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How to throw a neighborhood block party

Published: Saturday, June 23, 2012 @ 4:34 PM
Updated: Saturday, June 23, 2012 @ 4:34 PM

Whether you’re best buds with the neighborhood crowd or don’t know many of the people on your street, a neighborhood bash is a homerun of an idea for this summer. Invite everyone on your block, your street or the entire neighborhood to an outdoor party.

A summer neighborhood party reaps benefits all year long. It pays to know those who live so close to you. Then you can ...

  • Put a name with the face of the guy who walks his Lab every evening.
  • Actually meet the mom and dad of the kids your children hang with.
  • Find out how the woman down the street grows such beautiful hydrangeas.
  • Talk cars with that guy with the ’69 Mustang you drool over.

Besides, keeping up with the Joneses is easier if you actually know them.

The neighborhood 
gang’s all here

Who should organize the neighborhood party? You, of course! If you wait for someone else, it’ll never happen. Hold your bash in a couple of adjoining backyards or on the street.

“Most of us grew up in neighborhoods where we all knew each other, and the block party we had was to get that sense of neighborhood back,” said Springboro resident Cindy Schulte. “We had a blast!”

Besides getting to know chummy neighbors better and meeting ones you’ve never talked to, there are big benefits to a neighborhood get-together:

  • Whew! You don’t have to worry about what relatives or friends to invite. It’s for neighbors only.
  • It’s easy to include kids. No worries about them tearing through your living room.
  • No need to clean your house. (Most people go home to use their own bathroom)
  • Potlucking is a natural way to feed the crowd.

If you wish, ask a neighbor or two to plan with you but get started soon! Pick a date when your organizers can make it. (Hint: a Sunday night is often when many people don’t have other plans.)

Distributing a flyer is a good way to spread the word. Since postal regulations prohibit you placing them in mailboxes, ring the doorbell to hand the invitation. That gives you an extra chance to “talk up” the party.

Your flyer should include:

  • What the event is (“Springwood Drive 
Outdoor Picnic!”)
  • Who’s invited (“All the families 
on Springwood Drive”)
  • Day, date and starting time
  • Location (“Backyards of the Smiths and the Johnsons at 155 and 157 Springwood Drive”)
  • What to bring (“Bring lawn chairs, your own beverages, your own main course and a food dish to share.”)
  • Any other guidelines (such as “BYOB” or “The pool is open so bring swimming suits!”)

A word about food: potlucks are fun and simple. You and the other organizers need to round up enough tables to hold the food. The organizers can provide plates and utensils, if you wish. Whether or not you pass-the-hat for costs is up to you.

Firing up the barbecue or having fried chicken from your favorite restaurant would be a treat, of course. But that adds extra hassle such as asking for a financial contribution and an RSVP. If you do barbecue, make sure someone is in charge of 
always watching the units and keeping kids away.

Other tips: consider having name tags and possibly some group games with prizes.

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Take a tour of the $6.8 million, four-level Brownstone Giuliana Rancic just listed for sale in Chicago

Published: Thursday, March 29, 2018 @ 1:29 PM



People Magazine
(People Magazine)

Giuliana and Bill Rancic are saying goodbye to their Windy City brownstone!

The TV personality, 43, and her entrepreneur husband, 46, have listed their 1866 townhouse with Laura Rubin Dresner of Baird & Warner, asking $6.8 million.

(People Magazine)

The 8,098 square-foot property underwent a down-to-the-studs renovation two years ago, according to the listing, and now boasts stunning features on all four levels. One living room shows the couple’s affinity for monograms, with a “B” and a “G” statue proudly displayed on end tables flanking the fireplace.

(People Magazine)

An all-white kitchen with Calcutta marble, multiple Subzero fridges and two wine coolers was the perfect spot for the Rancic’s and their son Duke, 5, to whip up their signature chicken skewers.

(People Magazine)

The master bedroom takes up the entire third floor, and don’t be fooled: this serene sleeping space is just the beginning of the unbelievable amenities the suite offers.

