How to start a neighborhood watch program

Even the safest cities have crime. If this is of concern to you, consider starting a Neighborhood Watch program in your neighborhood.

What it is

A Neighborhood Watch program is made up of a group of people who live in the same neighborhood who have the same goal: Make the neighborhood safe by helping local police to reduce crime.

The groups meet regularly to decide on goals and members are each assigned responsibilities. The Department of Justice refers to Neighborhood Watch groups as “homeland security on a local level.”

A little history

The National Neighborhood Watch program is a product of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) and dates back to 1972.

NSA feels that the program not only allows “citizens to help in the fight against crime, it is also an opportunity for communities to bond through service,” by lending their neighbors a hand in the fight against neighborhood crime.

In 2002, the NSA and USAFreedom Corps, Citizen Corps and the Justice Department came together to launch USAonWatch. Calling it a “revitalized” Neighborhood Watch program, it expands the role of these groups by empowering “citizens to become active in homeland security efforts through participation in Neighborhood Watch groups.”

Success stories

When implemented correctly, Neighborhood Watch programs are quite successful. The devil, however, is in the details when it comes to implementation.

A 2008 report by the U.S. Department of Justice (which is a huge backer of the program, by the way) finds that only 5 percent of the watch programs actually reduce crime in a neighborhood.

But, there is anecdotal evidence of the program’s success from across the country. In 2010, for instance, a town in Georgia was experiencing a series of auto break-ins. The neighborhood watch programs put out an alert for residents to keep their eyes open for suspicious activity and, within days, the perpetrator was arrested.

In 2012, Las Vegas Metro representatives issued a statement claiming that residential burglaries, auto burglaries and auto thefts declined by 30 percent and they gave the credit for that to the valley’s 625 Neighborhood Watch programs.

How to do it right

So, if you’re aim is to set one of these programs in motion in your neighborhood and hope that it’s successful, do it right from the beginning.

Expect for it to be slow going at the start, but it will pick up steam as more neighbors decide to get involved. It’s not a hands-off endeavor but, if it works, it is immensely worthwhile.

The steps to take to form a Neighborhood Watch Group

1.Talk to and recruit your neighbors — Tell them of your plans and how it will benefit them.

2.Contact the local police department — Schedule a meeting of interested neighbors and issue an invitation to a police department representative to attend. NSA claims that this is one of the most important steps because “Neighborhood Watch is a cooperative effort” between citizens and law enforcement.

If you can’t get a police department representative to attend the first meeting, open it to discussions of concerns in the neighborhood and the creation of an agenda on how you’ll meet these concerns.

The NSA has numerous resources on its website to help. You’ll find them at

3. Determine how you’ll communicate with one another — Find a communication method that works for the group, whether that is through regular meetings, on social media, via text messaging or a combination of several.

Call your local police department if you’d like more information on how you can work with them. They’re happy to send you a Neighborhood Watch start-up packet and provide whatever other assistance you need to start your program.

The 3 Most Common Home Pricing Mistakes

Have you ever lived in a neighborhood where one of the homes for sale seems to sit for an especially long time with fewer and fewer people viewing it?

It’s a nice enough home, right? Lots of curb appeal and you’ve seen the interior and it’s delightful.

So, why isn’t it selling?

In a word?


Even worse, if it was originally overpriced and has experienced a series of price reductions, the home is stigmatized.

What this means is that homebuyers think that there is something wrong with the home and most of them won’t even bother to look at it.

So, if you’re considering selling your home and want to “experiment” with pricing, beware of these 3 common home pricing mistakes.

1. Pricing too high out of the gate

It’s common knowledge in the real estate industry that overpriced homes take longer to sell.

Now, don’t take that to mean that eventually you’ll get your price, because if you’re overpriced, you won’t

In fact, plan on making 5 percent less than your listing price if the home sits on the market for two months with no offers.

At today’s national average home price, 5 percent represents more than $14,000. Unless you overpriced the house by that much, that’s a loss that has to hurt.

But, this is even worse

According to a March 2012 study performed by MIT’s Center for eBusiness, homes that remained on the market substantially longer than average suffered a $32,000 reduction in the eventual sales price.

If this isn’t enough to show you the importance of pricing the home appropriately when it goes on the market, I don’t know what is.

