Are You and Your Neighbors Ready for a Neighborhood Watch Program?

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A lot of us pay a little extra attention to the house next door or across the street when our neighbors are gone, but taking it a step further and creating a neighborhood watch program may be the ticket to an even more crime-free home base.

Launched in 1972, the official Neighborhood Watch program was designed to count on citizens to organize themselves and work with law enforcement to keep a trained eye and ear on their communities, while demonstrating their presence at all times of day and night. According to the National Sheriff’s Association, Neighborhood Watch works because it reduces opportunities for crime to occur; it doesn’t rely on altering or changing the criminal’s behavior or motivation.

Over time the program has found its way into neighborhoods all over America, borrowing from the principles of the original program to create groups, often called citizen alert, community watch, block watch, or another variation.

Why start a neighborhood watch group?

  • The most obvious reason to organize a neighborhood watch program is to prevent crime. Groups that meet regularly and communicate efficiently are the most effective at reducing incidents.
  • Another reason to form a group is to create awareness and camaraderie. Alert neighbors can stop crime and keep residents, safe while making the neighborhood a more welcoming environment.
  • In addition, neighborhood watch groups can alert you to other issues, such as cars speeding through neighborhoods, challenges with children, and animal control issues. Together, you can solve more challenges that arise, while building friendships!

How do you get started forming a neighborhood watch group?

  • Recruit your neighbors to participate.
  • Contact law enforcement to receive the training and information you need.
  • Discuss concerns and create a plan – what is most important to you and your neighbors?
  • Establish your neighborhood’s method of communication.
  • Hold regular meetings and training exercises to keep engaged.
  • Don’t be a vigilante! Report suspicious activity to police immediately.

Even with all of today’s surveillance technology, you can’t beat people watching out for people. Check out Neighborhood Watch if you are ready to get started watching out for your neighbors.

Your Attic May Be the Storage Solution You Are Looking For

 

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Your attic may be the solution to your storage problems. But not all attics are the same, so before you begin using the space above your house, make sure you do some careful planning. Here are some tips to get you started.

Assess your space. If you have never used your attic for storage before you’ll want to really take a good look at the space you have. How much room is usable? Is it structurally sound for storage? How much weight can it hold? Storing a few holiday decorations is very different from storing furniture. This may be a good time to contact a contractor for some professional advice.

Test the weight it can hold. Some attics have solid, structurally sound floors. Others may require some good reinforcement. If you are able to walk in your attic, do so carefully. The supports may not be as good as your regular floors. Try to walk where you know there are beams.

Check for needed repairs. This space is often forgotten by homeowners, but not by squirrels and mice. Check for signs of rodents, including rodent droppings. And check all electrical wiring. Rodents often chew wires so be extra cautious.

Buy plastic storage bins. Use plastic bins rather than boxes to keep rodents away. They also will provide better protection if your roof leaks.

Hang hooks and shelves. This should be an easy task because the walls are usually unfinished so you can see exactly where to hang these.

Check out the nooks and crannies. You can usually push storage crates into some unusual areas.

Plan carefully for what to store in an attic. This space can be a great hiding place for items you don’t use often. It’s not a good space for candles, photos, paintings or other items that can be damaged by fluctuating temperatures and changes in humidity. Although it may be tempting to store family heirlooms in the attic, you may want to consider places that have more consistent temperatures and humidity levels for preservation.

Whether you use your attic space for storage or not, make sure you check the space out periodically. You don’t want to be surprised by squirrels making their home or leaks you didn’t know about. A good once-over every few months will keep this space ready for you when you need it. 

Look No Further for the Perfect Gift for the New Home Owner

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Are you looking for the perfect gift for friends or family who have just purchased a first home or are moving to a new home? Welcome them to their new neighborhood with one of these gift suggestions for new home owners.

Welcome Mat: Help them welcome guests and give them a place to wipe their feet before coming inside with a new welcome mat. You can find these at any home goods store or have a special mat customized with their name or initials. In either case, you’ll be welcome to their home any time.

Tool Gift Basket or Toolbox: Who isn’t looking for the right sized screw or nail when the move into a new home? And who really remembers where they put the picture hooks? Help the new homeowner get started on some household chores with a hammer, screw driver set, nails, screws, picture hanging kits, painters tape and other odds and ends. And if you know it’s a person’s first home, a new toolbox with the basic tools is even better.

