Gunning Daily News
March 2, 2012 5:08 pm
Q: What if my contractor bungles the job?
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.
March 2, 2012 4:08 pm
After months of searching, you’ve finally landed an interview for the job of your dreams. You’ve chosen your wardrobe, Googled the company so you can intelligently discuss the issues, and thought through questions you may be asked. That’s all fine, says Andrew Sobel. But if you haven’t brushed up on the questions you want to ask the interviewer, you’re missing a key part of your preparation—the part that may win you the job.
“If you talk to recruiters and executives who are actively hiring, they will tell you that there are three types of questions they get: no questions, bad questions, and—very rarely—memorable questions,” says Sobel, author (along with coauthor Jerold Panas) of Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others.” And the candidates who ask the memorable ones are often the ones they make offers to.
“A recruiter for a well-known, fast-growing technology company told me, ‘You’d be surprised how many job candidates have absolutely no questions for me at all, or they ask dumb or boring questions like ‘So what do you do?’” he adds. “By asking questions—not just any questions but memorable, thought-provoking ones—you come across as a cut above the average candidate.”
It makes sense. After all, anyone can anticipate common interview questions and craft what they think are impressive answers ahead of time. But candidates who ask insightful, incisive questions prove they’re thinkers and connectors.
“You can tell people all day long how qualified you are, how talented you are, and what a tremendous asset to the company you would be,” says Sobel. “But no statement is ever as impactful as a well-timed, well-executed question. In all situations, power questions help us connect and engage with others in meaningful ways.”
You want a recruiter or executive who interviews you to tell a colleague afterwards, “I had a great conversation with that candidate. He had really thought a lot about our business.” That’s what gets you the callback, explains Sobel. And good questions are the way you create a thought-provoking, value-added conversation.
First, avoid these types of questions in a job interview:
• Informational questions: Don’t take up a manager’s time asking, “How much vacation will I get?” Get the basic information you need before you go in for an interview.
• Closed-ended questions: If someone can give a “yes” or “no” answer, it diminishes your prospects for having a good conversation.
• “Me” questions: An executive is interested in how you will add value to her organization and whether or not you’re a good fit. Skip questions like “I skydive every Saturday—so will I ever be asked to work weekends?”
That said, here are the kinds of questions you should be asking in a job interview:
1. Credibility-building questions: “As I think back to my experience in managing large sales forces, I’ve found there are typically three barriers to breakthrough sales performance: coordination of the sales function with marketing and manufacturing, customer selection, and product quality. In your case, do you think any of these factors are holding back your sales growth? What do you believe are your own greatest opportunities for increasing sales effectiveness?”
2. “Why?” questions: “Why did you close down your parts business rather than try to find a buyer for it?” or “Why did you decide to move from a functional to a product-based organization structure?”
3. Personal understanding questions: “I understand you joined the organization five years ago. With all the growth you’ve had, how do you find the experience of working here now compared to when you started?”
4. Passion questions: “What do you love most about working here?”
5. Value-added advice questions: “Have you considered creating an online platform for your top account executives, so that they can share success stories and collaborate better around key client opportunities? We implemented such a concept a year ago, and it’s been very successful.”
6. Future-oriented questions: “You’ve achieved large increases in productivity over the last three years. Where do you believe future operational improvements will come from?”
7. Aspiration questions: “As you look ahead to the next couple of years, what are the potential growth areas that people are most excited about in the company?”
8. Organizational culture questions: “What are the most common reasons why new hires don’t work out here?” or “What kinds of people really thrive in your organization?”
9. Decision-making questions: “If you were to arrive at two final candidates with equal experience and skills, how would you choose one over the other?”
10. Company strengths-and-weaknesses questions: “Why do people come to work for you rather than a competitor? And why do you think they stay?”
In general, says Sobel, good questions prove you’ve done your homework. They show you’re not just concerned about yourself but that you’ve given some thought to the future of the company. They allow you to demonstrate your knowledge without sounding arrogant. And they greatly improve your chances that the interviewer will like you—and we tend to hire those we like!
“If you want to be noticed by recruiters, don’t talk more,” he summarizes. “Instead, ask better questions. You’ll soon find yourself answering the best question of all: How soon can you start?”
March 2, 2012 4:08 pm
According to the 2011 DaVinci Roofscapes’ Homeowners Exterior Preferences Study, more than seven in 10 homeowners (71 percent) believe the outward appearance of their home reflects their personality. Those people who identify their personalities closest to their home’s exterior live in the Midwest, while those with the least connection are residents of the Northeast.
