previous loan to apply toward your new escrow account on the refinanced loan. This will require you to come up with more funds at closing to fund your new escrow account and, depending on the time of year that you are refinancing, the lender may require a substantial amount in taxes to be pre-paid into escrow.

Benefits of Escrow Accounts. If you choose to utilize an escrow account for your loan, you may receive a lower interest rate. The lender becomes responsible for paying your quarterly property tax, as well as payments to your homeowners insurance, freeing you from having to remember to pay them. Due to property taxes being financially burdensome in some cities, being able to split the amount due into 12 equal payments makes it easier to afford for most people.

Opting Out of an Escrow Account. When deciding about an escrow account on your refinanced loan, keep in mind that without an escrow account, the closing costs will generally be lower because you are not depositing funds for future property tax or insurance payments in advance.

On the other hand, without an escrow account, your lender might charge you a waiver fee or a higher interest rate on the loan as their risk increases because they will be relying on you to make timely payments for property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. If you opt to forgo an escrow account and you fall behind on tax or homeowners insurance payments, you could face significant penalties and late fees. You could lose your homeowners insurance coverage, and the tax assessor can put a lien against your property. At worst, you could face foreclosure. All of this would jeopardize the lender’s investment in the property.

Adapted from an article on by Grace Keh.

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Categories: Real Estate

Recipe: Broccoli and Butterhead Lettuce Make for Easy, Artful Soup and Salad

RisMedia Consumer News - May 13, 2021 - 4:04pm

(TNS)—”When I cook vegetables today, my goal is to showcase their natural flavors and qualities, so simplicity is key,” writes chef Eric Ripert in his newly published cookbook, “Vegetable Simple.”

Simple has certainly been a defining element in my manner of cooking in the past 13-plus months, but sometimes, those preparations don’t produce results that are beautiful to behold. The vegetable dishes that Ripert shares from his repertoire are as artful as they are easy.

I was drawn to Butter Lettuce Salad because it calls for a pastry brush, used to paint the lettuce leaves with an herby vinaigrette. The notion of a lettuce head as canvas is a lovely reminder that cooking is a form of art, an expression of creativity.

In the headnote, Ripert remarks that “your guests will enjoy cutting into the lettuce head with a knife and fork, as they would a wedge salad.” Mine certainly did.

The bright broccoli soup takes advantage of the entire plant, stems included. I served it warm, but one of my dinner guests, who took leftovers home that night, happily drank it cold for breakfast the next morning. Top it with croutons if you desire crunch and some color contrast.

Butter Lettuce Salad
2 teaspoons aged sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large head butter lettuce, washed and patted dry (it’s important to clean the lettuce thoroughly of soil and sand), core trimmed but head left whole
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 teaspoons finely chopped chives

In a small bowl, combine the sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and salt and white pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in the olive oil.

Season the lettuce lightly with salt and white pepper. Using a pastry brush, paint each lettuce leaf with the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with the herbs. Quarter and serve immediately, on chilled plates.

Serves four.

Nutritional Information
Per serving: 75 calories (88% calories from fat), 1 g protein, 2 g carbohydrates, trace fiber, 7 g total fat (1 g saturated), no cholesterol, 33 mg sodium.

Recipes excerpted from “Vegetable Simple” by Eric Ripert.
Copyright © 2021 by Eric Ripert. Excerpted by permission of Random House, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Silky Broccoli Soup
Fine sea salt
1 large or 2 small stalks broccoli, florets separated and stems thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground white pepper

In a medium to large pot, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt, then add the broccoli stems and cook until they start to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the florets and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

Once the florets and stems are tender, drain them in a sieve set over a bowl, reserving the liquid. Transfer the broccoli to a blender, adding enough of the reserved liquid to cover. Add the butter and puree until very smooth. You can adjust the consistency with more of the reserved cooking water if it’s too thick.

Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper. Serve in four warmed bowls, or chill immediately and reheat later, to keep the soup’s bright green color.

Serves four.

Nutritional Information
Per serving: 66 calories (79% calories from fat), 1 g protein, 2 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 6 g total fat (4 g saturated), 15 mg cholesterol, 43 mg sodium.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Real Estate Q&A: Can the HOA Force Me to Paint My House a Color They Chose?

RisMedia Consumer News - May 12, 2021 - 4:45pm

(TNS)—Q: When I bought my home 16 years ago, I picked my lot, floorplan, brick and paint color from the developer. Recently the new HOA board picked a new paint color scheme without involving the homeowners. I repainted my home three years ago, and it does not need repainting. I was assigned a gray color scheme that would look awful with my brown brick. I was told that I must repaint it to assigned color. Can they do this? — Andrea

A: Homeowner associations may dictate the color that the residents may paint their homes only if authorized by the declaration of covenants.

