Gunning Daily News

Q: Are Buyers Protected against Housing Discrimination?

July 24, 2013 6:04 am

A: By law, real estate agents may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. They also cannot follow spoken or implied directives from the home seller to discriminate. If you suspect you have been discriminated against, a complaint may be filed with the local Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office nearest you.  You may call HUD’s toll-free number, 1-800-669-9777, or visit its web site at www.hud.gov/complaints/housediscrim.cfm.

 


4 Car Maintenance Tips

July 23, 2013 3:58 am

Cars last longer and perform best if they are kept in top condition. But that may not mean spending extra money on car care that isn’t necessary.

From Consumer Reports come the money-saving truths about four of the most common car maintenance myths:

Change oil every 3,000 miles – Although lube shops put those 3,000 mile reminders on your windshield after every lube, they really are not necessary. Save your money and stick to the guide recommended in your car owner’s manual. In most cases, under normal driving conditions, your car can safely go 7,500 miles between oil changes.

Air conditioning hurts fuel economy – Using the A/C does put more load on the engine. But Consumer Reports tests show only a very slight decrease in fuel economy as compared to opening the windows – primarily because opening windows increases aerodynamic drag. Also, using the A/C helps keep the driver alert and more comfortable, which is safer for everyone on the road.

Inflate tires to pressure shown on sidewalls – The pounds-per-square-inch figure on the side of the tire is the maximum pressure the tire can safely hold, not the automaker's recommended pressure, which provides the best balance of braking, handling, gas mileage, and ride comfort. That number is usually found on a doorjamb sticker, in the glove box, or on the fuel-filler door. Check the tire pressure monthly after the car has been parked for a few hours.

Premium gas is better for your car – Most vehicles run just fine on regular-grade (87 octane) fuel. Using premium in these cars won't hurt, but it won't improve performance, either. A higher-octane number simply means that the fuel is less prone to pre-ignition problems, so it's often specified for hotter running, high-compression engines. So if your car is designed for 87-octane fuel, don't waste money on premium.  But some cars really do require premium gas, meaning you're stuck paying extra. Keep this in mind when shopping for your next car.


Cool Your Home, Save Your Cash: AC Tips

July 23, 2013 3:58 am

(BPT) - Home cooling costs rise with the temperature, making many homeowners dread the arrival of their monthly electric bill during the good ol' summertime. Fortunately, with a few simple strategies, it's easy to cut down on cooling costs so you can enjoy summer, even through record-high temperatures.

"Air conditioning is the main way homeowners cool their home, but it's far from a one-size-fits-all solution," says Laura Johnson, home economist for LG Electronics USA. "How you choose to cool your home can make a big difference in comfort levels and energy costs."

She suggests starting by asking yourself a few simple questions:

* How hot is it likely to get in the region where you live? 
* What is the square footage you want cooled? 
* Do you have one room that just doesn't cool effectively while others are fine? 
* Do you have an existing duct system? 
* Do you want to install a whole home system, but don't have months to work with a contractor?

If you have an existing system that doesn't seem to be cooling your home as well as it should, it's time to explore other options. If your HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system is more than 12 years old, it's likely not working as efficiently as it could. Have a professional HVAC contractor evaluate the system. A tune-up may help the system work better, or reveal that it's time to consider a replacement.

Heating and cooling costs the average homeowner about $1,000 a year - nearly half the home's total energy bill, according to EnergyStar.gov. When researching new air conditioners, always look for the Energy Star label. If your air conditioning unit is more than 12 years old, replacing it with an Energy Star qualified model could reduce cooling costs by 30 percent.

A variety of air conditioning systems are available. If you have an existing duct system, installing a central air conditioning system is a good option. Those without ducts aren't stuck choosing between inefficient window units or extensive construction - newer duct-free systems provide efficient cooling with high energy-efficiency ratings.

