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By Betty Wang

How can you battle a neighborhood eyesore? Nobody likes unsightly property — overgrown weeds, peeling and rotting paint, and a general unkempt appearance can detract from the quality of your neighborhood.

Sure, it may not be your problem or your fault, but why should you have to look at it? On top of that, the property value of your own home could go down because of it.

Neighborhood eyesores are a fairly common problem. Luckily, despite the fact that it’s not your own home, there are some ways to deal with this issue. Here are a few steps that you can take when faced with a neighborhood eyesore:

Notify the homeowners’ association
. If you are a part of a homeowners’ association, your HOA’s policy might spell out your options when it comes to neighborhood eyesores and help direct your next step. Many HOAs will take care of regular maintenance issues like mowing a lawn, among other general clean-up duties, and then bill this expense to the proper resident.

Try the direct approach. Many neighbors choose to go with the obvious, direct approach and actually discuss the problem with the offending neighbor. While this may seem daunting, it is also often the most effective and practical way to address the problem. Make sure that you approach the issue with sensitivity and caution, and don’t deliver your concerns in a way that could be construed as combative or offensive.

Look into local laws. Another step you can take is to look up your local laws. Depending on your state or local jurisdiction, this may prove useful. For example, some cities have enacted ordinances that fine homeowners for not properly maintaining their property.

Report local code violations
. You and your neighbors can also look into taking action on your own, especially if the eyesore property has been abandoned or foreclosed. You can start by reporting the code violation to your local government, which may take action. In some cases involving foreclosed homes, you may be able to get permission to begin cleaning up the abandoned property with your fellow neighbors.


Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

Gearing up for guests this holiday season? If so, now’s the time to ensure your home is safely outfitted for company. According to the remodelers of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), homeowners who expect visitors, especially elderly individuals, should assess their homes for hazards, and, if necessary, increase accessibility to accommodate their needs.

“Welcoming loved ones to your home is a cherished holiday tradition,” says NAHB Remodelers Chair Robert Criner, a remodeler from Newport News, Va. “By making some simple home modifications, you can ensure that family and friends will enjoy a comfortable visit and be able to maneuver around your house without trouble this year.”

Steps to take include the following:

1. Secure rugs and carpets. Secure area rugs with non-slip pads or double-sided carpet tape so that they are snug to the floor. Temporarily remove throw rugs, including bathroom mats, to prevent guests from tripping on the edges.

2. Test stair railings. Check that stair railings inside and out are tightly fastened. Make repairs where needed.

3. Turn up the lights. Put night lights in bathrooms, the guest bedroom, hallways and in the kitchen. Make sure there is a lamp or light switch within reach of the guest bed so that your visitor can keep a light on until safely tucked in. Well-lit outdoor walkways and entrances are also important when coming or going at night.

4. Clear outdoor walkways. Rake leaves, salt for ice and shovel snow from sidewalks and driveways to prevent falls.

5. Add non-slip treads or a mat to the shower. Be sure the shower your guest will use has a non-slip floor. To enhance traction, apply non-slip strips or a suction-attached non-slip mat.

6. Offer the best seat. Choose the best seat for your guest’s comfort—not too high, not too low. A firm cushion can prevent them from sinking too low in to the seat, and arms can help a person easily get up and down.

7. De-clutter. Move objects or even furniture that a person usually has to maneuver around. Secure cords to the wall or baseboards with hooks to prevent tripping. Clear stair steps of any objects, such as shoes, books, and other personal items, that tend to collect on the lower treads.

Source: NAHB

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.

Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve are peak days for home fires—and the leading causes are cooking a holiday meal or burning decorative candles, reports the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA).

“These statistics are a serious reminder of how the excitement of holiday entertaining can quickly turn into a life-altering fire or even a tragic injury or death,” says Sue Steen, chief executive officer of Servpro Industries, Inc. “While glowing candles and elaborate meals set the stage for a great holiday get-together, homeowners need to exercise extra care in controlling the dangerous potential for fires.”

