Gunning Daily News

Getting Your Price in an Improving Market

August 15, 2012 5:34 pm

For the first time in several years, home prices are rising in many of the nation’s metropolitan areas. This is good news for homeowners who have been waiting to put their homes on the market. But competition can be stiff, and the savvy seller will put a few dollars and a little elbow grease into sprucing up his property to make it more attractive to potential buyers.

From California real estate agent Ellen Parker, here are five tips for improving your home’s eye appeal without breaking the bank:

Curb appeal counts – A buyer’s first impression is important. Be sure the lawns and landscaping are neatly trimmed, no toys or equipment clutter the lawn or driveway, and the front door and mat look fresh, clean, and inviting. Painting or replacing a faded front door can vastly improve the look of the property.

Neutralize the rooms – Especially if you have tended toward bright paint colors, it may be time for a coat of paint to neutralize the living areas of your home. Choosing a safe off-white or cream colored paint can improve the home’s eye appeal for a greater number of buyers.

Brighten the bathroom –
Tired-looking or outdated bathrooms are frequently a buyer turn-off. But you don’t need to completely remodel. Replacing the sink and/or cabinet with a trendy new style or changing out the hardware for something snazzier can make a huge difference. Be sure the hanging towels and bath mat, and the shower curtain if you have one, are fresh and super clean.

Tidy the kitchen – Here again, a fresh coat of paint can improve the look of your kitchen – and even older flooring or countertops will look better when cleaned to a shine. Removing clutter from the countertops – including canisters and some small appliances – will help create a feeling of space. Keep all sponges and towels out of view and be sure the sink is shiny clean and free of dirty dishes.

Let the light in – Dark rooms are another turn-off. Especially when you know your home will be shown, open the drapes and curtains to let natural light in.

Fall Kitchen Trends: White is the Most Popular Color, Rustic on Rise

August 15, 2012 5:34 pm

We all know there will be hot new fashion trends this fall, but did you know kitchens can have trend, too? While these styles may be off the runway, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep them in mind while stylizing.

With the holidays in mind, many homeowners choose to redo their kitchens in the fall. In fact, white kitchen cabinets are the most popular choice among kitchen renovators this fall.

“Our most popular door style this year has been the white shaker kitchen cabinet, which gives your kitchen a clean and inviting feeling,” explains Benjamin Gordon, Vice President of Kitchen Resource Direct. “White kitchen cabinets also give you tremendous freedom to paint your walls a bold color and add strong accent features to your kitchen. Almost like a blank canvas for your kitchen design.”

Rustic themes are also very popular for fall of 2012. Combining chocolate or coffee glazing to a cabinet door painted white accents the grooves with an antique look. Another rustic style for your new kitchen is to purchase painted cabinets that are rubbed or weathered.

“Don’t be afraid to combine completely different style cabinets with one another in your kitchen,” Gordon recommends.

The paint colors for white kitchen cabinets can come in many shades including bright white, vanilla, buttercreme, linen, antique white, and creme. This makes it difficult to choose when shopping online, so you may want to consider popping in to your local kitchen retailer for a hands-on style session.

Source: Kitchen Resource Direct

Growing Families Looking for Larger Homes

August 15, 2012 5:34 pm

(ARA) - More and more households have extended family living together under one roof, and the tight fit has some families in the market for a larger home.

From 2007 to 2009, there was a 10.5 percent increase in multigenerational homes. That translates to 51 million Americans, or 16.7 percent of the population, who lived in homes with at least two generations of adults, according to a recent report from Pew Research Center. If your household is growing and you're looking for a larger space to accommodate your needs and family size, the housing market is in your favor. Low prices and attractive interest rates have created an opportunity for anyone looking to make a larger housing purchase.

As multi-generational living becomes more prevalent, builders and remodelers have found a niche market in creating homes designed to fit the lifestyle. For the "Sandwich Generation," a generation of people who are caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children, there are advantages to having children and grandparents under one roof such as sharing of household responsibilities and finances and increased focus on family time together. With these advantages, however, there may be a need for a larger home to accommodate a growing family.

A recent TD Bank survey found that of respondents who were planning to sell their current home and buy up, one-third attributed it to a larger or growing family. To finance a bigger home purchase, you can look to a jumbo mortgage. Jumbo mortgages are home loans that are bigger than normal. Normal varies by location, but in most housing markets, it's more than $417,000.

