Monthly Archives: August 2014

Tips for Living in Pennsport and Other Waterfront Philly Neighborhoods

One of best features of the city of Philadelphia is that it’s located next to a body of water: the Delaware River. There are several neighborhood communities in Philly on or near the waterfront, including Pennsport, Queen Village, Fishtown, Old City, and the end of South Street. If you’re planning to move to one of these Philadelphia neighborhoods, here are a few tips for how to fully enjoy your waterfront living experience.

Keep a List of Summer Festivals Handy

The Philadelphia waterfront is well known as the place to go for summer festivals. There’s a different festival or event in the area near the waterfront just about every weekend, including jazz festivals, cultural festivals, and outdoor movie screenings. And every year, there’s a free summer concert series on Penn’s Landing.

Try to Rent a Parking Space

One thing that you’ll quickly realize when living near a waterfront area like Pennsport is that during certain times of the year, it can be difficult to find a parking spot. Visitors come from all over to enjoy the attractions, and they’ll sometimes travel deep into the neighborhoods to park their cars. If your home doesn’t come with a driveway or garage, scan the classifieds to see if you can find good monthly deals on garages (private and public) in the warm months so that you’ll always have a secure spot for your car.

Prepare for Summer Crowds

If you’re planning to move to Pennsport or one of Philly’s other waterfront communities, be prepared for increased activity during the summertime. When the weather starts to warm up, everyone wants to head to the water and catch a cool breeze, so embrace the fact that your neighborhood will get an influx of foot traffic. Welcome friendly visitors and help them out with directions or suggestions, but keep safety in mind, too. Stay involved with your local neighborhood watch to ensure that local rules and regulations are being observed when activity rises in the summer.

Boat Rentals

From time to time, you’re probably going to want to do more than just look at the water — instead, why not take a ride on it? Rent your own boat so that you can take a leisurely spin out on the Delaware River and beyond. From April to October, the Independence Seaport Museum rents out rowboats and kayaks by the hour. If you prefer to have someone else do the piloting, contact Patriot Harbor Lines’ Delaware River Tours or the Riverlink Ferry to schedule a boat tour.

There’s rarely a dull moment when you live near the water. You can always count on plenty of events, attractions, and activity when the weather’s nice. Whether you’re lacing up your sneakers to take a jog near the water or taking in a free concert at your favorite summer festival, be sure to take full advantage of the many benefits of Philly waterfront living.

Image Source: Flickr/Melissa Wentarmini

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College Students Swapping Dorms for Homes Purchased by Mom and Dad

Do you ever secretly wish you could head back to college and re-live the good old days, maybe for just one semester? If it seems like college life is only getting sweeter, you may be right. On more and more college campuses, a few lucky students are ditching the crammed dorm life and tiny off-campus apartments for bigger digs – courtesy of mom and dad of course.

In a recent informal survey of its sales associates, Coldwell Banker found that more than one-third of agents across the country are seeing more buyers looking to purchase properties for their children now than in previous years. The reasons for the investment are varied – some are taking advantage of low prices and interest rates, while others are anticipating inventory may be scarce when their child enters school.

Ed Feijo, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Cambridge, Mass., has seen international buyers purchase homes for children as young as 14! No, these child prodigies are not yet at Harvard or MIT. But their parents certainly have high hopes, so they are determined to snatch up a desirable property while they can.

Whether you’re a parent looking to make an investment, or a student who wants to persuade mom and dad, here are some listings within a two mile radius of a few iconic college towns:

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The Complete List of Important Questions to Ask A Contractor Before Hiring Them

When you set out to do a remodel, addition or other major home renovation, you will need a general contractor to oversee the work that needs to be done. Hiring a general contractor means getting the best person, and while there are many general contractors in your area, you will need to screen them.

Part of that screening process is asking the right questions and getting a sense of their work history and ethics. There are a lot of questions you could ask, but here are some of the essential ones:

What’s your business history?

Asking a contractor’s business history is one of most important steps to finding out more about the work they’ve done, how well they did it and if their past clients were satisfied. If they are unwilling to give you references or talk about their history, it’s a good indication you might look elsewhere.

Some follow-up questions to ask around this question include:

  • How many years have you been doing contractor work?
  • How many projects have you completed like mine in the last year?
  • Do you have a list of references I could call?
  • What kind of insurance do you have?
  • Are you licensed?
  • Do you carry worker’s compensation for your employees?
  • Do you have insurance in case something in my home is broken during the remodel or addition?
  • Will you sign a “time and materials” contract?
  • Do you often finish a project within the allotted time frame?

Who will be at the site and how will it be supervised?

