Saturday, October 30, 2010

Open House Sun 12-2...453 Harvard Rd, Bolton MA

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Framingham: Haunted Trolley Tour

Date: 10/30/2010

Address: 3 Oak St.

Location: Framingham, MA

Hours: Trolleys leave at 5 and 6pm

Cost/Cover: $10 Adult / $5 Ages 8-10
Web Page: Event Web Page

Contact Info: Michelle McElory 508-812-0484

Details: We’re back with a new route and some new stories for our 4th annual Haunted Trolley Tour. Once again, special guests from the Framingham Community Theatre will narrate the spooky legends and ghost stories that abound on the back roads and main thoroughfares of our town. Take a 45 minute trolley ride through Framingham's mysterious past ...if you dare. We’ll feature pirates, witches, ghosts and more… Following the tour there will be an exhibition of sites seen along the route with refreshments, fortunes and special “old tyme” activities at the Edgell Library.

Trolleys leave at 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. from the Edgell Memorial Library, 3 Oak Street.

Tickets can be purchased on-line by mailing checks made out to FHC to Framingham History Center, P.O. Box 2032, Framingham MA 01703. Our last haunted trolley tour sold out, so purchase tickets soon!

Thanks to our sponsor Middlesex Savings Bank

New-home Sales Climb 6.6 Percent in September

By Steve Goldstein

RISMEDIA, October 28, 2010--(MCT)--Sales of new homes climbed 6.6 percent in September, figures released by the federal government on Wednesday showed, representing the second straight month of gains, but still well below the pace when a tax credit existed.

Sales of new single-family homes rose 6.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 307,000, which is stronger than the 300,000 that economists expected in a MarketWatch-compiled poll.

On Monday, a report showed sales of existing homes also were stronger than expected, rising 10 percent, and the two reports lend support to some economists who believe housing demand hit a bottom in late summer.

"After dropping precipitously following the expiration of the first-time homebuyer tax credit, it looks as though new home sales have stabilized," said Nicholas Tenev, an economist at Barclays Capital. "We expect a gradual recovery over the coming months."

Still, the pace of new-home sales is 21.5 percent below the same level of last year.

The pace of new-home sales also is considerably below the 414,000 rate in April, when the market was buoyed by a tax credit that has since expired.

There's also still plenty of supply, with the government estimating supply of 8 months of unsold homes, though that's down from 8.6 months in August. The stock of unsold houses fell 1 percent from August and dropped 19 percent from Sept. 2009.

"With little new construction going on, inventories of unsold new homes at least aren't a problem even with sales at such a severely depressed level, with the number of new homes for sale extending a run of record lows," said David Greenlaw, an economist at Morgan Stanley.

The median sales price rose 1.5 percent from August and 3.3 percent from Sept. 2009 to $223,800 — about 30 percent above the median price of an existing home.

The margin of error for new-home sales is a considerable plus or minus 16.9 percent.

September's housing market was only partly affected by a foreclosure moratorium of some leading lenders, which gathered pace in October.

New-home sales, by definition, wouldn't be affected by foreclosure disputes and in fact could benefit by virtue of purchasers getting "clean" title when buying new properties.

(c) 2010, Inc.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Monday, October 25, 2010

10 Ways to Make a Small Room Look Larger

RISMEDIA, October 25, 2010--Most people have one: that room in the house that they wish was just a little larger. What many don't realize is that with a little work and some TLC, they could have exactly what they're looking for.

Here, Lowe's offers 10 designer tricks to help you make any room look larger:

1. For the illusion of a larger room, use a color scheme that is light rather than bright or dark. Pastels, neutrals and white are all color possibilities.

2. Use a monochromatic color scheme on the furniture, rugs and walls. Select different shades and textures of your single color.

3. Lighting is a key element in opening up a space. Recessed spot lighting is visually appealing and is perfect for a small space. A torchiere light is great for bouncing light off of the ceiling and back down on the room.Skylights and solar tubes are natural alternatives for adding light to a room.

4. Limit the number of accessories to avoid the cluttered feeling.

5. The floor and the ceiling are the fifth and sixth walls of every room. A light-colored flooring such as light oak or a light-colored carpet will make the room appear brighter and more open. The same applies to the ceiling—use a light color or white to "open up" the space above.

6. Increase the appearance of the size of the room by adding wall mirrors. They not only reflect images, they reflect light and color. Be a little daring! Use mirror tiles to mirror an entire wall. Your room will appear to double in size.

7. Don't place too many pieces of furniture in a small space. A love seat may work better than a full-size sofa depending on the size and shape of the room. Add two medium-sized chairs or two small wood chairs. Place the chairs closer to the wall and then pull them into the area when additional seating is needed.

8. Add paintings or prints to the walls. One large painting works better than a group of small paintings.

9. The visual balance of a room is also important. A large, brightly colored element can overwhelm a room and decrease the appearance of space.

10. A glass table, whether it is a dining, coffee or end table, will keep the appearance of an open and free space.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

7 in 10 Americans are Optimistic About the Future of Household Finances

RISMEDIA, October 23, 2010--Despite the economy's sluggish recovery, a new national survey from Weber Shandwick with KRC Research found that nearly seven in 10 Americans (69 percent) have an optimistic outlook about their household finances for the next two years. Nearly one quarter (23 percent) are very optimistic.

