Gunning Daily News

Easing New Year’s Angst: Three Ways to Help Soothe Your Soul

January 11, 2013 5:14 pm

Finding peace in the midst of the chaos of a new year can be a daunting task. But there are many ways to ease the angst and find enjoyment in the bustle of the season.

San Francisco clergyman and counselor George McLaird suggests five healthy and meaningful ways to inspire new-year cheer:

  1. Commit to do less - Stress is often a result of trying to do too much. Decide to eat, drink, and spend less. Take a walk, really see your surroundings, read and find other simple pleasures. While you're at it, take some long, deep breaths at least once a day to relax your body.
  2. Give to those in need - Giving to a needy family can help increase your enjoyment of the new year. Contact a church or a social services organization that connects people in need with people who want to help. You can give gifts, which are especially appreciated by children, or provide a meal. You can also remain anonymous and let someone else deliver your gifts. Then close your eyes and imagine the joy you have provided for someone else
  3. Be nice to you – You don’t have to go to the office party or that party you’d rather not attend. Choose to do what you enjoy. Do something fun alone or with others – get a manicure, spend time with an old friend, or schedule a play date with your children or grandchildren. Go to the gym. See a movie or concert – or a worship service if that appeals to you. Above all, be your own boss and decide what will make you happiest.

Maintaining Your Home Investment

January 11, 2013 5:14 pm

(BPT) - Home ownership is an important investment that can create both a sense of pride and a place in the world that is all your own. While the investment in purchasing or building your own home is sizeable, letting your home fall into disrepair can be even more costly. However, home maintenance doesn't have to be a daunting task. By following a few simple steps and making maintenance a regular activity, you'll not only preserve the quality of your home, but you'll likely save money over the long term.

Keep a regular maintenance schedule

Whether you've just moved in or have lived in your home for decades, it's important to establish a regular routine to maintain your home. Some tasks should be checked off the list regularly, while others are more seasonal. Start a list or put reminders on your calendar for these important to-dos:
  • Regularly test fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Replace air filters for heating and cooling systems according to owner's manuals.
  • Schedule regular furnace and water heater maintenance.
  • Check electrical outlets to ensure proper function.
  • Weatherproof doors and windows according to the season.
  • Don't underestimate regular cleaning to keep your home in top shape.

Invest in items that protect your investments:
Regular home maintenance is worth your while and certain investments can ensure your home remains in top shape for years to come. There are many different products designed to help you maintain your home investment by making it easier to clean, protect, update and more. For example, if pets are part of your family, investing in a great vacuum can help keep your house pet hair free, while a home security system will help ensure your home and possessions are protected at all times.

If you're building a new home or remodeling, consider products designed to maintain your investments. For example, KraftMaid's CoreGuard sink base, an engineered polymer cabinet interior, is designed to protect from leaks and spills that commonly occur under the sink. Available through dealers, Lowe's or The Home Depot, CoreGuard offers a simple solution to protect cabinetry for the long term.

What's on the outside counts too.
While you may experience the benefits of interior maintenance more regularly, outdoor maintenance is just as important in taking care of your home. Tasks like making sure gutters are clear and siding is clean and damage-free help ensure that the exterior of your home stays beautiful. Strategic landscaping can help with heating or cooling costs by allowing light in or providing shade where needed. It can also help by diverting water away from the house to avoid leaks or damage. Additionally, an investment in the exterior of your house can enhance the curb appeal and make it a joy to come home to every day.

Kitchen and Beyond: Stainless Steel & Top Kitchen Trends For 2013

January 11, 2013 5:14 pm

As I begin the first few tentative steps into my own 'kitchen and beyond' remodeling project, we'll be sharing with you a number of ideas and tips learned along the way. One of the early resources for ideas about kitchen remodeling was Stanton Homes (stantonhomes.com) in Apex, NC.

Many of the latest homes that company is designing locate kitchens directly off, or open to the home's large great rooms. These Stanton kitchen now looks less "kitcheny" and more often like an inviting place to gather and entertain, with decorative elements that are strong right now include natural finishes like wood and stone complimented by glass, shiny metallics, special attention to lighting details, and even crystal.