Knowing who will be at your house every day during the renovation is important. You should know who they are, if the contractor will be there and any details about the team working on your home. For example, there might be a construction manager hired, which can cost between $3,200 and $4,400. It will depend on the extent of the project, and if the general contractor isn’t going to be the manager.

Some additional questions to ask:

  • Can I meet the job foreman or project manager, if there will be one for my project?
  • Will you be using any subcontractors on this project?
  • Who will be on the site every day during the project?
  • Will you be onsite every day or stopping by, and if the latter, how often?

Can you give me a timeline?

There should be a timeline for the project, so you know what to expect and when. Having a timeline will keep you aware of whether they’re behind or ahead of schedule. It will also let you know when you might need to be out of the house or specific rooms during the renovation.

You should ask the contractor:

  • What is our schedule?
  • Will this require a permit and who needs to pull them?
  • When will you start and finish?
  • What will be the start time and finish time every day?
  • Will you work seven days a week?
  • How will you communicate with me after hours?
  • How will I know when I need to make decisions?
  • What documents will I receive when the project is complete?

What guarantees can you give me?

Guarantees may or may not be part of the contract you sign with the general contractor. You want to have everything worked out before signing anything, so questions you might ask include:

  • Is there any part of my project that worries you? If so, what is it and how do we work it out?
  • Will you provide me with updates on a daily basis?
  • Do you offer a guarantee on your work, and if so, what is it?
  • Do you have any legal disputes pending from previous work that I need to be aware of?

Can I get that in writing?

Once you get everything worked out, it’s time put it all down in writing. What you need to have in the contract will depend on the project, so some questions you might ask include:

  • Would you itemize the bid?
  • Is the bid just an estimate or your fixed price for the project?
  • Will you agree to a termination clause?
  • Will your contract include the job details, timeframe, materials, cost, “time and materials” and termination clause?

If you think you need to ask any additional questions not covered here, you might want to consult friends and neighbors who have done similar renovations. Some other questions to consider asking when you decide whether to hire a general contractor include:

  • What do I have to put down?
  • What’s the bottom line?
  • What’s your work routine like?
  • Who are your main suppliers?

Remember, you want the right man or woman for the job and don’t want to go back for extensive repairs later.

Andrea Davis is the editor at HomeAdvisor, which connects homeowners with home improvement professionals in their area for free. Connect with Andrea on Google+

Cover image via wikimedia.org

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Renting a PO Box While You Hunt for Your Dream Apartment

Renting a PO box and a storage unit can be a useful strategy for people on the hunt for the perfect NYC apartment. When they’re searching for an apartment, many people stay with friends or take short-term sublets. When you’re an apartment hunter living in flux, you may opt to take measures such as setting up a PO box to ensure you get all their mail and packages. Once you’ve found your “forever for now” home, you may choose to ditch many of these temporary arrangements — but even after you settle down into a more permanent space, you may want to continue to hold onto a PO box or a storage unit just because of the pure convenience they offer. Here are some things you can do (and undo) once you find and find your dream apartment.

PO Boxes: To Keep or Not to Keep?

When you don’t have an apartment yet, renting a PO box can be a real lifesaver when you’re in between apartments. PO box centers in New York are perfect for getting your regular mail, and many of them will also receive packages. Once renters find their new places, many people cut their ties with mailing centers, but you may still want to hold onto your PO box if you live in a building that doesn’t have a doorman. If that’s the case, try to choose a mailing center that’s close to your new apartment so that you can easily stop by whenever necessary.

Storage Units: Still a Necessary Expense?

Many newcomers to the big city take advantage of the many storage facilities that are available here. These storage units can hold all of your worldly possessions until you find a home. If you’ve been holding everything you own in storage, your first instinct once you secure your apartment will probably be to retrieve everything and set it up in your new place. And if you’ve got space galore in your new place, it makes sense to get rid of that superfluous storage unit. But if your new space is a little short on square footage, you may want to keep some things in storage so your apartment doesn’t end up feeling cluttered. If you choose to go this route, you might want to downsize from a large storage unit to a smaller one.

Renting Furniture: So Your Apartment Won’t Be Naked

Sometimes, the apartment-hunting process takes a lot less time than you think. And if you aren’t moving with furniture of your own, you may need a temporary solution. You could pick up some secondhand pieces in thrift stores or through online classifieds, but you may not want to deal with the hassle of finding used furniture, lugging it up to your apartment, and getting rid of it again when your new furniture finally arrives. In this situation, renting furniture can be a great alternative. NYC boasts several furniture leasing companies that rent out beautiful furniture to people for any number of reasons. They can deliver the furniture to your home, and they can pick it up when you’re done. Types of furniture rentals range from the truly affordable to the high end.

