Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome home. The fun is just beginning when first-time home buyers move in and personalize their new space.

Furnishing a new home can be expensive. Have enough funds to provide the basics and not experience short-term financial stress.

First-time home buyers who took advantage of the $8,000 tax credit program now have the experience of moving into home ownership with all accompanying responsibility and adventure. For many, this will be the first real place to call home; the urge to personalize the new “nest” is compelling.

Coming from apartments and their parents’ homes, new home owners may not realize the scope of furnishing a home with all the necessities to make the place livable, let alone lavish. According to the National Association of Home Builders, a typical homebuyer spends an average of $7,400 on their home, with more than half of that during the first year after purchase. The first order of business for new owners is to make sure at least that amount is available and won’t send the owner into a severe budget crunch. Here are some tips to make that house a real home.

Before moving, take stock of what you have and what has just become part of the scenery. Make a list of what has sentimental value and what is clutter. Moving clutter can cost a lot, either through professional moving companies or calling on friends to heave all those boxes.

After you’ve packed up your stuff, outfit and pack a basic toolbox. Many of projects you’ll do to personalize your space require tools. The basic minimum includes a hammer, screw drivers, pliers, wrenches, a tape measure and a staple gun. Hanging those new curtains loses a lot of appeal if you have to run to the hardware store in the middle to get tools. Be prepared first.

Personalizing and furnishing your new home is one of the most exciting activities for new home buyers. Before running out to purchase that super extra king size bed or several pieces of oversized living room furniture, take accurate measurements of all the rooms and use them to judge what fits and what doesn’t. After all, too much furniture in a room makes it feel small and claustrophobic. Be a fair judge of what would compliment the furniture you already have.

You’ll also need basic appliances to get started. A stove, refrigerator, washer and dryer should be energy efficient to reduce your utility bills. Spending a bit more right now makes more sense than purchasing a cheaper model that may become a problem and financial drain later on. If you are angling for an entertainment system and a huge flat screen television, check your budget first to make sure you can buy basic furnishings before such large ticket items.

Window coverings and linens are another way to express your personality, plus add security and privacy. Budget accordingly, since some new home owners don’t plan for the cost of outfitting a house with new drapes and curtains.

Garden tools will be a necessity to keep your curb appeal top notch. The basics include a lawn mower, garden hose, sprinkler, clippers, a shovel and rakes. For people moving from an apartment, this category of necessities will be a new experience.

Purchasing and personalizing your first home is a real thrill. Be creative but approach this one room at a time. As you begin feeling at home, you’ll be able to capitalize on your home’s features and blend that with your own uniqueness.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, July 26, 2010

Happening around St. Charles County

Sunday, August 8
Peach Festival
Pere Marquette State Park
11 a.m.-3 p.m.
It’s time for peaches. This annual festival features crafts, food, children’s games, a balloon artist, face painting, a pie eating contest, the largest peach contest, peach drinks and lots of peaches. Take the ferries back to St. Charles County and look for even more peaches.

Tuesday, August 10
Statehood Day Celebration and Concert
First Missouri State Capitol Historic Site
200 S. Main
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
7 p.m. Concert
Missouri became the 24th state on August 10, 1821. Statehood Day celebrates the anniversary with special demonstrations, interpreters in period dress and an open house. The After Hours Community Band will give a concert at 7 p.m. in the backyard of the Capitol. Bring lawn chairs, blankets and a picnic basket supper. For more info, call 636-940-3322.

Wednesday, August 11
Perseid Meteor Shower
Broemmelsiek Park, Astronomy area
St. Charles County Parks Department
8:30 p.m.
For more than 2,000 years, the Perseid Meteor Showers have been viewed. See this yearly phenomenon and bring blankets and chairs for comfortable views of the active night sky. Telescopes will be offered to view Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. For more info, call the park at 636-949-7535 or visit

Friday, August 18-Sunday, August 20
Festival of the Little Hills
Frontier Park and Main St.
Friday, 4-10 p.m.; Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
The largest festival of the season features more than 300 crafters and artists from 30 states, demonstrations, live music, street performers and magicians. The kid’s corner offers face painting, arts and crafts. Shuttle service is available. For more info, check the Festival website.

Friday, August 27
Fridays @ Frontier
Frontier Park
5-11 p.m.
Happy hour from 5- 7p.m. and That 80s Band will entertain concert goers at 7 p.m. Sponsored by the St. Charles Jaycees, the evening is Rally For America Night and all proceeds will be donated to the USO.

Friday, August 28-Sunday, August 30
Wabash Days Festival
Allen and Main St.
Friday, 5-11 p.m.; Saturday, noon-11 p.m.; Sunday, noon-7 p.m.
The city has been a railroad town for more than 150 years, and the Wabash Festival celebrates that heritage. New this year is a parade at noon on Saturday and the Wentzville Historical Society will again display a railroad caboose. The three-day celebration also features carnival rides, craft booths, live music and food. A 5k/1 mile fun run, Pound the Pavements for the Parks, is set for Saturday in downtown Wentzville. For more info, go to the City of Wentzville website.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Keeping a financial even keel is essential to purchase a home these days

Pay off your credit cards on time and in full, skip the new car or the new furniture. Banks and mortgage companies want to see financial stability with no big changes.

Anxious to close on the house? Sometimes the waiting period between finding your perfect place and driving up to your new home with keys in hand can be nerve wracking. You’ll want to be seen in the best light possible, so don’t get ahead of yourself.

Most likely you’ll need a mortgage and you want to be financially stable. When you begin your search, get copies of your credit report to make sure it is clean. If you find any errors, fix them.

Making large purchases in anticipation of buying a house, like new furniture, is not a good idea. That can affect your credit rating. The same goes for taking out another loan, buying a car or funding an education. Keep your credit situation as-is for right now.

Any changes to your credit status can make a difference for mortgage approval. Pay all your credit cards before the due date to make sure they are processed on time and don’t increase your credit balance. A mortgage pre-approval doesn’t make it a done deal.

Wait on any large purchases. For instance, no new car, or a new loan, or even new furniture for your home. Keep your credit situation as-is for now. Also, don’t co-sign a loan because that will add credit liability and could very well eliminate your chances of obtaining a mortgage.

Moving large sums of money is not a good idea. Don’t jump the gun and take money from savings to checking in anticipation of closing. Last minute credit and bank checks will generate inquiries about the shift and could slow down the process.

And if you leave the money in the savings account you won’t be tempted to spend it. Funds designated for closing should be left alone in the event of unexpected house-related costs. After all is said and done, you may have a bit left over but spending that won’t affect your closing.

Keep copies of all your paperwork in one place and have it ready in case someone in the process loses a crucial document. By keeping copies, you’ll be able to provide information quickly, getting you that much closer to your new home.

The time leading up to buying a house is all about financial restraint. Right now banks and mortgage companies are taking very close looks at their clients and you want to show you are a good candidate. After the closing, celebrate!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ceiling fans make life more comfortable year round

Cooling in the summer, warming in the winter, ceiling fans sweep away energy costs

The July sizzle is in the air, a blanket of humidity has descended over the metro area and air conditioners are working overtime. One inexpensive solution to help the AC is adding ceiling fans to your home. If you choose an Energy Star fan, you’ll not only increase your comfort level but also decrease your utility bill, sometimes as much as 15 percent. Fan design has improved so much over the years that there’s a fan for any décor, from the traditional Tiffany glass and dark wood models to ultra modern one-blade fans. Prices are also reasonable in relationship to the ultimate cost savings and comfort.

