Gunning Daily News

Word of the Day

February 26, 2013 5:52 pm

Improvement. Any form of land development or man-made addition, such as the erection of a building or fence, to enhance the value of private property; also an improvement to publicly owned structures, such as a sewer or road.

Q: Does the Government Offer Assistance with Home Improvements?

February 26, 2013 5:52 pm

A: Yes. Two very popular programs offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) include the Title 1 Home Improvement Loan and the Section 203(k) Program. In the first program, HUD insures the loan up to $25,000 for a single-family house to cover alterations, repairs, and site improvements. The latter program, which also insures mortgage loans, is HUD’s primary program for the rehabilitation and repair of single-family homes. Loans are also available from the Department of Veteran Affairs to buy, build, or improve a home, as well as refinance an existing loan at interest rates that are usually lower than that on conventional loans. The Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Loan program, funded by the Agriculture Department, offers low-rate loans to low-income rural residents who own and occupy a home in need of repairs. Funds are also available to improve or modernize a home or to remove health and safety hazards. The federal government isn’t alone in its efforts to provide assistance. Local and state governments offer special home improvement programs. Contact your governor or mayor’s office for more details.

For Californians, Homeowner Bill Of Rights Becomes a Reality

February 26, 2013 4:52 pm

Regional Spotlight—The California Homeowner Bill of Rights became law on January 1, so I - a former SoCal resident - thought it would be a good idea to take a look at this new legislation.

According to information from the California Attorney General's Office, the California Homeowner Bill of Rights will ensure fair lending and borrowing practices for California homeowners; is designed to guarantee basic fairness and transparency for homeowners in foreclosure; and could perhaps serve as a model for other states.

Key provisions of the new bill include:

Restriction on dual track foreclosure: Mortgage servicers are restricted from advancing the foreclosure process if the homeowner is working on securing a loan modification.

Guaranteed single point of contact:
Homeowners are guaranteed a single point of contact as they navigate the system and try to keep their homes – a person or team at the bank who knows the facts of their case.

Verification of documents: Lenders that record and file multiple unverified documents will be subject to a civil penalty of up to $7,500 per loan in an action brought by a civil prosecutor. Lenders who are in violation are also subject to enforcement by licensing agencies.

Enforceability: Borrowers will have authority to seek redress of “material” violations of the new foreclosure process protections. Injunctive relief will be available prior to a foreclosure sale and recovery of damages will be available following a sale.

Tenant rights: Purchasers of foreclosed homes are required to give tenants at least 90 days before starting eviction proceedings. There are added provisions if a tenant signed a fixed-term lease before transfer of title at the foreclosure sale.

Tools to prosecute mortgage fraud: The statute of limitations to prosecute mortgage-related crimes is extended from one to three years. And the AG can use a statewide grand jury to investigate and indict perpetrators of financial crimes across multiple counties.

Tools to curb blight: Local governments and receivers have additional tools to fight blight caused by multiple vacant homes, from more time to allow homeowners to remedy code violations to a means to compel the owners of foreclosed property to pay for upkeep.

If you would like to learn more, visit www.oag.ca.gov/hbor.

Decoding Cat Behavior

February 26, 2013 4:52 pm

(Family Features)—Cats are known as mysterious creatures. While some of the things they do can be puzzling at times, you don’t have to be a super sleuth to decode your pet’s behaviors.

Steve Dale, certified behaviorist, author and host of “Steve Dale’s Pet World” radio show, has answers for common questions about feline quirks.

What does it mean when my cat rubs her chin and body against me?
A lot of cat owners assume that rubbing is a sign of affection. What we do know is it might actually mean is that your cat is marking her territory. Cats don’t only rub their people in this way – they may rub up against doors, chair legs and the computer on your lap.

Cats have scent glands in their cheeks and sides. So when they rub on something, the cat is leaving its personal mark, depositing pheromones. This lets other cats know that they’ve staked a claim to a particular bit of territory – including you. So in a quirky feline way, it is a sign of affection.

When my cat sniffs something, sometimes her mouth is open and lips are pulled back – what is that about?

The feline sense of smell is much stronger than that of humans. While people have about five million odor-sensitive cells in their noses, cats have about 200 million. Cats also have an extra olfactory organ, called the Jacobson’s organ, located on the roof of the mouth and connected to the nasal cavity. So when your cat gets a whiff of something unusual or especially interesting, she will open her mouth and inhale the scent so it reaches the Jacobson’s organ. This intensifies the smell and gives your cat more information about whatever she is sniffing.

I’ve heard that spaying or neutering cats makes them lazier – is that true?

