Checking Out Awesome Family Vacation Packages

Spending time with your family is important. Finding the greatest ways for spending this time means you checking out fun and entertaining vacation destinations. If you would like to take a trip just for spending time with the ones you love and having a lot of fun together, check out these awesome vacation packages.

Most everyone looks forward to visiting the beach during the spring or summer. In fact, many hotels and other beach accommodations make this time easily affordable by offering a different type of package for all kinds of families and every budget. You may prefer a secluded cottage right on the beach while other families would rather be in the midst of the action on main streets in grand hotels. Many time sharing condominiums are great accommodation opportunities for those families on a budget.

If the beach is your idea of the best fun with your family, you might consider a mountainous location instead. Many areas offer great deals for cabin rentals near to fishing, swimming, and hiking activities. Some camping areas have the perfect set up for primitive style campsites as well. The family that is looking for an inexpensive way to have a great time with the kids might consider tent camping.

Visiting theme parks can help you to create some awesome memories with your families. Many accommodations near to major theme parks offer great package deal on lodging that includes many of park related activities. Choosing a package can allow you big savings all around for the entire trip. Check with hotels near the park you are considering and learn more about the deals you can get.

If the vacation you are planning involves flying to get there, you might consider the kinds of saving you can get on your flight. Some airlines offer package deals for families flying together that can help a lot in saving you money. Check with the airlines of your choice about offers for families and start saving for your trip early during your trip plans.

Your trip does not only have to during the summer months. Winter is a popular time for family trips, especially when those trips involve hitting the ski slopes. Many well known resorts offer package deals for families and your savings could be tremendous. Some deals offer many activities at a group discount. Accommodations nearby to the slopes you are visiting can be a great place to start looking for your ski family package.

Making your destination plans during the holidays can also allow you to get awesome savings for trip packages. Some destinations get wound up for the holidays due to being popular tourist attractions during that time. This is a great time for you to get family activities included in a package for saving a great deal on your trip. Consider planning ahead of time for the busiest seasons for saving not only money, but a lot of stress as well.

Making the most of the time you spend with your family is important, especially when you have kids. Check out the family vacation packages most suitable for you and start planning ahead today. The earlier you start making plans, the more discounts and savings you can learn about.

Defeat Your Homeowner Association

First, this article is written from the viewpoint of a California resident. Much of the information presented here is relevant to other states, but you should check your own state’s laws to make sure they are the same or similar.

For most people buying a new home in today’s America there is usually a mandatory membership to a homeowner association, referred to as an “HOA.” These organizations are essentially mini governments that posses the power to make and enforce laws, including the right to foreclose on a family’s home, townhouse or condominium.

The original intention in the creation of the HOA envisioned an active participation by all of the members; a tight knit community where common problems were dealt with by the community members through the offices of the HOA.

The reality is nothing like the vision.

Today, in most cases an HOA is a very small number of people who actively keep the authority of the HOA in their hands, and their hands alone. Usually these circumstances are brought about by a lack of participation by the majority of the HOA members.

The lack of member participation creates a certain rational for the Board of Directors, who interpret the other member’s disinterest as the reason they must keep the HOA’s authority to themselves. The community becomes divided between those who control the Board of Directors, and everybody else.

For everybody else, an HOA is typically not easy to deal with. They wield the authority to foreclose homes, levy steep fines, and often control aspects of the community members’ lives that typical Americans believe are a precious homeowner’s private right, like what your kids are allowed to do while playing in their own backyard.

Homeowners often find themselves in a contest with their HOA over these rights. Can I park my car in my driveway? No, says the HOA because we few active members passed a law that says you can’t park a car in your own driveway unless you use the car every day.

Can my kids play basketball in our own backyard? No, says the HOA, because we few active members passed a law that says no basketball courts are permitted that can be seen from the street. And, by the way, you are not allowed to cover that open fence to limit our visibility into your backyard because we few active members have passed a law that says we have the right to see into your backyard.

Can I tint my windows? No, says the HOA, because… Well, you get the picture.

Now the part you have been reading to find. How do you defeat your HOA?

First, you must make sure you continue to pay your HOA dues. Most homeowners who get into a fight with their HOA over issues like a rule restricting backyard activities, use of your own driveway and garage, and denials of your planned home improvement projects, often get angry and stop paying dues.

This is a mistake. Pay your dues. However, you can usually omit paying those late fees and fines. In California, an HOA cannot foreclose your home based on accumulated late fees, fines, and other expenses like the ‘cost of collecting’ your unpaid late fees and fines.

They can sue you in small claims, or even in the limited jurisdiction of the Superior Court because then they will get attorney fees, which will be huge. The resulting judgment, however, is far more difficult to use to foreclose on your home because it has no priority over existing liens, meaning the HOA would need to pay off your mortgage to get your home using a lawsuit judgment. (In California, the moment you lose such a lawsuit, go the State Bar and demand Fee Mediation – HOA lawyers charge you like they are first class lawyers, but charge their clients like they are 1st year noobs.)

But, let’s not let it get that far, OK? Here are a few basic rules to live by when dealing with your HOA.

