vacant land with wide open spaces

Buy Beware! 5 Things to Consider When Buying Vacant Land

Vacant land seems like it would be a very straightforward deal when it comes to real estate. Without an established structure you don’t have to worry about the condition of a foundation, what a home inspector will find, and you get to make all design choices yourself, but whether you’re looking for a spot to build your dream home home, you want acres of hunting land, or you have dreams of harvesting lumber from an established forest there are a variety of considerations that need to be made.

  1. Zoning
  2. Depending on where the land you’re interested in is located, you may run into issues with zoning. While some zoning laws are pretty laissez-faire (Houston, we’re looking at you!) there are others that are very strict as to what can be done on the land. If you have dreams of having a dog kennel or in-home daycare or any other home-based business, you’ll want to make sure that unexpected issues won’t arise from this after you close. Keep in mind that both the county and the city may have zoning rules in place.

  3. Plot Lines
  4. If you’re interested in a vacant parcel because of a certain feature– water frontage, mature fruit trees, anything– you’ll want to make sure it’s actually on your property. Without houses, fences, or a well-staked property, it can be hard to determine what would be yours and what would be your neighbors and that’s nothing something you want to learn after putting in an offer.

  5. Land Type
  6. When you think you’ve found the perfect piece of land, you can develop a blindspot over the weaknesses of the property. Sure, it seems perfect to tuck your home back from the road, but will the driveway cross through protected wetlands? Your dreams of a cozy basement can easily be derailed by silty or sandy soil, would you be ok if it doesn’t work out?

  7. Weather/Seasonal/Nature Factors
  8. If you’ve lived in the area where you’re planning to buy, you may know some things to look out for. While most things can be fixed with proper grading or covered with the right insurance, if you’re not planning (or budgeted) to make changes, you may need to pick a new spot. For the Midwest, you’ll want to watch out for what drainage will look like after the snow melts. For the coasts you’ll want to consider the floodplain and in the mountains you should watch the topography.

  9. Accessibility
  10. You’ll want to know exactly what you can expect for buying this particular piece of land. Is it already prepped for sewer/water/electric? Can you drill a well if need be? Do you have a plan and/or budget for any of the above if the answer is no? You’ll also want to be sure that you can access the land you purchase. Believe it or not, there are thousands of properties across the U.S. that have no road access whatsoever because they are completely landlocked by other private properties. In cases like this, you can generally legally establish an easement, meaning a neighbor will grant you access to your property through theirs (usually via access road or driveway), but it’s something that you may have to pay extra for and will definitely want in writing.

Keep in mind, these are just some of the considerations when purchasing vacant property. To protect yourself you should always do your due diligence and start with a clear vision of what you’re looking for. It also may be a good idea seek out a licensed real estate agent for help if you need advice.

Which 2018 Grammy Nominee Should You House Swap?

What's your ideal home style?

Where would you spend your ideal vacation?

What's your favorite season?

What's your favorite food?

What's your favorite weekend activity?

What's your spirit animal?

Which Grammy Nominee Should You House Swap?
Lady Gaga

You're a sunny, fun lovin, ball of energy just like Mother Monster herself--making her Malibu mansion the perfect home for you! Some of the "Million Reasons" you'll love this home? It has a saltwater pool, 8 horse stable, game room, theater, wine cellar, and 2 lane bowling alley!
Lana Del Rey

You enjoy doing your own thing and aren't worried about pleasing others. Instead, your "Lust for Life" leads you to enjoy peace and quiet, but with the ability to join in on the fun when you want That's why Lana Del Rey's house would be perfect for you. Her adjoining properties mean no nosey neighbors, but plenty of room for guests and the setting in the Hollywood Hills means you're never far from where the fun is.
Jay Z

The hustle is strong with you! You don't know the meaning of the word stop and a bi-coastal lifestyle would suit you well! You know how to work hard, which is good because you also like to play hard and your home is a reflection of that. Like Jay Z, you pay attention to details and love high quality and well-designed homes without edging over to dripping-in-gold pretentiousness.
Ed Sheeran

You are the life of the party, a bit of a wild card, and not too fancy to try anything! You're the type who just as happy with pizza in a treehouse as you would be with oysters on a yacht. Whether you're throwing back a couple of pints at the local pub or hosting a gathering at your home, you're sure to be in the center of the fun. Sheeran's complex in Suffolk now includes his original home along with newly purchased homes nearby meaning there will be no neighbors to complain about all the fun you're having and no paparazzi to take in the "Shape of You"!
P!nk

You're an hard-driving action lover who is always up for a new challenge and isn't afraid to get physical which is why P!nk's home would be perfect for you! The private beach area included with this home is great for surfing while the 1.19 acre lot means there's tons of room for whatever other activities you dream up. This home, which features 6 bedrooms, also has a guest apartment meaning your guests won't be left wondering "What About Us"?
photo of open concept white kitchen to living room

5 Things to Do–and 4 to avoid!– for Great Real Estate Photos

They say that a picture is worth 1000 words, but if that’s true then real estate photos are worth even more. In an industry that typically confuses “cozy” and “cramped” or “vintage” and “outdated”, having good quality real estate photos can bring more attention and interest to a home you’re trying to sell.

