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Vacation home security and remote control options to protect your home and devices to monitor and control your home from a distance

Home Designs

Architectural plans & designs for vacation homes—mountain homeslake homesbeach houses.

New home sales: 'Really good news'

NEW YORK ( -- Sales of newly constructed single-family homes spiked 11% in June to an annualized rate of 384,000 homes, according to a report released Monday.

The gain over May was much greater than expected. A consensus of housing industry analysts had forecast seasonally adjusted sales of 352,000, according to

However, sales are still 21% below the levels of a year ago, when new homes sold in June at an annualized rate of 488,000, according to the report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Four years ago, during the height of the housing boom, the sales rate for June was 1,374,000, nearly three-and-a-half times higher than last month.

Still, the report was very positive, according to Peter Morici, an economics professor at the University of Maryland who had forecast June sales to be at the 350,000 level. "That is really good news. Considering what's going on in existing home sales, with all the foreclosure activity sending down home prices, for new homes to jump like that is a good indicator that the economy is bottoming out."

CNN Money

Vacation Home Blog and News

August 11, 2009

New Remote Monitoring For Your Vacation Home

At Vacation Home Mall, we like to keep our readers informed of new products that can make life easier. After working more than 10 years in a real estate office that specializes in vacation homes, I know plenty of horror stories that could have been minimized or avoided with a good monitoring system. In most cases, severe damage was caused by a major leak, usually by a frozen pipe or faulty plumbing.

Most of these homes were vacant, and for sale. No one would be aware there was a problem until the home was being shown to a potential buyer. These leaks caused substantial water damage, but there’s a new problem that comes with leaks: mold. Walls, drywall, floorboards, carpeting, ceilings. They all have to be replaced, particularly when selling the house. When water leaks are severe enough, they saturate everything, then leave a mold before they dry. Banks and Home Inspectors will find this completely unnacceptable after reports show that certain molds, particularly black molds, can be deadly to infants and the elderly.

That means major repairs. housEvolve is a home management system that revolutionizes the way homeowners can care for their home when they are away. housEvolve puts the homeowner in full control over all Heating and Air Conditioning controls, Water Valves, and Garage Doors from anywhere in the world.

You can monitor the heating and air conditioning, and place water sensors in vulnerable areas that would indicate potential leaks. With the housEvolve system, you can also control thermostats, water valves and garage door openers. You can turn the water off to prevent a potential disaster.

Naturally, we have plenty of monitoring devices and security/remote control systems available on our site. Currently, you can only get housEvolve directly through the company web site at

July 29, 2009

Waterfront Vacation Properties

While some of the hottest oceanfront and lakefront resorts have seen declines in value, these areas are very limited. In many other areas where building is much more difficult, and developments are almost impossible to get approved, there has been very little downward pressure on waterfront properties.

Oceanfront homes and condos in Florida and areas that were dramatically overbuilt sustained substantial losses in value, and are vastly undervalued right now. The problem is that people are experiencing difficulty in obtaining loans for such properties because development and association structures are incomplete or insolvent, there are liens to deal with, and loans for second homes now fall under much stricter guidelines.

Some oceanfront areas saw strong depreciation in hurricane ravaged areas. Other than that, most established waterfront properties have not seen significant losses in value. The reason for this is that the majority of these types of second homes are owned outright, many of them being handed down from one generation to the next.

Another reason some areas realized only minor declines, or in some cases, appreciation, is that there’s very little room left to build. A limited supply owned by a large number of vacation home owners who don’t have to sell keeps these markets very stable. Most simply take their properties off the market until it improves.

Summer is a great time to own a waterfront home, especially for rental income. In most cases, if you buy a lake home or a cottage at the beach, rental income is not incentive enough to give these homes investment value. The rentals will rarely cover the mortgage. But a¬† waterfront vacation home with a small mortgage, or no mortgage at all, can provide substantial income during difficult times, making it a valuable asset in an economy like we’re experiencing today.

