Lifestyle » Home The latest Lifestyle news and blog posts from ABC News contributors and bloggers. Thu, 27 Nov 2014 02:41:54 +0000 en hourly 1 Secrets to Landing Your Dream Home (Ask for ‘Pocket Listings’) Wed, 23 Jul 2014 22:44:34 +0000 Rebecca Jarvis

First-time home buyers Alison Harney and her husband, David Bradley, said they had their heart set on landing a house in their dream neighborhood — Grant Park in Atlanta.

“The homes are beautiful and it also has this really great charter school system that we want to be a part of,” said Harney, a pregnant mother of one.

On their new-home wish list were the following: three bedrooms, two baths and enough space for their growing family — all at a price tag of less than $300,000.

Related: 5 ways to spot a home flip money pit.

Related: Ensure your home makeover doesn’t become a resale nightmare.

The problem: The couple, who were renting in Grant Park, kept getting priced out. One home went for $350,000; another, $319,000.

“We had been thinking that we weren’t going to be able to stay in Grant Park,” Harney said. “We were going to have to leave the neighborhood we had really fallen in love with.”

But according to estimates from Trulia and National Association of Realtors there are about 1.7 million undervalued homes nationwide on the market today.

Rob Smith, a real estate expert who’s helped families like Harney and Bradley’s, offered a tip.

“A good rule of thumb is to try to buy the cheapest house or the worst house on the best street,” Smith said. Then fix it up, he said.

Barbara Corcoran, a New York real estate expert who appears on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” agreed.

“You should never shy away from the house that looks terrible,” she said. “Go in and see what’s so terrible about it.”

Smith and Corcoran said as long as the structure of the house is sound and you like the layout, look past the ugly or outdated interior. They did caution, however, to always get an inspection.

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ABC News

“Lots of people are afraid of the wrong things,” Corcoran said. “If the big structural items check out, don’t be afraid of a bad kitchen or a bathroom or poor carpeting or weird colors. That’s all the easy stuff that you can change quickly and make a fortune.”

Experts suggested potential home buyers ask their agents to show them “pocket listings,” homes that have not yet hit the market.

Harney and Bradley looked at seven pocket listings in one day. They eventually landed a three-bed, two-bath home for $283,000 (and in Grant Park.)

“We’re thrilled that we found something in our price range,” Harney said. “Having the park and the farmer’s market and the zoo and everything right there, it meant so much more to me than having another room or a nice bathroom.”

Corcoran said buyers should take a chance on those residential diamonds in the rough.

“You get the right school district. You get the right neighbors. You get your future retirement fund. You’ve got to take that chance if you want to make a killing,” she said.

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Tips to Ensure Your Home Makeover Doesn’t Become a Resale Nightmare Tue, 22 Jul 2014 21:57:06 +0000 Rebecca Jarvis

Welcome to the million-dollar mansion that might just be one of America’s most unsellable homes.

In the Marengo, Illinois, mansion, there’s an eagle painted on the ceiling. There’s a dragon painted on the bedroom wall, and in the living room, a life-sized ostrich statue.

Real estate agent Elka Roberts said she’d been trying to sell the property outside of Chicago for more than two years — and is still looking for that elusive buyer.

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Unlike the houses in the neighborhood, the mansion has a custom drawbridge, its own tower and a massive pool. But without any takers, the asking price has dropped by more than $200,000 to $ $1,099,000, Roberts said.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 2.3 million existing homes are currently on the market, the highest number in almost two years.

So, if you’re looking to sell your home, Barbara Corcoran, a New York real estate guru who appears on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” says to keep some cardinal rules of renovation in mind.

“You’ve got to keep things simple when you sell your house,” she said. “White is better than orange. Simple furniture is better than anything fancy. Less art is better than more art. Painted eagles in flight on the ceiling? Think of those eagles as taking your money away.”