According to the NFPA, unattended cooking is by far the leading cause of home cooking fires, with frying posing the greatest fire risk and electric ranges posing a higher risk than gas ranges. Range top cooking in general starts the majority of home cooking fires.

Candles are another leading cause of home fires. Unattended or abandoned candles account for a large portion of candle fires—almost 20 percent—but the most frequent cause of candle fires is placing the candle too close to something that can burn, like curtains, decorations or furniture.

To keep your family and home safe from fire, remain vigilant as to its causes, even amid holiday celebrations, Steen says.

Source: SERVPRO®

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.

(Family Features) Foot traffic, summer storms, scorching heat, high humidity—your deck has seen it all this summer. But did you know colder months can also bring a slew of wearing elements?

According to Wood. It’s Real., funded by the Southern Pine Awareness Network (SPAN), an information clearing house for homeowners, snow, ice, wet slush and lack of sunlight can cause significant damage to your deck if left unattended. To stave off this damage—and avoid replacement altogether—Wood. It’s Real. recommends:

• Packing. Now is the time to do some seasonal de-cluttering. Store items such as planters, which can cause decay and discoloration if they remain on the deck all winter, and put away furniture and cushions you don’t expect to use until warmer weather returns.

• Cleaning. Use a power washer to remove accumulated dirt and any signs of staining or damage, such as mildew. Remember that cleaning isn’t just about appearance; it’s also about protecting the woodwork. Be sure to wash both the top and bottom of the deck.

• Inspecting and repairing. Inspect your deck for signs of wear and tear from the warmer months and make any necessary repairs or upgrades. If your deck falls into disrepair, replace boards or the entire deck using a cost-effective wood (such as Southern Yellow Pine) that resists the aging process.

• Protecting. You can easily test whether it’s time to add a protective coating to your deck by checking whether water beads or soaks into the wood. You may be able to spot treat with waterproofing or stain by sanding the affected areas and reapplying. However, if the problem area is widespread or you can’t remember the last time you stained or waterproofed the entire deck, it’s probably time to do it again.

• Maintaining. Shovel snow regularly using a plastic shovel—metal shovels can ding and gouge wood. Use sand rather than salt or ice melt products that can harm the surface of your deck, and be sure to brush off any excess after melting.

Source: Wood. It’s Real.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.

As lawmakers debate how best to reform the secondary mortgage finance market, they must ensure that any new system retains access to safe, secure and affordable sources of mortgage capital for creditworthy consumers in all market conditions or risk a major disruption to the economy, warned the National Association of REALTORS® recently in testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

On behalf of the leading advocate for homeownership and housing issues, NAR President Gary Thomas recommended essential reforms to the current housing finance structure that will benefit consumers.

“REALTORS® support a stable secondary mortgage market with strong, reasonable lending standards and access to credit. We believe that the current system can be transitioned into a marketplace that is bound by an explicit government guarantee and a sustained flow of private capital while protecting taxpayers from unnecessary risk,” says Thomas. “We fear that without the government’s backing, the only mortgage products available in the secondary market for the average homebuyer would not be aligned with their best interests.”

NAR supports the bipartisan “Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act of 2013,” which provides for an explicit government guarantee and includes many of the elements outlined in the association’s principles for secondary mortgage finance reform that NAR presented to the administration in early 2011.

During his testimony, Thomas expressed concern about emerging barriers to homeownership facing middle class and first-time buyers that could potentially derail the housing recovery. “Apprehensive bankers are leery about issuing new loans as a result of proposed risk retention rules and ability-to-repay requirements that are set to go into effect next year. At the same time, rising interest rates and growing student loan debt is limiting consumers’ access to credit and contributing to an already tight lending environment.”

