How to judge your home’s curb appeal

If you have been trying to sell your home, you are well aware of how challenging it can be. However, there is one way that you can increase your chances of success and that is if you improve your home's curb appeal.

With fewer and fewer qualified buyers in the market it has become even more important to make your home as attractive as possible.

That's because a very high percentage of people who are shopping for a home decide whether or not they would like to take a look inside the home based on what they see as they drive by the house – or when they arrive for a showing. If the curb appeal is not positive they often leave.

As the homeowner it can be rather difficult for you to see your house through other people's eyes.

That's because you have gotten accustomed to how it looks and you see beyond whatever faults it has. However, if you are considering selling your home you have to first look at is as property rather than the roof over your particular head. And, as such, there are a number of things you can do to sell this property for the highest possible dollar.

Before you can increase your curb appeal you have to identify the areas that are ripe for improvement. Here's a simple exercise that you can do to help you to gage your home's curb appeal.

First, the next time you come back home, park across the street or down the block. You want to be able to get a good view of your property and its surroundings, as if you were looking at it for the first time. As you walk towards your house imagine that this is the first time you are here.

Is the approach to your property tidy and clean? Is there anything that you could do to make it more attractive?

Take a notepad with you and jot down your first impressions of the yard and the house. Then note the house's best exterior features.

Once you've done that take a moment or two to see if you can come up with some initial ideas about how you can enhance the looks of your house and property. Continue this exercise later.

After you consider the best features of your yard and home, make a note of what the worst features are. Then see if you can think of a number of ways that you could eliminate, improve, or minimize these negative factors.

One thing that could help is if you take pictures of your house. If your camera is a digital camera take the photos in color and look at them that way first. Then turn the image into black and white and analyze them. It may be easier to see the problems when the color doesn't affect your impressions.

by: Wendy Moyer 

How canned foods help you cook like the pros

For starters, they have most of their ingredients measured and ready ahead of time, “magically” shaving time off their meal-prep demonstrations. What trips up many home cooks is timing. They get started on a recipe and one of the ingredients gets overly browned or over-cooked while waiting for the next ingredient to be ready to go into the dish.

Relying more on canned foods, which come pre-cleaned, chopped and cooked, and easily portioned, can help you quickly assemble delicious and nutritious meals like the pros. Think of them as your personal prep kitchen. But, as evidenced by a recent consumer survey, Americans are unsure of the benefits canned foods bring to the table.

The fact is many professional chefs, accomplished home cooks and registered dietitians regularly incorporate canned ingredients into their recipes, so you can feel confident doing so as well. Consider these five key facts about canned foods.

1. Canned food is filled with important nutrients, including fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals essential for a healthy diet. Yet, less than half (42 percent) of Americans surveyed realize the nutrients in canned food count toward meeting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary recommendations.

2. Research shows canned foods offer comparable nutrients often at a lower cost than their fresh or frozen counterparts, particularly when waste and prep-time are considered. Additional research demonstrates that recipes prepared with canned ingredients rated the same or better in terms of taste and nutrition compared to those using fresh or frozen ingredients.

3. Canned food contributes less than 1 percent of the sodium in consumers’ diets and there are more no-salt added, low- and reduced-sodium options on grocery shelves than ever before. A quick drain and rinse can further reduce sodium content by 41 percent.

4. Canned foods are considered minimally processed foods. After being cleaned, peeled, chopped and trimmed, as necessary, foods are cooked in the can to lock in nutrients and flavor.

5. Steel cans are strong, tamper resistant and feature an airtight seal to help guard against foodborne illness and contamination. In addition, steel cans are the most recycled food package.

So, the next time you are inspired to experiment like a pro, using recipes such as these tuna and black bean lettuce wraps, plan to work in a few canned ingredients to ensure you have plenty of time to enjoy the company of the family and friends gathered around your table.

