Gunning Daily News

Q: What Home Improvements Are Deductible?

November 21, 2012 12:34 pm

A: According to the IRS, home improvements add to the basis, or value, of your home. A tax-acceptable improvement is defined as one that adds value to your home, "considerably" prolongs your home's useful life, or adapts your house to new uses. Examples include installing new plumbing or wiring or adding a bathroom. If the work done on the home is purely for maintenance, the cost cannot be deducted and generally cannot be added to the basis, or value, of your home. However, repairs done as part of an extensive remodeling or restoration of your home are considered improvements and therefore pass the deductible test.

Q: Are There Tips for Selling a Vacant Home?

November 21, 2012 11:04 am

A: Yes. Once furniture is removed from the home, you will notice all kinds of imperfections you never paid attention to before – rips in the carpet, holes in the walls, and dinginess. In an empty house, everything stands out. What you see is what potential buyers will also see. So you may need to paint, tear up old carpet, and replace the kitchen floor.

To get rid of the “empty house” feeling, leave a few pieces of furniture behind – simple things like a lamp, chairs, and a table will do.

Pay special attention to maintenance. Someone will need to dust and vacuum, leaves will need to be raked, and the grass cut.

In the winter, consider having the heating system shut down and drained to save money. But keep the electricity running because lights will be needed to show the house.

Watch out for that musty smell, particularly during the summer months, that settles in from having the windows sealed and locked. And beware of pests such as mice, squirrels, ants and bats.

10 Legal Needs Parents Don't Expect

November 21, 2012 11:04 am

(ARA) - Many parents might wonder why they would ever need legal assistance themselves, much less for their children. But the truth is, even if you raised the perfect child who never got into a bit of trouble, there's a good chance you might someday have a legal need related to your child.

Just as is often the case for adults, legal needs regarding your children can occur when you least expect them. Courtesy of ARAG, a global provider of legal solutions, here are 10 situations where a legal issue might arise related to your children.

1. A legal document called Medical Treatment Authorization for Minors authorizes medical personnel to treat your child if you're not there and cannot be contacted. It also gives your child's school or daycare the authority to obtain emergency medical treatment. This is a good idea if you are unavailable during the day or travel frequently.

2. If your child is involved in sports and gets a concussion or suffers heat stroke, you may need to consult an attorney if best sport safety practices related to such injuries weren't followed.

3. If your child is bullied, resources to educate yourself on your rights and responsibilities may be helpful as you strive to keep your child safe and take the appropriate action to address the issue. Same goes if your child is accused of bullying.

4. If one of your child's friends gets hurt while he or she is at your house, you may need legal advice regarding liability issues.

5. As your children enter college, they could experience a legal issue such as a dispute with their landlord over a lease or other rental issues. Online resources and documents can help you take the appropriate actions when a lease is signed.

6. Once your child reaches driving age, it's possible he or she could get into an accident and need legal assistance if there's a disagreement with your insurance company or another driver.

7. If you don't see eye to eye with your child's college over a tuition bill or an issue related to academics, you may need legal advice.

8. Online safety is a big issue for children of all ages. Educating your children about Internet safety issues is important, but if your child becomes the victim of cyberbullying, Internet scams or other online crimes, legal guidebooks can help you understand your options and an attorney can help you to take action.

9. If you or your student takes out student loans and then you can't repay them, an attorney or financial resources can help you understand your repayment options.

10. If you have a college savings plan in place and are unsure of how to properly allocate your savings in accordance with tax laws, you may benefit from the help of an attorney or financial counselor.

These are just a few examples of situations where having access to educational resources or an attorney could help. Considering other “adult” issues that also may require legal assistance, such as modifying your will or settling a dispute with a contractor, a legal plan like those offered by ARAG can really be a benefit.

These types of plans, which are often offered through your employer as part of your benefits package, give you access to educational resources and tools as well as attorneys when you have a legal question or need. To learn more about legal plans and legal benefits, visit

Q: Where Can I Find Foreclosure Properties?

November 21, 2012 11:04 am

A: Look in the legal notices section of your local newspaper. A notice is also usually posted on the property itself and somewhere in the city where the sale will take place.

However, real estate agents are the best source for information about foreclosures before they begin. Often a property will be listed and the agent will know if it is approaching foreclosure. Perhaps the best way to get the information is to have your agent put the word out that you are looking for properties with pending foreclosures.

Another source can be the bank or financial institution that holds the mortgage. Of course, they generally will not give you the names of those who are facing foreclosure, but they may give the property owner your card or phone number.

