RE/MAX Collection Tom Carroll



Broker/Owner RE/MAX Partners
Serving the Andovers Since 1993
RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE
GLOBAL RELOCATION

Tips for Storing & Protecting Holiday Decorations

As another holiday season heads toward its inevitable end, it's time to think about how to store and protect your holiday decorations for next year.  And if you added to the collection this year, you may be short on storage space!  Below are some tips to keep in mind as you think about that dreaded chore of taking those decorations down and putting them away for another year.

Label The Lights

If it took you forever this year to figure out which string of lights goes where, you can make your life easier by labeling each string of lights with masking tape.  Coil each string of lights and wrap it with the tape to help keep it from tangling.  Wrapping the lights around a piece of cardboard is even better - you can re-use those gift boxes by cutting them into forms for the lights.  Use a permanent marker to indicate on the tape the location the lights are used in, so that you don’t end up having to figure it out by trial and error next year. Put all the lights in a box and label the outside of the box as well.  

Be Kind to the Packaging

Often it's easier and faster to rip open the box a new ornament comes in than to figure out how to get it out without ruining the box. Who designs these packages, anyway, especially the ones with mulltiple plastic tabs, tape and twisties? Keeping the packaging intact is definitely a better idea in the long run. To be sure your ornaments stay in one piece for next year, you can store them in their original box where there is likely padding and a custom space for them to sit until next holiday season.  Don't have all the original packages?  Check out the sales at the dollar stores, pharmacies and home improvement stores where you can get ruggedized corrugated cardboard or plastic containers with dividers to keep ornaments separated and protected in their own space.  

Food Ornaments (Non-Edible, Of Course)

There's nothing worse than pulling out that macaroni ornament your child made last year, only to find it crushed or eaten by critters.  You can protect that special gingerbreadman cookie, Rice Krispie wreath or macaroni tree pretty easily.  Just put any food-based decorations in re-sealable plastic sandwich bags before putting them into their designated compartment in the storage container you bought at Home Depot.

Label, Label, Label

This sounds like an easy and logical task, but many people forget to do it when hurrying (and often hating) to take down and store holiday decorations. Just use a permanent marker to make a quick list of the contents in the box before you put it in the basement or attic. Then next year you won't have to waste time and end up frustrated when searching for a must-have decoration! 

Take an Inventory

If you never know what decorating items you need to repurchase, there is an easy solution. When you’re putting decorations away for the year, make a list of all decorations you have on hand and concurrently create a list of things you need to replace. This is a good time to take advantage of sales, as stores want to unload their stock. 

Keep Candles in Shape

Almost everyone loves candles, especially at the holidays.  Whether you purchase them yourself, or receive the as gifts, you need to protect them from getting smashed, cracked or melting into lumpy messes.  If you want to keep your candles looking great for next holiday season, put tapers into paper towel tubes to protect them.  For larger candles, try using square tissue boxes (the candle will be held in place by the opening in the box).  It's best not to store candles in the attic, where summer's heat can melt them.

With your holiday decorations safely stored, you can now focus on your New Year's resolutions!

 

Should You Hang Your TV Over the Fireplace?

To hang or not to hang the TV over the fireplace, that is the burning question!  There have been plenty of arguments about whether or not to hang the TVs over the fireplace, and at this time of year you may be facing that dilemma yourself.  A fireplace is typically the focal point of the room.  So it makes sense to want your TV in the same spot. Hanging the TV also means leaving floor space open for other pieces of furniture or just to keep the space feeling more open.  Here's a quick look at the pros and cons of booting that mirror or painting and elevating your TV to the place of honor over the fireplace.
 
Pros
 
Space Saving

One of the biggest pros to hanging your TV over the fireplace is the space you save. The rest of your walls can now be used to hang photos and artwork. Since both the fireplace and the TV are focal points in your living room, putting them together will create one center for the room.  It will make it easier to arrange your furniture, since you won't have to decide whether the TV or the fireplace is the focal point. 
 