HOAs typically don’t have a properly elected Board of Directors. As soon as you receive that annoying letter telling you to stop your kids from playing in the backyard, send a letter back asking to have a copy of all the Governing Documents.

Hopefully, the HOA will ignore or deny this request.

They are not allowed to deny or ignore a request for copies of the Governing Documents.

Obtain a copy of all your Governing Documents and read them to see what constitutes a properly elected Board of Directors. In those communities where member participation has been limited to just those few who want to be Board Members, there typically has never been a “quorum” attained to properly elect the Board.

The Board, therefore, is usually sitting by default.

Default Board’s are limited in the scope of their authority, and in some cases have no authority at all.

In all your correspondence, constantly remind the Board that they are not properly elected.

Follow these basic steps;

1. Demand a ‘meet and confer’ with a Board Member to discuss the issues. The HOA is not permitted to deny your request to meet and confer. Record the meeting on video.

2. Demand a hearing before the Board. Record the meeting on video.

3. Appeal the Board’s decision. Record the Appeal Hearing on video.

4. Demand Mediation after the Board affirms their previous decision at the Appeal.

Typically, HOA Board of Director members are not well versed in the laws governing the operation of an HOA. many will be passingly familiar with the portions of the relevant foreclose laws, and of course they will know the HOA’s rules and regulations by heart.

However, I have found that often the Board of Directors are not familiar with the requirement to meet and confer in good faith. Therefore, it is common that the Board of Directors member who appears to meet and confer, will meet but not confer. There is a good faith requirement that renders inappropriate the kind of responses the typical HOA Board of Directors member will offer in response to your questions.

For instance; you have received a letter saying you must move you 1966 Ford Mustang from your driveway because it is not driven every day. OK, you say, “what proof do you have that its not driven every day?”

“We have an anonymous tip from another homeowner” replies the HOA Board member.

“OK, you had a complaint. But, what proof do you have that the Mustang is not driven every day? A mere complaint is not proof and does not rise to the level of a violation. You are supposed to investigate to determine whether the complaint was fact or mere opinion. So, what proof do you have?”

There is a very large probability that the “complaining member” was none other than the Board of Directors themselves who merely discussed your Mustang at their last meeting. So, no proof exists.

Write a summary of the meet and confer. State that the Board Member did not have any proof of the violation, and therefore no violation exits.

When the HOA sends you its next letter, usually a threat to move the Mustang or face steep fines, you send a letter denying that any violation exists. Remind them they are not properly elected, and that the results of the meet and confer were favorable to you, not the HOA.

The HOA is supposed to set a hearing where evidence of your violation is presented, and then rule on the evidence and testimony provided at the hearing. Make sure you demand such a hearing, and make sure you attend. It’s a good idea to record the meeting by video.

Not surprisingly, the HOA will rule in its favor, even when you have evidence that proves no violation existed, or they had no evidence that proves a violation existed.

Demand an appeal. Make sure you attend, and yes, record it on video. At the Appeal Hearing, point out that the Board Members are not properly elected and did not have facts to support their previous ruling.

When the Board affirms their prior ruling, demand mediation.

At the mediation, point out to the mediator that the Board is not properly elected, failed to meet and confer in good faith, called a disciplinary hearing without any proof that a violation existed, ruled against you without any proof that a violation existed, and affirmed their ruling despite a lack of evidence and/or evidence to the contrary.

Mediators will only want to split the matter in two; if you have been fined $1000, they will encourage you to offer $500.

Refuse.

Your next step is the most crucial. The HOA will expect you to pay, or in the most unlikely situation, to file a Superior Court action to enforce the Governing Documents.

Instead, you file what is called a “Writ of Mandate.” This is the proper venue to appeal the Board’s ruling.

While this will cost you some attorney fees, it is the winning move. HOA’s and their lawyers typically are not familiar with this particular judicial option and will be totally out of their depth when confronted with a Writ of Mandate.

The Writ Court will, however, entertain you because you are appealing an administrative body who has the obligation to accept and rule according to the evidence and testimony presented. And, then they fail to rule according to the evidence, they can be reversed by the next higher court. In California, the next higher court above the Appeal Hearing of an HOA is the Superior Court’s Writ Judge.

If you have carefully compiled the evidence indicated above, you are highly likely to prevail. The fines will be reversed, the late fees etc will be voided, and your attorney will be paid by the HOA.

Thereafter, the HOA is likely to turn a blind eye on your Mustang, or your kid’s backyard basketball court, and look for easier victims.

Interviewing a Web Savvy Listing Agent to Sell Your Home in the Crowded 2009 Atlanta Market

Over the last 24 months, particularly in large metropolitan markets like Atlanta, real estate print media has all but disappeared in favor of Internet promotion of listings and services. Web advertising continues to evolve; the ability of agents to provide enhanced listing details has captivated consumers who want easy access to every bit of online information that can be provided before they get into a car to begin the search. In the crowded 2009 Atlanta market with huge and stagnant inventories, differentiation is crucial. With approximately 45,000 single family homes and 10,000 condominiums available for purchase, there is significant motivation for sellers and listing agents to understand and implement high impact web marketing.

