Gradual rate hikes appropriate given uncertainty in U.S. economy

Adam Shell, USA TODAY 12:20 p.m. EDT June 21, 2016
Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, citing “considerable uncertainty” in the U.S. economic outlook and “vulnerabilities” from abroad, says the U.S. central bank will proceed “cautiously” when raising interest rates and sees a “gradual” pace of rate increases.

Yellen’s comments on the U.S. economy and monetary policy, as well as global headwinds from China and a potential shock if Britain votes to leave the European Union, came in the first day of two days of testimony before Congress.

Her testimony comes less than a week after the Fed broke from its two-day June meeting and Yellen told investors that the Fed not only wasn’t hiking rates in June but was also dialing back the number of interest rate hikes it sees in 2017 and 2018 amid an acknowledgment that U.S. economic growth will stay in the sub-par 2% range until at least through 2018.

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MLS May Market Report

METRO MLS (Milwaukee, WI Area)
May 2016

We are in the thick of an exciting period of home buying and selling, often with
quick multiple offers that are near, at or even above asking price, depending on
the factors of the home and submarket in question. It was widely predicted that
we would see healthy sales activity during the second quarter of 2016, and the
market has not disappointed.

New Listings in the Milwaukee region decreased 7.7 percent to 2,591. Pending
Sales were down 33.4 percent to 1,293. Inventory levels fell 10.4 percent to
6,822 units.

Prices continued to gain traction. The Median Sales Price increased 1.0 percent
to $195,000. Days on Market was down 7.0 percent to 66 days. Sellers were
encouraged as Months Supply of Inventory was down 11.3 percent to 4.7

Although inventory is still being stretched thin in many areas, low mortgage
rates coupled with higher wages have built a relatively sturdy housing
marketplace. How long that can continue without fresh supply remains an
important question, but conditions are seemingly good enough for serious
buyers. With the current slow state of new construction for non-rental
households, the road ahead could be tricky if demand remains high.

All data for the market reports comes from the Multiple Listing Service, Inc. and is powered by 10K Research and Marketing. You can follow this link: Metro MLS Market Updates or visit

Please contact your respective MLS with any questions. You may also follow our updates at

How to Repair Cat and Dog Damage Before Moving

RIS Media’s Housecall
By Megan Wild
Moving can present an exciting opportunity, but if you?re a pet owner and a renter, the normal chaos of packing up could be accompanied with stress over how to handle the damage your pet has done to the property over time. As you notice each thing your furry family member has been responsible for, you might get a sinking feeling there?s no way you?ll get your security deposit back or worse, your home might have lost a significant amount of value.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to fix the unsightly pet-related problems around the house?.

Clean Carpeting with Baking Soda and Vinegar

Even if you have a thoroughly house-trained dog or a cat that understands how to use the litter box, you?ve probably had to deal with pet urine stains on your carpet. However, they?re more stressful if they happen when trying to get the house spruced up for a move-out inspection. Act quickly and use a natural solution. That way, you won?t have to worry about your pet coming in contact with chemicals during your remaining time in the house.

If you?re dealing with a very recent stain that?s still moist, carefully blot it with a paper towel. Then apply a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar and soak it. If the stain is especially bad, use pure vinegar instead. Once you?ve soaked the area, scrub as hard as possible to get down into the deepest carpet fibers. After that, add a bit of baking soda and leave the spot until it?s dry. Finally, vacuum the area.

It?s crucial not to wait too long before cleaning pet stains. If the urine reaches the padding underneath the carpet, the method above may not be powerful enough. You might have to rely on a carpet cleaning company that uses water extraction methods to get the job done.

Remove Pet Odors from Hardwood Floors

Perhaps the home you?re moving out of doesn?t have visible pet stains, but you?ve noticed areas covered with hardwood material seem to have absorbed the odor of your pets. Because certain cleaning agents can be very harsh on hardwood floors, it?s important to find some that are gentle, yet effective.

Vinegar starts removing bad smells almost immediately. Alternatively, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide can also do the trick. All three could weaken the sealant or cause bleaching if not applied carefully or if left on too long, so don?t leave the area unattended.