Since the downturn two years ago, the vast majority of Americans (81 percent) say they are more responsible with their household's money today than two years ago, with nearly half (46 percent) considering themselves much more responsible. Many indicated they've changed their financial habits, including buying items on sale (80 percent), becoming more concerned about saving money (78 percent) and learning how to budget better (68 percent). In fact, Americans say they are more likely today to be "saving as much as possible" than before the financial downturn (42 percent vs. 33 percent, respectively).

Moreover, six in 10 report they are likely to continue the savings and spending patterns they started when the downturn began as soon as the economy recovers.

Women, on average, are more optimistic than men about their household financial future over the next two years (72 percent vs. 65 percent, respectively), more likely than men to have turned to family for help managing their finances over the past two years (59 percent vs. 50 percent), and more likely than men to feel in more control of their household's financial destiny today compared to two years ago (35 percent vs. 27 percent).

Few Americans relied on the help of an expert over the last two years. The survey found that a small segment leaned more than usual on financial advisors (19 percent) or their banks (17 percent) to help manage their household budget or finances.

"On the second anniversary of the financial collapse, Americans have a mostly positive outlook on their financial futures although many report not feeling in control just yet. Interestingly, few have turned to professional resources for help. This begs the question of what can be done differently by financial institutions, advisors and others to effectively promote the resources available to empower Americans," said Barbara Iverson, president of Weber Shandwick's Financial Services practice group.

Financial services organizations should consider how they can turn their customers' optimism into empowerment by helping them budget better and making financial advisors more available to answer questions. Engaging customers online may be one area for the financial industry to further explore. While only 17 percent of Americans in the survey reported using social media during the past two years to obtain information on managing their finances, the nationwide trend of social media usage is rising exponentially.

"Done well, a social media presence puts a face on an organization and helps engender trust, confidence and a sense of community," Iverson said. "Building a strong following on networks such as Facebook and Twitter can also help financial services organizations address customer dissatisfaction and mistrust. In our survey, nine percent of Americans posted or tweeted comments or complaints about their finances online. While these 'badvocates' represent a small group, their potential to cause damage to their financial institutions could be considerable."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Head of the Charles

Date: 10/23/2010 - 10/24/2010

Address: Boston University DeWolfe Boathouse,
Location: Boston, MA
Hours: 8:00am
Cost/Cover: See website for details

Web Page:

Contact Info: Telephone: (617) 868-6200 or Email:



Spend the weekend watching the races from the comfort of the Eliot Bridge Enclosure, a new by ticket only hospitality tent right at the river's edge sponsored in part this year by Delta. Tickets include breakfast and hot coffee in the morning, a gourmet lunch catered by Fleming's Steakhouse and a comfortable vantage point to watch crews as they come into the last stretch of the race. Click HERE to learn more or register for your weekend pass HERE


Located near Harvard's Weld Boathouse between the Weeks and Lars Anderson Bridges, the Weld Exhibition is one of the Regatta's liveliest sites. Official Head Of The Charles sponsors line the banks, offering delicious local flavors and free samples. Purchase your official Regatta Programs and Merchandise and check out up-to-date race results.
The Weld Exhibition also boasts one of the race's most exciting viewing sites and is the perfect place to enjoy the Regatta. find a spot along the banks and cheer your favorite crew through the race's halfway mark.


The 2010 Head Of The Charles Regatta will feature the 8th annual Reunion Village. As a service to both local and out-of-town spectators, the village provides a setting for clubs, schools, alumni groups, parents, boosters and "Friends" to connect and enjoy themselves against the backdrop of the greatest fall regatta in North America. Please check back for information on how to reserve a spot for your alumni group. Cold beer, wine, breakfast and lunch concessions are offered, or you may bring your own (but no alcohol may be brought onsite).

Other Reunion Village highlights :

Dining Tent with seating and floors

Big Screen TV with live racing footage and scrolling results

PA Color Commentary

Merchandise Sales

General Admission to the Reunion Village is $3/person or 2/$5.


Attend any (or all) of the three Head Of The Charles Awards Cermonies at the Rowing and Fitness Expo where all first place winners are presented with HOCR medals. The Awards Ceremonies are scheduled for: Saturday, October 23rd at 6PM, and Sunday October 24th at 3PM and 5:30PM.


Stop by the Rowing & Fitness Expo tent, located in the midst of the Finishing Area Launch Site (FALS) to try out a rowing machine, try on some beautiful rowing jewelry, or browse for new workout gear.

13 Tips for a Safe Halloween

By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, October 22, 2010--Halloween is a wonderful time to dress up, let loose and, of course, eat lots of candy.
However, there are a number of things to be cautious about when it comes to costumes, candy and parties. Here are the “lucky 13” guidelines from FDA, Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

1. Wear costumes made of fire-retardant materials; look for “flame resistant” on the label. If you make your costume, use flame-resistant fabrics such as polyester or nylon.

2. Wear bright, reflective costumes or add strips of reflective tape so you’ll be more visible; make sure the costumes aren’t so long that you’re in danger of tripping.

3. Wear makeup and hats rather than masks that can obscure your vision.

4. Test the makeup you plan to use by putting a small amount on your arm a couple of days in advance. If you get a rash, redness, swelling, or other signs of irritation where you applied it, that’s a sign you may be allergic to it.

5. Check FDA’s list of color additives to see if additives in your makeup are FDA approved. If they aren’t approved for their intended use, don’t use it.

6. Don’t wear decorative contact lenses unless you have seen an eye care professional and gotten a proper lens fitting and instructions for using the lenses.

