Discouraging Break-ins


One of the easiest crimes to prevent — burglary — is also one of the most common. Somewhere in the U.S. there’s a burglary committed every 15 seconds.

There are a lot of things you can do to boost home security and make your house burglary-resistant. Beyond tried and true advice like never (ever) leave doors or windows unlocked, and never hide a key to your house outside where it can be easily found, here are tips you can use to help you keep your family safe and your home and its contents intact.

Know Your Neighbors & Local Police

The best home security comes from neighbors who look out for one another. Make it a point to meet your neighbors so that you can ask them to keep an eye on things while you’re away. If your neighborhood does not already have a neighborhood watch program, consider organizing one.

Many local police departments maintain something called a “vacant house list” when you travel for an extended period of time. Police will drive by and check on your house when you’re gone. If a criminal knows the police are watching your house, most won’t want to take the chance of breaking in.

Make Your Home Unappealing to Them

The first thing a burglar looks for when choosing a house for a break-in is one with no one in it. If you make your house look occupied when you’re gone, most burglars will simply pass it by. Here are some ways to do that.

Use automatic light timers throughout the house and have them turn on and off in a way that simulates your normal patterns. Look for light timers that have battery backup so the timer doesn’t stop if there is a power failure. Using timers that have more than one on-off cycle can create the illusion of movement from room to room.

lightsmotion-outside-lights-detector-systemDon’t advertise new, expensive items, like a flat-screen TV or new computer, by putting out the boxes early. Keep all that stuff in the garage or inside until garbage day.

Don’t leave mail piled up in the mailbox if you’re away. Ask a neighbor to collect it daily.

Shrubs can make a great deterrent to getting into the house, but keep them low enough to make sure burglars can’t hide there, and that your neighbors can see what’s going on in your yard. Consider thorny shrubs or rose bushes to add an extra deterrent. Trim back or remove any shrubbery next to doors or windows.


Close the blinds when you’re not home so they can’t peruse the items in your house and decide you have something worth stealing.

Consider Alarm Systems

Alarm systems are more expensive than the other tips, but if you live in a particularly vulnerable neighborhood you may still want to consider one. They are not a guarantee, but they can certainly give a potential thief reason to move on.

They are one of the best defenses, and you can get a system for about $50 to $100 a month. Check with the Better Business Bureau before picking an alarm company.

But burglaries don’t have to happen. Be smart and be safe. It isn’t a guarantee, but it can certainly be a deterrent.




The Time is Always right to do What is Right

black-historyFebruary is Black History Month, or National African American History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the important role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

In honor of Black History Month, I want to highlight some wonderful organizations serving the black community.

Booker T. Washington Foundation  A not-for-profit foundation that operates in five different areas: resource development, international development and cooperation, science and technology, telecommunications, and public policy research.

Jack and Jill of America, Inc.  A charitable group that provides educational, cultural, civic, and social programs for minority youth.

National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) This organization, based in Baltimore, MD, is the oldest black organization that fights for civil rights and equal opportunity.

National Urban League (NUL) The nation’s oldest and largest community- based movement devoted to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream.

Rainbow Push Coalition This organization, led by Jesse Jackson, fights for equal rights for minorities, women, and gays/lesbians.

Southern Poverty Law Center  A not-for-profit organization whose primary task is the upholding of the legal rights of the poor in general.




Making the Switch – Efficient Lighting


The switch from incandescent light bulbs to energy-efficient light bulbs is inevitable – so why not start saving money now? In fact, the traditional incandescent light bulb is becoming increasingly difficult to find as they are no longer manufactured. While the initial price of energy-efficient bulbs is typically higher than traditional incandescents, newer bulbs cost less to operate, saving you money over the life of the bulb. This also means (a lot) less time spent changing bulbs around the house.


An average household dedicates about 5% of its energy budget to lighting. Switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bills. By replacing your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR, you can save $75 each year.


You have many choices in energy-efficient lighting. The most popular light bulbs available are halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Halogen incandescents have a capsule inside that holds gas around a filament to increase bulb efficiency. They are available in a wide range of shapes and colors, and they can be used with dimmers. Halogen incandescent bulbs meet the federal minimum energy efficiency standard, but there are now many more efficient options to meet your lighting needs.


Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are simply curly versions of the long tube fluorescent lights you may already have in a kitchen or garage. Because they use less electricity than traditional incandescents, typical CFLs can pay for themselves in less than nine months, and then start save you money each month.


Light-emitting diode, or LED, lights are a newer option for residential lighting. They are significantly more energy-efficient than either incandescent or CFL bulbs and last 8 to 25 times longer than halogen incandescents.