The first lesson in pricing real estate is, that to realize the most money you can from the sale of your home, price it right.

2. Relying on online home price estimates

Admit it, you’ve checked your home’s Zestimate at, right?

Unfortunately, many homeowners do just that and don’t understand that there is simply no way anyone can make an accurate estimate of market value without having seen the home.

Furthermore, since sites such as this don’t have access to all of the MLS listings and, most significantly, the sold listings (which is what market value is based on), their algorithm is faulty.

The company admits that their “median error rate” is about 8 percent, according to Kenneth R. Harney in the L.A. Times.

Harney goes on to remind us that 8 percent is the national error rate and, because all real estate is local, the rate varies by region. “In Somerset County, Md., the rate is an astounding 42%,” he continues.

Never rely on a website’s estimate of your home’s value

The only way to truly know how much your home is worth is to have it professionally appraised. The second best way is to ask a real estate agent to compile a comparative market analysis (CMA).

Since agents use many of the same techniques as appraisers, they typically match or come quite close to the appraised value of a home. 

3. Basing your price on your neighbor’s asking price

When you consider putting your house on the market, it’s only natural to want to know what your neighbors are asking for their homes.

Keep in mind, however, that this figure represents what your neighbor hopes to get for his or her home, not its actual market value.

The true market value of a home is based on what buyers actually paid for nearby homes, similar to yours.

I like to think of list price as “fantasyland” and sales price as reality

To that end, I try to dissuade my home-selling clients from basing the price of their home on some pie-in-the-sky figure that may not reflect reality.

Determining the value of a home includes far more than checking sales prices. I am happy to show you – at no obligation — what I do to determine the current value of homes and to provide you, free of charge, an analysis of your home’s value. Call me any time.

3 things that make homebuyers giddy

It’s a fact that how your home looks from the curb will either repel or compel buyers. So, once you’ve got that out of the way, what else entices home shoppers to decide to make an offer on a home?

It’s a combination of things, really. But, overall, emotions rule the day. Appeal to someone’s emotions and they may just return the love.

Let’s take a look at some easy fixes you can perform that will ensure that once those buyers step foot in your home, they won’t want to leave.

1. What happens when they open the front door?

When the buyer’s agent unlocks the front door and his or her clients step through, what do they see? Hopefully, it’s an entryway – something that allows a transition from the outdoors to the living spaces.

If your home lacks such a feature, create one. Depending on the size of the area, this could mean merely adding a rug or runner or placing a console table, hutch or other piece of furniture in the area to define it. You can find some gorgeous ideas for entryways at and design ideas for small spaces at

2. Those little extras

Door knobs, drawer and cabinet hardware, faucets and even light fixture covers may not seem like a big deal, but they all go into making a room feel put together. Update them and you’ll have buyers loving what they see.

And the bonus is that these fixes are inexpensive. Sure, you can spend a couple hundred dollars on a new faucet, but you don’t need to. Home improvement stores carry many attractive models, in a variety of finishes, for less than $100.

Then, coordinate that finish with new cabinetry hardware to pull the room together. These can be as inexpensive as a few dollars each and are guaranteed to delight buyers.

3. The Bathroom

Home sellers haven’t gotten the message that bathrooms are second in importance to kitchens in the minds of homebuyers.

Look at listings of homes for sale and you’ll find photos of bathrooms full of kids’ toys, toiletries covering the countertops, ratty shower curtains, stained toilets and dirty bathtubs.

The best way to tackle a nasty bathroom is to remove everything visible. This means chucking all those toiletries, the blow dryer and curling iron, towels, rugs and shower curtain into a box and removing them from the bathroom.

Consider replacing the shower curtain and picking up some coordinating rugs and towels. Neatly store the toiletries and appliances out of sight. “Neatly” is the operative word because homebuyers do take a peek into drawers and cupboards to get an idea of how much storage a room has.

Then, follow the above advice about replacing the hardware on the cupboards and drawers and purchasing a new faucet for the sink. If the tub is visible through the door or curtain, consider buying a matching faucet and showerhead as well.

One trick that pleases buyers is to replace that sheet mirror with something more decorative. Or, create a frame for the monstrosity. HGTV has some gorgeous tips here and here.

Getting homebuyers to fall in love with your home is the best way to get the most money you can for it. Appeal to their emotions by freshening up the most popular rooms.

