Gunning Daily News

Homeowners Can Be Held ‘At Fault’ When Hiring Unlicensed Contractors for Remodeling

August 1, 2011 5:35 pm

With an increase in home remodeling, the California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors (CALPASC) is urging homeowners to think twice before hiring contractors who may be members of the underground or semi-underground economies for remodeling projects.

California law holds that a "significant residential remodel," defined as projects including demolition and rebuilding a significant portion of the house, and new construction fall under Cal/OSHA safety regulations. As such, the homeowner is treated as an employer and required to furnish a safe place of employment. Like other employers, homeowners hiring an unlicensed independent contractor, who may hire subcontractors, will be held responsible for the workers' safety (see California Labor Code Section 2750.5), and an injured worker can bring a lawsuit against a homeowner and use evidence of the homeowner's violation of the Cal/OSHA regulations to show the homeowner is at fault.

This is in contrast to "domestic household services," such as home maintenance, both inside and outside of the house, which are exempt from Cal/OSHA regulations as are projects where homeowners are doing the work themselves. 

CALPASC is all too familiar with the negative impact of the underground and semi-underground economies, where unlicensed contractors and subcontractors thrive, and is sending a warning flare to homeowners who often are unaware of the risks associated with remodeling projects and hiring unlicensed contractors.

According to CALPASC Chief Operating Officer Cees Molenaar, "Homeowners who are remodeling their homes often are in the dark about this requirement. They assume the contractors they hire are licensed professionals and carry the necessary insurance to abide by Cal/OSHA regulations. Unfortunately, today's growing underground and semi-underground economies create opportunities for contractors and subcontractors to take advantage of homeowners."

The underground and semi-underground economies consist of contractors who refuse to comply with state laws and regulations and conduct illegal business by hiring individuals without proper certifications, not training employees, under reporting payroll, not obtaining workers' compensation insurance or paying compensation premiums and more.

"In 2010, we implemented the LEVEL Program to work closely with state agencies in cracking down on contractors who intentionally cheat California out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and take advantage of consumers," says Molenaar. "There have been some successes in cracking down on those who 'skirt the law,' but we need homeowners to be a part of the solution."

Homeowners often are unaware of the consequences of hiring unlicensed contractors and assume homeowners' policies cover unlicensed contractors, which is not the case. Besides the obvious lack of professional ethics and not abiding by California's legal standards, unlicensed contractors often generate inferior work products and services and subject homeowners to financial exposure if an injury occurs.

In a recent press release issued by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB), consumers were urged to consider the following before hiring someone to work on their home:
• Hire only licensed contractors, and ask to see their license and a photo ID to verify their identity.
• Don't pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment. There is an exception for about two dozen licensees who carry special bonds to protect consumers.
• Don't pay in cash, and don't let payments get ahead of the work.
• Get at least three bids, check references and get a written contract.

For more information, visit www.calpasc.org.  

8 Money-Saving Tips for Back-to-School Shopping

August 1, 2011 5:35 pm

Summer is winding down and anticipation for a new school year is building. Back to school season means shopping for new clothes, school supplies, computers, textbooks and dorm room basics. The market research firm Morpace reported in 2010 households with school-age children spent an average of $404 on back to school items. To make the most of those dollars, shopping experts at DealTaker.com have put together these 8 tips:

1. Wherever possible, look for bargains from sites that post deals and discounts.
2. Stick to the school district's lists of required supplies, and avoid the fancy stuff. Light-up erasers, pencils with feathers, and binders that play music are a distraction for teachers and students.
3. Some teachers send home a list of supplies for specific courses such as musical instruments, art kits, graphing calculators and sports equipment, so look for these items online where you can find deals for 50%, 60% and even 70% off of retail prices.
4. Start by gathering pencils, paper, scissors and other items that are still in good condition and sitting around the house. Also, clean-out the closets and hand down clothing to younger siblings, but be sure to mix in fun new outfits too so they don't feel left out.
5. Shop for clothing and supplies during a state sponsored tax-free shopping day. Find a list of states offering a 2011 back to school tax holiday.
6. Look for bargains on name brands when quality counts. Getting a great deal on a cheap backpack isn't so great when the zipper breaks in October. Name brand crayons, color pencils, markers, binders and dry erase supplies all tend to last longer,
7. Buy in bulk at online stores to save money this year and next, but be sure to send just the items needed to school saving the rest for future semesters.
8. Once all supplies are purchased, organize and label them with each child's name. This reduces the need to purchase additional school supplies later in the year.