For example, duct-free systems like ArtCool models from LG, allow you to cool your entire home or just a single room without the need for invasive ductwork. There's no tearing down walls or altering your home's appearance. In most cases, a professional contractor gets the job done in less than a day. The contractor will help you determine if you need a single- or multiple-room system. Be sure to research your contractor carefully, because proper installation is key to achieving maximum energy efficiency. Plus, some duct-free systems qualify for a tax credit of $300 if you install your system before Dec. 31.

No matter what air conditioning system you choose, be sure to check the "SEER rating." SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and is the industry-wide performance rating. The higher the number, the more efficiently a product will perform. The average air conditioner rating for an Energy Star-qualified window unit is a 9 to 11, while duct-free systems like the Art Cool Premier have SEER ratings up to 28, which can translate to bigger energy savings.

You can also take steps to conserve energy in other areas. During sunny, hot periods of the day, use appropriate window coverings to block heat and conserve the cool air. Avoid using the oven or excessive electronic devices - like TVs or computers - which can put off a lot of heat.

Always adjust the thermostat to the highest temperature that is still comfortable during summer. A smaller difference between the indoors and outdoors means a smaller energy bill. Use a programmable thermostat that increases the temperature setting when you're away from your house, such as during work hours. Set the system to automatically adjust to a cooler temperature setting an hour before you return home and you won't even know the difference.

"By evaluating your air conditioner and taking a few efficiency-improving steps to cooling your home, you'll stay comfortable and help lower your energy bills," says Johnson.

 


Turn Your Balcony into an Edible Garden

July 23, 2013 3:58 am

Improvements in container gardening equipment and techniques have cleared the way for even the most “brown thumb” city dwellers, and anyone without a yard, to grow their own groceries.

“There’s nothing to stop anyone who wants a garden from having one,” says Roy Joulus, CEO of Greenbo.

“Plants add a great deal to our quality of life – from cleaning the air we breathe to keeping us in touch with nature. Fresh, home-grown herbs and vegetables not only taste so much better than supermarket produce, they’re convenient, and you know exactly where they came from and what was used, or not used, on them.”

While hydroponic and vertical gardening systems have been developed to maximize the yield in small spaces, Joulus says starting a balcony garden needn’t cost much. Start with the right materials and choose plants that are right for your conditions, and you’ll soon be eating from the pots on your porch.

He offers these tips especially for balcony gardeners:

Plant the right plants for the amount of sunlight you have:

Most herbs and vegetables require six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day. So what do you do if you have just one balcony and it doesn’t get that much sun?

• Choose edibles that can take partial sun/shade (three to six hours of sun in the morning or early afternoon) or light shade (two to three hours of direct sun or lightly shaded all day.)

• Remember, pale-colored surfaces increase the light your plants receive. Plants in regions with short growing seasons usually need the full six to eight hours of light per day. 

Choose the right pots:

• Bigger pots require less water and are less likely to blow over on high-rise balconies where the winds can be fierce. Terra cotta allows moisture to escape fairly quickly, which is helpful for people who like to water a lot. Non-porous plastic or glazed pots hold water longer and are better for windy balconies, where soil dries out quickly. Use brightly colored containers to add style and visual interest to your garden.

• Most vegetable plants require even watering – don’t let them dry out completely and don’t keep them soggy. Apply water directly to the soil.

• Make sure your containers have drainage holes or a drainage system. If they have an attached tray to catch excess water, don’t allow the plants’ roots to sit in the water, which promotes rot and fungus. Either empty the tray regularly, or use a design that holds the water away from the roots.

Use the right dirt:

• It’s important to use dirt that allows for good drainage. Most edible plants don’t like to sit in wet dirt, and soil without good drainage tends to become compacted – a difficult medium for plants that like to stretch their roots out. You can buy a sterile soilless potting mix, a soil-based potting mix, or mix up your own batch using 1 part compost, 1 part perlite and 1 part potting soil.

• Don’t use garden soil or top soil, which won’t allow adequate drainage.