Customizable search criteria, birds eye views, street views, back yards, parking, amenities, questionable structures, bodies of water and topography are information used by enlightened Atlanta area buyers to eliminate properties in an oversupplied inventory. The Atlanta metro area has two MLS systems with significant overlap, so many agents list properties on both. In practice, a Multiple Listing System creates an equal playing field, so to leverage their listings, proactive agents are likely to advertise beyond the content of these systems. Powerful area specific websites, such as The Atlanta Journal Homefinder, Craigslist, Backpage, and Creative Loafing have evolved quickly to include extras like mapping tools and photo tours. However, these opportunities remain underutilized by listing agents, even when the advertising is free.

Specialized Internet marketing is not included in the skill set of most agents. Tech savvy agents who really get Internet marketing and property promotion are unique. An example of the typical disconnect is the property listing website, indexed by the house address url. What buyer knows your address before searching for their target dream home? How many web paths does your listing agent provide to move the buyer toward a site that showcases your home’s most appealing features?

More importantly, how does your agent achieve front page ranking on Google for your home? Occasionally I see listings that have placed an informational link in the private remarks section of the MLS listing, so that it may be viewed only by agents. If that is the sole online visibility of the path to a home’s virtual tour then everybody loses. The consumer browsing on a public access listing website misses some of the most compelling information. When I see this error, I know the agent has limited Internet marketing savvy; the chances of this home ranking high on Google are slim.

Descriptive property pages which achieve a high ranking on Google are not the result of large corporate brokerages which “stuff” listings into national real estate websites. In the large inventory of urban, suburban, and rural Atlanta housing, a home search can quickly confuse and frustrate buyers. The most successful web advertising for your home is a carefully crafted product managed by an agent who knows what really matters when consumers begin the search process. If Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield National Park, The Avenue of East Cobb, or Roswell Square are popular destinations near your home, then the agent will incorporate this information into the web page title to capture additional traffic.

Relevant interview questions to help you identify a web savvy listing agent capable of creating a high impact marketing campaign to sell your home are:

* On which local and national real estate websites will you list my home?

* How often do you update my home’s listing information on these sites?

* What keyword searches can consumers use to find my home on the front page of Google?

* Explain how you incorporate SEO techniques into your overall marketing plan.

* Which Atlanta area specific domain names do you own that help potential clients find my house?

* Do you hire a professional photographer to showcase my home’s interior and exterior?

* How many pictures will appear on my home tour and which websites will display the tour?

* Will you add information to the pictures to create additional interest?

* How many seconds does it take for a buyer to load and view my tour?

* Can the photo tour of my home be emailed?

* Can you show me an example of your high impact listings?

* Will you walk me through the process that demonstrates how a buyer will find my home online?

* Will you show me all the details of my home’s listing profile as the public will view it?

* Will I receive weekly emails showing the number of views of my home’s virtual tour?

In the crowded 2009 Atlanta real estate market, the answers to these questions and the derived benefits are important differentiators between top sales achievers and those who won’t get to the closing table.

No Bird Feeders Allowed? How to Fight Bird Feeder Bans in Your Neighborhood

There’s a growing trend in the “not in our backyard” movement that impacts urban and suburban backyard bird-feeding hobbyists alike. In most cases, it’s David vs.Goliath, with powerful and unyielding condominium associations ordering the removal of bird feeders from the entire property. Even private landowners can feel under siege by anti-bird feeder activists driven by fear or myths about the “danger” of feeding birds and wildlife in their backyard.

Bird lovers who live in an apartment or condo (or even dorm) want to attract birds to their yard or window, but often run into opposition from the neighbors and management.

Five myths/misconceptions about feeding the birds

Although passionate and emotional arguments may be the initial response to a “take down your feeders” order (often pitting neighbor against neighbor), real-world situations have proven that there are strategies that will help you keep your backyard habitat (and neighborhood relations) intact.

Bird feeders attract rats and vermin

Rats and mice populate homes, garages, outbuildings, meadows, parks and even vehicles! They have thrived alongside human habitation for thousands of years.

While they may be most visible when visiting your backyard during the day, bird feeders are not necessary for their survival. The number one resource required for rats and mice to survive (and thrive) is water. If your neighborhood has a dependable supply of water (ponds, catch basins, sewers, streams, puddles, kiddie pools, rain barrels, etc) there’s a good chance that hundreds of rats and mice already call it “home.”

Spilled seed and/or seed husks on the ground are an eyesore, spread disease and are unsanitary

Old seeds or husks on the ground under bird feeders are unattractive and can be a breeding ground for mold growth, but the seed husks themselves do not harbor disease or infection. With a wide variety of “no waste” seed mixtures readily available at super stores, garden centers and online, it is now possible to eliminate the problem of “old seeds” on the ground entirely.

These special blends of “no waste” seed are more expensive than the traditional “bulk” blends (which contain mostly undesirable seeds like millet and striped sunflower), but the investment up front pays off in less mess, a neat and tidy yard and less evidence that you feed the birds.

