Selling Your Home? Let the Bidding Wars Begin

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-17

(BPT) - No wonder you’re thinking of selling your home - it’s a “seller’s market” right now. The housing supply has dwindled, creating more demand for fewer homes.

At the same time, according to Realtor Tammy Reinke, buyers’ expectations are higher than ever. They’ve become accustomed to model-perfect homes.

What’s the upshot? “Sellers have a choice,” says Reinke. “You can win the price war - or win the beauty contest.” By winning the beauty contest, you’ll gain pricing leverage. And if your home shows well, it can even spark a bidding war - generating offers that exceed your asking price.

Here are three top “beauty” tips to set your home apart from other contestants, and set yourself up for a fatter settlement check.

1. Dirt’s a deal-breaker: Make a clean sweep

“Buyers want to see a clean home,” says Reinke. “And the first thing to deal with is stained carpets and ceilings.”

Stained carpets should be cleaned or replaced. Stained ceilings deserve your attention, too. They can scare off prospective buyers who fear that ceiling imperfections might be a sign of bigger problems.

“If you’ve got a stained popcorn ceiling, don't bother trying to spot paint over it, it doesn’t work,” Reinke says. Even professionals find it difficult to match the original finish and color. In addition, flocked or heavily textured ceilings are best replaced because they look so outdated.

Instead, consider installing ceiling tiles or panels directly over the offending ceiling, using a simple DIY track-and-clip system. To weigh all your ceiling replacement options, pop some real popcorn and settle back with the Armstrong Ceiling video guide to ceilings for lots of ideas and inspiration.

2. Declutter de house

Buyers can’t picture themselves in your home if they can’t see past your piles of stuff. “There’s a difference between clutter and an intentional collection,” says Tiffany Little, a senior interior design at Albion Associates.

Pull together different items - like pottery or framed photography - using a common design element like color, similar patterns, texture or materials. “It’s OK to leave some surfaces empty, and to create a display of personal mementos in a stylish, organized manner in other areas,” says Little. “This makes the personal items even more special.”

3. Spark design interest

So you’ve cleaned and decluttered, but now your rooms seem blah and uninviting. Nothing enlivens a space like a splash of color. Toss some bright new pillows on the sofa or add tasteful artwork or accessories to complement your color scheme.

Paint adds personality, too, but choose your colors carefully so your wall palette flows naturally from room to room. “I like using a neutral color palette for larger rooms - from ivory tones to values of grey,” says Little. She adds mid-tone colors to smaller rooms, while selectively using vivid or deeper colors as accents with accessories and artwork throughout the home.

Finally, don’t forget to add texture, whether with a woven area rug or sculptural wire baskets. “Texture adds great dimension and depth to a room,” says Little.

“I especially love the look of Armstrong Ceilings decorative metal ceiling panels in textured tin or copper as accents above a kitchen island. This turns the ordinary, smooth sheetrock ceiling into a wow factor. By adding this textured ceiling color in with a few of the dishes, or countertop items, it unifies the room’s palette,” she added.

With a bit of primping, your home can win the ultimate beauty contest and attract a buyer who’s willing to meet your price, or even pay a premium to call it their own.

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Buy Or Sell, Termites Should Be Top-Of-Mind During Spring Real Estate Season

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-17

(BPT) - Spring is here, and it’s the perfect time to sell or buy a home. Whether you’re putting your home on the market, or shopping for a new house for your family, you have a lot to think about - and termites should be near the top of your list. Just as swarms of homebuyers will start circulating through neighborhoods with the arrival of spring, the warmer weather also brings out termite swarms. A termite infestation can quickly turn your dream home sale or purchase into a living nightmare.

“Termites cause about $5 billion in damage every year, and when you consider that they’ve been around since the days of the dinosaurs, it’s probably safe to say they’ve done more damage to human homes than any other critter on earth,” says Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). “Fortunately, we’ve come a long way in detecting and treating termite infestations over the millennia!”

Worldwide, about 2,000 termite species munch on wood, destroying walls, floors and wallpaper in homes, and also damaging forests. They are present in 70 percent of countries around the world, and they outnumber human beings by a ratio of 10 to one. The most common termite species in the U.S. are Formosan termites, dampwood termites, drywood termites and subterranean termites, the last of which are the most destructive because they eat non-stop.

A professional inspection is the best way to detect the presence of termites, but you can watch for warning signs as you are house hunting or getting yours ready to put on the market. Signs include:

  • Mud tubes may appear around the outside of a house. Termites use these tubes to reach a food source. Typically, these tubes look like a thick line of dirt on the foundation of a home.

