January 28, 2013 5:52 pm
A: The short answer: A home is ultimately worth what is paid for it. Everything else is really an estimate of value. Take, for example, a hot seller’s market when demand for housing is high but the inventory of available homes for sale is low. During this time, homes can sell above and beyond the asking price as buyers bid up the price. The fair market value, or worth, is established when “a meeting of the minds” between you and the buyer takes place.
January 28, 2013 5:52 pm
Escrow account. Special bank account into which escrow monies are deposited and from which they are disbursed. Lawyers and real estate brokers maintain escrow accounts to hold money in trust for others.
January 25, 2013 5:42 pm
This January, I am not only taking a look down those stairs and shining a light on some of the most common winter basement issues, but providing tips on turning that dark hole into wholly usable space.
This brings us to recent advice from thesimpledollar.com, on the ROI (return on investment) if you're thinking of converting part of your basement into an indoor veggie garden. The Simple Dollar recently did the math on maintaining a basement garden to grow your own fresh food.
The costs today may be slightly higher or lower, but it's a good guideline to judge whether you want to consider taking your summer gardening hobby indoors full-time, and bear the fruit (or veggies) of that decision.
First, a single industrial grow light retailing for about $300 would be required to convert a clear 80 square foot basement area into a greenhouse space. A grow light that size uses 1,000 watts of energy - so running it 12 hours a day for 3 months equates to 1,080 hours of use.
That will cost you between $120 and $150 per season.
Seeds could be as cheap as $3 per growing session, assuming that you’re not using heirlooms, in which case there would be a one-time cost of $4 or $5, according to thesimpledollar.com. All told the space, energy and supplies are estimated to run $1,640, or $164 per season for the first 10 years.
To give some perspective, that means each season if you just grow one item - say 800 pounds of tomatoes - this would yield a cost per pound of about 20 cents, compared to the retail cost of about $3 a pound.
Now comes the clincher - time. It could take as much as 100 hours per season to maintain this type of garden, or more based on the diversity of your plantings.
And if you don't have an outlet for your harvests, you may incur more time and costs for canning supplies or other types of processing. Maybe a rec. room would be more fun - we'll pick up on that in our next segment on basements.
January 25, 2013 5:42 pm
It’s been said that the kitchen is the heart of your home – a friendly gathering point, a place for sustenance, a spot where the family can work together to create a memorable meal.
“It is important for a kitchen to provide the space, the ambience, and the necessary amenities to make all these things more enjoyable,” said kitchen designer Mick De Giulio, who has designed more than 3,000 beautiful and practical kitchens since he began his career at the age of 19.
Whether you are shopping for a home or preparing to remodel the kitchen you have, De Giulio offers his seven top tips for what every great kitchen should have:
- Natural light – Look for more ways to maximize light, from creating bigger windows to adding a skylight to using more reflective surfaces, such as glass and stainless steel.
- Comfort – It’s nice to have some soft seating in the ktichen, a small TV, and – if you have or can create the space – a fireplace.
- Visual texture – Include a mix of woods, countertop materials, and finishes that create warmth, personality, and mood.
- An island – If space allows, an island becomes the social center of the kitchen as well as an expanded work space.
- High performance appliances – Today’s high-efficiency burners, and ovens with convection and self-cleaning features are indispensable for the dedicated cook.
- Integrated refrigeration – Creating cabinet facades to hide refrigeration units provides a tremendous amount of design freedom. Eliminating the traditional large, boxy element makes a kitchen feel more room-like.
- A hook – Every great kitchen needs a visual ‘hook’ – that one unique element that just pulls you in, like a distinctive range hood, a well-stocked pot rack, or a really lovely floor design or backsplash.
- Ice cream – Without it, De Giulio said, no kitchen is complete.
January 25, 2013 5:42 pm
(BPT) - Some rules are meant to be broken - like the one about not wearing white after Labor Day. Others should remain sacrosanct, such as the rules of good credit. Those are the kind of rules that can make life easier and happier when you follow them - and help ensure your finances stay in good order, too.
Unlike fashion rules, the rules of good credit are really not subject to interpretation or personal opinion. They derive from the formulae that credit bureaus and lenders use to calculate your credit score.
So what are the 10 unbreakable rules of good credit? Here they are in descending order, a la David Letterman:
10. Create a budget and stick to it. Your budget should cover everyday expenses and allow for the smart use of credit.
9. Use credit cards wisely. Smart use of revolving credit - not carrying a balance, paying the full balance immediately - is an important component of a healthy credit score. Unwise use, such as running up debt, can lower your score. And in that vein ...