If you are renting now, and you plan to keep renting your waterfront home in the future, it’s the perfect time to gain a following who will return year after year. Making your home as comfortable, clean and fun-filled as possible will insure a great income for years to come.

If you have a dock, make sure it’s in good shape, and offers any amenities that keep your guests comfortable and occupied. A bench for fishing, lighting for nighttime activities (solar lighting adds ambiance and can protect your dock when approached in the darkness), a diving board and ladder for swimming adds utility to what can sometimes be the center of activity. Make sure you have comfortable furniture for outdoor comfort.

You can leave a boat and water skiis for your guests, but that could add excessive liability issues. Make sure you have plenty of bunkbeds. This will add to the number of guests you can sleep, which in turn adds to the amount of rental income.

Buy durable furniture at an affordable price. Cover furniture that stains easily. Have plenty of board games, or perhaps even a table game or two for rainy days and fun-filled nights.

There are many reasons that most waterfront properties are holding their values even in the face of one of the largest drops in real estate values since the Great Depression. If you don’t have to sell, hold onto it, and if you need extra income, it will work for you. Many people are curbing back on their global excursions and turning to more local vacations. The vacation rental market is holding its value.

June 8, 2009

Does Your Agent Have A Marketing Plan to Sell Your Vacation Home?

When looking for an agent to sell your home, they should present more than just a Comparitive Market Analysis of your home. They should also have a comprehensive and effective marketing plan.  Your agent should also have some statistics to back up their methods.

At this particular point in time, don’t expect a huge, expensive program, particularly when it comes to print ads. Many agents have been forced out of the business, and a lot of them are barely hanging on. Do make sure that your home is priced correctly for this market. If it’s overpriced, no amount of marketing is going to sell your vacation property. But here’s what you should find in your agent’s marketing plan.

  1. Feeds to Major Real Estate Portals. Naturally, you’ll want to work with an agent that belongs to an MLS. Many of these MLS systems also provide feeds to dozens of the top real estate portals such as Trulia, Zillow, and many more. If not, your agent should be connected with ListHub.¬† As of this posting, Listhub will send your property listing¬†out to more than 40 major real estate portals, giving your vacation home much more exposure.
  2. Vacation Home Web¬†Portals. Your agent should be a vacation home specialist, and they should be a member of the largest Vacation Home Portal on the internet when it comes to sales (not rentals). That would be¬†ResortScape. In fact, I use their listings in the Vacation Real Estate section of this site because it’s the most comprehensive. And, there are many other vacation sites that use their listings, too, so the exposure is quite extensive.¬†
  3. Virtual Tours. Your agent should be able to place virtual tours or videos of your home on the web. The home should be staged for the photos or videos used for the tour. No clutter. Add flowers and decorative items. If the rooms are empty, add a chair and table, and add a bed to the bedrooms to give a sense of scale. Your agent can easily make tours using VisualTour¬†or even YouTube. VisualTour is a paid service that allows you to make 360 degree tours out of still photos. But, you can now buy reasonably priced video cameras that are all set up to upload your videos directly to YouTube. Most digital cameras can also produce videos, though they’ll need to be edited down to size, or they’ll take so long to download, no one will watch them.
    If you’re vacation home is in a resort area, amenities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, golf courses, ski trails, etc. should also be included in the tour.
  4. A sign and brochure box. Despite drastically changing marketing techniques¬†due to the internet, signs with a brochure box of flyers will still generate a substantial amount of interest in your property. In the age of cell phones, potential buyers will stop, pick up a brochure, and call your agent right at that moment if they’re interested in the property. Make sure your agent has their cell phone number on the brochure or the sign. Otherwise, the flyer could easily get lost, or the buyers could find other properties where they can get an immediate response. That’s right! If we can get it now, we want it now! Otherwise, we’ll go elsewhere.
  5. Postcards. Postcards are still effective and¬†should be sent out to the agency’s list of potential vacation home buyers,¬†neighbors near your property¬†or other owners in your resort in case they’re interested in buying. Your agent should have access to this information through the local tax assessor’s office, town or city hall.
  6. Know Your Competition. Your agent should be familiar with competitive resorts/vacation areas in your vacation home’s market. He or she should be knowledgeable about¬†property values in each area whether it be a home, condo, or building lot, and be able to explain the differences to potential buyers. If your¬†vacation property¬†is priced competitively, it should sell. Also consider that in the current market, the best-priced property may be the only one that sells. Know your competition as well as your agent does.
  7. Print Ads. Print ads remain the most expensive form of advertising. At the same time, they’re by far the least effective in comparison to cost. The more expensive your home is, the more likely it should be for your agent to use well-placed print ads. In a resort community where¬†most of the homes are used strictly for vacationing, you’ll want a display ad of your home during the height of the vacation season. Classified ads can also be effective during this time.
  8. Statistics. Your agent should be able to show you what has worked best to sell properties in the past year including all advertising mediums. They should be able to show you the percentage of sales through personal connections, specific web sites, the MLS, signs, newspaper ads, magazines and real estate guides, walk-in traffic, and properties sold due to their reputation.