See below for more tips:

  1. Avoid custom paint jobs and ornate lighting.
  2. Don’t install carpet. Real estate agents say buyers prefer unfinished floors.
  3. Spend on curb appeal. Studies have shown that most buyers won’t get out of their car if they pull up to a house with an ugly yard.
  4. Mancaves don’t pay.
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5 Ways to Spot a Home Flip Money Pit Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:19:05 +0000 ABC News

Just a few weeks after Eric Mann bought a Brooklyn brownstone for $1.2 million in February — and painted the walls, sanded the floors and added a $300 chandelier — he sold it for $2.1 million.

“I was extremely lucky,” said Mann, who said he’d bought about 40 properties across Brooklyn over the years as a real estate investor.

That’s the wild world of house flipping, which is up 16 percent since last year and 114 percent from the previous year, according to real estate data-supplier RealtyTrac.

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Jennifer Clark, right, part of a husband-and-wife team of flippers, shared insider secrets to spotting a potentially bad flip. ABC News photo.

Related: 7 things not to do when flipping houses.
Related: Itching to flip? Check these moneymaving tips.
Watch: Flipping out — possible real estate comeback?

Ericka Doolittle said thought she was getting the deal of a lifetime as well when she purchased a newly renovated home in Oakland, California.

“On the surface, it looked pretty good,” she told ABC News.

Then she discovered something her inspector had cautioned her about: more than $15,000 in hidden costs, from loose wires to sewer leaks.

A year after buying, Doolittle found two feet of water under debris in the basement.

“There was a veritable lake,” she said. “[And] a lot of flooding issues. There was water under the house.”

“What flippers are particularly good at is to make surface repairs — and not handling the structural repairs that are sometimes needed,” said New York real estate guru Barbara Corcoran who appears on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

Jennifer and Steve Clark of The Home Co., a husband-and-wife team of flippers, shared the following insider secrets to spotting a potentially bad flip:

1. In the utility rooms, make sure the dryer and heater are vented out of the house.

2. Measure the height of the electrical sockets. Steve Clark said they should be about 12 inches off the floor — anything else could be a sign of old electrical wiring.

3. Switches should be on the wall, not set into the molding.

4. If the owner says the house comes with new appliances, ask to see the manuals.

5. In the bathrooms, separate hot and cold knobs in the shower may mean old fixtures were replaced but not the old plumbing.

The Clarks advised to always get a thorough inspection before buying and remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

ABC News’ Rebecca Jarvis and Eric Noll contributed to this story.

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Magic Vine Pool Trick Makes Little Boy Disappear Into Thin Air Wed, 18 Jun 2014 20:00:06 +0000 ABC News

Social media star, Christian Leonard, is starting summer right with a bit of Vine magic.

In the cleverly edited video, Leonard’s little cousin, Anthony Buoscio, 9, seems to disappear into thin air after diving head-first into the crystal blue swimming pool.

Now you see him, now you don’t!

The mesmerizing video has gotten more than 270,000 views since being posted on Monday, making this Leonard’s most popular Vine to date.

“I think they love the whole theme of summer and it’s just simple and really appealing to the eye,” Leonard, 17, of South Kingston, Rhode Island, told ABC News of why he believes the video has received so much attention. “They’re amazed and don’t really know how it’s done.”

He’s got an entire summer to brush up on his pool tricks and keep these videos coming, and it seems his fans are hoping he does.

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Gadgets to Help You Keep Your AC Use Under Control Mon, 16 Jun 2014 22:36:57 +0000 ABC News

ABC News’ Linzie Janis reports:

With this summer expected to be a hot and sticky one across the United States, many like Becky Torres are planning to survive it by blasting the air conditioner and just suffering the hefty bills that will inevitably follow.

Torres, a stay-at-home mom, said she and her San Antonio, Texas, family used the air conditioner almost 24/7.

“Yes, I do,” she said. “Yes, I do.”

