Gunning Daily News

Q: What Questions Should I Ask an Agent Interested in Selling My Home?

January 9, 2013 5:54 pm

A: Interview at least three local agents who sell homes in your community. Grill them about the following:

  • The worth of your home. The agents should inspect the home and prepare a written comparative market analysis.
  • Marketing plans. These are a must. Make sure they include regular newspaper ads, the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) – which gives your home maximum exposure to all local agents – and Internet marketing through the agent’s Web site.
  • Length of the listing agreement. A 90-day listing is reasonable for marketing your home. Experts advise against signing a listing for more than 90 days unless it contains an unconditional cancellation clause. If you like, you can always extend the contract later.
  • Number of listings. Find out how many listings the agent now has and how many she normally sells. Too many listings – more than a dozen – with a low sales rate, may not be a good sign.
  • Get references. Ask for the names and phone numbers of recent home sellers. Call them and ask if they were satisfied with the level of service delivered by the agent.

Wintertime Can Be an Excellent Time for Mulching, Planting

January 8, 2013 6:02 pm

I am curious as to what you’re all doing now that the yard has 'closed for the season.' If you answered “not much,” or “not mulch…ing,” well maybe you should be!

Andrea Peck, a Master Gardener from San Luis Obispo, Calif., recently blogged about the importance of winter mulching for property owners in her temperate region of the country. Peck writes, as winter weather lowers temperatures, replenish mulch where needed and adjust watering systems to cut down on unnecessary water use.

She also offers these pointers:

  • Move sensitive container plants to a protected location or indoors when frost threatens. And drape a sheet or burlap over a frame to protect in-ground plants.
  • Prepare vegetable beds for spring by layering on a thick sheet of mulch and fertilizer.
  • Clear out annuals past their prime and tidy thoroughly before weeds latch on and pests find a home in the fallows.
  • Prune deciduous fruit and non-fruit trees now leaving strong, healthy branches ,and trim off weak, diseased or dead branches. Branches that cross or appear crowded obstruct growth, and weak limbs exposed to high winds should be lopped.

According to Peck, if you want to do some planting, selections of bare root roses are available, along with ageratum, calendula, larkspur, lavatera, phlox. This is also the time to plant artichokes, rhubarb and other bare root vegetables.

Spring flowering bulbs, such as tulips, hyacinth and crocus can be sown now, too. Just make sure bulbs have been chilled in the refrigerator for at least 6 weeks. And ample mulching, 8”-12”, discourages weeds and frost damage.

For more region-specific winter planting and garden prep or care tips, call or web-search the Master Gardeners chapter in your region, county or state. And if you're already an expert, stay tuned for a visit with your sisters- and brothers-in-mulch in Germany.

Protect Your Home from Ice Dams this Winter

January 8, 2013 6:02 pm

As low temperatures and snow and ice storms begin to sweep across the country, ice dams increasingly are becoming a hazard for home and business owners alike.

"Cold winter months alone can cause damage to your home or your business. But, emerging challenges, such as ice dams that form and go unattended can lead to leaks, mold and even safety hazards caused by falling ice," says Michael Billings , vice president, The Hanover's safety management team. "While pre-season prevention works best, there are steps you can take now to avoid the potential of further damage."

Following are a few simple steps that can help home and business owners reduce damage from ice dams:

  • Take preventive actions to remove ice and snow from the roof to allow proper drainage. In doing so, take precautions, such as staying on the ground and using a snow rake and consider calling a professional if it is necessary to go on the roof. Additionally, it is imperative to avoid contact with electrical lines, and to watch for falling objects.
  • If there is an existing ice dam, melt a channel through the ice to the roof surface to create a drain path to relieve water build up.
    • An easy way to do this is to fill the leg of nylons with calcium chloride ice melter and place that on the roof. The long tube can melt a patch through the ice to allow drainage. You can refill or replace the ice melter to keep the channels open. Make sure the channels extend to the roof edge or gutter.
    • You can engage the services of an insured roofing contractor to remove ice buildup and ensure they don't cause additional damage to the roof.
  • If you observe water damage, hire a restoration service to dry out the walls, ceiling and structure. Minor damage can cause rot, decay and more extensive problems if it is not properly addressed.
  • Contact your roofer and an insulation company to correct the ventilation and heat transfer issues in your attic. This can prevent future problems.
  • When replacing a roof, add an ice and water shield membrane at the edge of the roof and extend it at least five feet up the roof to protect this area against water intrusion.
  • In the future, try to prevent ice dams by ventilating and insulating your attic.
  • If you have suffered damage to your property, contact your local independent insurance agent immediately.
Source: www.hanover.com