Many real estate agents don’t even have a marketing plan. Most experienced agents do. So, if you’re unfamiliar with the agents in the area of your vacation home, make sure you get a marketing plan from each agent you plan to interview. The best practice is to have 3 experienced agents evaluate your home and demonstrate how they would sell it.

May 17, 2009

Time to Buy a Vacation Home?

Filed under: Vacation Home Market — Jim Marks @ 11:05 am

Okay. This has been an ongoing question for two years, and the verdict is still out. The economy is in severe flux, and most of us haven’t experienced these types of ups and downs combined with no clear indicators of the future. Right now, the market is rebounding or is at the top of a bear rally. Who knows? But, with nearly 2,000 auto dealerships closing and GM about to close down for the summer, that could bring the unemployment figures well beyond the expected 10% by year’s end. In turn, many more foreclosures could be in the pipeline.

On the other hand, the stimulus package could be just starting to kick in. People who have steady employment and are unlikely to be laid off may soon need a new car, or may decide it’s the right time to buy a home. So, take your best guess in this new poll!


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April 9, 2009

Vacation Home Trends

I’m by no means an expert when it comes to home decorating, but after years of writing marketing copy for vacation homes and primary homes, you begin to notice that the main difference (in most cases)¬†between the two is location. It’s the neighborhood that really sets them apart. Interestingly, interior features seem to parallel each other.

For instance, a decade or so ago,  it was trendy cabinetry, jacuzzi tubs, and a master suite that typified the highly prized items in a home or vacation home. Typically, most walls were white, there was generally a gas or wood fireplace, and a deck or patio. Homes and condos were moderately sized.

Now, stainless appliances, granite counters, hardwood floors, a hot tub room, and trendy colored walls are all the rage. And the homes/vacation homes are huge. This has been the standard  setup for about 10 years now. Stainless appliances are much more expensive, and it makes you wonder what made these so popular. Was it because they were used in the homes of the wealthy, where professional cooks were often employed for parties, get-togethers, or even on a regular basis? Do we really need a 6-burner Viking stove to cook our meals? And, are they on their way out with a new economy model based on frugality?

0-sectional-patio-furnitureGranite counters, though appealing and useful, are very expensive, and somewhat out of kilter with the new economy. Hardwood floors have also been viewed as a huge plus. But at one time,¬†most of these¬†were carpeted over because they were difficult to maintain, scratched easily, were targets for shoe scuffs, and weren’t comfortable to walk or sit on for any length of time. Colors over the last few decades have trended from pastels to solid white, to bold colors.

All of this has to make you wonder: When will everything you treasure now suddenly seem as dated as shag carpeting or vinyl covered cabinets? And, most of all, what are the next trends likely to be? It seems many are related to outdoor living space. That’s a huge expansion area. They’re even coming out with outdoor sectional furniture and appliances. But what’s the inside of your home going to look like in the next few years? It seems as though we’re on the cusp of major changes, doesn’t it?

