Gunning Daily News
September 11, 2012 5:58 pm
I took note that credit and home repair and construction concerns once again topped the list of complaints made to state and local consumer protection agencies. This is according to a survey by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI).
Thirty-eight agencies from across the United States provided information about the most common, fastest-growing, and worst complaints they received in 2011. They were also asked about new types of consumer problems, and what new laws are needed to better protect consumers. (consumerfed.org)
The data helps consumer protection agencies follow trends in fraud, educate the public, and share information with each other, which will ultimately assist in investigations according to Tonya Hetzler, Interim President of NACPI.
Some key findings in the latest Consumer Complaint Survey Report include:
- The top five fastest-growing complaints were about fraud, debt collection abuses, Do Not Call violations, mortgage-related problems, and home improvement.
- The top five worst complaints involved mortgage-related problems, home improvement, timeshare sales and resales, Internet sales, and fraud.
- New types of consumer problems that agencies dealt with last year covered a wide spectrum of subjects, from bedbugs in apartments to penny auctions on the Internet, from gold buying companies to telemarketing and mail solicitations for home repairs disguised as “free” energy audits. Some agencies also noted that scammers are exploiting a new form of payment, prepaid card products, to get cash from consumers.
- Budget cuts and limited resources were most frequently cited as the biggest challenges that state and local consumer protection agencies faced last year. Another major challenge was the evolving nature of fraud and the fact that many scammers are located in other countries, complicating efforts to resolve complaints.
In the next couple of segments we'll drill in to some of these consumer issues that could affect home and property owners, or those looking to become one in the near future.
See the entire report now at consumerfed.org.
September 11, 2012 5:58 pm
(ARA) - Looking to revamp your bathroom but worried about a monumental price tag? Want to freshen your space and still be able to afford that trip to Hawaii? We don’t blame you. The average cost of a bathroom remodel tops $16,500, according to Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value report. But you don't have to spend the average to achieve above-average results when it comes to updating a bathroom.
Generally, people renovate or remodel bathrooms for two main reasons: to boost their home's resale value, and to enhance their own enjoyment of the room. A bathroom renovation yields a 62 percent return on investment at the time of resale, Remodeling Magazine's report indicates. How much more will you enjoy that ROI - and the improved livability of your bath - if your initial investment was just $1,000, rather than tens of thousands?
Fortunately, the bathroom is one room in the house where you can accomplish a lot with $1,000. Here are four updates and upgrades that cost less than 10 Ben Franklins, but can leave you feeling like a million bucks when you step into your new bath.
1. Redo walls and floors
The key to bringing this job in under $1,000 is to do the work yourself. The actual materials - paint for the walls and tile, stone or vinyl for the floor - can be purchased for a relatively low cost. By doing the work yourself, you avoid high labor charges. Most bathrooms require only a gallon or two of paint, so you can easily stay on budget even if you purchase a high-end brand. It's also possible to find plenty of cost-effective flooring options, from luxury materials like marble to more economical ones such as ceramic tile or vinyl. After the materials, your second biggest investment for this project will be the time it takes to learn how to do the job right. Fortunately, you'll find plenty of educational material online and many home improvement stores even offer free classes in how to lay new floors.
2. Switch out the shower door
After the walls and floor, the shower door is probably the third largest surface - and design element - in your bathroom. Unless your home was custom-built, chances are your shower door is bland and basic, albeit functional. Replacing a plain shower door with one that features a design, pattern or frosting can add personal flair to a bathroom. Manufacturers like Sterling offer a variety of shower doors that are both beautiful and functional, including patterned shower doors. Prices vary depending on the style of door you choose, but you'll find many budget-friendly options.
3. Swap out the shower enclosure
Cracked, chipped ceramic tile or an old, stained shower enclosure can make your bathroom look tired, dated and dirty. Replacing the shower enclosure can give the room a whole new look. Plus, if you only have a tub and would like to add a shower, an enclosure is a fast, easy and cost-effective way to achieve your goal. Or if a tub doesn't suit your design and lifestyle needs, you can replace it with a shower enclosure.
