Décor in a rental: limitations and possibilities

When hunting for the perfect apartment, save your time and grief by taking one extra step: do a little research before committing to signing the lease to find out how deep are you allowed to get involved in the apartment’s redecoration. Personalizing the décor ranges from repainting the walls in a different color, to replacing light fixtures, and adding or removing carpeting; be aware what the landlord approves for the apartment you wish to turn into your home.

Many landlords have a certain level of flexibility, but just as you can come across one that allows you to make significant aesthetic changes to the apartment, you can find one that doesn’t. Regardless of their reasons, financial or marketing concerns, or perhaps just the desire to keep uniformity and assert control over their apartments, find the landlord that suits best with your needs.

Once you’ve found the best place and the approval to modify it so that if feels like home, here are some suggestions that could inspire you:

  1. Give the appliances the glowing look of stainless steel by using peel-and-stick contact paper with a stainless steel finish. You’ll give them the nice façade at a fraction of the price of the real thing.
  2. Freshen up the walls with this simple trick – install new switchplate covers (the covers on light switches and electrical outlets). A basic white cover costs about $1, and is really easy to install. For the kitchen you could consider those of stainless steel, but can also hunt online for patterned and decorative covers.
  3. Check the lights in each room and make sure that the ‘light spectrum’ from the bulbs is the one appropriate for the area of the home. Opt for soft bulbs that emit a yellow/red undertone in the “chill out” areas like the living room, and for bright bulbs with blue undertones in “study” zones such as the home office or reading spot.
  4. Repaint the walls or change the wallpaper. Choose light colors if you tend to make a room look bigger.
  5. Decorate with photos and art on the walls. Accentuating the idea of making the space look bigger, consider hanging mirrors even in places that are above eye-level; this increases the light that shines through the apartment. Placing two in the same room on opposite walls will also give the impression of a larger room.
  6. The kitchen and bath rugs, as well as the doormat, are a few simple ways to put your signature over your new home.
  7. Plants don’t need a separate security deposit payment, or approval. Put plants everywhere, indoors and out, they’ll brighten up the place, regardless of the season.

Safe holidays for furry friends

The holidays bring together the five Fs: family, friends, fun, food, and Fido. In all the excitement it’s easy to forget about holiday safety, Fido’s safety. If you wish to avoid ending your holiday celebration at the veterinary emergency clinic, follow some essential guidelines.

Don’t share your food with your dog. We love to indulge in the feast, but as much as it pleases us, it can cause real pain to the dog. Rich, fatty foods can seriously upset Fido’s stomach and can even be toxic. The following foods are extremely dangerous for your dog:

  • Chocolate
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Onions (can cause anemia) and high levels of garlic
  • Bones – especially the cooked ones and ALL poultry bones
  • Everything high in fat, sodium and/or sugar
  • Alcoholic beverages

Of course, there are some types of human foods that are not harmful to give to Fido as a special treat. A small piece of cooked turkey or chicken, but without skin or bones, will do the trick as long as you keep the gravy to yourself. Raw apples and carrots in moderate amounts are a healthy snack for dogs too, as long as you stop at moderate.

Decorations. Dogs are curious by nature, they need to check out anything new that appears in the home. Then one leads to another – sniffing to chewing and later on to ingesting objects added to the décor. Make sure all electrical cords are tucked away and other decorations and holiday plants are out of reach – Poinsettia, Mistletoe, Lilies, Daffodils, Christmas Tree – all are toxic for your furry friend. Pay extra attention to dangling objects as they can be pulled down and cause injuries. You already know to not leave candles unattended. And if you have a Christmas tree, don’t let Fido drink the tree water as it can make him sick.

Holidays are all about gatherings and parties and as fun as this might be for you, your pup could sense otherwise; lots of people in the house can end up with injury or stress for your dog. If this is the case, when you have many friends over, consider keeping her in a crate or a quiet room, especially if Fido is the nervous kind. On the other hand, if your pup is comfortable around a smaller group, make sure you explain to your friends the ground rules: don’t feed the dog and keep the doors closed. Unfortunately, many pets get loose and run off during holidays; thus the importance of the collar with current identification.