What you must know when decorating your new home

Professional decorators see the same decorating faux pas repeatedly. Hey, it’s only natural that those of us who don’t do it for a living are winging it.

One of the mistakes most frequently made by novices is that we don’t pay attention to scale. Specifically, some of the items we use to decorate our homes are far too small, according to Taryn Williford, lifestyle editor for Apartment Therapy.

Thankfully, she and other designers offer hacks to help us out.

Cover those walls

You know from your recent home shopping excursions that gallery walls are big with homeowners. Unfortunately, many are just mish-mashes of an odd assortment of photos or works of art.

Believe it or not, there is an “art” to hanging art

Whether it’s a single, stunning piece or you plan on covering the wall with a number of framed photos, Williford suggests that the art should take up a bit more than half of the wall (.57 to be exact).

“So, if you have an empty wall that’s 120 inches wide, you multiply that by .57 to find that your art should be roughly around 68 inches wide,” Williford suggests.

For a gallery wall, measure all the frames together, “including the space in between.”

Other tips for hanging art include:

  • The center of the gallery or a solo piece of art should be 60 inches off the floor.
  • When hanging art above a sofa, the bottom of the frame should sit 6 to 8 inches above the top of the furniture.

Get additional tips on how to arrange your gallery wall at

Go big or don’t go there

Decorators see a lot of tiny accessories in the average home. Of course they do – “Big decor comes with a big price tag,” according to Williford. She goes on to caution that the three most common too-small items we use are rugs, lighting and art.

She claims that we should go no smaller than 8 feet by 10 feet with our living room rugs, the shades of our table lamps should be “tall enough that the bottom of the shade is at eye level” when we are seated next to it and that our artwork should measure at least half of the size of the wall on which it will be placed.

Too-long, too-short or too-wide curtains are an easy fix. The correct length can be found by measuring the distance from the floor to the window casing (just above it).

The right width is the same width as the window, and place the rod brackets six inches outside of the window frame, suggests Wilson.

Watch the clutter

If you sold a home before buying this one, remember the advice to remove clutter? Just because strangers, possibly willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for your new home, won’t be paying you a visit – it’s no time to go back to the old ways.

Not every surface has to be covered with something. When it is, “nothing stands out as special,” according to Jennifer Wilson at

She suggests using only half the number of table-, mantle-and shelf-top items you’d planned on using. To avoid making the room look too slick, make sure you use items you love.

“Add a few pieces that have a warm backstory, stack beloved books on the coffee table, or layer in some photos of the people you love, Wilson suggests.

From Tenant to Homeowner: What you Need to Know

We’ve racked our brains and the best thing that can be said about being a tenant is that you aren’t on the hook for repairs to the home. Unless you did the damage. And, only if you have a responsible, responsive landlord.

Is there such a thing?

The downsides to renting are numerous – not having the freedom to decorate how you want, to have a pet (in many cases), to having to allow the landlord into your home and, to paying for someone else’s mortgage with nothing to show for it at the end of your lease.

It’s time to buy your own home – to pay your own mortgage and build long-term wealth.

Need proof? A census study shows that homeowners are worth, on average, $197,349 more than renters. That’s 90 times a tenant’s median net worth.

The first steps

Come on, admit it: when you think of buying a house you imagine yourself driving through cool neighborhoods and touring homes for sale, right?

The initial steps you need to take are far more mundane. But they’re critical.

Get your finances in check

Write down all your recurring monthly debt payments. Include your rent and any other payments you make to repay creditors (alimony, child support, credit card payments, auto loan payments, student loan debt).

“Don’t include living expenses such as utility bills, food, and entertainment,” suggests the experts at Wells Fargo Bank.

Then, take the total and divide it by your pre-tax monthly income. For instance: assume you’re your monthly debt payments total $1,540 and your monthly income is $5,000.

Dividing 1,540 by 5,000 gives us 31 percent. This is your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) – a number that lenders rely heavily on to determine whether or not to lend you money.

An alternative method is to plug your numbers into an online DTI calculator.

Your goal should be a DTI of no higher than 43 percent, according to Jean Folger at Investopedia.

If it’s higher, start paying down your debt. Consider bringing in extra income as well.