Safe Treats

Eating sweet treats is also a big part of the fun on Halloween. If you’re trick-or-treating, health and safety experts say you should remember these tips:

7. Don’t eat candy until it has been inspected at home.

8. Trick-or-treaters should eat a snack before heading out, so they won’t be tempted to nibble on treats that haven’t been inspected.

9. Tell children not to accept—or eat—anything that isn’t commercially wrapped.

10. Parents of very young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies, or small toys.

11. Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.

For partygoers and party throwers, FDA recommends the following tips for two seasonal favorites:

12. Look for the warning label to avoid juice that hasn’t been pasteurized or otherwise processed, especially packaged juice products that may have been made on site. When in doubt, ask! Always ask if you are unsure if a juice product is pasteurized or not. Normally, the juice found in your grocer’s frozen food case, refrigerated section, or on the shelf in boxes, bottles, or cans is pasteurized.

13. Before bobbing for apples—a favorite Halloween game—reduce the amount of bacteria that might be on apples by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


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6 Reasons Why It's Smart to Buy a Vacation Rental Home

RISMEDIA, October 21, 2010—Lately, you've been thinking a lot about investing strategies. You have a small nest egg that needs to grow, but frankly you don't trust the stock market. (If you're like many investors, your 401(k) hasn't fared well in recent years.) And while real estate has been somewhat of a rocky road in recent years, it's still a solid long-term investment strategy—and clearly we're in a buyer's market. But you aren't really interested in being a landlord. What to do?

Christine Karpinski has a suggestion: Purchase a vacation home and rent it out to travelers.

"Vacation homes are almost always a good investment," says Karpinski, director of Owner Community for HomeAway—te the world's leading vacation rental marketplace—and author of How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner, 2nd Edition: The Complete Guide to Buy, Manage, Furnish, Rent, Maintain and Advertise Your Vacation Rental Investment (Kinney Pollack Press, 2007, ISBN: 0-9748249-9-2, $26.00).

"First, if you're looking for a good long-term investment, real estate tends to be a good bet," she adds. "Second, vacation properties have the ability to pay for themselves, and owners often earn a profit in rental income. Third, the investment comes with the desirable perk of having a place at the beach or in the mountains to call your own. And finally, there has never been a better time to buy a vacation home—it's like the planets have all lined up perfectly."

Karpinski, who owns vacation homes in several parts of the country, says she herself is looking for new properties to invest in. Overall, she says, the vacation home rental market is a burgeoning segment of the economy.

Want to know more? Read on for a few reasons why there's never been a better time to go vacation rental house hunting:

There have never been so many properties on the market. For potential home buyers, there is a silver lining to the slow economy and the housing crisis: Most vacation markets are chock-full of buying opportunities. Once you've pinpointed the vacation rental market that is right for you—The coast? The mountains? A ski resort area?—you will likely have a lot of properties to choose from.

"There are many properties available right now in many different areas," says Karpinski. "Once you start hunting, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at what you find. But I must offer one caveat: Before you let yourself fall in love with a property, make sure it is legal to rent it out as a vacation home. Some areas and homeowners' associations do not allow short-term rentals."

Prices aren't going to get much better. In fact, they're the lowest they've been in five to ten years. If you're pretty sure you want to buy a vacation home "someday," you might want to quit procrastinating and pull the trigger, says Karpinski.

"Prices should increase eventually," she points out. "Now is the perfect opportunity to make a really sound investment. In fact, speaking from my own perspective, I'm afraid that if I don't take the plunge now, I'll look back ten years from now and say, 'Why the heck didn't I buy back in 2010?'"

Interest rates are very favorable for purchasing. Today, mortgage interest rates are low. Bottom line: Take advantage of them while they last.

These days, you have access to the best real estate professionals. Anyone connected to the housing market who managed to survive the housing crash had to be at the top of his or her game. That means the agents left standing today—including the ones you'll be working with in your search for the perfect vacation home—are possibly the best of the best.

"Quite simply, the real estate professionals still working today are the top in the business," says Karpinski. "And because vacation home renting has become so popular, they are more knowledgeable than ever. Use their knowledge to your advantage. They are at your service when it comes to helping you hunt down the best property for you."

It's never been easier to rent your vacation home. As mentioned earlier, vacation home rentals have never been more popular. More and more consumers are choosing to stay in cozy condos, cabins, and chalets instead of cramped, impersonal hotel rooms when they travel. And as market demand has surged, organizations have sprung up to help connect vacation homeowners with these potential renters.

If you buy now, you can be ready for the 2011 peak season. It's true that the longer you wait to buy, the likelier it is that interest rates could rise. But there's another reason not to procrastinate: If you buy now, you'll have time to get your property ready for peak rental season. Experienced vacation homeowners often find that the rental fees generated during the twelve weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day pay their mortgages for an entire year—and most inquiries come in between January and March.

"Even turnkey properties aren't really turnkey," notes Karpinski. "To get your property up to your standards, there will very likely be things that you will want to spruce up. Rooms might need repainting. Decorating will need to be done. And the yard might need some work. By buying now, you will have a cushion of time to get the home ready for your guests, take great photos for your property listing, and start marketing it to potential renters."