Video Doorbell: If your budget is a bit bigger, new homeowners may like an extra layer of home protection with a video doorbell. These gadgets often have several options with different add-ons and price points.

Home Repair Book: Of course YouTube is filled with how-to videos for home repairs. But how are you supposed to remember exactly what to do when you’re under the kitchen sink? A book of basic how-to fixes is perfect for the new home owner to make quick references.

A Day of Childcare: How much can parents get done in a home when their kids are being entertained by a friend? How about taking the kids out for a day of play at the zoo, museum or park, so Mom and Dad can use the day to the fullest.

Houseplants: A houseplant brightens any room and breathes a little life into a new space. Even if your gift recipient doesn’t have a green thumb, there are some plants that are easy-to-grow with little maintenance. If your homeowner has pets, make sure you pick out a plant that is safe if ingested.

Room Humidifier: A lot of homes don’t come with built-in humidifiers and in dryer climates and in the winter when the heat is running, it’s nice to have the option to pump in a little humidity.

Gift Certificates: A gift certificate to a home improvement store is always welcome by any home owner whether this is their first home or their fifth home. Gift certificates for a restaurant or grocery store make great gifts, too, as they look for a night of relaxation or start stocking the refrigerator.

No matter your budget, big or small, there’s always a little room for a housewarming gift. 

 

 

Holiday Home Safety Tips – Part II

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With so many things to do before you leave home during the holidays – whether you’ll be gone for a few hours, a whole day or a whole week – it’s easy to forget something. Here are some simple tips for staying safe in your home and while you are away this holiday season.

Watch your plugs when you decorate. Don’t plug too many things in a single outlet and never connect multiple extension cords. Use power strips where you need them and longer extension cords to reach long distances.

Watch those candles and fireplaces. Lit candles look lovely, but make sure you keep them far away from curtains and drapes and other things that can easily catch on fire. If you have kids or pets playing around the candles, be extra careful and use the flameless kinds. If you are burning wood in the fireplace, make sure the fire is out after each use. And now may be a good time to have someone come out and clean your chimney and make sure it’s in working order.

Keep your thermostat turned on and maybe even up a little higher when it’s cold outside, especially at night or if you go out of town. A little extra warmth will prevent your pipes from freezing. Some people even keep their faucets dripping just a little in the winter when they travel.

Keep dry plants, real trees and other plant décor wet. Wreaths made of dry plants may look lovely but they present unexpected fire hazards. Keep your tree well watered and your wreaths and dry plants moist with a little mist for an extra safety step.

And speaking of tree, put breakable ornaments out of reach of small children and pets. Bells, lights and other twinkling ornaments easily attract attention of kids. Keep them safe by keeping your breakables out of reach.

Welcome your guests – whether they are expected or unexpected – with a shoveled walk way and a little salt. You may see more foot traffic at your house during the holidays. A shoveled walk with a little salt sprinkled on it, keeps friends, neighbors, family and delivery people safe from slipping.

Use your ladder. Do you have to fix a burned out bulb or jiggle a jangle to make it work right? Use a ladder. Now is not the time to stand on a chair or a crate because it’s easier. Stay safe with a sturdy ladder.

Before you leave home, clean out all the stinky spots — the garbage disposal, dishwasher, refrigerator and coffee pot can all welcome you home with unpleasant surprises if you don’t empty them and wipe them out before you leave.

Set timers on your lights to give the appearance of being home, even when you’re not. You can set timers to turn lights on when it starts to get dark and go off either at bedtime or in the morning. Always leave a couple of lights on when you’re gone to make it look like your home and to keep burglars away. It’s easier to rob a home that is dark than one that is well lit.

Do one final walk around to make sure all the windows and doors are locked and your blinds are curtains are closed.

Always let your neighbors know you’re going to be gone so they can watch your house for strange activity and pick up newspapers and mail.

Protect your pets, too. Click here for pet safety tips for the holidays.

Click here to read more holiday home safety tips from Universal Lending.

