Archive for the ‘Big Ticket Items’ Category
DOWNSIZING OR REFURNISHING? DONATE YOUR FURNITURE TO THOSE IN NEED
There is a wonderful way to improve other lives while improving your home. The Furniture Bank has 70 locations throughout the country, picking up furniture from your home or store and delivering it to those in need. With more than 1 million homeless in America, gently used furniture donations are greatly needed to provide comfort to seniors, battered women, the unemployed and students.
The Furniture Bank works with donators and the recipients of some very functional furniture. A side benefit of donating furniture is being able to write off furniture donations from taxes. You may also wish to send a check to the Furniture Bank.
Some local furniture stores are even offering discounts of up to 10% if they work with a local furniture bank to donate furniture. Ask your local furniture store.
How to Donate Furniture if You are a Homeowner
Visit www.furniturebank.org to find one of the 70 locations for pickup across the United States. Each furniture bank operates independently and decides which items they are willing to take. Large items like beds, sofas, dressers and lamps are all functional pieces that families starting over need.
Donate Furniture if you Own a Hotel or Other Business
Businesses can reap the benefits of donating gently used furniture. Many banks will pick up the furniture even two or three hours away.
Why not help someone else in the coming year? Visit www.furniturebank.org
I recently sat down with Opinion Corp’s Pissed Consumer to ask what the feedback has been for consumers mattress shopping. Based on customer feedback, I’ve come up with the nuts and bolts every consumer needs to know when buying a mattress. I’ve made my own costly mistakes in the mattress department.
1) All of the major brands of mattress companies put different names on the same mattresses in different mattress stores. This is done so you won’t be able to compare prices when shopping for a mattress. Ask for a spec sheet to compare prices for the same mattress from the same manufacturer.
2) Ask for a short trial period. Many mattress companies say their mattresses compare to a well-known brand, Tempurpedic. You need to really try out the mattress for a night or two to make sure it meets your comfort needs.
3) Ranked from most to least mattress complaints are: Serta, Tempurpedic, Simmons Beautyrest, Sleep Number Bed and Sealy.
For a more extensive list of reviews for all kinds of mattresses, check out Sleep Like the Dead.
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Sleeper sofas have had a recent makeover in design, function and construction since the launch of the industry more than 25 years ago. I reviewed sleeper sofas for Consumers Digest’s Best Buy awards and in all price points, the ever-changing sleeper sofa world has launched new designs yet again.
NOT NECESSARY TO SPEND $5,000 ON A SLEEPER SOFA
Sleeper sofas are once again popular because they look nicer than the clumsy-looking sleepers of the 80′s. Sleepers are also a way of stretching your dollar by providing a multifunctional use. Sleepers have historically appealed to budget-savvy types who just want a comfortable bed once in awhile for their guests. Many big furniture chains now like Room and Board and Pottery Barn devote floors to sleeper sofas, and have extensive selection on their sites. One real problem with sleeper sofas today is the high pricetag, which keeps going up. Furniture stores believe they can sell customers the notion that they are getting more value for their money with a sleeper. But you will overpay for that value. A smart, much less expensive alternative is the good old futon, that some stores have renamed “eurosleepers”. The new eurosleepers have come a long way in looks, and prices have stayed low relative to other types of bed/couch options.
FURNITURE STORES HEAVILY MARKETING FANCY SLEEPER SOFAS
I have been in the market for a sleeper sofa for a student who will be living at my home for a few weeks. I already have a sleeper sofa from 15 years ago, but my kids tell me that they can feel the bar below that makes it uncomfortable for sleeping. The kids used it as a trampoline in their younger years. My sleeper was a very standard sleeper at the time I bought it. It has a paper thin, standard cotton mattress and that awful bar beneath. Times have changed in the sleeper sofa world.
TODAY’S SOFA BED REPLACES THIN, JUNKY MATTRESSES OF YESTERDAY
Paper-thin cotton mattresses having no compatible sheet set options have been replaced by fancy synthetics that make you think you’re sleeping on a real bed, not on a flimsy sleeper mattress. I am seeing sleeper companies using a lot of foam and coils, and a wider range of today’s more pleasing-looking fabrics that really often aren’t worth the hefty pricetags. Foam may be a suitable replacement that can take more wear and tear than a standard pull-out sofa, and foam keeps its shape for a longer time—not bad for a mattress that needs to be hidden most of the time. Key benefits of foam are the new, lighter-weight foams that don’t lose their shape and keep the seat of the couch comfortable, not hard as a rock as with older models.
