Halloween Pranksters Trash Your Home? Here’s How to Clean It Up

halloween-tp

Halloween is fun and all, but then there’s the aftermath. Even if you dole out treats, hooligans may plaster your home in eggs, or shower your car in shaving cream, or trim your trees with toilet paper. In fact, around this time of year certain towns ban the sale of eggs to minors in an attempt to keep these high jinks to a minimum, although we’re dubious that makes much difference.

If you’re one of those unlucky homeowners faced with a horrifying post-Halloween cleanup job, read these tips first. Broken down by type of ammo—egg, shaving cream, and TP—these tips from pro cleaners will save you time, energy, and further damage to your property so your home is no worse for wear, at least until next year.

Eggs

Whether they’re splattered on your home or your car, eggs are bad news because they can corrode paint.

“It’s crucial to clean eggs as soon as possible,” says Mary Findley, a veteran cleaning expert and owner of GoClean.com. If the goo has hardened, you’ll want to soften it first by covering it with a sopping wet hot cloth that’s been dipped in a 50-50 mix of water and distilled grain-based white vinegar. Let that set 10 to 15 minutes, Findley says, then gently wipe it off. If there are any egg shells, delicately pick them off first, or else they might scratch the paint.

If you do find, alas, that the egg has damaged or discolored your paint, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.

“Before going to the expense of repainting your car, grab what’s called an oxidation remover at an automotive supply store,” says Findley. “This is a polishing compound designed to remove scratches that can also restore the color somewhat. When using it, always wipe from left to right and never in circles, or else you will now have swirl marks on top of the scratches.”

For damaged paint on homes, apply a primer over the area, then repaint.

Shaving cream

That luscious foam may be kind to your skin, but it’s a killer on paint, so this is another mess you’ll want to clean quickly. If you catch the cream when it’s still wet, a pressure washer can blast it off. But if it’s dry, “don’t scrape it away, since you may damage the paint,” says Hannah Caner, an editor at Who Knew? Tips. “Instead, use a wet rag to dampen the shaving cream until it softens, and then wash the area with dish soap.”

Toilet paper

“If you wake up the morning after Halloween to find that your house has been toilet-papered, check the weather report,” says Caner. “If it’s a dry day, wait until the dew has evaporated before you start cleaning, since the TP will be less likely to shred into pieces.” If it’s rainy and damp, on the other hand, you should start as soon as possible to keep the shredding from getting worse.

To gather the paper without damaging your trees, use a rake or broom to gently comb over the branches; a leaf blower can also help you clear twigs without damaging them. “Or try taping a lint roller to a broom handle so the paper sticks to the sticky tape of the lint roller,” says Findley.

There are also ways to curb your odds of a post-Halloween cleanup completely. “Turn on your porch lights and keep them on all night on Halloween,” suggests Findley. After all, Halloween pranksters prefer to do their dirty work in the dark.

Things That Go Bump in the Night (No, It’s Not a Ghost … Probably)

things-that-go-bump-in-the-night

You’re just about to drift off to sleep, when suddenly there’s that strange thumping again. Your mind goes wild with the possibilities. Could it be wind? An animal trapped in the walls? Or perhaps a ghost?

Instead of hiding in the hall closet or bringing in an exorcist, you could try looking for more rational causes for those creaks, bangs, and thumps. But beware: You’ll want to investigate, pronto.

That’s because sometimes strange noises are simply nothing more than a house’s old bones creaking. But other times they’re a warning to prevent something really terrifying from happening—like a backed-up sewer line—or worse.

Here’s a look at what you need to know in order to understand what you’re hearing—and how you might be able to quiet your house without having to call in the pros.

Gurgling from the toilet

No, this is probably not the waking noises of a commode demon. Instead it could be one of two things, says Lev Moskovich, a plumber with SERVIZ in Sherman Oaks, CA:

1: A common cause is a worn-out toilet fill valve (the part of the toilet that controls refilling the tank after each flush).