To learn more about the facts about canned foods and discover more great recipes featuring canned ingredients, visit

Tuna and Black Bean Salad Wraps


1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (11 ounces) tuna in olive oil, drained

3/4 cup fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or canned diced tomatoes

1/3 cup finely chopped red onion

1 tablespoon minced Serrano peppers

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Salt and pepper, to taste

6 large butter lettuce leaves


In a large bowl, combine beans, tuna, tomatoes, onion, peppers, oil and lime juice. Toss gently, being careful to keep tuna in bite-size pieces. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Add parsley and cilantro; season with salt and pepper. Spoon tuna salad into lettuce leaves. Fold up leaves and eat taco style. Serves 6.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:

Calories 270; Total fat 17g; Saturated fat 2.5g; Cholesterol 15mg; Sodium 200mg; Carbohydrate 14g; Fiber 5g; Protein 18g; ; Vitamin A 25%DV*; Vitamin C 20%DV; Calcium 4%DV; Iron 10%DV * Daily Value

Three simple ideas for creating an amazing cheese platter

Here are three unique platter ideas that are sure to impress at your next party:

1. The cheddar flight. Wine isn’t the only thing that gets better with age. Offer your guests a plate of delicious, aged cheddar cheese. Black Creek’s premium cheddar cheese is available aged nine months, two or three years and features a richly-sharp flavor. To create this platter, present the cheese on a cutting board, and allow your guests to cut their own. Adorn each variety with number-shaped birthday candles to show their ages. For example, use a “9” for the nine-month offering. If you would like to serve your cheddar in cubes, cut the cubes in different sizes, start small at nine months and get bigger as you reach three years.

Plate pairings: Aged cheddar isn’t only a delectable treat, it is also a wonderful partner for a variety of wine and beer pairings. A full-bodied merlot will complement your cheddar cheese plate perfectly, and your guests will also enjoy pairing this cheese with a zinfandel, stout or brandy.

2. Tour of Europe. Italy is known for its many cheeses, but what about France, Denmark or Holland? You may not know much about the cheeses available from these countries and chances are your guests don’t either. Create a “Tour of Europe” platter and wow your guests with an offering that will pique their curiosity and delight their taste buds. French cheeses like brie and camembert offer a soft texture with a memorable flavor. From there take your guests to Holland and Denmark, for blue cheese, extra-aged Gouda or the salty, nutty flavor of Edam. Add flags to your cheese offerings denoting each one’s nationality. Your guests will quickly tour the continent and try them all.

Plate pairings: A tour of Europe will offer your guests many different tastes and several beverages can be paired with this plate including stouts, ports and cabernets. If you’re looking to add another country to your tour, visit for a variety of ideas.

3. Flavor within flavor. If you want to offer a cheese plate with a look and feel all its own, Great Midwest flavored jacks and cheddars are the perfect answer. Each cheese’s natural flavor is complemented with the addition of flavor infusions ranging from sweet (blueberries) to spicy (jalapeños) to savory (horseradish). Offer your guests a tray featuring fruit-filled cheeses on one side and spicy cheeses – loaded with jalapenos, habaneros or chipotle – on the other. Garnish with the fresh versions of the appropriate fruits or peppers. Your guests will love your presentation and the beautiful colors such a platter provides.

Plate pairings: A plate of flavored jacks and cheddars offers guests several different tastes and is perfectly complemented by a wide array of beers. If you plan on serving a plate featuring spicy cheeses, offer your guests a riesling or iced tea as well.

Creating that perfect cheese tray is simple once you have a theme. Let your imagination guide you and you will be rewarded with a platter that expresses your creativity and wows your guests.

How to balance your life goals with your finances

(NC) You have completed school, landed a good job, and are looking to move out of the family nest. Or perhaps you are recently married, have bought your first home, and are now expecting a baby. Or maybe you are starting to think about your retirement plans. Whatever life stage you are at or whatever goal you are aiming to achieve, have you mapped out a financial plan to help you get to where you want to go?

November is Financial Literacy Month in Canada, an opportune time for people of all ages to improve their financial know-how to help plan for life’s major milestones, like these:

• The options when buying your first home can be overwhelming, but knowing what you need and want in a mortgage, shopping around, getting pre-approved and making the right decisions according to your needs are just some of the steps detailed in the Owning a Home life event from the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC).

• If you are expecting, the cost of diapers, clothing, baby equipment, and child care can really add up. FCAC’s Having Children life event and budget calculator can help you draw up a plan to financially prepare for a baby and ease the strain on your family budget.

• Whether we retire early or work well into our senior years, we all want to know that we will have enough money to retire comfortably. Early and careful planning is key. How much money will you need? What sources of income will you have? The agency’s Planning Your Retirement life event offers tips and advice on these questions that you can use when planning your retirement.

All FCAC’s life events, resources and information about financial literacy month are available at

Three ways to give energy savings the green light in your home

Red means stop, green means go – we learn that axiom as children. When it comes to home energy costs, however, going green can help homeowners put a stop to runaway utility bills. And maximizing your home’s use of natural light – call it green lighting – is a great way to boost your home’s energy efficiency.