Setting up a Home Office that Fuels Productivity

January 8, 2013 6:02 pm

(BPT) - One of the biggest mistakes businesspeople make is assuming that working from home will automatically result in a higher level of productivity. Unless you carefully construct your home office environment, you may find that working from home is less productive than you anticipated.

Staples, the world's largest office products company and a trusted source for office solutions, offers the following tips for setting up your home office to help maximize your productivity.

The ideal working environment

Home office setup is an exercise in knowing yourself. Before you make any decisions, make a list of the things you need to spur productivity. Some people can work at a desk in a common area of the house with the television running in the background. Others want a closed-door environment where distractions are minimized. For some people, a home office is a place to finish up work from a regular day job. For others, a home office is a primary workspace where they spend eight or more hours of the day. Before you start rearranging the furniture, decide what you need as an absolute minimum to encourage you to use the space as intended.

The right office furniture, equipment and supplies

Once you have decided whether you're going to segregate an area of the living room, convert a spare bedroom or set yourself up in the basement or garage, you should start thinking about-home office furniture.-The type of office furniture you pick and the way you organize your space will significantly impact your productivity.

Whatever your preferences are, investing money up front in the style of office furniture that makes you comfortable will naturally lead to greater productivity. At the very least, this ensures that you won't be tempted to relocate to the bedroom instead of working at your desk. Likewise, an upfront investment in office supplies and equipment will help you get your work done faster and avoid distractions.

The cost of outfitting a home office

A basic home office setup can cost you under $500 if you already have a computer that you can relocate to your new space. There are a number functional-office furniture options-that look expensive but are actually quite affordable, especially if you are willing to put the furniture together yourself. A printer and a phone with voicemail can round out a basic home office setup.

A more advanced home office setup would include a fax machine and a photocopier. Fortunately, there are 3-in-1 office machines that combine a-printer, fax and copier all in one-piece of equipment for under $300, saving you money and space. Keep in mind, however, that a machine that does many things often offers fewer features for each specific function. For example, if your work at home requires more than the occasional photocopy, it can be more efficient to buy a dedicated copy machine that has special functionality to handle a heavier workload.

Don't forget to set aside money in your home office budget for office supplies. From paper to paper clips, you will have to buy all of the little things that you took for granted when you worked for an employer.-A home office is sometimes considered the holy grail for people who work. Who wouldn't want a comfortable home oasis where commuting is a foreign concept and the work just gets done? To achieve home office nirvana, make a plan that is specifically designed to meet your individual needs and choose the right home office furniture, equipment and supplies to make your plan a reality.

Q: Do I Need an Attorney to Sell a Home?

January 8, 2013 6:02 pm

A: Although most sellers can handle routine real estate purchase contracts, some experts say it is a good idea to be represented by an attorney, particularly if you are selling on your own. You should choose one with expertise in real estate transactions. Before hiring someone discuss all the details of the transaction, including all legal costs you will incur. A good attorney will assist you in completing the deal swiftly and with confidence.

Word of the Day

January 8, 2013 6:02 pm

Default. Breach of a contract or failure to meet a legal obligation. Nonpayment of a mortgage beyond a certain number of payments is considered a default.

Don’t Be Dumb with your Smartphone

January 7, 2013 5:22 pm

Smartphones are terrific. They keep you connected to friends, can help you find directions when you’re lost, take and post artful photos, and find local restaurant reviews when you’re starving and stranded. But for all the good that comes with your phone, there is also a whole lot of bad—specifically when it comes to identity theft. A recent study found smartphone users are at a 33 percent increased risk for identity theft. However, there are things you can do to stay one step ahead and protect your identity.

The following strategies, courtesy of BMO Harris Bank, will help you to keep your information from falling into the wrong hands:

Password protect your phone. This is the first step you should take toward protecting your identity. In the event your phone is lost or stolen, a password creates a barrier against thieves trying to access your information. Make sure the password you select is unique and not associated with other personal information (i.e. your address, phone number or birthday).

