Gunning Daily News

Word of the Day

October 28, 2013 5:54 pm

Fee simple. Ownership of real property that is to be used and/or sold at the owner’s discretion.

 


Q: How Do Building Codes Work?

October 28, 2013 5:54 pm

A: Building codes set minimum public-safety standards for such things as building design, construction, use and occupancy, and maintenance. The codes are established and enforced by local politicians and government officials, who also tend to modify them constantly.  The codes are usually enforced by denying permits, occupancy certificates, and by imposing fines.

While codes vary from one state, county, city, and town to the next, specialized codes generally exist for plumbing, electricity, and fire.  Each usually involves separate inspections and inspectors.

There are building codes for most remodeling jobs.  So if you have done significant remodeling, make sure you save proof of the permits involved in the project.  There is a good chance potential buyers may request them.  Failure to obtain the appropriate permits before you undertake a project could later result in fines or other serious consequences, such as having a structure ordered to be torn down because it was constructed improperly.


Tips for New Pet Parents

October 25, 2013 5:21 pm

(BPT)—Whether you're acquiring a new puppy or kitten for your household or adopting an adult pet from a shelter or rescue organization, the following tips will help you get off on the right foot with your newest family member.

What's up, doc? Just as you require regular visits to your doctor and dentist to make sure you stay healthy, so does your new pet. A veterinary visit should be a once-a-year event, minimum, and more frequent check-ups may be needed, depending on your pet's age and health status. Regular visits are likely to include a thorough exam, weigh-in, immunizations and parasite checks (a heartworm test and fecal exam). Blood tests and dental cleanings are also routine procedures.

Healthy eating. Your new pet may be eyeing your plate with interest, but don't give in. Pets shouldn't eat like people. Cats are carnivores; they need plenty of protein in their diets - roughly twice the percentage that you do - and they need it in the form of meat, poultry or fish. And while your dog, like you, is an omnivore, that doesn't mean he should share your meals. A food formulated especially for dogs is much better and treats should make up no more than 10 percent of a dog's caloric intake.

Parasite prevention. You've probably heard of pests like heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas and ticks but understanding how and when to prevent them is a different matter. Dogs and cats can become infected with heartworms, although the resulting disease differs somewhat between the two species. Heartworm disease can be deadly, or it can reduce the quality of life of both dogs and cats. Mosquitoes spread heartworms and dogs and cats need to be protected year-round, thanks to a mosquito's ability to survive in a variety of environments. A bonus is that many heartworm preventives also protect pets against other internal parasites. For more information on how to protect your new pet against heartworms and other parasites, talk to your veterinarian and visit the American Heartworm society website at heartwormsociety.org.

Bathing. Most of us wouldn't dream of letting a day go by without a shower or bath. But daily bathing is unnecessary for pets and can dry out their skin and hair. Most dogs are fine with a bath every three months, unless they get extra dirty or have silky hair. Cats usually keep themselves clean without any help although brushing long-haired cats on a regular basis is advised to keep their fur tangle-free and help prevent hairballs.

Making a connection. Dogs and cats relate to their owners in different ways. As a pack animal, dogs expect you to lead their pack and give them rules to follow. Dogs make faces - in fact, it's estimated that they have 100 different facial expressions, thanks to their mobile ears. Cats attach to their people as social partners and use affectionate behaviors, such as purring, kneading and rubbing against you to show their affection. They're also quite vocally expressive and can produce more than 100 different sounds.

Sleep habits. While cats have a reputation for dozing, both cats and dogs spend more than half their time in slumber. Like babies, puppies and kittens sleep more than adults, although their sleep patterns can be erratic. Keep in mind that excessive sleeping can be a sign of boredom. Most pets will be glad to forego a nap for playtime or a walk.

Bringing a pet into your home is one of the greatest joys in life, but it means new responsibilities. Understanding your pet's behavior, as well as the do's and don'ts of pet health care, will help make your bond with your pet a lasting one.


Buying and Selling a Home at the Same Time?

October 25, 2013 5:21 pm

A home sale transaction can present one of the most stressful situations a person will encounter in their entire life. So what about those forced into situations where they are selling and buying at the same time?