At Mitchell + Bob’s (formerly Mitchell Gold), I admit I was tempted by the thickness of their mattress (thicker than the mattress on my bed), so I climbed into the bed to test it. In the couch position, the seat was hard and uncomfortable. The mattress, on the other hand, looks thick and inviting, but I question whether it will stay firm over time because it felt a bit awkward and lumpy. I’m petite, but wonder how a larger person would be able to sleep in this bed for many consecutive nights.
SOFA FABRIC “GRADES” AND THEIR CONFUSING PRICING
Fabric pricing is a big mystery to me, as I comb through racks of neutral-colored, mediocre-quality fabrics. This is true at 90% of the big box retailers right now. Most furniture chains have at least 10 grades of fabric. The difference between Grade 1 and Grade 10 can cost more than $1,000. Here’s how it works: each fabric grade has a corresponding price. At the higher price point, I’d expect to find fine leathers, wools and velvets, but that isn’t the case. I don’t notice much fabric quality difference from the lower grades to the higher ones. Of all the retailers with sleeper sofas I have visited over the years, Mitchell + Bob’s fabric quality and choices left me especially stumped, and for more than $5,000 I would expect a much higher fabric quality level to match the hefty price tag. I might advise in this case to get your own perfect fabric elsewhere and buy a sleeper sofa at a store that won’t take advantage of you by charging you a fortune when you bring in your own fabric.
ROOM AND BOARD A GOOD OPTION FOR SLEEPERS
The sleepers at Room and Board were very comfortable, made with thick foam mattresses and offering decent and neutral fabric choices. The $3,500 price tag is within the ballpark of most of the big box furniture stores right now. The quality is good, the sofa comes with a warranty and the salespeople are knowledgeable and friendly. I think I am going to take a ride back over to Room and Board…
I have shopped and reviewed all kinds of furniture, from the most high end to the most modest alternatives, but recently decided to look at some large chain stores that I thought would offer quick, attractive and affordable options for a den.
RESTORATION HARDWARE: QUALITY DOES NOT MATCH UP WITH THE NEW GLOSSY CATALOGS AND WEBSITE
Restoration Hardware has really done a transformation in the past few years, going from a stodgy fixtures store to a more updated take on the Ralph Lauren look. Their site and catalogue are impressive, making you feel like you are looking at a large estate in the south of France. The furniture is neutral, with light, solid fabrics against the backdrop of dark, aged-looking frames, and all looks oversized and extremely comfortable, as if broken in like an old pair of jeans.
Restoration Hardware Upholstery Disappointing in Person
I was close to just buying some chairs online, as do most Americans these days who are shopping for their homes; myself included due to time constraints. But I thought I should just visit Restoration Hardware a few miles away and look at the chairs in person. Ironically, the fabrics felt unimpressive; not as luxurious as they looked online or in the catalog. The chairs felt hard and surprisingly shallow and short, and I’m only 5’2″. I loved the exposed nailheads, but the saleswoman told me that I need to know if I buy the chairs I can never reupholster them because the wood is raw and the frame attachment to the fabric is not really something that can be changed. The arms and the seat cushions felt hard and lumpy; something I would not suggest buying, again, without really checking the seat to make sure it is comfortable, especially given the high price tags.
CHOOSING A “NATURAL” FABRIC COLOR
Restoration Hardware offers a myriad of what they call natural colors. The small fabric swatches make it difficult to know how the natural color will really look in your space. Retailers know if they offer a variety of natural fabrics online, you will think you are making a safe purchase. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of colors that look similar but different, and fabrics offered online are not usually photographed so you can really see the fabric up close. In my experience with Restoration Hardware, the fabric on the chairs was not good quality; I was underwhelmed. I called the 1-800 number, and was told that I couldn’t return the chairs. I explained that the chair didn’t look or feel like what I saw I on the Restoration Hardware site.
In short, if what you receive doesn’t match your expectations and looks or feels significantly different, call and notify the company right away. If you are dead set on ordering online, make sure you first go to the store and check out the piece in person. Ask all the right questions so you aren’t out thousands of dollars.
CAR RENTAL COMPANIES HAVE INCONSISTENT BILLING PRACTICES
Though I typically don’t have a need to rent cars, I did so recently on a few different trips. My experience with Budget made me want to never rent another car again, and this isn’t the first time that my credit card meant carte-blanche to the car rental company.
CORPORATE CAR RENTAL OFFICES VS. FRANCHISE OPERATIONS
Apparently, when you rent a car from Budget, Hertz, Avis, etc., you are possibly renting from the parent company. However, plenty of franchise operations, privately owned and managed, rent out cars under the names: Budget, Avis, Hertz, etc.