4. Update fixtures
Few bathroom upgrades have a greater impact on efficiency and beauty the way changing fixtures can. Whether you opt for a low-flow showerhead or a high-efficiency toilet that requires less water to flush, replacing older fixtures can update the look of a bathroom and yield long-term savings on utility bills. With abundant color, shape and design options in everything from commodes to sinks, faucets to shower controls, it's possible to find fixtures that suit every design taste - and price point. Smart shoppers can find budget-friendly options that will allow them to replace more than one item, giving a bathroom a fresh look and feel.
September 11, 2012 5:58 pm
There have been many changes in appliance design over the last several decades, and one thing is for sure: our refrigerators have been supersized. Back ye olden days before refrigeration, people ate differently. Because there were fewer ways of keeping food from spoiling, it was eat fresh or bust. That meant food had to be grown locally and eaten quickly, and often meant making daily purchases from local independent bakers, butchers, and dairy farmers. Ubiquitous refrigeration more or less put an end to that - if one can keep a gallon of milk for a couple weeks and fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, or fish frozen until the apocalypse.
With the motivation of necessity gone, convenience reigns supreme, and it's all too easy to stuff the fridge full of food, forget it, and pull out a Tupperware container of moldy goo a month later. By reducing your refrigerator space, you can make it less convenient to eat old food, saving you money by reducing the amount of food going bad in the back of your fridge.
Below are a few things to consider when thinking about the size of your fridge.
1. Compact Refrigerators Aren't Just for Apartments
Once the domain of places that simply didn't have the space for a full sized huge refrigerators, compact refrigerators and mini fridges might actually deserve a spot in a home, no matter what the size of the kitchen. While this might seem counter-intuitive (big house, big family, big fridge), it is amazing how easy it is to pile up food nobody is going to eat. A compact refrigerator is a little like a food diary that way - it forces one to look at one’s eating habits and figure out what's going to waste and why.
2. Big Refrigerators Are Uniquely American
In many European countries and throughout Asia, smaller refrigerators - even what we would typically refer to as a mini fridge - are fairly standard. This has a lot to do with the relative size of homes, of course, but the effects are much more widespread than simply saving space in the kitchen. The stereotypical French lifestyle, for example, consists of a daily walking trip to several small specialty groceries to procure just enough food to last a day or two. Though the French are notoriously food-loving, they're also famously thin, likely in no small part due to the fact that they eat their food near to the source, and often within a day or less of being picked or prepared. Their more compact refrigerators are at least partly responsible - it's much easier to form good, healthy habits when you have to.
3. Better Refrigerator Design Means Better Food, Too
Of course, eating local and eating fresh isn't always easy. With a very large family, hungry growing teens, or living in a food desert (an area with few or no nearby supermarkets or other sources of fresh, healthy produce), trying to buy food even once a week can be prohibitively difficult, both time consuming and expensive. But getting a smaller refrigerator can actually be helpful in this situation as well. Because refrigerators and freezers both work best when they're full, having one that's 5-10 inches narrower than an average refrigerator is easier to keep full and running efficiently without storing a lot of food one won't eat. Plus, just that little bit less space will make one think twice about what to buy - and what to put in the body.
4. Smaller Appliances Mean More Room in the Kitchen
Trimming down the size of all kitchen appliances, especially a refrigerator isn't merely a matter of aesthetics. Even small reductions can allow for new, alternative layouts in the kitchen, and scaling back to a mini fridge can help open up the floor plan and turn the kitchen into a more inviting space. Developing a healthy lifestyle is all about small but significant changes - and the size of a refrigerator is one that might not have been considered to make a big difference.
5. They Aren't Only Good for the Body
Many space saving-appliances, from compact refrigerators to induction cooktops, trash compactors, or even smaller dishwashers are good for the environment, too. Refrigerators work better when they're full and smaller. And because they're smaller, it requires less energy to keep the space cool in the first place.
September 11, 2012 5:58 pm
Plumbing is one home system that many dread having to deal with. One proactive step you can take to keep your plumbing clean is to take care of your faucet aerator. Now you might be thinking, “my what?!” Faucet aerators mix air with the water, minimizing splashing and reducing the amount of water used (and the energy required to heat hot water) without reducing the effectiveness of the water stream.
“An aerator contains a screen and a water reducer/aerator washer,” says to Bob Beall, a plumber in the Northeast Ohio and Southwest Pennsylvania region. “These little items have a habit of collecting bits of naturally occurring mineral sediment in the water.” “What becomes noticeable when the aerator becomes clogged is a reduced water flow at the spout (on both hot and cold) and/or a non-symmetrical spray coming from the spout,” according to Beall.