Agent Teresa Hamilton of Lafayette, LA (teresahamilton.com/Blog) points out that if the timing of either transaction is thrown off by issues out of their control, sellers may find themselves either owning two homes at the same time or with no home at all and desperately searching for a short term rental.

Hamilton says closing on the sale of both homes simultaneously allows the seller to avoid a multiple move scenario. They also avoid having to secure a temporary residence and other hassles related to selling their old home before closing on a new one, and the expense of carrying two mortgages, two sets of utilities, and the care of a vacant house or management of a rental.

Anthony Lamacchia (mlrealtyne.com) out of Waltham, Mass., offers the following tips for homeowners in this situation:

  • Negotiate a longer period until the closing date when you obtain a buyer for your home. Instead of the typical 45-day closing try to negotiate 60 or even 90 days so you have time to find the home you want.
  • Disclose in your listing that closing the deal is “subject to seller finding suitable housing” to alert buyers that you have to find a home to move to.
  • Or if you don’t disclose the above contingency publicly in your listing on MLS, you can still try to negotiate it into your offer and purchase and sales agreement.
  • Sell your home to a buyer and request that they allow you to rent it back from them for a month or two until you find a home.
  • Consider temporarily living with family or even try a short term rental.

Lamacchia believes this last alternative is actually the least stressful way to buy because the seller has the money in hand which makes it easier to buy. There is also less stress in doing one thing at a time.


Tips for Investors: Popular IRAs, Annuities Have Dark Downsides

October 25, 2013 5:21 pm

IRAs and annuities are growing in popularity as retirement investment options, according to recent surveys, but three financial experts warn they can have serious disadvantages.

“Last year, four out of 10 U.S. households had IRA accounts – that’s up from 17 percent two decades ago,” says CPA Jim Kohles, chairman of RINA accountancy corporation, (rina.com), citing an ICI Research survey. “But they can be bad for beneficiaries if you have a very large account.”

Investment in annuities, touted as offering a potential guaranteed income stream, also continue to grow with sales up 10 percent in the second quarter of this year. “Annuities have several dark sides, both during your lifetime and for your beneficiaries,” says wealth management advisor Haitham “Hutch” Ashoo, CEO of Pillar Wealth Management, (pillarwm.com). “My business partner, Chris Snyder, and I wouldn’t recommend investing in them.”

Putting large amounts of money in either annuities or IRAs can have serious tax consequences for your heirs, say Kohles, Ashoo and attorney John Hartog of Hartog & Baer Trust and Estate Law, (hartogbaer.com).

“If you want to ensure your beneficiaries get what you’ve saved, you need to take some precautions,” Hartog says. The three offer these suggestions:

• Take stock of your assets – you could be worth more than you think: If your estate is worth more than $5.25 million (for couples, $10.5 million), your beneficiaries face a 40 percent estate tax and federal and state income taxes, says Kohles, the CPA. “It can substantially deplete the IRA,” he says.

To avoid that, take stock of your assets now – you may have more than you realize when you take into account such variables as inflation and rising property values. Be aware of how close to that $5/$10 million benchmark you are now, and how close you’ll be a few years from now.

“Consider vacation and rental properties, vehicles, potential inheritances,” Kohles says. Also, take advantage of the lower tax rates you enjoy today, particularly if they’re going to skyrocket after your death. “A lot of people want to pay zero taxes now and that’s not necessarily a good idea,” he says. For instance, if you’re at that upper level, consider converting your traditional IRA to a ROTH IRA and paying the taxes on the money now so your beneficiaries won’t have to later.

• No matter what your estate’s value, avoid investing in annuities. Wealth management adviser Ashoo warns annuities, offered by insurance companies, can cost investors an inordinate amount of money during their lifetime and afterward.

“Insurance companies try to sell customers on the potential for guaranteed income, a death benefit paid to beneficiaries, or a ‘can’t lose’ minimum return, but none of those compensate for what you have to give up,” he says.

That includes being locked in to the annuity for five to seven years with hefty penalties for pulling out early; returns that fall far short of market investments on indexed annuities; high management fees for variable annuities; declining returns on fixed-rated annuities in their latter years; and giving up your principle in return for guaranteed income.