April 3, 2009

Alternative Energy is Essential to Moving the Economy Forward

Filed under: Economy — Tags: , , , — Jim Marks @ 11:05 am

Have you noticed how oil prices are¬†constantly one step ahead of the stock ¬†markets whenever they go up. You can take that as a warning that every time the market/economy improves, the cost of gas, food, and energy will go up, and drag things right back down again. You can watch the value of crude oil go up with every twitch in the market. That’s why it’s imperative that we change our energy sources immediately.

The moves planned in the stimulus bill and the budget will do something that should have been done decades ago. By retrofitting government buildings with green technology and providing incentives to private ventures, businesses and homeowners, this has the potential to vastly improve the renewable technologies, not only in efficiency, but in cost. Why? Because it provides a strong incentive to mass-produce these products, and it creates a highly competitive market.

A burst of economic rerouting that recreates the solar industry on a local basis will add an army of small businesses to economies both urban and rural. And it will provide higher paying jobs. This is an essential part of moving the US economy forward. Although most renewable energy projects are very expensive right now, that could change quite rapidly, especially if coupled with substantial credits for private projects by businesses and homeowners.

A surge in alternative energy sources over the next year could counter rising oil costs’ stranglehold on the economy. In my last entry, I blamed the insurance industries. Not all of them, but those that have taken advantage of consumers and small businesses, and engaged in risks well outside of their “actuarial” guidelines.

Looking back to just last year, however, our dependence on oil, and our failure to diversify energy sources on a massive scale over the last 3 decades, was the real catalyst in bringing the economy down like a house of cards. Sure, there were problems with sub-prime loans that would have to be dealt with. But, when gas and oil prices soared up to $4.00 a gallon, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not only were most people saddled with unaffordable or substandard healthcare coverage that took thousands of dollars out of their pockets with each year they aged… Not only was the education of their children in jeopardy… Not only were their retirement savings disappearing at an alarming rate… And, at a time when salaries and wages had fallen substantially behind the cost of living. But now, the cost of commuting, groceries, electricity, travel¬†and everything around them was rising dramatically, while their wages became stagnant or went down to save costs for business.

The energy catalyst caused a major retraction in the economy, which in turn resulted in job losses, and wage cuts, and ultimately sent the foreclosure rate racing towards disaster.¬† To put it bluntly, it was like throwing gas on a worldwide tinderbox, and striking a match by raising energy prices at a blazing pace. So, as you can see, we can’t let companies, particularly those involved with insurance, go unregulated. And, we have to get oil out of the energy picture. It’s not only a danger to the environment, it’s a constant threat to a stable economy. Let’s go green everywhere possible.

March 29, 2009

Are Insurance Companies Breaking The Economy?

Filed under: Economy — Tags: — Jim Marks @ 12:52 pm

We’ve become a nation with an insurance-poor economy, or worse, an insurance raped economy. One of the largest contributing factors to our broken economy was the combination of banking and insurance, which had been separated since the Great Depression due to the role that combination played back then. But, it’s greater than that. In fact, it’s pervasive.

If you owned a vacation home anywhere near the areas affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, you probably know very well just how unfair and useless insurance companies can be. Insurance is no longer a loss/coverage proposition. Most often it’s an agreement as to how insurance companies can pay the absolute least amount, or find a reason or loophole to deny coverage. Worse yet, they recover any payouts by raising premiums against those who dare to file claims. It’s now recommended that you get a high-deductible plan for homes and auto insurance, so you’ll pay the first $1,000 on your own in order to avoid steep premium increases if you file a claim. By any standard, that’s a ridiculous proposition.