Aesthetics

The look of a TV mounted above a fireplace is aesthetically pleasing to many people and makes the room look cleaner, more modern and less fussy. The simplicity of having your TV matched with your fireplace will help create cohesiveness and won’t make the TV a distraction or take away from the fireplace. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the fireplace and the TV, helping to make the room appear larger.  If you really don't want the look of the TV above the fireplace, there are new models that will allow you to use the screen as a painting or print (or even your favorite photograph) when you aren't watching the television.
 
Cons
 
Height Issues

When you place your TV over your fireplace, it will sit higher than you're used to, and that can make it uncomfortable to watch your favorite shows and movies. Make sure to measure everything before mounting your TV so you won’t regret your decision later on. If you don’t feel as though you will be comfortable with the height of the TV above the fireplace, then think about another place where the TV will work for your floorplan and furniture layout.  If your home isn't already wired for hanging a TV over the fireplace, be sure to hire a professional to come in to run the wiring so it won't show, and to mount the TV to the wall.
 
Heat Damage

The heat that comes from the fireplace can damage your TV. You will need to figure out the exact temperature in the spot where you plan to mount the TV and be sure you insulate your chimney correctly. Calcium silicate plates will help you avoid this problem. But without proper protection, you can melt the entire bottom of the TV.  Be sure to plan ahead to avoid a meltdown!

So...

Now that you know about the pros and cons of hanging your TV over your fireplace, will you choose to hang it or place it somewhere else in the room?  The choice is yours!

Tips for Winterproofing Your Vacation Home

Do you have a summer home? Here are some tips for preparing it for being vacant all winter.  And many of these tips apply to a winter retreat that you don't visit during the warmer months!

Outside:

  • If you have any broken stairs or handrails, get them fixed before the season starts. It’s much easier for people to get seriously hurt if they can’t grab a handrail as they fall.
  • Seal any holes in outside walls and caulk or cover spigots and outdoor water pipes to protect them from bursting in cold temperatures. Sealing holes will also keep out any unwanted birds or animals who are seeking refuge during the winter.
  • Check skylights to be sure they are properly sealed to make sure the no rain, snow or ice gets inside your home.  In addition to causing damage to the structure and furnishings, any moisture left untreated can lead to mold growth.
  • Clean gutters! Make sure you've gotten rid of leaves and other debris so you don’t get a buildup of ice and snow.  Ice dam can cause serious damage. Consider installing gutter guards to prevent more debris from entering and building up.
  • Bring in any decorations or furniture that you keep outside. It can be damaged by the weather or animals, or be taken by a thief.
  • Throw away any broken items and donate to charity anything you didn't use over the season.

Inside:

  • Warm temperatures are key to preventing water damage.  Talk to and HVAC person regarding the optimal temperature for your home while you’re away.  You can usually set the thermostat lower in a well-insulated, newer home than in an older, less insulated home.
  • Install an emergency pressure release valve in the plumbing system. 
  • Leaving appliances and electronics plugged in is a waste of electricity, so unplug them. Prop the refrigerator door open so you won't come back to a modly, smelly mess.
  • If you don't plan to spend any time in the home during the winter, you may want to consider "winterizing" it. Turn off any nonessential utilities to save yourself money and avoid any chances of water leaks. If you’re in a cold climate, drain your water lines to prevent your pipes from freezing. Drain the water heater. Close the water lines to toilets, the washing machine, sinks and the dishwasher.
  • Put fresh batteries in the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, the thermostat, the security system and other vital home devices.
  • Connect your thermostat and one exterior door lock to a home automation system. Set the system to automatically send you a text if the temperature inside your home falls below a certain point. You'll know you need to call a furnace repair company and you'll also be able to unlock the door for the service person without having to be there
  • Close window treatments and storm shutters. Don't forget to activate your alarm system!
  •  

    If you're property is in a homeowner's association, be sure the association has your correct contact information, so it can reach you in an emergency.
  • Toss Trash And Take Home Perishables.  Disposing of trash will help keep rodents and other pests away. Same thing with any perishable food. You don’t want to come back to your home after a few months to find something growing in your fridge or pantry.  In many vacation areas, food banks or religious organizations hold change-over day collection drives where you can drop off your unused food on your way out of town.
  • Inventory Home Supplies.  Make a list of anything you need to replace before the start of the next season, like pots and pans or bed linens. You can shop for those at your leisure and bring the items with you when you reopen the house.