Andrea Enns, Stanton Homes' Interior Design expert also reaffirmed that it is quite a "safe" to invest in stainless steel appliances and finishes. Enns says since stainless steel has been used in the best kitchens for over a century due to its universal appeal, its ability to provide a sterile surface, its shiny appearance, as well as its association with luxury.

On another front, the Consumer's Voice for Kitchen and Bath Remodeling (myconsumersvoice.com) is promoting three new kitchen trends for 2013, including:

  • Soft Contemporary – A simpler approach of the modern kitchen, a soft contemporary design doesn’t have as many harsh lines, but more soft accents throughout the space. This look can be achieved through modern accents in a more traditional space such as contemporary bar stools or lighting.
  • New Traditional – Instead of the “transitional” kitchen name, new traditional is much like transitional but has more emphasis on classic touches. Instead of the large, overbearing feel of a traditional kitchen, the new traditional design feels much lighter.
  • Eclectic – This design trend is less of one style as it is a mixture of many. We see a lot of spaces putting together different finishes, patterns and textures to create a space that is truly one of a kind.

We will focus on other remodeling and historic restoration projects as our 'Kitchen and Beyond...' series continues.

Word of the Day

January 11, 2013 5:14 pm

Discount broker. Full-service broker who charges less than the prevailing commission rates in his or her community.

Q: Do I Really Need a Real Estate Agent?

January 11, 2013 5:14 pm

A: Most home sellers hire real estate agents to list and sell their homes. Most of those who do not are known as For Sale By Owners, or FSBOs. They market and sell their homes themselves.

However, a small number of people sell without marketing their homes. They include homeowners who transfer property to family members or landlords who directly offer tenants the first right to purchase property before they place it for sale on the market.

In the end, most FSBOs eventually hire an agent because the agent will handle all the details of a successful home sale – including the contract, forms, and disclosure statements – and expose the home to the widest range of prospective buyers through the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

IRS Red Flags: Top 5 Reporting Tips That May Spare You from a Tax Audit

January 11, 2013 5:14 pm

The IRS audits only slightly more than 1% of all individual tax returns annually. So the chances you will be audited are slim. But, say the audit-watchers at Kiplinger.com, there are several hot spot areas on your return that can raise the chances of IRS scrutiny:

  • Making too much money – People with incomes of $200,000 or higher had an audit rate of 3.93 percent, or one out of about 25 returns. The audit rate drops significantly for filers making less than $200,000, and the majority of them are conducted by mail. Of course you don’t want to earn less money. But understand that the more income you report, the more likely you'll hear from the IRS.
  • Failing to report all taxable income – The IRS gets copies of all 1099s and W-2s you receive, and their computers are pretty good at matching the forms with the income reported on your return - so make sure you report all income.
  • Taking large charitable deductions – Charitable contributions are a great tax write-off and worthwhile besides. But claiming disproportionately large deductions compared with your income raises a red flag with the IRS. Be sure to keep all supporting documents, including appraisals for donations of valuable property.
  • Claiming the home office deduction – This can be a great deduction if you qualify. But to qualify, you must use the space in one room of your home exclusively and regularly as your principal place of business – and you must be able to prove it.
  • Deducting business meals, travel and entertainment - Schedule C is a treasure trove of tax deductions for self-employed people. But it's also a gold mine for IRS agents, who know from experience that self-employeds sometimes claim excessive deductions. Big deductions are ripe for audit, so keep detailed records and receipts, including names of those you entertained and the nature of each business meeting or discussion as well as the need for related travel expenses.

Don't Eat Away Your Retirement

January 11, 2013 5:14 pm

Saving is tough, and every now and then, it’s nice to splurge—especially on a meal out. Or maybe grabbing a mid-day meal is your preferred way of easing the stress of the workday. But if you go out for lunch four days a week, over the course of a 40-year working life, you've eaten away nearly $60,000!