Another advantage of these expensive seed blends is that the anti-feeder folks will see that you are willing to “put your money where your mouth is” in order to alleviate some of their concerns.

Birds won’t learn how to fend for themselves

Attracting birds to your backyard with a dependable food source does not create a generation of feathered friends looking for “handouts.” When a feeder is removed, birds don’t drop dead due to laziness, either! Even though people find a “free lunch” more than enough reason to go against their instincts, there’s no evidence that birds share the same mindset.

Offering food in late fall and winter will “trap” migratory species, and they’ll die from exposure to wintry weather

Having an abundant food source doesn’t change the fact that the signal to “migrate” comes from changes in the amount of daylight, whether its a north-south journey in the the fall or a south-north trek. During the spring migration, birds follow the food source (insects) north. As plants and trees “go to seed” in the fall, the birds head south.

Pigeons, starlings, crows, etc. are loud and messy birds and their waste products damage the area and foul car finishes

There’s no argument there. If your main interest is in attracting large, loud and messy flocks of what some considered “rats with wings” to your neighborhood, you’ll need more than these tips to change the opinion of your neighbors. However, if you’re not already overrun with flocks of starlings or pigeons, it’s not inevitable that they will find your backyard in the future. In fact, careful seed choice, effective bird feeder design and putting your backyard cafeteria on a schedule can prevent the “less desirable” elements of the neighborhood from taking over.

Visit specialty stores in your neighborhood, or get tips and suggestions from online nature-oriented blogs and communities.

(c) 2010 kathy vespaziani

Boutique and Discreet: Yorkville Toronto Luxury Condominium Buildings of Less Than 50 Suites

There are a handful of luxury condominium buildings in Yorkville Toronto that have less than fifty suites. Ownership has its privileges as privacy and discretion are built-in standard features of these luxury boutique buildings. Often times one does not know their exact location as their understated private entrances provide the only evidence that they even exist. Unlike their high-rise counterparts, the floor plans and architecture of the suites in luxury boutique buildings tend to be more original, personable and innovative and many suites occupy whole or half floors. Boutique luxury buildings also provide owners with an intimate living atmosphere. A smaller but more dedicated building staff can focus on the personal needs of each individual resident. However this privacy and discretion comes with a price tag. Living large in a luxury boutique building in Yorkville costs more. Maintenance fees are higher than in larger buildings as there are less unit owners to share in the costs of amenities and building upkeep.

No. 155 Cumberland Street Fifteen Suites Since the early 1960’s a unique two storey penthouse apartment stood atop the office tower at 130 Bloor Street West. Accessed from a discrete entrance on Cumberland, it belonged to philanthropists and society couple Rose and Noah Torno. The 10,000 square foot penthouse was designed in the modernist style of famous American architect Philip Johnson with large windows and large planes. In creating N 155 Cumberland Street, the development team retained the Torno two storey penthouse on levels 13 and 14 and built above it and below it creating high-end residences that mirrored the architectural design and quality of this original penthouse. Existing floors 11 and 12 were converted from office space into five condominium suites. Seven new levels, adding an additional nine suites, were also built above the original penthouse creating an irregular tower faced in limestone. Residents use the same private entrance that the Tornos did which opens to a luxurious lobby with two private express elevators. All suites feature large terraces or balconies and outdoor barbequing is permitted. Ceiling heights are eleven feet and the penthouse and sub penthouse levels feature twelve foot ceiling heights. Interior finishes were done by builder Joe Brennan with suites having floor to ceiling unobstructed windows and radiant in-floor heating. Amenities of N 155 Cumberland Street: Concierge, Security Guard, Visitor Parking.

The Hazelton Private Residences 118 Yorkville Avenue Sixteen Suites Residents can take advantage of all the amenities of the five star Hazelton Hotel including Mark McEwan’s “ONE Restaurant”. Hotel suites are located on floors 2 to 4. Private Residences are located on floors 5 to 9 and accessed by a private elevator for residents. All suites feature minimum ten foot ceilings and have full individual control of heating and cooling year around. The smallest size suite is 2815 square feet and the largest is the Penthouse at 8100 square feet. Amenities at The Hazelton: Twenty Four Hour Concierge, Valet Parking, Twenty Four Hour Room Service, Indoor Lap Pool, Full Service Spa and Fitness Centre, Private Screening Room and Meeting Facilities.