LED bulbs are currently available in many products such as replacements for 40W, 60W, and 75W traditional incandescent bulbs. LEDs work well indoors and outdoors because of their durability and performance in cold environments.

Today’s energy-efficient bulbs are available in the wide range of colors and light levels you’ve come to expect. New lighting standards took effect in 2012, and money-saving options such as halogen incandescent, CFL, and LED light bulbs are available today. For high-quality products with the greatest energy savings, choose bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR rating.

Do you use energy-efficient lighting in your home? Have you noticed a difference in your electric bill or how often you are changing bulbs?

Quick, Easy, & Inexpensive Home Upgrades

Looking to add a little value to your home? It doesn’t need to be a cost-prohibitive undertaking to add up to some valuable changes. Invest a few hours of sweat equity, a few bucks (generally under $100), and you’ll be surprised at the results.

All of these projects can be done over the course of a weekend. Several actually, if you are highly motivated.

Frame out your bathroom mirror

Know how to use a saw and have some understanding of how to calculate angles? You can make your builder grade bathroom look more custom by creating a quick and easy frame. According to DIY Network, this easy project should cost about $25 in materials and take approximately four hours to complete and that’s using cedar boards. MDF molding may cost even less. Give it a quick splash of paint or stain to make it your own.

Change your chandelier


How old is that dining room light fixture? Was it inherited from the previous owners or part of an outdate trend? A quick trip to your local home improvement store can seriously amp up your style. This trendsetting, Kenroy Home Anemone 7-Light Bronze Chandelier will make a huge impact in your space, and, at just $96.25, will have friends and potential buyers (if you’re planning to sell) thinking you spent much more.

Change your light bulbs

Burned out light bulbs may seem insignificant, but they can easily lend the impression of a dark and dreary or, even worse, untended home. How many light bulbs are actually functioning in your house right now? Fresh bulbs can lighten up your home, and your mood. Bulbs are available in a range of options – from soft white to bright, bright daylight to suit any home and any room. Don’t limit yourself.

 Buy a new fan


Winter is a great time to buy ceiling fans because stores are looking to move inventory that might sit until spring and summer. Swap out or install a fan that will add a new element to your rooms. From the very modern to classic, choose a style that fits your home’s personality. Or the personality you want it to cultivate.

Mulch your yard

Mulch is cheap, easy to install yourself, and can add valuable curb appeal that makes your home look fresh and well-taken-care-of. A two-cubic-foot bag will cost you $3–4 a bag, but watch for sales at Lowe’s and Home Depot, when they go on sale for two bucks each. Mulches come in many colors to compliment your house and yard.


Add a backsplash

You can give your kitchen a little love and make it look more updated easily by adding a backsplash. Subway tile is an easy choice because it’s classic and neutral and has been the favorite backsplash option for several years.


If you want a bold option that doesn’t require grouting, opt of a peel and stick glass tile. With a multitude of colors and designs to choose from, you can add the look of the real thing with minimal effort.

Freshen the Front Door

A freshly painted (or brand-new, if needed) front door is repeatedly counted among the best updates to make to your home. This is a task you can easily tackle yourself in just a few hours. Not sure what color to pick? This quick and fun HGTV quiz can help you decide. You can also change out the hardware to add a new element to an existing door.

What are some of your favorite, inexpensive home upgrades?

Meet our Newest – The Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship

steward-1Last year, several new organizations were added to the list clients can choose to receive a Win Win for a Cause donation in lieu of a traditional closing gift. I am pleased to announce that The Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship is one of these very worth local organizations, offering visitors a plethora of opportunities to explore the area, hike and camp, and study the land’s history and environment.

The Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship is a place where farming, nature, and history converge to show the connections between people and the natural world. The center is home to deep woods and streams, a working farm, wildflower meadows, historic farmsteads, a farm market, wildlife and farm animals.



The center hosts a tremendous variety of activities ranging from community farming to archaeology. The over 900-acre tract provides amazing opportunities for nature enthusiasts – walk the trails, pick your own flowers, help on an archaeological dig, buy farm fresh & eggs veggies, or attend a workshop.

A visit to the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship begins with rolling farmland and a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains rising unbroken to the west. The trails gradually move into older and denser deciduous forest and by walking up the power line, you can access the Appalachian Trail. Hike the trails or wander the open fields and discover an amazing variety of wildlife native to the Appalachians.


In the early 19th century, prior to the Civil War, the Blue Ridge Center lands were heavily settled. The most visible reminders of the once thriving settlement along Piney Run are the buildings.  In all, 33 sites have been identified.  There are many stories to tell and even more to discover.