Check your credit

Working on a too-high DTI is just one area of your finances to concentrate on. You may also have some credit messes to clean up. You won’t know, however, unless you get credit reports from all three of the major credit-reporting agencies: TransUnion®, Experian® and Equifax.

By law, you are entitled to a free copy from each of the agencies every 12 months. The best place to obtain your reports is at, the only provider authorized by the federal government.

Go over the reports, looking for inaccuracies and mistakes. If you find any, file a dispute. Each credit report will offer instructions on how to do so.

You may be surprised how merely ridding your reports of inaccurate information will raise your score.

Now, go get that loan

When you’ve squared away any credit problems and raised your DTI it’s time to go shopping for a loan. See several lenders and compare their offers to find the best rates and terms.

The Federal Trade Commission offers a handy guide on how to compare loan offers on its website, at

Consider home maintenance costs

Keep in mind that the pre-approved loan amount that you get from the lender is the maximum amount you can borrow. If a mortgage payment for a home at that price will leave little left in your monthly budget to cover unexpected expenses, consider buying a less expensive home.

As a homeowner, you’ll need to have a fund in place to cover not only ongoing home maintenance expenses, but those nasty surprises that happen. Installing a new water heater will, for instance, set you back more than $1,000, according to

If the AC unit dies, installing a new one will cost more than $5,000 and plan on spending in excess of $200 to replace broken glass in a window.

Then, what happens if your property taxes increase? Your mortgage payment will as well.

It’s almost yours

Many first-time homebuyers are under the impression that by signing the purchase agreement, the home is pretty much theirs. It’s a big mistake, because it leads to emotional lock-down – the feeling that you are committed.

Remember: you signed the purchase agreement – not the closing papers

In reality, you aren’t committed until the last contingency is removed. You can, in fact, change your mind, and for a number of reasons, and even be entitled to the return of your earnest money deposit in many cases.

Common contingencies include the approval of the home inspection results, final loan approval and a satisfactory lender appraisal of the property.

Think of these contingencies as your “get-out-of-the-deal-free cards. This way, regardless of how emotionally attached you become to the property, you’ll know that, should you need to, you can walk away gracefully.

What is PMI and how do I avoid it or get rid of it?

Private mortgage insurance, also known as PMI, is cursed by homebuyers when, without it, many of them wouldn’t have been approved for the mortgage used to buy their home.

Yes, it makes house payments higher and, yes, it sticks around far too long. Worse, although it’s called “insurance,” it does nothing to protect the homeowner. Its sole beneficiary is the loan holder.

Most borrowers who pay less than 20 percent down on a loan will be required to obtain PMI.

There are some loans, such as those for physicians and other medical professionals, which waive the PMI requirement when the borrower makes a lower down payment.

FHA-backed loans

The most popular mortgage program among first-time buyers who are low on cash is the FHA-backed loan.

It, too, has a mortgage insurance requirement, known as the “mortgage insurance premium,” or MIP for short.

Consider yourself fortunate if you obtained an FHA-insured mortgage before June 2013. You will be able to ditch the MIP payment once your equity in the home reaches 22 percent of the loan amount (for a 15-year loan).

Whether or not, and when, more recent borrowers can dump the MIP depends on your down payment and the length of the loan.

For loan terms of 20, 25 and 30 years, with a 10 percent down payment, you’re stuck with MIP for the life of the loan.

For the same terms, with a more-than 10 percent down payment, you can cancel MIP after 11 years.

Fifteen-year or less term? With a less-than 10 percent down payment you will be, again, required to pay the MIP for the life of the loan. Put down more than 10 percent and you can cancel it in 11 years.

PMI and conventional loans

Conventional loans are a bit more amenable to cancelling PMI. Reach 20 percent equity in the home and call your lender to terminate the PMI.

The Homeowner’s Protection Act of 1998 mandates that the loan holder must terminate PMI, without a call from you, when the loan reaches a 78 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV), meaning that you have 22 percent equity.

The beauty of this law is that it’s not based on your actual payments made, but rather on the date the loan should reach the magic 78 percent LTV, which you’ll find on the initial amortization schedule.

You can also dump PMI on a conventional loan at the amortization schedule’s midpoint, regardless of your equity.

The USDA and VA loans and PMI

One would assume that a loan with no down payment required would have one hefty PMI premium.