(People Magazine)

The bathroom — one of five on the property — and dressing room expand over a combined two stories, and include a balcony on the second level that overlooks the large soaking tub.

(People Magazine)

The wall-to-wall storage space sits behind paneled doors, stylishly stashing the red carpet queen's arsenal of gowns and jewelry.

 View more of Bill and Guiliana Rancic’s home here.

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Should you take out a home equity loan? 7 things to know

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 12:53 PM

Home equity loans are becoming easier to get, but that’s not a good thing. There is only one reason to get one, ever.

Let's say you need to borrow money, and it’s more of choice between putting $500 more on your credit card or going without it. Might a home equity loan be a good solution?

»RELATED: What is equity? 15 terms every new home buyer should know

Home equity loans drew a lot of attention late last year when President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The legislation suspended the tax deduction for interest paid on home equity loans and home equity lines of credit, starting in the tax year 2018 and running until 2026. A taxpayer can still use the deduction only if the loan is used to buy, build or substantially improve the home that secures the loan.

But according to Nick Clements, co-founder of the personal finance website magnifymoney.com, even without the deduction, home equity will likely remain one of the cheapest ways to borrow money.

"Home equity remains cheaper than personal loans and credit cards (with an average rate of 14.89 percent), and can be a very smart way to pay off that debt," he told Forbes. "Just be warned: After the financial crisis, lenders tightened approval criteria for home equity products.”

To get a sense of whether a home equity loan is something that might work for your situation, Clements and other lending experts provided the necessary background for prospective home equity borrowers working in the post-Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 lending market:

What is a home equity loan, exactly?

This type of loan is money you borrow against the difference between the amount you owe on your home and the home's market value, according to Lending Tree. The lender pays you a lump sum that you pay back at a fixed interest rate with fixed monthly payments.

The money from a home equity loan (HEL) can pay for home improvements, medical bills, college tuition or even a vacation. "The money can be used for anything, but if you're using the value of your home to pay for frivolous expenses, you may want to think twice," Lending Tree noted.

What are the "must haves" for someone trying to get a home equity loan?

In order to qualify for a home equity loan in 2018, you'll need these things, according to Lending Tree:

  • Equity in your home. And note that your lender won't let you borrow every dollar of that equity. Banks use loan-to-value (LTV) ratio to help determine exactly how much you can borrow, and each one has different requirements.
  • Loan-to-value ratio. Banks calculate LTV by adding the amount you want to borrow with a home equity loan to the amount you owe on the home, divided by the market value of the home. Below 80 percent is a good LTV to assure eligibility, according to Lending Tree, but some banks allow for a higher LTV.
  • Income. You must show you make sufficient income to cover the cost of your current debts, plus the added debt of the HEL. A low debt-to-income ratio is important, too.
  • Credit history. The lender will assess the type of credit accounts you have, the balance on those accounts, and how long they've been open. They'll also look at your payment history and whether you have any late payments or collections on your account.
  • Ability to repay. Lenders are required to put forth a good faith effort to determine if you have the income, assets, employment and so forth to be able to repay your loan.

How do the interest rates compare to other credit?

"Because these loans are secured by real estate, interest rates are much lower than unsecured personal loans or credit cards," Clements noted. "Many home equity line of credit products offer rates near or below 5 percent. Personal loan interest rates typically start above 5 percent and can go much higher."

»RELATED: 6 common first-time homebuyer mistakes that could cost you big time

Does losing the tax deduction devalue the home equity loan? The former ability to get a deduction on a home equity loan made them even cheaper, but in some instances, you can still take the deduction and in many others, it doesn't really matter, Kim Paskal, CPA and tax shareholder at BeichFleischman told the Lending Tree blog. "Because of the rise of the standard deduction up to $24,000 for [taxpayers who are] married filing jointly, not only are most people not going to take the HEL deduction, but you probably don't even care if you get your mortgage interest deduction."