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The Torreses spend a hefty $130 a month to keep cool but ABC News’ “Real Money” team uncovered a new and free gadget from the local energy company that could help them start saving up to 25 percent on their bill this season.

Related: More tips to save you on your electric bill.

The average U.S. family spends nearly $400 between June and August cooling the house. And for every degree that a person lowers the AC, they raise the AC’s cost by about $24, according to Con Edison.

A Thinkeco smart AC kit connects to the air conditioning unit and allows homeowners to turn off the AC with their phone, even when they’re away from home and have forgotten to turn it up or off.

San Antonio resident Patrick Vick said he’d been using the Thinkeco gadget on an AC unit in his bedroom as well as another system called Nest, which lets him control his central air so he can see how much he is using and spending daily.

Vick said the gadgets had saved him about $75 a month for the last year and a half.

“We’ll do over $1,000 this year in savings,” he said.

Utility providers in New York and Baltimore are now offering free smart AC kits and Direct Energy, one of the largest suppliers of gas and electricity in North America, is now offering rebates on the Nest thermostat in Ohio and Illinois, with New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania to come.

The kit is also available online for $140 and pays for itself in a little more than a summer season.

Torres, whose family could save $250 this year, said she found the Thinkeco smart AC “super easy.”

“I’m excited. I can’t wait to start saving money,” Torres said. “Every dollar saved is a dollar in our pockets.”


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‘GMA’ Investigates: How Clean Is Your Kitchen? Mon, 09 Jun 2014 16:00:28 +0000 ABC News

ABC News’ Amanda Keegan and Dr. Richard Besser report:

Many cities across the country are adopting a letter-grade inspection system that requires restaurant operators to post publicly their health inspection grades for all to see.

But what about your own kitchen at home?

“GMA” Investigates decided to give some home kitchens a surprise visit with former New York City health inspector Kervyn Mark, who now works with Letter Grade Consulting, a private company. We scored violations based on New York City’s points system, in which every health code violation gets you points.  The higher the points, the lower the grade.

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With a score of 13 points or lower, an operator will earn an A grade. A B grade is earned with 14 to 27 points. Anything at 28 points or more earns the operator a C.

“GMA” and Mark came up with a “GMA” home kitchen inspection sheet to score violations based on New York City’s points system, and then we went knocking on doors.

We inspected Wanda Stathis-Jurgensen’s kitchen. Mark checked the temperature of food in her refrigerator, finding that stored rice was four degrees warmer than the 41 degrees it should have been. Stathis-Jurgensen didn’t have a meat thermometer, which is important to ensuring the proper minimum temperature of cooked meat. We also found dust under the hood of the stove.

“See all this dust. It can drop into the food and cause physical contamination,” Mark said.

“GMA” Investigates also checked under the sink. We did not find any mice, but we did find little bits of food.

Do You Need Help From ‘GMA Investigates’? Click HERE

With a few other violations, Stathis-Jurgensen’s score was 40 points, or a grade of C.

Around the corner, Christian Hobbis kitchen appeared spotless. The dishwashing sponge was clean, all vents were clean and all chemicals were stored away from food, but a closer inspection revealed an expired milk carton.

With a few others issues uncovered, Hobbis earned a B.

In Jennifer Madison’s kitchen, we found separate cutting boards – one for fish, one for vegetables and one for poultry. It’s a good way to prevent cross-contamination.

But Madison, who has three children, was shocked to discover she had violated a major rule about leaving dinner out on the stove.

“I try to have dinner ready at like, 5, but I will let it sit out on the stove until 8:30,” she said.

After so many hours out, Mark told Madison she couldn’t put that food into the refrigerator because “it would have accumulated too much bacteria.”

We also found mildew inside her dishwasher, and Madison wanted to know whether that was making her dishes dirty.

“No, but at the end of the day it can contaminate if not treated properly,” Mark replied.