While some real estate agents will suggest you hire a professional, there are many tips and tricks you can use yourself to create appealing home photos–without breaking the bank! Here are the 5 Must-Do things for taking great real estate photos and 4 things to avoid!
 
real estate photo lots of light
 
1). Clear Out the Clutter
The best home photos have enough items in them that a potential buyer can get a “feel” for the size of a room, but not so much that they get distracted by your possessions. Clear off your countertops, remove excessive knickknacks, and clear the floor of unnecessary objects.
 
room with blinds open
 
2). Let the Light In
How do you perceive a home that’s dark and shadowy? Scary, creepy, or just not right? Few things will put off a buyer than the impression that your home doesn’t have a lot of light. If you have blinds or curtains, open them! Overhead lighting? Turn it on! No overhead lighting? Grab some lamps (and set them up outside the frame). Natural light is the best for taking pictures and modern cameras have adapted remarkably well to preventing the wash-out effect that film cameras often faced. If you’re taking exterior pictures, schedule a time to take them where the sun will be behind you, if possible, otherwise about 1.5 hours before sunset seems to be the magical photo time. While it shouldn’t make a difference, having a sunny day or a pretty sunset will actually attract more attention to your listing than an overcast day will.
 

photo of house at dusk with lights on
 
2a). Night Light Can be the Right Light
If your house looks good at night, show it off! While the night look isn’t for every home, homes with many windows and thoughtful landscaping look great when showcased at night, just don’t forget to also include daytime pictures!
 
photo of room shot from corner
 
3). Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner (Unless it’s a Real Estate Shot!)
Most often you’ll find that pictures taken from a corner are the most flattering. You’ll be able to include more of the room than in a picture taken from the middle of a wall, the room will appear actual-sized (if not larger), and visually it’s just more interesting.
 


 
4). Keep it Classy (and Legal!)
Some of the funniest “real estate fail” photos come from what people didn’t mean to take a picture of. Maybe it’s your reflection (sans pants) in the window or the unkempt state of your bathroom or any number of other didn’t-even-think-of-that things, but funny (and failing) is not what you’re going for here. Before you share your photos, it’s a good idea to have a friend look over them to make sure that there are no gross, funny, or illegal items shown in any part of your photos.
 
woman's hand while looking at photos online
 
5). Take More Than You Need
You should always take more photos than you need. If one turns out blurry or off-kilter you’ll have backup. It might turn out that the antique vent covers and wide woodwork that you rarely think about are actually the charming pièce de résistance that your buyers were hoping for. Having photos of close up details as well as broad photos will help you decide what the best features of your home might be.
 
Don’ts
 
1). Don’t Wait
While you may think that you need a fancy, expensive camera with all the bells and whistles, don’t let that stop you! It is very, very difficult to sell a property these days without photos as most buyers start their search online. While you will still get a better photo from an SLR professional-quality camera, the camera you’re using is much less important compared to how your shots are set up and any photos you can add will greatly help reach buyers.
 
2). Don’t Pretend
While you want to showcase your home in the best light, don’t be disingenuous with your photos. Don’t use a wide-angle lens (like those found in GoPro cameras or filters available for other camera models) to make the rooms appear larger or frame your shots to exclude the neighbor’s home that’s thisclose to your home. Keep in mind that buyers will be seeing your home in real life and you don’t want to waste your time or theirs with the wrong expectations. The same rule applies to photo editing. Yes, you want your real estate photos to stand out, but no, this is not the time for 45° angle shots or crazy, unnatural filters. Likewise, changing the brightness or contrast of a photo is fine, but completely transforming your room via Photoshop is not.
 
3). Don’t Forget the Good Stuff
When you list your home for sale, you’re also going to need to have a description of your property. Depending where you have your home posted, these descriptions may be keyword searchable meaning you’ll want to talk up the biggest selling points of your home, but don’t stop there. Make sure you have photos to back it up! Nothing is worse than a description saying that a home has a “lavish and unique wine cellar” with no picture to go along with it.
 
4). Don’t be Afraid to Stage
Sure, you don’t always have your dining room table set for formal dinner, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t for your photos! No matter who buys your home, they’re going to have different decor and tastes than you, so your job isn’t to make your rooms look like your rooms, you just need them to look the best they can be. Need to borrow a painting from another room? Do it! Want to move a television set out of your kid’s bedroom? Do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your decor to attract a buyer!
 
