Kerry Ziegler
Phone:  215-679-6877Office:  215-679-9797
Email:  kzhomes@comcast.netFax:  267-354-6922
Kerry Ziegler
Kerry Ziegler

My Blog

Don't Be Duped By Bogus Reviews

January 17, 2017 1:03 am

I can hardly resist the temptation to whip out my phone or rush to the keyboard when someone asks where to find everything from the best kitchen stove or garden tractor, roofer, or REALTOR® - and decisions are often weighed against those cyber-commentaries.

But Howard Schwartz at Connecticut Better Business Bureau cautions consumers to be careful about potentially fraudulent online reviews before making purchasing decisions.

So, can online reviews be trusted?

The answer depends on who writes the review according Schwartz. Unfortunately, he says technology has helped unethical businesses obtain stellar ratings while trashing competitors with excessively negative, even falsified reviews.

In other cases, consumers could be relying on paid reviewers who may have never used the merchandise they are praising. Schwartz has even seen the same review and identical wording for different products on various sellers' websites.

It may not be illegal, Schwartz says, but the very least the practice is misleading and unethical. So, he and the BBB offer these tips to spot phony product reviews:

Check for "marketing speak" - Does the review sound like something you or your friends would write, or by someone selling a product.

Too many details - If the merchandise is a "Model XG52 Widget," and the product's full name and model are repeated several times in the review, it is a sign that it was likely planted by a paid writer.

Silly, overblown claims about the product - If you are considering purchasing a vacuum cleaner and reviews that say things like "This product changed my life," does it make sense to you?

Unreasonably long reviews - Would you write a 5-paragraph review that not only tells you about a product but also describes how to use it? This is a clear red flag.

Negative reviews that are short on details - You may see only a couple of words that say things like "This product stinks," without telling you why. Be wary of these.

Check the username - If a reviewer's screen name has 3 or more numerals typically at the end of their screen name, it is usually a sign of an automated review-writing program.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Is Your Smart-Home Device a Security Threat?

January 16, 2017 1:00 am

Did you recently welcome a Google Home or Amazon Echo into your home? How about a smart TV or a fancy new Apple Watch? While all of these devices can work wonders in terms of making our lives easier, they can also pose a security threat to your privacy. Internet-connected devices provide endless possibilities, but they rely on technology and collected data to deliver on their promises.

"I don't necessarily think about someone hacking into my new smart thermostat and accessing temperature preferences,” says Steve Platt, global executive vice president of Fraud and Identity for Experian. “But if they can access my thermostat, they can get into my Wi-Fi network. From there they can access my computer or other connected devices where I have a lot more private and valuable information. The Internet of Things is only as strong as its weakest link. That's why it's so important to understand and treat each connected device as part of a broader network."

According to Platt, you can have both convenience and privacy, as long as you know how to secure your devices along the way. Here are eight tips from Experian for protecting your identity while enjoying your new gadget:
  1. Make sure the products and services you are connecting were purchased from reputable companies.
  2. Take a few minutes to review the privacy and data usage policies for each product or service. These privacy policies and data-use statements should be clear, easy to read and easy to understand. It's important to know how your personal data is used, stored or shared and to be comfortable with the terms before using the device.
  3. Look for devices that use end-to-end encryption, meaning third parties can't read or listen to your communications. More and more products are including this terminology right in the product description. If it's not there, ask.
  4. Be careful when turning on features for less secure devices. Remember that a less secure device can open a door into your network, which can lead to access to other connected devices.
  5. Change the default password before connecting the device to your network and enable two-factor authentication options, when available, for additional security. For example, you might use a username and password plus something else that only you know.
  6. Pay extra attention to your Wi-Fi network and leverage all available security options, including things like router and network passwords, encryption, firewalls and firmware.
  7. Be aware of the applications installed on devices, and download applications only from reputable providers. Also, only download apps created by trusted entities.
  8. Make sure children are supervised when using Internet-enabled devices, especially when downloading apps and connecting to other devices.