2: More ominously, tree roots might have grown into the sewer pipes and a couple of baby wipes or sanitary items you accidentally flushed might have snagged on the roots, partly blocking the sewer line. That gurgling sound could be the plumbing equivalent of a ticking time bomb because you-know-what might be getting ready to hit the fan when that blocked pipe bursts.

“A professional might have to snake out the line or use a camera to inspect in this instance,” Moskovich says.

Silence the sound: Before calling in a plumber, Moskovich suggests a trip to your local home improvement center for a new gasket.

“Replacing a gasket is usually quick and easy and can take as little as 10 minutes,” Moskovich says.

Swapping out the old fill valve for a new one hasn’t silence the gurgling? OK, bite the bullet. Call a plumber.

Knocking or banging inside the walls

Yikes! Did you guys see any of the “Paranormal Activity” flicks? Or “Poltergeist”? This could be one seriously pissed-off spirit, or even a family of ’em.

Or, if the sound typically occurs when you turn your water faucets on and off, it’s more likely you’ve got a pressure hammer. It’s caused when air pressure builds up in your water pipes, causing them to vibrate when the pressure is released, says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman in the Detroit area.

“If the pipe wasn’t mounted properly, or it has loosened over the years, that could also cause it to bang against the stud in your wall,” Sassano says. “However, water pressure is usually the primary cause.”

Vibrating pipes can cause the connections to come loose. And if that happens, water will leak inside the walls, ruining drywall and becoming a breeding ground for mold.

Silence the sound: “A water hammer arrester is a fairly inexpensive fix found at a hardware store,” Sassano says. “It helps prevent banging pipes, especially where pipes are exposed, such as at a washing machine.”

However, if the noisy pipes are inside walls, call in a pro to evaluate and diagnose the issue.

Hissing in the bathroom

Toilets are notoriously finicky. It’s not unusual for even a newly installed fixture to need some tweaking to quiet the hiss caused by a leaking flapper. The flapper—the connection point between the tank and the bowl—holds water in the tank, preventing it from entering the bowl until you flush.

“A leaky flapper causes the fill valve to turn on slightly, refilling the tank due to water loss,” Sassano says.

Silence the sound: Flushing the toilet is the first step to quiet the hiss. After the toilet bowl has completely refilled postflush, stand over the toilet to see if any water continues to enter the bowl, Sassano says. If so, the length of the flapper chain may need to be adjusted so it sits flush on the valve seat.

A more colorful approach to diagnosis? Flush the toilet, and once the bowl is completely refilled, add a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If any color starts to seep into the bowl, it’s time to replace your flapper, Sassano says.

Radiator pops and clicks

Expanding metal can sometimes sound like hissing and groaning. This happens because some loop systems that circulate hot water get air bubbles in them and need to be “bled” just like car brakes do, says James Walker, vice president of Aire Serv Heating & Air Conditioning.

Silence the sound: You can buy or make decorative boxes for radiators to cut down on the sound.

“But they may also reduce the amount of heat given off of the” radiator, Walker says.

You can try a radiator key or flat-head screwdriver (depending on the system’s valve) and slowly turn counterclockwise until water starts to drip out. That can release any trapped air and water bubbles and quiet the clunky radiator.

Bottom line: In nearly all instances, ignoring a strange house noise is never a good idea. Doing so can often lead to the need for a bigger, more costly repair at some point down the line, Sassano says. Plus, it could cost you a few precious nights of sleep, too.

The NASCAR Discount and Other Surprising Ways to Save Big on Home Insurance

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s #88 car

Homeowners pay an average $1,034 a year for insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute, and that amount varies due to lots of variables: the value of a home, its location, the owner’s claim history, just for starters.

You probably already know you can get a discount of up to 20% by bundling policies—for home and vehicle, for example—and that’s just the beginning!