Holiday Home Safety Tips – Part I

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Now is not the time to take a holiday from home safety, but a lot of us do when we light our trees and put spotlights on our homes. Here are some simple tips for keeping your home and yourself safe from burglars and others who want to take the ho ho ho out of your holidays. 

Make smart choices when you decorate. Don’t put expensive gifts in front of windows or doors where they can be seen from people outside. Gifts under a tree are begging for burglars to come on in and open the packages. Keep them hidden.

Don’t take shortcuts on locking up. ‘Tis the season to set the home alarm. Of course you want to be smart about locking doors and windows all year long, but don’t forget to this step when the holidays are in full swing.

Be anti-social on social media if you’re heading out of town. Don’t let would-be burglars know you’re going to be in Michigan for Christmas. Let them think you’re going to be at home. It’s never a good idea to post travel plans on Facebook.

Did you treat yourself to a new 70-inch, state-of-the-art television for Christmas? Take a little extra time when disposing of the boxes and packaging. Break up the box and bring pieces of it to the trash over time. If you toss a box to the curb, you are letting would-be burglars that you have a new toy that they might like.

Light up the outside and the inside of your home. Make it difficult for burglars to sneak around your windows and doors by shining a light on the outside and on the inside. A spotlight or motion sensor may be a smart investment.

Always let your neighbors know you’re going to be gone so they can watch your house for strange activity and pick up newspapers and mail.

If you live in a place where snow is common, make sure you have someone on standby to shovel your driveway and walkway. A driveway with no tire tracks in it a day or two after it snows tells burglars that no one is home there.

Be smart and stay safe this holiday season and year ’round. Click here for more holiday home safety tips.  

Real Estate Agents – Help Your Homebuyers Avoid Being Scammed

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Association of REALTORS® have announced concerns over closing cost scams.

Here’s how the scam works: Hackers break into a consumer’s or real estate professional’s email account to search for upcoming real estate transactions and closing dates. Then, hackers pose as the agent or title officer and email the homebuyer with a last-minute change to the wiring instructions. Should buyers wire money to the account, they will lose the money and likely lose the home they’ve been waiting for due to a lack of funds.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure your clients don’t fall victim to this scam:

Ensure you have a united effort between agents, loan officers, closing attorneys and title officers to remind buyers of the dangers of this scam. Verify that changes to wiring instructions will not be requested by email.

Remind buyers to be alert. They should not follow instructions regarding closing funds solely from an email but when instructed to do so in person or by phone.

Add a brief warning to your email signature that reminds clients to remain cautious about suspicious messages during their transaction, especially near closing.

Do not conduct business over public Wi-Fi and be cautious about links that you click on. As an agent, transaction information is a highly valuable target for scammers and hackers.

Use secure document technology sharing and signing any sensitive documents. Our ULConnect App provides a safe, secure portal for sharing information.

Remember, email is almost never a secure communication platform, so take precautions to protect your clients.

Halloween Safety Tips for Homeowners

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You’ll definitely say “boo” if you are faced with a claim to your homeowners insurance because of a Halloween accident on your property. Fortunately, there are some really easy things you can do ahead of time to make sure Halloween is a safe and fun day.

Keep your lights on. You want your visitors, including trick-or-treaters, to see clearly when they enter your property after dark to avoid injuries caused by falling. And, keeping some lights on can stop burglars, so you’ll want to do this regularly, not just on Halloween.

Create a clear path. Make sure there is nothing in the driveway or other walkways that someone may trip on. Remove lawn art and gardening equipment, and make sure all toys, flower pots/planters, etc. are put away. Little kids like to scamper. They aren’t looking for these hazards. If you have any loose steps or stones, make sure to repair those, too.

Use flameless candles. Do you like the way the dark looks with a flickering flame? Use flameless candles or battery powered lanterns. If you do use regular candles, watch them closely and keep them away from curtains that may blow into the flame. Use flameless candles in your jack-o-lanterns, too.

Put your pets in another room. Keep dogs and cats away from trick-or-treaters. They may be spooked by the extra activity, loud noises and costumes.

Set your alarm system before you leave. Halloween brings out the most mischievous so protect your home with your home alarm system. And why not use Halloween as one of the days you always check your smoke alarms, too!

Halloween’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a day that sees a lot of injuries. Don’t be caught off guard.