REALTORS® urged policymakers to prioritize strong underwriting standards over high down payment requirements that would put homeownership out of reach for otherwise creditworthy buyers. Rather than adopt a complex Qualified Residential Mortgage rule, NAR believes the agencies should follow the strong standards set by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for the related Qualified Mortgage Rule.

Thomas warned against other proposals that would restrict lending, such as lowering loan limits and putting private capital in a 10 percent first-loss position, which could inhibit private investors from participating in the secondary mortgage market, especially during periods of economic distress.

“Our goal is to help Congress, and our industry, design a secondary mortgage market model that will serve America’s best interests today and into the future, and ensure a strong housing market and economic recovery,” said Thomas.

For more information, visit

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

Tampa Bay FRIDAY Events

November 2 Friday 11 a.m.

Lunch on the Lawn

Replacing the popular downtown fresh market, which moved to Sundays after complaints from restaurants about lost business, this new weekly event will feature live entertainment … Lykes Gaslight Square Park
410 Franklin St., Tampa, 33602

November 2 Friday 4 p.m.

Art on the House

Through a gift from Hill Ward Henderson, admission to the museum’s galleries is now free on Friday evenings.   Price: Free. Tampa Museum of Art
120 Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa, 33602

November 2 Friday 7 p.m.

Art on Tap

Sample more than 20 craft beers courtesy of Great Bay Distributors, hors d’oeuvres
by the Marchand’s Bar & Grill and enjoy music bay area … Price: $45 advance, $55 day of. Museum of Fine Arts
255 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, 33701


November 2 Friday 8 p.m.

Romeo and Juliet

 An ensemble of eight versatile actors will bring to life one of the most widely known plays in the English language in this vibrant staging … Price: $37-$44. Freefall Theatre
6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 33710

By John Voket, RISMedia Consumer Confidant

In the next installment of our October focus on fire prevention, I have tapped the National Fire Protection Association for some potentially life-saving fire safety tips.

In a previous segment, the NFPA reported that cooking fires caused an estimated average of 2,590 civilian deaths and $7.2 billion in direct property damage yearly. And based on research by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), cooking was also the number one cause of home structure fires that went unreported.

We also learned that Smoking materials are the leading cause of home fire deaths followed by heating equipment and then cooking equipment. So consider following these words of advice from the NFPA:

  • Smoke outside – Ask smokers to smoke outside. Have sturdy, deep ashtrays for smokers.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of reach – Keep matches and lighters up high, out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Inspect electrical cords – Replace cords that are cracked, damaged, have broken plugs, or have loose connections.
  • Be careful when using candles – Keep candles at least one foot from anything that can burn. Blow out candles when you leave the room or go to sleep.
  • Install smoke alarms – Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Interconnect smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
  • Test your smoke alarms at least once a month and replace conventional batteries once a year or when the alarm “chirps” to tell you the battery is low.
  • Replace any smoke alarm that is more than 10 years old.
  • Install sprinklers – If you are building or remodeling your home, install residential fire sprinklers. Sprinklers can contain and may even extinguish a fire in less time than it would take the fire department to arrive.

Homeowners can get more detailed information about each of the above prevention tips by visiting the NFPA’s website at

By John Voket, RISMedia Consumer Confidant

During the fall, I know that homeowners and green industry professionals alike take steps to prepare landscapes for the winter. Leaves are swept away for composting or disposal, perennials and shrubs are pruned, hedges are trimmed, and pesticides are applied in anticipation of next year’s growing season.

For professional arborists and landscapers, fall and early winter are an effective time to use pesticides, a broad term that includes products that kill insect pests and also kill weeds.

Just remember to use a light touch, if you even have to use pesticides at all. Many homeowners may be surprised to learn that raking diseased tree leaves can replace fall pesticide applications in some cases.

Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist for the Tree Care Industry Association ( says homeowners may be able to solve landscape problems without pesticides by choosing non-chemical alternatives, such as sanitation procedures and selecting shrubs and ornamental trees that are less susceptible to diseases and insects.