Insurance companies also offer a variety of lesser-known, and sometimes slightly odd, ways to whittle down your annual premium even more. Here are a few you should know about:

Rev up and join Dale Jr.’s nation

Nationwide offers a 1% discount to customers who sign up for Jr. Nation, a fan club forDale Earnhardt Jr., the NASCAR driver it sponsors throughout the season. Membership is free and available at DaleJrNation.com. Days, nights, and weekends of (lower cost) thunder!

Protect your nest

Insurance providers know that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors save not only lives, but also money on fire damage claims. That’s why American Family and Liberty Mutual offer homeowner policyholders a free Google Nest device and up to 5% off the fire insurance portion of a premium. The device connects through Wi-Fi to tell the insurance company that it’s working.

Several other insurers offer a similar discount for fire and theft systems that are monitored remotely and communicate directly with fire and police departments.

Go green

Travelers Insurance offers a 5% discount if you have a LEED-certified green home. You can also add a GreenHome upgrade (cost varies based on your coverage), which pays up to 10% to repair, replace, or rebuild with eco-friendly materials after a  loss.

Buy anew

Allied Insurance, American Family, Travelers, and others offer up to a 5% discount if you purchase a policy within 12 to 36 months of purchasing your new home. Some insurers will also offer a small discount if you purchase a new policy from them before a current one with a competitor expires.

Show off

Share the listing sheet or renovation upgrade information with your insurance agent.

The newly renovated wiring or impact-resistant roof that swayed you to buy a house can tempt your insurance provider into charging you less to protect it. American Family, Liberty Mutual, Allstate, and others reward homeowners with a small rate savings for substantial and/or certain safety upgrades.

Pay automatically

Allstate is just one of several insurers that offer up to 5% off the annual premium to homeowners who enroll in their autopay program and opt for payments to be deducted from a checking or savings account.

Have another inspection

Even if you had a home inspector go over your house when you submitted an offer, many insurers like to conduct their own inspection before finalizing a home policy. That second look is to make sure the coverage matches the cost to rebuild or repair, and also to identify potential claims such as a deck without handrails or gutters that are improperly installed.

While many insurers require their independent inspection within 30 to 60 days of the date the policy takes effect, CSE Insurance Group will give homeowners a 10% discount for (yet) another set of eyes taking a look at your home.

Explore your options

“Almost every insurance company offers a discount or two beyond the standard bundling and clean claim history options,” says Scott W. Johnson, an independent insurance broker in California’s Marin County. “The trick is pressing an agent to make sure you’re tapping into any potential savings.”

So don’t be shy. Johnson says agents don’t take offense to homeowners asking about possible discounts or other savings programs. “A good agent is your partner and wants to make sure you have the right coverage and price.”

Building a New Home? Add These Upgrades While They’re Cheap (and Easy)

radiant heating system

If you’ve decided to build your home from the ground up, determining which extra features are worth adding—and which are equivalent to flushing stacks of hundreds down the toilet—can be tough. And while it’s OK to put off some decisions, certain additions are prohibitively costly to retrofit. You’re dreaming of radiant heating, you say? It’s way better to install now than sacrifice thousands of dollars later.

Not sure what’s a must-do right now? Here are some of the easiest things to add to a new home that will save you a few migraines down the road.

Cable conduits

In today’s increasingly connected world, future-proofing your home for whatever innovations come next out of Silicon Valley is essential. Luckily, building from scratch allows you to customize your setup to your needs, both now and later.

Yes, smart home features are increasingly going wireless, but that doesn’t mean you should skip running cable conduits throughout the house—especially if you see a big home theater or full-home sound system in your future, both of which work best plugged in directly. Adding an extensive system of cable conduits can make hooking up entertainment much simpler.

Plus, your own hard-wired system amounts to “an eavesdropping-proof local network,” says Ken Streiff, a Minnesota contractor and builder with 20 years of industry experience.

Worst-case scenario? You don’t use it, opting for all-wireless instead—but at least it’s there and it’s a feature buyers will appreciate as well.