Buying foreclosures is not easy. Savvy investors are highly skilled at nabbing these properties. Inexperienced buyers may find themselves surrounded by pretty stiff competition. They will need to get as much information as possible, including a "foreclosure inspection report" and an appraisal from the lender.

Think ‘Function’ and ‘Scale’ When Weighing Design Option

November 20, 2012 4:54 pm

After a couple of chilly or rainy early fall days, I am ready to turn attention inward. With holidays coming you can never have enough advice on improving your interior living space –whether it is a sprawling mansion or cozy apartment.

With that in mind, we turned to Vanessa Pereira an Interior Design Consultant at Mid-Atlantic Builders ( who offered these tips about planning for fall interior design projects that will impress all your holiday guests.

Before investing your time and money on the interior design of a room, Pereira suggests evaluating the following:

Function – Decide the purpose of the room up front. As an example, a family room should have furniture that is both durable and comfortable, as you will likely spend a lot of time in that room. The function of the space will help determine fabrics, furniture placement, lighting and what color scheme to use.

Scale – Fitting properly sized pieces into the appropriate space helps to bring out naturally beautiful features of your home like floor to ceiling windows and fireplaces in the family rooms. A room that is designed with scale in mind will have the right size furniture and a fitting amount of wall treatments with a noticeable focal point.

In rooms with natural focal points, the furniture should be oriented in a way so as to accentuate those features. Pereira says there should be enough room for traffic to navigate between the furniture.

Avoid placing many small pieces of furniture in an oversized room. Instead use two larger pieces complemented with a few smaller pieces such as side tables or accent chairs.

Pereira also says each room should be a reflection of your individuality. The mood of a room comes together by the color scheme, style of furnishings, fabric textures, patterns and accessories.

An inspiration piece such as an antique sofa or painting can lead the way for the rest of the room’s design. To make it easy, Pereira suggests you make sure all the fabric patterns in a room have at least one color in common.

And resist the urge to be trendy - everyone else has already done that and seen that. Since trends come and go, your best bet is always going with an overall plan to fit your personality or your lifestyle.

Prepping for Thanksgiving Travel

November 20, 2012 4:54 pm

Thanksgiving is a time for great food, fun and family. Unfortunately, family isn’t always local. Traditionally over 40 million Americans travel more than 50 miles from their home each Thanksgiving, to connect with friends and family in all corners of the country.

Recognized as one of the most travel intense weekends in the year, packing becomes just another part of life we must be thankful for.

Whether you and your crew are jamming five people into a sedan, or you have the luxury of running through crowded airports, there are a few packing tricks you can use to take some of the stress out of Thanksgiving weekend travel.

Travel light

First and foremost, select a suitcase that ensures your bag isn’t one of the items weighing you down.
Step two, pack only what you need. While we all like to have a few choices, depending on different scenarios we may encounter on the long weekend, making the commitment to travel light will ensure your packing (and equally as important, your unpacking!) experience is a much easier task. Take some time to check the weather forecast for your destination to choose appropriate attire. And do throw in a few back-up items, just in case! Best of all, by packing light, you may just have some room to pick up a few souvenirs along the way.

Leave your self room to maneuver

We’ve all been there – packed perfectly, maximizing each nook and cranny of our luggage. But what about those extra items you may need to bring home? Could a friend or relative have something to pass your way? Are you planning on doing any shopping?

Designed with the traveler in mind, the Helium Fusion 3.0 Trolley bags feature two additional inches of packing space with the expandable zip, so that you can accommodate all your new treasures. Exclusive to Delsey, the bags also include the patent-pending Over Weight Indicator, which signals packers when their bag exceeds the standard 50 lbs limit, and providing peace of mind by avoiding overweight baggage fees at the airport. And in case your bag is over the limit, the Pocket Tote-a-Long clip with an adjustable webbing strap allows you to attach and effortlessly carry another bag.

Pack smart
Once you have selected the correct combination of clothing, take some time to properly place these items into your suitcase. Think of what you will do when you arrive – will you unpack or live out of your suitcase for the weekend? Then, arrange accordingly.

Also, think of what you will need as soon as you arrive, and make sure those items are easy to access.


5 Habits That Destroy Your Smile

November 20, 2012 4:54 pm

You’ve heard that too much coffee and red wine can stain your pearly whites. But the Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Steven A. Ghareeb, DDS, FAGD, offers advice on how to keep your smile healthy and pretty by avoiding these five bad oral health habits.