Still not convinced that bringing lunch to work is a smart decision? Read the following reasons, courtesy of BMO Harris Bank.

  • It's healthier. Packing your own lunch gives you complete command over exactly what you eat and how much you eat. Think portion control.
  • It's cheaper than eating out. A typical sit-down lunch at a restaurant can run you anywhere from $8 - $15. Add tax and tip on top of that, and you could be spending as much as $350 PER MONTH on lunch.
  • You can make new friends. Since everyone shares the employee lunchroom, eating your lunch there (and not at your desk) may provide you the opportunity to have conversations with others whom you may not typically interact.
  • Leftovers. Leftovers aren't just for dinner. The next time you make one of your favorite meals, prepare at least one extra, smaller, portion to take to work. Pasta typically heats up easily.
  • Time is your friend. You aren't wasting precious minutes getting to your lunch destination, standing in line, or waiting for your order to be prepared.
Can't see yourself going cold turkey and bringing your lunch every day? Then start out small. Even taking it to the office twice a week will help build your savings.

"You can save hundreds of dollars each year if you simply cut back on that morning latte," says Julie Curran, Regional President, BMO Harris Bank. "You'll be amazed how quickly the savings add up."

Source: BMO Harris branch.

5 Tips for a Successful Franchise

January 11, 2013 5:14 pm

The current economic climate has many Americans adjusting their career paths, and exploring new opportunities—including starting their own businesses. Since 2001, the number of people who primarily work on their own has increased by 1.3 million to reach 10.6 million, a significant 14 percent, according to a recent Forbes article.

Read the following advice for those harboring franchise dreams, provided by Home Instead Senior Care.

  1. Think demographics. Consider the population composition, nationally, globally and in your community. What are its needs, behaviors and preferences? How do people live their daily lives? You'll want to identify where consumers in your target market spend their money and how they make financial decisions to determine what products and services they'll find worthwhile. Then deliver on one of those products or services.
  2. Doing what you love pays. Know yourself. Awareness of your preferences and natural strengths, and pursuing your interests is critical. You're most likely to excel and work hard when you find the work meaningful and you are passionate about it.
  3. Address unmet needs. The most successful businesses meet important yet unmet needs, which allows them to occupy niches with little or no competition. Apple with its iPhone, did just this — bringing together, in a mobile device, information useful to people while on the move. Home Instead Senior Care also founded its business on the unmet need of a growing senior population and the generation's intention to age in place.
  4. Don't underestimate the power of good timing. Interest rates for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, for example, are at an all-time low. Starting a business when rates are favorable can help lock-in terms that free capital over time and reduce overall business costs.
  5. Partner for success. Do you have a great business mind, but your spouse is terrific with people? Your talented spouse can balance weaknesses (and vice versa) that could otherwise hinder your success. A husband-wife partnership enables you to bring a robust and well-rounded skill-set to market. Those not quite ready to give a new business idea a try may consider buying into an existing franchise.

Source: Home Instead Senior Care

Word of the Day

January 11, 2013 5:14 pm

Depreciation. Gradual decline on paper in market value of real estate, especially because of age, obsolescence, wear and tear, or economic conditions.

Q: What If I Am Not Happy with the Listing Agent and Want to Terminate the Contract?

January 11, 2013 5:14 pm

A: Experts say unhappiness is not a legal reason to terminate a valid home sale-listing contract. Legally, to cancel a listing, you must be able to prove the agent's lack of "due diligence." This means the agent isn't taking the normal steps to properly market your home, such as putting your listing into the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), advertising on the Internet and in local newspapers, and posting a for-sale sign on the property.
If your home is overpriced, perhaps you need to consider reducing the price to spark buyer interest. Otherwise, you may need to meet with the listing agent and his or her supervising broker to discuss the problem. If the agent is doing an awful job, you might suggest the listing be transferred to a more effective agent within the same brokerage firm.

Remember, limit the listing contract to 90 days, in case you become unhappy and would like to get another agent after the contract expires.