Homeowners who closely align their home’s exterior with their own personality cited a variety of reasons for the similarity, including:
- “It’s bold and different like me.”
- “Having personally designed my home I feel it reflects my likes and preferences.”
- “I am a contemporary person; the house is contemporary.”
- “It too is old, but really stylish.”
- “It looks simple and unpretentious … which is how I think of myself.”
- “The exterior of my home is conservative in appearance, which is the same as my personality.”
Homeowners also indicated in the study that the colors of their home’s exterior match up and reflect their personalities, citing:
- “I am a traditionalist. I think the colors of my house are very traditional.”
- “The (house) color and trim was chosen by me and is unique to my personality.”
- “I have chosen colors (for my home’s exterior) that are traditional and dramatic rather than the drab beige people consider safe.”
“This part of the study tells us that a majority of homeowners see a relationship between their personalities and their home exteriors,” says Ray Rosewall, CEO and president of DaVinci Roofscapes. “This helps us understand why roofing color options are important to homeowners. They see their home’s exterior— including the colors on the exterior—as a positive reflection of who they are. This explains why we’ve seen soaring sales of personalized color configurations of our roofing products in the past several years and an overall increase in color blends by our customers. People are sharing their personality through their home’s exterior!”
The nationwide consumer study, conducted online by Harris Interactive©, also indicates that homeowners in the Midwest are the most likely to feel connected to the outward appearance of their home (80 percent), followed by the South at 73 percent and the West at 71 percent. Homeowners in the Northeast feel the least amount of personality connection (65 percent) with their home’s exterior.
“Homeowners in the study also indicated that when house hunting or designing their own homes, the most attention-grabbing feature of the exterior was the style of the home, followed by how the home looked on the property,” says Rosewall. “We believe this information firmly links a homeowner’s personality with a specific style home. As opposed to buying a house simply because it’s a ‘good deal’ or in a good location, people seek out the style of home that most reflects how they view themselves and want others to see them.”
For more information, visit www.davinciroofscapes.com.
March 2, 2012 4:08 pm
The Internal Revenue Service recently issued its annual “Dirty Dozen” ranking of tax scams, reminding taxpayers to use caution during tax season to protect themselves against a wide range of schemes ranging from identity theft to return preparer fraud.
The Dirty Dozen listing, compiled by the IRS each year, lists a variety of common scams taxpayers can encounter at any point during the year. But many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns.
“Taxpayers should be careful and avoid falling into a trap with the Dirty Dozen,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “Scam artists will tempt people in-person, on-line and by e-mail with misleading promises about lost refunds and free money. Don’t be fooled by these scams.”
Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division works closely with the Department of Justice to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.
The following is part II of the Dirty Dozen tax scams for 2012. Keep an eye out for part III, coming soon.
Hiding Income Offshore
Over the years, numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities, using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose.
The IRS uses information gained from its investigations to pursue taxpayers with undeclared accounts, as well as the banks and bankers suspected of helping clients hide their assets overseas. The IRS works closely with the Department of Justice to prosecute tax evasion cases.
While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting and disclosure requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.
Since 2009, 30,000 individuals have come forward voluntarily to disclose their foreign financial accounts, taking advantage of special opportunities to bring their money back into the U.S. tax system and resolve their tax obligations. And, with new foreign account reporting requirements being phased in over the next few years, hiding income offshore will become increasingly more difficult.
At the beginning of this year, the IRS reopened the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) following continued strong interest from taxpayers and tax practitioners after the closure of the 2011 and 2009 programs. The IRS continues working on a wide range of international tax issues and follows ongoing efforts with the Justice Department to pursue criminal prosecution of international tax evasion. This program will be open for an indefinite period until otherwise announced.
The IRS has collected $3.4 billion so far from people who participated in the 2009 offshore program, reflecting closures of about 95 percent of the cases from the 2009 program. On top of that, the IRS has collected an additional $1 billion from up front payments required under the 2011 program. That number will grow as the IRS processes the 2011 cases.
‘Free Money’ from the IRS & Tax Scams Involving Social Security
Flyers and advertisements for free money from the IRS, suggesting that the taxpayer can file a tax return with little or no documentation, have been appearing in community churches around the country. These schemes are also often spread by word of mouth as unsuspecting and well-intentioned people tell their friends and relatives.