Improve Wood Furniture That?s Been Chewed by a Dog

It?s certainly stressful to come home from a day at work to discover your dog has decided wooden furniture is a more adequate chew toy than the items you?ve provided for playtime. If it seems your dog is repeatedly chewing wood furniture and eating the shavings, it may be a self-inflicted injury worth consulting your veterinarian about.

Once you?re satisfied the dog isn?t intentionally chowing down on the furniture due to a behavioral or physical problem that needs attention, turn your efforts toward improving the damaged wood. Take a utility knife and cut small, diagonal hatch marks across the chewed area. Hold the blade directly in your hand if possible to maintain good control, and put masking tape over the sharp parts to protect your skin. Then, make a batch of auto-body filler according to the packaging instructions. You?ll probably have to put several applications on the affected area to build up the surface so it?s flush with the part that hasn?t been chewed. However, once applied, the substance dries in about five minutes, so be careful not to prepare too much at once.

Put the auto-body filler on a paper plate and mix it well for 30 seconds. Then, cover the chewed wood with the filler and wait until it?s dry, but not hardened. If necessary, use a knife blade to carve away excess filler, and sandpaper to smooth out the surface. You can also run a wax fill stick over the sanded surface to fill in any remaining small holes. This wood repair method may seem a little involved, but it?s something you can try even without having carpentry knowledge.
Conceal Claw Marks on Leather Furniture

kittenCats are arguably more likely than dogs to scratch leather furniture with their claws, especially since they naturally need to sharpen them on surfaces regularly. Ideally they?d use scratching posts, but that doesn?t always happen. Furthermore, dogs may unintentionally leave claw marks on leather, especially if they feel they are slipping and try to grip the surface. Luckily, there are ways to make claw markings less visible.

If the area is only slightly affected so the leather appears to have an abrasion, try applying white vinegar with a soft cloth. The vinegar makes the leather swell, which may hide the marks. Using leather polish after the vinegar should conceal mild scratch marks even more.

If the marks are so severe they have created tears, you?ll need to use a leather repair kit that includes a solution tinted about the same color as the damaged material. Insert a scrap of fabric, such as an iron-on patch, into the hole to add stability. Put grain paper with the grain side down over the material after you?ve applied the repair solution. Iron the grain paper as a finishing touch, then pull it away to see the results.

Moving can be stressful, but thanks to these tips, you can stress less when getting the property ready to vacate.

Megan Wild is a dog owner who loves spending time at home with her pup, Tucker. When she?s not on a hike outside, she loves designing and improving her home. You can find her tips and ideas on her personal blog, Your Wild Home.

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Keepin’ It Weird: 8 Bizarre Bathrooms from Around the World

RIS Media’s Housecall
Posted on Apr 4 2016 – 3:47pm by Zoe Eisenberg

From pop-up toilets in city streets to a bathroom surrounded entirely by an aquarium, these public and private bathrooms are beyond bizarre?and you need to see them!

OneWay toilet

This public restroom in Basel, Switzerland features one way mirrored walls, so you can people watch while you do your business. And because the outside walls double as a mirror, you’ll have lots of strangers coming up to groom themselves. Not surprisingly, this bathroom is actually an art installation done by artist Monica Bonvicini.

Now you see it. Now you don’t! These bathrooms in select European cities were designed to solve the problem of late-night partygoers urinating in the streets for lack of a better option. The pods come up at night and go underground in the day ? sort of like Batman. But be careful?injuries have been reported for pedestrians unknowingly standing atop the hidden toilets.



This seemingly regular portapotty?located at Jungle Jim’s International Market in Ohio–leads to a pretty standard public restroom. Not quite sure who the joke is on, but it’s an interesting approach for sure.


Ever feel like you’re living in a fish bowl? You will after using the restroom at the Mumin Papa Cafe in Akashi, Japan. For a staggering $270,000, the underwater restroom was built to offer users the sensation that they are ?relieving themselves while swimming in the ocean.? Because that’s on everyone’s bucket list, for sure. Unfortunately for men, the restroom is for women-only (so long as you don’t count the giant male sea turtle lurking inside).