  • Tap on wood near the floor, such as baseboards or even wood floors themselves. If the wood sounds hollow when tapped it could mean termites have softened the wood.

  • Termites also leave a bit of themselves behind as evidence. You may see small piles of feces that resemble sawdust near a termite nest. Discarded wings near doors or on windowsills can indicate a swarm has occurred and the swarmers have entered the home.

    Termites swarm to create new nests. Winged “swarmers” leave the original nest and go in search of new digs where they can establish a colony. You may see swarmers on windowsills or near doors and think they’re flying ants. You can tell the difference by their wings. While both flying ants and termite swarmers have front and back pairs of wings, on termites both pairs are the same length. On ants, the back wings will be much shorter than the front ones.

A professional termite inspection remains the best way to detect the presence of termites, yet 52 percent of American homeowners have never had their homes inspected, according to an NPMA survey. Termite detection, remediation and control isn’t something you can do yourself.

“A termite inspection should be a part of any home buying or selling process, although not all states require one for the sale or purchase of a home,” Mannes says. “However, when you consider the cost-benefit of having an inspection done, it’s well worth the investment. Termites can cause thousands of dollars in damage to a home and more importantly can compromise the structure’s stability and safety. So, it’s best to act quickly if a problem is suspected.” To learn more about termite prevention or to find a licensed pest professional in your area, visit, the education website of the NPMA.

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Professional or Amateur? 5 Qualities of an Expert Contractor

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-17

(BPT) - Are you one of the more than 3 million people planning to renovate your kitchen or bathroom this year? Or perhaps you're adding on a room or finishing your basement. If you're going to hire a contractor for any home remodeling project, make sure you know the difference between a great contractor and an “OK” one. In other words, learn what separates a professional from an amateur.

A quick Google search on “remodeling disasters” or “renovation mistakes” returns an endless number of nightmare remodeling projects and scams, where the homeowner is left dealing with unfinished projects or unsafe conditions, and ultimately spends more money rectifying the issue.

When making such a significant investment, you want to make sure you're getting a reputable and dependable professional so your project doesn't become another horror story. It's important to do your research, read reviews and check references before you put your home in the hands of someone else.

So, now that you've narrowed down your list of potential contractors, how can you weed out the amateurs from the tried and true professionals?

Look for these qualities:


  • Professional: Puts clients first and will work with you to make sure your goals are feasible and that the project can get done on time and on budget. Treats customers, their families and their homes with respect.

  • Amateur: Focuses on finishing the job as quickly as possible, with little regard for your family's personal needs and schedule.


  • Professional: Well-equipped to deal with the No. 1 threat to livable remodeling - dirt and dust. Protects you and your family from annoying and potentially dangerous air particles by using the most effective tools and processes for dust elimination, such as the BuildClean Dust Control System.

  • Amateur: Doesn't have a proactive strategy to manage indoor air quality and jobsite dust. “Brushes it under the rug” without concern for your indoor air quality, your belongings and the short-term and long-term health of you and your family.


  • Professional: Proactively addresses challenges head-on, immediately notifying you of an unexpected issue.

  • Amateur: Ignores problems uncovered during the project in order to keep it moving. Leaves behind things like hidden mold, leaky pipes or structural issues, putting the health and safety of your family at risk.


  • Professional: has a license, certifications and insurance. Obtains all necessary permits, protecting you against unsafe work and legal issues. Guarantees their work.

  • Amateur: Unaware of - or doesn't care about - building codes, required permits and health and safety regulations. Leaves you liable for any improper work, mistakes and in a potentially dangerous situation.


  • Professional: Communicates with you to establish an estimate and negotiate a fair contract and payment schedule.

  • Amateur: Underbids a project by thousands of dollars and is likely to cut corners to meet the budget or overwhelm you with costly change orders.

When beginning your remodeling projects this year, remember professional contractors will put your interests first. They will proactively address potential issues and discuss a livability strategy with you that includes timeline, logistics, dust control and safety. With an amateur, there are no guarantees, so you're putting yourself and your loved ones at unnecessary risk.

For more information on selecting a professional contractor, visit:

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Don't Dumb Down Deer - They're Smarter than You Think! Outsmart Them and Protect Your Yard

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-17

 (BPT) - With 2015 breaking records as the warmest year ever in the U.S., you’ll soon be seeing an unhappy side-effect of the mild weather; more deer will be browsing your backyard when the weather gets warm.