Choosing the right fixed-rate fit
Fixed-rate mortgages are currently at historic lows. These loans provide comfort and security though payments spanning 15 or 30 years. If you're planning to stay in your home for a long period of time, they may be a good option.

Adjustable rate mortgages for your lifestyle
If you're not looking to own your home for an extended period of time, an adjustable rate mortgage may be the best fit for your lifestyle. An adjustable rate mortgage can allow you to save money if you're able to pay down your mortgage over a one-, five-, seven-, 10- or even 15-year period. Some lenders offer significant flexibility in the length of the loan and the frequency of rate adjustments in their ARM products. For example, a 5/5 ARM has the interest rate which remains stable for five years and then readjusts once every five years after that. Finding the right loan is important as even a 1 percent interest rate reduction created by taking out an adjustable rate mortgage may create sizable savings without necessarily sacrificing security.

Refinancing your home

Payback financing options, or piggyback options, allow for a second mortgage or home equity loan to be taken out by a borrower at the same time the first mortgage is started or refinanced. Some banks may offer a piggyback option but you might see a higher blended interest rate. Portfolio lenders can help minimize the down payment and interest rate. Portfolio lenders are able to do this because they don't sell their loans to third-parties, resulting in more affordable, flexible home financing options for a borrower.

Qualifying for your loan

Qualifying for a jumbo mortgage does require stronger credentials, so be prepared for the process. Though the process can be more rigorous, some banks treat jumbo mortgages as they treat other mortgage products, guaranteeing a decision on the loan in less than 24 hours. A quick decision can help buyers close sooner or move faster when making an offer on the property they are looking to buy.

Overall, the residential mortgage landscape is experiencing gradual improvements, with housing prices stabilizing and even improving in some markets. If you're looking for a larger space to accommodate your growing family, consider beginning your home-buying process now. When looking into lenders, consider a portfolio lender, who can offer flexible terms and lending guidelines, to best fit your unique borrowing needs.

Source: TD Bank

Eight Reasons to Review Your Life Insurance

August 15, 2012 5:34 pm

(ARA) - Life insurance might not be as common as you think. Did you know that 30 percent of American households have no form of life insurance whatsoever, leaving millions to struggle to cover day-to-day expenses if a main breadwinner were to pass away? That's according to a study by LIMRA, a worldwide association of insurance and financial services companies.

Even if you already have life insurance, financial and insurance professionals recommend that you review your policy periodically to make sure you and your loved ones are properly covered.

"As you go through life changes, your life insurance policy should change as well to reflect those changes," says Mike Plazony, senior vice president of the Life division at Erie Insurance. "The amount of life insurance you need really depends on where you are in your life and your individual circumstances."

Plazony lists eight specific circumstances that should prompt a policy review.

1. When wedding bells ring
Anyone getting married should also say "I do" to life insurance. Without a policy in place, there's no guaranteeing that your spouse and children would be provided for in the event of the unthinkable.

2. When you buy a home
Just purchased your dream home? Congratulations! In addition to taking out a homeowner's policy, you'll also want to take out a term life insurance policy. It may cost less than a whole life policy - and can cover the cost of your mortgage until it's completely paid off.

3. When you have a baby
Becoming a parent changes everything - including insurance requirements. According to the Insurance Information Institute, one-third of all families with a new baby haven't updated their life insurance protection. If you already have a policy, take the time to update your beneficiary designations.

4. When one spouse decides to stay home
The thing to remember here is that stay-at-home spouses continue to make a financial contribution to the family. Should that spouse pass away prematurely, the surviving spouse would have to cover expenses for child care, cleaning, cooking and other forms of home maintenance - and those can add up quickly. In fact, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, the annual cost of day care for a preschool-aged child ranges anywhere from $3,900 to $14,050.

5. When a child enters college
With the cost of higher education increasing every year, many parents end up co-signing on their kids' education loans. It's great that you want to help, but know that you'll be liable for the loan should tragedy strike. A life insurance policy on both the student and the parent will ensure school loans are one less worry.

6. When you open a business
Many lenders require life insurance on small business loans. It's with good reason since a separate policy protecting the business can help ensure that the business debts and operating expenses are handled. It can also give you peace of mind knowing that the policy you have for your family remains available for them when they need it.

7. When retirement is imminent
Leaving the workplace may mean leaving some life insurance benefits behind, so make sure you do a thorough review before the final quitting time.

8. When a divorce happens
Even though you're no longer married, you may still have people who depend on you financially. Review your policy's beneficiaries and what coverage is in place to protect any children you and your former spouse had together.

