Gunning Daily News
January 5, 2012 4:32 pm
As 2011 turns a new leaf and a new year, I am looking back on some of the best, or most tried and true consumer advice dispensed during the past year; while looking forward to some of the top trends and issues expected to top consumers' agendas in 2012.
Whether trading down into a fixer-upper, or venturing into one's first adventure in home ownership, 2012 may very well be 'the year of the rehab.' As property owners—whether commercial, residential or multi-family—seek to conserve and improve their property values, they will be contracting, hammering, decorating and upgrading like there's no tomorrow.
In a recent piece, Taylor Johnson (taylorjohnson.com) talked to several Chicagoland experts on the subject.
Johnson says Rick Croce of Smykal Renovations told him whether buying or renting, people will have little interest in homes that are not renovated. That means if you’re a seller, you need to make the investment in not only replacing things like a roof and windows, but also giving the home a facelift to make it more modern.
He said people are looking for open floor plans, well-designed kitchens and attractive baths, so it is worth considering making such renovations to your home before putting it on the market—even if you don’t plan to sell for a few years.
The same holds true for the rental market, according to Jim McClelland of MACK Companies, which manages more than 500 single-family rentals in the Chicago area. McClelland told Johnson that while rental demand is high right now for single-family homes, quality still counts.
He says people aren’t interested in old, outdated homes. It’s important that smart renovations are made before trying to rent a property in order to find a good tenant and top dollar for your rental income.
McClelland said on average, MACK invests $50,000 into each of its redeveloped properties to bring them up to new-construction standards.
And Anthony Rossi, Sr., president of RMK Management Corp., told Johnson his company is continually renovating and improving its 26 properties—and the company has scheduled several large renovation projects at various communities in the works for 2012.
January 5, 2012 4:32 pm
The holidays are over. Darkness comes early, and inclement weather may be keeping you indoors. That’s a good recipe for the wintertime blues, notes marriage and family counselor Emily Adams. But unless you are suffering from real depression—for which you may need to seek professional help—there are many effective ways for beating the symptoms of more commonplace winter doldrums.
Adams suggests seven activities to help you blast through the winter blues:
• Exercise – if you can’t get to the gym, exercise at home for at least 30 minutes a day. Do bending and stretching exercises. Use a jump rope. Get on the treadmill or stair stepper if you have one. Physical activity is the surest way to pump you up mentally and emotionally.
• Take a break – A week in the Caribbean may do wonders. But so can a weekend in the country—or even a “mental health” sick day from the office, spent at the movies or another pursuit you enjoy.
• Take care of yourself – A hot meal—even a steaming bowl of canned soup—can be a treat after a long day. Eat properly. Get enough rest. Pamper yourself with a professional massage.
• Let the sunshine in – Try not to mope. Open the blinds and enjoy the sunlight at every opportunity.
• Do some chores – Set yourself goals. Scrub down the kitchen. Do some ironing. Clean out that overstuffed closet. Making a list of chores and crossing them off can do wonders to elevate your mood.
• Do volunteer work – Check in to see how you can help at a local church, senior center or food pantry. Check out online volunteer opportunities. Doing something to help others can make you feel better about life.
• Connect with positive people – Who’s the most cockeyed optimist you know? That’s who you want to connect with. Get together for lunch, or a chat over coffee. Stay in touch and stay connected, and the good mood may wash over you.
January 5, 2012 4:32 pm
While snow can be beautiful and provide endless thrills for both children and adults, fallen snow must be cleared regularly to ensure safety both on and off the road. However, if done improperly, shoveling or snow blower use can cause serious injury to the back, shoulders, hands or feet.
In 2010, more than 148,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices, clinics and other medical settings for injuries sustained while shoveling or otherwise removing ice and snow manually, according to the U.S Consumer Products Safety Commission. In that same year, more than 21,500 were injured using snow blowers.
"Shoveling snow involves a lot of bending, heavy lifting and repetitive motion," says Roxanne Wallace, MD, orthopaedic surgeon and spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). "For older Americans, and individuals who do not regularly exercise, shoveling can cause pain and injury to the back, and shoulder and arm muscles, and increase the risk for a heart attack."
For individuals who feel they are physically healthy enough to shovel, Dr. Wallace suggests taking frequent rest breaks, and drinking plenty of water and fluids. If you feel pain, stop shoveling, and find a friend, family member or professional to resume the task.
Using a snow blower is not as physically taxing as shoveling; however, the rapid, powerful blades of a running snow blower have the potential to severely injure hands or feet.
"Hands or feet should be kept away from the undersurface of a running snow blower at all times," adds Dr. Wallace. "And do not ever use your hands to address a jammed snow blower. Even if the machine is powered off, the blades may rotate forcefully after the jam is cleared, potentially causing injury. Children should never be allowed to operate or touch a snow blower. Snow blowers should not be used when children are nearby."
The AAOS has recommendations to help you stay safe while clearing snow:
• Check with your doctor. Because this activity places high stress on the heart, speak with your physician first. If you have a medical condition or do not exercise regularly, consider hiring someone to remove the snow.