Most of us have seen more acorns, a bumper crop in fact, that provided deer with an easily accessible, plentiful food source which helped them get through winter in good shape. They’re healthy and will be ready to birth plenty of fawns come spring. This season we’ll see deer populations rise in suburbia across the country.

Don’t discount deer’s intelligence, they’re smarter than you think; they actually possess a memory of negative experiences, learn from them and adapt their habits accordingly. Deer know they’re greatly exposed to danger due to hunters and predators in woodlands and have moved right to the edge of woodlands, in close proximity to suburban neighborhoods, where they’ve learned they’re safe. They’re also smart enough to know danger is not present or even threatening in suburbia and they will remember your bountiful backyard food sources, too. Once in your yard, you can count on deer damage to your trees, shrubs, gardens and landscapes that you’ve invested much time, money and effort in.

The damage to residential landscapes, crops and timber from deer foraging ranges around $1 billion annually. With a single deer capable of eating a ton and a half of vegetation per year, just one or two deer can cause significant damage.

Deer don’t have to devastate your yard this spring and summer, according to Scott C. Williams with the Department of Forestry and Horticulture at The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. “You can definitely use deer’s intelligence against them to trick them right out of your yard. Just as they learn where to find safe, reliable food sources, you can “train” deer to avoid any specific area.”

Negative conditioning works well to deter deer from your yard, but it’s important to choose a strategy that outsmarts them continuously. Scare tactics such as dogs barking, canned noise and scarecrows have limited effects, as deer quickly learn there’s no real harm associated with these “threats.” Fences also have limitations; deer can easily jump over any fence lower than 8 feet and few neighborhoods will approve a fence of that height.

“A product that combines scent and taste deterrents, will be most effective in keeping deer away from suburban landscapes,” Williams says. “Deer will remember the unpleasant smell and taste of your backyard’s food source and they’ll pass by your yard rather than eat something they’ve already been conditioned to learn will be distasteful.”

Bobbex Deer Repellent is such a product that combines scent and taste deterrents. Testing by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station proved Bobbex is more effective than nine other commercial repellents (including coyote urine), scoring a 93 percent in protection, second only to a fence at 100 percent. The all-natural repellent blends six scents, including rotten eggs, garlic, fish, clove oil and vinegar (among other things) to mimic predator scents, classifying it as an effective fear repellent. It also tastes terrible to deer, but is actually good for plants because it contains elements high in nitrogen and phosphorus. The product dries clear, is harmless to humans and pets, won’t burn plants and its odor, after 24 hours, is undetectable to humans.

You can easily apply Bobbex with a simple trigger or pump spray, according to label directions, and school deer to pass you by. Best practice is to use the product throughout the entire year, since deer and their ability to devastate your yard, are never out of season. Continued use will ensure protection of plants and landscapes and constantly reinforce to the deer that your backyard doesn’t offer any good, tasty sustenance. Visit to learn more.

Although deer are smart enough to spot easy food sources, it is possible to humanely and effectively keep them out of your backyard all year. It’s a simple matter of using their smarts to outsmart them and convince them they’re better off looking elsewhere for food.

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Stack the Deck in Mother Nature's Favor with These Green Deck-Building Tips

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-25

Enjoy a clearer view of your garden with cable railing.

(BPT) - Communing with the bounty of nature in your own backyard is one of the many advantages of having a deck. Not only does it boost home value, a deck gives you a comfortable venue for enjoying the outdoors - and what could be more environmentally friendly than spending some time with Mother Nature? But is your deck really as "green" as it could be?

Some decks are simply greener than others by virtue of the materials used in their construction. If you'll be adding a new deck to your outdoor environment this year, or refurbishing or replacing an old one, keep these eco-friendly deck-building tips in mind:

Deck board options

Wood and composites are the two primary types of boarding used for decks.

Wood is a renewable resource; more trees can grow to replace the ones harvested for your deck boards, and when your deck's usable life ends, you can recycle the wood it was made of. However, pressure-treated lumber is not recyclable. While the preservatives it's treated with make pressure-treated lumber last longer than many types of untreated wood, it's less eco-friendly in the long run because it must be disposed of instead of reused. If you prefer a wood deck, look for naturally weather- and pest-resistant wood varieties like California red wood, western red cedar or ipe.

Composite boards can also be greener. Many are made from recycled materials such as reused plastic and reclaimed or recycled wood. Composites tend to be more long-lasting than wood, and require no special treatment like staining or sealing. Their longevity can make them a greener choice, but be aware composites can't be recycled.