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

Top 5 Tips for Summer Entertaining

August 1, 2011 5:35 pm

Summer is in full swing and so is the season for entertaining. This summer, try trading in your burgers and hot dogs for a little more glam, while remaining under budget.

Check out these tips from celebrity style and entertaining expert Robert Verdi, in partnership with Ecco Domini, to create tips for throwing the perfect fashionable fete.

1. Bottle Up the Excitement: Grab guests' attention, and evoke beachtime nostalgia, with a unique message in a bottle invitation. Use a clear glass bottle and fill it with a little bit of sand. Then roll up your invite and insert it with a string attached for easy access. For a truly personal touch, hand-deliver it to each guest!

2. Go Tribal: Tribal inspirations are making a mark on this season's attire. It's easy to bring this trend to life at home by introducing native elements into your décor such as hand-carved wooden candlesticks or animal print rugs. Make the most of your budget by picking up some tribal printed material at your local fabric store and draping it over your table. This versatile piece not only adds instant summer style to your room but can later serve as a stylish sarong making you a fashion hit at the beach.

3. Stay Cool: Creating your own style statement often means putting a new twist on traditional wardrobe items. You can apply the same concept to entertaining by using your favorite vase or pitcher (glass or ceramic are perfect) as a non-traditional wine cooler. Simply fill the container of your choice with ice and place the wine bottle inside.

4. Dine Under the Stars: Make the most of your outdoor space this season by transforming your rooftop or backyard into an outdoor cafe. A mix of citronella candles and colorful tea lights will keep the pests away and help set the mood for an intimate evening affair. For an added fashionable touch, try draping a vibrant pashmina over each chair- this adds a burst of color to your space and gives guests a way to keep warm if the night gets chilly. Finally, set all of your foods on large trays ahead of time for an easy and quick way to serve guests without making multiple trips to the kitchen.

5. International Tastes: True fashionistas take their style cues from the fashion capitals of the world. Why not do the same when it comes to your party menu? Trade in the typical barbecue burgers and hotdogs for gourmet treats with international flair. For example, create a buffet of easy-to-eat Italian treats such as caprese salad skewers with mozzarella and summer ripe tomatoes, prosciutto-wrapped melon balls or olive tapenade crostinis.

Question of the Day

August 1, 2011 5:35 pm

Q: How do townhouses differ from condominiums?
A:
While most condominiums are apartments, a townhouse is attached to one or more houses and can run the gamut from duplexes and triplexes to communities with hundreds of homes. Buyers separately own their homes and the land on which the houses sit. With a condominium, the unit owners jointly own the land and this common interest cannot be separated from the others. 

Townhouses can be structured in many ways. Some, particularly huge communities, have common areas – such as swimming pools – that are similar to condominiums.

Word of the Day

August 1, 2011 5:35 pm

Credit report. A past history of debt repayment used by creditors as an indicator of future readiness to responsibly repay debt.

Four Easy, Inexpensive Ways to Spruce up Your Home for a Showing

July 29, 2011 5:27 pm

Think you need to empty out your savings to freshen up your space for selling? Think again. It’s possible to give your home a fresh face by spending only $100 dollars—or less!

First, think about the qualities most buyers look for in a home—clean, spacious, and inviting. A place they could see themselves in—not a place that reminds them of you or your family.

Here are 4 easy—and cheap—ways to create an inviting home environment for buyers.
1. Trim it right: It is amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do for your home’s interior. While $100 dollars won’t allow you to repaint all your rooms, it will get you enough to freshen up your trim, and any spots on the walls that need a touch up. Stick with clean, warm colors, such as ivory or bone.
2. Focus on the front: The first thing a buyer sees is the front of your home. For 100 dollars or less, you can repaint the door, plant a fresh flowerbed, and make sure your lawn is neat and tidy. Don’t forget to shine up details like your house numbers and mailbox—repaint or replace anything that looks tired or old.
3. Squeaky clean: Your home should be clean and clutter free for a showing. While you can de-clutter yourself, feel free to hire a cleaning service to get things gleaming.
4. Appeal to the senses. You don’t want your home to turn off buyers with a musty smell or dim lighting. Air out all your rooms before a showing and, if necessary, light a lightly scented candle—or bake a batch of fresh bread! Make sure rooms—especially the first room a buyer will enter—are well lit and bright by opening curtains and blinds and bringing in an extra floor lamp if necessary.

