Gunning Daily News

Q: Should I Always Get a Permit Before Making Home Improvements?

January 15, 2014 1:09 am

A: To save both time and money, some people avoid getting building permits. But most cities require them. Besides ensuring safety during construction – housing inspectors sometimes stop by to check on the progress of projects at key points – they are also a source of revenue.

Cities charge a fee when a building permit is issued. Also, work done with a building permit can result in an increase in the homeowners’ property taxes because, in general, a home improvement increases the assessed value of the property.

Permits are usually required when any structural work is planned or the basic living space of a home is altered. They generally cover new construction, repairs, alterations, demolition, and additions to a structure. Some jurisdictions require the permit to be posted in a visible spot on the premises while the work is being done.

Besides structural changes, permits also may be needed to cover the installation of foundations for tanks and equipment, as well as the construction or demolition of ducts, sprinkler systems, or standpipe systems.

By law, all buildings must have a building permit and a certificate of occupancy before they can be used. 


Prevent Your Travel Insurance Claim from Being Denied

January 13, 2014 7:15 pm

With all of the cancelled or delayed flights and travel plans due to the recent super storms and polar vortex, it's important to be well informed on how to get the most out of their travel insurance plans.

As is the case with any conventional insurance policy, a travel insurance policy serves as a legal contract. Travelers pay a fee to insure that their risks are covered, and the insurance company agrees to pay for damages in the event of a cancellation, delay, injury, illness, accident, and more; however, the insurance company will only reimburse a traveler if what occurred is specifically included and covered by the policy. 

Numerous travelers are not clear on what a travel insurance policy covers and after reading a few stories from other travelers, some believe that if they file a claim for reimbursement they will ultimately be denied. The following is a list of the most frequent reasons that travel insurance claims get denied and how to ensure that you receive the reimbursement that you're entitled.

Claim Denial Due to a Non- Covered Reason:

It's important to recognize that most travel insurance policies are "named peril" policies which means that simply having the trip cancellation included in your coverage does not automatically mean that you're covered; if your reason for cancellation is not listed in the policy, then you will not be covered. While most travel insurance companies cover the same major perils, there can be slight differences so it is important that you carefully review what is and is not covered before making your final purchase decision.


Claim Denial Due to Lack of Documentation:

Travel insurance companies will require a paper trail to prove that you incurred a loss or expense and won't simply take you at your word. Because of this it is extremely important that you make sure that you keep all of your receipts and get proof of any incidents in writing.

Following are a few tips on what to do in these particular situations:

  • When a flight is cancelled, ask the airline representatives to give you a printout of the cancellation or get an email from the airline confirming the flight cancellation. 
  • If your luggage is lost, stolen or delayed keep all of your receipts for any necessary purchases that you had to make. Also, get documentation from the airline if luggage is lost in transit. If items are stolen make sure you get a police report.
  • If you lose your travel documentation such as your passport, identification or driver's license, file a report at the nearest embassy or police department and ask to receive a copy for insurance purposes. 
  • If you cancel your trip due to an illness or injury, be sure that you visit a doctor and get a note stating that he or she recommends that you cancel the trip or that you are not fit to travel.
  • Whenever anything happens during your trip that you may want to file a claim for, be sure that you receive proof in writing.

Claim Denial Due to a Pre-Existing Condition:

Pre-existing conditions are generally defined as "any injury, illness, disease, or other medical condition that occurs prior to the travel plan's effective date and for which you had symptoms and sought diagnosis, medical treatment, and/or new prescription medications or a change in your current prescription."

If you or any of your travel companions have received changes in your medications, or if you have visited a doctor for treatment within the last 60 to 180 days, then you should seriously consider purchasing an insurance policy that includes a pre-existing condition waiver. 

Most insurance companies offering the pre-existing condition waiver will only cover the traveler if he or she has met all of the criteria. This criterion varies between companies, but generally requires that the traveler purchases the insurance policy within 14 days of the initial booking deposit, is medically able to travel at the time of the policy purchase. Make sure that you check the criteria required by the insurance company that you purchase your policy from.

For example, InsureandGo USA automatically includes a pre-existing condition waiver to travelers under 70 years old as long as you purchase the policy within 14 days of the initial trip deposit and cover the full cost of the trip.

Claim Denial Due to Misrepresentation on the Insurance Application:

While not technically a claim denial, a traveler could have their policy voided or "rescinded" if the information reported on the application for coverage is inaccurate whether intentionally or not. It's important that you review all of your information to make sure that you accurately presented all of your travel dates, age, trip costs, and personal information on your insurance policy application. That online application that you fill out becomes part of the insurance agreement, so taking the extra couple of minutes to review it is well worth it. 

Is Travel Insurance a Case of Buyer Beware?