It shouldn't really take you very long to do these things, and you'll be thankful for the time well spent since you won't have to worry about your vacation home during the off season!

 

Fall Cleaning Tips

Well, we are officially well into Fall and for many people, that means Fall Cleaning time!  Here are some tips on fall cleaning and preparation projects.

 

Clean and Reverse Fans. Ceiling fans are increasingly popular here in the northeast, and they can be used year round to keep your home more comfortable.  Your ceiling fans have been hard at work all summer so they may have gathered more dust than you realize. With the fans off, clean the sides, tops and bottoms of the blades. You can get a special fan cleaning tool or use a Swiffer or regular dust cloth (be careful on the ladder!) to clean the blades and motor case.  Reverse your fans so the blades send air upward to disrupt the warm air that collects near the ceiling and disperse it downward. This is particularly effective in rooms with high or vaulted ceilings and rooms with stoves or fireplaces.

Clean Window Treatments. We often forget that window treatments ae also dust collectors! Don't ruin your investment by not cleaning them. Use a cordless hand-held vacuum to remove dust from heavier, permanently mounted hanging window treatments such as valances and swags. If you have lighter and removable hanging curtains, take them down and wash them in the gentle cycle or take them to the dry cleaner. While they're down, clean your windows and sills thoroughly.  Of course, you might want to clean your windows at the same time - or hire someone to do that unpopular task!

Vacuum and Clean Furniture. Vacuum your upholstered furniture, and spot-clean the big stains as needed. (Always test an inconspicuous area of your couch before applying any cleaning agent to a main area.)  If you have removable cusion covers, wash or dry clean them as indicated by the manufacturer.  You can also hire a professional upholstery cleaning commpany to ome and steam or otherwise clean the furniture.  It's amazing how different your furniture will look and feel after being cleaned.  You (and your pets) may not recognize it!

Clean Carpeting and Area Rugs. While shoes may track in dirt and salt during the winter, it's a good idea to clean rugs and carpeting now. Get rid of summer dirt and sand by beating smaller rugs - or washing if they're small and can withstand the machine - and steam cleaning the others.  You can rent a steam cleaner or call in a professional. And once your rugs are all clean, maybe people will take their dirty shoes off before they step on them! 

Seal the Air Leaks. Check your windows (you've got the curtains down, now's a perfect time) and doors for damaged weather stripping and cracked caulking, and make repairs as needed.  If you haven't had MassSave come to your house, this is a great time to do it and get some free products and labor! 

Check Your Snowblower! Take a few inutes to fire up the snow blower to be sure it's in working order before that first snow storm hits! If you store a car or motorcycle for the winter months, be sure you have a trickle charger to save your battery from draining while the vehicle is just sitting.  

Stock up on plastic covers and tote bins! Don't just stash your lawn furniture under the deck - or leave it out to suffer from the elements.  You can purchase covers to fit your furniture and lawn equipment, but you can also save money by buying heavy plastic by the contractor roll or getting tarps and cutting to fit.  Toss the cushions and pillows into large plastic bins; try the local dollar stores and the big-box home improvement stores for sales.  Plus, it will make you feel good to have everything stored away in good order. 

Make a Trip to th Dry Cleaner or Your Favorite Charity. Now is a good time to "swap out" your clothing and bedding.  Make good use of your washer and dryer or take things to the dry cleaner (or use a pick up service like Zoots or Anton's).  Clean your spring and summer items and store them away (think about those plastic bins again), or bring them to your favorite charitable organization or drop box.  Then get those sweaters and mittens and hats out. It won't be long now before you'll need them!