Radiant heating

As we indicated earlier, radiant heating, typically integrated into the floor, is energy-efficient but not remotely cheap to install. You can expect to pay at least $6 per foot for your system in new construction. Adding it later? Watch that number double (or more).

And it isn’t for everyone. Consider confining it to one room, because it “actually can be a limiting factor in future design changes, since the contractor will need to work around it or replace it by zones,” Streiff says. But did we mention that if you’re going to install it you should install it now? Install it now.

Outdoor outlets

Holiday lights or evening barbecues in the backyard might seem like little more than a distant fantasy when building your new home—especially if it’s 20 degrees outside—but if you’re big on decorating and entertaining, install outdoor electrical outlets now.

Adding outlets later can cost upward of $250 each. Adding them during construction, when walls are still open and a licensed electrician will be on site? It’s a no-brainer (and cheap, too).

Accessibility

You never know what the future might bring—for yourself or your guests.

“Shouldn’t your home be capable of entertaining a prize-winning physicist or a popular president without obstacles to their entry?” asks the ever-optimistic Streiff. Uh, yes.

Aside from any luminaries who might be getting on in years, you might consider designing for wheelchair accessibility for you, or a parent. In new construction, Streiff recommends making hallways and doors wide enough for wheeled traffic to travel through and turn around. And reinforcing the bathroom walls will allow you to add grab bars later without opening up the walls. After all, he says, “anything that is going to require opening the walls rates high on the difficult-to-retrofit scale.

“Double-check your plans through the eyes of someone bound to a wheelchair, and ask if it is still so user-friendly,” Streiff says. “Are you placing all of your switches too high or your outlets too low?”

Make the investment in your future well-being now, when it’s just a minor expense. Accessibility is important to plenty of buyers as well. It can actually clinch a deal.

Central vacuums

Forget the Roomba. “Central vacuums just make sense,” Streiff says. These built-in systems for sucking up dirt and debris not only reduce allergens, they also last longer than traditional vacuums and can potentially increase a home’s value. Installing one in an old home can cost up to $1,000 and requires finding a hidden, quiet spot for the motor in the garage or attic.

“The addition later on results in needlessly long pipe runs or less-than-ideal positioning of inlets,” says Streiff.

If a smooth, stress-free vacuuming experience is a high priority, your best bet is to install central vacuuming early, when your builder or architect can work it into your existing floor plan.

Eco-friendliness

When you’re building a home, why not take steps to reduce its impact on the environment? During construction is the ideal time to install energy-efficient features that will save you money down the line. Streiff recommends adding reduced-flow showers, low-flush toilets, and reduced-flow faucet aerators, especially if you live in a state affected by drought.

Make sure to choose windows and doors with high energy performance ratings, and talk with your builder or architect about adding skylights—which can add much-needed light to a dark room in addition to reducing heating costs and improving ventilation.

Are you building the home you want now—or the home that will serve you well for 20 years? In new construction, future-proofing your house can save you thousands of dollars. And lots and lots of angst.

3 Sneaky Ways to Make a Small Home Office Look Huge

home-office2

The plight of the way-too-small home office: a space that needs to be functional often doubling as a guest room and the holding pen for all the random stuff you couldn’t find a home for elsewhere. And did we mention these rooms are often tiny? You spend many of your waking hours in this wee, cramped place. So, how can you figuratively supersize one of the hardest-working and smallest rooms in your home?

1. Pick the right-sized furniture

One of the worst home office gaffes? Furniture that simply doesn’t fit! Just because you want a large work surface (who doesn’t?), it doesn’t mean you want to overwhelm your space with a massive CEO-style desk, says Allison Petty, an interior designer with Homepolish, a national design firm based in New York City.

Start with the right-sized desk, and orbit other furnishings around it. There isn’t a formula for size; the more compact you can go, the better. The small-home mecca otherwise known as Ikea (cue the trumpeting angels) offers countless affordable desk options. Take measurements of your room before you shop, and don’t forget to account for other furniture that needs to go in the tight space. And maybe factor in a bit of walking space, too.