For homeowners who do decide to use pesticides, the TCIA offers these suggestions:

  • Identify the pest first. There is no use in applying a pesticide that won’t address your pest problem.
  • Don’t be tempted to use agricultural chemicals. They aren’t designed for use by homeowners. A small miscalculation in the mixing of a small batch could result in drastic overdosing.
  • Buy the least toxic application. Most chemicals available to homeowners use the signal words “caution,” “warning” or “danger” on their labels. Try to avoid those with the “warning” and “danger” labels, as they are more hazardous.
  • Never mix herbicides with other kinds of pesticides, and never use the same equipment to spray herbicides and other pesticides. You could unintentionally kill the plants you are trying to protect.
  • Don’t mix or store pesticides in food containers, and don’t measure pesticides with the measuring cups and spoons you use in the kitchen. Always store pesticides in the original container, with the label intact.
  • The best choice may be to consult a professional who can diagnose pest problems and recommend chemical or non-chemical alternatives, Andersen advises. A beautiful lawn, shrub or tree isn’t worth the trade-off if pesticides are not being used properly.

In our next segment, we’ll take a look at herbicides.

A: Yes. Two very popular programs offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) include the Title 1 Home Improvement Loan and the Section 203(k) Program. In the first program, HUD insures the loan up to $25,000 for a single-family house to cover alterations, repairs, and site improvements.

The latter program, which also insures mortgage loans, is HUD’s primary program for the rehabilitation and repair of single-family homes. Loans are also available from the Department of Veteran Affairs to buy, build, or improve a home, as well as refinance an existing loan at interest rates that are usually lower than that on conventional loans. The Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Loan program, funded by the Agriculture Department, offers low-rate loans to low-income rural residents who own and occupy a home in need of repairs.

Funds are also available to improve or modernize a home or to remove health and safety hazards. The federal government isn’t alone in its efforts to provide assistance. Local and state governments offer special home improvement programs. Contact your governor or mayor’s office for more details.

For families devoted to their pets, Halloween isn’t just for the kids. Many people love dressing up their pets. But in addition to picking out a costume, pet parents should keep their pet’s safety in mind as well. Here are some safety tips and costume ideas to help ensure you and your pet have a safe and fun holiday.

Keep them happy. “Before having pets join in the Halloween fun, it’s important to assess whether your pet will be comfortable participating, or if the festivities will cause undue stress,” says Dr. Simon Starkey, Pet Care Expert at PetSmart. “If you have a young or senior pet, or one that is shy around others, it’s better to give them a quiet space away from all the activity where they’ll feel more comfortable.”

Make sure treats are pet friendly. With so many Halloween treats about the home, you want to make sure your dog doesn’t accidentally consume something that could be harmful. Chocolate is particularly tempting for pets, but it can also make them seriously ill. Instead, choose a pet friendly treat to celebrate, such as GREENIES Dental Chews, which also keep pets’ teeth clean and their breath scare-free.

Keep them safe. If you plan to take your dog around the neighborhood in the evening, make sure they’re properly outfitted. Reflective leashes, collars and ID tags with flashing lights are essential accessories for any pet Halloween costume.

Halloween Pet Fun
“Choosing a costume for your pet is like choosing a costume for yourself — you want something that reflects your or your pet’s personality,” says author and entertainment expert Kimberly Schlegel Whitman. Here are a few favorites exclusively available at PetSmart:

Make your pet a star. If you fancy your pet a rock star, consider dressing them for the part. Check out the Bret Michaels Pets Rock wig. With blonde tresses and a bandana to top it off, your pet will be ready to rock and roll.

Classic costumes are spooktacular. For a fantastic costume that also offers safety features, check out the glow-in-the-dark Martha Stewart Pets Black Halloween Skeleton costume. Or, if you love retro, outfit your pet in the Top Paw Plush Sock Monkey costume, which is sure to evoke some “oohs” and “aahs” from witches, goblins, zombies and monsters of all ages.



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