This bathroom, which belongs to pop sensation Celine Dion, has fancy schmancy drapery, a lounge for that post-soak exhaustion and a stairway leading who knows where.

Who thought reality television star Kris Jenner would have a bathroom fit for entertainment? Whether she meant these couches for the bottoms of her fleet of children or a television crew, we’ll never know. What we do know is that the space was created by high-end designer Jeff Andrews. And by high-end, we mean rear-end, obviously.

Rapper Drake parties so hard, his bathroom is a disco. The lighting and television in the shower mean you can dance yourself clean.

flintstones bathroom

Probably more impressive than this Flintstones-themed bathroom is the fact that it resides inside an entire Flintstones-themed home. The home was built by radio personality Dick Clark who passed away in 2012, leaving his widow to offload this interesting ass-et.

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7 Simple Tips for Superior Deck Design and Safety

By Andrea Davis
RIS Media’s housecall

Decks are great outdoor entertainment and relaxation areas, especially in the summertime, but they also need regular maintenance and checkups to stay in shape. Here are some tips to keep your deck looking its best:

1. Split or Decaying Wood

Decaying wood can be a deck?s worst enemy. Thoroughly inspect the following for rot and decay:

Ledger board
Support posts
Deck boards
Railings and stairs
You shouldn?t be able to push a sharp object – an ice pick or a screwdriver, for example — through the wood. If you find that pieces of wood are easily peeling from the structure, you may have to replace rotting boards to save your unstable deck.

2. Weight-Bearing Board

The weight-bearing board connects the deck to your house, so it needs to be structurally sound. Check that the board is attached with ?-inch stainless or galvanized steel lag screws and bolts. If nails are attaching the deck to your home, replace them with proper hardware. If there is a gap between your house and the deck, tighten and secure the bolts.

3. Flashing

Flashing prevents rot around the boards of your deck. If the flashing is pulling away from the house — look at the ledger board to be sure, since they are held together by screws — you will need to tighten it. Ensure that caulk, which helps to protect the flashing, is intact. Also, check for and remove any mud or debris. Older flashing may require replacement, and if you don?t have the experience or knowhow, you might need to hire a professional deck contractor to do it for you.

deck image
Photo courtesy of B&R Builders, Inc. in Dumfries, VA
Related Link: 8 Home Renovations That Will Pay You Back

4. Railings and Banisters

Railings and banisters help prevent physical injury that may result from falling from the deck. It?s important that they are secure at all times. Pull on railings and banisters periodically to ensure their stability. Also check their height and width; most local codes require the inclusion of railings at least three inches high and four inches apart to protect children and pets from harm. Older bolts and posts may require replacement.

deck stairs
Photo courtesy of C&T Master Total Remodeling in Chalfont, PA

5. Stairs

Stairs are another potential hazard that must be kept in working order at all times. The risers and stringers, which hold the steps up on their sides, must be securely attached. Also, according to most local codes, stair treads must be no more than 4 inches high (check with your local government office to be sure). Keep objects clear of stairs to prevent tripping injuries.

finished deck
Photo courtesy of Coating Pros in Hurricane, UT

6. Deck Finish

Finish protects the deck boards from mold, mildew and pests. Older, worn down finishes may need to be reapplied. To extend the life and appearance of your finish:

Clean off any debris – leaves, dirt, etc. – that may cause mildew.
Refresh finish in any spots showing mildew or wear; also make sure finish contains a waterproof coating.
Power wash the deck – about $250 to $420 to have it done professionally – if it shows significant signs of mildew. Then apply a new layer of waterproof finish.
7. Loose or Corroded Fasteners

Deck boards are held together by fasteners – nails, screws, anchors, etc. – that help create a whole deck. If those pop up or disappear over time, your deck may become unstable. Tighten loose fasteners and replace any that have rusted or corroded; these can cause wood deterioration. A well-secured deck will not sag or sway.