Greener railings

Just as wood and composites are the primary materials for deck floors, they're also commonly used for railings. However, given the railing's exposure to the elements and its importance in the safety and beauty of a deck, it's worth exploring other green alternatives.

Stainless steel cable railing, like Ultra-tec(R) by The Cable Connection, not only provides unobscured views from your deck and a sleek, attractive look, it's also 100 percent recyclable. What's more, Ultra-tec(R) is made from recycled stainless steel, meaning fabrication requires less consumption of resources like fossil fuels, less consumption of minerals through mining, and a reduced environmental impact.

Greener railings can also save you some green; you can easily install stainless steel railing yourself on a new or existing wood or composite deck. To learn more, visit


If you choose to construct your deck of composites - and add a stainless steel railing - it will require little maintenance. Stainless steel is inherently weather-resistant and will stay shiny and beautiful for years without you having to do anything to it.

If you opt to build your deck with wood, some types will require regular maintenance like sealing and staining. Rot- and pest-resistant woods may not need to be sealed, but will weather to a silver-gray color unless you stain them every year. Many stains contain a blend of agents meant to inhibit the growth of fungus or deter pest infestations, and may also contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Look for stains and sealers that rely on natural ingredients, such as hemp oil, beeswax, carnauba wax and water.

Icing on the cake

Of course, adding life to your deck is one of the greenest things you can do. It's easy to add built-in planters as you're constructing a new deck or retrofitting an existing one. Or, you can simply place flowers, vegetables and herbs in containers on the deck. Be sure to protect wood decks with a tray placed under containers to catch water runoff.

Lighting is also a great way to boost the visual appeal and usability of a deck. You can enjoy mood-making light that's also eco-friendly by using solar lights, rather than electrical ones, throughout your deck. A variety of solar deck lights are available online and in home improvement stores. You can even find solar-powered decorative post caps for deck railings.

Choosing greener deck options can help ensure you enjoy your outdoor environment throughout the year, and help preserve the environment for future generations.

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7 Steps to Allergy Relief with Spring Cleaning

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-18

(BPT) - Longing for allergy relief? To stop the endless cycle of sniffles, sneezes and wheezes, it’s time to ready your vacuum and rubber gloves. Spring cleaning helps eliminate allergens so you can relax, breathe easy and enjoy the season.

“People who suffer from allergies may not realize there’s a direct connection between cleaning your home and reducing allergy symptoms,” says allergist Bryan Martin, DO, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI.) “The more you can rid your home of dust mites, mold, cockroaches and pet dander, the easier you’ll breathe.”

ACAAI recommends seven spring cleaning steps to remove allergens in the home and avoid accidentally letting more in.

Step 1: To sleep, perchance to dream - and breathe.

Start in the bedroom where you spend eight to 10 hours a day. Dust mites can flourish during cold, dreary months, so wash your sheets and comforter regularly. Most mites die by drowning, but if you want to use hot water (which will kill slightly more mites) don’t use water that’s over 120 F because it can scald.

Remember to also wash decorative pillows. Finish by adding allergy-proof casings to the mattress, box spring and pillows. Keep pets out of the bedroom as their dander can cause symptoms to flare.

Step 2: Gaze out, but don’t open.

Window treatments are a magnet for dust and allergens. Pull them down and dry clean, or vacuum each thoroughly. Don’t forget to vacuum blinds and windowsills as well. Tempted to open the windows to let the spring breeze in? Don’t. Unwanted pollen can enter your home and spread everywhere.

Step 3: When the dust settles, wipe it off.

Suit up to win the war on dust by wearing protective gloves and a face mask so you don’t breathe in microscopic mold spores. Next, ditch cotton cloths and feather dusters that kick up allergens, and instead use microfiber cleaning cloths which trap and remove triggers. Wipe down all surfaces including picture frames, knickknacks, plant saucers and ceiling fans.

Step 4: Nature abhors a vacuum. You shouldn’t.

Move all furniture, and vacuum the dust and dander that collects underneath. Use a cyclonic vacuum, which spins dust and dirt away from the floor, or a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. Additionally, clean vents and return registers to limit dust recirculating. Consider shampooing carpets to remove deeply embedded allergens.

Step 5: Scrub-a-dub the mold.

In bathrooms, basements and tiled spaces, scrub any visible mold and mildew from surfaces with bleach, or borax mixed with water, then dry completely. The key to reducing mold is moisture control, so use bathroom fans and clean any standing water immediately. You can also help ward off mold by keeping home humidity below 50 percent.