You and Fido have a fun holiday season, surrounded by friends and family, and of course, all that delicious food.

Merry Holidays!

Have a very thrifty Christmas!

Ah Christmas. It’s all eggnog, chocolate, family visits, reindeer sweater and enormous credit card bills. In our chase to buy the perfect present, decorations and THE dress or suits for the office holiday party, we get carried away with our spending.   But having an amazing Christmas doesn’t have to mean shelling out all our hard earned money. There are plenty of ways to save money and enjoy the holidays. Here are few tips.

  • Ye old Yule tree. Do you really need a Christmas tree or a crazy expensive designer wreath in every room? You know you don’t. Limit yourself to one tree for your entire apartment or one sensibly proportioned wreath per room. If you’re going with the Christmas tree, you know that you don’t need the biggest one on the tree lot. You know, the one you know won’t even fit into your apartment. Get a smaller one you can display on a table. Or you can just rip off the Band-Aid and get a sensibly-priced faux tree that will last you for years to come. If you go with a faux tree, buy a safe choice. If you buy the super trendy hot pink one you’ll be the most fabulous tree this year, but you’ll end up throwing it out the next (or be super-embarrassed about it). Go with green, white, gold or maybe red. These perennially Christmas-y colors will ensure you’ll be able to use tree in coming years as well.
  • Deco. Picking up globes and tinsel officially means Christmas is coming up. But digging out previous years’ decorations could do that too.  Most people have boxes upon boxes of angels, snowmen, globes and tinsel in storage. Pick one, maybe two colors and hang only items in that color scheme on your tree. This will give it a more polished look. If you don’t have enough decorations in your chosen color scheme but have some in errant colors or some that are looking shabby, get your DIY on and revamp them. Paint, spray-paint, wrap and glue to your hearts’ content. Any other decorations you have, you can use to bring holiday cheer into your other rooms. Group them according to color or theme and hang them in your bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, so you’re reminded of the holidays wherever you are in your apartment.
  • Candles are a great way to add warmth and Christmas mood to any apartment. Feel free to pick up new ones in your Christmas theme, as you’ll probably end up using them during the holidays. If you’re feeling super thrifty you can pick up simple white ones, usually the cheapest kind, and adding a touch of paint or glitter from your chosen theme.
  • Presents. This one is a difficult place to save for many. Most of us try to gift people as lavishly as possible and it could seem unloving to save on presents. But it is possible to save money and give amazing gifts. For example, if you have a special talent (say baking, sewing, car maintenance, dancing) give people personalized gift cards. Most will appreciate a gift card for a month of home-made cupcakes or waltzing lessons. You can still give home-made gift cards even if you aren’t Martha Stewart. A card for full clean-up after the next epic party will be a much-appreciated stocking stuffer.
  • Renter’s insurance. While technically it does mean extra spending, it does save you a lot. You could say that you have to spend money to save money. And it’s really just a dime. For as little as 50 cents a day, Resident Shield offers you protection in case of fire, theft, vandalism, and personal liability, including a provision for dog bites. Now that’s a money saver!

Happy Holidays!

Last minute preparations for winter’s arrival

If you were hoping for a mild winter after last year’s polar vortex, prepare to be disappointed. . AccuWeather.com predicts plentiful rain, snow, ice and cold for most US regions, including areas such as the Gulf States and the Tennessee Valley.

While bountiful snow might be a cause for celebration for winter sports aficionados, according to the Insurance Information Institute, winter-related damage is only surpassed by tornado and hurricane damage. To pass this winter safely, run through this essential checklist before the bitter cold sets in:

  • Update your renter’s insurance. You might associate windstorms with warm summer days, but the winds of winter can be even more dangerous due to freezing temperatures. Resident Shield provides coverage for loss associated with windstorm damage. Resident Shield also provides liability coverage for accidental physical injuries – like say, a visitor slipping in a puddle of melted snow in your hallway and breaking an arm.
  • If you haven’t gotten to it yet, check if your apartment’s heating system works properly. Even if you live in area that is expected to see a mild winter, that doesn’t mean you won’t be hit with a few days of bone-chilling cold. Should your heating system seem anything but 100 percent perfectly functional, put in a maintenance request now.