AIRPORT CAR RENTAL AGREEMENTS
Once you book a daily car rental rate online, over the phone or through your travel agent, you must sign a contract at the airport. This isn’t easy to understand, because the rental contract invariably adds airport fees, etc., that you may not have seen on the quote. Then, of course, the car style you expected to rent is probably not even available anymore. You are now forced to spend more money and get a bigger, fancier car; or shift down a gear and get a more modest car that costs almost the same as what you expected to rent.
After signing the contract for the car rental, and hopefully not for additional insurance, a big money maker for the car rental companies, you get to check out your new car. In my case, I was given a van that had 25,000 miles on it and seemed very worn out and dirty on the inside.
But before I could leave a little inspector man came out and asked us to look over the car, as he quickly walked around our car and told us there were just a few little scratches on the bumper—he put the little sketch of the scratches on the contract, mumbled a few words in broken English that we didn’t understand, and sent us on our way, as there was a huge lineup of cars trying to leave the Vancouver airport. I looked closely around the car, and pretty much agreed with the inspector, but it was dark in the garage and we were feeling the need to get out because of the long line of cars behind us. The kids were getting antsy.
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MY SUMMER SPENT TRAVELING, ON THE REQUEST OF MY KIDS
Because I’ve spent the past many years traveling for work, I haven’t had much time or desire for leisurely travel. And traveling with little kids wasn’t always the easiest. But this past summer was different. My son, Edward, told me last year that he wanted to travel, to see the world. Planning the trips wasn’t easy, as I wasn’t sure which hotels to stay in, which places offered the best values, and best times and ways to book our trips.
RECENT TRIP TO THE REGENCY HOTEL IN NY WAS AN EYE OPENER
My brother and sister-in-law recently took my nephew, Justin, to NY for a weekend. They were so proud of the amazing rate they were able to get through Orbitz. For somewhere in the low $200′s, they were able to get a room at one of my favorite hotels, the Loew’s Regency in NY. I couldn’t believe the rate–a rate that I hadn’t been able to secure in years, since right after 9/11.
THE ARTIFICIALLY LOW HOTEL RATE QUOTED BY ORBITZ
Orbitz said in fine print that upgrades may be available upon arrival, but that they couldn’t guarantee the room you get when you book through them. Unfortunately, when my brother, sister-in-law and nephew got to the famed Regency Hotel, they discovered they would be sleeping in a room with 2 twin beds—something unacceptable for the 3 of them. So they went to the front desk, spoke with a reservations clerk and were able to upgrade to a room with 2 doubles—for an extra $100, of course.
PROBLEMS WITH ORBITZ, EXPEDIA, PRICELINE AND OTHER ONLINE TRAVEL COMPANIES
We’ve all had the same complaints when booking trips with the online travel companies, as Consumer Affairs reports:
1) The rate you are promised promises you nothing—wait til you see your room. No online or in-person guarantees of a room type or that your view won’t be the parking lot!
2) When you need to change your travel plans, good luck finding someone who picks up the phone to help you.
3) Changing your travel plans will require you to spend a hefty change fee, with no added benefits.
4) With online travel agencies you won’t usually be allowed to take advantage of all the freebies, miles, rewards and other ways the travel industry is extending to nearly every human being on Earth right now.
5) Travel websites are hard to use and are inefficient when you need to change your plans.
CONSIDER USING A WORLD-CLASS TRAVEL AGENT
I recently asked my friend, Erin, how she always plans the best trips, and how she keeps her kids so happy on vacation, even when traveling great distances. Erin was excited to share her little travel secret with me. As Erin travels all over the world to spend time with her husband and children, as her husband travels a lot for work, she has found that having the right travel agent is key to happy travels. Erin referred me Paul Klein Travel, in Chicago, a corporate travel agency, where I turned over my business and headaches. Through using Paul Klein Travel, I have been able to secure the best seats, best rooms, best hotels, best upgrades and packages, and yes, best prices. I have tried to comparison shop the trips I have taken using Paul Klein, in almost 100% of the cases, Paul Klein Travel has beat everyone.
CORPORATE TRAVEL AGENTS’ VOLUME BUSINESS GOOD NEWS FOR VACATIONING FAMILIES
The beauty of traveling with a corporate travel agency is that you can book great vacations at well-known hotel chains and resorts, and take advantage of the corporate travel agency’s great rates. Paul Klein, as it turns out, is one of only 80 travel agencies that “partners” with hotel chains like the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton, among many other great chains–chains that are often expensive and have little in the way of a rewards program. Through Paul Klein, we were able to stay in some great spots and take advantage of the opportunities to see different places we may not otherwise know about.