As travelers, we should take the time to review the policy documents to make sure that we are buying what we think are buying. By not reviewing the insurance policy we can set ourselves up for false expectations and then be terribly disappointed when a claim is denied.

Source: http://www.insureandgousa.com


How to Maintain Home Comfort during a Cold Winter

January 13, 2014 7:15 pm

As the chilly arctic air makes its way across the country, the Farmer's Almanac warns that winter's blast is far from over and bitter cold temperatures will return. News reports suggest all 50 states, even Hawaii, dipped below 32 degrees at some point owing to the arctic air. The cold snap left many thinking about keeping their homes warm.

Honeywell, a thermostat provider with more than 150 million customers, offers the following tips to maximize safety, home comfort and peace of mind this winter:

  • Be Wary of Fireplaces: Many people don't realize that while a fireplace can provide warmth to those sitting near it, in reality they allow the warm air to escape making your home less comfortable. At the same time, cold air is also seeping into your house. If you don't regularly use your fireplace, seal the chimney flue to prevent this heat loss. If you do regularly use your fireplace, make sure to keep the damper closed whenever the fire isn't going;
  • Opt for maximum personalized home comfort: Precision in temperature, humidity and air quality control is key to home comfort and for energy savings during winter months. While thermostats have become a trendy gadget, the bottom line is that they control one of the most expensive and critical systems in the home.  Be sure to look for a thermostat that is both stylish and reliable with an accuracy of +/- 1 degree for optimum home comfort and energy savings;
  • Utilize Ceiling Fans: By reversing the fan's direction to clockwise, the blades will create an updraft, effectively pushing down the hot air that rises to the top of the ceiling;
  • Evaluate your existing thermostat: Programmable thermostats are especially beneficial if your home is unoccupied all day. If you have a programmable thermostat, review schedules to customize it to your lifestyle and extreme weather conditions to ensure that it not only maximizes your comfort 24/7 but also effectively manages energy use. If you have a non-programmable thermostat and you're thinking about an upgrade, consider a programmable or Wi-Fi programmable thermostat that will allow you to set different temperatures for different times of the day;
  • Purchase a connected thermostat: A Wi-Fi programmable thermostat offers maximum flexibility and allows you to monitor and adjust your home temperatures directly from an app anytime, anywhere. This feature can offer greater peace of mind when you are away from home, as it alerts you of a malfunction so you can take action during a cold snap.

Source: www.wifithermostat.com.


Word of the Day

January 13, 2014 7:15 pm

Point.  Fee charged by a lender to get additional revenue over the interest rate.  A point is equal to one percent of the loan amount.


Q: What Is the Difference between a Conforming and Non-Conforming Loan?

January 13, 2014 7:15 pm

A: Conforming loans have terms and conditions that adhere to guidelines established by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two, big quasi-government corporations that purchase mortgage loans from lenders then packages them into securities that are sold to investors.

Their guidelines are far-reaching and as such set borrower credit and income requirements, as well as the down payment, and maximum loan amounts.

Non-conforming loans are for buyers, such as the self-employed or people with poor credit histories, who do not qualify for mainstream loans.


Word of the Day

January 10, 2014 9:06 pm

Foreclosure. Legal action instigated by a lender to end all ownership rights when mortgage payments have not been kept up.


Q: What Kind of Home Insurance Should I Have?

January 10, 2014 9:06 pm

A: A standard policy protects against several natural disasters and catastrophic events, and covers your personal belongings. But it will not guard against earthquakes, floods, war, and nuclear accidents. The policy can be expanded to include these disasters as well as coverage for such things as workers' compensation. In fact, the lender may require that you purchase flood or earthquake insurance if the house is in a flood zone or a region susceptible to earthquakes.  


Winter Travel Tips for 2014

January 10, 2014 9:06 pm

In the frosty days of winter, a vacation is often extremely appealing. For those traveling this winter, keep in mind these tips, offered by Getaroom:

  • Ski off the beaten track. Consider smaller and less crowded ski destinations in Colorado or New England instead of Aspen or Killington. Many lesser-known resorts offer considerably lower rates to attract ski season travelers.
  • Bring a jacket to Sin City. Vegas is cold during the winter, but all of the gaming and entertainment options are still hot. Travelers visiting Las Vegas from Sunday to Thursday can enjoy the lowest rates of the year at five-star hotels.
  • Pick smart flights. If you are headed to warmth such as Miami or Phoenix, then route your flight through southern layovers. The flight with the stop in Detroit might be $20 cheaper, but is it worth the risk of bad winter weather?
  • Find the right hotel. Getaroom.com offers a call center staffed by travel experts who help winter explorers find the optimal hotel room for their needs and budget. Ask for Getaroom.com's unpublished rate which is typically 10-20 percent less than the lowest rate online.
  • Check in on Sunday. Traditionally a "check-out" day, Sunday is an ideal day to start your trip because rates are often lower than the typical Friday or Saturday check-in rates.
  • Stay informed. Use your phone to check flight statuses and weather alerts. If your flight is canceled you are often better off using the phone to make new arrangements instead of waiting in a long service desk line.
  • Be polite. Winter travel can be unpredictable. It's not the airline's fault that it's snowing or there is freezing rain. They canceled flights for your safety, not to ruin your vacation. Be as polite as you can to encourage airline and hotel staff to take the extra step to help you out.
  • Consider nontraditional destinations. NYC can be magical in winter time, with carriage rides and the city lights reflecting in the snow. Getaroom has many first class hotels in the $100 a night range this winter. Go towards the cold to experience a destination in a new way, and avoid big summer crowds.
  • Prepare your car. Be very careful when planning a northern car trip during the winter. Pack extra clothes, blankets, and food in order to ensure you are ready for the unexpected. Grab a car cell phone charger or a portable battery charging device for that extra peace of mind.
  • Winter travel doesn't need to be a nightmare. Through proper planning and a little bit of luck, savvy travelers can have a great trip, whether it's a ski trip or a beach trip to Florida or the Caribbean.

Source: www.getaroom.com.


When to Repair and When to Replace

January 10, 2014 9:06 pm

Deciding whether to repair a broken product or replace it often feels like an expensive guess.

"Repairing broken items or keeping them going as long as possible isn't always the best way to save money," says Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman, Deputy Content Editor of Home and Appliances for Consumer Reports. "Our report spells out how much repairs usually cost, brands that breakdown and those that don't and cheap fixes you can handle to save money."

Tips on How to Save

Consumer Reports surveyed 29,281 subscribers about their product experiences as part of its 2013 Online Annual Questionnaire. Here's what consumers need to know:

  • Products aren't breaking faster. The repair rates of most products in the latest survey are similar to the 2010 survey results. Some products are breaking less often. For example, laptops had a repair rate of 24 percent, down from 36 percent in 2010.
  • Avoiding a lemon. Check Consumer Reports' "What Breaks and What Doesn't" lists for the most temperamental product types and – from repair-history surveys – the most and least reliable brands for each. GE electric ranges were reliable, for example, while Jenn-Air and KitchenAid were both repair-prone brands, according to the survey. 
  • Save money on repairs. People who used independent repair shops were more satisfied with the repairs than those who used factory service. No matter who does the repair, don't spend more than 50 percent of the cost of a new product on repairing an old one.
  • Warranties don't improve satisfaction. People who had a service contract or an extended warranty weren't any happier with their repairs. They were actually more likely to have had repairs done incorrectly the first time around than people without those contracts and waited at least two weeks for repairs.

Source: Consumer Reports


Tips for Protecting a Home from the Ravages of Winter

January 10, 2014 9:06 pm

As temperatures across the nation reaching dangerous levels, now is the time to make sure that your home is prepared to deal with the icy conditions. Fremont Insurance, a Michigan-exclusive property and casualty insurance carrier, offers a few tips to help homeowners protect their homes against two of the most significant winter risks: ice dams and frozen pipes.

"Certain areas of the country are notorious for their severe winters and the extensive damage that they can do," said Kevin Kaastra, Chief Marketing Officer for Fremont Insurance. "There are some simple things that you can do to prepare your home, and also some steps to take throughout the winter to help minimize your risk."

Ice Dams occur when heavy snow buildup melts during the day then refreezes as temperatures drop overnight. After several days of this cycle, the melted water and ice work up under the shingles entering the attic and damaging ceilings, walls and contents.  To help prevent dams from forming:

  • Keep gutters and down spouts clear of debris, snow and ice, so melting roof snow can flow
  • Keep snow on your roof to a minimum. Roof rakes let you stand on the ground to safely pull the snow off the roof
  • Evaluate attic insulation and ventilation.  Good airflow is essential to a cool, dry attic

Frozen Water Pipes cause extensive damage to many homes and businesses every winter. If you think turning the heat down while you're away or on vacation will save you money, think again. If your water pipes freeze and burst, it could cause thousands of dollars in damage. Homeowners can take some simple preventive measures:

  • Locate and insulate pipes susceptible to freezing – typically near outer walls, in crawl spaces, or in the attic
  • Wrap pipes with UL-approved heat tape and seal air leaks  
  • Disconnect garden hoses and shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets  
  • Drain and shut off the water supply (except indoor sprinkler systems) if you expect to be away for several days
  • Have someone check regularly to ensure the heat is still on and things are okay
  • Make sure you and your family knows how to shut off the water to your home

If you do discover frozen pipes:

  • Never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch
  • If pipes burst, stop the flow of water as soon as possible to minimize damage
  • Be mindful of the risk of electric shock in and around standing water
  • Call a plumber and contact your insurance agent right away

Source: www.fmic.com