  • Check again if all your windows and doors close and insulate properly. There might be smaller cracks letting in cold air that you might have not noticed during a mild October afternoon. See that they are fixed as soon as possible.  Not only do they let cold air in and skyrocket your heating bill, but they can be a breeding ground for molds.
  • Check if space heaters work properly. If they don’t, have them fixed by a specialist or buy new ones from reputable retailers. It only takes one errant spark to be facing a disaster.
  • Speaking of home fires, don’t forget to check on at least a monthly basis if your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms work properly and have charged batteries.
  • Be prepared for power outages. A bitter snowstorm can down power lines, so have extra thick blankets , flashlights and candles on hand. But never leave candles or a lit fireplace unattended. Never place flammables near them. Make them inaccessible to pets.
  • If you own pets, cold winter days can be quite the challenge.  Not only are you reluctant to go out into the cold, but your furry friend might be too. It’s very important however, that animals get proper exercise in winter months as well. Not only can they act out if they don’t, it can affect their health as well. Scope your neighborhood or city out for indoor dog parks. If you can make it an indoor dog park, go for it. Not only will your puppy get a work-out in a safe environment, both you and him could end up making new friends.
  • If dog parks are not an option, make sure your dog’s winter gear still fits him properly and don’t forget to protect their paws too. There are special ointments and formulas you can apply to your dog’s paws before going outside, that will protect the sensitive skin from cold and all the nasty chemicals outside. Plan for days when going out won’t be an option and pick up some interactive dog toys, such as treat puzzle games.

Set up a stressless holiday season

Holidays – the best time of the year with numerous parties to go to, celebrations with yummy cocktails, exchange of gifts, mountains of delicious food, friends and family gatherings flooded with laughter, right?

For most of us yes, for some no.

Holidays can turn into stressful times for quite a few of us due to the busy schedule that leaves space for nothing else. Buying the gifts, cleaning and decorating the house, preparing the food, all take time that seems to fly too quickly. Besides the physical stress, there is the greater one, the emotional stress. Some gatherings are filled with deadlines and preparations, others are about old family wounds and insecurities; by the end of the holiday season, we feel exhausted and drained of energy.

Experiences instead of things: Negative feelings come to the surface because we have misplaced our focus. The secret is to remember how it was back when we were kids, playing with the box of the toy just as much as with the toy itself. What have you planned or already done in order to get a wonderful gift to everyone you love? Instead of going broke thanks to your big heart, or spending countless hours in shops and malls trying to purchase the perfect gift, find the ways to actually spend the holidays with those you love, replace the material value of the things with their real value. Consider how you could use the time you’d normally spend at the stores, to be with your dear ones. Years from now they will not remember the fluffy slippers or the fancy soaps, but they’ll probably remember that special day you spent together.

Switch perfectionism with fun. The home doesn’t need to be perfectly clean, as the food doesn’t need to be chef quality. You definitely don’t need decorations made by Martha Stewart. Instead of judging yourself and pushing yourself at the end of your limits, try to have fun while preparing for the holidays. Those who love you do so not because of your decorations or your crystal clear windows; they might appreciate a gourmet dinner, but love it the most important ingredient. Do as much as you’re willing and spend the remaining time enjoying your holiday.

Gratefulness. It’s hard to avoid comparison when all these perfectly happy families flood the media with their perfect holidays. Every morning, when you’re sipping your coffee, make a list with the things you do have – the ability to read, write, see, walk, etc. All the little things we often take for granted can actually bring you joy and comfort. Discover which those are and watch your mood improve.

And just to make sure, check the end date of your renter’s insurance. You don’t want to worry over 43 cents/day this holiday.

The pet-friendly apartment – Christmas edition

Few things really set the mood for the winter holidays as decorating your apartment does. Sure, you can have Christmas carols playing in the background all day long. You can even binge-watch Christmas movies while loading up on cinnamon cookies and eggnog, but it won’t really feel like Christmas until you’ve hung that mistletoe and lit up that tree your apartment.