BENEFITS OF USING A CORPORATE TRAVEL AGENT–WHAT YOU SHOULD ASK FOR
1) Alerts if prices drop or are about to go up so you can secure the best air/hotel packages
2) Resort credits that average between $100-300 per trip—credits that may include meals or spa packages; even high tea and room service breakfasts—free with your travel agent relationship.
3) Instant phone calls made to the manager of a hotel to request a room change or upgrade on your behalf–something you may not be able to secure on your own.
Recently, I did a segment for ABC in Minneapolis about melting your gold and selling it because you could get more money for gold than a few years ago. Recessions work that way. Gold holds its value during a recession. But someone whose parent had recently died asked me if now was also a good time to sell an old wedding band, made up of several diamonds. Her jeweler suggested making an eternity ring, or using the small diamonds to make something for her daughters.
BAD NEWS: PRICES FOR DIAMONDS HAVE GONE UP
If you own diamonds and want to sell them right now the good news is you will be able to sell them for a little more than you could have in 2009, by about 5%. The reason is because manufacturers of diamonds are slowing production of their supply, which is causing prices to go up. It is unclear how long this upward trend will continue, but since January prices have been going up a little each month.
SHOULD YOU BUY DIAMONDS NOW?
There is no question that in the past three years diamond prices plummeted 30%. That is the question of the day. The diamond industry now has a set price marker, called the IDEX. This pricing index should be a good judge of what a diamond should sell for.
FIND OUT THE VALUE OF THE DIAMONDS
- Go to your local jeweler for an appraisal
- Compare venues across the board to see where you may be able to get the highest price (auction, jeweler, web)
- Consider buying inexpensive little diamond(s) and turning them into something else for your children. The prices have not gone up steadily for a few years, and you may want to hold out.
ARE YOU ONLY GETTING SECOND BEST, AT BEST? IF NOT THOUGHT OUT PROPERLY, YOUR NEW HOME CAN BECOME A DISAPPOINTMENT WHEN THE REPAIR BILLS APPEAR
Retailers bank on the fact that people are too busy these days to shop for their homes just one piece at a time, and just want their houses done. Period. Well, if you fall into the rut getting everything at once, you will regret your purchases. Each piece you buy should represent a purchase you made because of your everyday living needs . If not thought out carefully you will risk overpaying and creating a generic-looking space that really doesn’t reflect who you are, your taste or current daily lifestyle.
RUSHING TO CREATE THE PERFECT HOME CAN BE A DISAPPOINTMENT
We’ve all felt the pressure to have the perfect house, whether it be for an upcoming party, the holidays or to simply blend in with the neighbors.
CONSIDER SHOPPING AT AN AUCTION RIGHT NOW
After buying my first home, I realized how empty it looked. I went to auctions at the time, and felt the urge to bid on dozens of inexpensive items, hoping to be the “lucky” winner of all of them. I overbid on things I never even loved—the prices seemed too low to overlook, and I had a house to furnish. I wound up with over twenty pieces of junk for my home, and after putting everything inside, I realized I didn’t like half of the pieces, and would have no real use for them. Several of the pieces later required a considerable amount of work; something I never considered budgeting for.
START OUT SMALL, HAVE PATIENCE, AND WAIT TO BUY YOUR FAVORITE PIECES, BUT DON’T SETTLE JUST TO GET YOUR HOME FULLY FURNISHED
FLEA MARKETS: My best advice for someone with refined taste, who wants an elegant, interesting home is to start out small. For that reason, flea markets are the best way to get your feet wet. In Chicago, I love the Randolph Street Market, a flea market that has an urban flair mixed with country charm. Dealers rent stalls, and I’ve picked up pieces from $5-$2,000 at flea markets. The trick is buying only what you love, one piece at a time, mixing new with old, and only buying pieces you have a use for. Learning these skills takes time and a trained eye.
AUCTION: Auction is another great way to furnish a great big house, or even a city apartment. I especially love shopping at local auctions for artwork, and especially love that I don’t have to pay for shipping. Thanks to my big car. My favorite auction houses for the great values are: Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago, Neal Auction in New Orleans, and occasionally Sotheby’s more reasonably priced auctions. You can’t go wrong. Especially if you put in a silent bid and agree only to a maximum price you would be willing to pay. Becoming emotional about a piece will not serve you well. Avoid auctions or brokerage firms that charge an astronomical amount to sellers or buyers, like 1stdibs. These places are not the best about warrantying the products they are selling.