Choosing the Right Preschool; the Right 10 Questions to Ask

July 29, 2011 5:27 pm

Preschool can be a wonderful place for youngsters to begin a lifetime of learning while continuing to build social skills. If your child is past the toddler day care stage, congratulations to both of you and welcome to the wonderful world of preschool.

“Choosing the right preschool can be a pleasurable experience if you know how to go about it,” says Jodie Lynn, author of “Mommy-CEO: Five Golden Rules. “You are looking for a school where the teachers love children, know first aid and adore teaching 4-year olds, so plan to check schools out in person.”

Lynn suggests taking your child with you for an unannounced visit where you can have some initial interaction with the school’s director. Based on your first impression, ask if you and your child may visit a classroom in session for 15 minutes to half an hour.
But first, said Lynn, you may want to ask the following questions of the director:

1. What are the school’s credentials, and how many classes are there on campus?
2. How old is the building? Has it been tested for asbestos? What kind of heating or cooling is in place?
3. What is the ratio for academic learning versus music and art and free play time?
4. May I see the curriculum or plan book for the current 4-year old class?
5. What is the teacher’s background? How long has she taught? (Having a degree may not be a big deal if she presents well to you and your child.)
6. How many and what kind of meals are served daily?
7. How big and well-equipped are the indoor and outdoor play areas?
8. Is the classroom safe and child-friendly? How many children are in each class?
9. Are there field trips? Who drives? Do aides or Moms accompany on such trips?
10. What discipline guidelines are used?


How Travel Insurance Covers Terrorism

July 29, 2011 5:27 pm

Given the recent terror alert, Americans traveling overseas should take the time to understand how travel insurance can protect them against terrorism, advises Squaremouth.com, a comparison site for travel insurance. “Although most travel insurance plans offer some form of terrorism related coverage, the degree of protection varies from one policy to the next,” advises Sarah Byrne, Marketing Manager at Squaremouth. “While looking for a travel insurance policy, travelers should consider whether they are content with only being able to cancel a trip if a terrorist attack takes place, or if they want the option to cancel if they are afraid an attack could happen.” 

“U.S. Citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take the appropriate steps to increase their security awareness,” advises the U.S. Department of State. 

Policies that specifically mention terrorism will usually reimburse non-refundable trip costs if a traveler cancels or interrupts a trip because of an attack. In most cases though, a travel insurance policy would have to be purchased within two weeks of the first trip payment for coverage to be available. 

If travelers want the option to cancel a trip because of a threat, travelers will need to purchase a travel insurance policy that includes the benefit Cancel for Any Reason. Cancel for Any Reason is an upgrade option that is available with many policies and provides the traveler with the ability to cancel the trip without an explanation and receive a refund up to 75 percent of the trip cost. 

In addition to cancellation and interruption coverage, some policies provide coverage for Non-Medical Emergency Evacuation. “Non-Medical Emergency Evacuation is specifically designed to evacuate a traveler from a place of danger to a nearby place of safety,” explains Chris Harvey, CEO of Squaremouth. The benefit is available in policies provided by Travel Insured International, MH Ross and TravelSafe. 

Travelers are also advised by the U.S. Department of State to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. The program allows the U.S. Embassy to easily contact travelers in the event of an emergency, as well as assist travelers by sending important safety and security announcements. 

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

79% of Seniors Oppose Deficit-Linked Medicare Cuts

July 29, 2011 5:27 pm

Seniors are significantly concerned about the potential impact to their health coverage if the federal deficit reduction plan includes changes to Medicare benefits. In a recent survey, 81 percent of seniors (aged 65+) who have Medicare coverage indicated that having to pay any more for Medicare benefits in the future would cause either a heavy or serious financial burden on them, causing them to make tough sacrifices.
The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of RetireSafe and the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP) from July 21-25, 2011 among 354 U.S. adults ages 65 and older. 

Sacrifices that seniors for whom paying more for their coverage would be a serious or heavy burden included going to the doctor less (59%), postponing medical procedures or tests (58%), rationing medications (37%), failing to get prescriptions filled (20%), returning to work to cover additional costs (18%) and discontinuing Part D coverage (12%). 