The Windsor Arms Condominium Residences 22 St. Thomas Street Twenty Four Suites Situated next to the stretch of Bloor Street designer shops known as the “Mink Mile”, the private residences are located above the four storeys of the Windsor Arms Hotel. The Windsor Arms Condominium Residences has its own separate street entrance with lobby and private elevators. Only two suites per floor, all units have nine foot six inch ceilings, individually controlled heating and cooling systems and fireplaces. Residents have access to all of the five star luxury hotel amenities including Courtyard Cafe, Club 22, Tea Room, twenty four hour room service, housekeeping, salon and spa services. Suites range in size from a single one bedroom suite of 1350 square feet with all other units over 2800 square feet and an almost 5000 square foot full floor penthouse. Amenities of the Windsor Arms: Twenty Four Hour Concierge, Valet Parking, Private Party Room, Swimming Pool and Steam Room, Exercise Room

Museum House 206 Bloor Street West Twenty Six Suites Currently Under Construction An exclusive and intimate building of limestone, metal and glass located across the street from the Daniel Libeskind designed Crystal of the Royal Ontario Museum. Maximum of two units per floor with some units occupying the whole floors. Like the 32 storey Exhibit Residences next door to it, Museum House’s suites are all oriented north and or south giving residents clear panoramic views. Ceiling heights are a minimum of ten feet and whole floor suites feature eleven foot ceilings. All suites have fireplaces and expansive outdoor terraces. Suites range in size from 1942 square feet up to the 2 storey 5620 square foot penthouse with 4 terraces, outdoor spa and a private interior elevator. Each residence is pre-wired for Bang & Olufsen audio and video. Amenities of Museum House: Twenty Four Hour Concierge, Valet Parking, Individual Elevator Access to Each Suite, Fitness Centre, Guest Suite, Boardroom.

The St. Thomas 2 St. Thomas Street Forty-eight Suites Pre-Construction Located on the south west corner of St. Thomas and Charles Street West, 2 St. Thomas Street will be a contemporary residential tower anchored by a two storey black granite podium designed by architect Hariri Pontarini. The two storey podium houses the party room, wine lounge, private dining room, business facility, catering kitchen and reading lounge. The indoor pool and fitness facilities are located on the third level. Suite ceiling heights vary from 10 feet to 11’6″ depending on the floor and the penthouse level features 12 foot ceiling heights. All suites include a minimum of one parking spot and residences over 1700 square feet have two parking spots. One storage locker is also included with each residence and located in the underground parking garage. A high efficiency air handling unit in each suite provides year-round heating and air conditioning. Units with terraces include a gas outlet for barbeques. In the event of a blackout, a stand-by generator provides up to twenty four hours of hot water and basic electrical power supply to each residence. All suites come with a gas fireplace, a built-in wall safe and Miele kitchen and laundry appliances. Suites range in size from 1373 square feet up to the full floor residences of 6217 square feet. Minto has plans to build Six St. Thomas, an 11 storey luxury rental residence just to the north of The St. Thomas. Amenities of The St. Thomas: Twenty Four Hour Concierge, Valet Parking, Doorman, Party Room, Wine Lounge, Private Dining Room, Business Facility, Catering Kitchen, Reading Lounge, Indoor Lap Pool with Outdoor Sun Terrace, Fitness Facilities, Two Furnished Guest Suites on 4th Floor.

No. 8 Sultan Street Twenty-five Suites Located directly across the street from the Windsor Arms Hotel, this is where Yorkville and the luxury designer shopping of Bloor Street meet. All suites at 8 Sultan have private balconies, gas fireplaces, nine foot ceilings. Penthouses are two level with ten foot ceilings and have private rooftop terraces. All suites include at least one parking spot and heating and air conditioning is provided by an engineered system that permits either heating or cooling to be activated in any season. Suites range in size from two bedroom 1178 square foot units to 3100 plus square foot penthouses. Amenities of 8 Sultan St: Concierge 1 pm to 9 pm daily, Fully Equipped Gym Accessed From Second Floor.

The Renaissance Court 164 Cumberland Street Thirty-one Suites While the Renaissance Court may not offer the extras in services and amenities of the luxury boutique buildings in Yorkville it makes up for in affordability as it provides a less pricier option for those on a smaller budget who like the idea of living in Yorkville in a smaller more intimate building. Ideally located just south of the Hazelton Hotel and next door to the Four Seasons Hotel, the entrance to this understated building is found on the courtyard walkway between Yorkville Avenue and Cumberland Street. The lobby of the Renaissance Court is located on the first floor and the units occupy floors four to seven and feature one and two bedroom suites. Sizes range from the smallest one bedroom of 1155 square feet to the largest suite made up of two units put together of over 3000 square feet. Many suites feature fireplaces. Seventh floor penthouse level suites have skylights and a few lucky units located on the fourth floor have terraces. Each unit has their own heat pump giving residents individual control of heating and cooling. At the Renaissance Court rental parking is available for all residents and there is also twenty four hour concierge.

The Average Family’s Guide to Financial Freedom

Bill and Mary Toohey, authors of The Average Family’s Guide to Financial Freedom, make average middle class salaries. Mary works as an office manager and Bill as a vocational rehab counselor for the state. On modest incomes, they have attained financial freedom and ensured that their needs will be met through retirement. Their book is a guide for others who want to achieve financial security despite today’s challenging economy. It’s my favorite how-to guide in my large collection of books about personal finance..

The Tooheys have achieved financial security by spending less and therefore saving more. In fact, they save 46 percent of their gross income. Think about that. That savings figure is based on gross income, not net. It is truly impressive given that they’re not making huge incomes.

How did the Tooheys do it? This book tells their story. They foster an attitude of gratitude and contentment. They don’t focus on what they don’t have. Bill and Mary describe their motivation as “building a money-saving mindset”.