Here are three ways you can put Mother Nature to work, and use natural light to lower your energy costs:

Minimize use of artificial lighting

Anyone who’s ever paid an electrical bill knows that the simple act of turning on a light can directly impact your monthly expenses. Homeowners looking for a long-term way to power down their lighting costs may consider Energy Star-qualified skylights a good investment. While skylights’ cosmetic appeal can’t be argued, their value goes far beyond good looks.

By admitting natural light into your home, skylights can help reduce use of artificial light sources – and help you save on electricity costs. Pair powered venting skylights that come with automatic rain sensors with efficiency-enhancing accessories like designer blinds (available in a varied palette of colors and patterns), and you can improve energy efficiency as much as 37 percent, according to skylight manufacturer Velux America. And, with tubular products like Sun Tunnel skylights, you can even bring natural light into ground-floor rooms or spots where a traditional skylight may not work, such as a first-floor powder room, hallways, or walk-in closets.

Reduce hot water costs

Long gone are the days when solar powering your home was an idealistic, but impractical dream. Solar technology is more useful, accessible and cost-effective than ever. Solar water heating systems are becoming mainstream, and offer homeowners a great, green way to trim energy costs. What’s more, the cost of installing these systems has been steadily declining as the technology advances, and you may find adding one makes you eligible for tax credits or incentives from your local, state or the federal governments. You can calculate the costs and possible paybacks online at

Make home a healthier place

Every year, ill health costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars, experts say, and your own health woes can have a significant impact on your pocketbook. The health benefits of natural light are well-documented, from reducing the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and promoting the body’s production of Vitamin D, to improving mood and even learning ability.

Simply opening blinds and curtains to admit more natural light can directly affect the mood inside your home – not to mention the mental state of the people living in it. Take your green lighting efforts to a higher level by adding venting skylights, and you can also help improve the air quality inside your home. While skylights admit ample natural light, their natural chimney effect works with your windows to bring in and circulate much more healthful fresh air. They also passively vent fumes and dampness that can lead to mold and mildew.

By incorporating natural light and passive ventilation into their home decor and improvements, homeowners can put the brakes on rising utility costs – and give the green light to energy savings.

Are you saving enough for retirement?

(NC)-Over the several years that Desjardins Financial Security (DFS) has conducted its retirement survey, two themes have always come up: most Canadians avoid retirement planning and they’re sure they haven’t saved enough. So, how prepared are you?


A) You’re totally confident about your financial security and retirement plans, or;


B) You know you haven’t saved enough, but now you’re ready to make a plan.


If you answered B, these experts from Desjardins are here to help you get started.


Djamal Saleh, Regional vice-president of sales, Individual Savings Products


1) What does retirement look like? Will you be spending your retirement traveling the world or will you just keep on working? Actually, in the most recent DFS retirement survey, 56% of respondents expected to do just that. Many said it was because working kept them active. But the most popular reason was financial. It might be nice to think that you could continue your current working lifestyle well into your 80s. But life has a way of throwing you curve balls. The reality is that less than one retiree in five continues to work. In fact, events like job loss, a disability, becoming caregiver to a loved one, or simply fatigue can change your plans in an instant. This is why it’s important to visualize what your life might look as part of creating a solid plan.


Daniel Villeneuve, Tax Specialist


2) How much will I need to retire? This is a very common question so it’s important to remember that you’ll likely spend 25 to 30 years in retirement. For example, the average 55 year old woman who is a non-smoker will live to 86 while her male counterpart will live to 83. That being said, you will likely need a retirement income of about 70% of your gross working income.

Here’s a snapshot of the type of income sources you may have if you were retiring today:


1. An employer pension, if it was available to you

2. The Canadian Pension Plan, on average about $6300 per year

3. The Old Age Security Pension, on average about $6500 per year

4. Savings in an RRSP and/or non-RRSP


Since future retirees have no control over the amounts of the first three sources of income, creating a substantial nest-egg within your RRSP and regular savings accounts will be an essential part of your written retirement plan.


Angela Iermieri, Financial Planner


3) Review your plan The golden rule to ensuring you have saved enough is to regularly review your objectives and adjust your plan as required, as circumstances can change quite often. For example, there may be changes in the tax rules, new laws, interest rates and public pension plans that may affect your goals. But if you stay flexible, all this is manageable, giving you much better odds of attaining your retirement goals.