Following these tips will allow you to make your home smarter and safer.

Source: Experian

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Money-Saving Tips to Combat the Cold

January 16, 2017 1:00 am

Brrr. Winter weather not only sends us scurrying indoors; it also bumps up our monthly bills. Below are a few helpful hints for saving money all season.  

- The thermostat can be the biggest contributor of high winter bills. Select the lowest comfortable setting on your thermostat when you're home, then lower the temperature a degree or two when you leave.

- Change air filters regularly. A dirty air filter makes a heating system work harder, which uses more energy.

- Inefficient heating can also add to monthly power bills during colder temperatures. Regular service calls from a licensed technician will help to properly maintain your heating and cooling system.

- The ceiling fan is a great way to enhance your home's warmth in the winter. Simply set the fans to operate in a clockwise direction, which pushes warm air back down into the room.

- On sunny days, leave your drapes or blinds open to allow the sun's rays to warm the house. Close your drapes at night to provide additional insulation for the windows.

- Wear warm clothing for additional energy savings at home. That way, you can bump down the thermostat a degree or two and still stay warm.

Source:  Duke Energy

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Book a Better Vacation For Less

January 16, 2017 1:00 am

Looking forward to your next big trip? Read on for five ways to book a better, cheaper vacation, courtesy of Expedia.

Book your trip at the right time  

Purchasing airplane tickets 21 days or more in advance offers the best prices-especially for trips within Europe and the United States. Some trips can give discounts of as much as 30 percent for booking three weeks before the departure date.  

To get the best deals on trips within Europe, you need to book flights almost two months ahead (at least 56 days) so for short haul Easter breaks its best to start booking now. For travel to Asia and the US it's best to book flights around 6 months ahead (+ 171 days for Asia and + 180 for the US) so now is also a great time to plan your big summer break.

Book flights and hotel at the same time 

One critical, but often overlooked, method to drive savings is for travelers to simultaneously book their flight, hotel and/or rental car on an online travel agency. Flight and hotel bookings can be offered at a steep discount.

Those savings can be lost if travelers book these elements independently, which is common, so flight and hotel bookings remain the single easiest way for travelers to save hundreds on travel, both domestically and internationally.

Include a Saturday night stay 

After evaluating terabytes of data regarding the impact of including a Saturday night stay on average ticket prices, Expedia has concluded that the urban myth is true and most tickets including a Saturday stay offer the lowest prices and best deals. In Central Europe, average ticket prices for itineraries that include Saturdays can be as much as 74 percent less and 47 percent less for flights within the UK and Ireland. The impact of Saturday night stays exists independent of what day of the week a ticket was booked and how many days in advance it was purchased.

Head to an alternative neighborhood on your city break 

By checking out the alternative areas of a city you can save even more on your hotel. Expedia's local experts have provided advice - such as booking in a business district for a weekend stay - to help travelers to find money-saving alternate destinations that aren't too far from the downtowns or most popular areas of the cities in question. For example, staying in the Financial District or Battery Park City when traveling to New York can offer savings but still offers the chance to stay in two spots that are fast becoming the city's new must-visit areas.

Source: Expedia.co.uk

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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10 Ways to Make a Small Room Look Larger

January 14, 2017 12:15 pm

No matter how large your home may be, there’s always one room that’s just a little too small. Luckily, with some quick design tricks, any room can appear larger. Try a couple of these suggestions and watch your room magically expand.
  1. Use lighter paint colors.
  2. Paint or wallpaper the ceiling in order to make a room look taller.
  3. Install wall-to-wall or floor-to-ceiling bookcases to make the ceilings look higher.
  4. Pull furniture away from the walls to create a feeling of spaciousness.
  5. Hang mirrors opposite windows to reflect light and make the room seem bigger.
  6. Keep knickknacks, framed photos, books, etc., to a minimum to create a sense of spaciousness.
  7. Use furniture that doubles for something else. For example, a lidded ottoman that’s also a seat that’s also a storage unit.
  8. Keep window treatments to a minimum to expose as much of the window—and therefore, light—as possible. Think sheer, white curtains. Or better yet, nothing at all.
  9. Stay away from bold prints and colors. Stick to smaller patterns and neutrals when it comes to rugs and upholstery.
  10. Deploy stripes, either on your walls or floors, which will make the walls look taller and the floors longer.
For more tips to make small spaces appear larger than they are, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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When to Start Thinking about Retirement? Yesterday