Don’t think of ceiling fans as just a summertime thing–in the winter fans with reversible blades circulate the hotter air that rises to the ceiling, helping to lower your heating bills too.

Before you rush out to buy a fan, do some homework first and determine the square footage. Measure the length and width of your room and multiple the numbers. That’s the square footage. Keep in mind the style of the room, and decide if you want a light kit and remote controls.

According to the American Lighting Association, choosing a fan that fits your room size gives you the maximum efficiency. In a room up to 75 square feet, like a bathroom, a 29-36 inch fan is appropriate. Medium sized rooms up to 144 square feet can handle ceiling fans from 36-42 inches. For larger bedrooms and family rooms in the 225 square foot range, the most efficient fans are 50-54 inches. The number of blades makes some difference in airflow, but whether to choose a four, five or six-blade fan is really a matter of personal design choice.

Ceiling fans do such an efficient job of circulating air when used correctly. Paul Vrabel of ICF International, an energy solutions firm, explains how to operate fans properly. “Put them on when you are in the room–during the day and when sleeping–and turn them off when you leave. Ceiling fans cool people, not the air. Using fans wisely and turning down the AC can save a lot of money.”

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, July 5, 2010

Senior homebuyers want simplification, good design, and smaller homes

Americans age 55+ are looking for homes close to family, work, and with a sense of style.

What does the 55+ crowd want in a home? Smaller, more energy-efficient homes in active, vital communities near work and family are the top requirements. Those are the findings from a study by MetLife and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) called “Housing for the 55+ Market: Trends and Insights on Boomers and Beyond.”

The study reveals that Boomers are looking for smaller, less expensive homes. This group isn’t ready to retire anytime soon, and with the Great Recession complicating things, they are staying in their jobs as long as possible to recoup financial losses.

The lure of “age-restricted” communities is there too, but only those that fit into the active lifestyle. These people aren’t ready for the rocking chair. The study notes that “those who moved from their existing homes did so primarily for reasons relating to their families, but the design and quality of the home, as well as the design and layout were the factors most often considered.”

Dave Crowe, NAHB’s chief economist agrees. “ A strong and growing number of retirees and empty-nesters are interested in either downsizing or moving to a more user-friendly home, especially if it’s near their existing community.”

Homebuilders are beginning to recognize what boomers want and incorporate that lifestyle in home design. In addition to a smaller home, a one level floor plan is preferable with open space and tall ceilings. Wider hallways are a plus, as is minimizing unnecessary staircases. Over 55ers want small luxuries, like double sinks and a soaking Jacuzzi-style tub, plus some space for hobbies.

Boomers, 38.9 million over the age of 65, are well-traveled, sophisticated consumers who have a good sense of what they want. And for housing, they want simplification that will enhance their lifestyles.

Monday, June 28, 2010

July 2010 Calendar of Events

Saturday, July 3 – Sunday, July 4
Fourth of July celebration
Frontier Park
This Independence Day celebration includes fireworks at 9:20 p.m. both nights, food and beverage booths, beer garden, crafts, games, carnival rides, live music on the Jaycee Stage and the Music Tent, parade.
For more information call 1-800-366-2427

Saturday, July 3-Sunday, July 4
Fair St. Louis
Gateway Arch grounds on the Riverfront
10 a.m.-10 p.m. both days
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fair, the air shows return, plus spectacular fireworks displays both days, and free music performances. Saturday night John Legend entertains and on Sunday night the B-52s close the fair. For a full schedule, check out the Fair website.

Sunday, July 4
Fourth of July celebration
Progress Park, Wentzville
The theme for the Wentzville Fourth of July celebration is “The American Dream.” The parade begins at 3 p.m. on Pearce Blvd to Wentzville Holt High School. The celebration includes live music, games, food and fireworks at 9:05 p.m. For more information, call the Wentzville Parks and Recreation Department at 636-332-9236 or visit the website.

Friday, July 9 and 23
Friday Night Flicks
7:30 p.m.
4th and Clark
Friday Night flicks in Frenchtown continue with the movie Shorts playing on the 9th and Evan Almighty on the 23rd. Bring a lawn chair for comfort. The movies being at dusk. Sponsored by the Historic Frenchtown Association.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tour of the Little Hills
Registration: 7:30 am - 9 am
Foundry Art Centre, 520 N. Main
Become a modern day explorer and climb the “little hills” of St. Charles. This urban bicycle ride has routes of various distances along flat to rolling terrain that is moderately hilly with a few big hills and is recommended for experienced cyclists. After the ride explore the fine arts gallery that hosts juried exhibitions and features 20 working artists’ studios.
Fees: $8 Trailnet Member, $12 Non-member, $3 Children under 13
For more information call 314-416-9930 x114

Tuesday, July 20
Organic Foods: Scrumptious or Scam?
Middendorf-Kredell Library Branch
6:30-8:30 p.m.
Are organic foods really worth the extra money? A registered dietician will discuss which foods to buy organic and how you can save money. Participants will taste test organic and conventional produce.

Tuesday, July 27-Saturday, July 30
St. Charles County Fair
Rotary Park, Foristell
The St. Charles County Fair is everything an old-fashioned fair should be–4-H exhibits and livestock competition, a queen and her court, baby contest, carnival rides, a rooster crowing contest, pony rides, tractor pull, midway food, and much, much more. This is a chance for kids to experience a nostalgic tradition with an updated twist. For schedules, admission fees and other information, go to the fair’s HYPERLINK "" website or call 636-970-3000.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lower interest rates now eclipse savings on the $8,000 tax credit program

Because interest rates have gone down since April 30, homebuyers can still be ahead of the game in the long run

In looking back over the past year, did you really miss the opportunity of a lifetime by not buying a home and taking advantage of that $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit? The program did increase home sales and nudged people off the fence if they were considering a home purchase, but some potential buyers just weren’t ready to take the plunge.
But, with interest rates lower now and no sign from the Feds that rates will rise dramatically any time soon, the opportunity for a good buy is definitely there. In fact, this might be the best time to buy.

Here’s an exciting scenario for those of you who didn’t buy: interest rates have gone down so much since April 30, the end date for the tax credit program, that the buyer of a $350,000 home, financed with a $280,000 mortgage, would have seen quite a savings by waiting until May. With April’s average rate of 5.34 percent, a homebuyer would have locked in a 30-year fixed rate loan with a monthly payment of $1,561.82.

If that buyer waited for May to roll around, with a 30-year fixed rate loan at 4.625 percent, monthly payments would be $1,439.50. Computed on an annual basis, that’s a savings of $1,467. Over the 30 years of the loan, that’s $44,003 in savings. That’s an incredibly huge incentive to jump into the housing market and really diminishes the tax credit in the long run.