For other retirement planning tips, tools and calculators, visit the Thinking About Retirement section of Desjardins Financial Security’s website at

Going green has never been more high tech

Think going green will cost too much or take too much time? You might be surprised at how much time, energy and money you can save by making a few changes in your home to make it more energy efficient. And don’t worry that it will be too much work because some new high tech tools are making it easier than ever.

Green living expert Megan McLendon is the executive producer at, and she recommends several options for making a powerful impact.

Take stock of the situation
Do you really know how much energy you use to run your household? Think about everything you run or turn on during the day. Consider your heating and cooling systems, appliances and electronics. The average single-family household racks up more than $2,000 in energy bills each year. Home electricity monitors make it easy to see how much energy you use and what you spend on it. A device called The Energy Detective can monitor the energy your home consumes in real time and the exact amount it’s costing you. You can chart 10 years’ worth of data and even review your information remotely. The basic model costs around $200. Then, there are free ways to help you see what’s using the most energy at home and help you target those hot spots. compiles information directly from your utility companies and is able to compare your usage to that of some of your neighbors. You can also earn reward points for using less energy.

Hit the energy hogs
Now, that you know how much energy you’re really using at home, it’s time to hit those energy hogs hard. Start with making your heating and cooling systems more efficient. So-called “smart” thermostats are now available and are easy to use. The Nest thermostat is one such device that actually learns from your family’s behavior. Soon after installation, it will automatically begin to lower or increase the temperature when you go to bed or leave the house. It even allows you to look at its daily energy use and access the thermostat from your computer or smartphone. 

There are also other intuitive devices to help you reduce your energy consumption at home. A power strip for sale by Belkin will shut down power going to a series of electronics by simply turning off one of the components. This is a great solution for home offices and entertainment centers. And here’s another smart tip: For those items at home which run off batteries, invest in reusable ones. They will cost a little more than regular batteries but more than make up for that cost in the long run. A gadget that will easily help you make the switch is the Energizer Universal Charger. This device will charge AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V batteries, so you also reduce clutter by only having one charger for all of your battery charging needs. 

Put it all together
Once you have the information you need, you can easily put it all together to analyze. EnergyHub has a product that works as a command center for your home. You can access all your energy information in one place so you can control your thermostat, lights and appliances from a central home location or remotely. General Electric is also rolling out a hub system called the Nucleus that does the same thing and is compatible with smart meters.
Knowledge is power. When you know how much energy your home is using, it’s easier to come up with strategies to lower your energy usage and lower your utility bills. It’s another important way to do your part without wasting your energy.
Caption 1: Reviewing your energy consumption regularly can help you see how much energy you use and where you can cut down.
Caption 2: Intuitive devices like this advanced power strip and battery charger help you reduce your energy consumption at home.

Easier mortgage processes, positive attitudes inspire renters to buy

Thirty-two percent of American households are renters, according to the National Multi Housing Council. Generally, more people younger than 30 occupy rentals, while the percentage of people who own their home increases with age, NMHC statistics indicate. People decide to buy a home for many reasons, but the recent real estate market downturn caused many Americans to rethink their assumptions about renting and owning.

Even with many real estate experts predicting the market will continue to improve, it pays to carefully evaluate how home ownership does – or doesn’t – figure into your long-term financial goals. If you’ve been renting and wondering if it’s time to apply for a mortgage and buy your own home, consider these points:

1. Renting isn’t always the cheaper option, and comparing your monthly rent payment directly to a mortgage payment won’t give you a clear picture of the financial impact of either option. Online calculators, like Guaranteed Rate’s rent vs. buy online calculator, can give you a better understanding of the comparison. With mortgage rates consistently low and rental markets competitive across the country, real estate experts agree that in most major metropolitan areas it will still be cheaper in the long run to buy than continue to rent.

2. While the days of zero-money-down mortgages are essentially over, it’s a misconception that you need a huge amount of money to buy a house. Yes, you’ll almost certainly need a down payment, but different lenders will require different percentages. Research your mortgage options before you begin house hunting so you’ll know how much you’ll need to save in order to secure a mortgage – and the home of your dreams.

3. Although the mortgage application process is detailed, it doesn’t have to be drawn out and tedious. Many lenders now allow you to initiate the process online, and Guaranteed Rate has recently overhauled its website to allow borrowers to apply for a loan, track the approval process and receive their home loans all online. The eighth-largest retail mortgage company in the U.S. allows customers to choose and customize their loans, submit an application and receive an official approval letter all at Automating the application process compresses the traditional time frame from days – sometimes, even weeks – into minutes. As part of the process, applicants also receive the credit reports from all three major credit bureaus.