“If you own annuities and have a substantial estate, there are smart ways to unwind them to minimize damage,” Ashoo says.

• Consider spending down your tax-deferred IRA early. If you’re in the group with $5 million/$10 million assets, it pays to go against everything you’ve been taught and spend the IRA before other assets, says attorney Hartog.

“It’s a good vehicle for charitable gifts if you’re so inclined. And if you’re 70½ or older, this year you can direct up to $100,000 of your IRA-required minimum distribution to charity and it won’t show up as taxable income,” Hartog says. (That provision is set to expire next year.)

You might also postpone taking Social Security benefits until you’re 70½ and withdraw from your IRA instead. “That will maximize your Social Security benefit – you’ll get 8 percent more.” Finally, anyone who has accumulated some wealth will do best coordinating their financial planning with a team of specialists, the three say.

 


Word of the Day

October 25, 2013 5:21 pm

First mortgage. Mortgage on a property that is superior to any other. It is the first to be paid in the event of foreclosure.


Q: What Are Allowances and What Should I Know about Them When Planning with a Remodeling Contractor?

October 25, 2013 5:21 pm

A: Rather than price specific products or materials, many contractors prefer to use product allowances, an amount included in the contract to be used toward the purchase of these products and materials as they are selected by the consumer.  Typical categories where allowances might be used include flooring, cabinets, and lighting fixtures.  Allowances allow homeowners more time to finalize exact selections as the project progresses, and they can simplify the cost control process. The disadvantage, however, is that the cost of final selections can easily exceed the amount of money allowed, resulting in significant extra charges to the homeowner.  Shop for each allowance category before you finalize the allowance amounts provided in the contract. This way, you can budget for additional funds or adjust allowances to better reflect the actual monies required.


Financial Aid for College in 5 Steps

October 25, 2013 5:21 pm

(BPT)—The majority of parents of high school students know that the future will very likely hold a college education for their child. But what is often uncertain is how they will pay for that education. About 60 percent of high school graduates enroll in a college or university for advanced studies according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The average price for a four-year degree at a state school during the 2012-13 year was $22,261. It was $43,289 for a private, four-year college, according to the College Board. With these kinds of prices, many families will need financial aid to help cover tuition and room and board costs.

Financial aid comes in many different forms. Students can pursue scholarships, fellowships and grants, which typically don't require any repayment. Once these options are exhausted, students can also pursue loans.

When first reviewing the options for financial aid, it can be overwhelming for students and their parents to comprehend all the options and steps they might need to take to financially plan for college. The following tips can help families navigate the steps to obtaining the needed funds to cover educational expenses beyond high school.

1. Fill out the FAFSA - This is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and is recommended for all students planning on pursing college, no matter their family income. It is used to determine a student's eligibility not only for federal student loans, but for work-study aid and some grants.

2. Estimate total cost - Colleges can provide students and their parents with an estimated cost for tuition, as well as room and board each year at the school.

3. Determine additional expenses - College is more than just class, studying and taking tests. Other expenses like car insurance, gas money, memberships to campus organizations and even paying for a spring break vacation might not be covered by scholarships, grants and fellowships. However, students should apply all financial aid - even scholarships that might not have stipulations of how the money is used - first to educational expenses.

4. Learn about financing options - Create a list of private loans available through your bank, as well as federal loan options. Compare available loan amounts, interest rates, if payments can be deferred until after the schooling is complete and loan term lengths.

5. Know deadlines - There are deadlines for submitting the FASFA and for most scholarships. Keep these deadlines on a calendar so nothing gets missed.

View the videos on the Wells Fargo YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/wellsfargo, or at www.WellsFargo.com/fivesteps. Additional information about banking, credit, money management, financial assistance and financial matters connected with post-secondary education can be found at www.wellsfargo.com/goals-going-to-college.

Reviewing financial aid options early gives families a chance to best plan financial - and educational - options for their child. Also view the video series with "Mr. Fellows" to get a head start in learning about covering the cost of college education.