#home improvement

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7 Important Home Renovation Tips You Might?ve Missed

RIS Media’s housecall Blog
by Andrea Davis


New year, new you, right? Sure! If you?re like most people, the new year is chock-full of health- and wellness-related resolutions–but why stop there? Your home could use some improvements in the new year too. If a major home improvement is on your list of resolutions, it pays to have your plans established before you get started. So, to avoid your renovations becoming irritations, here are some budgeting and organizational guidelines to help you get where you?re going:

1. Prioritize by necessity.

It’s important to tackle any serious home maintenance problems before an aesthetic remodel begins. If you plan to renovate an entire space, practical improvements will be handled as construction moves forward. But, if your project is strictly design-based, running into overlooked structural problems will mean additional costs.

2. Weigh the costs of hiring a pro.

Depending on the scope of your project, hiring a professional is a good idea. If you?re repainting an accent wall, consider it DIY-able. But, with projects like additions and remodels, or major installations (HVAC, plumbing or new lighting) a pro is an absolute must. A professional will work according to deadlines, save you money on materials and avoid major mistakes that will drastically change the timeline (and cost) of your renovation.

3. Time the project realistically.

If you need a contractor, it?s important to book a job several months in advance (this especially applies to local remodeling contractors). Before you book a contractor, make sure you understand your project’s timeline. Lofty expectations for a completion date will make your remodel difficult for everyone involved.

4. Check on permits.

Codes vary from city-to-city, so investigating local ordinances is extremely important for your renovation timeline. Permits are not free–budget accordingly and rely on your contractor to acquire any necessary paperwork.

5. Keep a ?slush fund? handy.

Setbacks are a part of any renovation. If your house is particularly old or has some (loveable) quirks, your timeline shouldn?t be overly rigid–allow some leeway for hangups. Also, it?s important to setup a secondary account to cover any unforeseen problems. A contractor will help you address any issues that pop-up and quote them accordingly.

6. Avoid reusing materials.

If you hire a general contractor, materials usually clock in at a cheaper price. But, if you decide to buy your own materials it?s important to avoid reused items. Beware of salvaged material as well–while recovered items are fine for certain projects (building furniture from reclaimed wood is a popular alternative to buying new pieces), the quality of salvage is never certain. Allowing your contractor to purchase new materials is always preferable to any other alternatives.

7. Be prepared to move out.

If your renovation is extensive, moving out for the duration (or at least the loud part) of the remodel is strongly recommended. Aside from the volume and mess, there can be fumes and emissions that are unhealthy–especially for young children. Also, it can be difficult for the contractor to work around your sleep/work schedule.
#home renovation

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Questions to Ask Before Overhauling Your Bedroom Closets

By Lea Schneider
RealEstateBook Blog Spot

As a professional organizer, my clients are often frustrated by their closets and overwhelmed by piles of garments. They seek me out for answers to their storage dilemmas, and they are usually surprised when I deliver a list of questions in response.
Those questions, based on years of experience as a professional organizer, are the basis for building terrific storage solutions.


A great custom closet should be designed and organized to suit the way you live and the way you think. The very reason the generic closet you have now isn?t really working is that it wasn?t designed with you in mind.

Closet designers and contractors are wizards at taking a space and creating storage in many different ways. Because there are so many variations, in order for them to work their magic in a way you will love, you need to be able to convey to them what you want.

Before you inquire about a custom closet project, start by asking yourself these 12 questions. The answers you come up with will help build a closet that truly suits you, and help you explain to experts the kind of storage you need.

Does more than one person share the closet? If the answer is yes, you?ll want to answer these questions separately for each person using the closet. The two sides of a shared closet do not have to be a mirror image of each other. A custom design can and should take in the needs of both people.


Do you love or detest hangers? Some people love to see everything hanging up. Other people are happiest with their clothes folded and stacked, and without smart storage, they end up piling them in chairs and even on the floor.
How tall are you? If anyone using the closet is tall, the bars should be raised so garments have plenty of room without dragging the ground or getting entangled in hangers on the lower bar. Likewise, if you are smaller in stature, you may wish bars to be lower so you can easily use them without a stepstool.

How many garments do you plan to hang in your closet? An accurate count of your hanging garments (plus things you wish were hanging) can best help your designer meet your needs. A foot of hanging bar space may hold about 10 dress shirts or 5-6 suits or dresses.

