The Lincoln Park Zoo is hosting “Smart & Soulful Gardening” tonight, a free class for homeowners interested in gardening this spring season.

The program, lead by Lincoln Park Zoo’s Director of Horticulture Brian Houck, aims to equip amateur gardeners with the tools they need to compliment their own personal style and get the most out of their gardens.

“Smart & Soulful Gardening” will take place at the Judy Keller Education Center Auditorium from 6:00-7:00 p.m. and 7:30-8:30 p.m. Ages 16 and up are invited to register for the free class.

To sign up for the 7:30-8:30 p.m. program, visit The 6:00-7:00 p.m. session is already sold out.

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According to a recent story from MSNBC, homeownership may soon be more affordable for Americans than renting.

In the past, renting has been the affordable alternative to homeownership. Due to recent declines in property values in the buyers’ market and increases in rental rates however, homeownership may actually soon be more affordable. reports a 33 percent decline in home values compared to a 15 percent increase in rental rates over recent years, according to Capital Economics Housing Economist Paul Diggle. Looking at mortgage rates, the national monthly median is around USD $700, which is highly competitive with rental prices in most markets.

Diggle estimates that someone who stays put in a median-priced home for the next seven years would save USD $9,000 compared to renting a median-priced house or apartment for the next seven years.  This estimation is based on a scenario where rents increase 3 percent a year for the next seven years and home prices stay flat in 2012 and 2013 before beginning to rise about 3 percent a year starting in 2014.

As MSNBC points out, the adequate credit score and 20 percent down required to purchase a home may be unobtainable for many Americans. For renters who have been waiting for their opportunity to move into the buyers’ market, however, there may be no better a time than now to make the plunge.

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Tax season is here, and Energy Star is offering potential rebates to homeowners through its “Consumer Energy Efficiency” program.

The joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy has incentivized energy-efficient home improvements made from 2011 until 2016 with a Federal tax credit.

Homeowners can earn rebates of 10 percent on cost for up to USD $500 on basic energy-saving home improvement projects, and 30 percent of cost with no price limit for more involved home improvement efforts.

Qualifying home improvement for Energy Star’s Consumer Energy Efficiency program includes: stoves, heating; ventilation and air conditioning, insulation, roofs, water heaters, windows and doors, heat pumps, wind turbines, solar energy systems and fuel cells.

For more details on the Consumer Energy Efficiency incentives, visit

Image by © Olix Wirtinger/Corbis

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The Turley Team (left to right): Katie Marxhausen, Muriel Turley, Pat Turley, Carol Feld and Jenna Smulski

Patrick Turley of the Turley Team and Keller Williams Premiere Properties has been announced for the second consecutive year as one of the top two Realtors in the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton marketplace, and among the top seven agents in all of Dupage County in an independent ranking by Chicago Agent Magazine.

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The Federal Reserve System has urged policymakers to reexamine conditions in the housing market that are preventing positive growth from taking place.

According to the Federal Reserve, strict mortgage loan laws are restricting eligible homeowners from obtaining a home. The Fed outlined the dilemma, among other problems, in a 26 page report addressed to Chairman Tim Johnson and Ranking Member Richard Shelby.

“Obstacles limiting access to mortgage credit even among creditworthy borrowers contribute to weakness in housing demand, and barriers to refinancing blunt the transmission of monetary policy to the household sector,” reads the white paper. “Further attention to easing some of these obstacles could contribute to the gradual recovery in housing markets and thus help speed the overall economic recovery.”

Furthermore, the Fed identifies an excess of foreclosed properties on the market and a large number of homeowners facing foreclosure as a deterrent of stabilization.

As the paper points out, there is no quick fix to repairing the troubled housing market. “Our goal is not to provide a detailed blueprint, but rather to outline issues and tradeoffs that policymakers might consider,” writes the Fed.

To view the entire “The U.S. Housing Market: Current Conditions and Policy Considerations” report, visit

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The Turley Team of Keller Williams Premiere Properties was recently awarded 2011 Reader’s Choice Favorite Realtor by Glancer Magazine. Outstanding customer service sets the Turleys apart from other Realtors.  Patrick Keeley, a Turley client, stated “The Turleys stand out from other Realtors because of the way they approach their clients and have the feel of a ‘small team’. They individualize their customers and make them feel appreciated. I look forward to doing business with them again in the near future.” The Turleys continue to be ranked as one of the top teams locally as well as in the top 1% nationally. Pat Turley attributes their success to extensive real estate experience, unparalleled market knowledge, use of cutting edge technology, strong negotiating skills, and exceptional customer service. They utilize a true team approach by employing a full-time staff of specialists giving them a distinct advantage and allowing them to provide their clients the best service in the industry.

For more info on The Turleys visit or call 630-790-2300.

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submitted by Ann Bridgman
Which Renovations are Worth Doing?

Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal

Did you put off home renovations during the recession? There are some projects that may be worth the (lesser) cost now.