"Someone is going to be smart enough to take advantage of the great buying opportunities available today," says Karpinski. "That person might as well be you."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Packing is Key to Avoiding Air Travel Ordeal

By Ken Kaye

RISMEDIA, October 19, 2010--(MCT)--It might seem obvious not to pack an object that resembles a pipe bomb in your luggage before boarding a plane. Yet that's what a Texas professor did last month, prompting an intense police investigation and a full-scale evacuation at Miami International Airport.

He was cleared, but his failure to carefully monitor what he packed was not unusual. Nationwide, passengers each day place more than 2.2 million prohibited items in their bags, for a total of 627 million items through September. That includes undeclared guns, large knives and hand grenades.

Packing is the key to avoiding an ordeal at the checkpoint, said Bob Burns, who writes a travel advice blog for the Transportation Security Administration's website, Travelers should keep that in mind, especially during the holiday season, he said.

The agency recommends emptying a suitcase completely before starting to pack, to ensure nothing unusual from a previous trip could spring a surprise at the checkpoint.

"Make sure you don't have any items in there that look like hand grenades or pipe bombs," said TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz.

Burns recommends passengers double check the TSA's prohibited items list at Under the "How to get through the line faster" icon, the site also offers a number of friendly tips on how to "pack smart."

High among them is to pack bags neatly. If taking electronics, pack in layers, with a layer of clothes, then a layer of electronics and then more clothes. If the electronics are thrown together haphazardly, they might look like a bomb on an X-ray screen, Burns said.

"If the picture is clear and uncluttered, you're allowing us to have a good look at everything in a bag," he said.

Other recommendations: Avoid packing oversized electronics, such as laptops or video game consoles, in checked luggage. Prepare a quart-sized, clear plastic zip-close bag to carry liquid or gel items, which are restricted to three ounces in carry-on luggage, or pack larger quantities in checked bags. Don't wrap gifts until you reach your final destination. Place coats and jackets in checked baggage when possible.

Among the most vexing objects it encounters are grenades, the TSA says.

"To us, when we see a grenade come across an X-ray screen, we don't know if it's real or not. So we have to treat it like it is dangerous," said Burns.

Since July, nationwide, passengers have packed 21 grenades or items that appeared to be grenades in their baggage. In each case, the TSA called in the police to investigate.

In most instances, the grenades were inert and intended to be gifts or novelty items, Burns said. One was found in a stuffed animal. One was intended as a gag gift and had a plaque attached that said: "Complaint Department: Take a Number."

Then there was a Pittsburgh passenger who packed a grenade as a present for his son. He told TSA officers he had never flown before and had no idea such an object was forbidden on a plane.

Also troublesome, the TSA said, is that almost 900 guns were intercepted last year. Guns are allowed in checked luggage if passengers have proper permits, declare them to their airline and follow their airline's procedures for packing firearms.

Otherwise, Burns noted, "You would think it's obvious, you can't take a gun on a plane. The No. 1 excuse we get is 'I forgot it was there.'"

If a dangerous item is spotted, a passenger likely will be questioned and faces possible arrest. Such was the case when security officers at Miami International Airport spotted what appeared to be a pipe bomb in the suitcase of a passenger on Sept. 2.

Police identified the man as Thomas C. Butler, a Texas scientist accused by the Justice Department in 2003 of illegally transporting bubonic plague samples.

Suspecting he might have placed biological or explosive material inside the 12-inch pipe, the TSA alerted the FBI and much of the airport was evacuated. A hazmat team and bomb squad were called in, and Butler was detained and questioned.

"On the X-ray, it appeared to have all the characteristics of a pipe bomb," said Koshetz, the TSA spokeswoman. "The evacuation zone was expanded considerably in order to protect the public and the airport workers involved."

The pipe was eventually determined not to be a threat, and Butler was released.

The TSA has implemented a number of high-tech devices to beef up security. Most recently, it purchased 490 body scanners to be placed at the nation's airports this year. The agency also uses advanced X-ray machines to scan carry-on items from multiple angles, allowing for fewer hand searches.

Burns said arriving at the airport early will help passengers more easily navigate the security checkpoint.

"If something does happen to slow you down, you don't have to sweat it," he said. "It's better than missing your flight."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Simply The Best! at TCAN in Natick

Simply The Best!

Sunday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m.
The Center For Arts in Natick
14 Summer Street
Natick, MA 01760
Doors open at 7pm!

For “Simply the Best,” his third show at The Center for Arts in Natick (TCAN), Boston-area singer Steven SanSoucie has finally given in to the demands of his band.

“My band had been pressuring me to do an 80s show,” the singer says. “They were more excited about getting this project going than I was at first,” he admits, noting that he has always leaned more towards popular music of the 60s and 70s, as well as his roots in Broadway for his repertoire. Of course, when it comes to performing songs he loves, SanSoucie doesn’t really need his arm to be twisted. This new show, titled “Simply the Best,” is simply what SanSoucie does best: he will entertain the audience with a playlist that was chosen with his head and will be sung with his heart.

The name “Simply the Best” was chosen for two reasons, according to SanSoucie. First, it is the title of one of Tina Turner’s hits, but secondly, and even more importantly, it is a version of his own greatest hits album, as he will be singing some of the best musical numbers from his past shows.

Joining him on the TCAN stage is his husband and musical soul mate, Rob Wendel, who serves as musical director and will perform on keyboards. The backup band is comprised of Randy Cloutier on percussion, Kevin Coyne on guitar, and Lee Whalen on bass. Also, on various numbers, SanSoucie will be joined by guest vocalists Keri Boisclair, Robin Burrage, Elana Marsh, and Jill Stewart.