A big part of the Tooheys’ success is their choice to live in a modest home. Too many of us stretch to buy a house or condominium we can barely afford and then go into debt to furnish, decorate and update our big new home. The Tooheys, on the other hand, bought a smaller house than they could afford. Rather than using it as a stepping stone to a larger home, they have stayed put and paid off their mortgage in just ten years. They estimate that they have saved more than $100,000 over the years by choosing their small house. A smaller house means that you spend less on utilities, maintenance, interest costs, taxes, and furnishings.

The authors look at the small expenses and the large in their efforts to spend less. No question about it, they are careful spenders. In their book they share tips for buying cars and groceries and for spending on entertainment and education. Learning is important to their family and they share their tips for going to college without going into debt.

Much of the Guide to Financial Freedom is devoted to how to be a careful spender and avoid financial mistakes in your day-to-day life. There’s also a great deal of solid, friendly advice about how to raise responsible kids, how to maintain your possessions, and how to set up a home office that will keep your family organized. There’s even a chapter on how to live happily in a one-bathroom house — something that too many people today think is impossible.

The Tooheys also devote several chapters to investments and to retirement. There is advice and information about where to invest and about the various forms of retirement plans. They freely share their own mistakes and what they’ve learned about investing.

You can’t help but really like Bill and Mary Toohey as you read this book. They seem like people you would want as friends or members of your family. There’s nothing fancy or convoluted about their advice. It’s solid, straightforward guidance from somebody you’d really want on your team. If you’re looking for financial advice and want to learn how to navigate today’s challenging economy you’ll want to pick up Bill and Mary Toohey’s book, The Average Family’s Guide to Financial Freedom.

Get Car Insurance Quotes Online: Guide on How to Use Internet Tools to Find Auto Insurance

Thanks to the internet, information regarding auto insurance companies and rates is easy for everybody to obtain. You don’t have to go through a third party – you can conduct all of the research yourself. All it takes is a short survey and you can get multiple car insurance quotes online. Spend a bit of time comparing them and reading reviews on the companies to decide which offer is the right one for you.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation on the internet, and scams are rampant. This is why you must be careful when doing your research. Don’t just automatically choose the cheapest policy you come across. No two quotes are going to be exactly the same, since each company conducts their evaluations a bit differently.

The criteria, in general, are the same, however. Factors that will likely play a role in the quotes you receive including your driving record, credit score, model and make of the vehicle, geographical location, and age. What DOES differ is the amount of weight each company puts on each of these factors.

What kind of information must you provide in order to get car insurance quotes online? In order for the quotes to be as realistic and personal as possible, you must enter details about your age, location, vehicle, and driving history. Some sites may require you to provide more personal information than others.

Good News When You Get Car Insurance Quotes Online

The good news is that there are sometimes discounts available to help you save. Before you select an offer and go through it, you must first find out if you are eligible for any kind of discount. Sometimes, students can get a discount if they take a driver’s education course and maintain good grades. Adult drivers might even be able to save if they take a driver’s defense course. There are also discounts for members of certain organizations, such as the military.

There are also “equipment-related” discounts. If you get your vehicle equipped with anti-theft technology, such as alarms, kill-switches, tracking systems, etc., you might be able to get a nice discount. Just check and see if the equipment has to be factory-installed.

Other potential discounts you might be able to obtain include automated payment from checking account setup, green / hybrid vehicle, customer loyalty, and being the homeowner of a condominium or single family home.

Where can you get car insurance quotes online? One safe, reliable place to begin your search is with esurance. Reviews are highly positive and the site allows users to get real quotes for free. Compare the quotes and policies side-by-side and select the one that best suits your needs. esurance is a very user-friendly site.

7 Critical Considerations for a Real Estate Investment Property Purchase

If you are considering an buying an investment property, there are 7 important items to consider.

1. Financing, typically lenders will only lend up to 65 percent of the value of the property when it’s for investment purposes. This limit is in place because lenders consider an investment property a higher risk

If you have equity in your current principal residence or in other property, then you may wish to borrow from those sources to maximize your mortgage and financing Generally speaking your investment property. The reason for this objective is because you are allowed to use mortgage interest paid on your investment property to reduce the amount of income and hence tax paid on your investment property.

2. Another important consideration for your investment property is choosing the best location. If you are considering a townhouse or a high-rise condo for your investment, then you want to ensure that it is located close to major shopping, transportation and schools and amenities that will appeal to prospective tenants. Often tenants will only have one vehicle and require these types of amenities to be located close to the property. You will usually get higher rent when your location is desirable.

3. Generally speaking, a high-rise condominium will allow you the most flexibility and least amount of effort and maintenance during the tenancy compared to any other type of property. Once a high-rise condo is rented, it is nearly a hands free investment. This does not come without any cost, as the maintenance fees associated with a high-rise condo will be much higher compared to a townhouse or other type of property. Your second choice for maintenance free investment property may be a townhouse. The reason is that all of the exterior maintenance, such as snow shovelling and lawn and garden maintenance will be taken care of by the condo corporation and not the tenant. The only items that you and/or the tenant will have to take care of are the interior items and these are usually minor in nature.