Because of the complexity involved in determining exactly which type and how much life insurance you need at any given point in your life, many financial sites offer tools to help you determine your needs.

Source: Erie Insurance

Word of the Day

August 15, 2012 5:34 pm

Real estate investment trust (REIT). Entity that allows a very large number of investors to pool their money in the purchase of real estate, but as passive investors. The investors do not buy directly. Instead, they purchase shares in the REIT that owns the real estate investment.

Q: Once I choose a contractor, what items should be covered in the contract?

August 15, 2012 5:34 pm

A: According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, a well-written contract should contain the following information:

The contractor’s name, address, telephone and license number, if applicable;
Details about what will and will not be done;
A detailed list of materials for the project, including model, brand name and color.
The approximate start date and substantial completion dates.
A written notice of your right to cancel a contract within three business days of signing, without penalty – provided the contract was solicited at some place other than the contractor’s place of business or appropriate trade premise.
Financial terms that are spelled out clearly, including payment schedules and any cancellation penalties.
A one-year minimum warranty identified as either “full” or “limited” to cover materials and workmanship, as well as the name and address of the party who will honor the warranty.
A binding arbitration clause, in the event a disagreement occurs.

You may also want to include a statement that you will not be responsible if payment to the contractors’ subcontractors and suppliers are not made. You may also want to establish that the contractor should obtain all the necessary permits and that all blank spots in the contract be filled in with phrases like “does not apply.”

Three Morning Tips to Ease Stress

August 14, 2012 5:26 pm

Between work, bills, pets, kids and a social schedule, some of us find our stress levels soaring higher than Anna Chicherova’s Olympic High Jump. If you find yourself dragging your feet in the morning or waking up in a funk, make a little time for yourself to boost your spirits. Here are a few morning tips to help you take on the day with less stress and more smiles.

Make time to stretch.
Stretching reduces anxiety and tension and slows down your heart rate. It can also improve your energy, and clear your head. And don’t forget that your body will feel better—there’s no harm in that! A few simple yoga poses first thing in the morning can also reduce stress. In a study published in the journal of Complementary Therapies in Medicine, participants who did a few simple yoga stretches every morning reported less stress and an overall improved quality of life than those who didn’t.

Create a sacred ritual. Creating a little ritual you do each morning “just for you” carves out some quality you-time first thing. Giving yourself attention first will allow you to look forward to waking up, and help you take on the day with a positive outlook. This ritual can be something as simple as reading a book for half an hour, or something more complex like working on a novel or learning a new language. Whatever it is you choose, it should be as essential to your well-being as your daily shower. My ritual? I spend twenty minutes savoring a cup of coffee and getting some quality snuggle time with my cat—both of us are better for it.

Create a secret smile stash. Come up with a few go-to smile-inducers to fall back on if you wake up in a down mood. I call these “happy-makers.” Stash a collection of photos from vacation with friends and family, love letters from your sweetie, or music that always lifts your spirits.

What to Know When Buying a Home with Propane

August 14, 2012 5:26 pm

With many housing markets on the upswing, buyers are moving quickly to act in this soon-to-be seller’s market. Many eager home buyers are looking to purchase energy efficient, propane-powered homes. Below are some tips for buyers looking to make informed energy choices.

• MLS listings with a Seller’s Disclosure Notice often indicate if a home is powered by liquid propane gas through a neighborhood “community (captive)” or an individual tank “on property.” It’s a good idea to obtain a decisive classification to be fully-informed on subsequent decisions that may arise, including the cost rolled into the HOA fee or whether to search for a preferred service provider. Homebuyers should request a copy of the current homeowner’s most recent safety inspection and the average annual and monthly bills paying close attention to winter usage since propane use tends to be heaviest during this period. Summer months are important due to increased appliance usage for cooking, water heaters, pool heaters, dryers, and fans, among other appliances.

• Homebuyers should inquire as to which appliances run on propane, gas or electricity. Commonly used propane-powered appliances are water heaters, furnaces and stove tops; extensively used appliances that are not commonly associated with propane include swimming pools and dryers. The current homeowner’s most recent safety inspection will provide an accurate listing of propane appliances in the home, so checking that list and asking any questions that arise is always a good idea.