Want to see how photos can really change the way your home looks? This home was on the market for eight months with no activity and sold eight days after these new photos were added. Check out professional photographer Harry Lim’s story of this home here!

island view over water cabanas

Best Islands of the Rich and Famous

Skorpios 21

Skoripos, Greece
Owned By: Ekaterina Rybolovleva
Purchased: Estimated $150-190 Million in 2013

Once was a barren land, the original owner, Aristotle Onasis, brought in many species of trees and even the sand from other Greek islands to create this paradise where he and Jackie liked to visit and were married. It’s alleged that Madonna, Bill Gates, and Giorgio Armani were interested in purchasing the island from Athina Onassis Roussel, Granddaughter and only living heir of Aristotle Onasis, before it was purchased by Rybolovlev who alledgedly intended to use the island for business and pleasure.

 
Starr 060406-7057 Waltheria indica

Lana’i, Hawaii
Owned By: Larry Ellison, Co-Founder of Oracle
Purchased: 98% share of the island for alleged $300 million in 2012 (The state owns the remaining 2%)

Lana’i, also known as Pineapple Island, is the sixth largest Hawaiian island located 9 miles from Maui. Ellison bought his ownership stake indirectly from David Murdoch, owner Dole foods–known for their pineapple and banana production. Ellison has already made improvement to the island including an estimated $450 million rennovation to his Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay.

 

Britische Jungferninseln - Necker Island - panoramio

Necker Island, The British Virgin Islands
Owned by: Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Empire Mogul
Purchased: $180,000 in 1979

Branson first fell in love with the island in the 1970s, shortly after creating Virgin Records, the first of the Virgin empire. While the island was listed for $6 million, Branson offered what he could at the time–$100,000. The selling agent nearly laughed at him, but a year later came back after no other buyers had displayed interest and agreed to sell to Branson for $180,000 with a contingency that Branson would create a resort on the island within four years.

 

johnny depp island turquoise sea beaches

Little Halls Pond Cay, The Bahamas
Owned by: Johnny Depp, American Actor
Purchased: Reportedly paid $3.6 million in 2004

Located in the Exuma chain in the southern part of the Bahamas, Depp bought this island after falling in love with the lush green and turquoise waters while filming on location for Pirates of the Caribbean. Little Halls Pond Cay has 6 natural beaches, which Depp named after his family and idols.

 

david copperfield island musha caye sand view
Musha Cay, The Bahamas
Owned by: David Copperfield, American Illusionist
Purchased:Reportedly $50 million in 2006

Another celebrity island in the Exumas area, Copperfield is said to have spent 5 years and an additional $40 million to complete what he has called “the most magical vacation destination in the world.” Copperfield also purchased 10 additional islands in the area for an undisclosed amount to serve as a privacy shield and complete what is now known as the Islands of Copperfield Bay. This paradise can be rented with rates starting at $39,000 per night.

island, fiji, tropical, aerial view

Mago Island, Fiji
Owned by: Mel Gibson, Actor
Purchased: Bought for $15 million in 2005

This island is one of the largest private islands in the south Pacific Ocean at 5,400 acres (just over 8 square miles). This island, once a cotton plantation, sugar cane plantation/mill, and copra (coconut) plantation at various points in history, remains fairly undeveloped with a dirt airstrip and a few buildings from its past.

 
Blackadore Caye

Blackadore Caye, Belize
Owned by:Leonardo DiCaprio, Actor
Purchased:Reportedly bought for $1.5 Million in 2005, the 68 resort villas and 48 private houses are rumored to be valued at $5-15 Million each

DiCaprio, an environmental activist, has carefully considered the ecological impact of building on his island, while still incorporating the luxurious qualities you would expect from one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. In fact, the entire development is being designed to meet the Living Building Challenge– the world’s most stringent and progressive green building system, and is expected to launch in 2018.

 

faith hill tim mcgraw island goats cay

Goat Cay, The Bahamas
Owned by: Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Country Singers
Purchased: Purchased for an unknown amount around 2006. Currently for sale for $4.8 Million.

This celebrity power couple has their 17 acre island located in the Little Exumas chain for sale. Purchased in 2006, the island has a large residence and smaller, workers accommodations.

 

bonds cay island bahamas shakira

Bonds Cay, The Bahamas
Owned by: Shakira, Singer/Roger Waters, Pink Floyd frontman, Alejandro Sanz, singer
Purchased: Reported $16 million in 2011.
The trio purchased this island with an existing hotel property. The intention of the ownership trio is to create a semi-permanent homes and artists’ retreat.
 