How do changes in personal loan interest rates affect your decision?

"For people with excellent credit, it is now relatively easy to take out a personal loan with a low single-digit interest rate and no origination fee," Clements noted. Paying an extra 1 percent or 2 percent on the personal loan rate instead of risking your home as collateral for a HEL might be worthwhile, he added. Personal loans also tend to be a quicker source of money for emergencies and have shorter terms, which force you to pay back more quickly and will build your net worth over time, he added.

Where do you find a reputable home equity lender?

If you're sold on a home equity loan, or at least on the idea of further exploration, be sure to distinguish between a reputable lender and the first to pop up with an ad on your home screen. The best home equity loan lenders have an efficient application process, explain loan options clearly and tailor their services to the varying needs of individual borrowers, according to NerdWallet in its objective and independent coverage of "Best Home Equity Loan Lenders."

Do you really want to borrow at all?

Clements cautioned people considering home equity or any other sort of borrowing. "A home equity loan can be an excellent way to finance home improvements that lead to property price appreciation," he wrote in Forbes. "It can be a rational way to deal with a big emergency. However, it should not be a convenient way to live beyond your means: with or without the tax deduction."

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Selling soon? 8 simple curb appeal projects for first-timers

Published: Monday, March 12, 2018 @ 3:45 PM

It's not just you- house hunting right now is hard. The supply of homes for sale is at a 20-year low. An economist for a realtor group said he expects supply to remain low for at least another year. Home building has been hindered by the hurricanes and fires this year.

There are three magic words that will make your home sell quickly and at the highest possible price. The first is location, for sure, but a close second is "curb appeal."

»RELATED: This is the best time to list your home for sale

While you can't exactly wave a magic wand to make your front yard, home exterior, or curb look instantly better, even a beginner can tackle inexpensive DIY projects.

Your mission: "Enhance your front yard so people will stop and stare after the first glance," advised DIY Network. "Adding curb appeal to your house not only makes it easier to sell, but it also gives your house that nice and finished look you can take pride in." 

Don't let your home's exterior be the last item you tackle before listing, because it's the first thing buyers see, advised Trulia's Robyn Woodman, a real estate broker and consultant based in the Pacific Northwest. 

You don't necessarily have to invest heavily. "There are several inexpensive tactics that will kick your curb appeal up a notch," Woodman noted. She and other real estate and home design experts shared eight curb appeal projects you can DIY on a shoestring budget, even if you're a beginner:

The Ella adjustable door wreath hanger features a bronze square that can be personalized. Contributed by Pottery Barn

Dress up the front door

"Your home's front entry is the focal point of its curb appeal," according to Better Homes & Gardens. For almost zero cost, you can clean dirty spots around the front door knob and use metal polish on the door fixtures. Add extra oomph with a swag or wreath that reflects the home's interior (and your personal style).

Paint the front door

You don't necessarily need to paint your whole home to boost curb appeal. Instead, try painting the front door a bold color that makes your house stick out, DIY Network recommended. "Make sure to match it to the rest of the colors on your house," DIY added. Try an inviting color, like cool turquoise.

Install new house numbers

Try this for an easy entry to the world of curb appeal creation. Purchase new ones if your house has old or faded house numbers. Try to match your new house numbers with the finish that is on your exterior light fixtures, advised DIY. Simple house numbers can start at $2 per number and customized plaques cost $50-$100.

Keystone ornamentations accent the arched brick trim above garage doors and front windows of this brick 2-story home in Bellbrook. The rounded flower bed aside the walkway to the front door is mulched and planted with a dwarf tree, evergreens and bulbs that are already beginning to sprout. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS BY KATHY TYLER

Plant a tree

This is an "oldie but goodie" tactic for home sellers, but that's because it works. Choose a suitable tree that will be attractive whatever time of year you intend to sell the house. "Consider how big the tree will get and how it will affect your house," DIY recommended. "If you have enough space, try planting two trees to frame your house or your entryway." 