Step 6: Change is good - for filters.

Keep the air that circulates through your home’s ventilation system clean by using filters with a MERV rating of 11 or 12. Change the filter at the change of every season, or every three months. (Set a calendar reminder to remember). Additionally, change filters in HEPA appliances. This helps eliminate allergens, and prohibits mold growth.

Step 7: Get out! And about.

Check your home’s exterior for any concerns that may have emerged due to cold weather. Chipped paint, roof damage or cracked siding can lead to mold problems. Make repairs as necessary.

These seven spring cleaning steps may take a few weekends to complete, but they’ll help reduce allergens all season long. For more information, or to find an allergist in your area, visit

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5 Ways to Improve Your Outdoor Space with Retaining Walls

Brandpoint  |  2016-02-17

(BPT) - When you picture a retaining wall, do you imagine it holding back dirt? That's the most common use for retaining walls - to address elevation changes and prevent erosion. But concrete segmental retaining wall (SRW) units are multi-purpose landscaping tools with many more uses.

Site planners, engineers, landscape architects, designers, developers and builders have long relied on SRWs to manage sloping properties, provide more usable space, or create stadium seating. Homeowners, too, have discovered retaining walls can be used to create functional outdoor features, says Scott Arnold, manager of Villa Landscapes in St. Paul, Minnesota.

"Because segmental retaining walls are both durable and beautiful, landscapers and homeowners can use them to create outdoor seating, raised patios and other features," says Arnold. "They are the perfect building block to create grill islands, outdoor kitchens and so much more."

Most SRWs are easy to install, which is an important consideration for both landscape professionals and do-it-yourselfers, Arnold said. With retaining wall systems, homeowners and landscapers can create freestanding walls, seat walls, columns, stairs, planters and other features without the need for special units.

Stunning seating

While commercial installers often use SRW units for amphitheater and stadium seating, retaining walls can also be used to create beautiful and durable outdoor seating on a smaller scale, from freestanding walls that double as seating, to two-tiered seat walls. VERSA-LOK SRWs can be used to easily create a curved "couch" seating area that works well as a solution around a patio and fire pit for fall evenings.

Ditch the deck

Raised patios built with retaining wall units are a low maintenance option to replace aging wooden decks that require continual maintenance. Villa Landscapes designed a raised deck replacement in Minnesota with SRWs from ground level to 42-inches tall to support a paving stone patio. Stairs also built with SRWs connect the patio to the home and yard.

The result was a beautiful, spacious and low-maintenance patio with the added advantage of a clear view of the backyard. Willow Creek Paving Stones pavers were used for the patio, surrounded with a contrasting course of river rock that serves as a visual and physical boundary as well as a space for potted plants.

Create curb appeal

Where the yard meets the driveway, retaining walls can be installed as a barrier to protect the lawn from damage caused by tire tracks, plowing or deicing. A tiered arrangement that addresses a slope in the yard adds space for plants and shrubs. Freestanding walls are often built along property lines on corner lots to prevent unwanted traffic from cutting across the yard.

Columns created using retaining wall units can be paired with any style home, from classic to contemporary, to add curb appeal. When the front entryway is freshened up with seat walls and other features, the space functions like an old-fashioned porch for visiting and other outdoor activities.

A place for plants

Tree rings and planters built with retaining wall units create a tidy solution around hard-to-maintain areas, such as shallow-rooted trees and other problem spots. Planters and tree rings can function as usable space for perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs. SRWs such as VERSA-LOK can be used to create planter walls up to 4-feet tall without the need for geogrid reinforcement. VERSA-Green, a plantable wall system that mimics a hanging garden, provides a stunning living wall solution.

Build a backyard

A homeowner in Apple Valley, Minnesota, nicknamed her unmowable back yard "Billy Goat Hill" because there was no yard space and no safe way to access her garden and fire pit at the top. Plus, erosion was a continual problem.

Devine Design Landscapes of Rosemount, Minnesota, solved the problem by excavating for a small back yard and creating tiers of retaining walls with offset stairs, patio landings and seat walls. The result was a small, usable backyard space with safe access to the hilltop and ample planting space for perennials.

"With VERSA-LOK, I could use the same block to build the retaining walls, steps and seat walls," says Paul Devine, owner of Devine Design Landscapes. "The pinned system provides a high ratio of weight per square foot of wall face plus extreme flexibility in design. Back-locking lip walls are not as structurally sound as a pinned system, and hollow blocks do not provide the stability required for large tiered walls."

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