The USDA loan, however, has none. You will be required to pay an annual fee, but it’s typically less than the average PMI premium.

Since the loans are guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the no-down payment VA loan doesn’t require the purchase of private mortgage insurance, either.

The PMI “Buy-Out”

Private Mortgage Insurance provider MGIC claims that a borrower who puts 5 percent down on a $250,000 home will pay $150 a month for PMI.

If you’d rather use that money elsewhere, and have a smaller monthly mortgage payment, consider a “buy-out” of the PMI.

You’ll pay a slightly higher interest rate (typically a half a percentage point, according to

And, lenders typically only offer this tactic to credit-worthy borrowers. In other words, good credit risks. If you have a low credit score and little to put down on a home, this tactic isn’t for you.

Refinance your way out of PMI

Refinancing if you’ve built equity makes sense – especially when mortgage rates are low. Not only will you dump the PMI, but you’ll reduce your monthly interest payments – an exacta of savings.

Some loans require a two-year wait to refinance after obtaining a mortgag, according to Holden Lewis at

Consider a Piggy-Back Mortgage Loan

Also known as 80/10/10 loans, piggy-back mortgages have three “legs.” The first is a 10 percent down payment.

Then, the lender will provide you with two loans – one for 80 percent of the home’s purchase price and another, second mortgage, for 10 percent.

“The piggyback loan is still debt and money you need to repay. And it comes with its own monthly payments, which can be quite high.

For that reason, homebuyers should be cautious about taking on a piggyback loan,” warns Kali Hawlk at

Other ways to get off the PMI wheel

Have the home appraised – Some lenders will accept this appraisal in lieu of using the original value when determining your current loan-to-value ratio. Appraisals can be pricey, so speak with your lender first.

Increase the value of your home – Some remodeling projects raise a home’s value better than others. Before heading down this path, speak with your lender to find out if your LTV will be recalculated using a new value after the remodeling project.

Pay down your loan – Pay extra every month to bring down your loan balance.

There is a lot more to know about PMI and how to avoid it or get rid of it. We aren’t lenders or mortgage professionals, but we are happy to put you in touch with one.

What happens after I sign the listing agreement?

Have you ever noticed that information and advice for first-time homebuyers is plentiful across the internet?

What happens when you look for that same information and advice for first-time home sellers?


While buying a home for the first time is somewhat confusing until the process is explained, selling one for the first time is even more so. This is a huge investment you’re selling. How much will you make, and when?

We believe that knowledge is power and we’re always happy to share our knowledge with our clients. You should be aware of every step in the process so that you never have to wonder what happens next.

It starts with listing your home. When you know what happens after you sign the listing agreement, and what is expected of you during this time period, nothing will fall through the cracks and you can relax into the process.

Although you won’t see us, behind the scenes, we will have our hands full with a flurry of activity, from getting the home into the Multiple Listing Service database to implementing our tried-and-true marketing plan.

So, for anyone thinking of selling a home, here is what you can expect after you sign the listing agreement.

The pre-showing period

Immediately after signing the listing agreement, we will suggest ways to improve the home’s curb appeal and, if needed, give you some tips on how to stage the interior to appeal to the greatest number of potential buyers.

We’ll also walk you through any repairs we feel will help the home sell  quicker and for more money.

While you get busy making improvements and needed repairs, we will have our own tasks to complete. Here is just a handful of what we do just after you sign the listing agreement:

  • Ensure that we have all the pertinent information about the HOA, if applicable.
  • Collect a key from you for the lockbox.
  • Talk to you about your current mortgage – is it assumable? Are you considering owner-financing? Do you have a VA loan?
  • We will walk you through the broker’s open process (sort of an open house for real estate agents) and showings to potential buyers.
  • We will advise you how to guard your valuables and what to do with your pets and we’ll ask you if there are any restrictions on showing the home (times that you just cannot leave the home).

After we leave your house with the listing agreement we’ll head back to the office and get to work.

First, we’ll call our sign company and order a sign for your yard or window, arrange to have the lockbox attached to your home and we’ll set an appointment with our professional photographer to take photos of the home.

These photos will not only be used in the MLS listing but in all other marketing materials, so we’ll give you plenty of notice to get the home in tip-top shape before he arrives. We will also determine a good day to hold the broker’s open house.