And if the declaration lays out a choice of colors, the board or architectural committee needs to follow those rules and may not restrict an owner from selecting from those options.

Since you bought your home with the current color scheme from the original developer, your colors were most likely approved by the declaration. If the declaration does not give the board the right to choose colors, they may not, and you do not have to change the color of your home.

Your first step will be to carefully review your community’s formative documents. If your color is on the approved list, you can stick with it.

If the documents do not allow your association to pick colors, it cannot do so now.
If the board is exceeding their authority, let them know calmly and professionally. Point out the appropriate section in the documents. I have found that many associations think they have more power than the declaration gives them.

Most people who volunteer to serve their community are trying to do the right things for their neighborhood and do not know they are overstepping.

If this is the case with your community, educating them about their limitations should solve the problem.

If they still insist, consult a local attorney experienced in these issues.

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Florida. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show “Legal News and Review.” He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.

©2021 South Florida Sun Sentinel
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Renting a PODS Moving Container: What to Know

RisMedia Consumer News - May 9, 2021 - 1:04pm

Are you considering renting a PODS moving and storage container? Getting PODS for your next move will certainly help you save money compared to hiring professional movers to do it for you. You will then be able to put the funds saved toward much more important things, such as giving your new property a make-over.

Using PODS will cost you a quarter of what it would actually cost you to hire a moving truck company to shift your stuff.

Not bad, considering with PODS, you also get to store your items as long as you need, so if you’re selling your property and you’re not moving into your new home until two weeks, then no sweat.

Your stuff is safe and secure in your PODS. PODS moving services allow you to have temporary space to park your things until moving them. A convenient moving service that has continued to grow in popularity.

With all this being said, here is what you need to know before you even think about getting a POD for your up-and-coming house move.

What Are PODS?

As mentioned, PODS are used when people want to move or store their items for a set amount of time. PODS have actually been around since the ’90s within the US.

With sizes starting from 7-foot to 16-foot, these weather-resistant containers are ideal for anyone looking to store items they don’t need. They are ideal for those moving from one location to another, whether it’s cross country or not. They will move it to wherever you need, at a price, of course.

Their system is pretty simple: You pack it up, and they move it or/and store it for you.

The Benefits of Using PODS

As we have discussed already, there are some advantages to using a service like PODS rather than using an expensive moving service to shift your goods from your old location to another:

– Cost-Efficient
– Secure and safe
– Can store for as long as you need
– Easy access to store and unload your personal belongings
– No messing around with large trucks (or having to drive them yourself)

Including locks for security and their weather-resistant design, there are many reasons people favor PODS over any general moving truck company in their vicinity. By making a DIY move, you can continue to save money by renting your own moving truck from either U-Haul or Home Depot, which are considered two of the best.

Renting PODS: The Process

Now that you know PODS are pretty awesome and a great alternative to generic moving and storing methods, I want to walk you through how to rent one to be fully prepared when you do so in the future.

Understand What You Need It For
You need to choose if you need to store items, move them or both.

If you’re storing items, you’ll also need to know if you want to store the PODS at their warehouse or if you just want to stick it in your driveway or front yard.

Know Your Timetable
After figuring out what you need your POD for, you also need to know how long you need it for. This is so you don’t get slapped with any unnecessary fees in the future if it turns out you need to keep it longer than you initially agreed.

Choose Location, Dates and Container Sizes
For storage and moving purposes, you should know where you want the POD to be. Having the dates for these things would also be a huge help.

We’ll get more into container sizes a little later on here, but you should let the company know how big or small you’re going to want your PODS to be. Understanding your size requirements will be largely dependent on exactly what you’re using it for.

Renting PODS Costs
The cost of renting one of these PODS depends heavily on the container size you’re looking to rent, how long you want to rent it for and the distance the company needs to travel to deliver your PODS.

But as mentioned at the beginning of this post, regardless of these things, it’s much more cost-effective to use PODS than to use a regular moving truck service in your local area.

Much less stressful too.

Long-distance deliveries start as cheap as $800, and having PODS stored on your own property can be as low as $100 per month.

So you can get a better understanding of the price you’re looking to pay for one of these containers, let’s talk about container sizes.

PODS Moving Container Sizes

PODS currently offers three different sizes, which are available for anyone, regardless if you’re looking for personal or business usage, or you’re looking to move or simply store your goods for a period of time.

7-Foot Container
The PODS-7ft container is about 7’x7’x8′ in size, and according to PODS themselves, they say it is ideal for small-home moving, say if you live in a one-bedroom or studio apartment.

They offer 385 cubic feet of space and are able to hold a single room of items.

They are available for moves in the U.S. and Canada, as well as for short-distance uses in your local area.

12-Foot Container
About 12’x8’x8′ in size, the 12-ft container is perfect if you want to move to a larger apartment or a home with three rooms.