How many long garments do you have? By long, I mean anything that cannot hang on a double bar without dragging. If you prefer to hang trousers or slacks by the waist with clip-style hangers, you?ll need to count these in your long garments.


Are you ?hidden storage? or ?open storage? minded? Getting organized means different things to different people. While some would prefer for clothing to be put into drawers or armoires with doors that close, so clothing is hidden from sight, another group could simply not function that way. These folks do best if they can see and find items stacked on open shelving.

What do you have a lot of? You may have a collection because you love it, such as purses, or maybe the weather where you live dictates what you stockpile, like sweaters. Either way, your custom closet needs to be able to house your collection.

How many pairs of shoes need to be accommodated? Since shoes often end up in an unorganized jumble, think about what storage system you would actually use. Are you more likely to hang them on a rack, kick them onto low shelves as you remove them or pick them up and put them on higher shelving?

How many pairs of those shoes are tall? Not all shoes can go on a rack or regular height shelf. Be sure to count your dress boots, winter boots, hiking boots and so on separately, as they will need taller storage.

Would you also enjoy having clothing accessories in the closet? If you?d like to have belts close by the trousers, make a note. Likewise, jewelry, scarves and other accessories can be worked into the design. You can even add baskets or drawers for undergarments and swimwear if you let your closet expert know.

What is frustrating about your current closet? Now that you are armed with a list of all the things you want your new closet to accommodate, it?s a good time to make sure the contractor?s plan is going to eliminate frustrations you currently have.

Is there anything not currently in your closet you wish was there? Frequently, homeowners turn to closets in other rooms or storage tubs for storing off-season or extra garments. Now is the time to make sure those items are included in your dream closet.

A custom closet is something you will enjoy using immediately, and if you want to sell your home later, you can be sure buyers will appreciate a thoughtful, efficient closet as well.

Lea Schneider loves finding order in the midst of chaos. Lea is a nationally recognized organizational expert and journalist who writes on home organization for The Home Depot. Info on Home Depot?s closet and storage installation services can be found on the company?s website.

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What You Should Know About Adding Solar Energy to Your Home

RIS Media’s Housecall
By Megan Wild

When you sell homes every day, no one needs to tell you what a bonus green energy-saving items are. Everyone is concerned with maximizing energy efficiency, both to save costs and to minimize environmental concerns. Adding solar energy to a home is a great way to do both.

Solar panels can cut down on the carbon dioxide a home uses by nearly 36,000 pounds annually. Since carbon dioxide emissions are the prime contributor to greenhouse gases and global warming, that?s a green benefit to be proud of. It makes installing solar panels the environmental equivalent of planting 88 trees.

You should do some pre-planning to make sure solar energy will fit into your current environment, needs and budget. Here are 10 questions to ask about making your home solar.

1. How much sun can your solar panels receive? Generally, solar energy panels need sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. This does not mean you need bright sunshine, however. It means sunlight should be able to hit your panels between these hours. Does a chimney block part of the available roof space? Do trees? Do other buildings? If so, have a solar panel installer give you an estimate of whether your roof is a good candidate for solar power.

Solar panels receive sun not only from the sky, but also from insolation ? the degree of solar radiation the ground receives during a given span of time. This varies according to region. A solar installer will be able to give you an estimate.

2. How much roof space is available for panels? If the roof already has roof vents or skylights, there may not be room for the number of panels needed to give you significant energy. In addition to figuring costs, an estimate can be helpful to determine if your roof is suitable for solar panel installation.

3. What types of shingles do you have? Solar panels are most commonly used on asphalt or composite shingles. If you have other types ? wood, Spanish tile or metal ? it is still possible to place solar panels on them, but it may be more expensive.

4. When will your roof need to be replaced? If you have 15 to 30 years left on your roof, all systems are go. Most solar panels last 20 to 30 years, with less than 0.05 percent depreciation of energy conversion each year. Most warranties last 10 to 15 years.

If your roof will need major work or replacement in 5 years, though, it makes no financial sense for you to be installing solar panels on top of it. It will be expensive to remove solar panels to work on the roof, and they could be damaged to boot. Wait until you have a new roof to put in solar.

