March 22, 2012 5:28 pm
Q: Are impound accounts required for all mortgage loans?
A: They can typically be waived on a conventional loan if the loan amount is 80 percent or less of the purchase price. But the lender might charge you an additional 1/4 point for this option to waive the escrow.
One way to avoid an impound account on an owner-occupied mortgage is to raise your down payment amount slightly. The exact amount necessary to avoid the escrow will vary with the lender.
In some states, lenders let buyers set up separate accounts in which they place specific funds and then pay the insurance and property taxes themselves. These are called pledge accounts, and they must be set up before you close on the home.
An impound account can usually be dropped on an owner-occupied loan once the loan-to-value ratio equals 80 percent or less. But restrictions apply: payments will have to be current and your record of making on-time payments pretty solid. Contact your lender if you meet these requirements and want to drop your impound account.
March 21, 2012 4:22 pm
Spring is here and with it comes a natural urge to freshen up the lair where you've spent the past few dark winter months curled up eyeballing DIY cable shows, catalogs and color swatches. Yes, I know that nothing inspires decorating like turning that calendar page to April.
With this in mind, we'll spend some of our time this month looking at ways to spruce up your home and property, and maybe save a few dollars—or some major-league stress—in the process. So without further adieu, let’s turn to Decor & You Decorator Lynda Getz of Connecticut (decorandyou.com).
Getz says that people need to take a breath before they plunge into the choppy waters of a decorating project without an experienced guide. So Getz developed her top five decorating risks and potential blunders—which she shares freely.
Getz says many people are overwhelmed with the challenge of creating a great room. She suggests people consider the following list of risks and tips before they spend countless hours, money and time on a decorating project:
1. Color - Getz says colors can set a mood, energize and create an ambiance of warmth and tranquility in a room. But, there is a science behind creating the right tone, both in color and aura. There are important Color Theories to understand when developing a color plan for a home.
2. Lack of Time - The lack of time causes many to settle for less than an ideal outcome to their decorating projects. Getz warns you not to rush through decision-making when you want the results to last for many years.
3. Furniture Selection and Value Decisions - Safety and value are important considerations when purchasing furniture and accessories. It's hard to identify lesser quality or "curbside furniture" that will only last a few years, according to Getz.
4. Safety and Environmental Impact - Non-eco-friendly materials are being used in furniture today. Getz says formaldehyde and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are commonly used in imported furniture and will affect the air quality of any room and cause short-term and long-term health problems.
5. Missing Master Plan - Get it right the first time by developing a master plan that will compliment your own personal style, and save you both time and money. Getz' final word? Create the plan and then buy to the plan.
To learn more, check out Getz' website, www.decorandyou.com.
March 21, 2012 4:22 pm
Continuing uncertainty in the real estate market has homeowners asking a major question as the market warms this spring—is it smarter to move or to improve? Cost is the driving factor behind home improvement projects again this year, and it's important to choose projects that will provide the biggest return on investment.
"Giving your home some added curb appeal with an exterior makeover will automatically boost the resale value of your property," says Jeff Kaliner, Power Home Remodeling Group’s Founding Partner. "If you plan to stay put, focus on cost effective renovations that make your home more comfortable, functional and low maintenance for your family. Either way, enhancing your home this spring will help protect your greatest investment."
Power shares the following tips to stay on trend with home improvements this spring:
• Energize your exterior – Exterior home improvements are king when it comes to return on investment again this year. Projects like updating siding, window replacement and refreshing entry doors can have a dramatic effect on your home's curb appeal for a relatively low cost. In fact, seven of the top 10 home improvement projects for 2012 are exterior projects garnering anywhere from 69 to 78 percent return on investment—the highest of any other projects this year.
• Choose bold and bright finishes – Fiberglass entry and garage doors are a popular alternative to their pricey wooden counterparts in 2012. A fiberglass door is weather resistant, durable and, above all, maintenance free. This material allows you to achieve the stylish look of an elegant craftsman or rustic design with decorative glass at the fraction of the price. Bright, bold exterior colors are also popular this year. Make your curb appeal pop by choosing a shade of tangerine, yellow or deep purple for your entry door to give your home a cheery look heading into spring.
• Energy efficiency is still supreme – The top green home trend for 2012 is renovating to reduce your home's heating and cooling costs. Making the most of an empty attic space by adding a bedroom, or at least finishing it with insulation, is a great way to keep conditioned air from escaping through the roof. Updating the attic also happens to be this year's third most cost effective home improvement, garnering a whopping 72 percent return on investment, and adding living space without increasing the home's footprint is an eco-friendly way to gain more square footage.
March 21, 2012 4:22 pm
This week brought us the official first day of Spring, meaning that homeowners across the country will start thinking about dusting, vacuuming and all the other tasks that come with cleaning for the season. Here are a few sneaky cleaning tips to ensure you’re getting the best clean possible:
• For a soiled bathtub, make a paste of Comet with water and rub vigorously to get the job done.