1. Not flossing

Brushing your teeth twice a day is important, but many patients don't realize that flossing at least once a day is just as critical to achieving—and maintaining—a healthy smile. Flossing removes the cavity-causing bacteria left behind from food particles that get stuck between teeth. "Although bleeding and irritation sometimes can occur when you first start flossing, it's important to keep at it," says Dr. Ghareeb. "Your gums will toughen up and your oral health will be better for it."

2. Brushing too soon after eating

Consuming acidic foods and beverages, such as sports and energy drinks, citrus fruits, wine, and tomatoes, can erode tooth enamel—the glossy outer layer of the tooth. Brushing your teeth too soon after eating and drinking these items can cause more damage because you are essentially brushing the acid into the teeth, not getting rid of it. Instead, you should rinse your mouth with water after consuming acidic foods and beverages and wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your pearly whites!

3. Not replacing your toothbrush often enough
Not only are old toothbrushes ineffective, but they also harbor harmful bacteria that can cause infections. Toothbrushes should be changed every three to four months. "It's also important to change your toothbrush after you've had a cold," says Dr. Ghareeb.

4. Excessively bleaching your teeth

Overzealous bleaching can cause your teeth to look unnaturally white and increase tooth sensitivity. Before using an at-home bleaching product, talk to your dentist. "He or she can advise you on proper use of these products as well as which type of bleaching system will provide you with the best results," says Dr. Ghareeb.

5. Using a hard-bristled toothbrush
A hard-bristled toothbrush coupled with an aggressive brushing technique can cause irreversible damage to your gums. Use a soft toothbrush and gently brush your teeth at a 45-degree angle, in a circular motion. Using a back-and-forth, sawing motion causes the gums to recede, and can expose the root of the tooth, making teeth extremely sensitive.


Word of the Day

November 20, 2012 4:54 pm

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

Q: What to Consider when Buying a Vacation Home

November 20, 2012 4:54 pm

A: The second home market has more ebbs and flows than the primary home market. Sales are iffy in a bad economy except, perhaps, on the high-end. That said, there is a growing trend toward the purchase of vacation homes. They are being bought for investment purposes, enjoyment, as well as retirement. In the latter instance, some people are buying with the idea of turning a vacation home into a permanent retirement haven down the road, a move that puts them ahead of the game now.

Some of the tax benefits mirror those for a primary residence. Mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible, which helps to offset the cost of the home payment. And if you treat your second home as a rental property, you can fully depreciate it as well. But you are only allowed to occupy it for two weeks a year, or 10 percent of the total rented time, whichever is less.

Before taking the leap, ask yourself if you can afford to carry two mortgages, maintain two households, and pay the extra utilities and maintenance costs. Also, learn about financing requirements and options, which can differ slightly from those on a primary residence.

Smart Or Programmable - What's In Your Thermostat?

November 19, 2012 5:42 pm

On occasion, your RIS Consumer Confidant takes a look at those little pieces of equipment in our homes we walk past a hundred times a day, and often take for granted until they go out of whack. In this segment we'll get a fix on the latest technological advances in thermostats, from the Alliance to Save Energy.

Miriam Berg recently wrote about the differences between the newest smart thermostats, versus the programmable units that adorn millions of homes.

Berg wrote that programmable thermostats allow you to schedule temperature settings. So, you can pre-program the system to turn down while you're at work and asleep.

If you program it correctly, these thermostats can lower your heating and cooling bills by about $180/year, says Energy Star. That's a quick return on your investment, as programmable thermostats cost $50-$100.

Alas, some people still don't bother to program their programmable thermostats. That's where smart thermostats come in, Berg says. For an increased investment ($100-$500), you get a gizmo that works with your irregular schedule and your aversion to fiddling with the controls on your wall.

She writes that some smart thermostats come with a smart phone app. For instance Berg says, the Nest – which is so app-centric it's been called an “appcessory” – has an app for Apple products like the iPhone, iPhoneTouch, and iPad, as well as for Android 2.2 or newer.

The Nest learns how to "program itself around your life" through occupancy/motion sensors, ambient light and humidity monitors, and by remembering manual adjustments, according to the Nest website This includes an "auto away" setting that drops the system down to your pre-set minimum when it doesn't detect movement.

Smart thermostats also come with monitoring systems that track your energy use and, through your personal online account, offer charts that show how much energy you're using across the week. With this information, you can identify areas where you are wasting energy and adjust accordingly.