But for those of you who did take advantage of the tax credit and have found it difficult to close before the June 30 deadline, there may be help. Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Harry Reid (D-NV) have offered an amendment to a house bill that would extend the closing deadline to September 30, 2010. The proposed amendment only extends the deadline to close, not to purchase. If passed, this would help a lot of buyers to still receive the tax credit and buy a home.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, June 14, 2010

Native plants show a respect for our environment and reduce the homeowner’s labor

Missouri is blessed with a burst of colorful native plants that will increase your curb appeal and show off your eco-friendly property.

Missouri is a wonderfully diverse state, with flat plains to the north and the craggy Ozarks to the south. With different terrains come a cornucopia of native plants that will do quite well in your landscaping plans and require little maintenance once established.

The first look a potential buyer has of your house is the drive-by, or curb appeal. If the buyer doesn’t like the outside, most likely the interest goes down, almost regardless of how wonderful the inside is. Enhance your property and show off the beautiful Missouri native plants, whether you are selling now or planning on staying for a while.

From a small balcony garden to acres and acres of land, planting native has distinct advantages:
Once established, native plants need minimal watering, reducing your water bill and the time it takes to spray the plantings.

Because the plants are acclimated to grow in Missouri soil, they establish quickly and don’t need pampering.

Native plants have already dealt and adapted to the problems of pests and weeds. This reduces the need for commercial fertilizers and pesticides, thereby saving you money and reducing your chemical footprint.

Birds and butterflies thrive on native plants, giving you a garden paradise and hours of entertainment watching those in flight coming and going.

Missouri native plants adapt well to sun or shade. For your sunny garden, the Missouri black-eyed Susan is a sure hit. Found in the Ozarks, this tenacious flower can handle rocky areas with well-drained soil. Another winner is the Missouri primrose, or the glade lily, which also does well in rocky areas. The lemon-yellow flowers open in the afternoon for nighttime pollination. The prairie blazing star is another sun worshipper and blooms into October to keep your garden colorful. Butterflies love these purple plums.

On the shady side, there are plenty of choices, all attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. The crested iris is an impressive ground cover in partial shade and just right for landscape borders. The columbine, with its red tubular flowers, is a popular nectar source for hummingbirds and flowers from April through July in average to moist soil. Very common but still spectacular and tough is the purple coneflower. Well into October, the purple blossoms will provide flowers for cutting bouquets.

Including native plants in your yardscape is a gradual process, one the demands planning and patience, but you’ll be rewarded with a low maintenance, natural garden. To learn more about planting native, visit and for a downloadable guide, visit the Missouri Department of Conservation website.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, June 7, 2010

Existing Home Sales Are Up 15% in St. Charles County and the Median Home Price Is Up Too

Affordable, reasonably priced homes are waiting for new buyers

The St. Charles region is in real estate bounce back mode with sales of existing homes up 15 percent during the first quarter of this year as compared to the same time last year. The median home price rose to $169,000, a $2,000 increase, beating the national media price of $166,100. This increase mirrors the price increases in nearly 60 percent of U.S. cities during the first quarter with double-digit increases in 29 cities.

Joe Sahrmann, president of the St. Charles County Association of Realtors, sees the market rebounding from the challenging times of the last few years. “We haven’t seen homes this affordable in years.” he says, “The selection is wide and varied for different income levels. Mortgage rates are staying low for now, and St. Charles is nationally recognized as a great place to live.”

And, even though the homebuyer tax credits have expired, it’s still a great time to buy a home, he says. 26 percent more homes are under contract during the first quarter of this year than compared to the same period in 2009.

Some of the increase was fueled by the government’s income tax credits for first-time and returning homebuyers. About 2.2 million households participated in the tax credit program, which cost the government $16 billion, according to the Internal Revenue Service. And, sales in March surged following a three-month decline attributed in part to harsh winter weather.

What does the near future hold for real estate? The industry is an integral part of the American economy, intertwined with employment and finance. If those factors stabilize and increase, the National Association of Realtors predicts prices will increase modestly in the second half of this year.

Slow but steady wins the race, and that axiom is certainly true for the real estate market these days. As buyers become more confident in their spending patterns and realize the market value, we’ll climb back to a robust St. Charles County.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, May 31, 2010

June St. Charles Calendar of Events

Thursday, June 10
Debunk the Myths of Aging
Kathryn Linnemann Branch Library
10-11:30 a.m.
Enjoy a lively discussion about the myths of aging, how they shape society and our own attitudes. Exchange ideas on problems created by these myths and strategies to overcome them. Presented by Barnes-Jewish St. Peters.

Saturday, June 12
Passport to St. Charles County Parks Walk
Bangert Island Park Trailhead
9 a.m.
County Parks staff will guide participants through the Louis H. Bangert Memorial Wildlife Area to learn about riverside ecosystems and birding opportunities. Wear comfortable shoes and bring insect repellent.

Tuesday, June 15
Medication Matters
Middendorf-Kredell Library Branch
10-11:30 a.m.
Learn about medication management, how to read labels, drug interactions, and foods to avoid or include when taking medication to get the most benefit possible. Presented by Progress West. Call 636-344-2273 to register.

Saturday, June 19-Sunday, June 20
The Great Rivers Towboat Festival
Grafton, Illinois
10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday and noon-5 p.m. on Sunday
Catch a rare glimpse inside the giant towboats that travel our great rivers and can transport a barge cargo of 1,500 tons with 10,000 horsepower. Enjoy classic folk, bluegrass and Americana music, children’s activities and model boat exhibits by the St. Louis Admirals Club. Chef Ralph Smith will demonstrate how to properly eat crawfish and shrimp, plus barbeque. More than 70 vendors selling wares from antiques to old-fashioned junk. For more information, check out the Towboat Festival website or call 618-786-3494.

Thursday, June 17-Saturday, June 19
Friday, June 25 and Saturday, June 26 at 6:30pm
Sunday, June 27 at 2 p.m.
A Midsummer’s Night Dream presented by the Riverside Shakespeare Company
South end of Frontier Park
Enjoy one of William Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies performed by the Riverside Shakespeare Company and supported by the St. Charles Arts and Culture Commission. Bring a picnic basket or try local food and craft vendors. The Monkey Tales Theatre will present Past Imagination at 6:30 p.m. with the Midsummer Night curtain at 7 p.m. For more information, go to the Riverside Shakespeare website.

Sunday, June 20
Father’s Day KATY Family Bike Ride
KATY Trail from St. Charles to Defiance
11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Communities along the KATY Trail celebrate the 20th anniversary with a Father’s Day ride to benefit prostate cancer research at the Siteman Cancer Center. Food, festivities and a dedication of the newly completed Defiance bicycle loop.
$10 per rider donation, $15 day of ride, children under 12 are free. Register online for the ride, and for many more KATY Trail events, check out the visit the trail website.

Saturday, June 26
The Great American Backyard Campout
First Missouri State Capitol
In conjunction with the National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout, the First Missouri State Capitol hosts the campout here. Families may bring tents and activities include a hot dog roast, s’mores, crafts, camp cooking demos, a bonfire and a fireside breakfast. To register and for more information, call 636-940-3322.
$25 per family

Saturday, June 26
Archeology Day
Center for American Archeology, Route 100
Kampsville, IL
10 a.m.-4p.m.
Tour a 2,000-year-old excavation site, learn how to identify artifacts and see a flintknapping demonstration. There’s a kid’s activity area, and special exhibits at the Visitors’ Center and Museum. For more information, call 618-653-4316 or visit the Archeology Day website.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Thursday, May 20, 2010

First-time homebuyer credit is extended for military personnel and some federal employees

The $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit program has been extended to allow military personnel to take advantage of this home ownership opportunity. The new deadline for qualified service members is April 30, 2011, with the property closed no later than June 30, 2011. The extension also includes the $6,500 tax credit for repeat buyers.

