A Raleigh Roundup: Southern Charm Meets Big City Attractions

Raleigh lives true to its name “City of Oaks,” offering an abundance of outdoor amenities complemented by rays of sunshine and southern charm. Located in the Research Triangle along with Durham, Cary and Chapel Hill, Raleigh proves to be more than just the music capitol of North Carolina. The state capitol beats to the rhythm of its own drum, encompassing a tempo fit for every lifestyle. Whether you’re a foodie, techy, outdoor enthusiast or history buff, Raleigh offers something for everyone.

We asked 12 residents to share what they love about Raleigh.

1. Why do you think Raleigh was ranked first for “America’s Best Places to Live?”

Raleigh Street

Raleigh’s downtown began growing as soon as the economy recovered and hasn’t looked back. We have talented chefs, business owners, scientists, technologists, marketers, city officials and so on. There’s just huge talent and culture here, and it’s infectious. We celebrate our local talent and lift each other up. — Jen of Downtown Dame

Raleigh really has it all! There are lots of job opportunities, it has the convenience of a big city with the feel of a small town, it’s perfectly located between the mountains and the beach, and the residents are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. — Ashley Nevis of Rainstorms and Love Note

2. Known as North Carolina’s live music capitol, where is the best venue for country blues?

The ‘Cuegrass Festival is awesome, because it has the best of both worlds — great food and great music! Outdoor street concerts just provide such a sense of community and really allow the attendees to connect with the band. — Sara Steadman of Sara Kate Styling

I am a big fan of Walnut Creek Amphitheater. Any type of music sounds better outside in beautiful North Carolina weather with a beverage in hand. — Alyssa of Alyssa Hellman

3. What’s Raleigh’s best free attraction?

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Source: Leigh Powell Hines of Hines Sight Blog

I love the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. It’s got a lot of impressive exhibits, including giant whale skeletons and a replica of a North Carolina forest. — Ashley Nevis of Rainstorms and Love Notes

It’s not a single destination but I’m going to say the greenways are the best free ways to explore the city and relax. I’d also recommend downtown spots like Moore Square where there are free events like Pickin’ in the Plaza where free concerts are held. — Elle of Couple Money

4. What’s the best way to spend a summer afternoon in Raleigh?

Lake Wheeler in Raleigh offers 150 acres of parkland and a 650-acre lake with fishing, sailing, canoeing, rowing and kayaking. You can rent a boat or pay to launch your personal boat, and there is a fishing rod and reel loaner program. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk during the summer. — Leigh Powell Hines of Hines Sight Blog

Bar hopping around downtown Raleigh. A few of my favorite spots are Crank Arm, Slim’s, Anchor and Raleigh Time’s upstairs outdoor bar-top. — Jen of Downtown Dame

5. What is Raleigh’s favorite comfort food?

Tater tots. We love ’em smothered with sour cream, chives and bacon. Or plain and simple with a little ketchup. They’ve gotta be hot, crispy and delicious. — Jen Downtown of Dame

Mac and Cheese! Yes, Raleigh is known for its other southern-style foods — barbecue, okra, etc. — but there are a ton of places that specialize in homemade macaroni and cheese! Plus, each place has its own little twist! — Sara Steadman of Sara Kate Styling

6. What’s the best neighborhood for first-time home-buyers with children?

A House in The Groves, Apex. Source: Jenn Lucy of East Meets South

Located just north of Raleigh, the Heritage Wake Forest community is one of the best communities to raise a family including first-time home buyers with children. Aside from the safe and friendly neighborhoods, Heritage also provides easy access to great schools as part of the Wake County school system, parks and other wonderful amenities making it ideal for family life. — Sophie of Work Chic

Look for a place in Morrisville, Cary, Wake Forest or Apex for first family homes with excellent school districts. And you’ll be close enough to Raleigh proper that a drive into work is reasonable. — Jenn and Lucy of East Meets South 

7. Why do you think Raleigh is listed as one of the top 10 places for singles?

There is literally something for everyone and there are a ton of events throughout the year at which you can meet other people. There are bars, there are outdoor festivals, there are food truck rodeos and there are even comic conventions! You name, it we have it! So, no matter what type of person you are there is an event for you! — Sara Steadman of Sara Kate Styling

There’s a lot of amenities in downtown Raleigh and the surrounding cities — nightlife, outdoors, music, culture, etc. Again, it’s also affordable and the job market is great. — Jessica Corson of Happy is Healthy

8. Which neighborhood would you visit to see Victorian-style houses?

A Victorian-style home on the Oakwood Tour. Source: Leight Powell Hines of Hine Sight Blog