Image Source: Flickr/Daniel Hoherd

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South Philly’s Bella Vista: The Perfect Spot for Community-Minded Buyers

When you’re choosing a place to live, the location of your new home is just as important as the features and amenities it offers, if not more so. While you can always update your home’s kitchen or your paint scheme, it’s a lot more challenging to change the quality of your neighborhood. That’s why many buyers think neighborhood first when looking for a home.

If a close-knit community is high on your list of neighborhood priorities, the Bella Vista section of South Philadelphia might be just what you’re looking for. Largely populated by Italian immigrants from the late 19th century until the 1970s, the area is known today for its diversity, convenience, and focus on community.

Community Focus

Many neighborhoods in Philadelphia have active neighbors groups. That is definitely the case with the Bella Vista Neighbors Association (BVNA). Founded in the early 1990s as a neighborhood watch group, the BVNA’s mission has changed over the past two decades, as the interests of the neighborhood have changed. The primary focus was initially safety, but now the focus of the association is on improving the area. It organizes events such as concerts in the parks and community garden days. But the BVNA is still committed to keeping the neighborhood safe and has a public safety committee and a neighborhood watch program.

Accessible Amenities

Bella Vista (a name that translates to “beautiful view” in Italian) offers residents a lovely view of the Center City skyline. Its proximity to downtown Philly means that everyday conveniences are within easy reach, too. Here, you’ll find a number of options for grocery shopping, including the Whole Foods and Super Fresh on South Street. The Italian Market that stretches down 9th Street puts fresh bread, meat, and produce at your fingertips. Don’t let the name fool you — there’s actually a wide range of cuisines represented in the Italian Market, including Mexican and Vietnamese.

This neighborhood also gives its residents a number of transit options. SEPTA’s 47 and 23 buses run north and south through Bella Vista, while the 40 and 64 head east and west. The Lombard-South Station on the Broad Street subway line is just a few blocks west of the neighborhood.

Activities for All

If you decide to buy a home in Bella Vista, you’ll find that there are many ways to get involved with your neighborhood, beyond joining the BVNA. The neighborhood offers a number of activities, from art classes to outdoor activities. The Fleisher Art Memorial offers free or low-cost art classes and workshops for people of all ages. Classes for adults fill on a first-come, first-served basis, while admission to classes for minors is by lottery. The Fleisher is also home to an art gallery, which regularly features exhibitions from faculty and students.

The area is home to several pocket parks, small areas of green space where you can sit and enjoy being outdoors. The neighborhood’s Bardascino Park features a bocce court and bocce league. Nearby Cianfrani Park features regular activities in the summer months, including outdoor concerts.

Ideally, a home should be more than just a place to rest your head and eat your meals. If you’re looking for a neighborhood that values community, you’ll find that Bella Vista is more than just a section of Philly — it’s a real, old-fashioned neighborhood.

Image Source: Flickr/Aaron G Stock

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Leaving Home and Going to College

The following is a guest blog post from Julie Allison, a Syracuse University senior and Coldwell Banker Commercial summer intern.

When it came time to apply to colleges, I knew for sure that I wanted to be somewhere different than my home state, New Jersey. So when I was accepted to Syracuse University, I readily agreed to separate from everything I knew to live in a quad with three other girls. I was very excited but also nervous to go somewhere I knew nothing about besides the brutal winters that everyone seems to mention. Little did I know that would be one of the many challenges of going away to school.

The excitement of starting a new chapter lasted for some time until I finally realized, you’re not in Jersey anymore Julie. There were a lot of new things to adapt to including: complete freedom, sharing a bedroom and bathroom, dining hall food and living on a floor with 30+ other people. These challenges also came with more responsibility especially when dealing with money, time management and people. One of the most difficult adjustments I had to make was sharing a room with someone I hardly knew. Add the stress of a homework load I had never experienced before and I quickly became very homesick.

Within three weeks I even found myself on a plane, yes plane, on my way home to see my family and friends. I really missed my family, friends and the delicious bagel sandwiches that no one in Syracuse could ever seem to replicate.

But there is undeniably something Syracuse has that New Jersey just doesn’t for me, the opportunity to grow, become an adult and meet and learn people from various parts of the world. Throughout my time in college it became easier to adapt once I realized the lessons I learned from leaving the comfort of my home. I’m happy that I was ultimately able to meet new friends who helped me find a place where I could get some delicious pizza (thanks, Varsity!).

Freshman year was a time of important life lessons and once I came to grips with all of the opportunities there are for me at college, being away from home turned out to be just as sweet. I also now have a newfound appreciation for my family and their unconditional love and support…and obviously the home cooked meals!