Qualified service members include members of the U.S. military uniformed services, the U.S. Foreign Service and employees of the intelligence community on official extended duty. The top income limits of $125,000 for single tax payers and $225,000 for married taxpayers remains the same, but other requirements have changed to accommodate military personnel. Military buyers will not have to repay the tax credit if geographically reassigned before the three-year residency requirement.

To qualify for the military tax credit:
  • An individual must have serviced on extended duty inside or outside the United States for 90 days or more and at least 50 miles from the principle residence and after December 31, 2008 through May 1, 2010.
  • Only one spouse must be on official extended duty to be eligible for the 2011 extension, purchase a residence and claim the tax credit.

More than 350,000 military personnel and federal employees may be affected by this extension and will be able to own a home, plus receive the income tax credit. “Congress recognized that many service members may have missed out on the home buyer tax credit due to being posted overseas,” says Bob Jones, National Association of Home Builders chairman. “It’s only fitting that our service members be given another year to take advantage of this opportunity.”

For detailed information on the military first-time homebuyer tax credit extension, go the Internal Revenue’s website.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lightning and thunderstorms can put you, your family and property at risk

Learn how to use common sense tips to avoid tragedy

With the advent of summer, thunderstorms and lightning are sure to follow. Unstable weather in the St. Louis area has almost become commonplace this year and during the latest round of thunderstorms, lightning was suspected to start a hotel fire in O’Fallon, Illinois.

May is designated National Electrical Safety month by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and gives us the opportunity to offer suggestions to keep you, your family and home safer this season. When a storm approaches…

  • Unplug all appliances and electrical devices, including computers, and turn off the air conditioning. The fewer electrical connections active can mean less damage should your home be struck. And, you can avert harming your computer system.
  • Don’t talk on a corded phone while a storm is in process. That small electrical current running through the phone line puts you in contact with a potential strike zone.
  • During a storm is not the time to wash dishes, decided to take a shower or do laundry. Water is an excellent electrical conductor and again puts you and your family at risk.
  • Stay away from windows and doors to avoid potential flying glass.

The NFPA estimates that lightning fires in the United States caused more than $213 million in direct property damage during the past seven years, more than half of that in residential homes. Since a single lightning bolt can register 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the likelihood of fire is high.

Don’t underestimate the power of lightning–the National Weather Service School For Weather notes that lightning kills more people each year in the United States than tornadoes or hurricanes. Only floods claim more lives. To learn more about how to keep you and your family safe from lightning, check out these tips and enjoy a more carefree summer.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, May 10, 2010

Home maintenance from top to bottom is a spring ritual

By sticking with a seasonal maintenance routine, you’ll catch those little problems before they become big headaches.

The weather is delightful in the St. Charles area now and the urge to get outside before the sweltering July heat and humidity come is undeniable. This is also the season for your spring home maintenance checks to insure a trouble-free summer.

While you’re outside enjoying the weather, take a look at your roof, the soffits and guttering. We don’t recommend climbing on your roof–one slip of the foot could result in much more than you bargained for–but get some binoculars for a safe view. While you’re at it, check the attic and rafters for water damage. Staining will show you exactly where the leaks may be located.

Go the professional route to repair any loose shingles or major roof problems. And while your roofing specialist is there, ask them to clean the gutters and check downspouts.

We’ve had a lot of rain this spring; that moisture will show in the attic and in the basement if you have problems. Now’s the time to go down below, peer in the nooks and crannies to look for foundation cracks, pools of moisture and missing tuck pointing. Consumer Reports recommends marking the cracks with tape, then check back again in a few months to assess any damage. Most likely you can fill the cracks with epoxy, but for any major problem, call a structural engineer.

Before it’s 95 degrees outside and you have a major meltdown, make an appointment to get your air conditioner up and ready for summer. You can do your part too by changing the filters on a regular basis and removing dust from around the grills and ductwork. Not only will these tasks insure a cool summer, but also save you money on the cooling bill.

Decks are where family and friends gather for summer parties and barbeques. This outdoor living space requires regular maintenance for a safe, beautiful appearance. Check the railings and supports to make sure they are stable and secure. A guest falling off the deck is not an option. While you are inspecting, keep an eye out for wood rot and termite colonies that might lead to structural damage.

Power washing is the next step for spring deck maintenance. Be careful not to use too much force, which could damage the wood or composite decking. High volume, low pressure is the way to go. Allow a minimum of 24 hours for the deck to dry before adding the final step. Apply the stain during the cooler part of the day and let dry another 24 hours before using the deck. The final step? Invite friends and family to celebrate on your beautiful deck.

Home maintenance is an ongoing project, whether you are getting you home ready for sale or just staying put. Following a regular schedule will make your home a better place to live or sell, and make your life much easier and worry-free.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The housing market expected to begin recovery this year

Jobs, continued low interest and a variety of housing choices encourage potential buyers

Positive signs are beginning to indicate an upturn in the real estate market. The Labor Department announced a decline in unemployment filings as layoffs ease and hiring slowly increases. Economists are encouraged that the economy is getting closer to generating job gains, which will boost the housing market as people show more confidence and buy homes. Realtors are looking for a burst of activity in late April, May and June as potential buyers don’t have to buck bad weather to see properties.

In the Midwest home sales jumped almost 10 percent, year-to-year, in February, according to the National Association of Realtors. Nationally, year-to-year sales were up 8 percent. First American CoreLogic and its LoanPerformance Home Price Index Forecast indicates a housing price decline into early spring, but that will stabilize and recover modestly for the remainder of the year.

Even though the federal government will stop purchasing mortgage-backed securities on March 31, as planned, it looks like interest rates will continue to be low, at least for the foreseeable future. Rates on 30-year mortgages have fallen to around 5.05% from 5.28% at the start of this year.

Frank Nothaft, chief economist for mortgage investor Freddie Mac, sees what he calls "a very steady, quarter to quarter growth" pattern ahead. He also expects total housing sales of existing resales and newly constructed sales to be near six million by the end of 2010 and higher in 2011.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Saturday, May 1, 2010

St. Charles County Calendar

Sunday, May 1
Run, Walk, Roll Away From Violence
Frontier Park
7-11 a.m.
Sponsored by Bridgeway Behavioral Health Foundation, this event will benefit the domestic violence and assault programs. The event features a warmup, a competitive 5k race and a 5k fun walk and roll. To register, visit the Bridgeway website.

Sunday, May 1
The Vino Fondo, Missouri’s Grand Fondo Bicycle Race
Begins in Augusta at Mt. Pleasant Winery
8 a.m.
A traditional pairing of challenging riding and a tour of some of Missouri’s best and oldest vineyards. Fully supported with three different ability rides. Proceeds from registration will benefit Trailnet. The ride is sponsored Big Shark Bicycle and Mt. Pleasant Winery. For more info go to the Trailnet website or call Big Shark at 862-1188.