Things to Address Before an Older Relative Moves Into Your Home

It is becoming increasingly common in the US, as people live longer, for aging parents to move in with their baby boomer-aged children.  It's important to have  your home properly prepared before they move in so everyone can be assured of their safety.  But where do you start?  Start with these basic projects.

Bathroom:

- Have a carpenter install safety rails in the tub and add a grab bar.  You can give the grab bar double duty by also using it as a towel rack. This will allow your loved one to avoid using the actual towel rack or toilet paper holder as a means of steadying herself as she moves around the bathroom. Since these racks aren't made to be weight bearing, they can give way under pressure, rip out of the wall and cause drywall damage.  Not to mention the resulting bruises and breaks that can happen to your parent when this happens.

- Add a rubber bathmat or peel and stick non-slip strips to the bathtub or shower to prevents slips while bathing

- Consider purchasing a shower chair to make bathing easier. It's often difficult for the elderly to stand in the shower or lower themselves into the tub, even with safety rails in place. Be sure it's a sturdy chair made for use in the shower, not just a plastic chair you use for barbecues!

Furniture:

- Remove throw and area rugs. The edges of the rugs can be trip hazards, as can any bumps or wrinkles in the rugs. This goes not only for living, dining and bedrooms, but also for bathrooms and kitchen. A trip on a rug in the kitchen or bathroom is especially dangerous as there can be water that would further impact a fall - and tile floors that are harder when hit than when falling on carpet or wood floors.

- Rearrange furniture so your parent doesn’t have to walk around any pieces as he goes through the rooms in your home. More direct routes mean less chance of falling or bumping into something.  

- Coil or tape any cords or wires to the wall, or have additional outlets installed so there aren't any wires to trip over. 

Lighting:

- Increase lighting in stairways, hallways and at your home’s entrances, including the doorway from the garage into your house. It is important to be able to see the edge of each stair tread.  There are some great new lighting products that are specifically made for bedroom, bathroom and hallway lighting at night, including lights that are motion activated when someone gets out of bed or a chair.

Exterior:

Add a second railing to stairways, so you have railings on both sides. This is important for any interior stairways as well! Be sure the railing isn't too wide or flat to grab; to be effective your parent must be able to wrap his hand around the railing. 

- Check the condition of your sidewalks and other exterior hardscaping. Are there uneven places, loose pavers, wobbly bricks or flagstones or anything else that could trip up someone who doesn’t lift his feet high when walking?  Even out any pathways and patios to make walking on them easier.

Everyone's needs are different, of course.  When thinking about making modifications to your home, give some thought to long term needs and goals, and how you can make life easier and happier for everyone, both now and in the future.  

How to Create a Photo Inventory of Your Possessions

The Importance of an Inventory  
 
It's always a good idea to have an inventory of your possessions, but the need has been highlighted by the damage caused by the recent hurricanes.  Creating a photo inventory is a great way to document your possessions so you know what you lost if you ever have to file an insurance claim. 
  
 
Photographing Items
  
Be systematic. Start with the top floor and work your way downward to the basement (if you have one). Start in one corner or quadrant of a space and then move clockwise, standing in different parts of the room so you can take several photos.  Once you're finished with a room, tackle the individual items in it.  As you work, preview the images to ensure you got the whole item, good exposure and sharpness. You'll need to really be able to see the items if you have to file a claim.
 
Take multiple photos of objects to capture the backside, inside, details, brand or model name, serial numbers, etc. If you have receipts for items, take a photo of them to keep in the file as well. Don't forget to check in cabinets, closets, drawers and attic for items that aren't in plain sight!
 