Related Link: A Place in the Sun: Google?s Project Sunroof Helps Homeowners Embrace Solar
5. How much energy do you need? You need to have a good sense of how much energy you use in a year. Either add the kilowatts from the past year?s bills or keep tabs as you go forward. Don?t look selectively at certain months since energy needs change depending on the weather. You?ll need a year to have a good sense to how many kilowatts you need for your energy needs. Then, you can also calculate how much energy savings you can expect.

6. Will your energy needs change in the future? Remember to factor in changes in your life that could cause changes in energy consumption. Are you planning to have a child? That?s likely to result in more energy usage. Do you have two teenagers who will be leaving home in five years? That?s likely to lead to less.

Also, it?s important to consider how your home?s appliances and extras will age. Old appliances can use excessive amounts of energy that may negate your energy savings from solar panels. Energy inefficient doors can account for more than 20 percent of a home?s energy loss. Ultimately, if you want to add solar panels, you should consider your budget for future energy upgrades in your home.

7. Do you live in a house or apartment unit? Do you rent or own? If you own a house, you are free to plan the addition of solar power. If you own an apartment unit, you?ll need to see whether the building allows solar panels. If you rent any size dwelling, solar panels are not in the cards. The owner could install them, but not a renter.

8. What are the permits required? Municipal and state permits vary tremendously by locality. Some require several feet of clearance around the panels. Some will let you build to the edge. It is imperative you know before you engage a contractor. Otherwise, you might be forced to tear down the panels and build again. Check that your electrical systems will be up to code once the installation is complete as well.

9. When can you begin to enjoy the benefits of solar power? Be sure to ask your installer and do research about when the benefits of having solar panels will flow through to your house and your bottom line. However, when factoring in the time it can take to gather the construction and any building permits required, the installation can take from several weeks to several months.

10. What is the total cost of installing solar panels? Luckily, the cost of installing solar panels dropped by roughly 60 percent between 2011 and 2014, according to Forbes. The cost on average is currently $17,000.

Remember that the cost of installing solar panels is offset by a number of tax breaks. Through 2016, there is a Federal Investment Tax Credit that can reduce the costs of installation by up to 30 percent. A number of states and localities also offer tax credits or offsets. It is worth doing research to make sure you obtain the maximum benefit from any tax credits.

Some localities and companies also offer rebates for installing solar panels. Again, be sure to ask about any benefits or rebates that are paired with the installation of solar panels.

Solar panels will not add to your property taxes. Additional taxes are levied by size ? so a larger garage or another room may result in higher taxes. Solar panels do not add to the size of your home, so there are no property tax worries.

When crunching the numbers for the cost of solar panels, remember that solar panels will add to the resale value of any home ? especially as green energy becomes more and more important.

Few household improvements do more to cut energy costs, make a house green and increase resale value than installing solar panels. With these questions asked and answered, you?ll be all set to embark on adding solar power to your home.

Megan Wild is a home improvement writer who specializes in renewable energy and the options for homeowners. Check out more of her tips on her blog, Your Wild Home.

Nursery Decorating Trends For 2016

by Jacklyn Renz

Whether it?s your first or your fifth, having a new baby is exciting and a cause for preparation. The nursery, where your bundle will sleep and play, is key to creating an atmosphere conducive to sleep and relaxation. You?ll be especially thankful for your nursery amidst the cries and late night snacks. Here are some of the nursery decoration trends to watch for in 2016 that can help make your baby?s new room a portrait of his or her personality!

    Pastels Are Back
    Statement Cribs
    Making it Modern
    To the Skies
    Bold With Lighting

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5 Reasons Now Is the Time to Buy a Home According to a Top Economist

By Zoe Eisenberg
RIS Media

5 Reasons Now

Ted Jones, Stewart Title’s chief economist, says now is inarguably the right time to buy a home. Those who have been waiting on the sidelines, struggling with rising rent and dreaming of a place to call their own should wait no longer, according to Jones, who believes we are in the perfect market to promote homeownership. Here are five reasons why: Jobs are up. ?Jobs are everything,? says Jones…

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