Consider health insurance. They’ve raised the cost of it by double digits every year for the last 2 decades. In fact, the average cost of healthcare for an individual is now more than 5 times higher than it was in 1990. In 1990, the average health care cost per employee was approximately $145/month. In 2009, companies can expect to pay an average of $805/month. Salaries and wages have not even begun to keep up with this runaway train. And, during this time, the healthcare system has declined dramatically in comparison to rest of the industrialized world. The average life expectancy in 1990¬† was 71.8 for men and 78.8 for women. The latest information for¬†2005 shows the lifespan for men increased to 73.5, and decreased to 78.65 for women. You’d expect with the huge increases we’ve been paying that we’d be living to 120. The cost of healthcare in the US is now nearly double of what it would cost anywhere else on earth. Yet, we’ve gone down from a ranking of 11th to 42nd in terms of life expectancy over the last two decades when compared with other countries.

Do you see a common thread here? I work for a real estate company, and the error and omissions insurance will go up 10% this year, despite the fact that the company expects to do less business or the same as last year. There were no claims filed. Yet, a 10% increase seems to be in order to the insurance companies. Why? Because insurance companies invested heavily into the market and lost. The same thing has happened to life insurance companies. But, of course, they’ll just raise the premiums, and voila… it’s no longer their problem. It’s yours. They don’t lose. Of course, that’s the business model. But, shouldn’t they be responsible for the risks they take? It’s time we make these companies accountable. The era of deregulation was the biggest disaster for US workers in modern times. The most lucrative consumer market in the world has been fleeced, and can no longer support the legal theft that has been going on for nearly three decades. But, that’s about to change. Now, if it’s not a bargain, it’s not going to sell. If it’s not needed, it’ll sit in the showroom.

We just have to figure out a way to apply this to insurance companies, and still be able to drive, go to the hospital, get a mortgage, and run a business.¬† Note, this has very little to do with your local insurance agent or agency, who actually work for you to find the best deal possible to fit your needs. This is another corporate/conglomerate issue focused on quarterly profits, and oblivious to the needs of it’s customers. It’s about monetary control of the government to the point where they write and manipulate¬†the laws at both the federal and state levels. Maybe we could regulate them back to reasonable standards? No loopholes? No constant escalation of cost to value?

Any ideas?

March 21, 2009

Modular Vacation Homes

Filed under: Building a Vacation Home — Tags: , — Jim Marks @ 4:15 pm

When you’re looking for a new vacation home, there are many options. You can buy a “spec” home from a builder who’s selling one home at a time in a development. You can have one custom built. You can build your own vacation home, too.

If you’re extremely handy and you know your way around framing, carpentry, plumbing, siding, roofing, and electrical work, you could probably save yourself a bundle by building yourself. But if you have only a limited knowledge, you might want to try your hand with a modular. Of course, most modular home dealers will handle everything for you if you want, but you can save money by doing a lot of the work yourself, and being your own GM.

Cape Chalet style home
I had this modular Cape/Chalet place right on the foundation. By doing a lot of the work myself, I saved about 20% of the cost of the home. When buying a modular home, you can make out very well by adding length to it. For instance, this home comes 28′ x 36′ in its standard size. For each additional 2 feet, it cost $1,200. I added an additional 10 feet for a cost of $6,000. That’s an additional 280 square feet of living space for about $22 sq ft. Generally, the cost of building runs between $100 – $150 per square foot of living space. That additional length would normally have cost at least another $28,000.

There are many modular homes that are designed specifically for different types of vacation areas. Some are designed for mountains, others for lakes, and still others for oceanfront properties. Don’t mistake modular homes for manufactured homes (mobile homes). Modular homes have the same features as a “stick-built” or “site-built” home. In fact, many modular homes are more solid than a handcrafted home. They often have up to 1/3 more framing, and are put together more cohesively for the simple fact that they will most likely be driven over many miles of roads to reach their destination, and they have to get there intact.

Modular homes are usually built in a controlled environment, so the framing, decks, and exterior of the home aren’t exposed to rain, heat, humidity, or frigid conditions during the building process. This prevents warping and

The great thing about building with a modular is that it’s not an overwhelming task to do even from a distance. Once you’ve got the prices from local subcontractors, your building permit, and electric installation lined up, you’re ready to apply for your loan. One thing I’d warn against is trying to assemble the modular home with your own hired crew. Let the dealer handle that. I’ve known of a few people who’ve tried to go it on their own, and they ended up with a lot of problems, and no recourse.