Find a desk that has ample storage and just enough surface space for your computer, Petty suggests. If you primarily use a laptop, you can get away with a small laptop deskfor tight spaces. For bigger devices, consider a storage-rich desk (Petty loves this onefrom Crate & Barrel) that’s both stylish and sturdy.

Treble White Desk

Treble White Desk

When it comes to your chair, you want comfort but you don’t need the gargantuan seat on wheels that you’d see in an office building. Pro tip: Go for a stationary chair with style, Petty says. “I use standard dining chairs because they’re smaller than most office chairs, but they have high backs so you don’t have to worry about being down too low,” says Petty, who recommends West Elm’s Saddle Dining Chair and the Dane Armchair. “Dining chairs are a lot more attractive than office chairs, and they just blend in better.”

2. Find a place for everything

On websites, floating, open shelves look amazing. Know why? Because they’re styled for photos, not living. They probably hold about half the stuff you really need. Your pile of crumpled and mismatched paper? It’s not nearly as eye-pleasing as the perfectly stacked piles you see in design books.

Here’s a good way to leverage wall space: Use it to hang file holders. You’ll find plenty of options at The Container Store or any office supply retailer. Every item should have a dedicated place that’s not your work surface or the floor, Petty says.

If you can squeeze another piece of furniture in your room, Petty suggests a closed cabinet. A stylish armoire could be a nice touch. Use bins to store your office wares inside. Purchase cord organizers and tuck away that laptop when you’re offline to make everything look seamless.

If you must leave things out, then do it in style with finds from online shops such as Poppin.com, says Petty.

3. Have fun with decor

Scoop Table Lamp- Copper

Scoop Table Lamp- Copper

One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to make your work ambiance more Zen is through color.

You can paint, but a hued wallpaper looks great, too. The key, productivity-wise: You want a design that’s inspiring but not distracting, says Petty.

While overhead lighting is the best lighting for task-orientated work, a desk lamp can add a great decorative detail, says Petty. Don’t opt for one that looks too utilitarian. With practically no effort, you can find options that are stylish, attractive, and affordable (the trifecta!), like this one in copper.

One thing to skip: rugs. “Chairs are harder to move on rugs and placing them under a desk ends up cutting the rug off awkwardly,” says Petty.

3 Tips to Prep Your Garden for Winter Right Now

snowman-gardner

The air outside is getting nippy, the leaves are changing, and though there’s still time to enjoy the warmer temperatures of fall, we all know that “Game of Thrones” adage to be true: Winter is coming. If you have a garden or even just a yard, it’s time to start thinking about how best to prepare your plants for winter. Much of how to care for your greenery during the fallow, cold months depends on the climate you live in, but here are a few general tips that all gardeners should heed to make the seasonal transition:

1. Prune to protect

Fall is time to think about protecting your garden—and one of the best ways to do that is to do a thorough pruning of the existing plants.

“You want to get rid of anything diseased or insect-infested, because those can, over winter, infect your other plants,” says Melinda Myers, a gardening expert and the host of the “How to Grow Anything” DVD series. So uproot those annuals and trim the perennials back to the ground. Find out the proper way to dispose of these things depending on your municipality, too—in most places, yard waste has a special disposal process.

If you’re dealing with more of a lawn than a garden situation, the trick is to keep mowing your grass. Why? It will increase its winter hardiness so you have a more lush lawn come spring.

2. Plant a few new things, too

Fall is actually a wonderful time to think about planting, and for looking at some of the seasonal plant sales for inspiration.

“The air is cooler but the soil is still warm,” notes Myers. “For Northerners, that warm soil promotes root growth, while the cooler air is less stressful for plants. We tend to think of bulbs this time of year, but it’s also a great time to put in shrubs and even perennials. For warmer climates, you may be transitioning from summer crops to fall ones.”

If you enjoy watching the wildlife in your yard, planting a few ornamental grasses, trees, or shrubs with berries, or perennials—anything that has seedpods and could provide food for birds—will increase the diversity of wildlife on the property.