4. Buying a home affords you the opportunity to really grow your roots, but the flipside is that in order to get the most out of your investment, you need to stay put for a while. If you anticipate being in your current job and living in your current town for at least five years, the long-term investment of buying a house will make more sense for you. If you anticipate a job change or a move within a few years, you may want to hold off on buying a house. The good news is, doing so gives you more time to save toward a down payment so you’ll look even more appealing to lenders when you are ready to buy.

While only you can decide if homeownership is right for you and your family – and if now is the right time to buy – keep in mind a few statistics from 42 percent of renters say they regret not having bought a home, and 31 percent say they want to buy a home in the next two years.

Give yourself a better home

Are you looking to buy or build a new home, or renovate your current home? Do you want a home that uses less energy; is more comfortable and healthier to live in; is environmentally friendly and saves on energy costs?

Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency offers choices for you to buy or build a better home, or to help you renovate your current home.


• The EnerGuide Rating System (ERS): This well-established brand for the energy rating and labeling of homes enables builders to choose the most beneficial and cost-effective upgrades for energy efficiency for your new home during the planning phase. It plays an important role in the construction of energy efficient new homes by providing homeowners with an evaluation report and official label that shows the EnerGuide rating of the home.


• Energy Star for New Homes: Buying a qualified house means lower energy demand and better performance. Your new home is built to technical standards that incorporate energy efficient guidelines and specifications. An Energy Star qualified home has additional energy saving features that make it an average of 20% more energy efficient than a typical home in your region.


• R-2000 Standard: R-2000 certified homes are some of the most energy efficient houses on the market. As a best in class energy efficiency label for 30 years, the standard has not only helped to pave the way for increases in energy efficiency in typical construction practices, but has also established the benchmark for energy efficient new home building in Canada.

Your R-2000 certified home ensures state of the art building techniques, exceptional comfort, increased energy savings and health benefits. And with the energy performance target of this year’s R-2000 Standard increasing by an impressive 50% compared to the 2005 Standard, R-2000 once again positions itself as a leading-edge national voluntary standard for energy efficiency.


Both the R-2000 and Energy Star for New Homes initiatives are supported by the ERS.


• When Renovating Think EnerGuide: Did you know that you can also get an EnerGuide Evaluation of your existing home to help you make the best decisions to increase your home’s energy efficiency and save money? Having a certified energy advisor undertake an EnerGuide evaluation provides you with a current rating, an assessment of your home’s energy efficiency potential, and a prioritized list of recommended upgrades. It may also qualify you to participate in local incentive programs. And after your retrofits, it’s quick to get a new EnerGuide label attesting to your home’s improved energy performance. EnerGuide Evaluations: the first step in smart home renovation.

Making a difference with socially responsible investing

If you regularly watch the evening news, you likely have seen stories about social activism and massive protests in support of issues like the environment. Not only are they trying to communicate directly with the public, they are also asking some corporations to change. These are noble causes that sometimes involve a level of personal risk. Another way of exacting change is by working with companies from the inside. In other words: investing in them.


According to Rosalie Vendette, senior advisor in socially responsible investment (SRI) with Desjardins Group, SRI is an emerging field that is still defining itself. “It’s really about engagement, not activism,” says Vendette. “An engaged investor seeks to persuade management to adopt more responsible environmental, social and governance practices. A common way to sway management is to draw attention to these concerns through direct dialogue. While consumers have the power to decide whether or not to buy a product, investors wield their power in a much more strategic manner. For example, companies that fail to address the environmental impact of their operations can do serious damage to both their public image and their pocketbook. Conversely, companies that reduce their environmental footprint see their stock rise in more ways than one.”


Interestingly, there remains a perception that SRIs yield lower returns because performance may be sacrificed in favour of principles. “In the medium to long term, SRI criteria have little impact on fund performance,” says Denis Dion, product manager with Desjardins Investment Fund Development Department. “A study of American funds published in the Journal of Investing found that over an 18 year-period, an index of 400 U.S. companies that met SRI criteria performed comparably to the S&P 500, which indexes 500 major U.S. corporations.”


“The point is that SRI is a paradigm shift and we’re eagerly working to spread the news,” says Vendette. “We know that this new approach will continue to transform how we have traditionally invested in companies. And ultimately, we hope that this will contribute to more sustainable corporate practices.”


To find out more about Socially Responsible Investing, speak to your financial advisor.