When photographing rare or valuable items such as antiques, paintings, silverware, jewelry or fine china be sure to:
  • Create a background by placing a white bed sheet over a table and then placing the object on it
  • Fill the camera's viewfinder or LCD display with your subject
  • Shoot at your camera's closest focusing distance 
  • Use the macro setting if you camera has it
  • Be sure there are no shadows on the object or the photo
  • For decorative items, such as china, take a close-up of the pattern or trademark
 
Exterior Photos
 
While the exterior of your home may not seem like a "possession" it is important to be able to show the before and after condition of your home and yard if you need to file a claim. Take pictures of your home's exterior, including your roof, siding and porches. Next, add photos of landscaping and hardscaping features like decks, patios, fences, gazebos, sheds, barns and expensive or exotic plants. Note the size and materials used to build each exterior feature. When the time comes to file that claim, you want to be sure any repairs, replacements or rebuilds are done with like-kind/quality materials.
 
 
 
 
Save A Backup
 
Create a file naming system so you can group items by room.  As you work, print out a running copy of your inventory list.  It will take some additional time, but add a thumbnail size photo beside each item name.  Once you're finished, save a master copy of your written list on a flash drive and put it and a full set of photos in a location other than your home. A bank safe deposit box or a relative's home that's not nearby are good options. 
In  addition to creating an electronic file and backing it up in the cloud, you might want to make a hardcopy as well. If you are forced to evacuate you can bring the hardcopy with you.
 
Finally, don't forget to periodically update your photos and files as you add or delete items.  It would be bad enough to lose that precious painting you just purchased - you don't want to lose out on the insurance money, too!
 
 

Is It Better to Set the A/C Fan to Auto or On? And Other Energy Saving Tips.

Staying cool can be difficult during uncomfortable summer spikes in temperature and days-long heatwaves. Does keeping the A/C fan set to ON all the time save more energy than keeping the A/C fan set to AUTO?  That's a question that is debated in many households!

The on/auto fan switch on your A/C thermostat will affect the price you pay to cool your home. That’s because the A/C fan circulates the cool or warm air throughout your home. Switching the fan to “on” will make the A/C fan run continuously – all day long. If you choose the “auto” setting, this will allow the fan to shut off with the rest of the cooling system as soon as your desired indoor temperature is reached.

Fan “on” costs more

Unless you have a variable speed motor, that small fan in your furnace can cost a lot to run 24/7. Let’s assume your air conditioner normally cycles off 30 percent of the time. In this example, turning the fan switch to “on” will make the fan run over 200 extra hours a month. For a typical size central air conditioner, that could cost you about $8 more each month. Some people prefer the feel or sound of the fan running all the time. If that’s you, at least now you know how much that choice will cost you. Keep in mind, a fan that runs all the time may wear out sooner.  So that $8 a month can turn into a lot more in the long run.

Another reason to keep it on “auto”

The primary advantage of the “auto” setting is that it uses less energy because it keeps the fan running the least amount of time. Setting your A/C fan to “auto” also helps provide better dehumidification. Have you noticed how moisture from the air condenses on the outside of a cold drink on a humid day? Your A/C unit captures moisture the same way, helping your home feel more comfortable. When the fan cycles off using the “auto” mode, moisture has a chance to drip from the cold cooling coils into the condensation pan and then drain outside. However, when the fan runs all the time in the “on” setting, less moisture has a chance to drip and drain outside.

Tips for Keeping Cool

According to fan manufacturer Lasko, an average homeowner spends nearly $2,000 annually on energy bills, with 25 percent of that consumed by air conditioning. By simply turning the A/C thermostat up, and adding fans to any space, you can still stay comfortably cool while saving money.  

You can keep cool air moving by strategically placing a fan with a head that tilts fully back—like an 18-inch pedestal or “tornado” model—to create ongoing airflow throughout multiple rooms.  Also consider ceiling fans to keep air circulating in your home.