Scammers prey on low income individuals and the elderly. They build false hopes and charge people good money for bad advice. In the end, the victims discover their claims are rejected. Meanwhile, the promoters are long gone. The IRS warns all taxpayers to remain vigilant.
There are a number of tax scams involving Social Security. For example, scammers have been known to lure the unsuspecting with promises of non-existent Social Security refunds or rebates. In another situation, a taxpayer may really be due a credit or refund but uses inflated information to complete the return.
Beware. Intentional mistakes of this kind can result in a $5,000 penalty.
False/Inflated Income and Expenses
Including income that was never earned, either as wages or as self-employment income in order to maximize refundable credits, is another popular scam. Claiming income you did not earn or expenses you did not pay in order to secure larger refundable credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit could have serious repercussions. This could result in repaying the erroneous refunds, including interest and penalties, and in some cases, even prosecution.
Additionally, some taxpayers are filing excessive claims for the fuel tax credit. Farmers and other taxpayers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But other individuals have claimed the tax credit when their occupations or income levels make the claims unreasonable. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.
False Form 1099 Refund Claims
In this ongoing scam, the perpetrator files a fake information return, such as a Form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), to justify a false refund claim on a corresponding tax return. In some cases, individuals have made refund claims based on the bogus theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for U.S. citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to the accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to the IRS.
Don’t fall prey to people who encourage you to claim deductions or credits to which you are not entitled or willingly allow others to use your information to file false returns. If you are a party to such schemes, you could be liable for financial penalties or even face criminal prosecution.
Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous tax arguments that taxpayers should avoid. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law.
For more information, visit www.irs.gov
March 2, 2012 4:08 pm
Blockbusting. Illegal practice of creating panic selling in a neighborhood for financial gain. Typically exploits racial and religious bias to get homeowners to sell low so the properties can be resold at a mark up.
March 2, 2012 4:08 pm
Q: When remodeling, what cost controls or budgeting ideas might be helpful?
A: Plan ahead and create a realistic budget. Decide on the items and materials you would like to have in a room and set your budget accordingly. This will prevent hasty, and costly, decisions down the road. The experts suggest setting aside 10-20% of your budget to cover unforeseen problems and miscellaneous charges. Then, choose less expensive products that will help you achieve the look you’re trying to obtain. Avoid labor intensive design features, such as tiled floors. You may also want to pursue your home improvement in stages, if you can’t afford to pay for the entire project at once. Also, purchase surplus, secondhand, or discounted materials from other contractors, warehouses or classified websites like www.build.recylce.net to reduce costs. If possible, avoid too many take-out meals and/or hotel stays. Try isolating construction areas so that your living space isn’t interrupted and other household space can be used to heat or prepare meals once the kitchen is being remodeled.
March 1, 2012 6:00 pm
Dinner at a fancy restaurant is nice, and orchestra seats at a major production can be exciting. But, points out leisure writer Lisa Sussmane, there are many romantic date night options that cost a lot less but can give any couple the chance to relax, shut out the workaday stress and catch up with each other.
Sussman suggests seven ways to get your imagination going:
• Cheap dinner and a movie – Check out a free movie from the library—or, in summer, look for a free movie screening in an outdoor venue in your community. Add a picnic dinner, or cheap take-out, put up your feet and enjoy.
• Home window shop – Make an afternoon of attending open houses in a neighborhood where you’d like to live one day. Enjoy the views, talk about the furnishings, and let yourselves dream a little.
• Camp out overnight – State parks offer inexpensive admission. Set up a tent, cook over an open fire, and gaze at the stars all night.
• Playground date – Go to the playground around dusk, after the kids have gone home. Climb the monkey bars, laugh like children, and see who can swing the highest.
• Get glamorous – Find an art show opening or a wine-tasting, and put on your fancy duds. Enjoy complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres as you wander through the displays.
March 1, 2012 6:00 pm
Spring Break is just around the corner, and you know what that means... time to start planning your vacation. So here are five tips on what you need to know to have the most amazing experience.
1. By air or sea?
When it comes to airfare, it's not great news. With airlines continuing to slash routes, that means decreased competition, which translates into increased airfare. So where are the deals? It depends on where—and how—you're traveling.
"For those of you who are flexible with your travel, it can pay to wait until the last minute," says Steven Fischer, vice president of cruise development at Travel Holdings, Inc. "That's when airlines and cruises need to unload inventory, so stay on top of deals through last minute booking sites. Get a great deal and you don't have to book 6 months in advance."