Spaying and neutering can help cats live longer lives, prevent unwanted litters and reduce territorial behaviors. However the hormonal changes that come with spaying and neutering can cause an up to 20 percent increase in appetite and an up to 30 percent decrease in metabolism. These changes mean that spayed or neutered cats are almost 3.5 times more likely to be overweight than other cats, putting them at an increased risk for obesity. Feline obesity is an epidemic and can eventually lead to other health issues, such as diabetes, arthritis and non-allergic skin conditions.

Financial Considerations beyond the 'Fiscal Cliff'

February 26, 2013 4:52 pm

(BPT) - With the agreement reached at the eleventh hour of 2012 to avert components of the so-called "fiscal cliff," nearly all taxpayers will be affected in some way.- With that in mind, there are still many things you can do this year to prepare for potential additional tax changes and to take control of your financial situation.-

Below are 10 options from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans for you to consider as you prepare for your financial future in 2013 and beyond.

1. Consider an IRA-qualified charitable distribution.

People 70 1/2 and older, who are required to take minimum distributions from their traditional IRAs, may give up to $100,000 directly from their IRAs to qualified charities. This will satisfy the required minimum distribution, or RMD, requirements and no taxes will be due on the amount of the contribution.

2. Know your tax bracket.
Now that tax rates are higher at some levels, it's more important than ever to know which tax bracket you fall into. Ask your financial representative and accountant about strategies to keep your taxable income at a reasonable level.

3. Consider converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.
Given current historically low federal tax rates, you may want to consider locking in now and paying taxes while rates are low for most people. If you choose to convert later, you may be doing so at a higher rate.

4. Look closely at your 401(k) contributions.
You may want to consider making after-tax Roth 401(k) contributions, due to the low tax rates. Conversely, higher-income earners may want to focus on making pre-tax 401(k) contributions to decrease their taxable income.

5. Consider investing in municipal bonds.

The interest earned on municipal bonds is generally exempt of federal income tax and can help to diversify your overall portfolio.

6. Consider cash value life insurance.

In addition to protecting your family financially after you die, fixed cash value life insurance also can help you reach your broader financial goals while you're living by helping you to diversify your assets.

7. Understand the benefits of inherited IRAs.

They can help your beneficiary take distributions over the maximum period allowed by federal required minimum distribution (RMD) rules, and give your assets the potential to continue to grow tax-deferred for your heirs.

8. Consider harvesting long-term capital gains.

Sell eligible assets while top tax rates for most taxpayers on long-term capital gains is just 15 percent.

9. Consider using unneeded life insurance and annuity contracts to pay long-term care insurance premiums.

The exchange may be free of federal income taxes and help preserve your estate and way of life. This is especially important to households hit by the 3.8 percent Medicare surtax and higher income tax rates.

10. Review your financial and estate strategies
Based on history and our debt situation, it's likely federal (and state) income tax rates will increase sometime in the future. Review your financial and estate strategies and take appropriate actions now that estate law is permanent.

5 Ways to Update Your Bathroom for Less

February 25, 2013 6:14 pm

“These days,” says California bathroom designer Ted Reedy, “you can spend $15,000 or more to remodel an outdated bathroom. But while a trendy bath appeals to buyers and ultimately adds value to your home, you can achieve a fresh new look and improve functionality while spending whole lot less.”

Reedy suggests five ways to improve your old bathroom without spending any more than you need to:

Reface vanity/cabinets –
You can give bathroom cabinets and/or vanity a whole new look by refacing – not replacing – the old, tired-looking front surfaces. Refacing will cost just a third of the replacement cost and add new life to the room.
Add a stylish sink - Consider an integrated sink, which has no edges or hangovers from the countertop to the sink, or a bowl sink, which sits above the countertop, for between $150-$500. Even installing a shiny new chrome faucet and/or porcelain handles can be a smart and stylish small investment.
Change the lighting – Improve your bathroom’s look and feel by replacing those glaring overhead lights. Accent lighting, such as canister lights installed in the ceiling, or track lighting installed over the sink, will improve functionality and appearance at a very reasonable cost.
Update the flooring –Replacing vinyl tiles or linoleum with porcelain, ceramic or natural stone tiles is a cost-effective and savvy investment. Choose simple tile designs you can install yourself or have professionally installed.
Change the shower head - Turn your shower into an oasis you will enjoy by updating your shower head with a rain head. They can cost as little as $100 and the small investment can be a real turn-on to buyers when the time comes to sell.

Caring for Your Pets and the Home You Share with Them

February 25, 2013 6:14 pm

Since February is Responsible Pet Owner's Month, I will wrap up our series on taking the best care of your pet, while keeping your home free of all the damage pets may provide, along with all that wonderful companionship!