KITCHENS: Whether they cook like Mario Batali or order takeout nightly, Americans invest in their kitchens. And these days the $12.6 billion kitchen remodeling industry is offering plenty of ways to economize, from volume freebies to remnant countertops.

Haggle this: Some cabinet makers are responding to the drop in demand by reducing or eliminating surcharges for custom-size cabinets, decorative finishes and higher-end wood types.

Buyer beware: Homeowners trying to save by sourcing materials directly from a manufacturer could make costly mistakes. If measurements are even a half-inch off, or if homeowners don’t understand all the variables, they could pay much more for return shipping and a redo.

Discount alert: Custom cabinets are down 20% to 30%, thanks to lower material costs and cabinet-maker discounts. Counters are down 30%, as installation costs have fallen.

BATHROOMS: Even in a sluggish home market, homeowners recoup an average 53% of the cost of a bathroom remodel at resale.

Hot tip: Spa showers, with their multiple water streams, can now be installed less expensively with already plumbed “shower tower” kits that require only one hookup to water.

Buyer beware: Some dealers may try to justify the porousness and pockmarks of lower-end stone as naturally occurring imperfections that are a stylistic choice, say contractors.

Discount alert: Granite prices are down 50%, as inventory backlogs and new foreign competition drive down prices. Porcelain sinks are down 50% as well, due to a surge in Chinese imports.

OUTDOOR ROOMS: With the housing market still anemic, experts say homeowners are continuing to focus upgrades less on recouping their investment than on the enjoyment factor. It’s a trend that has more Americans “dining out” at home — often in an outdoor space.

Hot tip: Many gas fire pits are portable and can cost several thousand dollars less than a custom hearth.

Buyer beware: To compete with cheap imports, some U.S. grill makers are sending production offshore. That has led to some recalls, although the manufacturers involved say the situation is now under control. Some sustainable woods used in decking have drawn complaints about their lack of durability.

Discount alert: Installation is off 20% or more. And with landscaping-industry revenue down 60%, it’s easier to haggle.

Don’t even ask: Synthetic decking. Plastic prices are at precrash levels, according to research firm Freedonia Group.

-Alyssa Abkowitz

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compliments of Chris Totani, Chicago Bancorp 815-277-4035  

Lump-Sum Payments Have Value
Benny L. Kass  - Chicago Tribune  

Q: Is there any benefit to paying a lump-sum payment at the beginning of the year for the sum (or greater than the sum) of the mortgage payments for the entire year?

I currently make extra principal payments monthly and plan to change this to make at least my additional principal payment in one lump sum in January.   I was wondering if there would be any advantage to making the total payments for the year (in addition to the extra principal) in January, versus leaving the money in a money market account.

A: If you are currently getting less than 1 percent interest on your money market account and are more or less financially stable the answer is yes.  

Let’s say your mortgage balance is $100,000 and the interest rate is five percent.   Let’s further assume that you pay $500 each month toward principal.   The monthly interest payment (rounded for this example) is $416.   So the first month you pay $916.   Your new balance is now $99,500 ($100,000 less the $500 principal).

Now the 5 percent interest is calculated on that new balance, which is $414.58.   (Note: Multiply $99,500 times 5 percent and divide by 12 to get monthly interest.)   As you can see, the interest goes down very slowly each month.

Let’s say you send the lender $5,000 in January, making sure you make it clear on your check and the payment coupon that this is to reduce principal.   Now, instead of a balance of $99,500 in February, you loan balance will by $95,000.   Interest for that month will be $395.83-clearly considerably lower than if you only make the regular monthly payment.

It makes sense to reduce your principal by making extra payments.   And it is better if you can make one lump-sum payment at the beginning of each year.   In effect, instead of getting peanuts on your money market account, in my example, you are, in effect, getting 5 percent.


Kass, Benny L.  Lump-sum Payments  Have  Value. Chicago Tribune, Section 7, page 6.  27 February 2011.

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Help for your shelves from and  Ladies Home Journal

  • You can’t go wrong with traditional bookends, but think outside the box, too: Ceramic vases and bowls will keep books standing upright. You can add weight by filling them with small river rocks.

  • Leave about a quarter of each shelf bookless to provide visual breathing room. Line most of your books up vertically, interspersed with a few well-chosen objects, like a lamp or clock.

  • Make displays multidimensional by layering. Experiment: Lean frames against one another, place smaller pieces in front of larger ones, and cluster similar objects together. Take a step back to get an overall view: You want it to look chic, not cluttered.

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Christmas Decorating! I have to admit, I was dreading it a bit. But then I realized that I just needed to freshen things up and use the things I had in different ways.   I pared down on the red and green and went monochromatic–white amaryllis, green spruce and white lights. Mix in a few sticks or pinecones for a neutral, and you have an up to date, fresh Christmas display!

“Just The Thing Decorating”  has been the perfect solution for our clients, a great way to get a fresh new look!   The Turley Team

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