Music lovers will be thrilled with SanSoucie’s selections, which truly run the gamut of hits from the past three decades, from The Carpenters and The Four Seasons, to Donna Summer and Billy Joel, to Michael Jackson and Journey. As if that weren’t enough to throw your musical memories into a tailspin, SanSoucie—as always—has a few tricks up his sleeve, but mum’s the word on what songs those will feature.

“It's interesting to me that everyone has different interpretations of songs,” the singer says, although he will admit that with the crazy lyrics of the 80s, numerous interpretations come with the territory. “For some songs, I will tell my story--how I interpret them and what they mean to me. But I think everyone will also have their own stories or memories to go along with the songs.”

And, in true SanSoucie fashion, he says, “I am hoping that people will sing along with me from their seats.”

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Open House Sunday 2:00-3:30 108 Union Street, Natick

6 Reasons it Pays to Shop Around Before Choosing a Mortgage

By Paige Tepping

RISMEDIA, October 16, 2010--You wouldn’t buy a house without shopping around first, right? Then why would you commit to the loan you use to buy that house without making sure you’re getting the best deal possible? From the experts at LendingTree, here are six reasons why it’s essential to take a few minutes to browse before you borrow:

1. To get the best interest rate possible
Over the life of a $200,000, 30-year fixed rate loan, a one-tenth of a point difference in interest rate could save or cost you thousands of dollars.

2. To pay lower loan fees
Once your loan application is accepted, the lender will get back to you with a good-faith estimate (GFE), including an itemized list of all the costs associated with the loan. If there are any parts of the GFE that you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask the lender to explain each fee that is listed.

3. To avoid a prepayment penalty
In these transient times, it seems no one stays in their home long enough to pay down their mortgage the old fashioned way: in monthly increments over a period of decades. So you’ll want to be clear on whether the terms of your loan include a penalty if you pay off your mortgage early—either because you move or refinance.

4. To find a lender you feel comfortable with
You don’t want any surprises popping up at closing time. Get a lender who is responsive to your questions and is willing to give you the details in writing.

5. To find a lender that specializes in your situation
Recent volatility in the mortgage markets means that people with bad credit or little money for a down payment might have to look a little harder to find a lender.

6. To get the rate lock period you want
Once you’ve found the lender offering the best mortgage rate and terms, you’ll want to get a written commitment, known as a “lock” that puts in writing that the lender will make the loan to you at that the specified interest rate. The length of the lock can vary from 30-90 days, but many lenders will charge a fee for a rate commitment of longer than a month. Negotiate the lock period that is right for you, depending on when you plan to close on your new home and if interest rates are expected to creep higher during that time.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Low-cost Upgrades Can Cut Energy Bills

By Greta Guest

RISMEDIA, October 15, 2010--(MCT)--Jodie Mekled is looking forward to cheap utility bills this winter.

The retail worker from Sterling Heights, Mich., could pay as little as $40 a month for natural gas thanks to energy-efficient home improvements made through Habitat for Humanity.

The nonprofit group recently completed a rehab on a foreclosed home in Sterling Heights that Mekled will close on and move into this month with her two sons. She was living with her parents when she found out about the city's Neighborhood Stabilization Program and applied.

The 900-square-foot home has achieved LEED certification, which measures how well a house performs in eight areas including water efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality and innovation. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

It's the first LEED-certified home the Macomb County, Mich., Habitat for Humanity has built.

The home features bamboo flooring on the first floor, spray cellulose to insulate the walls, recycled paper countertops, bamboo cabinets in the kitchen, a solar tube in the kitchen ceiling that reflects light from the sun and moon into the home and low-flow plumbing.

"I love the bathroom. I love my kitchen," said Mekled, 41, who helped retrofit the home through hundreds of volunteer hours. The bathroom features recycled glass tile and porcelain tiles.

Brandon McCullough, field operations manager for Macomb County Habitat for Humanity, said less-expensive energy upgrades are becoming more common. Such improvements include added insulation, rain barrels and compact fluorescent light bulbs.

McCullough said the three-bedroom, one-bath home was in bad shape. It had to be stripped down to the studs.

"It's cool because you take a blighted house in the neighborhood and make it into something cool," McCullough said.

Features such as the solar tube installed in the kitchen ceiling help reduce the electric bill without costing much. The tube retails for $160. A tankless hot water heater cost about $565 for the unit and $500 to $1,000 to install. It reduces energy use by not having to constantly heat a tank of water.

The rain barrels collect about 300 gallons of water from the roof that is then used to water the landscaping. The 55-gallon drums were purchased online and then fitted with spigots from Lowe's, McCullough said.

While new homebuilding has slowed, some builders continue to have success in green building, said Rich Kogelschatz, owner of Heartland Builders in Rockford, Mich. He has been building energy-efficient homes since 2002 and builds six to nine a year.

"I can tell you that my customers want it and are coming to me for it," he said.

Using an energy-efficient feature like an insulated foundation costs about $1,000 to $1,500, he said. Adding an energy recovery ventilator is about $1,500. It brings fresh air into a house, which is important when it is sealed tightly.

He said energy-efficient windows and appliances are almost standard today for most builders. But features such as a geothermal system are more expensive, ranging from $6,000 to $10,000 and are in just half of the homes Kogelschatz builds.

Geothermal heat pumps collect natural heat from the earth through a series of pipes called a loop. Fluid circulates through the loop and carries the heat to the house.