January 14, 2017 12:15 pm

With countless financial obligations each month, it’s understandable why most people put off saving for retirement. In fact, according to smartasset.com, half of all American households have no retirement accounts at all.

Even if you’re on a tight budget, however, saving for retirement is possible. Try these five tips from Pentegra Retirement Services.

1. Start as early as possible
People who started saving for retirement in their 20s are 66 percent more likely to retire before age 60 than those who started in their 30s, according to a recent study from Money Rates.

2. Take advantage of employer retirement plans 
If you’re lucky enough to work for a company that offers a 401(k) plan, jump on it. Meet with a financial advisor to determine how much you should be contributing to your 401(k) and how you should be investing those contributions in order to reach your goals.

3. Budget wisely
Be precise in your budgeting process. Start by getting a handle on your fixed and variable expenses. Determine your debt-to-income ratio and start paying down your debt, prioritizing debt with the highest interest rate. Think about how your expenses will increase in the future and come up with a plan for covering those expenses. Determine how much you can comfortably afford to contribute toward retirement.  

4. Consider risk and mix it up
All investments come with some level of risk, so mitigate that risk by coming up with the appropriate asset mix, taking your age, situation and time left until retirement into consideration. In short, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

5. Remember, it’s a joint effort
According to a recent Harris Poll of 1,800 Americans, 36 percent said their partner is saving for retirement, but most had no idea exactly how much. Don’t just rely on your partner’s retirement—plan jointly to secure a comfortable retirement.Taking that first step can be the hardest, but once you have a game plan, your odds of retiring comfortably can only increase.

To learn more about saving for retirement, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Putting in a New Floor? Use This Checklist

January 14, 2017 12:15 pm

If a new floor is in your future, proper planning is key to a successful outcome. Use the following checklist from Consumer Reports to ensure you’re making the best choice for both functionality and fashion.

1. Slow down and sample. While you may think you know exactly what you want, take the time to test out several samples in the room you’re reflooring. When you compare them side-by-side, you may change your mind.

2. Compare for consistency. While manufacturers try to match solid- and engineered-wood flooring for color and grain, variations occur from batch to batch, so make sure you buy all the flooring you need at one time.

3. Measure right. Consumer Reports offers the following formula to ensure you buy the right amount of flooring: measure the room’s square footage by multiplying its length times its width. Flooring an odd-shaped room? Divide it into smaller rectangles, calculate the square footage of each rectangle, and then add them together. Then play it safe: buy 7 - 10 percent more than you need, and maybe an extra box for future repairs or additions.  

4. Consider traffic. High-traffic areas such as entryways, kitchens and family rooms will require durable flooring. Consider engineered wood or attractive bamboo floors for less-busy areas.

5. Prepare for install. Consumer Reports recommends unpacking wood or laminate flooring and letting it sit for 1 - 3 days. This will help its temperature and moisture become acclimated to the levels in the room.  

6. Certification matters. The FloorScore certification on vinyl floors means it emits relatively low levels of volatile organic compounds. For wood flooring, look for certification from the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which means the wood came from responsibly managed forests.

Source: Consumer Reports

For more flooring tips, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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America Weighs in: Save More, Spend Less

January 14, 2017 12:15 pm

January is famous for its resolutions, many of which often revolve around creating a better financial picture for ourselves. According to a recent survey from GOBankingRates.com, the top financial resolution for 2017 is “save more, spend less,” chosen from the following options:
  • Create a budget and stick to it
  • Build an emergency fund
  • Improve my credit score
  • Save more, spend less
  • Increase my income
  • Pay down debt
  • Save more for retirement
  • Have more spending freedom
  • Make a large purchase (home, car, etc.) 
The majority of respondents, nearly 23 percent, are committing to save more and spend less this year, a worthy goal given the results of GOBankingRates’ 2016 Savings survey, which revealed that 69 percent of Americans report having less than $1,000 in their savings account.