A freehold townhouse, semi or detached home will require more maintenance and effort on your part and the tenant throughout the year. This may be more desirable or not, depends upon your circumstances. Many investors choose freehold properties for their investment properties as they have the time or prefer to do some of the maintenance themselves or at least have control over the entire property compared to condo type properties.

4. As a continuation of the items considered in number 3, these different properties will appreciate at different rates, all things being equal. For example, if a high-rise condo has an appreciation of 10% in a year, then a townhouse may appreciate 12 to 14% and a freehold property may increase 15% or more. This larger appreciation would be offset by the fact that more maintenance may be required by you the owner.

5. It is important to consider all the expenses when you purchase an investment property. The obvious expenses are the principal and interest costs associated with the mortgage or financing on the property, the annual taxes and any monthly maintenance fees if the property is a condominium.

You may wish to consider regular maintenance items to protect the value of your investment property and the systems that are associated with your property. Other expenses you may incur are regular maintenance items such as furnace cleaning and maintenance and inspection. This is a very important item if your investment property is a freehold. Other items such as the condition of the roof, foundation, interior and exterior walls and windows, appliances, lighting and window coverings, electric garage door openers and any other systems or items that are mechanical in nature should be checked on a regular basis to not only protect the value of your investment but also to prevent the failure of these items as opposed to regular maintenance.

6. Once you have purchased your investment property your other major consideration is finding a good quality tenant. In my nearly 20 years of experience I have found that there are two major considerations in your tenant. The number one consideration is that you find a tenant who has the ability to pay the rent and if possible can show a good history of paying the rent. The second most important item is to make sure that your tenant will take care of the property for you in your absence.

Other items you will have to consider are that you must investigate the credit worthiness of the tenant, their personal and credit history, their employment status and confirmation of employment. You may contact their previous landlord and personal references that they supply on the application. These items can be critical and will give you insight into your prospective tenant. In my experience, the degree to which a prospective tenant completes all fields on a rental application and provides all the information you request and is straightforward and forthright with all answers to your questions and inquires will give a good indication of the quality of the tenant that you are looking at.

7. You have to decide to find the tenant yourself or use a real estate agent. When you attempt to find the agent yourself, you can personally meet the tenant ahead of time and see the type of people that will occupy your property. You will have to do all the credit and personal investigations of the tenant. I have found that when you use a real estate agent to find a tenant for your property, the quality of the tenants are usually better than through private means. The reason for this is that tenants who are relocating with their company or those tenants that have better employment and personal history know that the properties on the mls are better compared to the private properties and will utilize the mls to find their property. As well, the mls is a much more efficient method of finding a rental property and many tenants use the mls to find their next rental.

Of course, a real estate agent can find you a good quality tenant and perform all of the credit and personal investigations on your behalf. In the Toronto and GTA, the typical fee to have your property rented through the mls is one months rent commission.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many important items to consider with an investment property that you are considering to purchase. Your personal situation, financial ability and degree of involvement in your investment property will ultimately determine the type of property that you will purchase.

All You Need to Know About Affordable Home Insurance in Edmonton

Why You Should Get a Home Insurance Quote in Edmonton

· To avoid overpayment and save a significant amount of money

· Insuring your house, cottage, or rental includes protection from flooding

· To get any information about home insurance from a live agent

· To get a quote from 10 insurance companies

Sample Home Insurance Quotes in Edmonton

Example 1: Insurance on a two-story house in Allendale, about 2,000 square feet, including flooding coverage, costs around $93 a month, or $1,116 annually.

Example 2: Insurance on a condo with two bedrooms in the downtown area of Edmonton, near Canadian Western Bank Place, costs about $22 a month, or $264 annually.

Example 3: Insurance on a one-story house near the intersection of 107 Ave and 142 St NW, in the Grovenor neighbourhood of Edmonton, costs $65 a month, including flooding protection, or $780 annually.

Home Insurance Premiums in Edmonton – Average Rates

Home insurance policies change for different types of properties. Tenant insurance (also called renter’s insurance) only covers the contents of a rented house and, depending on the policy, liability. The homeowner’s coverage, on the other hand, is focused on the insurance of the building itself to ensure protection in instances that are related to natural hazards, fire or earthquake, or due to unlawful human activities like vandalism.

Home insurance covers the rebuild value of a dwelling, but not the market value, which is, in fact, higher. That is why, when the property has undergone some damages, the insurance provider will carry the rebuilding costs so the policyholder is able to restore a corresponding property.

This chart features the average premiums for rented and homeowner’s insurance in Alberta and Canada. As the chart shows, owned property insurance is, on average, higher than the renter’s policy.

Condo and Tenant Insurance Policies in Edmonton

Condo owners in Edmonton are protected by their own condo insurance policy, which they must buy, and the condominium corporation’s policy, which the corporation must buy. The first one covers the contents of a condo, modifications, theft, liabilities of a third party, locker contents, additional expenses and insurance assessments. The second type, the condominium corporation’s insurance, provides coverage for exterior parts of a building, like the roof, infrastructure (the building envelope) and areas like halls, lobbies, elevators and so on.