• On windy balconies, top-dress your container with small rocks to keep the soil from drying out so quickly.

Joulus offers one more tip for high-rise dwellers: Rely on self-pollinating plants, or plants that don’t need pollination by insects, unless you’re willing to hand-pollinate.

“You likely won’t see many bees buzzing around the 40th story,” he says.

Don’t worry about pollination for root vegetables, like carrots and potatoes. Some self-pollinators include beans, peas, tomatoes and peppers.

 


Word of the Day

July 23, 2013 3:58 am

Valid contract. One that meets all requirements of law, is binding upon its parties, and is enforceable in a court of law.


Q: Why Do I Need an Agent If I Can Find a Home by Myself on the Internet?

July 23, 2013 3:58 am

A: While more buyers now use the Internet to gain access to listings, or available properties for sale, it is still a good idea to use an agent. The agent brings value to the entire process: he or she is available to analyze data, answer questions, share their professional expertise, and handle all the paperwork and legwork that is involved in the real estate transaction.


Cost-Cutting Techniques to Fit Your Lifestyle

July 20, 2013 3:48 am

(BPT)—These days, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the multitude of sources offering money-saving tips. It seems like everyone has a hot new tip or an old tried-and-true method you just have to try. Unfortunately, trying to keep up with them all can actually be counter-productive to your savings goal because you aren't able to dedicate enough time and effort to see substantial results.

So how do you choose which tip to focus on? The answer is easy. Look at your personal lifestyle to figure out the savings tactic that will work best for you.

For the serial over-achiever

Sure, you probably have the energy to coupon "til the cows come home," but that is not the most efficient use of your time. Try setting a goal. Your first step should be to figure out how much you would like to save each month so you can stop yourself once you hit that goal. Of course saving more than what you estimated would be great, but it's important to maintain a healthy coupon/life balance.

And don't be afraid to multitask! "When I was working full time, I would use my breaks and lunch to cut out the coupons I would need to shop and sometimes also shop on my lunch hour," says Jennifer Williams, founder of "My Frugal Wife" blog. Cutting coupons while you eat or while the kids are doing homework means you aren't skipping important parts of your day to get couponing done.

The important thing is to manage the time you spend couponing so that it does not add stress to your already-busy life.

For the rewards program skeptic

You may think that the concept of saving is all well and good, but when it comes to the practice of participating in rewards programs you are not sure that the effort matches the savings.

This can be true, especially if you try to juggle too many programs at once. Participating in more rewards programs does not necessarily mean more savings. In fact, there are an average of 21.9 rewards program memberships per household in the U.S., according to the 2013 Colloquy Loyalty Census, yet individuals are only active in 44 percent of the rewards programs they are signed up for.

Save more by focusing your efforts on the right program for you. "Find a program that allows you to save on your most frequent purchases," says Heather Brickell, founder of "My Sweet Savings" blog. "A rewards program such as the Fuel Rewards Network(TM) program - or FRN(TM) program - is valuable because your savings pay off at the pump - one of the hardest places to save money or get a discount."

The FRN program allows you to redeem rewards for fuel savings at participating Shell stations. There are multiple ways to earn rewards through everyday purchases of things like food, clothing and household goods.

Participating in a program that allows you to earn rewards without having to step outside of your normal routine can help you save regularly without the stress.-

For the on-the-go lifestyle

Don't have time to spend hours cutting coupons or scouring the Internet for deals? No problem. If you are constantly on the go, but still looking to save money, Brickell suggests looking into downloadable smartphone apps that will allow you to save money on everything from clothing, dining out, and travel. "Apps are easy to use and many retailers and even restaurants will scan discount codes right from your smartphone," says Brickell.

Download a few choice apps and begin scanning them whenever you have a free moment in your day. It's quick and easy because, let's face it, your phone never leaves your side.