This would be the Oakwood area of Raleigh near downtown Raleigh. It’s a very close-knit, family-friendly community with a very active historical society and garden club. They host two of my favorite events yearly. The Candlelight Christmas Tour and the Oakwood Garden Club Victorian Tea and Garden Tour. The Boylan Heights neighborhood may also have a few Victorians as well. — Leigh Powell Hines of Hines Sight Blog

The three best neighborhoods for Victorian-style houses in Raleigh are Historic Oakwood, Boylan Heights and Mordecai. — Carol of The Gardening Cook

9. What’s the best specialty item at the State Farmers Market?

Fresh produce from the farmer's market. Source: Sara Kate of Sara Kate Styling

Fresh produce from the farmer’s market. Source: Sara Steadman of Sara Kate Styling

My pick for the most reliably present specialty vendor at the market is La Farm Bakery. When he is present, a wonderful young man bakes his own delicious bread, typically on Saturdays — it is the best bread in the market. — Craig LeHoullier of nctomatoman

Locally-produced honey. — Pat McKee of McKee Homes

10. In the “City of Oaks,” where are the best hikes?

My #1 choice is William B. Umstead State Park anytime I want to get a good long walk or hike in. The scenic trails are beautifully hidden inside of the woods! It’s even perfect for those who just want to enjoy being in the peaceful outdoors inside a lush forest. The overall relaxing ambiance makes this a great getaway from busy city life. — Sophie of Work Chic

The greenways are all over the city and are great. There’s also many parks and lakes nearby. My personal favorite is Jordan Lake, followed by Shelley Lake. — Jessica Corson of Healthy is Happy

11. When planning a day trip to North Carolina State University, do you visit the JC Raulston Arboretum or Pullen Park?

JC Raulston Arboretum. Source: Carol of the Gardening Cook

JC Raulston Arboretum. Source: Carol of The Gardening Cook

We love the Raulston Arboretum for the wide variety of unique plant species, mostly trees and shrubs, organized in an interesting, attractive layout. One of the most enjoyable ways to spend a few hours in the spring is to pick up a tasty lunch at nearby Neomonde, and find a seat in the arboretum near a blossoming peach or cherry tree or magnolia. — Craig LeHoullier of nctomatoman

Pullen Park is the quintessential NC State experience — its understated, simple charms take you back to a bygone era where kids would enjoy a quaint train ride through the park or throwing pieces of bread to oversized ducks. It has that golden glow of nostalgia that State fans revel in. (Most of our happiest moments are from bygone eras, unfortunately, but there is always next year!). — Jenn and Lucy of East Meets South

12. Where are the most affordable places to live in Raleigh?

The suburbs of Raleigh, such as Garner and Knightdale have very affordable homes and are only a short commute to the Raleigh Beltline. — Pat McKee of McKee Homes

Any of the southeast Raleigh neighborhoods are still undervalued in Raleigh. — Carol of The Gardening Cook

13. Where would you take out-of-town guests for a true Raleigh experience?

Elle enjoying a beer at Trophy Brewing  Pizza Co. Source: Elle of Couple Money

Elle enjoying a beer at Trophy Brewing Pizza Co. Source: Elle of Couple Money

A day trip spending hours downtown, picking a good lunch spot and walking the streets, perhaps taking in a museum — maybe focusing on a special weekend events such as Artsplosure, would be a wonderful way to spend the day and get to know the city. — Craig LeHoullier of nctomatoman

Right now I’m loving taking people to Sono for sushi and cocktails or Boylan Bridge for great beer and sandwich. And since we’re on the topic of beer, you have to set aside some time to check out many of the local breweries. — Elle of Couple Money

14. Would you rather go to a Carolina Hurricane’s NHL game? Or a RailHawks pro soccer game?

The Hurricanes win hands down. It is hard to be outside for hours without shade in Raleigh from April to September, but if you are trying to escape the heat nothing sounds better than being inside near ice. — Lucy and Jenn of East Meets South

Frankly, I enjoy a good old fashioned amateur baseball game at the new Holly Springs Salamanders stadium in Holly Springs, NC — one of Raleigh’s nearby communities. But, I also love a Hurricanes game! — Alyssa of Alyssa Hellman

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Zillow Speaker Series: ‘Serial Entrepreneur’ Sasha Muir Shares Her Business Secrets

Sasha Muir

Muir shows off a convertible clutch by BEVÉE — a cross-body purse with an easily accessed billfold and an outer pocket “that fits all your largest smart phones.”

In case it’s not enough that Sasha Muir’s “butter LONDON” brand is known the world over for high-quality nail lacquer that’s beautifully packaged, last year Goldman Sachs named the Brit-turned-Seattleite one of its 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs.