3. Keep plants warm

If you have vegetables or herbs and want to continue reaping the benefits, Myers suggests protecting them through the first hard freeze. You can do this a couple of ways: First, bring in cuttings from nonhardy plants before the first frost, root them, and grow them in a sunny window. Second, cover up the plants in the ground outdoors.

“Sheets work great,” Myers says. “You can cover them up late afternoons or evenings to trap the heat. But my favorite solution is using floating row covers, which trap heat but allow in light, air, and water. You can cover them and leave them on until the snow falls. I threw them on shallots, radishes, and spinach, and harvested greens that spring. And I’m in Wisconsin! It was great.”

Who knows? With a few of these simple steps, you could be eating salad fresh from your garden again by April.

5 Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Home in a Hurricane Zone

hurricane-flood

As Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm in recorded history, barrels toward southwestern Mexico and the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, it’s yet another reminder that although coastal living can be awfully appealing, it comes with considerable risks.

Still, the unique culture of beach towns has an almost magical appeal. So when you weigh that against the risk of hurricane damage, how can you decide whether it’s worth it? Here are some questions to ask to help you figure that out:

1. How much will insurance cost?

Regardless of whether a hurricane hits, you’ll need to pay for hurricane insurance. And rates really do run the gamut: In 2012, Florida had the highest average premiums, $2,084 per year, while Idaho had the lowest, $538, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). So before you even start house hunting, meet with an insurance agent. It might feel like you’re doing things backward, but an insurance agent can give you a rough estimate of what you can expect to pay each year.

2. Should I buy on the beach, or a few blocks in?

Where you decide to buy can make a difference in your premiums and risk, even if you choose a property just a few miles inland. It all comes down to flood hazard areas defined by the National Flood Insurance Program’s Flood Insurance Rate Map. The highest risk areas are marked as Special Flood Hazard Areas and have at least a 1 in 4 chance of flooding during a 30-year mortgage.

And remember, you don’t have to be near the water to be in a flood hazard area, as communities in central Texas and Oklahoma learned this spring. So when you’re house hunting, consider where each house falls on the map, but also check its flood-zone designation.

3. What type of house should I get?

The type of house you buy can also make a difference, because some are designed specifically to withstand hurricanes. The home may have a dome shape that reduces wind damage, for example, or rest on stilts to escape flooding. These homes may also get a better rating from your insurance provider (translation: lower payments).

So make sure to ask your agent to show you any homes specifically designed to battle the wind and water—or if you’d rather have a traditional house, hire a good inspector to give you a realistic view of the building’s hurricane resistance before you make an offer.

“If a house is built to code and to withstand a strong storm or hurricane, it can help lower insurance costs,” says Jeanne Salvatore, chief communications officer for the III. If the home isn’t up to code, it may make sense to steer clear or bring in a contractor for some improvements, but be sure to crunch the numbers before you commit. If the insurance savings aren’t bigger than the cost to remodel, it’s probably not worth it.

4. If damage does happen, what’s my deductible?

“Hurricanes are covered in a homeowners policy, no matter where you live,” saysLoretta Worters, vice president of communication for III. That makes sense, after all, since hurricanes are still basically wind and rain—just more of it. But policies differ on your financial responsibility if you have to file a hurricane-related claim.

Most insurance companies tack on a hurricane deductible for homeowners in potential danger zones. And unlike regular homeowners insurance, you’ll have to pay this additional deductible if you file a claim.

“It is expressed as a percentage of the amount of insurance you have on the house, generally 2% to 5%,” says Salvatore.

Bottom line: You may not be able to get out of a hurricane deductible altogether, but you can save some cash by shopping around. The cost can vary among insurance companies, so get at least three estimates before you decide on a carrier.

5. Do I need flood insurance, too?

Regular homeowners insurance isn’t all you need if you live in a coastal region. Typically, homeowners insurance covers damage related to the high-powered winds of hurricanes and tropical storms. But it does not cover the other major problem: flooding.