Be selective when downloading apps. While many programs are safe to use, some are actually tools created by identity thieves to collect and distribute your personal information. Before downloading an app, make sure it's from a secure source and read the description to find out what personal data is collected. If it seems suspicious, skip it.

Be careful using public Wi-Fi. Although it's tempting to tap into public Wi-Fi zones, these hotspots are frequently targeted by hackers looking to gain access to your personal information. A better bet is using your network provider connection, even if it dips into your data plan. If you must use a public connection, avoid email, online banking or buying anything with a credit card number.

Use basic computer smarts. Just as you wouldn't visit suspicious websites or open questionable links on your personal computer, you shouldn't do these things when using your phone. Also, remember to check that a site is secure before providing personal or financial information for logging in or purchasing items. The easiest way to check is by looking for "https" versus "http" in your address bar.

Use social media with caution. Many people use their Smartphones to update their social media accounts. But don't forget that in addition to your family and friends seeing these updates, identity thieves are also tapped in. Remember that anything you post on a public site can be seen by other people so you should make sure that you don't include personal information in these updates.

Source: BMO Harris Bank

Choosing Health Insurance That Meets Your Needs

January 7, 2013 5:22 pm

(Family Features)--Millions of working Americans are still without health insurance, and many more worry about whether they'll be able to afford their existing coverage due to rising health costs.
"With the rising cost of care, individuals want more affordable options when it comes to health insurance," says Scott Krienke, senior vice president, marketing and product lines at Assurant Health. "Consumers want coverage tailored to their budget and how they manage their health. Before choosing a health insurance plan, it's important to understand all the options to find the best fit for your needs."

What You Need to Know
Whether you're looking for additional coverage to supplement your employer's plan, or want an individual plan because you're self-employed or uninsured, here are a few tips to get you started.

Major Medical
Under the Affordable Care Act, major medical plans now cover 100 percent of many preventive services. Many people are familiar with major medical insurance, which can be offered by employers and which is usually most comprehensive in covering serious illness or injuries. Major medical plans generally offer the broadest protection and protect against large, unexpected medical expenses.

Fixed-Benefit Plans

In general, fixed-benefit plans pay a set amount of money when you have a covered medical service, regardless of the actual cost. For example, if the plan pays $50 when you have an X-ray, but it costs $125, after applying the plan payment of $50, you would owe $75.

Unlike a traditional plan that has deductibles, coinsurance and copays, fixed-benefit plans pay a benefit for covered services immediately. Some provide access to network discounts that can significantly decrease the total cost of care. These plans can cover a range of services from everyday office visits, preventive care and prescriptions, to hospitalization and surgery. Check to see if there are pre-existing condition limitations for the first 12 months of coverage.

Fixed-benefit plans can offer significant coverage. For example, hospitalization reimbursement can be as much as $6,000 per day depending on the plan. Some even offer tools to help manage costs, like guaranteed cost estimates for common services and treatments.

Analyzing Your Insurance Needs

How do you decide what type of plan is right for you? It depends on your needs, what's most important to you, and sometimes the tradeoffs you are willing to make to get the coverage you want at an affordable price. Here is information on those types of plans to help in your decision-making:

Fixed-Benefit Plan

  • Gives you help with everyday, common medical needs that you are more likely to have.
  • Helps you pay for immediate expenses that you are most likely to encounter.
  • Gives you more control over your monthly medical expenses. You are willing to take the risk that out-of-pocket costs may exceed the amount of the fixed benefit, and that you would be required to pay remaining balances.

Major Medical Plan

  • Provides major medical protection and coverage for your unexpected health care expenses.
  • Protects your assets and income while you pay for everyday smaller costs.
  • Helps you prepare for unexpected medical expenses. You pay premium, deductibles and coinsurance in exchange for knowing your costs are capped.

Identify Supplemental Insurance Plans

Once a decision is made to purchase a major medical plan or fixed-benefit product, supplemental plans can be used to fill gaps in coverage and create additional protection. Supplemental insurance, which can be offered through the workplace or sold individually, offers limited coverage for specific health care needs such as in-hospital care, dental checkups or vision.