The system pays for itself within five years based on average utility bills.

"Our customers ask for it, so it isn't a tough sale," Kogelschatz said.

Federal tax credits for buying an energy-efficient product or renewable energy system for your home are available. Here are some examples of what's covered by the various credits. For more information, go to

The tax credit gives you 30% of the cost up to $1,500 for:

•biomass stoves
•heating, ventilating, air-conditioning
•roofs (metal and asphalt)
•water heaters (non solar)
•windows and doors
The credit expires Dec. 31 and applies only to existing homes and principal residences.

A tax credit of 30% with no upper limit is for:

•geothermal heat pumps
•small wind turbines
•solar energy systems
The credit expires Dec. 31, 2016, and applies to new and existing homes. Principal residences and second homes qualify, but not rental properties

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Solar Energy: How it Works, What it Costs and How to Tell if its Right for You

Date: 10/18/2010
Address: Morse Institute Library 14 East Central Street
Location: Natick, MA
Hours: 7:00pm
Cost/Cover: FREE!
Web Page:
Contact Info: For registration and information, contact Amy Levine at (617) 332-1870 or email
Details: The presentation will provide an overview of solar technology and will explain how Massachusetts residents can reduce their energy consumption and protect their planet, while spinning their electric meter backwards. Sunlight Solar representatives Ryan Fitzsimmons and Amy Levine will discuss the current rebates available to homeowners in Massachusetts, along with the State and Federal tax credits offered in 2010. A question-and-answer session will follow.

Homeowners are encouraged to bring their electric bills to receive an on-the-spot usage evaluation. So come meet like-minded neighbors who already produce their own solar electricity and solar hot water, and enjoy the rare opportunity to ask an expert as many questions as you like!

This free event is open to the public; food and drink will be provided. Pre-registration is recommended, as space is limited. For registration and information, please call (617) 332-1870 or send an email to

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When Home Sales are Down.......... It's Time to Buy!

Massachusetts Pending Home Sales Down for 5th Straight Month in September

WALTHAM, Mass. – October 5, 2010 – The Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® (MAR) reported today that the number of single-family homes put under agreement in September was down 19 percent over the same time last year, while condominiums were down 27 percent.

“Concerns over the economy and unemployment continued to keep a number of potential homebuyers on the sidelines as homes put under agreement went down compared to the same time last year when buyers were trying to qualify for the initial homebuyer tax credit deadline,” said 2010 MAR President Kevin Sears, broker/co-owner of Sears Real Estate in Springfield. “While the market still favors the buyer and interest rates remain historically low, confidence in the market plays a significant factor even for the most qualified buyers when it comes to purchasing a home.”

The number of single-family homes put under agreement in September was down 19 percent compared to the same time last year (4,473 homes in 2009 to 3,609 homes in 2010). This is the fifth straight month that year-over-year pending sales have gone down. On a month-to-month basis, single-family homes put under agreement were down 12.3 percent from 4,117 homes in August.

The number of condos put under agreement in September was down 27 percent compared to September 2009 (1,725 units in 2009 to 1,267 units in 2010). On a month-to-month basis, condos put under agreement were down 11.7 percent from 1,267 units in July.

32 Percent of US Businesses Plan to Hire Additional Staff in 2011

32 Percent of U.S. Businesses Plan to Hire Additional Staff in 2011
RISMEDIA, October 13, 2010--Businesses across the globe are now looking to hire new staff, in one of the first signs that global economic recovery and growth is on a sustainable upward trajectory. This is the key finding of the bi-annual Regus Business Tracker survey that interviews more than 10,000 businesses around the world.

The fact that companies are looking to hire additional staff will be regarded as a significant indicator that the mindset of organizations has shifted toward investment in growth through human capital. Regus, a global provider of flexible workplace solutions, found that more than a third of companies [36 percent net(1)] surveyed said they intend to increase headcount. U.S. business was close to the global average with almost a third (32 percent net) of companies preparing to add new staff in 2011.

These findings are particularly significant, coming in the wake of recent observations from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and International Labour Organization (ILO) that global unemployment has reached record proportions in the last three years (up to 210 million since 2007). These organizations have warned about potential problems for national economies if this trend continues. Unemployment reduces national taxation income and increases public spending. The findings of the Regus Business Tracker provide important evidence that the world unemployment situation may be set to ease in 2011.

The survey canvassed the opinions of more than 10,000 senior business people in 78 countries asking them about their current revenue performance, their profitability, their projected future revenues and their wider expectations of national economic growth. These indicators form the basis for the report's Business Optimism Index, which unusually reflects actual performance as well as near-term outlook. Globally, this edition of the index revealed a far more positive outlook, with a greater proportion of optimist countries than six months ago. For the U.S. in particular, the global index revealed a bullish rating of 87, up seven points on six months ago.

Sande Golgart, regional vice president for Regus, comments: "The intention to increase headcount is a clear indicator that businesses want to be prepared to grasp the opportunities that recovering markets may throw their way. The U.S. in particular is still suffering from high unemployment levels, at 9.6 percent, although private sector payroll continues to increase slightly and this finding should be taken as a positive indication for employment.(2)"

"In spite of this optimism, our research also highlights that 41 percent of companies are still looking to reduce their overhead, through means other than reducing staff. This reveals an attitude of cautious optimism. As companies look to find economies in their own operations, we are likely to see more and more organizations offering flexible working practices to their existing or prospective employees in a bid to achieve a better work-life balance and run a leaner organization."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Natick After-school and Weekend Workshops for Kids ages 10-17

Date: Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Time: 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM

Venue: Young Broadcasters of America

Address: 81 Speen Street, Natick, MA

From: Young Broadcasters of America

Starting in the fall, Young Broadcasters of America is offering the opportunity for children ages 10 to 17 to take weekend and after-school workshops in which they will create, produce, and host their very own television show.