Sunday, May 1 – Monday, May 31

Antique Quilt Show
Frenchtown Heritage Museum, 1121 N. Second Street
Wednesday - Saturday: 12-3 pm
This special exhibit of antique doll quilts and beds as well as quilts from the past centuries on display for you to enjoy. A special viewing will be held Mother's Day Sunday, May 9th from 12 pm -3 pm.
For more information call 636-946-8682.

Thursday, May 6
Concert in the Park
St. Peters City Centre Amphitheater
7-8:30 p.m.
For the St. Peters centennial celebration in 2010, the city hosts a series of concerts. This week the Kelly Band, a traditional and contemporary Celtic band will entertain concert goers.

Friday, May 7, Saturday, May 8
Some Enchanted Evening
Lindenwood University’s J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts
7:30 p.m.
The Theater Department presents a revue of production numbers from the musicals of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, including “Oklahoma,” “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music.” For information or to order tickets call 636-949-4433 or online at the Center for the Arts website.

Saturday, May 15
Historical Children’s Festival
First Missouri State Capitol Historic site, South Main St.
10 a.m.-4p.m.
Modern day kids can live and play as children did in the 1820s. Hands on activities include butter churning, quill pen writing, cow milking, candle dipping, baby farm animals, and storytelling about Missouri’s struggle for statehood. For information call 636-940-3322.

Saturday, May 15 –Sunday, May 16
Lewis and Clark Heritage Days
Frontier Park
Historic St. Charles Downtown District
9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. on Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sunday

This annual festival features an authentic reenactment of Lewis & Clark's encampment in 1804 prior to their journey up the Missouri River. Also featured are re-enactor encampments, Fife and Drum Corps demonstrations, boat replicas, museum tours,19th century crafts and period food.
For more information call 1-800-366-2427 or visit the Heritage Days website.
FREE, some activities charge a fee

Saturday, May 15 –Sunday, June 6

Greater St. Louis Renaissance Faire
Saturdays, Sundays and Memorial Day only

Wentzville Rotary Park 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Travel back to a 16th century French village and thrill to the exploits of jousting knights; roam the village shops; enjoy stage acts performing comedy, music and daring feats; and interact with colorful villagers, nobles, and peasants. There will be food and fun for the entire family.
$13; seniors, students, $11; 12 and under, $8
For more information call 636-916-1643 or visit

Friday, May 21-Sunday, May 23
Friends of the St. Charles City-County Library book fair
St. Charles Convention Center
9 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
As one of the largest book fair in the metro area, attendees can choose from more than 250,000 hardback, paperbacks, set, records and magazines. Proceeds benefit the Library.
FREE, except on Friday-$5 admission or Friends membership. For information call 838-441-2300 or visit the Friends’ website.

Sunday, May 23
Mountain Biking 101
St. Charles County Parks and Recreation Broemmelsiek Park, Shelter 2
Learn the basics of mountain biking and maintenance with experts from the Gateway Off Road Cyclists. Following each session is a guided ride. All ages and abilities welcome. Participants should bring their own bikes and helmets.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pending home sales are up significantly, 21.8 percent in the Midwest

With mortgage rates potentially increasing, now is the right time to buy a home

Some goods news for the housing market–pending home sales rose in February by 8.2%, possibly showing another surge of sales as the deadline draws near for many government assistance programs, including the $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers.

Pending home sales rose in February, potentially signaling a second surge of home sales in response to the home buyer tax credit, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in February, rose 8.2 percent to 97.6 from a downwardly revised 90.2 in January, and remains 17.3 percent above February 2009 when it was 83.2. The data reflects contracts and not closings, which usually occur with a lag time of one or two months. In the Midwest the index jumped 21.8 percent to 97.9 and is 18.7 percent above a year ago.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the improvement is another hopeful sign. “The rise in buyer contract activity may signal the early stages of a second surge of home sales this spring. Also, we’re hearing about a rise of activity in recent weeks with ongoing reports of multiple offers in more markets, so the March data could demonstrate additional improvement from buyers responding to the tax credit,” Yun said.

Here’s another interesting take on the increase in home sales. According to Jean Folger of the Wall Street Journal, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) expects the rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage to increase to 6.1% by the end of the year. For the week ending March 19, the interest rate was 4.91%.

As an example, the monthly payment on a $180,000 30-year mortgage (excluding taxes and private mortgage insurance) at 6.1% will be a monthly payment of $1,091, with total interest paid equal to $212, 685.

The same loan at 4.91% rate will be a $956 monthly payment (saving $135 per month) with total interest equal to $164,305, which is a substantial savings of $48,380 over the course of the loan. Even the most insignificant mortgage rate changes can have a major impact on the total cost of a home.

This is just another reason to purchase a home this spring.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Calendar of Events April 2010

Friday, April 9-Sunday, April 11
Used Book Sale
St. Charles Public Library
Friday, 2:30-7:30 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Sunday, noon- 2p.m.
Hardcover and paperback books available at bargain prices. Saturday is half price day and Sunday is bag day. Sponsored by the Friends of the St. Charles Public Library. For more information call 630-584-0076 or go to the Library’s website.

Friday, April 9-Sunday, April 11
Tartan Days
Frontier Park
Ceud Mile Failte! Get your caber on at the St. Charles Tartan Day Festivities. Learn about Scot-American culture, visit skilled artisans, musicians and animal experts. Read sheep. Enjoy the Gateway Cabermen competition and listen to Highland Reign, St. Louis Caledonian Pipe Band and the John Ford Highland Pipe Band. Miss Tartan Day will be crowned on Friday, a parade and music on Saturday and Kirkin of the Tartan ceremony on Sunday morning. The Missouri Tartan Day Festivities is pleased to once again host the Gateway Cabermen, St. Louis' only Scottish Heavy Athletics association. Each year, the Gateway Cabermen offer a series of clinics and demonstrations for both men and women.

Tuesday, April 13
Healing at Your Fingertips
10-11:30 a.m.
Java G’s Coffeehouse Café, Old Highway 94 South
Learn how acupressure works and help yourself deal with pain. Try pressure points in class and experience immediate relief.
Fee $9

Friday, April 23-Sunday, April 25
6th annual Builders St. Charles Home Show
St. Charles Convention Center
Friday, April 23, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, April 24, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, April 25, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The show includes speakers, seminars, children's entertainment, a sausage and wine tasting festival and about 350 booths from 200 companies featuring windows, doors, kitchen and bath products, pools and spas, home accessories and more. A Habitat for Humanity Restore offers new and used home-improvement merchandise at discount prices.

Sunday, April 25
St. Louis Earth Day Festival
1 a.m-6 p.m.
Forest Park, St. Louis
Earth Day 2010 features educational exhibits and hands-on activities, music and entertainment, an Earth Day café, locally produced foods and beverages and an all-species parade. For info, go to the event website.