There’s no place like home, but there’s something quite comforting about the journey and lessons you learn when you decide to leave.

college cover photo

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Candy Decorations: A Sweet New Party Trend

Birthday Party Candy Bar

Candy decorations seem to be the thing to have for parties now. In the North State area, candy bars — or buffet-style assortments of candy that allow guests to help themselves to sweet treats — are popping up at weddings and parties for adults and children alike. According to an employee at Candy Tyme in Redding’s Mt. Shasta Mall, sales of colorful types of candy have increased as this trend continues. And it’s no wonder candy bars are taking off: From young to old, no partygoer can resist the feast for the eyes that is a colorful, well-done candy bar. Your candy decorations can enhance your party’s color scheme; you can also tailor your selection to suit the tastes of your guests or your guest of honor.

“Chews” Your Candy Decorations
From rock candy to saltwater taffy, your candy options are endless — as are your options for the way you choose to display your candy decorations. Whether you go for something elaborate and ornate or whimsical, the choice is yours. No matter what, you’ll have a fun and delicious addition to your event. Use your candy bar to help set the mood of your party. Need ideas? The photo below shows an example of how you can set up your own candy bar. This one was for a 30th birthday party, and the theme was “Why grow up?”

Along with your display, make sure to include small bags guests can put their candy in; that way, once your guests have made their choice, the bags will allow them to take their candy home as a parting gift. Redding homeowners can find a variety of bags and candy choices at Party City.

A Candy-Themed Kids’ Party
If you’re hosting a children’s party, why not make candy the theme? Make your own lollipop decorations by painting cardboard circles and attaching them to thin dowels. These can be used to line the walkway into the house; you can also tack them to the walls of the party room. Smaller cardboard circles become balloons when attached to ribbon. To create a party atmosphere, tape these cutouts to the walls and ceiling. And you can wrap even smaller cardboard circles (or paper plates) in colored tissue paper and tie both ends to create decorations that look like wrapped candy.

Decorating the Cake
When you’re planning your candy-themed party, don’t forget the cake! A birthday cake can be completely covered in a variety of colored candy decorations, with jelly beans and other assorted candy spilling out over the cake table. This is a great way to have your candy and cake, too! After all, while the birthday cake is the centerpiece of the party, the candy is the element that makes your event every child’s dream party!

Image Source: Flickr/Corey Balazowich

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NYC Renter’s Insurance Explained:3 Commonly Asked Questions

When disaster strikes, having renter’s insurance can really save the day and help you get back on your feet fast. Yet there are still some people out there who (both literally and figuratively) don’t get it. Renter’s insurance is the insurance that covers a tenant’s belongings in case of events like fire or theft. If you’re currently renting or will be renting an apartment in NYC, consider the following information. Even if you get just a little, it may make all the difference in your life if and when you really need it.

Question #1: What’s the worst that could happen without rental insurance?

Let’s say you have two renters who live in the same building. Jane has an insurance policy worth about $40,000. When a fire raced through her apartment complex, everyone got out safely, but the damage to the property was severe. The fire destroyed Jane’s laptop, smartphone, high-end furniture, and big-screen television. Her insurance company was there with a check covering all of her losses, and it also paid for her to live in a hotel and all of her living expenses while she looked for a new place to live. She was set up in a new home in no time, and every single one of her damaged items were replaced with new ones. Her neighbor, Rebecca? She lost everything as well, but she had no insurance. No one showed up with a big check, and Rebecca had to couch-surf until she made the decision to move back to her parents’ home in Ohio so that she could start over. Sound cheesy? This scenario actually happens. Getting renter’s insurance should be a no-brainer.

Question #2: How much insurance should you take out?

When you fill out your renter’s insurance application, you’re going to be asked how much you want to take out. Think of every single thing that you own and how much it would cost you to replace it all. The average amount of a basic insurance policy is about $12 per month for a $30,000 policy, but many people need more. Think of your electronics, your furnishings, your wardrobe, everything.

Question #3: Should you get an actual cash value or a replacement cost policy?

Rental insurance policies are offered as actual cash value (ACV) or as replacement cost value. People who are trying to save money may go for an ACV rental insurance plan as opposed to a replacement cost plan. With an ACV plan, the insurance company will pay you what your property was worth at the time it was stolen or damaged. That means that if that gorgeous flat screen TV you bought four years ago for $5000 is only worth $400 today, you’ll get a check for $400. With a replacement cost policy, you’d get a check for the amount of money you’d need to replace the television. It’s easy to see why most people should at least consider a replacement cost policy. It may cost a bit more, but you’ll be happy you paid for it if you ever need it.