As a responsible, renter’s insurance-carrying tenant, you already know most dangers to look out for during the season (faulty Christmas lights, unsupervised candles, etc.). However, as a brand new pet owner your responsibilities have just doubled. Not only are you responsible for your own safety, but that of your pet as well. And you’ve also got to be on the look-out for all the trouble they can get into with their loveable, goofy ways.

One of the first and easiest steps you can take to give yourself peace of mind, especially during such a stressful time as the winter holidays, is to add a Pet Damage Coverage to your policy. Resident Shield’s Pet Damage Coverage for example, offers you $500 in liability coverage in the event of pet damage to the apartment.

As a pet owner, the number one danger in your festively decorated apartment is the Christmas tree. Both dogs and cats have a penchant for running around, knocking things over, as you’ve already experienced. But the Christmas tree is a whole new ballgame. The tree smells intriguing, the twinkly lights are enthralling, and all the sparkly, colorful, and gently swaying tinsel and globes are simply irresistible, especially to cats. While you might not mind a few cheap broken globes or some eviscerated tinsel, you need to be aware that your pets won’t simply break them.  They (or you) can step on the shards and they could swallow them. It won’t even take a cat or dog much to pull the entire tree down onto himself. If you can’t forgo a decorated tree, make sure you secure it. If you think a pack of Christmas elves on a sugar high could knock it down, so can your cat.  Make sure the base is super stable and the tree itself is tied to something.

Next stop: the shiny decorations. If your pet is attracted to shiny things, considering using decorations with a matte finish or made from more natural materials such as wood, cardboard, felt, straw, etc. This way, even if your pets get their paws on them, the chances of hurting themselves are significantly smaller. And a piece of swallowed felt won’t put them in nearly as much danger as a shard pf glass or plastic.

Speaking of shiny things, be very careful with wrapping paper, especially candy wrappers. While chewing up and swallowing some simple wrapping paper probably won’t hurt your pet, things like tinfoil and plastics can present a threat to their life. Make sure you dispose of all wrappers as soon as the present was opened.

Of course it’s not only candy wrappers you need to be careful with, but also the sweets themselves.  And generally all types of human food. While Fido might give you his biggest puppy eyes, you must resist! Not all human foods and spices are pet-friendly. And candies are especially dangerous. Chocolate, for example, can be downright deadly. Do not give them any human food, no matter how hard they beg. If you know you have a hard time resisting, keep some pet treats within easy access.

But it’s not only man-made holiday items that are toxic to pets. Be very careful to hang  decorative holiday plants out of the reach of your pets, as staples such as holly and mistletoe are quite poisonous.

As an extra security measure and also because it’s Christmas and he deserves it, buy your pet some new toys. The best toys are the ones that require a lot of attention, such as pet activity toys and puzzle games. This way, he’ll be way too busy with his own stuff to chew up yours or murder your holiday wreath.

Have yourself  a Merry Christmas!

By the numbers – renters grow nationwide

The U.S. Department of Commerce, in collaboration with the Census Bureau, conducted in 2012 an American Community Survey that reflected how American citizens reside. The highest percentage of owner-occupied housing units were in West Virginia, with 72 percent, followed closely by Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, and Michigan. Meanwhile, the highest number of renters  were in Hawaii, with 56.9 percent. New York, California and Nevada also had more than 50 percent of households comprised of renters.

A recent poll conducted by ORC International discovered that 95 percent of homeowners had homeowners insurance. But among renters, only 37 percent had renters insurance. However, that percentage is growing. The first time the question was asked in 2009, just 29 percent answered positively.

Nationwide, in 2012, 48.1 percent of the renters spent almost one third of their household income on rent and utilities, according to US Census; in California the percentage was the highest among all states, 54.6 percent. Renters outnumber the homeowners in the largest cities: in 2010, 69 percent of the households in New York City were rented, 61.8 percent in Los Angeles, 55.1 percent in Chicago, and 54.6 percent in Houston, according to US Census. The 2012 report issued by the U.S. Census shows that the number of people moving to the cities is growing, Chicago holding the first position in the numeric gain in its downtown area.