• For mirrors or windows, try a combination of 1 gallon of water to 1/2 cup of vinegar, 1/2 cup of rubbing alcohol and 2 squirts of dish soap. Pour into a spray bottle and it cleans windows like magic.
• For toilet stains, try a Polident dissolving tablet dropped into the bowl. Upon flushing, rust stains will disappear.
• To remove stinky odors from a car, place a few briquettes of charcoal underneath the seats. The charcoals absorb the stench and keep your car smelling fresh—just make sure to use charcoal without starting fluid on it.
• To clean your coffee maker, take some powdered dishwasher detergent, shake it into the bottom of a cool coffee pot and fill with hot water. Let it sit for an hour and it should be good as new— no scrubbing, no boiling, no replacement needed.
• If you have a handful of ugly carpet impressions from old furniture, they are easy to erase. Grab one or two ice cubs per impression and simply set the cubes in each one. As they melt, the carpet fibers will loosen and stand. Let it dry overnight, vacuum and they're gone.
March 21, 2012 4:22 pm
A recent spring cleaning survey from the Soap and Detergent Association reveals that 60 percent of Americans believe spring is the best time to rid the house of dirt and clutter. This is especially true for pet parents who may need to put some extra “oomph” into their annual ritual to eliminate allergy causing pet dander. Luckily, pet lifestyle expert Sandy Robins has put together her tips for a successful and pet-safe cleaning season.
Grooming is the most essential method in helping to control pet dander and allergies. Dander is the cause of most pet-related allergies for people, and, depending on breed and coat type, some dogs will have more than others. The frequency of grooming depends greatly on these factors so it’s always best to speak with a professional groomer before starting any at-home grooming routine. In most cases, the average dog should be groomed every four to eight weeks.
Bathing pets will also help to eliminate dirt, debris and dander from a pet’s coat. Choose a fragrance-free, exfoliating shampoo to remove dead skin from the coat and allow more moisture to stay locked in. In addition, she suggests using a water bottle to mist down a pet’s coat, especially in the dryer months. “This will help keep the skin hydrated and cut down on dander.”
In between baths, use a shed control conditioning spray to keep dogs smelling good and tangle free. This will moisturize sooth and leave a dog’s coat and skin soft, shiny, healthy and shed-free.
Another key component to fighting pet dander and ultimately reducing allergies is nutrition. What a dog or cat is fed is reflected in the condition of its skin and coat.
“Premium or natural dog food is ideal for a healthy coat and many food brands offer a sensitive skin or allergy line,” advises Robins. Also, there are many supplements available, such as Omega 3’s, which can help control dry skin. “Shed X makes supplements for both dog and cats that work with your pet’s own bio-mechanisms to reduce shedding within two weeks,” says Robins. She also recommends asking an expert to help find the right solution.
Refresh Old Products
Hair and dander can live on pet throws and beds no matter how clean a pet is. Robins says, “As part of a spring cleaning routine, it is especially important to change out these products and refresh them with a newer counterpart.” Pets need fresh beds and blankets because sleeping in a pet parent’s bed or bedroom is a not recommended for those with allergies. “We all like to curl up in bed with our pets, but people who are allergic may not be doing themselves any favors,” says Robins. “Your airways are more susceptible to irritants at night, partly because when you’re lying down, you’re closer to the ground where particles settle. Instead teach pets to sleep in a separate room nearby with their nice, new, comfy bed.”
Keep a Clean House
It’s very important to clean up any excess hair or dander left by furry friends. Vacuum floors, dust counters and wash carpets in order to reduce the amount of allergens. “I despise pet hair all over my house when guests come over so I especially love the new Roomba Vacuum Cleaner Pet Series 564,” says Robins. “The Roomba gets rid of dirt, pet hair, allergens and cat litter from carpets and hardwood floors and cuts down on the time you spend cleaning since it easily maneuvers around the house on its own.” For those who prefer something less futuristic, Bissell makes a handheld pet hair vacuum that is specifically designed for pet hair pick-up with a rubber nozzle that attracts pet hair.
When spring-cleaning, it’s important to use a pet-safe cleaner. Much like children, dogs will put their mouth on things or even lick the floor so using a cleaning product that is safe and effective is extra important. In addition, cats walk on these surfaces and then lick their paws. “I recommend Pawganics, a line of cleaning and grooming products that are pet safe, baby safe and earth safe,” says Robins. “For those who are extra cautious, leave Fluffy or Fido tucked away in a separate room with an enticing toy while you clean to keep them super safe from toxins.”
March 21, 2012 4:22 pm
Closing costs. Expenses over and above the price of property that must be paid by buyers and sellers before title is transferred. Also known as settlement costs.
March 21, 2012 4:22 pm
Q: Why do most homebuyers prefer a fixed-rate mortgage?