Want to join the ranks of the ultra-rich and powerful by owning your own island? Here are some to check out:

 
baliceaux island for sale
Baliceaux Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Price: Starting bid: $24.95 Million, Listing Price: $29.95 Million

This undeveloped gem spans 320 acres and is perfect for someone looking to create their own visionary fifedom. This island is just a ten minute boat ride from the up-and-coming Bequia and sligtly longer to celeb-favorite Mustique. Learn more about Baliceaux here.

 
isle a quatre island svg
Isle a Quatre, St. Vincent and The Grenadines
Price: Starting bid: $47.5 million, Listing Price: $54 Million

This island spans 376 acres and is located only 5 miles from celebrity hotspot, Mustique. The island’s position also means that the weather is nearly perfect year-round and the island sits outside of the hurricane belt, making storm damage much less likely than for its neighbors. See more about Isle a Quatre here.

 
deer caye island belize
Deer Caye, Belize
Price: List price: $10.5 million

This 603 acre island is perfect for someone looking to develop an eco-resort or home. The island is nicely elevated, yet has many several small coves along it’s 9 miles of sea frontage. Located one mile from Ambergris Caye and close to Leonardo DiCaprio’s private island, this property is conveniently located to San Pedro, Belize City, and even Chetumal, Mexico. Want learn more about Deer Caye? Click here.

 
deer caye island belize 500 acres
Deer Caye Adjacent, Belize
Price: List Price: $6.75 Million

This 500 acre island lays in very close proximity to the previously listed island with all the same great features. With two main areas populated by cocnut trees, this island has plenty of room for extensive residential or resort updates, including room for a golf course, private airstrip, and more! See more of this beautiful spot here.

roatan paradise water view

RE/MAX Bay Islands and RE/MAX Western Sunsets Join RealtyHive

Close your eyes and imagine a beach with water so blue it makes the sky jealous, sand so soft and pristine it’s like walking on clouds. This is a place where the sun sets over the water in a blaze of pinks and oranges and where every day feels like a Jimmy Buffett song.

If you’ve thought of running off to paradise (and really, who hasn’t), you need to check out Roatan. This island paradise on the Caribbean side of Honduras is the ultimate destination for scuba diving, snorkeling, or beach bumming– all at a better value than islands of comparable beauty like the Bahamas or Hawaii.

Larry Schlesser, Broker/Owner of RE/MAX Bay Islands and RE/MAX Western Sunsets knows all about this dreamy paradise. Larry began his real estate experience on the island in 1999 and in that time has acquired an excellent team with the knowledge, experience, and credentials to help buyers (and sellers) live their paradise dreams. From Roatan natives to expats who have made the move themselves, Larry’s team includes Certified International Property Specialists and Resort and Second Home Property Specialists to assure you that you’ll have the best experience when purchasing your tropical property.

From beautiful, yet affordable condos to extravagant homes and vacant land to commercial buildings, you can find whatever you’re looking for in island real estate and now Larry and his team have now paired up with RealtyHive to bring even more exposure to their paradise listings. Whether you’re looking for a second home to escape the winters of the Northeast or wanting to start building your vacation rental empire, Larry’s team has it and RealtyHive.com is where you’ll find it!

RealtyHive’s exclusive event marketing platform connects buyers with motivated sellers, helping bring properties in front of a large global audience and cutting down the time it takes from finding your paradise online to setting up your hammock in person.

So what are you waiting for? Your slice of coconut-scented heaven awaits! Check out the newest properties from in Honduras and throughout Central America and the Caribbean here.

wisconsin, farm, view, land

Lights, Camera, Wisconsin! A Look at the Badger State in TV and Movies

Wisconsin is best known for it’s cheese-munching, Packers-loving residents and while that’s a relatively fair (and accurate!) depiction, Wisconsin is so much more. Here’s how the Badger state stacks up to its Hollywood depictions.

Young and the Restless (1973-Present)
According to Nielsen ratings, this daytime soap opera was the leading daytime drama for more than 25 years as of December 2013. This show follows the dramatic and sometimes scandalous lives some of the prominent families in Genoa City, Wisconsin.

The Verdict: In true soap opera fashion, not much about this show is true to life. Genoa City, Wisconsin does actually exist, but that’s where the similarities end. While in the show the town is portrayed to be a bustling metropolis filled with corporate headquarters, the real Genoa City is a rural village with a population of about 3,000.

Happy Days (1974-1984)

Set in an idealized version of the mid-1950s to mid-1960s USA, Happy Days followed “innocent teenager” Richie Cunningham and “cool” biker and high school dropout Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli and became one of the most popular US sitcoms of all time and spun off other Wisconsin-based shows such as Laverne & Shirley.

The Verdict: While times certainly have changed, those of us who didn’t get to experience the golden era of Happy Days first hand can still delight in the sugary-sweet storylines of Happy Days. While the design for the fiction Arnold’s Drive-in was modeled after two real-life Milwaukee diners–the exterior of Pig’n’Whistle and the interior of The Milky Way (both since closed and reopened under different names), all it takes is hearing Richie pronounce it “Wes-consin” (around 3:40) to know that the show wasn’t actually filmed here.

Wayne’s World (1992)

After a “Laverne and Shirley”-esque intro, which includes shots of the Milwaukee city hall, the “party dudes” duo of Wayne and Garth get backstage access to Alice Cooper’s dressing room. Here Cooper reveals an intimate knowledge of the city’s history from it’s supposed French-name origins to its political past of socialist mayors.