The container has about 689 cubic feet of space, which you can pack your stuff inside.

16-Foot Container
The 16ft containers are about 16’x8’x8′ in size and, according to PODS, are the most popular choice for anyone looking to move their entire home from one location to another. However, if you need anything larger than this, you’re out of luck since this is their largest option.

Inside the container, there are 857 cubic feet of room to store your goods.

This container can be used for long-distance moves within the U.S. and Canada.

How Do PODS Compare to Renting a Self-Storage Unit?

There is often a choice between renting a PODS rental container or going with a self-storage facility when you are moving. There are pros and cons to both options, making it important to do some research before making a final choice.

Take a look at detailed comparisons on self-storage facilities vs. PODS containers so you can get a better idea if one may be better for your current circumstances.

Closing Thoughts

PODS are one of the best options if you’re looking to either move your stuff across the country to your newest property or you just need to store some things away for the time being whilst you give your current home a make-over.

Whatever you plan on using PODS for, they will certainly be a great alternative to anything else you will be able to find in your local area, which is probably why they have become such a good choice for homeowners in recent years.

Hopefully, you have found our guide to renting a PODS storage container to be useful.

Bill Gassett is a nationally recognized real estate leader who has been helping people buy and sell MetroWest Massachusetts real estate for the past 33 years. He has been one of the top RE/MAX REALTORS® in New England for the past decade. In 2018, he was the No. 1 RE/MAX real estate agent in Massachusetts.

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Categories: Real Estate

What to Know About Youth Summer Camps During COVID-19

RisMedia Consumer News - May 6, 2021 - 4:42pm

(TNS)—The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released guidelines to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection at youth summer camp. But what do those guidelines mean for families and children who look forward to the ritual of attending overnight or day summer camp?

“There not one strategy that’s going to completely eliminate risk. But using multiple strategies can reduce the risk for everyone who’s attending,” says Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases physician.

Some of the strategies include trying to limit the size of the camp as much as possible so that it’s a smaller group of children—maybe with one camp counselor or supervisor rather than having large groups of children mixing.

“Testing prior to attending camp one to three days before camp starts is another strategy that can help reduce the risk of someone coming to the camp who’s infected and going on to transmit to others,” says Dr. Rajapakse. “And, certainly, if anyone is feeling ill or having symptoms in any way, they should not be attending.”

“The great thing about summer camps is that most of the activities have been outdoors. And we know that outdoors presents much lower risk of transmission. For indoor settings, masking is encouraged, as well as adhering to the physical distancing recommendations to further reduce the risk of transmission,” Dr. Rajapakse says.

High-Risk Activities
“Certain activities in camps can pose more high-risks. Those include eating meals together. These are especially times where people really need to adhere to the physical distancing recommendations since you can’t be masked, obviously, while you’re eating. Additional kind of supervision and education for kids around those times is going to be important. And keeping most activities to the outdoors as much as possible is also one of the other recommended strategies.”

Dr. Rajapakse says each situation for a family and child will be unique. Taking stock of who is in your family and who is at high risk for illness is an important consideration.

“If you have a healthy child who doesn’t have any known risk factors for more severe illness, then, certainly, that might be a lower-risk situation to send your child to camp. Whereas if you have a child who has underlying health conditions, who may be at a higher risk for illness, if they were to get infected, it might not be the best situation to send them into a camp type or group-type setting.”

Gather information about the camp’s safety protocols and how they plan to ensure a safe experience for your child.

“It’s also important to understand what the camp is doing, what precautions they are putting in place, what guidance your local public health organizations have given them and how closely they’re (the camp) planning to follow those instructions. (This information) can help you feel a bit more comfortable, as well, in making a decision,” explains Dr. Rajapakse.

“We know that some kids have really struggled this past year with mental health issues, feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression and, certainly, for them, being able to return to an activity like going to a summer camp―if that’s something that they really enjoyed in the past―may make a big difference to their well-being over the summer,” says Dr. Rajapakse.

Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date.

For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and

©2021 Mayo Clinic News Network
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate

Do you Need a Health Savings Account? Here are the Pros and Cons

RisMedia Consumer News - May 2, 2021 - 1:37pm

(TNS)—A health savings account, or HSA, allows anyone with a qualifying high-deductible health plan to set aside pretax funds to pay for approved medical expenses. Your money is held by a qualified HSA trustee (typically a bank, credit union or similar entity) to be used to pay for, or reimburse yourself for, these approved expenses.

Who typically uses a health savings account?

People with a qualifying high-deductible health plan, or HDHP, are most likely to use a health savings account.

A health insurance plan is considered a HDHP if it has a:

– Minimum deductible of $1,400 for individual coverage and $2,800 for family coverage

– Maximum out-of-pocket cost of $7,000 for individual coverage and $14,000 for family coverage

How do health savings accounts work?