"Do your homework, and weigh your options -- there are affordable plans that can fit into your budget and give you the coverage you need to help protect yourself and your family," says Tim Knott, senior vice president of strategic markets and product management for Assurant Employee Benefits. "Supplemental insurance provides a wide array of benefits that can help employees cope with out-of-pocket expenses including those associated with serious accidents or illnesses."

Plans may include:

  • Dental - Provides benefits for dental checkups and treatment, which can contribute to better overall health. Many plans provide benefits for additional services such as crowns and orthodontia.
  • Vision - Generally will cover vision exams and pay a portion of glasses and contact lens expenses. Some also provide network discounts.
  • Accident - Provides benefits for medical care necessary due to an accident. Some also provide benefits for death expenses, dismemberment and disability.
  • Critical Illness and Cancer - Provides benefits for diagnosis and treatment of specifically named diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. Many provide a lump sum payment upon diagnosis.
  • Hospital Indemnity - Provides benefits for a period of continuous in-hospital care. Some provide benefits for certain outpatient services and costs associated with necessary surgery.

Source: www.assuranthealth.com

Grandparents: Protect Your Grandchildren from Medication Accidents

January 7, 2013 5:22 pm

(Family Features) Grandparents know children are curious and do everything possible to keep them safe as they explore. Grandparents love when their grandchildren come to visit, but they do not always remember to take extra precautions to put their medicines and vitamins up and away and out of sight before their grandkids arrive. In fact, in a recent survey from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, nearly one out of every four grandparents said they store prescription medicines in easy-access places, including daily-dose boxes that children can easily open, and 18 percent said they store over-the-counter medicines in easily accessible spots.

Annually, more than 60,000 young children -- or roughly four school busloads of children per day -- age five or younger are treated in emergency departments (ED) for accidental ingestion of household medicines, according to Dan Budnitz, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC's Medication Safety Program.

"Grandparents may not be aware that their next dose of medicine left out on the counter is a potential source of harm for their curious young grandchildren," says Budnitz. "A few simple steps -- followed every time -- can keep their grandchildren safe from harm."

In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) PROTECT Initiative, CDC and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) Educational Foundation created the Up and Away and Out of Sight educational program to help parents, grandparents and caregivers understand how to best store and safeguard the medicines they use so young children cannot access them.

The following tips and resources can help to make sure your grandchildren are always protected:

  • Keep all medicines and vitamins up and away and out of sight in a high cabinet or other place inaccessible to your grandchildren.
  • Keep purses, bags, or coats that have medicines or vitamins in them out of their reach and sight.
  • Remember to never leave medicines or vitamins out on a table, countertop, or bedside table where your grandchildren could reach them -- always make sure the caps are locked and put them away every time they are used.
  • Set a daily reminder to take your medicines and vitamins on your refrigerator or a location you check on a daily basis, since they will be safely stored up and away and out of sight.
  • Program the national Poison Help number, 1-800-222-1222, along with other emergency contact numbers into your home and cell phone, so they are available in case of an emergency.

"Spending time with grandchildren is so special, and no grandparent wants to unintentionally put young children in harm's way by leaving medicines and vitamins out. When grandchildren come to visit, it is important to be vigilant about making sure all medicines and vitamins are safely stored in 'up-and-away' places, rather than places kids can easily reach or rummage through," says Emily Skor, vice president of Communications and Alliance Development at CHPA.

Safe medicine and vitamin storage should be practiced year round at home and away from home. Grandparents often take a variety of medications. They must be cautious about safe medicine storage when their grandchildren stay with them. Returning medicines and vitamins to a safe location every time they are used can help prevent the accidental ingestions and ED visits by young children each year.

Explaining Medicine Safety to Children
Families take medicines and vitamins to feel well or stay well. However, any kind of medicine or vitamin can cause harm if taken in the wrong way or by the wrong person, even medicine bought without a prescription. It is important for parents, grandparents and caregivers to teach children about medicine safety to avoid accidental ingestions.

Talk to children about what medicine is and why you must be the one to give it to them.
Never tell children medicine is candy to get them to take it, even if your child does not like to take his or her medicine.

Source: www.UpandAway.org

Word of the Day

January 7, 2013 5:22 pm

Deed restrictions. Provisions placed in deeds to control how future landowners may or may not use the property. Also called deed covenants.