Mulch and mulch some more

Particularly at the beginning of the growing season or the end of the summer, flowers are dead and garden beds can be a bit of an eyesore, Woodman said. "One way to amplify aesthetics is to lay down a new layer of mulch. Besides adding eye candy, laying down a heavy layer of mulch protects your flowers and beds from harsher weather that's on the way." While organic mulches colored with vegetable dyes deliver a punch of color and are a choice you can feel good about, avoid them if you live in an area with lots of rain, since they fade quickly. If you're short on cash, opt for a more durable pine straw, wood chip or even pea gravel mulch.

Tile your doorstep

Better Homes & Gardens advised that this DIY project could take a weekend or more, but is worth every second in extra curb appeal. Looking for something simpler? "Create a permanent welcome mat by tiling or painting a design that contrasts with the porch floor or front stoop. Not only will you not have to worry about replacing the mat when it gets ratty, you can impress your visitors with your creativity."

Trim the house

"Beyond landscaping, you can also boost curb appeal by adding an extra layer of trim and molding to the windows and doors," Woodman noted. "Trim is like adding accessories to an outfit - it can elevate a basic house into something extraordinary." Add a layer of crown molding to the top of the home's current trim, employing a suitable design from simple Craftsman to more ornate Victorian motifs.

Paint the bricks

Spraying a layer of paint on bricks is one of the most extensive curb appeal projects a beginner can complete, and it requires plenty of prep time and maybe even a pro to do the painting. It's a good option only for more costly homes that will recoup the investment when they're sold. Only paint your brick if "your house is constructed from an unremarkable brick style," Woodman noted. If you have the good fortune to own a home built from gorgeous bricks, such as old clay-fired red brick from the early 1900s, skip this project. 

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Are you cut out to be an Airbnb host? Ask yourself these questions first

Published: Friday, March 02, 2018 @ 1:50 PM

Cozy, manageable, inexpensive and unofficially usually under 500 square feet, tiny homes are ever-so-appealing. Here are 9 of the best tiny home vacation rentals near Atlanta. Little House in Tybee Island Laurel Escape in Mineral Bluff The Hostel

At first read of the Airbnb procedural checklist, it's all straightforward− you start with extra room at your dwelling, be it a townhome, rancher, treehouse or castle. Then, create your listing, welcome guests and wait to get paid. 

Testimonials like the one from The Guardian columnist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslet, who attended an Airbnb Open in Paris with more than 6,000 successful hosts, add further appeal. According to Cosslet, Airbnb gave those in attendance the "economic freedom to pursue their dreams, or allowed them to make many friends and travel the world”.

Simple, profitable, emotionally enriching  − Airbnb hosting can be the answer to your need for extra earnings and the ultimate side hustle, but only if you're a good fit as a host. You need to be comfortable with other people touching your stuff and sharing your OJ, sure, and also good at random things like empathy, tax records and quick callbacks. 

»RELATED: 6 top tiny home vacation rentals that won’t cost you your mortgage

To delve deeper into your potential to make it as an Airbnb host, ask yourself these questions, courtesy of Cosslet's findings and the experiences of other wildly successful Airbnb earners:

What do you want out of Airbnb financially? 

There are three types of host out there, according to Learn Airbnb's "Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Airbnb Hosting," "those that want to make a few extra bucks with their available space, those who want a stable secondary source of income, and those who want to build a serious Airbnb business that will eventually become their main source of income."

Don't confuse the earnings of the full-time host with the efforts you'd be able to make as a very part-time host. "The more income potential you desire, the more planning, capital, work, and risk you're going to be taking on," noted the blog.

Is your market in line with your income requirements? 

Learn Airbnb also warned that some markets still don't have enough demand to support hosting, and you should make sure yours isn't one of them. "On the flip side, you should also find out whether you're in a super hot Airbnb market. Otherwise, you might be happy with making $2000 a month when you should be making twice that." To figure out which scenario you're in, get a market report from a trusted data provider like AirDNA. "What you want to be able to achieve will dictate the location, size, and nature of your listings as well as the tools and strategies you will be using." 