8. Always pay more than the minimum balance on your credit cards. Ideally, you would pay off the entire balance right away, but if that's not possible, pay more than the minimum - as much as you can afford. Paying only the minimum balance means it will take years - and thousands in interest charges - to pay off your debt.
7. When applying for a loan - which includes applying for new credit cards - do so wisely. Comparison shop and make your applications (if you'll be making more than one) in a short amount of time, so that those credit inquiries will only count against your credit score once. Stretching applications over time, or making too many in a short amount of time, can negatively impact your credit score.
6. Your credit utilization ratio - the amount you owe compared to the amount of credit you have available - is a key factor in determining your credit score. Avoid maxing out your credit - including credit cards or home equity lines of credit. At any given time, try to keep three quarters to two thirds of your total available credit free for use.
5. Don't immediately close a credit card account just because it's paid off. Doing so can skew your credit utilization ratio. Before you close an account, be sure you understand what impact - if any - the action will have on your credit score.
4. Practice identity theft protection measures. From shredding sensitive paper documents before trashing them, to keeping your PC's virus protection software up to date, it's important to take steps to protect your credit from identity theft and fraud.
3. If you're in financial trouble, don't practice avoidance. If you can't pay your bills, contact your creditors to work out a payment plan, but know that not making minimum payments may negatively impact your credit score. Being proactive may not solve your financial woes but it can help minimize the negative impact on your credit.
2. Keep an eye on your credit score. Maybe you're in the habit of reviewing your credit report once a year, or only check it when you're planning to apply for a loan, but it's important to stay on top of your credit score all the time. Fortunately, the Internet has made it easy to monitor your credit report and score. Enrolling in membership of a product like freecreditscore.com can help you understand your credit. With enrollment, you get credit score alerts, identity protection alerts and fraud resolution support if you find an error on your credit report.
And, the No. 1 rule of good credit:
1. Pay your bills on time. A consistent, long-term history of timely bill paying goes a long way toward a healthy credit score. In fact, a solid payment history can pull up your score even if there are other negatives on your credit report, such as a high ratio of credit used to credit available. Not paying your bills on time - or at all - is a surefire recipe for bad credit.
January 25, 2013 5:42 pm
A: Buying directly at a legal foreclosure sale is risky. Among the disadvantages:
There is no financing. You need cash and lots of it.
The title needs to be checked before the purchase. If not, you risk assuming a seriously deficient title.
It may not be possible to inspect the property’s interior before the sale. So you have no idea of the property’s condition.
Foreclosures are routinely purchased “as is,” which means you cannot go back to the seller for repairs.
Also, estate and foreclosure sales are the only property sales that are exempt from some state disclosure laws. In both instances, the law protects the seller – usually the heir or financial institution – who has recently acquired the property through adverse circumstances and may have little or no direct information about it.
January 25, 2013 5:42 pm
Escrow. Money or documents held by a third party until specific conditions of an agreement or contract are fulfilled.
January 25, 2013 4:12 pm
I know all too well the clutter of hastily stored pots and pans jammed into 'the cabinet' every time the door is opened. Almost every kitchen has one.
But there has to be a better, and even more appealing way, to store the variety of pots and pans a typical homeowner needs to conduct their weekly culinary exercises with relative ease. And if one has to limit themselves because of space constraints, what are some of the most essential pots and pans.
J. Kenji López-Alt, Chief Creative Officer at seriouseats.com, recently blogged about it, and suggests the following:
- All-Clad 12-inch Skillet with Lid
- 10-inch cast iron skillet
- 10-inch non-stick skillet
- 3-quart saucier
- 14-inch wok
- 16-quart stockpot
- An enameled Dutch oven
Focusing on a few of his picks, López-Alt,says:
Whether you stir-fry or not, a wok is one of the most versatile tools in the kitchen. It's perfect for indoor smoking, grilling, and steaming. It's by far the best vessel for deep-frying; its wide shape and large volume make it easy to fit plenty of food in there with minimal contact and oil-use, with virtually no danger of splattering the stove-top with hot oil - or worse, overflowing.
He says an enamel-coated cast iron Dutch oven is the ideal vessel for slow braises and soups. In the oven, thick walls and a heavy lid make for really great low-and-slow heat transfer meaning your stews and pot roasts will come out more tender and juicy with minimal evaporation during cooking.
On the stovetop, the Dutch oven's tall, wide sides make for easy and splatter-free browning of large amounts of meat and vegetables, with plenty of heat retention. And if you opt out of buying a wok, López-Alt says a Dutch oven is also great for deep-frying.