Muir, a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” sold a majority share of butter LONDON to a private equity group last year. She’s also founder of a brand of children’s undergarments called Knickerbocker Glory and co-founder of a line of luxury handbags and accessories called BEVÉE.

So there is plenty to keep her busy, the mother of three young children told a crowd of Zillowites.

Muir recommends “hiring creatively,” whether you’re an entrepreneur or a corporate leader. Her director of operations at butter LONDON came from the restaurant industry, where “they knew service and had to get deep into menus — everything I wanted, they had done.”

She also believes in writing out detailed business plans and running them by people you trust to determine whether something has a chance. With butter LONDON, “I poured my heart and soul into what [the mission, vision and values] should be. I asked myself, ‘Am I doing something that’s different enough, that’s almost shocking at this time for this type of product?’”

Then she sold it to manufacturers — and investors. It’s important to be “so passionate and to have done the homework so well and to be so into this idea will they take bet on you and help you develop it,” Muir said.

However, groundwork doesn’t mean plans remain static.

Zillow Group Chief Marketing Officer Amy Bohutinsky, who interviewed Muir, showed surprise at the entrepreneur’s tale of arriving in Seattle years ago with a boyfriend and deciding on the spur of the moment not to leave.

“You seem to be a big planner, but a whim set the pace for so much of the rest of your life,” Bohutinsky said.

Muir said she’s a risk taker — she’s also started other businesses that weren’t successful — but that she always has a possible exit, a Plan B.

“For me, the key thing is what’s the mitigation. … What are the possible outcomes, and am I comfortable with them?” Muir said. (With the boyfriend, things worked out. He’s now her husband.)

Things also worked out with butter LONDON. The company’s trajectory changed dramatically with the recession, turning it from mostly a retailer into primarily a wholesaler.

“It’s very rare for a company to end up exactly where founder thought they would be,” Muir said.

Come see Zillow’s intriguing speakers in person, check out our jobs page. We’re hiring!

Amy and Sasha

Photos by Adam Cohn

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Tips for Selling Your House for a Bigger Profit

(TNS)—Existing home sales are on the rise, up 9 percent from last year, according to the National Association of Realtors. Now that buyers are back in the market, read these practical tips to add value to your home so you can get the best possible sale price.

Stage Your Property
According to an NAR report, 81 percent of real estate agents agree it’s easier for a buyer to visualize a staged property as a future home. The median cost of staging a home is just $675, so it might be well worth the investment for many home sellers.

You’ll receive the biggest bang for your buck by staging the living room, followed by the kitchen, master bedroom and dining room, according to the report. The bathrooms, children’s bedrooms and guest bedroom ranked lowest in priority on the report’s list.

Create a Digital Home History
Buyers today seek homes that are move-in ready and well-maintained. New online services like HomeZada allow a seller to create an online digital footprint that details a home’s maintenance records, floor plans, warranty documents and homeowner’s association information. If you have properly maintained your home, an online digital footprint can enable you to showcase your efforts while allowing potential buyers to fully appreciate the home’s maintenance history.

Boost Your Curb Appeal
How a home looks from the outside has a huge effect on how many potential buyers walk through the front door. Carrie-Denise Cheshire, owner of the Home Staging Institute in Portland, Ore., suggested inexpensive outdoor improvements like a freshly painted front door (she likes red), a new mailbox and well-maintained landscaping. She also recommended power washing the sidewalks and driveways, clearing any clutter from the front porch, and removing any decorative flags or affiliate signage.

Upgrade Your Kitchen
A minor kitchen remodel offers a high likelihood of recouping the investment, according to a 2015 study by Remodeling Magazine. The most important kitchen features for home buyers include new appliances and an eat-in arrangement, NAR reported. Granite countertops and stainless steel kitchen appliances also ranked high.

“Kitchens sell homes,” says Cheshire. She suggested updating window treatments as an inexpensive remedy for a dated kitchen. “I recommend natural wood blinds, which you can custom order for $100 or less for most windows,” she says.

She also suggested a coat of glossy, white paint to liven up a dark kitchen or dated wood cabinets as well as inexpensive new flooring options like tile or bamboo. “New flooring can make a dramatic improvement,” she says.

Create a Clutter-Free Oasis
Organization and cleanliness give off the impression a home has been well-maintained. An unmade bed, cluttered toy room or dusty drapes can give the opposite impression. Tidy rooms also appear larger.

Kelly Hager, CEO of a real estate group in St. Louis and St. Charles, Mo., says the house should be spotless before any showing. “Wipe down your baseboards, wipe down your cabinets, and dust everything, including cold air vents,” she says.