Friday, April 23 – Sunday, April 25

Art Walk
Historic St. Charles Downtown District
Friday: 5 pm - 8 pm
Saturday: 10 am - 8 pm
Sunday: 12 am - 5 pm
The annual Spring Artwalk features artists exhibiting along Main Street and at the Foundry Art Centre with music and flowers enhancing the ambiance. Mediums represented include photography, watercolor, acrylic, and oil paintings, earthen ornaments, blown glass, steel sculpture, drawings and pastels, clay and raku pottery, and more. For more information call 636-949-3231.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, March 29, 2010

St. Louis region ranked in top 10 best housing markets

Our area is also a “best-bang-for-the-buck” and home prices edge up.

It seems as though St. Louis has a lock on the good news department lately. Our region was selected for two lists and home prices are moving up. If you’re shopping for a house, St. Louis is one of the best markets, according to The magazine recently released their list of Top 10 Best Housing Markets and St. Louis landed in the number eight slot. The list is based on the stability of each metro area as measured by affordability rankings and foreclosure rates as an indicator of a lack of excess inventory, making the top cities what they call the best opportunities for home shoppers. The top 10 housing markets include: Pittsburgh, PA, Louisville, KY, Houston, TX, Minneapolis, MN, Indianapolis, IN, Memphis, TN, Columbus, OH, St. Louis, Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX and Austin, TX.

In another Forbes list, St. Louis made the “Best-Bang-For-The-Buck Cities” analysis. This top 100 list is based on solid housing markets, relatively stable employment, a low cost of living and quick commutes.

Home prices are on the way up too, growing for the second straight month in January–up 0.6%, according to real estate data firm First American Core Logic’s Home Price Index. In December the year-over-year increase was 1.54 percent, the first positive number after at least nine months of declines. Nationwide, prices are still falling, down 0.7 percent in January, according to First American.

All good news as we look forward to a spring surge in home sales.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Down payment assistance makes home ownership easier

Homebuyers can take advantage of a variety of tax credits to choose the perfect home.

An array of financial assistance for home purchase is available for qualified buyers in just about every income level. Of course there’s the $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers and $6,500 for repeat buyers, which expire on June 30, but potential buyers can also look for help with the down payment.

Here’s a run down of what to expect:

The city of St. Charles– The HOME St. Charles Down Payment and Closing Costs Assistance Program helps low to moderate income purchasers to become homeowners. HOME St. Charles will make up to $10,000 available for qualified households to help with the down payment and closing costs. Down payment assistance for St. Louis County is $3,000 and Jefferson County $7,500.

Income levels apply and the sale price must be under $185,000. A mandatory nine-hour home buying seminar and a one-on-one counseling session to review finances and credit history is also required.

And there’s more. The Missouri Housing Development Commission is offering up to a $1,250 credit in property tax breaks for qualified buyers with an extra $500 thrown in if the house is energy efficient or if the buyer begins energy efficient steps within 60 days of closing. The MHDC offers more assistance, administering a number of housing programs, from purchasing a home with a First Place loan, assistance for veterans, buying property in a disaster area, foreclosed properties and home repair grants.

The federal government is also offering tax credits for energy efficient upgrades, up to $1,500 or 30 percent of the improvement cost, which includes windows and doors, insulation, roofs, air conditioners and furnaces. The tax credit is applied for either 2009 or 2010 taxes and expires on December 31, 2010.

With all of this assistance, plus a wide variety of properties to chose from, now is really the time to make that move!

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, March 8, 2010

Home staging is vital for quick sell, best price

Staging increases your chances of a quick sell, reduces the time on the market, and supports your asking price.

Making your home alluring for potential buyers is a smart move in today’s real estate market. In fact, staging your home is now almost a must-do for a quick sell and the best price. The Internet has drastically changed how potential buyers initially shop for a home, and crisp, bright photos on a webpage are essential.

Home staging can take many forms, from the homeowner staging for little or no money, to hiring a professional stager to using the virtual staging technique. The two most important concepts of staging are valid for all methods–de-clutter and depersonalize.

Before doing anything, remove all clutter and personal effects, including that family photo on the mantel, the kids’ artwork on the refrigerator, the kitchen magnets and all those theme-room knick knacks. Sometimes this is a very hard thing to do because of the personal memories and comfort of living with your “stuff.”

Once you’ve done a de-cluttering and de-personalizing sweep, ask a friend or neighbor to come in a point out more things that should go. There will always be more and someone with an impersonal view can help you open up the space and show off your house to its best advantage. All your personal items will become an integral part of your new home. But right now you want a buyer to see their stuff in the house.

De-cluttering also has the added plus of helping you get organized for your move, and sorting thorough things that can be recycled, donated or thrown away. You’ll be ahead in the long run.

Next, remove excess furniture. Large, bulky pieces will make your home seem smaller and give a false perspective. Arrange your furniture in a conversational setting and let the room breathe with extra space.

If you have a fireplace, that should be the focus of your room. Remove the television; a flat-screen shouldn’t be the center of attention. If your fireplace has some black soot, it can be cleaned and even repainted.

Painting will be a big part of your home staging. Repainting an area makes it fresh and covers the scuff marks. You don’t have to stick to a neutral color—there are many softer shades of beige, light yellow, blue and green that will make an impression on potential buyers.

In the kitchen, remove ALL appliances from the countertops. This is extremely important if you have a small kitchen and need to create more countertop space. And as in the bathroom, cleaning and updating are the two most important tasks for these rooms. Kitchens and baths attract the most dirt, so showing a sparkling area will make a big difference.

A relatively new technique in home staging is virtual staging. This is used mostly with homes that are vacant and don’t show up to their potential. Virtual home stagers use computers to work with photos of the house and create a concept of the room, from changing the paint, placing furniture, lighting, and accessories.

This makes a better impression for potential buyers as viewed on the Internet, and can be less expensive than hiring a home stager and renting furniture. The trick here is to use prominent disclaimers saying that the property has been digitally enhanced to show the rooms can look with good design. Otherwise, a potential buyer who views the home online and sees a totally different looking house upon visiting will feel deceived and consider the treatment unethical.

More information on the Home Buying Institute’s website.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Around St. Charles

Through March 28
2010 Orchid Show
Missouri Botanical Garden
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Annual orchid show features more than 800 orchids from the Garden’s world-class collection in a lush garden of French-inspired design. Winding streets lead to a French bistro beneath the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
$5 plus garden admission
Free for member

Friday, March 5
Star Parties
St. Louis Science Center Planetarium
6:45 p.m.
Visitors are treated to viewing the night sky through telescopes at the Planetarium. Members of the St. Louis Astronomical Society will be on hand to answer questions. Included is a viewing of “The Sky Tonight” in the Orthwein Starbay. For night sky updates, call 314-289-4453

Saturday, March 6
St. Louis Moolah Shrine Parade
N. Riverside Dr.
The 68th annual Shrine Circus Parade will be held in historic St. Charles, beginning on N. Riverside Dr. and ending in the parking area at the Lewis & Clark Boat House and Nature Center. More than 100 parade units will entertain parade viewers. Also, the Moolah little cars, national grand champion marching bands, the Wehrenberg Calliope and the Schnucks giant shopping cart.

Thursday, March 11-Sunday, March 14
Missouri Valley Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament
Family Arena
The 15th annual women’s tourney features 10 league schools with opening round action beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday and the championship game on Sunday. For details go to the Missouri Valley Conference website.