Two other violations gave her 12 points – our scoring system did not penalize her for leaving food out – so she ended up scoring an A. and she ended up scoring an A.

Overall, these home kitchens made the grade, and their violations could be easily fixed in an afternoon. Wanda Stathis-Jurgensen, who got a C, said she was going to get to work on the violations in her kitchen right away.

One other violation “GMA” Investigates spotted in several of the homes was deeply dented cans, which raises a concern about botulism.

Because cans are lined in the inside, when they are dented, the chemicals from the lining can seep into your food.

You don’t have to throw the cans away; take them back to your grocery store and ask for a new can.

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‘GMA’ Investigates: Will Your Smoke Detector Respond Fast Enough? Thu, 29 May 2014 13:53:09 +0000 ABC News

“GMA” Investigates conducted two demonstrations showing response times of smoke alarms in very real fire scenarios.

When people buy smoke alarms, they may not know that there are two types on the market: the ionization alarm, which is generally faster to detect blazing fires, and photoelectric, which is generally quicker to detect smoldering fires. Ninety percent of homes have only ionization alarms, and they may not be providing all the protection people need.

Doug Turnbull believes he paid the ultimate price when he trusted ionization alarms. Turnbull lost his daughter, Julie, who was a senior at Miami University of Ohio, in a 2005 house fire. Eleven students were sleeping when a smoldering fire broke out. Eight survived.

“There were 17 ionization smoke detectors in the house.  So it’s not like the landlord didn’t care about fire safety … but he just had no idea that there was a difference,” Turnbull said.

“GMA” Investigates asked the Northeastern Ohio Fire Prevention Association to conduct a demonstration. Six new alarms from two leading manufacturers were bought for the demonstration. Two alarms were ionization, two were photoelectric and two were combination alarms that use both technologies.

The alarms were mounted in a hallway of a Mayfield Village, Ohio, house that was slated for demolition, and nine cameras were placed to capture all angles. Two firefighters were inside the house.

The first was a contained, fast, blazing fire. The ionization alarms went off after just 45 seconds. One of the photoelectric alarms went off after four minutes, and the other went off after five minutes.

It was very different in the smoldering fire.

“GMA” Investigates started its timer at the first sign of smoke. The first alarm to sound was the photoelectric alarm, and it went off at 12 minutes and 15 seconds after the first sign of smoke.

Ninety seconds after that, another photoelectric alarm sounded.  At this point, the firefighters said visibility was still good.

At 22 minutes and 49 minutes, the dual alarms went off, but the ionization alarms had yet to sound.

At that point, visibility was minimal and conditions were life-threatening.

After one hour and 10 minutes, the fire chief deemed the house unsafe for firefighters and aborted the demonstration.

A 2004 government study found similar results. Photoelectric alarms sounded 30 minutes earlier than ionization ones in a smoldering fire. It also found that ionization detectors sometimes failed to sound their alarms at all.

Kidde and First Alert, two of the biggest alarm manufacturers, told “GMA” Investigates that their alarms meet industry standards but for optimal protection they recommend that consumers use both types of alarms.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said it was “actively working” to improve the safety standard so both alarms work faster and better in both types of fires.

Full Statements From Industry Groups

Statement from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Working smoke alarms save lives. With more than 360,00 fires, 2,200 deaths, and $6.5 billion in property loss occurring in American homes each year, smoke alarms add an important layer of safety.  In the last five years, CPSC has worked with UL, NFPA, and the fire service community to: require low frequency smoke alarms for the hearing impaired, establish distance requirements for smoke alarms near or in the kitchen to reduce nuisance alarming, and improve coverage for larger homes.  We also motivated manufacturers to develop wireless interconnected smoke alarms.  By taking advantage of technology improvements, we can enhance fire safety in existing homes.

The fire safety community recognizes that ionization and photoelectric alarms perform differently in smoldering and flaming fires. We are actively working with UL to improve their smoke alarm safety standard so that both alarms perform faster and better in both types of fires.  There is important work being done to achieve the goal of having smarter and faster-detecting ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms that respond to many types of fires.