Then, we’ll verify the square footage of your house and lot via tax records and enter all the information about your home into the Multiple Listing database.

Once the photos and information are in the MLS, your home is officially on the market and all other real estate agents in the area will have access to the information and can begin showing your home.

While the home is on the market

While the home is on the market you’ll be called on periodically to sign various forms. From contingency releases to other acknowledgements, we’ll ensure that you fully understand what you are signing.

Most sellers must fill out various disclosures – forms that tell the buyer anything the sellers know about the home that may bear on their  decision to purchase.

The Seller’s Disclosure Statement is one that all sellers must complete. Although we cannot fill out the form for you, we’re happy to assist you if you have any questions.

Seller disclosures are serious business; it is your most important duty when you sell your home. It may seem that by being brutally honest about known problems you may be sabotaging the sale, but you are actually protecting yourself from future legal liability.

While the home is on the market you will need to keep it tidy and keep your valuables locked away. Leaving the home while it’s being shown is a nuisance, but necessary if you hope to sell the home quickly.

There’s a lot more to selling a home than sticking a sign in the yard with a box of pretty fliers attached to it. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Luxury homeowners – check out these 5 tips to lower your homeowners insurance premium

Insurance is a necessary evil – we buy it, hoping we’ll never need it. After all, it’s a hedge against catastrophe.

The sheer cost of replacing a home with custom finishes, and the fact that high-end homes may contain priceless works of art, expensive vehicles and irreplaceable values, makes the process of insuring luxury homes far different from insuring other homes.

Many homeowner insurance policies place a low cap on coverage for jewelry. So, the specialty high-end coverage that the luxury homeowner purchases needs to be broad in scope. This may mean adding special coverage.

Because of this, some homeowners end up with four or five different policies, according to Market Watch’s Christopher Noble. Subsequently, owners of homes that are valued at $1 million or more can pay from $5,000 to $50,000 a year for insurance.

Fortunately, there are ways to save money on your homeowners’ insurance coverage. Let’s take a look at five of these.

1. Stick with the same insurer

If you own more than one home, ensure that both are covered by the same insurer and ask for all the discounts offered. Also, move your auto insurance to the same company for additional discounts.

2. Raise your Deductible

As we’ve all learned with America’s health insurance program the deductible you choose has a large impact on the premium you’ll pay. How much? Check out this chart:


The blue bars represent the premium amount. As you can see, raising the deductible from $1,000 to $10,000 will save $359. Even a more moderate hike, such as from $1,000 to $4,000 nets a more than $200 savings.

3. Security

If the home lacks certain safety features, such as alarms, fire sprinkler systems and dead bolt locks, install them. Each safety system typically qualifies for a discount so speak with your agent to determine which he or she recommends.

An example of this is the Chubb Group of Insurance Cos. “It discounts premiums by up to 25% for homes with sprinkler and alarm systems,” according to

4. Sensors

Some insurance companies offer discounts if the home features certain trouble detectors. These might include temperature sensors that detect a problem with the HVAC system and leak detectors with alarms that sound when water touches them.

“Particularly if (the systems) are routed back to a service (such as the local fire or police department), well that’s more expensive, so the discount is higher,” claims Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute

5. Take advantage of your age

Last year, Palm Beach, with a median resident age of nearly 55 years old, was ranked the third richest city in the U.S., according to Some insurers reward older American homeowners with discounts, so those affluent homeowners in Palm Beach, and other wealthy cities, may be eligible for a break on their homeowner policies.

Additional savings the affluent homeowner should inquire about:

  • Claim-free – if you’ve gone a long period of time without submitting a claim, you may be eligible for a discount on your premium.
  • New roof? – Call your insurer to find out if the material used in the new roof is disaster-proof. It may save you money.
  • Retirement – Insurance companies consider retirees’ home’s low-risk. After all, they’re home most of the time (or so the assumption goes) so they’re quicker to respond to a house fire and better able to thwart a home break-in. If you are a member of AARP, check out their insurance program.
  • Green home coverage – While this discount isn’t common, one or two companies offer discounts on LEED-certified homes.

Do your research

Shop carefully for home insurance. “Some of the companies that have the most discounts start with the highest price,” Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America tells

The final price you’ll pay should be your priority, not the number of discounts you’ll get.