Not all plans may qualify as a HDHP, so check with your employer or insurance agent if you are not sure. Most employers have selected an HSA trustee but even if they have, you can select your own. Different trustees charge different fees, offer varying interest rates and investment options and may offer a variety of services such as receipt storage and the ability to transfer funds between your HSA and checking or savings accounts.

For 2021, the maximum HSA contribution is $3,600 for an individual and $7,200 for family coverage. Employees who reach age 55 by the end of the tax year can contribute an additional $1,000 as a “catch up” provision.

If these contributions are deducted from your paycheck by your employer, and remitted to a trustee, these funds are pre-tax, reducing your annual income by the amount you defer. In other words, you pay a lower amount to Uncle Sam and more money stays in your pocket. Accrued interest on the funds you have in this type of account are not taxable. When your balance gets large enough, most trustees allow you to invest your funds in mutual funds, bonds or stocks.

HSA contributions can be reduced and added to throughout the year. The IRS delayed until May 17, 2021 the deadline to make prior year contributions so if you did not max out your 2020 contributions, you still have time to do so.

What are the advantages of a health savings account?

There are many advantages to using a health savings account, including:

– Typically, there is no initial deposit required to open an account: HSAs are portable and you can change trustees once every 12 months. Bank and credit union HSA accounts are insured up to $250,000.

– Your employer or other eligible family member can contribute to your HSA although the maximum contribution limits still apply. Employer contributions are not counted as income and you can claim a tax deduction for contributions you make and for contributions a family member makes.

– Funds can be used to pay for qualified medical expenses for a spouse and dependent children even if they are not covered under your health plan.

– After retirement, funds can be used to pay for Medicare or Medicare Advantage plan premiums (but not Medigap policies).

– After age 65, withdrawal of funds for non-medical uses avoids the 20% penalty although these withdrawals are considered as taxable income. Some people have used their HSA nest egg to purchase investment property.

– Funds can be transferred out of your investment portion of your account (typically mutual funds or stocks) as needed to pay for approved medical expenses.

– For those not working, you can still contribute to your HSA account. Although these contributions won’t be pre-tax, they can be deducted on your tax return.

What are the disadvantages of a health savings account?

It’s important to consider the potential disadvantages of using a health savings account.

– Withdrawal of funds for non-medical purposes prior to age 65 are considered taxable income and a 20% penalty is also assessed by the IRS.

– Some big box stores and other merchants do not accept HSA cards and you will have to obtain reimbursement from your HSA trustee.

– If you are claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, you are not eligible for an HSA.

– Expenses can be audited by the IRS so you will have to keep receipts for all purchases.

– Interest rates on HSA accounts are low and some trustees charge a monthly fee if your balance drops below a certain threshold.

– If you don’t stop contributing to your HSA six months before you apply for social security benefits, tax penalties may apply.

– After an individual has attained age 65 (Medicare eligibility age), additional contributions (including catch up contributions) can no longer be made, even if still employed.

– Minimum balance requirements may apply before you can invest; investment options may be limited and investments are not insured.


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Categories: Real Estate

Real Estate Q&A: Is There an Obligation to Tell Buyers About Nearby Cell Phone Tower?

RisMedia Consumer News - April 26, 2021 - 3:56pm

(TNS)—Q: We bought a condo last year and recently discovered that a shopping plaza that borders our neighborhood has a large cell phone tower disguised as a clock tower. Is the seller or real estate agent obligated to disclose information about cell phone towers within a certain radius to the buyer when purchasing? — Mike

A: Transmissions from nearby high voltage power lines and cell towers are concerning to many people and reduce property values.

While most states do not require disclosure of neighborhood nuisances, such as cell towers or noisy neighbors, a few states do, and more are likely to in the future.

A cell tower will only be considered hazardous if your home is within the fall zone of the tower.

The law requires buyers to inspect the property they are planning on buying to find all the problems that can reasonably be found.

Generally, a radio tower can be discovered, even if disguised, with a reasonable investigation of the area around the prospective purchase.

I always encourage sellers to disclose everything they know about, no matter how small, to prospective purchasers. This way, a buyer can never accuse them later of hiding an issue.

Everyone buying a new home should have a thorough inspection performed by an experienced home inspector. If the report turns up any area of concern, a follow-up inspection by a specialist should be performed.

A buyer should also tour the neighborhood and surrounding areas at different times of the day and night, on both weekends and weekdays. Sometimes a quiet street on a Tuesday morning can be party central on Friday night.

Buying a home is a long-term proposition, and it is best to look under every rock and around every corner before some undiscovered issue becomes your nightmare.

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Florida. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.

©2021 South Florida Sun Sentinel
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Categories: Real Estate
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