Just remember, if you are doing something - anything - to save, then count that as a success! You can create a consistent stream of savings without having to spend all of your time worrying about making it happen. For example, Wayne Wesley, an everyday consumer from Florida who commutes 60 miles per day for work, also takes advantage of the FRN program's ease of use. "I am not the kind of person who would use coupons or spends a lot of time hunting for bargains," says Wesley, who estimates he's saved more than $500 using the FRN program over the past year. "But I earn rewards at my grocery store each week and usually save between 35 and 95 cents per gallon when I fill up. It's an easy way I save money each month without much effort."

The bottom line is that you can cut costs and save in a way that works for you. Don't let time or multiple rewards programs and savings tactics overwhelm you; just pick the one that is right for you and stick with it. The savings can really add up over time!

 


Make Your Movie Night Modern

July 20, 2013 3:48 am

(Family Features)--It's that time of year again when the year's biggest movies begin invading theaters. But big movies can also mean big lines and big bucks.

Sometimes, it's just more convenient and affordable to have a movie night at home. Hosting an at-home movie night can be even more fun than taking a trip to the theater if you make it a "Modern Movie Night." Here are some tips to help put a new spin on a movie night at home:

Plan Ahead - The official Redbox mobile app lets you browse movies and reserve them for pickup, right from your phone. You can even see which boxes have your favorite movies. Pick the closest box and a copy will be reserved for you.

Spruce Up Your Snacks - One of the best things about the theater experience is the delicious snacks. But you can make what you eat at home just as good by putting a modern spin on old favorites. For example, once your popcorn has cooled, add M&M'S to give it a colorful, delicious new look.

Digital Movie Buzz - Don't just plop on the couch for the evening. Get together with family and friends and enjoy some digital fun before the movie starts. Guess The Movie app or MovieCat challenge you with quizzes and classic movie questions. You can even compare your own review of favorite movies with scores from Rotten Tomatoes.

If the flick is a bust, live tweet funny commentary while you watch or write your own movie reviews at moviequotesandmore.com. Try playing the popular movie trivia game SceneIt or play Charades using Vine video clips. You can also check out cast info on the IMDB app. End the evening with a movie discussion and your house may become everyone's favorite home theater.


Raw Produce and Fresh-Squeezed Juices: Handle Them Safely!

July 20, 2013 3:48 am

Whether from a supermarket, farm stand, or your very own garden, fresh fruits and vegetables are highlights of summertime. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reminds you that safe handing of produce and fresh-squeezed juice is especially important because these foods are often consumed raw. What's more, foodborne bacteria multiply faster in warm weather – making food safety even more important as temperatures rise.

Follow these tips to prevent food poisoning from produce and fresh-squeezed juices:

Buy right. Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged. When selecting pre-cut produce, choose only those that are refrigerated or on ice. Bag fresh fruits and vegetables and keep them separate from raw meat, poultry, and seafood in your grocery cart and shopping bags.

Store properly. Keep perishable fresh fruits and vegetables refrigerated at 40°F or below, including all produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled.

Wash thoroughly. Wash all produce under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking. For pre-packaged produce, look on the package – if it says pre-washed and ready-to-eat, you can use it without further washing. And remember: even if you plan to peel produce, it's important to wash it first so dirt and bacteria aren't transferred from the outside to the inside when you cut into it.

Prepare safely. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. And if it looks rotten, discard it.

Prevent cross contamination. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with soap and hot water between preparing raw meat, poultry, and seafood and preparing produce that will not be cooked.  Consider using separate cutting boards – one for meat, poultry, and seafood and a separate one for fruits and vegetables. If you use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards, run them through the dishwasher after each use. And always wash hands before and after preparing food!

Four Steps to Food Safety:

  • Clean hands and surfaces often;
  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods, particularly ready-to-eat foods;
  • Cook to safe temperatures; and
  • Chill foods promptly

Word of the Day

July 20, 2013 3:48 am

Undivided interest.  Ownership by two or more persons that gives each the right to use the entire property.