Thursday, March 11
Caregiving: What to do in emergencies
1-2:30 p.m.
Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital
Learn what you can do to prepare for an emergency and do what’s best for your loved one to minimize stress. Call 636.928.9355 to register.

Thursday, March 18-Sunday, March 21
St. Louis Moolah Shrine Circus
Family Arena
Thurs., March 18, 7:00 p.m.; Fri., March 19, 10:30 a.m., 7:30 p.m.
Sat., March 20, 10:00 a.m., 2:30 p.m., 7:30 pm
Sun., March 21, 1:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m.
Hearing Impaired Performance: Sun., March 21, 1:30 p.m.
Shrine Circus comes to town with trapeze artists, clowns, tigers, elephants and carnival food and much more. Attendees can ride elephants and ponies at this family-centered event. For ticket info, go to the Moolah Shrine Circus website.

Friday, March 26
Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea in Missouri
10 a.m. – noon
St. Charles Community College
Dianne Moran, folklorist/naturalist and Chautauqua scholar will portray the story of Sacagawea, a Plains Indian woman, and how she helped Meriwether Lewis and William Clark secure their place in history as great explorers. Sacagawea visited St. Louis in 1809.
Fee: $15

Sunday, March 28
Spring Concert
Lindenwood University Cultural Center
2 p.m.
The St. Charles Municipal Band & Community Big (Jazz) Band present their annual spring concert. The Municipal Band, under the direction of Nancy Garza, will open its 140th season with a concert of contemporary American music. An Intermission will feature complimentary cookies & refreshments. The Big (Jazz) Band with vocalist concludes the afternoon's performance with swing and contemporary jazz.

Tuesday, March 30
New Trail-Dardene Creek
9:30 a.m.
Explore the back woods of St. Peters. Approximately 3-5 miles, mostly flat, partially paved trail. Meet at the St. Peters Rec-Plex, 5200 Mexico Road, St Peters, MO, near trailhead.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Builder confidence increases as construction of new homes rises in January

The federal tax credit program is a major component in the optimistic report

Builders are feeling a bit more positive and are looking toward the spring construction season to pump up sales of new single-family construction. The National Association of Home Builders reports that their market index survey results went up two points to 17, the highest level since November 2009. Regionally, the Midwest and South measured a two-point gain to 13.

NAHB chief economist David Crowe says that builders are beginning to see the results of the homebuyer tax credit combined with still low interest rates. Add the beginning of job stabilization and builders see their future with a sense of optimism.

Also on the plus side, housing construction posted an increase in January, rising to 2.8 percent with a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 591,000 units, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. That department also cites the tax credit program as a major influence for the positive uptake.

Tax credits of up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers and $6,500 for repeat buyers will expire on June 30, 2010. To qualify the buyer must have a contract in force by April 30. Another set of tax credits is available through the stimulus program’s energy-efficient upgrades. Homeowners can receive up to a $1,500 tax credit for energy-efficient improvements, including exterior doors and windows, heating and cooling systems and insulation. That program expires on December 31, 2010.

On a statewide basis, Missouri is taking action to increase home buying with the $15 million Home Ownership Purchase Enhancement program (HOPE), which offers credits on a homebuyer’s real estate bill, up to $1,250. Energy efficiency also kicks in here; approved homebuyers may be eligible to receive an additional amount if they purchase a qualified, newly-constructed energy-efficient home; buy an existing home and remodel it; or purchase Energy-Star® appliances.

With all of these incentives, low interest rates and lower sale prices, now is the time to buy before April 30.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Going green with remodeling projects increases your home’s saleability

Earth friendly flooring, wallboard, insulation and roofs can bring in more potential buyers and do some good for the earth we live on.

As the selling season comes into sight, plans should be underway to spruce up your home with some remodeling projects. Last time we talked about small projects that have the best return dollar-for-dollar, such as changing out the tile in the kitchen and bath, re-facing cabinets and installing energy efficient appliances.

Making those improvements with earth-friendly materials will take your results to a higher level. Green materials have both financial and safety advantages.

Insulation is a must and most homes are under insulated. Natural based insulation is very popular now, such as recycled newspaper or cotton fiber, including recycled denim pieces. This insulation is soft, easy to handle and is treated to be fire resistant. There is no formaldehyde or other chemicals added to the product.

Wallboard can be a mold magnet, but by using gypsum, which has a moisture-resistant core, mold is no longer a problem. And, gypsum wallboard helps to maintain healthy air inside.

Heat rises–to the roof. In addition to quality insulation on the inside, a cool metal roof on the outside can save up to 30 percent on cooling bills. The metal roof lasts twice as long a conventional roof, and is resistant to fire, wind and hail.

Going green with flooring is another important factor in home remodeling. Linoleum is an excellent choice now. Yes, linoleum, but this product is far different than the linos in the 1950s kitchens of the past. The new linoleum is made from linseed oil, rosin, wood flour cork flour and limestone, all renewable resources and by-products of other manufacturing processes. This flooring is beautiful, designer-friendly and requires no major cleaning techniques.

To learn more about ways to live a greener life, check out the EarthWays Living the Green Life at the Missouri Botanical Garden. This interactive exhibit, which runs through March 14, is included in the Garden admission.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, February 8, 2010

Borrowers will assume more costs as a result of FHA Changes

The move is designed to generate additional income to ensure FHA solvency.

Borrowers who choose Federal Housing Authority (FHA) programs will see increased costs involved with that agency’s mortgage insurance and will have to have higher FICO scores. The move provides more financial stability for the FHA as rising defaults dipped below required reserves. Right now one in six FHA borrowers is behind on payments.

David Stevens, FHA commissioner, says “the FHA has a responsibility to be fiscally sound and to protect homeowners who trust the FHA to give them financing that will allow them to live in their homes for the long term.”

Up-front Mortgage Insurance Premiums (MIP) will be 2.25 percent, an increase from 1.75 percent. With FDA mortgage insurance, buyers can put as little as 3.5 percent down in comparison to the traditional 20 percent most lenders expect. However, to qualify for the 3.5 percent, borrowers must have a credit score of 580; prospective buyers whose credit scores are lower will have to put down 10 percent.

Another change is the amount of seller concessions from six to three percent. This change brings the FHA more in line with traditional industry standards and gives the borrower a greater stake in their home purchase.

Created by Congress in 1934 during the Great Depression and in economic times very similar to what we are experiencing today, the FHA provides mortgage insurance on loans made by FHA-approved lenders, but does not issue the loans. The agency currently insures 5.5 million mortgages.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, February 1, 2010

Calendar of Events

The Big Read
Foundry Art Centre
The 2010 BIG READ, featuring Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Events include book discussions, live theatre, music, film screenings, concerts, an essay contest, lectures, field trips, interactive art projects and culminate with an ice cream social and raft building contest. The Big Read is sponsored by the Foundry Art Centre and St. Charles Community College Library. For a full list of events, go to the Foundry’s website and download the schedule.

Friday, February 5
Peter Martin Music: The Duo featuring Dianne Reeves
8 p.m.
The Sheldon
Peter Martin Music, a new concert series by St. Louis' own, jazz pianist Peter Martin. He brings jazz home to St. Louis with this exciting new series featuring Martin on piano along with special guests. The first in the series will be The Duo, featuring four-time Grammy® Award winner Dianne Reeves.
For info, call MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or go to The Sheldon website.