Using the subjects of sports or pop culture, YBA engages young people in dialog about the things they are passionate about. The camera motivates and exposes them, to see themselves as the world sees and hears them.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Remodeling? Choose the Right Vinyl Siding

By Stephanie Andre

RISMEDIA, October 8, 2010--Given its durability, vinyl siding is more popular today than ever before. According to some statistics, approximately 50% of homes now use the material. That said, this is one product that experts say you should not skimp on when looking at quality vs. cost. Cheaper-made siding will fade, warp and sag much quicker than a better quality product.

Here are five tips for homeowners on how to choose high-quality products, courtesy of

Thickness - Vinyl is made from chemical combinations, which vary greatly. Thicker options will be stiffer and more durable. Thinner ones may be low quality and could sag or warp. According to building codes, vinyl siding must be at least 0.035 inch thick. Premium choices are 0.044 to up to 0.055 inch thick.

Fading - Cheap vinyl siding is more likely to fade. Homeowners should find products with UV protection and be sure the exterior can handle direct sunlight. To lessen the appearance of fading, lighter colors can be chosen.

Wind Resistance - Homeowners will want vinyl siding that can resist wind up to 150 mph. Some high-quality options have warranties that cover winds of 180 mph. Homeowners should be aware of wind codes in their area as they do vary.

Installation - The installation is just as important as the materials. Panels are not attached tightly. Rather, they "hang" on the side of a house because the material expands and contracts with heat and cold. When getting vinyl siding estimates, homeowners should ask about the installation process and warranties. Double hem mounting typically provides better attachment than a single hem. If installed too tightly, there will be poor ventilation, which is needed. If installed too loosely, it can be noisy.

Rain Resistance - Vinyl siding also "hangs" on a structure to provide better ventilation by allowing air to flow behind the panels. There are also small holes in the butts of each panel to release water. If poorly installed, it can trap moisture or cause water leaks into the house. To avoid this, the installer must add proper flashings, house felt or builder's wrap.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Web's 10 Best Investor Education Resources for Raising Financially Savvy Kids

RISMEDIA, October 7, 2010--Do you want to make sure your kids start out with the right tools they need to be informed investors when they grow up? Do you want them to learn the value of a dollar and why it is important to save? In these difficult financial times, teaching your kids what to do and what not to do when it comes to saving and investing is more important than ever.

Parents can now benefit from a major new resource being made available today from the nonprofit Alliance for Investor Education (AIE) highlighting 10 of the best Web-based resources for parents to teach their kids about how to save and invest in today's tough financial times. The Alliance's new "Teaching Your Kids About Saving and Investing: A Guide for Parents" is available at

AIE is the organization of the 20 leading U.S. financial-related foundations, nonprofit organizations, associations and governmental agencies.

Alliance for Investor Education President Dallas Salisbury, who also serves as president and CEO of the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and chairman of the American Savings Education Council (ASEC), said: "It is important now more than ever that children learn the important lessons about money. Parents can teach their kids by example and also relay important lessons through the many resources available from trusted financial associations and agencies. We have assembled a collection of these resources for parents. The featured resources include online games, which are a fun way to teach kids financial lessons. Members of the Alliance are devoted to providing resources for parents to share with their kids to teach them the necessary lessons for them to become responsible investors as they grow."

The new "Teaching Your Kids About Saving and Investing: A Guide for Parents " section of the AIE Web site features the following 10 top resources for consumers:

1. Investing ABCs: Teaching Your Children About Stocks –, AICPA's 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy.
2. Gen I Revolution –, Council for Economic Education.
3. A Hitchhiker's Guide to Planning for College Expenses –, CFA Institute.
4. Choose to Save: Savingsman Episode 5: Saving Early -, Employee Benefit Research Institute.
5. Tips for Teaching Students about Saving and Investing –, Securities and Exchange Commission.
6. Teach Your Children – –- Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.
7. The Basics of Saving and Investing –, Investor Protection Trust.
8. Cover the Basics Before Your Child Leaves the Nest –, National Endowment for Financial Education.
9. Great Minds Think: A Kid's Guide to Money –, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.
10. Fraud Scene Investigator –-, North American Securities Administrators Association.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Downsizing? How to Live Large in a Small Space

By Jaclyn Banash

RISMEDIA, October 6, 2010--(MCT)--It's a constant battle: Small versus big. Less or more? There are arguments to support both sides.

Having just downsized to the smallest apartment I have ever lived in, I was intrigued by the idea of small being the new big. The challenge of storage and saving space is usually the No. 1 problem for most small-home dwellers. Organization is key, as is making the space work for your lifestyle.

I have been racking my brain for months over how to make my new 656-square-foot apartment work best for me. I have found some great new ideas to integrate with some of my old tricks of the trade.

Creative use of furniture is essential in small spaces or even in larger spaces that might need to be multifunctional. Take, for instance, a guest bedroom that doubles as an office. Instead of crowding the room on a daily basis with a bed that only gets used a few times a year, why not use a sleeper sofa or a chair and a half with a twin sleeper sofa? This will free so much space for day-to-day activities in the office.