The national renter share showed a steady increase from 34.1 percent in 2009 to 34.6 percent in 2010 to 35.6 percent in 2011, according to the report released by the Census in April 2013. The analysis conducted by the National Multi Housing Council reflects that young adults are the major age group to live in rental housing, with 72 percent of householders under age 30 or younger living in rental housing. Harvard deepens the research and shows on its 2013 State of the Nation’s Housing Report that relative to other households, renters are more likely to be single-person households.

The number of renter policies is increasing – there were 7 million in 2006, 9.7 million in 2010 and 10.7 million in 2011. The good news is that renters insurance does not burn holes into ones pockets, as it can be as little as 43 cents/day, with a monthly or annually charge, depending on the policy and the insurer. Furthermore, when an incident happens and a claim needs to be filled, the technological evolution made most companies allow starting the filling process online.

Renter tips for a safe holiday season

As holiday cheer start reaching fever pitch, everybody’s in a hurry to get their hands on the best holiday gifts and nail down the last details of their holiday celebration. But lost sleep and stress can contribute to careless behavior, which, paired with all the holiday paraphernalia, like candles, tinsel, lights and fir trees can spell disaster for your apartment.

While Resident Shield has your back in case of fires and other disasters, such as theft and accidental injuries of guests, it’s always easier to avoid them altogether. Below are a few things to watch out for during this holiday season:

Candles are a ubiquitous decorative element this time of the year. Be extra vigilant during the holidays. Many decorations are manufactured from highly flammable materials, such as paper, wood or plastic blends. Holiday get-togethers can get quite boisterous. Families get together, children chase the pets and the adults might have one too cups of eggnog. With all the hubbub, candles can easily be knocked over. You might not even notice the accident, until it actually becomes a threat. To avoid such a situation, consider replacing them with electric candles. If you can’t fathom such a notion, make sure all candles have stable bases, are out of the reach of children, curious pets and careless adults.

Fir trees. Present in millions of homes throughout the countries, this holiday staple is as dangerous as it is pretty. Not only are firs highly flammable, they have a low ignition point. Make sure you don’t place any candles near Christmas trees, nor do you strew heat-emitting lights on them. The same goes for fake Christmas trees.

Lights. Twinkly, sparkly, flashy – whatever your preference, make sure you buy your Christmas lights from reputable retailers. Before installing, test whether they function properly.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la, la la la la - but make sure those boughs of holly or any other plants you bring into your home aren’t poisonous for your pets.

If you’re lucky enough to boast a fireplace in you apartment, color us jealous. While nothing sounds more divine than cozying up to crackling hearth with a cup of mulled wine, make sure you had the chimney swept beforehand  and that both your fire and carbon monoxide alarms are working properly.

Unfortunately thefts and break-ins are quite common during this time of year. As tired as you might be when all your guests leave, check that all windows and doors are locked. Avoid putting expensive presents in a highly visible place (such as windowsills).  Moreover, if you bought or received big-ticket items with lofty packaging, such as HD TVs, laptops, home cinema systems and the like, dispose of their packaging in a discreet way. Don’t just leave the box outside your door, thinking you’ll take it down to the recycling center later. You’re basically advertising to those up to no good.

Also, to be on the safe side, document any new purchases or presents and add them to your insurance policy. Should the worst happen, you’ll at least be reimbursed for your stolen or damaged goods.

7 things you must discuss with your roommates

After landing your first post-college job you’re finally ready to move out from your parents’ house. But renting on your own with an entry-level job could be financially stressful, so you and a couple of your young professional friends decided to move in together. While it does sound like fun and financially savvy, there a few essential subjects you need to cover before taking the plunge. Here are a few topics that need addressing:

  • Before scheduling any walk-throughs, talk about what each of you would like to spend on housing and respect it. Visiting a community that is out of the price range of one your gang and/or trying to pressure them into agreeing to it will lead to cabin fever before you even move in together.
  • Talk through what each of you needs in your future apartment and what each would like. Prioritize and compromise. For example, if some of you would like a community that has loads of outdoor green space but it would mean being far removed from mass transit that one of your future roommates needs, the latter should take priority.