Can your Airbnb guests rock by your side? You don't have to be super-sociable to host, but extra shared spaces can increase your earnings.(Contributed by Airbnb/For the AJC)

Are you a first, or at least quick, responder?

Whether you're in the listing stage or guests are nestled in upstairs already, the most successful Airbnb hosts have a recognizable sense of urgency in their business dealings, according to Airbnb "Super Host" Mikey Rox on the Wise Bread website.

"I respond to my inquiries within minutes usually — thanks to the micro-subletting services' mobile apps — and I never let them go for more than a few hours." he noted. "Not responding promptly to inquiries gives the potential guest time to browse other listings, and I don't want that. My response time is largely what keeps us booked consistently throughout the year."

Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk, himself a host in San Francisco, told Cosslet how important it is to be "super responsive." "One of my things is to check in with guests the day before they arrive and make sure they have all the information they need," he said. "As soon as they've arrived, I ask if everything's okay. If anything does go wrong – something's out of place, you've run out of toilet paper – they have a chance to let you know before it bothers them."

»RELATED: Thinking about being an Airbnb host? Check to see if your city is on this list

Do you have the energy for amenities? Lots of extras aren't crucial for the every-once-in-a-while host in a slow market. But to succeed in a faster-paced environment or build a stable bloc of guests who will also refer, you need to be up on amenities, according to Rox, who was able to buy a second property with her and her husband's Airbnb earnings. 

"Another reason we receive more bookings than a lot of listings in our area is because we offer great amenities," he noted. "In the private guest bedroom, there's a mini fridge, flat screen TV with HD cable, DVD player, iron and ironing board, and lots of books and maps of the city. Our guests also have full use of our home while they're here, whether it's cooking their meals, hopping on the computer to print tickets or vouchers, playing our video game system or board games, washing and drying clothes, or borrowing a book or DVD."

It's also important, Rox added, to provide such amenities in the price of the stay. 

"Our guests get a lot of bang for their buck, and these amenities are our way of giving that extra value."

Are you able to stick up for yourself?  There will be times when you have to say, "Enough is enough," a woman who has hosted her swanky Brooklyn apartment on Airbnb for three years wrote in a blog post that was picked up by The Points Guy. First, though, she described an overwhelmingly positive experience, where "the people who stayed with me acted like guests. 

They didn't expect me to do their dishes, nor did they come home at 4:00am drunk and throw up on my couch. Many even brought gifts like chocolate or wine from their home countries, which added a fun, cultural component to the experience." 

But she also advised potential hosts to anticipate a situation where you might have to tell someone to leave. Her breaking point came with a guy who made inappropriate passes, but other times you might need to assert yourself could include anything from breaking rules about the kitchen to violating quiet hours to bringing a pet when they're not allowed. 

Do you have that "stick to it" type of personality? 

You may not catch on right away. There might be bad weather or air strikes or some other factor that limits your success at the beginning. Or you may be wildly successful, week after week. In either case, you'll need mad sustaining skills to continue to host Airbnb over the long haul. Wisebread blogger Rox noted. Just a few of the things you can't let slide include updating the calendar online and offline, keeping any amenities you've listed in ample supply and preparing literally constantly for the taxes you must pay as an Airbnb host. 

Are you open to criticism? 

To succeed and keep succeeding, you have to be able to hear things you might rather not listen to, like that your paint colors are off, or a guest was certainly not expecting your toddler to be screaming while they were sleeping in. But asking for constructive criticism and putting the feedback into play is what keeps an Airbnb venture in business over time.

Ultimately, even if your earning potential is astronomical, it's your emotional side that's going to determine whether you and your guests will enjoy the Airbnb experience. As successful host Teshale Wolde from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia summed it up for The Guardian: 

"Your heart should be welcoming. You should like meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures. People may not have the same attitude and knowledge as you, and may be of a different religion, so your heart should be open, too."

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