To keep yourself protected, you’ll need a flood policy. Issued by the National Flood Insurance Program, a policy will cover the damage to your property if the heavy rains or toppled levees causes flooding in your home. Ask your insurance agent to go over the policy carefully and explain any concepts you don’t understand. If you’re not fully covered by flood, you may regret it later.

Shopping for a Home? Case the Joint Like a Burglar

burglar-house

So you’ve got the whole house-hunting routine down, and you run your must-have home features on a loop in your head like a Spotify playlist. You’ve become a pro at scoping out closet space, bedroom sizes, and whether there’s adequate wall space to mount the big-screen HDTV you plan to buy after the move.

But here’s something you almost certainly have not thought to evaluate: Just as you size up whether a home fits your needs, how might burglars size it up to see if it fits theirs? Is your new abode safe as a fortress, or does it stand out as a prime target for intruders?

Before you put in an offer for a new home, consider these potential problem areas—and whether you can fix them on the cheap!

Shrouded in shrubbery

Extensive and elaborate landscaping can add appeal to any yard. But bushes placed in front of windows could provide all-too-much shelter from watchful neighbors or passers-by—isolating your home and making it a target for bad guys, says Steve Albrecht, a San Diego–based national expert on crime and violence prevention.

Landscaping that blocks a door or acts as a wall between properties also provides hiding spots for criminals. Scary!

Your security solution: You don’t have to spend a fortune ripping out a bunch of bushes, but you might need some elbow grease.

“Landscaping should be kept trimmed so that neighbors—or patrol cars—can see completely around the front side of your house,” Albrecht says.

A visible security system panel

Of course, having a security system is a popular and effective deterrent for home break-ins. And while it’s helpful to have stickers and placards that announce a property is protected, a poorly placed panel can actually undermine your security goals, saysRobert Siciliano, home security expert with BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com.

“If your alarm’s control panel is visible through glass to someone loitering outside, a burglar can get an idea of how to defeat it,” Siciliano says.

The best spot for a security panel is close to where you typically exit and enter a home—but not in front of a window.

Your security solution: Negotiate to have it relocated to a more secure, less conspicuous area. “In a nearby coat closet or on a wall not visible from a foyer or door window are good choices,” Siciliano says.

Let there be light, but not too much

A dark doorway lets crooks stroll inconspicuously up to your door and attempt to get in. But an entryway that’s too brightly lit provides illumination for burglars to see what they’re doing, so they don’t need a flashlight to work, says Tim Krebs, corporate communications manager for national home security company Protect America.

Your security solution: Make sure a home has motion-sensing exterior lights that switch on as a visitor—wanted or unwanted—approaches the house, porch, or side windows.

“A monitor sensor light means a crook has to guess correctly if someone is home or not and may be calling the police,” Krebs says.

Dimly lit yards are also problematic (no big surprise), because they similarly allow a miscreant to stalk around unnoticed.

“We suggest double-cone yard lights be placed on the corners of the home,” Krebs says. “These do a great job of illuminating the exterior of the house.”

Fences make great neighbors for burglars

High fences are dramatic and stately but also alluring for a wrongdoer. That privacy you want? Potential criminals want it even more.

“Burglars see a very tall fence or stone wall as an opportunity to work in private,” Krebs says. “Any fence is actually a welcome sight.”

Your security solution: Consider installing a security system or reinforced back/patio doors if the backyard is secluded.

Don’t forget the garage

Doors that lead from the garage are helpful when the weather is frightful or you’ve got a lot of groceries to haul in. But it’s also a security risk if you aren’t vigilant, Siciliano says.

“Just because it’s on the inside of the house doesn’t mean it should be left open for convenience,” he says. “That door may be the last line of defense in the event a crook gets into your garage.”

Your security solution: Make sure all doors with access to the outside have a deadbolt and are part of your home security system. 

Garage-door windows should always be covered to prevent someone from peering in and being tempted by pricey gadgets and tools, your car, an expensive bike, or other valuables.