A: Long-term, fixed-rate mortgages are preferred by most homebuyers because they offer security and stability. The interest rate does not fluctuate over the life of the loan, so the total amount of principal and interest always remains the same. The monthly payment can change, however, if local property taxes, which are normally part of the monthly mortgage payment, increase.
Because the life of a fixed-term loan is usually long – anywhere from 15 to 30 years – you have plenty of time to repay it and there is no call provision written into the mortgage. A call allows the lender to demand the balance of the loan be paid in full before the actual payoff date.
On the negative side, the interest rate on a fixed mortgage is usually two or three full points above the current rate on an adjustable rate loan, at least initially. But for buyers seeking security, the comfort of knowing what their payments will be year after year, and no plans of selling their home in the foreseeable future, this is a small price to pay. If rates drop, they may be able to refinance their home loan and get a lower rate.
March 19, 2012 5:54 pm
Buyer’s market. Describes an excess supply of homes for sale, in which there are few buyers and many sellers. In such a market, the buyer can typically negotiate more favorable prices and terms.
March 19, 2012 5:54 pm
Every year thousands of Americans fall prey to scammers, with the elderly and disabled being the most vulnerable to their schemes. Luckily, there are safeguards in place to protect you, and to provide crucial guidance for spotting scams that could be targeting your family.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), founded by Benjamin Franklin, is the oldest law enforcement agency in the country. It works every day to stop these criminals from the millions of attempts they make to scam Americans.
During National Consumer Protection Week, which ends today, March 12, USPIS is making an extra effort to help you protect yourself. One of the most prevalent scams around is the Foreign Lottery Fraud, from as far away as Australia and Europe.
Scam operators target U.S. consumers by phone, Internet and direct mail to buy into high-stakes foreign lotteries. This is not only illegal, it also robs millions of Americans of billions of dollars. Lottery hustlers use victims' bank account numbers to make unauthorized withdrawals or their credit card numbers to run up additional charges.
Tips and warning signs to protect yourself from foreign lottery fraud
Use these tips to ensure you and your family are protected against fraud. Remember to inform family members to look out for the following signs.
There are two main techniques used in a foreign lottery scam:
• They tell you that you've won and only need to send a few hundred dollars to claim your prize.
• They ask you to buy tickets to enter a foreign lottery, where the odds are better.
Either way you can't win.
If you are a caretaker to someone with diminished mental capacity, keep a close eye on warning signs that they have fallen prey to scammers. According to the USPIS these criminals are "deliberately targeting victims with dementia."
• Checks written or money wired internationally Scammers are constantly updating their methods:
• A telephone that rings constantly
• A stack of lottery or sweepstakes entries
• Calls from foreign countries, especially if they're calling your elderly family members
Criminals are increasingly using new technology like VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) and Caller-ID "spoofing," making it seem like the call is coming from the U.S. or even a government agency.
For more information visit www.deliveringtrust.com
March 19, 2012 5:54 pm
Half of all employees who say that they do not feel valued at work report that they intend to look for a new job in the next year, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Conducted online among 1,714 adults between January 12 and 19, 2012 on behalf of the APA by Harris Interactive, the survey found that employees who feel valued are more likely to report better physical and mental health, as well as higher levels of engagement, satisfaction and motivation, compared to those who do not feel valued by their employers.
Almost all employees (93 percent) who reported feeling valued said that they are motivated to do their best at work and 88 percent reported feeling engaged. This compares to just 33 percent and 38 percent, respectively, of those who said they do not feel valued.
Among employees who feel valued, just one in five (21 percent) said they intend to look for a new job in the next year (vs. 50 percent of those who said that they do not feel valued). A variety of factors were linked to feeling undervalued at work, including having fewer opportunities for involvement in decision making (24 percent vs. 84 percent), being less satisfied with the potential for growth and advancement (9 percent vs. 70 percent), having fewer opportunities to use flexible work arrangements (20 percent vs. 59 percent) and being less likely to say they are receiving adequate monetary compensation (18 percent vs. 69 percent) and non-monetary rewards (16 percent vs. 65 percent). Overall, more than one in five (21 percent) working Americans said they do not feel valued by their employers.
Stress at Work
Many Americans continue to report chronic work stress, with two out of five (41 percent) employees reporting that they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday. Commonly cited causes of work stress include low salaries (46 percent), lack of opportunities for growth or advancement (41 percent), too heavy a workload (41 percent), long hours (37 percent) and unclear job expectations (35 percent).
3 Quick Ways to De-stress:
If you’re feeling stressed at work, try the following calming methods.
Walk it out.
Walk away from your office or desk for 5 minutes. Deep breathe and take a lap around the building. When you come back, you will feel more centered.
Write a list of what needs to be done in order of importance. See if you can delegate any tasks to other employees or place low-priority projects on the back burner.
Keep a Smile File.
Keep a file on your computer of inspiring images, photos of family and friends, funny jokes or any material that will bring a smile to your face. Open the file when you need a quick pick-me-up.