If you’re in a hurry to get your vacation home up, check out some of the modular homes available, and determine the work you’re capable of doing yourself if you want to save money.

March 20, 2009

Buying a Vacation Home?

Filed under: Vacation Home Market — Tags: , , — Jim Marks @ 4:04 pm

It’s difficult to find just the right moment to buy during these turbulent economic times. There are certainly a lot of bargains out there, and many are in the most popular areas of the country. In fact, many vacation destinations in Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, the Gulf Coast, and much of the East Coast have seen drastic price drops, many in the 30% – 50% range. And, it seems as though the interest rates get lower every day.

But, this isn’t going to go on forever. Despite the seemingly neverending spiral of dire economic indicators, things are going to turn around. And, it also appears there’ll be a strong probability that inflation will be our next major problem.

Prices will be rising from multiple pressure points. The greatest one will be the devaluation of the dollar due to a white-hot printing press to cover government spending. Another attack will come from big oil as soon as the economy begins to show any sign of coming around. And a major attack is going to be launched by the working populace as they demand the return of a viable middle class that was beaten down for nearly three decades with false consumer price indexes, the near extinction of unions, and erosion of employee rights, protection, and benefits.

Buying before the inflation goes haywire can provide enormous value over the long run. Back in the late 70’s, when inflation was perhaps at it’s worst, was when I bought my first home for $26,000. 5 years later, it was worth $85,000 … nearly triple the amount. But, the price of cars, groceries, appliances¬†and insurance doubled over that same period. You would buy as soon as you needed something, because waiting would cost you more. It paid to buy immediately. I wonder if people will be able to take advantage in the same way this time around? If so, the time to start would be very soon.

March 8, 2009

Have Some Areas Already Hit Bottom?

Filed under: Economy,Vacation Home Market — Tags: , — Jim Marks @ 3:13 pm

It’s tough to say, but some of the most recent data in my neck of the woods suggest we have. Up here on the Maine/New Hampshire border, we’re in vacationland. There are more vacation homes in this area than primary homes. And, our market generally depends on how well the local metropolitan areas are doing (those within a 4 hour driving range are the most likely vacation home buyers).

The most recent data shows that of 14 markets in New England, the hardest hit area lost 8% value in the median sales of homes in 2008. But, what’s most interesting is that during the last quarter of 2008, 10 out of 14 metropolitan markets in New England saw appreciation in their markets. Nothing stunning; these gains were no higher than 1.4% for the quarter, and were generally a fraction of a percent. But here’s the kicker: the last quarter of 2008 was during the worst economic news imaginable. Prices of homes were going up after the September nosedive of the economy, where we’re still spiraling now.

As for the vacation home market up here, January was worse than ever. But February brought an abrupt change. And this week, we’ve had two properties with multiple offers that are very much in line with market values. One of these properties has been on the market for two years without an offer, then suddenly two in one weekend? And, this property is in the $700K range. Are people dumping their stocks entirely? Hmm… The other property was priced about 5% less than the only similar property that has sold in that development, and that sale was 19 months ago.

One thing that people need to remember is that real estate markets are nearly always evaluated by “median” sales. If the median home sales figure is $200,000 in a given area, that means that half of the homes sold were below this figure, and half were above. So, it really is a very poor indicator of home values in any given area. To demonstrate this, if buyers were focusing mostly on starter homes and the lowest end of the market, the median value would be very low. Likewise, if people were buying the million dollar homes and ignoring the rest, it would bring the value way up. In either case, it would be out of proportion.

At any rate, if 10 of the 14 major metro areas in New England saw appreciation in the last quarter of 2008, then people are starting to buy more expensive homes. Are you in a vacation home market? Check the metropolitan areas closest to your location.

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