Make Your Walls Pretty
Many homeowners are so used to looking at the walls of their homes that they often don’t even realize that their wall treatments have become dated or faded. Most wallpapers and bright paint colors also can be turnoffs for many buyers.

“If you have wallpaper in your home, remove it,” says Hager. “Buyers do not like wallpaper.” Instead, consider an option with a broader appeal, like a neutral-colored paint.

Update Flooring
Old carpet can be an eyesore for prospective home buyers and a potential hazard for those with allergies. Hardwood floors are preferred by many home buyers — 54 percent are willing to pay more for a home with hardwood flooring, according to data from the NAR — but other hard surfaces can fare well, too.

Ceramic tile flooring does well in hot climates, and, for homeowners on a tighter budget, laminate can give the look of hardwood without the hefty price tag. For homes with hardwood floors already installed, refinishing them can add value to the home and yield impressive results; the cost depends on the size of the space and condition of the flooring.

Alaina Tweddale writes for GOBankingRates.com.

© 2015 GOBankingRates.com, a ConsumerTrack web property.
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Ways to Ease the Burden of College Expenses

U(TNS)—College is a large financial undertaking, but with the economy on the rebound more families are willing to shoulder the cost.

That’s the finding of the latest annual survey, “How America Pays for College,” by student loan provider Sallie Mae. According to the study, families of undergraduate students says their total cost of college—using savings, grants, loans and other resources—increased an average of 16 percent for the 2014-15 academic year. (Sallie Mae in April surveyed 800 parents of undergraduates, along with 800 undergraduate students.)

That contrasts with previous years, when spending remained essentially flat even though college costs were rising annually.

High-income families (those earning $100,000 annually or more) were the biggest spenders. But overall, parents shelled out an average of $7,683 from income and savings, up from $6,292 a year ago.

“How much more money parents were putting into paying for college was probably the most interesting increase that we saw,” says Marie O’Malley, senior director of consumer research at Sallie Mae.

The reason may have to do with growing confidence in the economy. Parents reported feeling less worried than in previous years about their income declining or the value of their home dropping. They were also more optimistic about their child finding a job after graduation.

That says, with college costs continuing to rise, the survey did reveal ways both parents and students are trying to save, which may be worth considering if you’re trying to trim college costs.

Comparison-shop. When deciding which college to attend, families consider cost throughout the application process and often eliminate schools because of price.

According to the study, 39 percent of families decided against a college because of the price tag, even before researching a school. Sixty-two percent eliminated a school because of costs after applying.

It’s often a good idea to wait to cut a school until after you receive a financial aid package. That’s because a university’s published cost tends to be more than the net price — what families actually pay.

During the 2014-15 school year, for example, the published cost for tuition, fees, and room and board for in-state undergraduate students at four-year public universities averaged $18,940, according to the College Board, a nonprofit organization with more than 6,000 higher education institutions as members. The average net price: $12,830.

Be resourceful. On average, parents cover the largest portion of college expenses — nearly a third of the bill—but students are mindful of costs.

In fact, 74 percent of students eliminated a school during the college search because of cost, compared with just half of parents.

“Students are worried about debt and don’t want to burden their parents with a big sticker price if they don’t have to,” O’Malley says.

But beyond taking out student loans, there are other ways to make college more affordable. The vast majority of students work during the school year. In other cases, families may target universities that are close to home (reducing travel expenses) or maximize tax deductions and credits for higher education, among other things.

Plan ahead. By far, though, the best way to avoid having to borrow heavily to pay for college is to plan ahead.

According to Sallie Mae’s study, families who planned and saved for college paid 21 percent more in total college costs than families that didn’t do so. But the average borrowing of students in families with a plan was 40 percent less.

“People who plan spend a little more, but that’s by choice,” O’Malley says. “They’ve thought about the total cost of school, and by the time their kid goes to college, they have more options. And the student ends up borrowing less.”

Carolyn Bigda writes Getting Started for the Chicago Tribune.

©2015 Chicago Tribune
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Pretty Little Listing From TV’s Ian Harding

Ian HardingMidway through the sixth season of “Pretty Little Liars,” series star Ian Harding has listed his Los Angeles home.

The fictional high school teacher is asking $1.35 million for the 1,241-square-foot home on a rare double lot in popular Laurel Canyon.

Built in 1948, the 3-bedroom, 2-bath home is described as “bohemian” by listing agent Courtney Van Cott of Partners Trust.

The retreat boasts a large deck for entertaining and a spacious guest suite with its own kitchenette.

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