Turning the thermostat up by a few degrees and add one or more fans for up to 10 percent home energy savings without sacrificing comfort. Consider a portable, lightweight fan that can go from room to the room with ease.  Can't bear the thought of raising the temp in your house? Try inching it up just one or two degrees a day. And if you're away from home for hours every day, consider a programmable thermostat or one that you can control from your phone or computer. That way you can lower the temperature on your way home without wasting energy to cool the house while you're away.

If you work out at home, save more with a small fan in your workout area to keep your body temp in check. An oscillating high-velocity fan is a perfect workout partner.  You can even get one with a remote, so you don't have to interrupt your workout routine to adjust the fan speed!

Finally, check with your utility provider. Some offer a discount or rebate if you use less energy, especially during peak hours. 

Phone Scams Increasing

FOR AS LONG as there have been telephones, there have been crooks trying to call and steal your money. What is new is the sheer volume of unsolicited calls that Americans endure each year — over 29 billion in 2016 alone by one estimate, including lots of potential rip-offs. No wonder fraud complaints have increased nearly 60 percent since 2010, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Scams are continuing to show up across the country this year.

The voice on the other end of the line claims to be an IRS criminal investigator. Arrest is imminent if you don’t immediately pay thousands of dollars in back taxes. Individuals are instructed to put $500 on multiple iTunes gift cards and give up the 16-digit codes. Don’t be fooled. The IRS would never ask a taxpayer to buy iTunes cards for any reason.

 

Internet scam artists create little boxes that pop up on your computer screen, telling you that you have a virus and need to call for technical support. Don’t believe it. Computer companies never notify customers of a problem through pop-ups, unless it is from virus-protection software that you installed.

 

You get a call from someone posing as a sheriff’s deputy claiming you’ve missed jury duty and owe the county a $1,000 fine. Pay immediately, the caller says, or you will go to jail. Rest assured, no sheriff or court will call you and demand payment like this for missing jury duty. If you get this call, hang up, then call the police and report it.

 

 A con artist calls and tells you that you have won the Australian (or Jamaican) lottery. All you have to do to collect is wire $1,500. Don’t do it. Lotteries never call to give money to people who haven’t even bought a ticket.
 
You get a call from your bank that there is a problem with your account. To straighten it out they need your account number, date of birth and the last four digits of your Social Security number. Hang up. This is a scam to get information to hack your account.
 
Don’t let crooks scare you off from answering a call.

1. Do some research. Google the salesperson and company before you buy. Explore their reputations thoroughly. If you can’t locate solid information, walk away.

2. Don’t react out of fear. No matter how threatening or urgent their script, do not act immediately. Always hang up and give yourself time to think it over and check them out.

3. Trust your instincts. If a caller sounds fishy, hang up. The chances of losing out on a great deal are much less than losing your nest egg. 

Online Furniture and Home Decor Shopping

More people than ever are choosing to shop from the comfort of their own homes rather than brave the crowds at the local shopping mall. Online furniture and home decor shopping has become a huge business, so here are some top online retailers to help you hone in on some of the best and most popular. 

1. Wayfair

Wayfair is a one stop shop for all of your home decor and home furnishing needs. They sell everything from furniture and light fixtures to sinks and countertops. Their huge selection is hard to match and their low prices will keep you coming back for more. 

                                                                     

As an added bonus, Wayfair customers will receive free shipping on all orders of $49 or more. When you are ordering heavy furniture and lots of other items, the free shipping goes a long way. 

2. Overstock

Overstockstarted as an online liquidator selling excess inventory from various other companies. It has grown into a major online retailer that offers over 1 million products from numerous manufacturers at below retail prices.

3Made Goods

Made Goods specializes in accent pieces, making good use of alternative materials and unique designs. With hundreds of pieces in stock and ready to go, choosing an accent piece for your space has never been easier. The selection at Made Goods includes light fixtures, indoor and outdoor furniture, mirrors and decorative objects.

4. USM: Modular Furniture

This company specializes in organizational pieces for the home and office. Their selection includes a number of prefabricated boxes, shelves and drawers. If you can't find what you're looking for, USM Modular also offers an option for customers to design their own items. This is a great option for those looking to furnish an oddly shaped or unique space, but even in a traditional space, the “Design Your Own” feature is a great way for the picky consumer to get exactly what they want.