The Blue Ridge Center uses all possible resources, from historic texts and documents, oral histories, to archaeological methods, to discover each story, how it relates to each of us and the land we tread each day.

Have you visited the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship?

Please share your experiences.

2017 Market Trends


Whether you’re preparing to purchase a new home or sell an old house in the new year, it’s important to know how housing trends could affect you. Below are some likely developments that will influence the market this year.

Millennial and Boomer Buyers

As the oldest of the Millennials push into their mid-30s, many will start to settle down and buy houses. Millennials are also reaching an age at which they’re thinking about marriage and children.

Baby boomers, the oldest of whom are entering their late 60s, are also looking to move as they reach their retirement years.

In the last several years, Baby Boomers’ participation in the housing market has dwindled. Many already own homes and may have been reluctant to sell until their properties recovered the value they lost in the housing bust.

Look for Boomers to buy. While some may want to downsize to control expenses, others may look to move to a larger house because to accommodate children and grandchildren, as well as visitors.

Modest Home Value Growth

Home prices have been on a steady incline in recent years. But that momentum may begin to slow down in 2017. Since the Federal Reserve just raised interest rates for the first time in a year, that could have a stabilizing effect on home prices. The National Association of Realtors estimates that price growth will slow to 3.9%, down from 4.9% in 2016.

For sellers, that may lead to a shrinking profit margin in previously hot local markets. Buyers, on the other hand, may be better positioned to snag a deal on a home in areas where prices have recently skyrocketed. 

Rising Mortgage and Interest Rates

Following the housing market crash, mortgage rates remained at record lows for years. However, that’s finally starting to change, Smoke said.

The Federal Reserve announced in November of 2016 that it is raising interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point. Rates are climbing now and are expected to keep doing so next year, with the Federal Reserve indicating that three more increases to its benchmark rate are coming in 2017.

As a buyer or seller, this essentially points to acting sooner rather than later if you’re intending to do a transaction next year.

Rates will get higher as we go through the year, and inventory is not going to improve. So winter or early spring will be more advantageous than waiting for late spring or early summer, when most buyers look.

Exodus to the Suburbs

As home prices continue to rise, more buyers will move to the suburbs to find affordable housing. Many people have to look further out from cities to find homes in the right price range. Right here in the Valley, there is a trend toward more affordable homes in the areas, and even counties, surrounding Charlottesville.


Are you planning to buy or sell in the next year?

What are some of your thoughts for 2017?

Gifts that Give Back


Why not give a gift that is a win-win for both the lucky recipient and another person, animal, or organization? Below are some ideas for holiday (or any time!) gifts that not only show you care, but will help make the world a little better. I wish you all a wonderful, safe holiday season!

Something for Absolutely Anyone on Your List

More than 16,000 eco- and socially conscious products are available (some from as low as $2) on WorldofGood.com. Each product is vetted and comes with a short description so you can see exactly where your money is going.

Fair-trade lip balms, organic soaps and craft supplies are all under $15 and make excellent stocking stuffers.

Buy a Gift, Fund a Business

At BuildaNest.com, you will find beautiful, hand-made Guatemalan totes that support local businesses. The site sells original apparel, jewelry, home and paper goods made by more than 100 exclusive artists and designers and gives microcredit loans to women in developing countries, enabling them to start and maintain a business selling their own products—which are then offered on the site itself.

Love the cause but don’t need a handbag? GlobalGoodsPartners.org, sells handwoven bracelets made by native tribes in Argentina and handcrafted beaded bangles made women in Tanzania. Global Goods Partners is dedicated to alleviating poverty and promoting social justice and funds women-led market initiatives in local communities in 24 countries.

For Animal Lovers

The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Gifts for Animals (AnimalGift.org) program helps protect elephants, as well as bear cubs and seals, and also provides funds for urgent pet care and animal rescue. Starting at $25, each gift comes with a full-color pamphlet telling the story of the animal being helped.


Lush’s hand and body lotion is made with fair-trade cocoa-butter, and proceeds—100 percent after taxes—go to the organization featured on the lid of each pot. WaterCan, TreePeople, Amazon Conservation Team, and International Fund for Animal Welfare are only a few available at LushUSA.com .

One Size Fits All Gift Certificates

Good Cards (CharityNavigator.org) are the gift certificates of the philanthropy world. You set the price; recipients pick the charity. Perfect for those bosses, co-workers and clients you’re stumped on.

What are some of your favorite ‘win win’ gifts?