A daybed is another good-looking piece of furniture that multitasks. A daybed is a great way to divide a large space, but in a small space, if positioned against the wall, it doubles as a sofa with pillows across the back and an extra sleeping spot when the pillows are removed.

Lots of furniture pieces are known for their great multipurpose and space-saving qualities. The ever-popular pouf, for example, can double as an ottoman, become a small table for books, computers and drinks to rest upon or even turn into extra seating.

Nesting tables also provide options for tiny spaces because they are small and easily moved. Storage ottomans are an obvious choice for doubling as a bench or coffee table that can house toys, blankets and extra bedding.

In dining room/eating areas, a custom-built bench/banquette with storage underneath is a great option for tight spaces. If your budget does not allow for custom, then good-looking storage boxes fit nicely under most pre-made banquettes. If you are not looking for more storage but are just short on space, a breakfast nook can be created with a small table and stools that can tuck underneath when not in use.

Simply by pushing a dining table against a wall or window you can save at least three feet. All you have to do is pull the table out for dinner parties. And don't forget, an old or unattractive table can always be put to use and instantly jazzed up with a custom table skirt in a fabulous fabric. Voila, another spot for hidden storage!

One of my recent favorite small-space solutions is installing built-in top-to-bottom mirrors on the inset of closet doors. How brilliant! No longer are you taking up precious wall space in the room with a floor-length mirror.

As for the actual layout and decoration of a small space, conflicting theories abound. Some say not to fill a small room with over-scaled furniture, as it eats up the space and feels cramped. Others say big furniture makes a small room seem grander.

I gravitate toward the middle. In general, I stay away from large, overstuffed furniture and do find that too many small pieces can feel cluttered. But I need enough seating for entertaining and recently purchased a set of Lucite folding chairs (clear furniture is another small-space trick) that can be stowed when not in use.

I have never subscribed to pure minimalism, although I admire those who can. I find it almost impossible to not surround myself with lovely items that I find along my travels, antiquing or shopping. The key is rigorous editing. I have seen many small, successful spaces that have a plethora of mementos or objets d'art.

But once you get to a certain point, it becomes necessary to do the practice of one thing in, one thing out. After all, no matter what size your space is, you need the room to enjoy it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Lead Paint Rules Weigh on Window Replacement

By Al Heavens

RISMEDIA, October 1, 2010--(MCT)--Q: My daughter recently obtained estimates for replacing 17 windows in her home, which is more than 50 years old.

One contractor mentioned the Environmental Protection Agency's new requirement of lead-paint precautions, containment, and other things, which would add $500 to the project cost.

He also stated that she could first test for lead paint ($60), but because of the age of her home, the house more than likely contained lead paint.

The EPA website was a little confusing and wordy, so I'm not sure if she is required to follow the EPA guidelines. She has no children and no plans for them in the next few years.

Only one section of four connecting casement windows in the living room will be removed and replaced with three regular double-hung windows.

This will require removing and replacing some old woodwork. The remaining windows throughout the house will be normal window replacement.

Can you explain the EPA regulations so we will know if the lead paint precautions are needed or not?

A: I'll try, although a series of postponements and lawsuits have turned the situation into a minefield of contradictory information.

Originally, a law was passed to require contractors who "disturb lead-based paint in homes, child-care facilities and schools built before 1978 to be certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination."

Although the law applies to 79 million houses, just 38 million of those are believed to have lead paint.

That law took effect April 22, but in late June, the EPA said it would delay enforcement of the law until October because there weren't enough government-approved trainers needed to certify thousands of contractors.

That enforcement deadline has now been extended to Dec. 30. By early July, 320,000 contractors had been certified.

That's one problem. The next one relates to your daughter's decision to have children at some point down the road.

The law had an "opt-out" clause that allowed consumers to permit contractors to bypass extra preparation, cleanup and record-keeping requirements in homes where there were no children under 6 years old or pregnant women, thus avoiding additional costs.

That provision expired July 6, and the EPA had no plans to reinstate it. The National Association of Homebuilders and others filed suit to force the EPA to reinstate the opt-out rule.

If that rule had been in force, your daughter could have chosen to bypass the law.

The law states that a hazardous condition exists when lead-paint dust is present on a floor to the extent of 40 micrograms (one millionth of a gram) in a square-foot area.

Another way of expressing it is if a square centimeter lead-based paint chip were ground into dust, it would (by EPA standards) contaminate 25 square feet of floor space.

The feds require the "proper" containment and cleanup when six or more square feet of lead-based paint will be "disturbed" in a home.

The EPA suggests consumers ask to see certification before they sign a contract.

Since December 2008, remodelers have been required by law to supply a brochure to customers outlining the dangers and rules.

The thing I find most interesting is that your daughter's contractor says that the cleanup will add $500 to the job.

According to the homebuilders' association, a complete window replacement requires the contractor to install thick vinyl sheeting to surround the work area both inside the home and outdoors — with prep time and material costs adding an estimated $60 to $170 for each window.

By the builders' estimates, remediating the lead would add $1,000 to $3,000 to the job, if 17 windows are involved. I'd say that if the contractor's estimate is in writing, $500 for the entire job seems like a bargain.

Both sides acknowledge that there are differences in estimates of what meeting these requirements will cost the typical consumer. Make absolutely certain of what the real costs are before signing a contract.