Before getting your heart set on a new home, Siciliano suggests a full security inspection. Much like a home inspection can uncover flaws in the roof, structure, or plumbing, an inspection by a home security company or expert can help identify all sorts of ways a home might catch a malefactor’s eye.

Mary Hart’s Montana Ranch Offers a Tranquil (and Exclusive) Getaway

Mary Hart

Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for VISIONARY WOMEN

There are vacation getaways for those who want to avoid the stress of humdrum life, and then there are vacation getaways for those who want to escape the prying eyes of the paparazzi.

The 13,600-acre Yellowstone Club in Montana sits solidly in the latter group, a private retreat for successful folks who want to return to simpler times when they could relax with family and friends in a casual (albeit majestic) outdoor setting.

Former “Entertainment Tonight” anchor Mary Hart and her television producer husband, Burt Sugarman, have put their 160-acre Elk Horn Ranch in the club on the market for $19.5 million. You won’t find the property on the multiple listing service, because this exclusive club isn’t for everybody, explains Bill Collins, vice president and director of sales with the club.

New owners will be invited to join the club, which adjoins a 254,000-acre national forest. The Sugarmans’ ranch includes a 6,000-square-foot home with six bedrooms and a loft, along with seven bathrooms and a powder room. There’s also a one-bedroom wranglers’ cabin and a detached garage with an apartment above it.

Main house

Karl Neumann

Hart ranch front

The living room in the main house features a vaulted ceiling and opens to a large outdoor deck. The kitchen, which includes wood cabinetry and top-of-the-line appliances, leads to a bar area, which in turn connects to the living room. “It’s rustic,” says Collins, “but it’s also sophisticated.”

The residence, one of only 500 currently built in the club, was created as an equestrian property and is ideal for anyone who enjoys horses and wants to keep them on the property, Collins notes. Wildlife abounds in the area, making it perfect for nature lovers, too. “You see deer, elk, bear, bald eagles, fox,” Collins adds.

Living room

Karl Neumann

living room

The Elk Horn Ranch sits on the western edge of the club. Its entrance roadway is crossed by one of the many hiking trails in the club, and the area features other activities such as skiing Pioneer Mountain, biking, and fishing. The club includes many families with children, so family activities are a large part of the lifestyle there, Collins notes.

Nature everywhere

Karl Neumann

hart ranch entrance

Despite the grandeur of the club, there’s little pretense among members, Collins notes. “The people who come up here are sort of anti-Aspen,” he says, joking about the renowned ski town in Colorado that attracts the glitterati. “The people who are up here are here to get away. Members who are celebrities want to be treated the way they were before they were celebrities. They want to be part of the community.”

Hart was America’s sweetheart for 30 years as host of “ET” and grew up in South Dakota, so it’s understandable why a place like the Yellowstone Club was an attraction for her.

Former Mariners Manager Lloyd McClendon Is Selling Indiana Townhome

Lloyd McClendon

Former Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is unloading his large three-bedroom townhome in Chesterton, IN, located near his childhood home of Gary.

The Mariners hired the former Pittsburgh Pirates skipper to lead their team back to respectability. Fired after a disappointing 2015 season, the feisty manager lasted only two seasons in the Northwest.

McClendon’s open-layout home—listed for $324,500, with a recent price drop after five months on the market—offers “lots of natural light,” says listing agent Katie Phillips of McColly Real Estate. In the spacious great room, a wall of windows stretching from the floor to the vaulted ceiling brings in the sun and overlooks the natural wetlands behind the home.

Sunny great room

realtor.com

The cheery, sunny great room.

Step into the master suite, with a built-in entertainment center and en-suite bathroom, and you’ll never guess you’re in a townhome.

Townhome exterior

realtor.com

Outside the surprisingly-large townhome.

And while the home may look small from the outside, the exterior of the 3,183-square-foot residence is deceptive. “From the front, you don’t have any idea it opens up as beautifully as it does,” says Phillips.