Finally, there's the large skillet, what López-Alt, calls the true workhorse of the kitchen. He says it's perfect for rapidly browning large quantities of vegetables or meat, excellent for braising and reducing sauces, and has a tight-fitting lid making it oven safe.
January 25, 2013 4:12 pm
Back in the day, when Grandma had few of the myriad stain-grabbing products that flood the market today, she learned and shared a few old-fashioned methods for getting the family’s clothes clean.
California homemaker Nancy Hayven, who is collecting hundreds of such tips for publication in a new book, shared nine of her favorite old-tyme methods for removing the most worrisome stains and dirt:
- Ink, wine or fruit stains – Saturate well in tomato juice for at least 30 minutes before washing. (Tomato juice also works well for removing stains from the hands.)
- Grass stains – Simple fixes are to spread the stain with butter, then lay the article out in the sun – OR wet it with lemon juice and sprinkle with salt before laying it out in the sun.
- Grease stains – Mix four tablespoons of rubbing alcohol with a tablespoon of salt. Shake or stir until the salt is dissolved, then apply with a sponge.
- Blood stains – Grandma’s best remedy was soaking in cold water, then laundering in cold water with soap or detergent.
- Cocoa or chocolate stains – Use borax and cold water. Launder after soaking and add a few tablespoons of borax to the washload.
- Carpet stains – (ONLY works on a fresh stain.) Combine one part white vinegar to three parts water. Soak into the stain for three to four minutes. Using a sponge, rub the area gently from the center out, then blot with a soft cloth.
- No-streak window cleaning – Wash with a mixture of equal parts white distilled vinegar and water. Dry with a soft cloth.
- Non-drip candles – Soak candles in cool salt water before burning to prevent the wax from dripping. To remove wax drips from candlesticks, out the candlesticks in the freezer for a few hours before scraping.
- Cleaning copper – (including copper-bottomed pots) Mix lemon juice and baking soda or cream of tartar into a paste about the consistency of toothpaste. Rub onto the copper with a soft cloth, then rinse with water and dry.
January 25, 2013 4:12 pm
(BPT) - While it's never a good idea to make blanket assumptions about any group of people, Millennials, in particular, are defying stereotypes. Take, for example, the convention that holds young people are too busy spending their income to think about retirement. A recent survey by Prudential Financial indicates this is far from true of Millennials - Americans born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.
While their retirement days may be in their distant future, planning for those years is very much on their minds, the survey revealed. In fact, 81 percent of those surveyed agreed that saving for retirement is a must, even during a recession. Seventy-three percent say they are highly motivated to save for retirement now, and nearly half (42 percent) check their existing retirement accounts at least once a month.
"Saving for retirement ranks highly in this generation's list of financial priorities, and we are encouraged that these younger workers are taking responsibility for their future," says George Castineiras, senior vice president of Total Retirement Solutions for Prudential Financial. "This survey demonstrates that Millennial workers prioritize saving for retirement ahead of leisure spending, saving for a vacation or even a house."
Still, the survey also indicates Millennials need more overall knowledge and tools to help them with their retirement planning. Castineiras offers some tips for young workers thinking about their retirement savings:
When you see a chance, take it - If your employer offers 401(k) participation, take part and contribute the maximum allowable. This is especially valuable if your employer matches any part of your contribution. The Prudential study found that, when presented with an opportunity to save for retirement, Millennials take advantage of it: 63 percent of those eligible to participate in employer-sponsored plans do so, contributing an average of 7 percent of their annual salaries.
Take advantage of technology - Retirement calculators are a great way to understand how much you need to save now in order to have the income - and lifestyle - you desire in retirement. Calculators abound online and most are free. To download Prudential's mobile retirement income calculator, go to the app store or go to the Google play store and type "Retirement Income Calculator" in the search field.
Talk it out with those in the know - Discuss retirement planning with your grandparents and parents. There's no better way to understand the realities of retirement than by talking with those who are living it. Seek their insight into what they feel they did right and what they would do differently. Watching older loved ones struggle financially can be an eye-opener; 83 percent of those surveyed said that seeing what can happen to people who don't save enough for retirement makes them want to save more.
Don't be afraid to ask for help - It pays to educate yourself on retirement planning, but the reality is few of us will ever become experts on the subject. Talking to an experienced, knowledgeable advisor can help make your retirement planning efforts easier and more effective. Companies like Prudential Financial can deliver retirement planning solutions to help younger workers be well prepared to face retirement.
"Millennials are embracing the need for retirement planning," Castineiras says. "With the right kind of preparation and professional guidance, young workers can get and stay on the path to future financial security."