• Considerations for future landscaping or outdoor updates should start with identifying whether the home’s propane tank is above or below ground and locating the path of the ground line leading from the tank to the house. In the state of Texas, propane tanks purchased by a homeowner will be included in the home sale while rented or leased tanks are the property of the current service provider and can remain if the home buyer wishes. Often the current propane provider can be identified by locating the service decal on the propane tank. Previous homeowners should provide propane supplier information for tanks whether owned or leased. Ensuring that below ground tanks have cathodic protection to prevent rust and erosion is an important safety precaution. No matter the state or ownership of the current tank, home buyers have options in choosing their future propane service provider.

Source: Sharp Propane

How-To: Choose the Right Office Chair

August 14, 2012 5:26 pm

Is your back killing you? Maybe you should blame your office chair. Whether you’re chair is old or you’re just itching for an upgrade, choosing the right office chair isn't always easy.

Everyone is different - different height, weight, posture, work habits. The only thing that everyone in the market for a comfy, sturdy, ergonomic desk chair have in common is that they spend a decent portion of their time sitting. Whether looking for something simple or a big fancy boss chair, the most important thing is to be able to tailor it to the shape of the body.

1. Adjustable Height
It is not recommended to buy a desk chair that doesn't have an adjustable height. Unless one found a magical mythical throne that's exactly the right height to sit with feet flat on the ground and legs at a 90 degree angle, one needs a chair that has at least a couple inches of wiggle room. Chairs with a smooth, hydraulic glide are something to look for.

2. Adjustable Arms

Chair arms are something that depends on personal preference. Some people like high arms to rest their forearms on while they type, others prefer lower ones that don't obstruct arm movements, and still others would rather have a chair without any arms at all. When looking for a chair without arms, that's easy enough to see, but if one is picky about the elbow room, an office chair with fully adjustable arm rests is the right choice.

If you will be using arm rests a lot, it’s better to opt for an office chair with arms made of a soft, smooth material that won't rub uncomfortably against or stick to the arms. For those with a larger or smaller frame, it’s important to choose an office chair with arms that won't constrict or make one feel like a little kid, and it is important to have enough room to sit comfortably all the way back in the chair without either too much of the legs hanging off the end, or with the edge of the chair pressed right up against the backs of the knees.

3. Adjustable Back Support

The most important quality to look for in an office chair is adjustable back support. It allows to fine tune the shape of the chair to the shape of the spine, providing maximum support for the back no matter what the natural posture. While many chairs are theoretically curved to fit the shape of a human back, the way one sits and the shape of one’s back might not be exactly what a manufacturer has in mind. That leads not only to moderate discomfort, but can actually result in chronic back pain or even injury to the back muscles. So, it is recommended to look for an office chair that has, at the very least, adjustable lumbar (lower back) support.

4. Adjsutable Tilt
Studies have shown that sitting at a slightly reclined angle can actually help improve posture and reduce back pain by relieving pressure on the lower back. Office chairs that have an adjustable tilt mechanism can work equally well for people who tend to lean way back in their chairs to talk on their phone and people who tend to hunch over their keyboards.

5. Ergonomic
Ergonomic is really just a buzzword. It's a whole industry about making things that maximize productivity and shape various things to work well with the human body. But, ultimately, it just means comfortable. There are also about half a million studies coming out about how awful sitting down all day is for the human body. Unfortunately for the average American, there's not a whole lot to do about it. So it might be worth trying out an "active" ergonomic chair - an exercise ball chair, a chair on rockers that force one to keep balance, or a kneeling chair that helps naturally improve posture and keeps muscles working at the same time.

6. Material
The material of the chair overall is important both to the aesthetic of the office chair and to its comfort. High backed leather chairs are the iconic boss chair, and have a soft, smooth feeling to them, but tend to retain heat. Cloth chairs breathe better, but have a slightly rougher feel to them. Those shopping for ergonomic office chairs are likely to run across a few weirder materials, like the rubber bungee chair, or a springy-yet-supportive mesh backing .


Q: What role might engineers play in my remodeling project?

August 14, 2012 5:26 pm

A: Soil and structural engineers can be particularly instrumental to a home remodeling project. An engineer can tell whether you can tear down a kitchen safely or whether the walls can bear the load of a second or third story. You can use an engineer to size interior supports, stamp a drawing for building department approval, design an appropriate structural repair, test structures to withstand such natural forces as earthquakes, create concrete foundation specifications, size deck supports, and inspect repairs during and after your remodeling job. Engineers can also perform site preparation work such as an excavation and grading, fix foundation cracks or leaks, raise a settling foundation and test soil for structure support. You can get a guesstimate of what the job you plan is likely to cost so you can show it to contractors once you start to take bids.