Condo tenant insurance, which is insurance of a rented condo, provides protection of the contents in case it is damaged as a result of theft, fire, etc. This type of policy also covers third party liability and additional living expenses. For example, if your condo was damaged due to fire or flooding, making it unsuitable for living, your condo tenant insurance in Edmonton can cover your temporary stay at a hotel room or rental unit.

8 Ways to Decrease Costs for Home Insurance in Edmonton

1. Quit smoking. Since smoking can pose a danger to your lungs and health overall, and since it also creates a higher risk of fire inside a house, insurance companies don’t welcome this habit, so they increase premiums for home insurance.

2. Choose a safe area to live in. Be careful not to buy a house in flood-prone or earthquake areas as the risk of damage to your house is double, and so are your premiums.

3. Check for recent claims because, if you have not made one for a long time, you can get a discount. However, not all insurance companies in Edmonton provide such an option, so you should ask around to be sure.

4. It is time to upgrade your home since houses that are well maintained get much lower premiums in comparison to ones that are very old and in poor condition. Be sure that when you spend money on upgrading any part of your house, like the bedroom or basement, you save on your home insurance by reporting the upgrades. In fact, call your insurer before you start and ask how much you can save!

5. Get alumni discounts. If you are a graduate of some post-secondary institutions, like McGill University or the University of Toronto, you can get alumni insurance discounts. Check with your university to see if it provides this advantage.

6. Union memberships may include insurance discounts. Some large corporations or unions also provide their members with insurance policies.

7. Take care of your plumbing since many insurance providers prefer copper and plastic pipes to the galvanized or lead ones. Perhaps one of the renovations for your home will involve upgrading the plumbing because, in Edmonton and Alberta, this will mean lower premiums for your home insurance.

8. Read consumer reviews. Consumer reviews help you choose among the variety of insurance providers in Edmonton to find the one that will be suitable for you in terms of finances and your situation.

Who’s at Your Front Door – The Convergence of Security and Concierge Services

Security officers and concierge personnel have been an integral part of residential operations for a long time. Some complexes and buildings were large enough to have separate departments that served their tenants while others had to choose to have either a security officer or a concierge. Without the option of hiring both, residences lacked a full-service program. This article will detail a dual-role concierge/security officer program, will cover why it isn’t the standard the residential industry, and explain how this benefits the tenant and visitor experience.

The impact of having the dual role concierge/security officer will be seen in the residences’ overall safety, customer satisfaction, and cost-savings. Property management firms and residential owners shouldn’t have to choose whether they value a secure environment or a welcoming environment when both are possible with a properly trained and licensed security concierge.

An initial step in developing a full service tenant program for residential owners and property management firms is to combine the two departments by hiring licensed security officers who are trained as concierge personnel. This full-service professional must have the requisite skills and knowledge of both professions and be able to adapt to a variety of complex situations and incidents. The dual role concierge/security officer must possess the excellent customer skills of a concierge and the regulation enforcement of a security officer; the ability to make reservations and the ability to respond to emergencies; the care and cooperation of a concierge and the crime prevention of a security officer. In order to be successful with this service an intricate training program must be established which focuses on security and concierge skills as a unified style of service not as separate roles. The service provider must have experience with both services and have an officer developmental program.

Why haven’t many security firms or concierge services gone to the dual role officer? Security firms haven’t gone to this model because of the training demands, accountability, and the necessary wage structure to provide the level of quality customer service and protection expected by tenants in a residential environment. Concierge firms haven’t gone to this model because of the liability and cost of licensing their personnel as security officers to monitor cameras and respond to emergencies. The increased risks of terrorism and crime require security officers to receive more diverse training in emergency first response, life safety procedures, and overall crime prevention. Gone are the days when security officers were counted on for merely contacting 911 and waiting for law enforcement and EMS to respond. Security officers must now be first responder certified and trained in homeland security defense to protect the lives of the people they serve.

Concierge personnel have been known to assist residents with any and all requests for services needed, although, there is a void between the emergency response capability of the concierge and the security officer. The dual-role officer can assist with anything from monitoring closed circuit televisions and filing police reports to offering information on local nightlife, making reservations and coordinating grocery delivery. Services like these are commonplace in the hotel industry and should become the benchmark for residential buildings offering luxury services.

What will this convergence bring to a residence? A cost-benefit analysis of the dual role officer can easily justify the conversion. Owners and residential operators with front desk personnel can incorporate the security and concierge function into one operational expenditure of their budget. Security firms must increase their customer service training and service programs but need not incur any cost of increased licenses. The end result will be increased tenant satisfaction, improved safety and security, and most importantly peace of mind.

There has been a growth towards the dual role concierge/security officer in many organizations but many of these attempts have not been an integration of the best practices of security and concierge but a selective combination of the two disciplines. The responsibility lies on the service providers to integrate both training programs without losing any of the qualities of each role. The proper management structure and wages will allow property managers and owners to hire the professionals necessary to institute this important balance.