• Dress appropriately. Light, layered, water-repellent clothing provides both ventilation and insulation. It is also important to wear the appropriate hat, as well as mittens or gloves and thick, warm socks. Take a break if you feel yourself getting too hot or too cold.
• See what you are shoveling/snow blowing. Make sure that your hat or scarf does not block your vision. Expect icy patches and uneven surfaces. Avoid falls by wearing shoes or boots that have slip-resistant soles.
• Clear snow early and often. Begin when a light covering of snow is on the ground to avoid trying to clear packed, heavy snow. If the snow is wet, lift smaller, lighter amounts with each shovel load.
• Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other signs of a heart attack, seek emergency care, such as by calling 9-1-1.
• Use a shovel that is comfortable for your height and strength. Do not use a shovel that is too heavy or too long for you. Consider buying a shovel that is specially designed to prevent too much stooping. Space your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage.
• Push the snow instead of lifting it, as much as you can. If you must lift, take small amounts of snow, and lift it with your legs: Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift by straightening your legs, without bending at the waist. Then walk to where you want to dump the snow; holding a shovelful of snow with your arms outstretched puts too much weight on your spine.
• Do not throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that stresses your back.
• Never stick your hands or feet in the snow blower! If snow becomes impacted, stop the engine and wait at least five seconds. Use a solid object to clear wet snow or debris from the chute. Beware of the recoil of the motor and blades after the machine has been turned off.
• Do not leave the snow blower unattended when it is running. Shut off the engine if you must walk away from the machine.
• Watch the snow blower cord. If you are operating an electric snow blower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times, so you do not trip and fall.
• Add fuel before starting the snow blower. Never add fuel when the engine is running or hot. Do not operate the machine in an enclosed area.
• Read the instruction manual. Prior to using a snow blower, read the instruction manual for specific safety hazards, unfamiliar features, and whenever attempting to repair or maintain the snow blower.
January 5, 2012 4:32 pm
Health insurance is important, as you never know what life may throw at your, and shouldn’t take your well-being—or the well-being of those you love—for granted. However, health insurance plans can vary, and pricing can be steep. The following tips, offered by Health Insurance Outlet, let you in on 6 ways to save on individual health insurance.
1) Compare plans
Based on your affordability, see what plans make sense for your health history. If you are a healthier person, maybe a higher deductible plan will be the right route for you.
2) Choose an insurance plan with a smaller network
This will instantly save you money because carriers will always charge you a premium if the network is large.
3) Increase your deductible
The deductible is the money you have to pay out of your own pocket first before the insurance carrier will start paying benefits.
4) Consider your health history and how old you are
For instance, if you do not have a history of taking prescription drugs, then pick a plan with lower drug benefits and that will lower your California health insurance premium.
5) Ask your employer if they offer health insurance
For the most part, group insurance through your employer will have lower monthly premiums. This is also because employers are required to contribute towards your health coverage and that will always save you money.
6) Consider HSAs to maximize your tax benefits
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are great ways to spend your tax dollars wisely. These health insurance plans are meant for people who have recurring or predictable health care needs.
January 5, 2012 4:32 pm
Subletting. The leasing of premises by a lessee to a third party for part of the lessee’s remaining term.
January 5, 2012 4:32 pm
Q: What contingencies should appear in the offer?
A: When you look to purchase a home, anticipate potential problems. But protect against them so that if something does go wrong, you can cancel the contract without penalty. This is what contingencies allow you to do. They should be included in any offer you present to buy a home.
January 4, 2012 5:24 pm
As cold creeps in across the nation, everyone is looking for the most efficient and effective way to keep warm. With that in mind, I went looking to see what the latest trends are firing up the home heating marketplace.
Enter Mark J McCourt, founder and president of eheat, Inc. (eheat.us) of Houston, Texas, an online distributor of wall-mounted electric panel heaters and associated accessories. One of the company's latest developments is the "envi"— an electric, wall-mounted, fanless, 100 percent pure convection panel space heater that McCourt says is more efficient, from a convection basis, than many of his competitors.
McCourt says unlike a central heating system and portable fan heaters using forced convection heat, envi wall-mounted heaters create a natural circulation of warm air within a room. And they are mounted flush to the wall with an air gap built into the heater.
Cold air is then drawn (inducted) into the air gap inside the heater where it flows through dual heating stacks, causing rapid heating of air as it rises out. It is this unique "stack convection" technology that allows the envi to be more efficient, effective and safer than radiator, fan, ceramic, gas, oil filled, baseboard and other types of heaters.
The newest line of envis are 100 percent pure convection heaters with 50 Watts more power than older models, enabling it to heat a larger area more quickly. And the envi features a built in temperature sensing thermostat and a sleep-friendly auto-dimmer function for the on/off power light.
The envi heater has no exposed elements and operates at a safe surface temperature of approximately 90°F. Plus, envi wall-mounted heaters eliminate the usual problems connected with allergy sufferers and dust disturbances because they do not use a fan.