3 tips for dealing with grody grout on your tile floors

You know those gloomy weekend days when you just can’t stand the thought of heading outdoors and and Netflix has nothing new to offer? Have we got a job for you!

Take a look at the grout in your tile floors. Rather gross, right? Unless you suffer from ablutomania (we’ll wait while you go look it up), those spaces have seen better days.

So, take advantage of the downtime and get a head start on spring cleaning with these handy tips.

1. Clean it

Surf the internet for “how to clean dirty grout” and you’ll find enough different ways to keep you busy for the rest of the winter. So, we tried some of them on a grungy entryway tile floor:

  • Toothpaste
  • Nail polish remover
  • Barkeepers’ Friend (a cleanser)
  • Bleach
  • Vinegar
  • Soft Scrub
  • Magic Eraser
  • Vinegar and baking soda
  • Hydrogen peroxide and baking soda
  • A slurry of baking soda and water

The latter, allowed to sit for about five minutes and then scrubbed with a toothbrush was by far the most effective method. Try an old electric toothbrush if you want to use less muscle-power.

One method we didn’t try is that recommended by Tim Carter, owner of the website, in his column at the Washington Post.

He uses oxygen bleach powder, which he claims is “nontoxic, doesn’t produce harsh fumes, and is color- and fabric-safe.”

Soak the grout lines with solution of the bleach and warm water (no, he doesn’t give the quantity of bleach to water) and allow it to remain for 15 minutes. During this time, “the oxygen ions attack the stain molecules, breaking them into pieces that rinse away with little effort,” claims Carter.

As it’s absorbed into the grout, add more so that the lines are always flooded with the solution. Then, scrub the grout, adding additional solution as you scrub.

He also suggests adding oxygen bleach powder to your mopping water each time your mop the floor.

2. Hide it

If the sealant is old or wearing off you may lose some of the grout’s color when using abrasive cleaners – we even lost a bit with the baking soda/water slurry. And, you may end up with lingering stains, as did Sherry Petersik at Young House Love.

If so, it’s time to “cheat.” Or, skip the scrubbing all together and head straight for this solution.

Petersik used a product called Polyblend Grout Renew that she picked up at Home Depot. The manufacturer describes it as a “colorant” and, applied with a small paintbrush or toothbrush, its recommended use is to “restore or change grout color of cement grout joints.”

We shopped around for you and, although it comes in a wide variety of colors at, it’s less expensive at Home Depot.

We have seen similar products, in different forms. One comes in a marking pen-like form and in 33 different colors, and another in a hair color applicator-like bottle.

You’ll need to seal the grout after cleaning or coloring and there are a number of products at that, judging by customer reviews, seem to do the trick.

3. Start anew

Although it sounds a bit challenging for the novice DIYer, you can find instructions on how to remove and replace grout, online.

Just the list of equipment required to do the job, however, has us scanning the internet to find a pro to do the job.

  • A rotary tool with diamond blades
  • A large grout sponge
  • Scrub brush
  • Bucket
  • Rubber float
  • Dust mask
  • Shop vac
  • Safety glasses
  • Ear protection
  • Carbide hand tool and blades
  • Gloves
  • Bleach
  • Pre-Mixed grout
  • Sealer

Supplies and equipment for a 129 square-foot grout replacement job will run you from $220 to about $265, according to Add in whatever you figure your time is worth because the job will take nearly 34 hours.

Then, you’ll need to wait a few days for the new grout to dry (keeping kids and pets off of it — easy peasy, right?). before applying the sealant.

To have a pro do the work for you, plan on spending between $253 and $574, according to

Had enough of the cold? Thaw out in a tropical fishing village

More than 1,500 years ago, a double-hulled canoe full of Polynesians landed at Ka Lae, on the southern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.

If they came from the Marquesas Islands, as many archaeologists believe, it was a journey of 2,500 miles, using only the stars to navigate.

It’s a safe bet that none of these first settlers ever dreamed that the future would see more than 1.5 million people visit the island every year.

If you hope to be among them, you’ll find the Big Island, and Kona in particular, will deliver on even your most adventurous tropical vacation dreams.

And, thaw out, you most definitely will. 

Charter Fishing

Kailua-Kona is, at heart, a fishing village. Known as the Billfish Capital of the World, it is home to the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, held every August.