 


Problems with Overgrown Ivy Could Plague Home Sellers

October 25, 2013 5:21 pm

Maybe it looks classy decorating the walls and halls of Ivy League universities, but this creeping decorative plant can wreak havoc, especially when homeowners are trying to get rid of the stuff when preparing their property for sale.

REALTOR® Sarah Snodgrass (sarahsnodgrass.com/blog) recently posted that there is a dark side to ivy - this stuff is destructive and invasive. For resale, ivy is bad.

Snodgrass says buyers are scared of ivy. They think it will be difficult to maintain or remove, and it just feels like a problem to them.

She suggests if a homeowner is planning to plant ivy - have a plan and be ready to maintain it or consult with a landscaping expert. And she supplies five reasons to avoid english ivy on your house:

  • Ivy scares away home buyers.
  • It is invasive and difficult to control, possibly invading unintended areas and choking out other plants if left unattended.
  • It can creep onto and under things like shutters and trim, windows, painted wood, mortar and siding, potentially causing damage, leaks and rot.
  • It can act as a ladder for bugs, spiders, and termites to enter your house.
  • It is difficult to remove. Pulling it out by hand is labor intensive and potentially dangerous if it has climbed high, but it is an effective and quick removal technique. Chemical herbicides take much longer.

Another site, learn2grow.com, says if homeowners want to keep plants healthy and free from disease and insects, it’s extremely important to stop ivy from growing up trees and twining into shrubs.

The site advises homeowners or their landscapers to go around the trunk and cut out a vertical section of ivy about 1-2 feet wide around the entire tree, which will cut all the roots going to the upper section of the ivy.

Then, remove the cut section, but leave the upper ivy until it starts to die - ivy is much easier to remove once it’s dead. Finally, once the dead ivy is gone, remove the still-living ivy from the tree’s base and off any of the tree’s roots that may be exposed above ground.


How-To Protect Your Small Business' Data Privacy

October 25, 2013 5:21 pm

According to The Ponemon Institute, 55 percent of small businesses experienced at least one data breach in 2012 and 53 percent had multiple breaches. Yet, a recent study by the National Cyber Security Alliance and Symantec found that only one in 10 small business owners say they have someone responsible for  online and cyber security at their business.

Below are five keys to help small business owners protect their businesses from cyber threats, provided by Hanover Insurance Group.

Five keys to small business cyber safety

Encrypt your data – Begin with the assumption that "bad guys" are going to get in. From this position, the first priority becomes minimizing damage they can cause—and that starts with making sure that data encryption software is properly installed. Remember that cyber-thieves are experts at finding and exploiting system weaknesses. For this reason, ensure that your encryption software is tested and updated on a regular basis.

Know your personnel – Insider threat is one of the main causes of data breach incidents. The fact is, employees are often the weakest link in the security chain. For this reason, conduct background checks on all personnel—including vendors and contractors—whose work requires them to have routine access to sensitive or confidential information.  Remember, too, that even the most trusted employees can cause a data breach if they misplace their laptop, USB device, or hardcopy files of sensitive or confidential information.

Understand exposures and find the right insurance coverage – Many businesses think it cannot happen to them – but Cyber-liability is a real risk for businesses. Business owners are wise to carefully review their exposures with the help of a qualified independent third party, and build an insurance program that protects their businesses from cyber threats.

Understand your insurance contracts – Regardless of what kind of coverage you purchase, the best place to begin always is talking to your independent insurance agent. Discuss your exposures and various risk scenarios and, together, decide on the policy terms and conditions that provide the most appropriate type and level of protection for your business.

Have an incident response plan developed in advance – Your company is better positioned to minimize potential damage from a data breach when you have a response plan in place. Make sure your plan identifies where and how sensitive data is stored, where and how it is backed up, and who has access to it. A robust response plan also includes a list of "first contacts" to notify, including law firms, forensic data experts, public relations firms, and credit monitoring companies. The faster you can respond, the better able you are to minimize and control potential damages.

These five steps can help small business owners protect their businesses from harmful and costly breaches in data privacy—including cyber-liability.

Source: www.hanoverlosscontrol.com.