Gunning Daily News

Question of the Day

October 13, 2011 5:06 pm

Q: Who are the professionals that do home improvements?

A: They vary depending on the size and scope of your job. General contractors are companies or individuals who contract with you to manage all aspects of the project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, obtaining building permits, and supplying materials and labor equipment needed to do the project. Specialty contractors, on the other hand, are mainly concerned with installing products, such as cabinets and fixtures. Architects design homes, additions, and major renovations. And design/build contractors basically offer one-stop service, providing design and construction services and overseeing a project from start to finish.

Top Tips for Breathing Better at Home

October 13, 2011 4:36 pm

Nobody wants to breathe toxic air. But the fact is that, even in the cleanest home, the air you breathe can be contaminated with unwelcome mold, bacteria or germs. Left unchecked, it can leave you or your family with headaches, allergy symptoms or dizziness.

Much of the bacteria floating around at home comes from toilets, litter boxes, or kitchen counters and cutting boards—so cleaning these targets thoroughly and often is one good way to keep illness at bay. Additionally, say the experts at the National Women’s Health Center, follow these suggestions to keep the air in your home as healthy as possible:
• Buy an air purifier – They can be expensive and sometimes unwieldy, but they are worth the investment, especially if anyone in the family has allergies.
• Try a humidifier – Especially if you live in a humid area, these machines do a good job of reducing the effects of hidden mold and mildew.
• Ultraviolet systems – Installed by a licensed contractor, UV light can effectively neutralize the mold, mildew, bacteria and allergens that may be lurking in your heating and air conditioning system.

Short of these financial investments, says the NWHC, try these less costly clean-air tips:
• Avoid harsh chemicals – Choose fragrance-free or organic cleaners and household products, including spot removers, air fresheners and other aerosol products.
• Ventilation – Open the windows and let in lots of fresh air whenever you are using paint, paint thinner, or other chemical products indoors.
• Plant therapy – Growing plants indoors, such as gerbera daisies, bamboo, Boston fern, dwarf palms or Christmas cactus, can help rid the air of pollutants.
• Extra care tips – If the carpet gets wet, get it cleaned right away to avoid the chance of growing mildew. Clean litter boxes regularly, before you can detect an odor—and dust, vacuum, and beat small rugs regularly to avoid harboring dust mites.

6 Ways to Avoid Holiday Debt

October 13, 2011 4:36 pm

Leaves are changing color and some retailers are already putting out holiday decorations, reminding consumers that the holidays—and holiday shopping—are closer than they may think. 

With the uncertain economy, the dangers of holiday debt loom larger than ever, says Freedom Debt Relief (FDR) vice president Kevin Gallegos. “More than 14 million Americans remain unemployed, and unofficial numbers are far greater than that,” he said. “Year after year, the holidays challenge people to avoid going into excessive debt, and this year, the pressure is on. Fortunately, people can take steps to manage their finances and remain in control of their spending and budgets.” 

Gallegos suggested the following six ways for households to manage their budgets to avoid going into additional debt this fall—and sail through the holidays without incurring a debt hangover. 

1. Put away the plastic. Be very cautious not to pull out the credit cards when it is time to pay for purchases. Switch to old-fashioned cash for the purchases you can, and chances are you’ll spend less and save more in the process.
2. Create a budget. “Most good things in life—career, marriage, children, even hobbies and vacation—do not occur without planning,” Gallegos says. “For the same reason, everyone should plan their spending.” To create a basic budget, list income on one side of a page, and both regular and periodic expenses on the other. If income cannot cover expenses, evaluate where to cut costs, or how to add income. If extra money is left over, use it to pay off debt or save for an emergency fund. “Planning puts you in control of your money,” Gallegos says. “That control is the key to staying out of debt.”
3. Break a budget into bite-size pieces. Some people find it very helpful to break their budget into shorter-term or more manageable amounts, Gallegos said. “If you are paid once or twice a month, consider breaking your income and regular expenditures (such as groceries) into weekly increments. For instance, decide how much discretionary spending room you have per month, and then divide that number by four, one for each week of the month.” Each week, Gallegos suggested, withdraw one-fourth of the monthly total in cash. When the cash is gone, that week’s spending is done. Fortunately, a new week will start in just a few days – and just about any expenditure can wait that long. “In fact, sometimes you will find that by waiting, you discover you no longer want or need to make that purchase,” Gallegos says.
4. Eat out less. It may sound cliché, but commitments to these kinds of actions can make all the difference in getting out, or staying out, of debt, said Gallegos. The average American spends more than $2,600 each year eating out, which equates to about $50 a week, per person, he points out. With a median per-capita income in 2009 of $27,041, that means most people are spending, on average, about 10 percent of their income dining out. “Eating at home, or cooking at home and taking leftovers for lunch or dinner, is a time-tested way to hold onto your dollars. Challenge yourself to eat in, and funnel the savings to repay credit card or other debt or build a nest egg.”
5. Consider a pre-holiday spending fast. A spending fast entails not spending any money except on necessities. That means no extras at the grocery store, no new or used clothing, no dining out, etc. “By focusing on only the things that are absolutely necessary, most people can quickly accumulate savings,” Gallegos says. “It requires some commitment, but it is a terrific way to accumulate significant savings to apply to a debt or use for upcoming holiday expenses so that you do not go into additional debt.”
6. Start shopping now. For many people, Gallegos said, the holidays result in hundreds—or thousands—of dollars of debt piling onto credit cards. He suggests shoppers beat the debt monster by starting early. “Right away, make a list of all the people you want to give gifts to this year, and jot down some gift suggestions,” he says. “Then, between now and the holidays, keep a watchful eye for sales, clearances, one-day bargains with coupons, or great deals at thrift stores and craft sales. Ideally, you can incorporate most of these purchases into your regular budget instead of going all out with a huge credit-card splurge at the last minute.” 