2. Find the best-suited cruise
Whether you're a family with two kids under 10 looking for a memorable vacation, a couple trying to revive some romance or a college student envisioning a trip on a fixed income, there is a cruise, destination and price point that is perfect for you.
"Disney cruises give families everything they're looking for -- kid-appropriate entertainment and relaxing adult-only escapes for parents," Fischer says. "To spice up the romance, I recommend a Caribbean cruise on Celebrity Solstice class ships where you can relax and be pampered in luxury while traveling to exotic locations. And for those college students looking for dance clubs, bars on every floor and endless entertainment, Carnival cruises to the Bahamas are the perfect laid back, economical vacation."
3. Plan ahead
Book your excursions before boarding the ship. Cruise lines generally have an updated list of shore excursions for your cruise before departure. Many cruise lines allow for advance booking. Book your top two or three in advance because many popular shore excursions sell out. If you decide to wait to plan your shore excursion, you can also book at the ship's shore excursion desk.
Find out how many days you'll be at sea and give yourself an allotted amount to spend. Having a room key as a credit card can make for easy spending. You don't want to end your blissful vacation with an excessive tab.
"Don't bring your credit card to the island," Fischer says. "And only bring the amount of money with you to land that you feel comfortable spending."
5. What to bring
"Just pack your smile," Fischer says. "Don't bring your laptop. Don't check your email. Don't bother bringing books to study. The best part of a Spring Break vacation is the time to truly relax. This is a time to let loose and have fun. You're going to end up packing heavy textbooks that sit on the cabin floor."
March 1, 2012 6:00 pm
It seems like snoring is quickly becoming an epidemic in bedrooms across the country. Whether you live with a snorer, or suffer from a mild to severe case of it yourself -- snoring can wreak havoc on your health, your energy level, your relationship, and the amount of restorative sleep you get every night.
"It's time to hit the mute button on snoring so you can seize your day each and every day," says Ben Thorud, Senior Vice President of Ashley Sleep. "Excessive snoring is serious business. It's not only been linked to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, it also makes it nearly impossible for you and, in many cases, your partner, to get a good night's rest. Not getting the proper amount of sleep can cause your immune system to break down, also making you more susceptible to disease and illness."
So what causes snoring and what can you do to make it go away? Here is some important information, as well as valuable lifestyle tips, that can help you stop snoring, improve your health, and get a better night's rest:
1. Sleep on Your Side. If you're a back sleeper and you're suffering from snoring, try to stay on your side. Sleeping on your back causes your tongue to fall backward into your throat, which makes it harder for air to pass through your airway. If, despite your best efforts, you end up on your back every night, a body pillow could help you stay on your side. If that doesn't work, try propping up the top of your mattress or placing your head on several pillows to open up your air passage.
2. Get Rid of Allergens. Make sure to keep dust, pets and other sources of allergens out of your bedroom, since they may be a major snoring cause. Trade up to a new pillow every year—since old ones can harbor dust mites, mold, mildew and fungus. Choosing a naturally hypoallergenic sleep surface, like a Latex Mattress, may also help with snoring, since it's resistant to bacteria, mold, mildew and dust-mites.
3. Improve Your Sleep Habits. Whether you've worked a 15 hour day, or you've been burning the midnight oil, being overly exhausted causes you to sleep more deeply, which also causes snoring. Make it a priority to get eight hours of restful sleep every night.
4. Say "No" to Alcohol/Sedatives. While using these substances seem like an easy way to unwind, both can actually cause the muscles in your throat to relax, which can lead to snoring and disruptive sleep.
5. Clear your Nose. If your nose—and not your throat—is the cause of your snoring, try opening up your nasal passages. A hot shower, a neti pot with saltwater, or nasal strips could do the trick. Drinking a lot of water and staying hydrated also keeps your nose clearer.
6. Hit the Gym. Carrying too much weight in your upper body is one of the biggest snoring causes. Being overweight can narrow your airway, causing excessive snoring. Exercising and watching what you eat can help you stop snoring.
If you've tried every possible remedy and the snoring just won't go away, you may have a more serious problem, like sleep apnea, and it may be time to see a professional.
March 1, 2012 6:00 pm
Blanket mortgage. Single mortgage that covers more than one real property, i.e. –a house plus the vacant lot next door.