Below are Beall’s tips for cleaning your aerator.
No. 1. To remove the aerator from the faucet simply turn it counterclockwise. Drop it straight down so you don’t lose any internal parts, especially the thread-sealing gasket. The threads can be either inside or outside the cap. If the cap is stuck, you will need pliers to turn it.
BONUS TIP: Tape the jaws with electrical tape to minimize scratching.
No. 2 Look inside the center area for sand, silt, and other waterborne debris.
No. 3 Take the center section out to check for further debris, noting the order in which things come apart.
No. 4 Check for anything stuck in the screen.
No. 5 In the flow reducer, look in the tiny side holes and the center hole of the white button for debris.
Note that if do not put all the pieces back together properly, there will be a leak or the water flow will not be a smooth aerated flow.
Despite even the most experienced plumber’s intentions, it’s easy to let the parts of an aerator fall out when removing it. To prevent permanent loss of any parts, put the stopper in the sink drain before removing the aerator. If it is necessary to take the aerator away from the sink, to keep from losing parts, disassemble it over a bowl.
Source: Mr. Rooter Plumbing
September 11, 2012 5:58 pm
Special assessment. A special tax imposed on specific parcels of real estate that will benefit from a proposed public improvement, such as a street or sewer.
September 11, 2012 5:58 pm
A: If you have a legitimate complaint, keep after the contractor until the needed repairs or alterations are made. If this fails, contact your local Consumer Protection Agency. Keep a copy of the contract, receipts, and photographs of the work. Although it has no legal authority, you also may want to contact the Better Business Bureau, as well as your state’s Contractor License Board. And you can take the contractor to Small Claims Court, although the amount you would be able to recover varies from state to state. California, for example, allows judgments up to $7,500. It’s $5,000 in Virginia and less in other jurisdictions.
September 10, 2012 5:50 pm
With the arrival of fall, many are turning off their cooling systems. But how can you make sure yours is ready to jump back into action next year? With the rising costs of fuel and the uncharacteristically hot summers throughout the U.S., it is more important than ever to extend the life of your home’s air conditioning unit. A high-quality heating ventilation and air conditioning system can last up to 20 years if properly installed and maintained. However, the cheapest models or poorly maintained systems can fail in as little as five. Here are 10 tips to make sure your air conditioner is ready for next year.
1. Make sure all weather stripping around doors and windows is properly sealed. As time goes by the caulking and weather stripping become compromised with use and temperature changes and the loss of the conditioned air can cause the air conditioner and heater to work longer to achieve the desired temperature.
2. Screening AC installers for professional credentials, experience and proper training is extremely important. If the unit has been installed improperly, the system may have leaky ducts or low air flow. Often, the level of refrigerant does not match the manufacturer’s specifications, which can affect efficiency and performance. Improper installation can lower a system’s efficiency by up to 30 percent.
3. Changing or cleaning the air filter is one of the most important maintenance tasks. Clogged, filthy filters obstruct air flow and can even impair the evaporator coil’s ability to absorb heat. Filters should be attended to every month or two, depending on how much dust or pet fur a home has. A good contractor will show homeowners how to do this simple task themselves.
4. It is important to keep an eye out for warning signs of a failing system, such as: loud or strange noises, a system that turns on and off a lot, longer run times, strange smells emanating from the unit, or higher than normal energy bills.
5. Installing and using a programmable thermostat is a great way to improve the longevity of central air. This enables homeowners to pre-program the unit to turn off while they are away from the home or increase in temperature. Energy Star studies say a programmable thermostat can save homeowners about $180 a year in energy costs.
6. Sealing and insulating ducts can improve a cooling system’s efficiency by 20 percent or more. Often ducts that run through attic crawl spaces, basements and garages become extremely hot during the day, which causes the air conditioner to work harder to cool these surfaces. Also, poorly sealed ducts can leak cool air outside of the home and waste energy.
7. Buying high-performance AC units with Energy Star labels and high SEER numbers will not only ensure greater longevity for the system, but can also decrease cooling costs by nearly $500 a year. Upfront cost should not be the only consideration in choosing a system for the home.