The Verdict: Actually, Cooper isn’t too far off in this clip! There’s some debate as to the tribal origin of the name, with some believing it is a Potawatomi name meaning “Gathering place [by the water]”. His reference to socialist mayors is also accurate as the town was presided over by Mayors Seidel (1910-1912), Hoan (1916-1940), and Zeidler (1948-1960)–still the only major American city to do so.

Dogma (1999)

In this Kevin Smith movie, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon play two fallen angels condemned to spend eternity at an airport in Milwaukee. After Damon tries to “convert” a nun to the dark side, the angels are able to escape Milwaukee.

The Verdict: While Milwaukee’s General Mitchell Airport is not the type of place you want to spend a long layover (like eternity), it’s not a terrible spot to hang out for a few hours while you’re waiting for your next flight out. P.S. the scene was actually shot at the Pittsburgh International Airport indicating they needed to find someplace worse than the real MKE…

That 70’s Show (1998-2006)

This sitcom follows Eric Foreman and his friends and family during the mid to late 1970s in their industrial Wisconsin hometown. In addition to being set in Point Place, Wisconsin the cast often mentions visiting Kenosha or driving to Chicago for a party and even go to Packer game!

The Verdict: The setting is supposed to be somewhere near Green Bay, Wisconsin, but the geography laid out in the show doesn’t quite add up–like the crew going to Canada to buy beer or to Chicago to party. Point Place isn’t a real Wisconsin town, but Wisconsinites will recognize names like Kenosha or references made throughout the run of the show like Donna having to decide between Marquette University and a UW school. Oh and the excitement about going to a Packers game at Lambeau? Accurate. Perfectly accurate.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Lars Lindstrom, a socially awkward man, lives a relatively secluded life in his small Wisconsin town. One day Lars introduces “Bianca” his new girlfriend to his brother and sister-in-law, the catch is that Bianca is a lifelike doll whom Lars, suffering what appears to be a lucid delusion, treats as his human companion. Under direction of the local doctor, Lars’ family (and the townspeople) go along with this until Lars is mentally capable of letting Bianca go.

The Verdict: The movie depicts the state fairly well. There are references to the cold and how layering clothes helps Lars avoid physical contact with others which is too true for anyone who lives in the frozen tundra. While Wisconsin isn’t known for it’s open-minded, anything goes culture (like say, NYC or California) it’s easy enough to believe that the small town residents would set aside their prejudices to help one of their own overcoming the issues he’s struggling with, even if they still gossip.

The Bye Bye Man (2017)

This supernatural thriller follows three college students attending a Wisconsin university who accidentally summon a psychic serial killer while staying in a creepy, rented house in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

The Verdict: The movie is based on an allegedly true story by author Robert Damon Schneck. According to Schneck the events of the book are based on supernatural experiences by a friend in Sun Prairie, a Madison suburb in the 1990s, but there were no real murders or appearances by the Bye Bye Man.

5 Surprising Things Your Real Estate Agent Can’t Tell You

Using a real estate agents can be a great way to avoid many of the headaches associated with buying or selling a home. As part of their services they can help you appropriately price your home, offer suggestions on what needs to be done to get the best offers, and their access to an MLS –an exclusive network of property listings– can help you sell your home or find the right one before the general public ever sees it. But, as licensed professionals, there are some things that your agent can’t tell you.
Not won’t tell you, but legally or ethically, I’m-sorry-but-I-really-cannot-tell-you. That doesn’t mean you’re on your own and just have to hope for the best, though. For that information, you’re going to have to do some of the digging yourself. Here are the 5 surprising things your real estate agent can’t tell you.

park, family, live, neighborhood

“This area is great for young families!”

This one seems so innocent and well-intentioned, but is actually illegal! Maybe you passed a park on the way to the home or noticed the nearby elementary school, but whether you’re looking to live in an area where your kids can roam with the neighbors or you’re trying to avoid children altogether, your agent isn’t allowed to tell you who lives in the area.

Reasoning: Under the 1968 Fair Housing Act, family structure is a protected class meaning a comment like this could dissuade older couples or a single party from the property, making it illegal.

How to find your answers: Google maps is one of the best tools for doing neighborhood recon. Simply type in the address of the property you’re looking at and check out the area you’re interested in. Are there parks and schools nearby or is it in a more industrial area? Is the area filled with side streets and cul de sacs or is it on one of the main roads? Depending on what you’re looking for you may want to switch your search based on what you see.

crowd people neighborhood gather

“You don’t want to live in that area. That’s where the [nationality, gender, age group] live!”

In addition to not telling you where to live based on the demographics, your agent also cannot tell you not to live somewhere because of the people in the neighborhood.

Reasoning: As mentioned above, the Fair Housing Act prevents any discriminatory statements based on protected classes.