The second most popular financial resolution for 2017 is paying down debt, chosen by 19 percent of respondents. This is also an important goal considering the burden of debt, such as the $1.3 trillion student loan debt (source: StudentLoanHero.com) and the $747 billion consumer credit card debt (NerdWallet).

So, how can you save more and spend less and start paying down debt? Here are some suggestions from Forbes:
  • Bundle your car, home and life insurance. Many companies offer steep discounts for package deals.
  • Evaluate your cable and internet needs. Do you really need 500 channels and the highest speed internet? Perhaps not.
  • Consider refurbished electronics, which work just as well as brand-new models and are generally offered at a reduced price.
  • Join retailer mailing lists (selectively!). While you don’t want your inbox inundated with junk mail, signing up with your favorite retail outlets allows you to take advantage of sales and discount coupons.
  • Don’t forget to negotiate. Don’t assume the sticker price is set in stone, especially when it comes to large furniture or electronic purchases, so try bargaining before buying.
Contact our office today for more tips that will help you save more and spend less this year.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Quick Home Makeovers for the New Year

January 14, 2017 12:15 pm

Whether you’re considering putting your home on the market this spring or you’re simply looking for a post-holiday pick-me-up, try one of the following ideas to give your living space a boost…and your mental state in the process.
 
1. If you hate it, lose it. Why wait for spring cleaning? If you roll your eyes every time you pass that sofa in the sitting room that no one uses and you’ve never liked, get rid of it. See if a friend or family member can use it, list it on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or a neighborhood tag sale site, or donate it to Goodwill or the local shelter. Don’t hold onto objects that make you unhappy.
 
2. Make windows a priority. Windows are a critical aspect of our home environment as they control the amount of light coming into a space…or lack thereof. They are also our connection to the world outside, whether that’s on the 25th floor of an urban high-rise, or a few wooded acres in the country. Make sure your windows are dressed optimally for letting light in, providing privacy and enhancing views. It’s also important to assess your curtains, shades and blinds and make any necessary changes. Rule of thumb—less is more.
 
3. Don’t get walled in. We tend to hang a painting or a mirror on a wall and then let it sit there for years. But who said wall décor needs to be permanent? Our tastes change over the years, so take a good look at your walls and decide if you still like what’s hanging there. If not, check out some great wall décor ideas (photo gallery, mural, unique shelving, etc.) on Pinterest, or your favorite home décor portal.
 
4. Color cures all. Whether it’s painting an entire room, an accent wall or the kitchen cabinets, the quickest way to a fresh feel and change of mood is through a paint brush. Painting also makes for a great weekend project when forced indoors by inclement weather. Too much to tackle? Then change up your existing color patterns with pillows, throws, bedding and area rugs to create a new palette.
 
5. Rearrange the furniture. Have you ever repositioned your bed? If so, then you know how that one small step can create an entirely different feel within your bedroom. Try the same with your living room sofa, office desk and bookcases, or family room entertainment equipment. Even switching up the location of lamps, plants and decorative objects can add a new flow to your environs.
 
Remember, updating your home doesn’t require a major renovation or large investment of time and money. Simple strategies like the above will add welcome changes with little effort.
 
For more quick home makeovers you can tackle today, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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In this Edition: Does Your Living Space Need a Boost? Try One of These Quick Makeovers

January 14, 2017 12:15 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters examines 5 home makeovers you can quickly and easily tackle to give your home the pick-me-up it deserves. Other topics covered this month include what you need to know to save more and spend less this year and 10 simple tips to help small rooms appear larger than they actually are. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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