February is a month of celebration for Mardi Gras lovers, and everyone who likes a good time. Check out the family celebration in Frenchtown, and all the activities offered during the month at the St. Louis Mardi Gras.

Saturday, February 6
Frenchtown Mardi Gras Parade
3 p.m.
The Frenchtown District of St. Charles is hosting an alcohol-free, family friendly Mardi Gras parade from Sundermeier RV Park to Transit, left on 2nd Street, Left on Clark, and ending at the Foundry Art Centre.

Saturday, February 6-Thursday, February 18
Mardi Gras, St. Louis style
Various times/events
St. Louis is one of the premier Mardi Gras celebrations, second only to New Orleans. The Soulard neighborhood comes alive with spectacular events for all. The big day, Saturday, February 13, is the River City Casino Grand Parade, but there’s plenty to do before then, beginning with the Southern Comfort Taste of Soulard on February 6 and 7, the Beggin’ Pet Parade, the wiener dog derby, the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball and lots of music featuring St. Louis’ best, plus bands from New Orleans. For a full schedule, go to the St. Louis Mardi Gras website.

Wednesday, February 10
6-9 p.m.
Primrose Farm, St. Charles Park District
Learn how to make cheese and see each stage of the processing from whole milk to culturing, pressing and aging.
$20 per resident. Advanced reservations required. Call the St. Charles Park District at 630-513-6200 for registration details.

Friday February 19-Sunday, February 21
Working Woman’s Survival Show
Fri. 11 am-8pm, Sat., 10am-8pm, Sun, 11-5pm.
Saint Charles Convention Center
More than 350 exhibitors present products, workshops, financial tips, fashion shows and fun for a perfect girls’ day out. For detailed information go to the Working Woman’s Survival Show website.
Adults $8.50, 6-11 yrs. & 60+ $6.50, 6 & under free.

Friday, February 12
Mom and Son Pottawatomie 500
6:45-8:30 p.m.
Pottawatomie Community Center
A fun-filled race themed night for moms and sons. Dancing, games, refreshments and a special memento for each son. Look for the Daddy and Daughter event in March.
$11.50 per resident. Advanced reservations required. Call the St. Charles Park District at 630-513-6200 for registration details.

Wednesday, February 24
Music as Medicine
1-2:30 p.m.
Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital
Learn about the power of music for the restoration, maintenance and improvement of mental and physical health. Offered in partnership with OASIS.

Thursday, February 25-Sunday, February 28
St. Louis Builders Home and Garden Show
Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
America’s Center and Edward Jones Building
St. Louis
The Builders Home and Garden Show is actually 5 complete shows in one - Lawn and Garden, Pool and Spa, Kitchen & Bath, Interior Design and Building Products. Enormous feature gardens, local and national celebrity speakers and family fun areas. More than 600 exhibitors, here’s the place to get ideas for your spring home and garden projects.
Adults: $9;Children 6-12: $4; Children 5 and Under: Free

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, January 25, 2010

Efficient home heating

Efficiently heated homes save money and increase potential sales

Sealing your house up tight for both winter and summer is the cost-effective way to go.
The temperature is inching up toward the 40s and every once in a while the sun shows promise. The days of subfreezing temperatures and windy blasts are over, right? Not so fast there. We humans can have remarkably short memories, and here it is just the middle of January. Instead of reminding your family that layering clothes is perfectly normal inside, let’s revisit why you should get serious about home heating efficiency.

While these tips are primarily about the heating season, they are just as applicable for the summer months too. An air leak is an air leak, whether heat is leaking or the cold air conditioning is leaking.

Stop the leaks. Finding air leaks is the first task on the road to make your home more heat efficient. Anywhere there is an opening in your house, the potential for air leaks exists. Check window frames, doorframes, attic entrances, electrical outlets and ductwork. To check for leaks, use a lit incense stick and watch for horizontal smoke. Hardware stores have a multitude of weatherproofing kits and caulking. Addressing even the most minor air leaks can result in substantial utility savings.

Ductwork systems may be wasting your energy dollars. Often overlooked, typical duct work can lose 25-45 percent of your heating or cooling energy. Look for leaky joints or holes in the duct system, disconnected ducts that have separated from each other and un-insulated or poorly insulated ducts in attics and crawlspaces.

Sealing ductwork is really a job for the professional, who can assess your problems, especially in unconditioned spaces. Minor fixes are temporary at best. Going the professional route can reduce your annual utility bills by as much as $300 and better yet, improves the overall air quality.

Total house insulation is another job for the pros. This is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce energy loss and outside noise. Research the recommended standards for your region in R-values. The higher the R-value, the less transfer of heat through the material.

Thermostats can save big bucks. For every one degree you lower the temperature in your house over a 24-hour period, savings can go up three percent. Adjusting your thermostat down 10-15 percent for an eight-hour period each day gives you a 10 percent annual savings. Programmable thermostats will automatically turn the heat down while you are at work during the day and at night.

Ceiling fans aren’t just for summer. While we think of ceiling fans as a way to stay cool in the summer, they are also heat savers in the winter. By reversing the blades, ceiling fans re-circulate the rising warm air back down into the living area.

Plugging leaks is the single most effective way to make your home energy efficient not only for you and your family, but also for potential buyers, who are even more cost-conscious than usual.
And it shows your home is well taken care of and maintained.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti relief help

Housing crisis for Haitians looms large; St. Louis’ best musicians sing out to help

With more than one million Haitians in need of shelter, donations will help tremendously. And, the “St. Louis Musicians for Haiti” concert at the Sheldon sings for Doctors Without Borders.

The devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti is incomprehensible, but the goodness of the human spirit is alive with an outpouring of help and donations. As real estate agents, we know how vital housing is–a safe place to shelter a family. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that more than 200,000 families (up to one million people) are in need of immediate shelter, but these figures are yet preliminary. While the organizations that do need donations are too numerous to list, we suggest considering Habitat for Humanity to help provide housing for Haitians in the short and long term. For information on how to help, call the Habitat for Humanity of St. Charles County at 636.978.5724 or visit the St. Louis chapter of Habitat for Humanity website.

Another way to support the cause and enjoy some of the best music St. Louis has to offer, is to attend the “St. Louis Musicians for Haiti” concert. A diverse group of St. Louis musicians will take the stage of the Sheldon Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, February 9, to raise money for Doctors Without Borders’ Haitian earthquake relief efforts.

The concert features jazz, blues, soul, folk, classical and more, from a lineup that includes singer Brian Owens; folk group Mayor Taylor, featuring Lydia Ruffin and Charlie Pfeffer; the Bottoms Up Blues Gang; pianist Peter Martin; singer Mardra Thomas and her pianist/husband Reggie Thomas; singer Kim Massie; pianist Peter Henderson; opera singer Christine Brewer and more. Julius Hunter, author and former TV newscaster, will host the evening.

Tickets are $15 for general admission, and are on sale now. You can purchase tickets via or by calling 314-534-1111. For more information, call The Sheldon at 314-533-9900 during normal weekday business hours, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Written by Myra Vandersall