How to find your answers: You can find out more about the general demographics of an area by checking out the US Census Bureau’s American FactFinder. This tool, with most recent studies being from 2016 can tell you the age, sex, and race of the population down to a zip code level.

graffiti station

“Are you sure you’re interested in that area? It’s pretty high crime.”

While you might think that an agent saying this is just looking out for you, this is another no-no statement. Crime statistics are public information, but because crime rates often lead to conclusions about the racial makeup of an area, your agent is best protected by letting you find your own conclusions.

Reasoning: Race is a protected class under the Fair Housing Act and whether it’s the intention or not, discussing the crime rate of a particular area could lead to assumptions about the racial makeup of that area.

How to find your answers: If finding out about crime in an area is of particular interest to you there are plenty of free sources to look. The National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) offers a location-based lookup that links the data from public state, territorial, and tribal sex offender websites. To find incident-level crime lookup, you may have to check a couple of website as not every jurisdiction reports to every available site. Here are some good ones to start with: MyNeighborhoodUpdate, CrimeReports, SpotCrime, and NeighborhoodWatchDog. You can also check the website of the local police station as they may provide a link to the crime mapping site they use.

home improvement paint house

“Don’t you think this home needs more work than a lady like you would want?”

Whether you’re a seasoned pro at fixer-upper projects or the best tool in your toolbox happens to be your checkbook, a statement like this suggests you shouldn’t choose a property because of your sex–another protected class.

Reasoning: The law is blind when it comes to sex, another protected class under the Fair Housing Act. While this statement might come from an agent intending to help you, if you’re interested in seeing a home, they’re required to show it, regardless of their prejudices.

How to find your answers: This one is less of a data source and more a question of desire. Ask yourself if you’d be comfortable, both in skill and budget, with something that needs work or if you’re looking for a move-in ready pad. If you’re willing to do some work (or hire someone who is), you can let your agent know what you’re comfortable with and what condition property you’re looking for. If they refuse to help you find something that will meet your needs, find a new agent.

house with many stairs

“The bedrooms are all the second floor. With your mobility, I don’t think you’d be interested in it.”

The words may vary– there’s only a tub in the bathroom, the floors are uneven, there’s a lot of steps– but if that’s something you’re comfortable with, it’s YOUR choice.

Reasoning: A statement like this could dissuade buyers of a certain age or ability from choosing to buy this home and therefore is not allowed.

How to find your answers: You can completely avoid this situation by telling your agent what it is you’re looking for. There’s nothing illegal or unethical about an agent helping you find a home that is one story or updated for aging in place, it just has to be by your request, not their assumptions.

Other winners for not illegal, but still impossible to answer because they mean different things to different people: Is this a good neighborhood? Are the schools good here? Is it better than [area nearby]? Thankfully, there are some additional tools you can use while making these determinations as well.

General scoring and info: AreaVibes, Livability
Cost of Living: BestPlaces , Numbeo, Bankrate, ADT
Fun Stuff: VisitACity, TripAdvisor

tropical view, bath, jamaica, montego bay

Bathe Away Your Winter Blues

If the cold of winter has your skin looking sandier than your favorite beach, get yourself in a Caribbean state of mind with this piña colada DIY bath scrub!

cane sugar scrub for bath

Tropi-colada Scrub

½ cup liquid coconut oil
1 cup pure cane sugar
½ tsp Pineapple extract
½ tsp Coconut extract

Put all ingredients in an airtight container and mix well. To use gently scrub onto skin and rinse off. For a complete tropical spa experience, listen to our Vacation Vibes playlist while you bathe!

Helpful Hints:
Coconut oil becomes solid below 76℉, so warm it up if you need to!
If you don’t have pure cane sugar you can use white sugar or salt, but if dry skin is a concern stick with sugar
Use additional extract in tropical recipes such as Piña Colada Fudge, Pineapple Pound Cake or to boost flavor in savory dishes such as Hawaiian Meatballs or Coconut Shrimp.

candid photo of harry and meghan

Royal Relaxation: The Perfect Wedding Present for Harry and Meghan

Unless you’ve been on a media blackout for the past few months, you probably know there’s a royal wedding coming soon!
 

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Prince Henry of Wales aka Prince Harry is getting hitched! While details about the royal wedding are slowly leaking out (it’ll be on May 19, 2018, at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, in case your invitation gets lost in the mail!), there are still many unknowns.

As per royal tradition, Prince Harry will receive a new title upon marriage, most likely Duke of Sussex, as one of the gifts her majesty the Queen bestows upon her grandson, but what about the other guests? This wedding will be filled with the who’s who of the rich and powerful global elite, so this begs the question, what do you get someone who has everything? If you thought it was hard to shop for the people in your life, imagine picking an appropriate gift for a prince! Since it’s a pretty safe bet that Harry and Meghan don’t need a blender or new place settings for their nuptials, after all, they already have a palace, we do have a suggestion for anyone looking for a standout gift for the new Mr. and Mrs.