CPSC staff also actively participates in the development process of the building code that is most commonly used for smoke alarm installation requirements, NFPA 72, to help ensure that optimal fire safety protection is being provided to the public.

CPSC recommends that consumers install both ionization and photoelectric alarms.  Alarms should be placed on each floor of the home, in bedrooms, and the batteries should be changed during Daylight Saving Time.

Statement from Underwriters Laboratories (UL)

Smoke alarms have helped reduce the number of fire deaths by almost 50 percent but are only a part of the fire safety equation. It’s important that smoke alarms be checked monthly, located properly and replaced as directed by the manufacturer. UL standards are science driven, dynamic and involve a consensus process, which includes government officials, safety advocates, manufacturers, consumers, other experts and UL engineers. Fire safety agencies recommend the use of both photoelectric and ionization technologies for optimum protection.

Statement from First Alert

Fire experts from the National Fire Protection Association, the National Institute of Standards, Underwriters Laboratories, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission – based on extensive testing – have concluded that either photoelectric or ionization technology provides adequate escape time in most fires. Because different technologies are more sensitive to different types of smoke particles, for maximum protection, First Alert and fire expert recommend that you use both photoelectric and ionization smoke alarms. We recognize that some consumers cannot afford separate alarms of the cost of dual alarms. In that event, either technology provides adequate time to escape in most fires. First Alert products are subject to rigorous internal testing on a frequent basis. We also meet or exceed standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/Underwriters Laboratories. The ANSI/UL’s standards result from stringent, independent testing and input from various interest parties, including fire services and governmental agencies. That testing – and the resulting standards – are what consumers should look to in judging product quality. First Alert, along with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and fires services around the country, strongly recommend the following:

– Every home should have a smoke alarm on every level of the home and in every bedroom to provide the earliest possible warning.

–  Batteries in smoke alarms should be checked every month and replaced at (least) every six months.

–  Smoke alarms should be replaced entirely at least every ten years.

– Keep fire extinguishers in the kitchen and other locations throughout the home.

–  Every family should have an escape plan and practice it once a year.

If your alarm sounds, leave the residence immediately. Do not re-enter until fire officials say it is safe.

Statement from Kidde

Kidde’s mission is to develop solutions that protect people and property from the effects of fire and its related hazards. As part of that commitment, we continuously work with members of the media and the fire service to raise awareness about the simple steps families can take to stay safe from home fires.  We have included a link to information about alarm technology and other educational information.

Click HERE for the information from Kidde.

Click HERE for more from the NFPA on smoke alarms.

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As Summer Approaches, Raising the Alarm on Home-Fire Hazards Tue, 20 May 2014 21:26:08 +0000 Byron Pitts

While much attention has been placed on the wildfires in the West recently, experts today warned that this summer there could be a grave danger right in your own neighborhood from barbecue grills, overloaded electrical cords and backyard fireworks.

Nationwide, home fires cause on average more than 2,500 deaths a year, according to the US Fire Administration as well as the National Fire Protection Association, and the rise in temperatures is raising a slew of new concerns.

Related: Wisconsin family credits dog with saving their lives in fire.

“It’s scary,” said Captain Philip Hershey of the Los Angeles Fire Department. “As a captain, the last thing we want to be doing is pulling bodies out of these houses.”

Los Angeles is responding to a record spike in fatal house fires this year with a door-to-door campaign looking for homes without smoke detectors.

Firefighters say that in seven of the nine fatal cases recently in Los Angeles, there was not a single functioning smoke detector inside the home.

In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association, across the US, more than 5 million households don’t have any smoke detectors.

Firefighters advised that in addition to a smoke detector on every floor, households with elderly relatives or children should also have a carefully rehearsed escape plan.