“It is always a good time to revisit your budget, but no time is more appropriate than the weeks leading up to the holidays,” Gallegos says. 

For more information, visit http://www.freedomdebtrelief.com.

Making Energy-Efficient Changes in Historic Buildings

October 12, 2011 5:52 pm

I recently ran across some extremely valuable information from Sharon C. Park, AIA of the National Park Service’s Technical Preservation Services (www.nps.gov/hps/tps)--a provider of information and guidance on the care of historic buildings.

Technical Preservation Services provides the tools and information necessary to take effective measures to protect and preserve historic buildings, ranging from historic masonry and window repairs to lead paint abatement to accessibility for people with disabilities.

She recently wrote about The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation &Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings—the first set of official guidelines on how to make changes to improve energy efficiency and preserve the character of historic buildings.

In this first of two segments, we’ll cover some of the most frequent pitfalls to avoid when renovating a heating or HVAC system in a historic home or building:

• Don't install a new HVAC system if you don't need it.

• Don't switch to a new type of system (e.g. forced air) unless there is sufficient space for the new system or an appropriate place to put it.

• Don't over-design a new system. Don't add air conditioning or climate control if they are not absolutely necessary.

• Don't cut exterior historic building walls to add through-wall heating and air conditioning units. These are visually disfiguring, they destroy historic fabric, and condensation runoff from such units can further damage historic materials.

• Don't damage historic finishes, mask historic features, or alter historic spaces when installing new systems.

• Don't drop ceilings or bulkheads across window openings.

In addition, the guide warns about making aesthetic mistakes like installing new mechanical duct work that is visible from the exterior or adversely impacts the historic character of the interior space; leaving interior duct work exposed in highly-finished spaces where it would negatively impact the historic character of the space; leaving exposed duct work unpainted in finished interior spaces, such as those with a pressed metal ceiling; or placing HVAC equipment in highly-visible locations on the roof or on the site where it will negatively impact the historic character of the building or its site.

In our next segment, we’ll go through another punch-list of things to do when renovating a historic property.

Are You Prepared for the Unexpected?

October 12, 2011 5:52 pm

CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison website, announced a new infographic educating consumers about common disasters Americans face everyday, including which disasters are most common in each geographic region. 

“Our hope in publishing this infographic is to help educate individuals and families so they can be better prepared for the possibility of disaster,” says Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey.

As shown by the infographic, the disasters that Americans face are costly. And when individuals are unprepared, these expenses are often charged to credit cards. While credit cards are often a good solution for minor emergencies, if the costs keep adding up and the disaster results in lost wages, individuals can be left facing hefty interest charges and fees if the credit card balances aren’t handled properly. 

To help individuals avoid the fees, CreditDonkey has included some practical tips individuals can employ now to help alleviate some of the financial stress that these disasters can place on a household. 

“No matter how prepared you are, there will always be stress when a disaster strikes,” says Tran. “But when consumers take the time to disaster proof their finances, that small time investment will pay off when they find themselves in an unfortunate situation. Without the financial pressure weighing them down, they’re able to focus on what matters most—their family.” 

Here are some of the tips that are included in the infographic:
• Review insurance coverage with a trusted insurance agent. They will be able to advise families on what is and isn’t covered by their current insurance plans and recommend any additional coverage.
• When looking to cut expenses, hang on to your medical insurance. The monthly cost of insurance is well worth the investment should an individual have to go to the hospital.
• Review health insurance coverage and become familiar with the medical providers and hospitals in your area. Some plans will only cover certain medical groups, so the hospital closest to home might not be the best option financially.
• Prepare for potential job loss with an emergency savings fund. Most financial experts recommend setting aside at least 6 months worth of expenses; some even recommend saving up to an entire year’s worth of bills. If that amount is a stretch, at least get into the habit of setting aside some of each paycheck to start growing your savings. Every little bit can help.
• Set up direct deposit for all types of income checks. This will eliminate the stress of having to locate and deposit checks should your home get affected by natural disaster and you need to relocate. 