Anglers from all over the globe come to Kailua-Kona with hopes of bagging the big one. It’s five days of Pacific blue marlin fishing, weigh-ins, cocktail parties and fun.

If sportfishing is your hot button when you visit our 50th state, you’ll find numerous fishing boats available for charter. In fact, there are so many it may be hard to narrow down your choices.

Of the most-reviewed charter companies on, two are highly rated.

The first is Fire Hatt Sportfishing Charters, offering fishing from a fully outfitted 43 foot Hatteras Convertible, with a 35-year fishing veteran, Captain Chuck Wilson. Rates are listed on their website at or call them at (808) 987-0038.

Yelpers also highly recommend High Noon Sportfishing. Captain Dee Bradford and crew won the prestigious Award for Excellence from Trip Advisor.

High Noon specializes in live bait fishing on light tackle for mahi mahi, small tuna and spearfish and smaller tuna.

You’ll fish from a 34-foot recently refurbished Blackfin. Captain Bradford is happy to give you not only a rate quote by phone (808-895-3868), but a fishing forecast for the time you’ll be in Kona as well.

Top Snorkeling Sites

If you have only one day to snorkel, we recommend Kealakekua (“kay-all-uh-kay-koo-uh”) Bay, especially near the Captain Cook monument. This is the spot where Cook died and, aside from that sad note, the snorkeling here is nothing short of amazing.

Kealakekua Bay is designated as a Marine Life Conservation District so sea life in the area thrives.

The bay is populated with many honu, or sea turtles, and spinner dolphins ply the bay’s calm, shallow waters in the morning, where they feed and nurse their calves.

Tropical fish of every size and hue swim among the technicolor coral reefs. It’s an underwater wonderland you won’t want to miss.

You’ll need to take one of the many snorkel tour boats from Kailua town to Kealakekua Bay. Kona Ocean Adventures has a permit to use the bay as does Sea Quest Hawaii.

About 10 minutes south of Kealakekua Bay, you’ll find Two Steps, a nickname for the snorkeling spot in Honaunau Bay (“ho-now-now”). Although once a well-kept secret, word got out and it can be quite crowded (but well worth it).

Volcano Watching

Although Kilauea (“kee-la-oo-ay-ah”), the 4,091-foot-tall active volcano is still erupting, it’s not posing any danger to the surrounding communities.

This means that you may get a chance to get up close and personal to the fiery red-hot spots viewed from the Halemaʻumaʻu (Ha-lay-mah-oo-ma-oo) Visitor Overlook at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Get daily updates on volcanic activity by visiting the U.S. Geological Survey website.


Not counting Loihi, a submerged seamount forming off the southern tip of the Big Island, Hawaii is the chain’s newest island.  While Kauai, the oldest of the eight major islands, is estimated to be between 4 and 5 million years old, the Big Island crested the ocean only about 300,000 years ago.

Because nature has had less time to erode the lava into sand, there are far fewer beaches on the Big Island than on the neighboring islands.

That doesn’t mean you won’t find a spot of powdery white sand on which to park your okole in Hawaii – there are several areas that are popular with visitors and locals alike.

Magic Sands Beach (also known as White Sands Beach), located on Ali’i Drive, about 4 miles south of Kailua town, is a surfing hot spot but sunbathers enjoy the soft white sand as well – when it’s there.

When there is heavy surf, typically during winter, the sand washes away, leaving behind bare lava rock — thus the name “Magic Sands.” Have no fear, the sand returns when the wave action calms down.

Then there is Kahalu’u Beach Park, a bit further down Ali’i Drive. Although the sand isn’t quite as soft as that at Magic Sands, the beach is larger and the sea is a bit calmer.

Head north of town, toward the airport and, between mile marker 88 and 89, across from the veteran’s cemetery, make a left turn to get to Kua Bay.

You’ll need to take a short hike down lava rock to get to this amazingly beautiful white-sand beach. The park offers free parking, restrooms and showers, but no shade so bring an umbrella if you plan on spending the day.

The Big Island has some pretty amazing bragging rights – from being home to the world’s most active volcano and the world’s tallest mountain (Mauna Kea, measured from sea level) to providing the United States with its southernmost tip – and you can see it all on one amazing island.

Best of all? How does a temperature of 81 degrees sound right about now?