Additionally, the low wattage of the heater, and its low-temperature heating core, won’t allow the air to dry out. Even sufferers of Dry-Eye-Pain syndrome can experience relief during the heating season by the reduction of dried out air, and airborne particles normally blown about by other heating systems.
eHeat's 475 watt envi heater has been specifically designed to heat an average room measuring 130 - 150 square feet in floor area, to between 68 and 72 degrees, even in the coldest parts of the country. If you thought your home was warm and welcoming now, with the addition of eHeat teachnology, you could be the "envi" of your neighborhood.
January 4, 2012 5:24 pm
This year, everyone is looking to save on their household budget. But just because you're scaling back, doesn't mean you can't make some improvements around the house.
Use these DIY home improvement and cleanup tips from the experts at Grime Boss to help revamp your home, without spending a fortune:
Repaint the walls
One great way to update your home without having to replace carpeting or furniture is to refresh walls with a fresh coat of paint. Determine the amount of paint needed by using an online calculator.
To save even more, simply update the paint on doors, cabinets and crown molding, rather than the walls. Likewise, you can paint an accent wall along a hallway, or within your kitchen or living room, rather than the entire space.
If you'd love to renovate, but it's simply not in the budget for this year; make small updates now that you can incorporate into later construction projects. One small trick is to replace the hardware in highly trafficked areas, such as the kitchen or the bathroom. Replace cabinet handles or knobs and drawer pulls. While replacing hardware, make sure to give your door hinges and drawer tracks a good oiling to prevent squeaking.
Give your car a tune-up
When it comes to saving, learning how to maintain your vehicle can go a long way in terms of managing your household budget. Remember, you should change the oil in your car every 3,000 miles or 3 months.
Install shelving in the garage
Who couldn't use extra storage space? For many, additional storage may mean looking beyond the house to the garage. Find a variety of storage solutions that fit within your budget—from finishing rod racks to cabinets and overhead ceiling-mounted shelving—at a variety of retail stores.
January 4, 2012 5:24 pm
A recent national survey conducted by GfK Roper Custom Research finds that less than 50 percent of homeowners surveyed know that they are responsible for repairs to the water line on their property. Further, the report goes on to state that one-third of all homeowners responding actually assume that their local utility is responsible for the cost of a burst water line between their house and the street, when this is usually not the case.
"One of the challenges of homeownership is that the potential for expensive repairs is always out there," says Tom Rusin, Chief Executive Officer of HomeServe USA. "The fact that homeowners don't know about their responsibilities in these situations serves to make unexpected and expensive repairs harder to handle."
"Emergencies do happen and unfortunately, there's very little someone can do to prevent them," continues Rusin. "But homeowners can be prepared with a service repair plan that helps cover the cost of expensive water service line repairs."
Typically the homeowner is responsible for the water service line from the curb or well casing all the way to the home, connecting to the water heater, sinks, showers and more. Temperature changes, shifting soil or the age of the line can all cause the line to become damaged. Many times this results in a loss of water pressure or a loss of water altogether. In other instances, the effects will not be noticed until there is a spike in the water bill due to an underground leak. Repairing a water service line can cost more than $2,000.
January 4, 2012 5:24 pm
Travelers are bombarded with offers, deals and price fluctuations on a day-to-day basis, so to help them navigate the maze and save money, Consumer Reports' experts came up with some helpful tips to cut costs and lock in the best rates.
A Consumer Reports reporter found a roundtrip ticket from Philadelphia to Venice on Alitalia for $247 which seemed like a steal until discovering, just before booking, that taxes ballooned the price to $767. Hidden fees, fine print, and blackout dates can make locking in a low price as tricky as a soft landing in turbulence.
If you plan to travel throughout the New Year, here are five tips to help get the rock bottom rate before take-off.
Check fares early. Most airline and travel sites make it convenient to set up alerts to track fares. Take advantage of the alerts and start searching for flights three and a half months prior to booking domestic flights and five and a half months before booking international flights. That's when the market begins to sort itself out and lower fares begin to appear.
Compare Prices. Airline and third party sites often list identical prices but have different electronic reservation systems which add and remove fares at different times. One system can often trail another by up to five hours. Be sure to check the airline's own site, which can be cheaper because there is no commission.
Look beyond discount airlines. Discount airlines aren't always the cheapest. Airlines cannot afford to be more expensive than their competitors for comparable flights at comparable times.
Be wary of when you buy. The greatest number of cheap seats are available on Tuesdays at 3:00 p.m., most sales begin on Monday at 8:00 p.m. and end on Thursday at 8:00 p.m. Be mindful of booking weekend flights because those are popular with both business travelers and vacationers.
Consider a connecting flight and don't delay. Connecting flights can be substantially cheaper than flights that are non-stop, especially for international travel. If you delay booking your flight within seven to fourteen days of travel, chances are you will pay a premium. Airlines would rather leave a seat empty than sell tickets at a steep discounted rate.