A recent post on Jedimoney.com takes a look at the damage a pet can render to your garden and landscaping. The feature, which is not sourced, offers these tips to protect your outdoor space from pet damage:

1. Install a Trellis - Perhaps you could use a trellis for plants that climb, such as peas? Installing a trellis immediately after crops have been planted in the soil can help to protect the plants. Essentially, a trellis works to keep animals out and away from an area, but can simultaneously look attractive in a garden.

2. Leave Mulch in Place
- It is a good idea to use small patches of soil to rake back mulch. Interestingly, bare soil is most attractive to animals, so if you cover soil with mulch, you are taking a positive step to protecting your garden from pet damage.

3. Layer Well-Branched Sticks on Garden Beds - The use of even a few well-branched sticks on your garden beds can help to deter dogs and cats. It is best to layer the branches so that they are overlapping and that the garden bed is lightly covered. Having said this, ensure that you don’t use so many sticks that it ends up preventing light from reaching the soil. When your crops are sufficiently large that they risk becoming tangled in the wood, it is likely that your pets will not be so interested in the garden beds. At this time, it is fairly safe to take the sticks away and perhaps even use them for firewood.

4. Work Out Why Your Pets Are Destroying Your Garden Beds
- It is not uncommon for cats to dig up plants and destroy garden beds, because they think the loose soil will make a perfect litter box. If this is relevant to the destruction happening in your garden, you could consider building your cat a sandpit so that they may freely scratch and dig!

5. Use a Natural Dog Repellent - Florists, horticulturalists and gardeners have long been aware and made use of natural repellents to protect plants from creatures causing damage. Natural dog repellents have the advantages of not causing harm to dogs or plants, as well as being inexpensive and easy to use. There are a number of different natural dog repellents that can be applied to deter a dog from damaging your garden.

When it comes to protecting your property, jedimoney.com says taking a number of simple steps can help protect your garden from damage that is commonly caused by pets.

Avoid These Common Home Improvement Blunders

February 25, 2013 6:14 pm

(BPT) - Consumer complaints and lawsuits regarding home improvements are on the rise according to Ripoff Reports; a homeowner that does not do their homework before embarking on a project could find themselves with poor workmanship, inferior products, health and safety issues or even legal problems.

So what's a homeowner in need of a fix up to do?

"Start by reviewing the three most common mistakes people make when embarking on a home improvement project," says Dave Harrison, chief marketing officer of Champion Windows, Sunrooms, Roofing and Home Exteriors, one of the nation's leading home improvement companies.

No.1: Buying Only on Price
Your home is probably one of the most expensive items you own, so making improvements is not the place to budget shop.- "Make sure you are getting quality products professionally installed. A properly done home improvement should only have to be done once," added Harrison, "and remember the old adage 'you get what you pay for'."

No. 2: Not looking at the Long Term Investment Benefits
When your home improvement project is finally over, you should be getting more than an upgrade to your home; you should also see an increase in your home's value. When you do it right you can reduce energy and maintenance costs and increase comfort and pride in your home, and never have to worry about it again for as long as you own your home.

On the flip side a poorly executed project can lower the value of your home, have to be re-done in several years and even put your family's health at risk. For example, water damage from faulty windows could cause mold.

No. 3: Not Knowing How to Screen a Contractor

"I've seen many independently owned contractors close their businesses after a short year or two," said Harrison. "When selecting a contractor to work with it is important to get a sense of who they are, what products they use and how long they have been in business."

According to Harrison there are four essential questions to ask during this screening process:
- Who designs it?
- Who builds it?
- Who installs it?
- Who guarantees it?

"When you don't get the correct answers to these four questions you may end up with an inferior investment, expensive surprises, property damage or even lawsuits and liabilities," says Harrison.

"Ultimately, the answer you want is that there is a single source of accountability for your project. Having one company design, build, install and guarantee the product and work can save you time, money and hassles in the long run."

Make sure you have a contractor relationship you can trust for the long-term. This long-term relationship starts with a quality product and professional installation and includes a lifetime warranty from a company that has longevity and provides you with a sense that they will still be in business five or ten years down the road. -You should also ensure that your warranty is transferable, applies to all systems, applications and materials, and is non-prorated. A non-prorated warranty is considered to be the most valuable as it means that the manufacturer or seller will replace or repair the item at no cost to the buyer if there is a problem with a product.

Word of the Day

February 25, 2013 6:14 pm

HUD. Acronym for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an agency from which almost all of the federal government’s housing programs flow.

Q: What Is a Lease Option?

February 25, 2013 6:14 pm

A: It is an agreement between a renter and a landlord in which the renter signs a lease with an option to purchase the property. The option only binds the seller; the tenant has a choice to make a purchase or not.
Lease options are common among buyers who would like to own a home but do not have enough money for the down payment and closing costs. A lease option may also be attractive to tenants who are working to improve bad credit before approaching a lender for a home loan.