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Top 10 Ways to Throw a Successful Mother’s Day Bash Thu, 08 May 2014 12:53:00 +0000 ABC News Mother’s deserve to be pampered every day, but Mother’s Day is especially the time to put a smile on her hardworking, deserving face. One of the best ways to show Mom how much she means to you is by hosting the best brunch bash ever, a refreshing departure from the traditional tea.

John Johnson, the executive chef of the Four Seasons New York hotel, and Marc Kaufman, the director of catering for Ritz-Carlton Chicago, a Four Seasons Hotel, have several ideas for throwing a thoughtful, fun and easy Mother’s Day event at home.

Party Planning:

1) Planning a party with a theme, you can take one aspect of that theme and create a centerpiece around it.  For example, find out what the Pantone color of the year is and then create an entire table setting around that color from table cloths to centerpieces.

2) Find interesting favors for place settings. Buy small pots of herbs and put at each place setting so guests can take them home with them.

3) Edible place cards are always fun.  Buy cookie lollipops or cupcakes and have your local baker drizzle the name of the guest on top or use your own pastry bag to write the names out.

4) Enjoy yourself. Don’t be afraid to buy some items ahead of time.  Buy smoked salmon, crudite, great local cheeses or salami, so you can focus on your guests.

5) Mix it up at your parties.  All courses don’t have to be set at a table.  For example, start with a buffet theme for the appetizers, sit for the main course and then serve desserts in another room.

6) Simplify things, it is easier than you think to come with an attractive looking appetizer that is a favorite among guests.  Cut chunks of watermelon, dust with sea salt, toss with feta cheese and drizzle with balsamic syrup.

7) Prepare as much as you can the day before to save time.

8) Always have note cards or a guest book where friends can write fun notes to the host or hostess and you can read them after the party.

9) A cute ice breaker is to have a beautiful vase of a variety of flowers on an entry table. Ask each guest to select one of the stems and then match it to the corresponding flower at each place setting at the table.

10) It is best to send a thank you gift versus bring a hostess gift as you can customize the gift to your hosts likes.

Mouth-Watering Recipes for Mom:

And don’t forget to feed Mom in style! Get John and Marc’s favorite dishes for Mom’s Day here:

Baked Bay Scallops with Tarragon, Coriander and Spring Herbs

Cherry Hand Pies

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Calif. Father-Son Team Build Roller Coaster In Their Backyard Tue, 06 May 2014 18:30:28 +0000 Jonah Lustig
Combine a kid with a passion and a dad who just can’t say no, and the result for one California family is a homemade roller coaster in a backyard.

After an inspiring trip to an amusement park, 10-year-old Lyle Pemble asked his dad Will if they could build a roller coaster at their home in Orinda, just outside San Francisco.

After some consideration, the father decided to take on the ambitious project.

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Will Pemble, 50, made his sons dream come true after he was asked to build the roller coaster at their home after his family had visited their local theme park. (

6 New Terrifying Rides to Try This Summer

“I thought about it for a second and the answer anyone expects is ‘of course not’… but I said yes! I said sure!” he told ABC News.

The coaster — named “The Caution Zone” as a testament to the ride’s rigorous safety precautions — is nearly 200 feet long and took about six weeks to build.

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It is powered only by gravity and reaches a maximum speed of 14 mph.

Pemble said his son Lyle is “the brains” of the operation, and has contributed a great deal to the planning and execution of the project.

“He’s a studier. My son knows everything there is to know about roller coasters. He helps design them and does the math,” he said.

Since completing the original coaster last year, Will and Lyle have started building a second coaster in a friend’s backyard. In a video posted to YouTube, Lyle walks with a friend and outlines design plans for the new structure.

“We’re going to tilt the track to the side … so there would only be force pushing you down,” he says in the video.

And there may be many more coasters to come for the Pemble family. Will said Lyle has built hundreds of designs on a simulation program and already has plans to build roller coasters as a profession when he grows up.

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