Image Source: Flickr/Alan Cleaver

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University City: Living Among Quakers and Dragons

City dwellers seeking a unique residential neighborhood carrying the energy of a college setting need look no further than Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood — home of the Drexel Dragons and Penn Quakers. Situated directly west of Center City, across the Schuylkill River, the area is a diverse mix of academia, health care institutions, and residential living.

A Great Place to Live and Work

With a population of over 48,000, University City is a desirable neighborhood for those wishing to live close to downtown Philadelphia while remaining in a residential setting. Located in this Philadelphia neighborhood are two of the city’s top five employers: the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital. Six colleges are situated between the Schuylkill River and 50th Street, including Drexel University, the University of the Sciences, and the University of Pennsylvania, which contribute to the area’s large population of students.

No Car? No Problem

Superb access to public transit is one of the greatest benefits of living in University City. Board Amtrak and SEPTA trains from the large transportation hub at 30th Street Station. In addition to its transit options, the neighborhood also ranks high in both walk and bike scores, meaning a large percentage of daily errands can be accomplished without the need for a car. Beyond that, the Lucy Shuttle runs on a loop through University City and provides free transportation to employees of some of the neighborhood’s largest employers. Residents may also ride the Lucy shuttle with a Trans or TrailPass, or by paying an individual fare.

Dining, Arts, and Culture Galore

University City is one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the city, and the area is well-known for its international food and culture. Dining options run the gamut from food trucks to bustling farmers’ markets to restaurants owned and operated by Stephen Starr and Iron Chef Bobby Flay.

The neighborhood’s multitude of cultural attractions includes the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Kelly Writers House situated on Penn’s campus, as well as a host of art galleries and theater and dance companies.

If you’re looking for a vibrant neighborhood in the downtown area of Philadelphia with excellent public transportation options, a commitment to green living through the promotion of biking and walking lanes, and the vitality of a diverse population, then take the time to explore the many residences available in University City.

Photo Credit: Flickr/T. Cowart

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Fire Safety in the North State

In light of the recent wildfires in areas near Redding, California, fire safety is at the forefront of the minds of Shasta County residents.

Wildfire Safety

This year, local property owners faced many challenges when trying to protect their properties from wildfires, since a severe drought-causing water shortage in many areas made it difficult to follow many of the usual fire-prevention guidelines. However, there are plenty of ways Redding homeowners can keep their homes safe from wildfires.

  • Clear all potentially flammable brush and debris from a minimum of 30 feet around your home.
  • Install a spark arrester on your fireplace or wood stove chimney.
  • Know the designated days for a controlled burn.
  • Each family member should know what to do in case of fire: Older children should be instructed on how to lead younger children to safety. All children should know how to dial 911 and be able to tell the dispatcher pertinent information, such as their address.

Fire Safety Prevention in the Home

All of us should be educated in fire safety. First and foremost, homeowners should make sure to keep a fire extinguisher close by for emergencies. But that’s just one of the ways to be aware of fire safety. Keep these in-home fire-prevention tips in mind:

  • Never leave or store items in or around your oven — and make sure to keep plastic containers out of the oven and away from its surface. In addition to the damage an oven fire can cause, burning plastics can release dangerous toxins into the air, potentially posing a serious health threat.
  • Assess your home for combustibles, including paint and some cleaning solvents. Make sure to remove them or store them properly, and check labels for content before storing.

Emergency Preparedness

No matter how many fire-safety precautions you take, disaster can strike. Each family member should know what to do in case of fire: Older children should be instructed on how to lead younger children to safety. All children should know how to dial 911 and be able to tell the dispatcher pertinent information, such as their address. Some other things you can do to be ready for a fire emergency:

  • Prepare a survival kit with bottled water, snacks, flashlights, and (if possible) a solar-powered radio.
  • An emergency medical kit should also be included in the survival kit.
  • Store your survival kit in an easy-to-get-to location that all family members can reach.
  • After a house fire, smoke residues can be left behind. As they are toxic and carcinogenic, these residues can be dangerous. Following a fire, all home surfaces, as well as household and personal items should be wiped, washed, or sent to a cleaner.

Fireproof California

For Redding residents, one of the benefits of living so close to a national forest is camping out. Campers should take precautions when using a campfire. No fire should be built anywhere except in the designated areas. Always put out all campfires completely before going to sleep or leaving the campsite.

We have the privilege of living in a beautiful area, and if we all work together, we can protect our natural resources — and ourselves. Each of us can do our share to preserve the beauty of our great NorCal.

You can get more information on fire safety from the Shasta County Fire Department and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Image Source: Flickr/US Air Force

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