8. Getting adequate airflow through the outdoor condenser coils is important as well. Homeowners should periodically check outside to ensure there are no weeds, shrubs or other obstructions. One can also turn off the circuit breaker to the unit, remove the outdoor cabinet and clean out debris that has accumulated inside. Many people hose down the unit after every lawn mowing to keep grass clippings out.
9. Keep pets away from the condenser. It may sound crazy, but it’s not at all uncommon for a system to fail in 5 years due to a pet using the bathroom on the unit and corroding the cooling coil fins’ metal.
10. Annual maintenance scheduled regularly is the best way to ensure the whole system is operating properly. A technician will top off fluids, check electrical connections for safety, clean and lubricate all moving parts, change the filter, adjust blower components for comfort, and inspect the system for signs of wear and tear.
Source: Air Depot
September 10, 2012 5:50 pm
According to a recent report conducted by The American College, 40 percent of small business owners have no retirement savings or pension plan in place. Furthermore, the study found that three-fourths of those owners have no written plan as to how they intend to fund their retirement.
Small business owners know the value of a solid business plan. Unfortunately, too many of those entrepreneurs neglect to place the same effort in planning for their retirement. Business owners focus so much on growing and maintaining their business, that often their own retirement is put on the back burner.
"It's important to have personal retirement savings outside of your business because the value of that business can fluctuate significantly over the years," says Brad Smith, Kansas City President, M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group. "Additionally, having a retirement nest egg is important should the unexpected arise, such as a major health issue or needing to sell the business sooner than expected."
Below are some tips for small business owners on how to effectively save for retirement:
Take care of yourself - Invest in yourself, not just your business. As a small business owner, the instinct is often to invest back into the business. However, it is very important to pay yourself as well, especially when planning and saving for retirement. Relying on selling the business to fund retirement can be a risky approach that does not always work.
Invest in an IRA and SEP – Having a diversified financial plan, including both an IRA and SEP, is a great way to accumulate wealth outside of the business. Investments in these plans grow faster due to tax-deferred compound growth, and IRAs and SEPs with conservative holdings are effective during times of instability, offsetting the volatility of business returns. SEPs can provide great tax benefits by reducing the owner's taxable income.
Team of experts – Surround yourself with a group of experts, including a financial professional who specializes in small business, an accountant, a tax specialist and a lawyer. They can offer sound advice and provide insight on how to build your retirement savings independently of your small business. A financial professional can also help develop a detailed financial retirement plan that outlines your goals and progress.
Explore other investment options – Consider other investment strategies that will help build your retirement savings like investing outside of your IRA and SEP. It is also important to take precautions against the unexpected, like an illness or disability, by considering life and disability insurance.
As with any investment, you should consult with a tax advisor to determine what works best for your personal goals and financial situation.
"Although it's tempting to concentrate solely on investing in their business, small business owners owe it to themselves and their family to have personal retirement savings to help ensure a comfortable retirement," says DiVito.
Source: BMO Harris
September 10, 2012 5:50 pm
Just like a top football, basketball or hockey player is drafted based on their stats, your credit score is used to determine your financial fitness.
Your credit score is the best way to define your ability to handle debt. It's based on several aspects of your financial picture and can help creditors determine if you're responsible with your money.
Improving your credit is one of the easiest ways to improve your overall financial scorecard. Doing so may help you get approved for loans and lower your interest rates and insurance premiums.
The following steps can help you improve your credit score:
Pay on time. Payment history is one of the most important factors used to calculate your credit score, so consistently paying on time is one of the easiest ways to boost your score. To help you pay on time, consider enrolling in an e-bill pay program that will make payments automatically on your behalf and guarantee they arrive on time.
Reduce debt-to-credit ratio. Focus on paying down the amount you owe on your credit cards so each one has an available credit of at least 50 percent. Doing so improves your debt-to-credit ratio and in turn will improve your credit score.
Use more than one type of credit. Your score is built around both revolving (ex. credit card) and installment (ex. mortgage loan) credit. Having both types in your credit history shows you can responsibly handle multiple kinds of credit, and in turn may improve your score.
Stick with the accounts you have. Opening new accounts means new inquiries on your credit report, which may lower your score. On the other hand, avoid closing accounts you already have, even if you don't use them that often. Doing so can negatively impact your debt-to-credit ratio and credit history – both of which are used to calculate your score.
Source: BMO Harris Bank
September 10, 2012 5:50 pm
Settlement. The day on which title is conveyed.