5. Ballard Designs

Ballard Designs is a European inspired company that boasts antique style pieces without the antique price tags. In addition to their already low prices, they frequently have storewide sales where buyers can get as much as 25 percent off of their purchase. Ballard Designs’ product lines include bedroom sets, wall decor, lighting, fabrics and upholstery, and of course, furniture.  

6. Amazon

No online shopping list would be complete without including Amazon.com. Amazon is known not just for selling anything you could possibly need, but also for having it on your doorstep within 48 hours. This is huge when compared with other retailers who offer delivery within 7 to 10 business days.

You will always receive free shipping with your Amazon Prime membership, but even without a yearly membership, you will be able to get free shipping on many orders of $25 or more. This easy access to very fast shipping keeps customers coming back for more. 

Next time you are in the market for new furniture or just in the mood to shop, check out these online retailers!

How to Protect Your Home from a Burglary

Did you know a burglary occurs every 20 seconds in the United States? There are some simple ways you can help protect yourself and your home from being a target.  Here are 6 tips from professional burglars.

1. More burglaries occur during the day than during the nighttime.  The most popular time for a break in is between 12:30 and 2:30 pm, when burglars know that there is a high likelihood that people are at work or school.  Weekend burglaries are the least common burglaries as homeowner schedules are too unpredictable.  It may sound obvious, but don't leave your easily accessible windows open while you're out doing the grocery shopping, be sure to lock your doors and garage doors, and don't leave notes on the door telling the UPS driver you're not home and to leave the package at the back door!

2.  Don't post your vacation pictures or check in on social media while you're away.  Wait until you get home to share your vacation photos and shenanigans.  Burglars troll social media sites to find out who is not home.  Even if your accounts are set to prvate, a burglar may stumble upon your post being shared or liked by a friend.  It's easy enough to Google your name and get your address.  It's tempting to share your adventures in real time, but be safe and wait until you get home.  Your friends will still like your pictures!

3.  Use an alarm system and tricks to make it look like you're home.  While tv shows make it look super easy for a burglar to disarm or work around your alarm system, it is the first defense against a break-in.  Be sure to use a strong code - definitely not your house number or birthday or anniversary date.  Clean keypads regularly so soil or fingerprints won't give away the digits to your code. Invest in motion sensor lights and bright floodlights, two things burglars don't like!  Leave a tv or radio on, and invest in some light timers to make it look and sound as if you're home.  You can get relatively inexpensive timers that you can control via your phone.  Pay a neighbor to shovel snow or bring in mail and newspapers.

4.  Do not post bumper stickers, window or yard signs advertising your support for guns or the fact that you're home is "protected by Smith & Wesson" as these turn you into a target.  Thieves like to steal and sell guns.  A gun is stolen every 2 minutes in the US.  Don't add to that number.

5.  Keep large shrubs and landscaping pieces trimmed so burglars can't hide in them.  Be sure to provide a clear view to your doors and porches, which makes a thief think twice about trying to enter your home.  Think about placement before installing ornamental or architectural items to your yard.  Thieves like fences and small walls.  They may give you some privacy but they also provide a hiding or staging place for burglars.

6.  Protect your valuables by keeping them out of sight. Don't entice thieves by leaving jewelry, keys, laptops and other expensive items in front of windows and in view of passersby.  And don't leave the box your new tv came in out on recycling day.  Break boxes up and pack them together with any identifying information on the inside, not on display to everyone who drives or walks past your house.  It's okay to advertise the local pizza shop but not your latest expensive purchase.

In addition, be sure to immediately change your locks when you move into a new house.  While the sellers may be the nicest people in the world, there's no telling who they gave a key to and where their keys ended up.  Change garage door codes, too.  There's no sense in changing door locks if someone can just open your garage door and walk in!