When Queen Elizabeth II was married in 1936 she was gifted mostly expensive jewelry and precious materials, former President and Mrs. Reagan gifted Prince Charles and Lady Diana an ornately engraved Steuben glass bowl and Boehm porcelain centerpiece, showing that unlike most dealings with the royal family, there isn’t really a protocol to follow when it comes to wedding gifts. In more recent history, for their 2011 wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge William and Kate asked their guests to donate to a charitable gift fund (which raised $1.7 million for 26 different charities!) but also received items such as a painting, shoes, and a Land Rover. So what could a guest who wants to stand out bring to Harry and Meghan’s wedding celebration?

First, it’s important to look for something they’d actually enjoy. When taking that into account, it’s easy to notice that this couple loves to travel.

view port monte carlo monaco

On New Year’s Eve 2017, the couple flew to Monaco, a small principality on the Mediterranean that was once the home to Princess Grace of Monaco, formerly known as actress Grace Kelly. Monte Carlo, the coastal capital city, is a prime party spot for the rich and famous during this time of year. The couple has also taken trips to Norway, Jamaica, and Botswana and are allegedly planning to visit the US, Australia, and Lesotho in 2018. During their Norway and Jamaican trips, the couple stayed in Tromvik and Montego Bay respectively, both coastal cities, indicating they love a beach vacation.

With this in mind, a gift having to do with travel and the beach sounds like a great start.

What about a place with a royal history? Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s only sibling, and Harry’s great aunt has a storied history of her time in Mustique, her favorite place to be, where she went to get away from the harsh public eye, something Harry knows all too well.

Prince William and his wife Kate spent their honeymoon in Seychelles because of its gorgeous beaches, clear waters, and luxurious and secluded hotels, although the couple is known to love Mustique as well. The pair has vacationed there many times including while Kate was pregnant with their first child Prince George and after the birth of their second child, Princess Charlotte, when they were joined by Kate’s parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, as well as her siblings.

So they love to travel, like beaches, and the family has history on Mustique, a villa seems like a great idea, right?

There’s actually a precedence for Mustique properties being given to royals. Purchased by Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner in 1957, Tennant gifted Princess Margaret with one of the most secluded, best-situated parcels on the island where she built her home so this would be a similar gesture. The home she built was her escape for 30 years and was passed on to her son who sold it in 1998.

But Harry and Meghan aren’t your typical royals. They’ve broken royal protocol before and it’s expected that their wedding will be no different, from deviating from the traditional fruitcake wedding flavor (they’re going with banana cake) to having Meghan’s mother walk her down the aisle, this couple likes to do things a little differently.

isle a quatre grenadines island

This is why the perfect wedding present for these lovebirds would be their own private island, near the favored Mustique. Currently, there are two possible islands for sale that would make a perfect place for the couple to create their own holiday paradise, Baliceaux and Isle à Quatre, both also part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The proximity to Mustique (about 4 miles for Baliceaux and 6 miles for Isle à Quatre) means that they would only be a short boat ride away from the glitz and glam, but would be able to enjoy absolute privacy once they returned to their island.

baliceaux island st vincent beach bay cove

This privacy is important to the royal family who learned just how far a paparazzi’s telephoto lens can see when Kate was unknowingly photographed sunbathing topless from nearly 1km (2.2 miles) away. It was thought that the photographer who captured those images was on a public road and using an extremely powerful lens, both completely legal and hard to avoid. The elevation of both of these islands would make it impossible for a photographer to get a shot from the water and enacting a no-fly zone like Mustique has, would mean that there would be no privacy concerns. Prince Harry, who had his own naked photo scandal in 2012, would be pleased to know that he and his new wife would be free to roam as they like on their island. And what better wedding gift than tropical freedom?

After considering all the above, if you’ve got an invite to the nuptials and a couple extra million dollars laying around, Baliceaux or Isle à Quatre seems like they would be the perfect gift for the new Duke and Duchess.

trees on a lake half fall half spring colors

Similar, but Not the Same: All About Twin Countries

They say some of the greatest things come in pairs. Mickey and Minnie, Lucy and Ethel, peanut butter and jelly– you get the idea. Since two seems to be better than one, maybe that’s why these countries have teamed up, but with that twinning reputation comes a loss of individuality. If you tell someone you’re vacationing in Trinidad and Tobago, are you going to two islands? One? Will they know? Do you? Here are some things you may not know about these dual countries.

 
Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua und Barbuda - panoramio - georama (30)
georama [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A sovereign state in the Americas, Antigua and Barbuda lay between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean about 300 miles southeast of the US Virgin Islands. The country is comprised of Antigua, the largest island, Barbuda, the second largest island, and other small islands with a permanent population of around 82,000 with about 80,000 of people residing in Antigua. As a member of the English Commonwealth, English is the official language, however, the Barbudan accent is slightly different than the Antiguan.