  • Recommend getting renter’s insurance. Detail all the benefits  renter’s insurance such as Resident  Shield gives you: protection against the financial risk associated with property damage such as fires or theft, full replacement value for your personal property and that of your neighbors, even coverage of temporary living expenses in case an event makes your apartment uninhabitable. Decide whether you would all like to get a joint policy or individual one. While both have their benefits, you might prefer not sharing a policy with your future gaming roomie and his extremely expensive electronics.
  •  Talk pets. Clarify whether or not anybody has strong feelings about having one or not and what everybody’s expectations would be in case someone should adopt one. I.e. if certain rooms are off limits, size and breed of pet, etc. If a pet will be sharing your apartment, be adamant about getting Pet Damage Coverage. This way if Rex decides to chew up your guest’s French designer bag, it will seem like less of a disaster.
  • Talk over your guest and party policy. Knowing beforehand if one of you feels uncomfortable with having people over or would prefer having their room off-limits during parties will eliminate lots of tense repartee.
  • Establish an outline of chore distributions. It might harken back to the days of living with your parents, but do you really want to be faced with mountains of unwashed dishes every second day?
  • Talk about any special medical or dietary needs. If your roomie is violently allergic to nuts you should know beforehand not to bring any in the house. If your roomie has chemical allergies, you might have to orientate yourself towards a community that uses eco-friendly cleaning product, for example.

Prep ahead for Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving creeps closer, everybody’s got turkey, football and family dinner on the brain. But as much fun Thanksgiving is, we all know it’s also quite the undertaking to throw a successful party that goes off without a hitch. To make things easier, we’ve thought of eight things you can do in advance and to free up Gobble Day for family and friends.

  1. Finalize your guest list. You probably already have an estimate of who’ll be attending, but call everybody to confirm. This is also a great opportunity to ask about food allergies and special diets, especially if guests are bringing new significant others or people whom you haven’t seen in a while will attend. People with special dietary needs are aware that it can cause a hitch in others’ menu planning and will be extra-grateful to you if you’re the one who initiates the conversation. Assure them you are happy to create a menu or at least a few dishes that take their needs into account.
  2. Now that you have a clear guest list, it’s time to work on your menu. You might want to go traditional, or have a theme celebration. Once you’ve decided on a theme, scour through grandma’s recipe collection and that magical land known as Pinterest. Copy or print recipes and start your list of ingredients. If your guests are expected to contribute to dinner with drinks, a dish or desert let them know now.
  3. Take stock of your pantry. Knowing exactly what and how much of it you have at home will help you during shopping and cooking. It’s also a great opportunity to put aside items for a food bank, where donations are much appreciated at this time of year. Make sure you toss all expired items – do not donate them!
  4. Clean out your freezer and fridge and put the oven through a self-clean cycle. This ensures that all the ingredients and leftovers are stored in a safe environment. Clean and replace missing Tupperware so you can put away leftovers as soon as you take the dish off the dinner table.
  5. Finish up that comprehensive list of ingredients you’ll need and hit the stores. One week before Thanksgiving buy all drinks, non-perishables, any special cooking utensils you might need and the turkey. Pick up all ingredients, even perishables for dishes you’ll make in advance such as vegetable soup, stock, pies and rolls. Store these in the freezer when they’re done. Sturdy perishables such as pumpkins, carrots, potatoes and such can also be bought now. Other perishables that will be cooked on Thanksgiving should be bought no more than three days in advance.
  6. Take care of deep cleaning now so you only have to do a quick vacuum before your guests arrive. Polish your silverware now.
  7. Make Compile a cooking schedule, so on the day before and the day of Thanksgiving you know exactly what, when and in what order needs to be cooked, whipped, reheated and popped in the oven.
  8. Review you renter’s insurance and make sure it’s up to date. Thanksgiving is one of the most dangerous days of the year, with the highest number of home fires. In fact there are three times more home fires on this day, helping November take the top spot for cooking-related fires. Make sure you’re protected with Resident Shield.