For more information, go to http://www.creditdonkey.com

Top 3 Ways to Collect in Small Claims Court

October 12, 2011 5:52 pm

Winning a case is often just the first part of a civil court battle. The second part: judgment collection. Even if you win in small claims court, you may be left wondering how to collect a judgment. 

And it can seem like a daunting task. Defendants generally don't like losing. They also don't like paying up.
How can you collect what you're owed? Here are some simple tips to help you collect: 

How to Collect a Judgment Tip No. 1: Familiarize yourself with your jurisdiction's rules. 
Many courts have self-help centers or informative websites that lay out rules and regulations. In California the debtor has 30 days after the judgment to pay the creditor. Rules like this one may be different depending on what state you're in, so it's important to search for regulations in your jurisdiction. 

How to Collect a Judgment Tip No. 2: Contact the other party.
Send the proper court documents and a letter to the defendant in the case requesting payment. Make sure you include all the necessary information. 

How to Collect a Judgment Tip No. 3: Utilize the court system.
If the defendant does not respond to your letter, there are other routes to collect a judgment. Depending on where you live, courts may order the sheriff to seize property or assets from the debtor. It's also possible that you can ask for post-judgment discovery to determine if the debtor has any assets. You might also be able to ask the court to put a lien on the defendant's property or garnish their wages. 

If your judgment collection isn't successful, you might want to consider contacting a debt collection agency or an attorney for more assistance. Or, ask if there are any non-profit agencies or free services to help you collect a judgment. Keep in mind that in many states, judgments are valid for 10 years (but may be renewable). 

For more information, visit www.findlaw.com.

Word of the Day

October 12, 2011 5:52 pm

Loan servicing. Task of collecting monthly payments, handling insurance and tax impounds, delinquencies, early payoffs, and mortgage releases.

Question of the Day

October 12, 2011 5:52 pm

Q: How can I protect my home from creditors?

 

A: Check with your state. It may provide special protection through the filing of a homestead exemption, which exempts some or all of the value of your equity in the homestead – the home that you live in and the land on which it sits – from claims of unsecured creditors. Whether to file a homestead exemption will depend on your situation. Contact your county recorder's office for details. 


Homeowners and Renters Are More Interested in Home Buying: Survey

October 11, 2011 4:39 pm

Despite the recession and declines in home prices, Americans still view homeownership as being important to the economy and the American family, according to the “Housing 360 Survey” conducted among more than 3,005 homeowners and renters across the U.S.

“We thought people would be soured after watching home values fall but instead we found the typical American still places high value on homeownership,” says Frank Anton, CEO of Hanley Wood, LLC, a media and data research company serving the housing and construction industries. “We found this holds across all demographic groups and across the country, even in hard-hit places like Nevada and Arizona where there have been 50 percent or more declines in value. The increase in the rise of rental rates in many markets is one factor driving people to consider buying.”

The survey found that despite the recession and housing crisis, homeownership is still very important—that both renters and homeowners feel it is a good time to buy a home and 19 percent of homeowners and 29 percent of renters are considering buying a home in the next two years. In fact, the survey findings support that up to two million potential home buying consumers are waiting to jump into the market when the time is right.

The Hanley Wood “Housing 360 Survey” answers why renters and homeowners are not buying. For homeowners, there is no urgency to buy, and given the turmoil in the markets, many of them are happy where they are. For renters, there is also no urgency to purchase a home. There are major problems they are facing: First, they have the challenges of being able to qualify for a mortgage and raise the down payment. And second, they have concerns about the economy and their jobs.

“There are obstacles in the way of home buying. The overcorrection in the mortgage market is a drag on the process. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other and it’s stalling the housing market and therefore the economy,” says Kent W. Colton, president of The Colton Housing Group and senior fellow at Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Some significant findings in the survey include:
• Positive aspirations are tempered by harsh realities.
o Concern about the economy and job security
o Challenges in the mortgage market
o Concern about home equity and the direction of home prices
• Now is a good time to buy. Seventy two percent of owners and 59 percent of renters think now is a good or very good time to buy.
• New and existing homes both attractive. Twenty nine percent of owners and 12 percent of renters would prefer to buy a new home. Thirty four percent of owners and 41 percent of renters would prefer to buy an existing home. People prefer new homes because they are new and there is less maintenance. They prefer existing homes because they are more affordable and they want to live in an existing community.
• Renting is a preferred choice for many. People rent for financial reasons, for convenience and for flexibility. • Doubling up trends increased. Thirty percent of respondents are “doubling up” –living with adult children or parents.
• Now is a good time to remodel. Forty two percent of owners say now is a good time to remodel. Top remodeling priorities are maintenance and energy efficiency. Most homeowners will pay for remodeling from personal savings.
• Staying put in retirement. Sixty percent of homeowners plan to stay in their current home for their entire retirement. 

For more information, visit http://www.hanleywood.com.

Word of the Day

October 11, 2011 4:39 pm

Loan origination fee. Paid by the borrower to get a loan; it covers expenses incurred by the lender, such as the cost of the appraisal, credit report, title search, etc.