In Fall 2017 Hurricane Irma destroyed or damaged 95% of the buildings on Barbuda and all inhabitants were evacuated to Antigua.

Famous for: Antigua Black Pineapples–known to be the sweetest around. These fruits have a more golden color than what Americans are typically used to and a richer, more complex flavor profile.

 
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo twilight
BloodSaric at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

After the fall of the former Yugoslavian republic in the late 1990s, Bosnia and Herzegovina, known informally as just Bosnia, was formed. While the name implies a two-in-one country system, Bosnia and Herzegovina is, in fact, one country covering one piece of land. Residents of this country will refer to themselves as Bosnians if they are visiting another country, although someone from the Herzegovina region would probably identify themselves as Herzegovian (Hercegovac) if you are in Bosnia. This is a little like how a person from Alabama would identify themselves as from the United States when not in the US, but as from “the South” when they are. These two regions (Bosnia and Herezgovina) also have different cultural elements, but the biggest difference is in climate with Bosnia having more mountains and getting some snow, whereas Herzegovina has a Mediterranean climate and gets more sunshine.

Famous for: Coffee. Coffee is the backbone of the Bosnian’s social life and while it may resemble Turkish coffee to an outsider, locals will insist they are completely different.

 
Saint Kitts and Nevis

view from st.kitts and nevis, citizenship by investment

Another dual island country, St Kitts & Nevis lies directly west of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean Sea. Home to the first British and French colonies in the Caribbean and officially known as Saint Christopher and Nevis, St Kitts and Nevis are only about two miles apart, separated by a shallow channel called “The Narrows”. The country has gone through a lot of political changes throughout its history, at one time including modern-day Anguilla as a dependency and having multiple governments, but has been unified (and without Anguilla) since the 1980s.

Famous for: Citizen by investment program. If you’re looking to acquire citizenship in another country, and a passport that allows visa-free travel to 130 countries, St. Kitts & Nevis is a great place to be. With an investment of $400,000USD in a designated real estate purchase or a $250,000USD donation to the Sugar Industry Diversification Fund (a local charity) and some paperwork, you and your descendants are able to obtain full citizenship rights.

 
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

water view, sea, svg, st vincent and the grenadines

Known simply as St Vincent, this small nation of islands is spread over 150 square miles in the Caribbean and is comprised of the largest island, St. Vincent, and 32 islands and cays that make up the Grenadines, nine of which are inhabited. The country has been fought over and claimed by both the French and British (most recently) with full independence being granted in 1979 while retaining its status as a Commonwealth.

Famous for: Beaches. Celebrities and royalty flock to the island of Mustique (one of the islands of the Grenadines), while Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was shot on other islands in the chain due to the quiet and privacy. Also of note is that 95% of the beaches on St Vincent have black sand while most of the Grenadines contain white sand.

 
Sao Tome and Principe

sao tome and principe sea jungle view
www.afrotourism.com

This Portuguese-speaking country, located off the west coast of Africa about 150 miles from Gabon gained peaceful independence in 1975 and continues to be one of Africa’s more stable and democratic countries. Sao Tome is the larger of the two islands and is about 30 miles long by 20 miles wide, while Principe, laying about 90 miles north, is just 53 square miles. Discovered by Portugal and granted use by the Crown around 1470, the country is essentially one nation because of its remote location and shared history.

Famous for: Africa’s second smallest nation, Sao Tome and Principe were once the global center of cocoa production, but the country is having a renaissance as the Galapagos of Africa. There are many species of birds and other animals that can only be found here and a responsible eco-tourism industry is beginning to take shape. Principe is also where Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was experimentally demonstrated during the total solar eclipse in 1919.

 
Trinidad and Tobago

trinidad and tobago bay view

The southernmost nation in the Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago is situated on the continental shelf of South America and is only 11 miles from Venezuela at its closest point. Trinidad was a Spanish colony from the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498 until it changed hands to the British in 1797. During this same time, Tobago was transferred among the Spanish, British, French, Dutch, and Courlander colonizers more times than any other island in the Caribbean. In 1802 control of both islands was given to Britain who unified the country in 1889. This twin island nation has two distinct personalities! Trinidad is more tourist-focused, while Tobago is more industrial. Tobago is renowned for its sparkling, sandy beaches, while Trinidad provides world-class opportunities for eco-tourism and turtle watching. Trinidad is where the party and nightlife happens, Tobago is where you go to relax. Travellers say when it comes to twin islands, these two are definitely fraternal!

Famous for: A nation this diverse has many claims to fame, from the world’s hottest pepper to the world’s largest deposit of asphalt, to it’s Carnival celebration, known as “The Greatest Show on Earth”. This two-day festival typically takes place in February or early March and consistently ranks as one of the top ten Carnival celebrations in the world.

 
With travel (usually) inexpensive between the two regions, twin countries are a great way to get high value for your money when on vacation. You get twice the adventure, twice the fun, and double to explore with two countries in one!