BECOME YOUR OWN INTERIOR DESIGNER
The fastest way to date your house is to make everything look perfectly coordinated. The perfectly coordinated look is outdated and always has been. Your home will express more about you and your personality when you acquire one piece at a time. Designers will also want to save themselves time, and earn the most amount of money possible by trying to create an entire ”look” for you and your family. I’ve especially seen this when they are working with big families and know that people don’t have a lot of time to deal with all the details.
Take your time, and you, too, will have the house you love for a lifetime.
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By Farnoosh Torabi
Furniture can be a big expense — and if you end up with a poorly manufactured piece that falls apart after a short period of time, you can wind up with a big hole in your bank account.
Since 2002 the industry has been unregulated, leaving the door open for a great deal of misleading sales tactics. How to shop smart and save money at the same time? Consumer expert Jennifer Litwin, author of Furniture Hot Spots and Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever, recently shared with me her five best cost-saving strategies for consumers:
1. Beware of Online ‘Antiques’
Online hubs that bring together buyers and sellers are under no obligation to guarantee the quality or condition of antique or vintage, or previously cherished pieces, says Litwin. If you frequently buy previously owned pieces — whether new or old — make sure you get some sort of business insurance, insurance against fraud or cyber insurance policy that protects buyers from fakes or product misrepresentation. ”These insurance plans protect you in litigation or arbitration. Otherwise, you absorb all of the risk,” she says.
Litwin also reminds us it’s important to always pay with a credit card — as opposed to a debit card or wire transfer — so you can stop payment if the item turns out to be a fake, or badly damaged. Litwin is soon launching her own furniture company, Certified Gorgeous, which she says will offer various insurance policies to protect buyers.
2. Don’t Rely on ‘Solid’ Label
Most new furniture sold in the U.S. is imported from Asia now, explains Litwin – and while the level of craftsmanship has improved, many of these pieces still don’t come with proper labeling that specifies the materials used. If you didn’t know any better, you might think the finishes look authentic (cherry, mahogany, walnut, etc). But different manufacturers may define “solid” differently. Many pieces are made of a mixture of woods or small pieces glued together, and may crack because the wood may be weaker or not constructed properly. “Mixing woods to create particle board doesn’t necessarily weaken the wood,” says Litwin. “But if [the manufacturer is] not using the right hot glue, or strong wood of a good quality, the piece can weaken.”
Actual solid wood usually lasts longer because it isn’t weakened by composition. If you’re not enough of an expert to recognize the difference, make sure you get a one-year warranty for both the parts and labor.
3. Ship in Bulk
If you’re furnishing an entire house, look for a package shipping price for all of your delivered purchases, says Litwin. Rising gas prices have made shipping costs more expensive, so one way to save is to shop in bulk. And bear in mind that local retail stores have the best shipping prices and many install and deliver free of charge — so weigh shipping costs when you’re comparing online sources with the store down the street. (Chain stores will typically offer fewer deals in shipping, or do so seasonally.)
4. Shop Wholesale
Wholesalers who typically don’t sell to the public seem more than willing to sell to the average person these days, says Litwin — particularly fabric houses that sell fairly generic fabrics, like Sunbrella or leather. ”Call these wholesalers and ask them directly if you can buy from them, and then negotiate the same discounted prices you would at any home furnishings store. Many wholesalers even include shipping — a huge savings,” she says.
5. Update Fabric Trimming
Rather than replacing your existing fabrics and curtains, why not give them an makeover by simply replacing their trim? Litwin suggests visiting a fabric wholesaler in your area where you can often find upscale trims at a fraction of the cost at a design center. ”Your room will take on a whole new look that will stay fresh and current for another 10 years,” she says.
If you are shopping for a mortgage now, you have probably discovered that getting a mortgage just isn’t as easy as you thought it might be.
TRENDS IN THE MORTGAGE MARKET:
- Both the 15-(5.42%) and 30-(5.88%)-year fixed rates have gone down by about ½% point in 1 year.
- The mortgage crisis began in 2007, as people failed to pay their loans. This quarter, alone, 900,000 homes are going through the foreclosure process, and home values are the lowest they have been since 2001.
- Loss of jobs—in March, alone, the economy lost 80,000 jobs.
- If you had an ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage), you paid a low introductory rate, but rates have soared after 2-3 years, making it harder to pay your mortgage. EX: If you have a $200,000 mortgage and your introductory ARM was at 4% at closing, it might be 7.5% now, after the adjustment period. This costs you almost $400 more per month. Continue reading »