"As Congress considers legislation on the debt ceiling, these concerns of seniors should factor into what they decide on the future of Medicare," says Robert B. Blancato, NANASP's executive director. "It is not shared sacrifice when seniors are forced to choose between maintaining their health and gambling with it by not doing regular doctor visits or getting required tests." 

When asked whether they would support or oppose changing Medicare coverage in order to reduce the federal budget deficit, 79 percent of seniors said that they oppose changes. Only 10 percent of women aged 65+ support the idea of changing Medicare to reduce the deficit. 

"It is evident from this survey that most older Americans don't want to use Medicare resources to reduce the federal budget, which is not surprising given that eight out of 10 tell us that forcing them to pay more for their Medicare benefits would put a serious burden on them," says Thair Phillips, president of RetireSafe. "As the factions in Washington wheel and deal to arrive at a solution to the nation's budget woes, they need to understand that our nation's vulnerable older Americans are the group least able to bear the weight of righting the wrongs of Congress's decades of financial mismanagement." 

RetireSafe is a 400,000 strong grassroots organization that advocates and educates on behalf of America's seniors on issues regarding Social Security, Medicare, health and financial well-being. RetireSafe expects its government to keep its promises, protect our nation, and maintain the safety and personal freedoms of its citizens. 

The National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP) is a national membership organization for persons across the country working to provide older adults healthful food and nutrition through community-based services. NANASP's mission is to strengthen through advocacy and education those who help older Americans. Its vision is to reshape the future of nutrition and healthy aging.

Protect Your Pets—Remember to Include Them in Your Evacuation and Disaster Planning

July 28, 2011 4:27 pm

All too often when a disaster strikes pets are left to fend for themselves and end up lost, injured or killed. The best way to avoid this tragic scenario is to have a well thought out disaster plan that includes your pet, so that you know where to go and what to take, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

"Many public shelters that are set up for disaster victims don't accept pets, so you need to find out in advance which shelters or hotels along your evacuation route will accept pets," says Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the I.I.I. "It is tragic, but people have actually died because they were ordered to evacuate and did not want to leave their pets behind."

Disasters do happen—and advance planning is best way for everyone to survive the catastrophe and get their lives back to normal as soon as possible.
The I.I.I. offers the following tips to protect you, your loved ones and your pets in the event of a disaster:

1. Have a Disaster Plan
• Plan in advance where you will go and how you plan to get there.
• Map out your primary route and a backup route in case roads are blocked or impassable. Make sure you have a map of the area available.
• Put together a list of boarding facilities and veterinarians along the evacuation route and outside your area that might be able to shelter your pets in an emergency. Include emergency phone numbers.
• Talk to your vet, the humane society or the local emergency management agency for information regarding community evacuation plans that include pets.
• Make advance arrangements to have a friend or neighbor pick up your pets in the event you are not at home when a disaster strikes. And, plan where you will meet or how you will reach each other.
• Review the I.I.I.'s five step evacuation plan and consider downloading the I.I.I. podcast on evacuation so you have it for easy reference on your PDA.
• Take the Ten Minute Challenge to seeing how long it would take to get you, your family, your pets and all of your important items out of the house.

Make a Grab-and-Go Disaster Kit for Your Pets
• Medication and medical records (including proof of rabies vaccination) in a waterproof container.
• Pet first aid kit
• Leashes, harnesses, crates and carriers for transporting pets
• A muzzle, if your pet requires one
• Food and water for at least three days; a manual can opener
• Cat litter and litter box
• Comfort toys
• Recent photo of you and your pet in case you become separated
• Name and phone number of your veterinarian
• If you have pet insurance, the insurance company contact information and policy number

3. If You Must Evacuate, Take Your Pets
• Be prepared to leave early; do not wait for an official evacuation as you might be ordered to leave your pets behind.
• Keep pets on leashes or in carriers at all times.
• Make sure your pet is wearing up-to-date identification. Include the phone number of a friend or relative outside your area in case your pet gets lost and you cannot be reached. And mark the crate or carrier with similar information.
• Birds should be transported in a secure travel cage or carrier. During warm weather, carry a plant mister to mist the bird's feathers periodically. Do not put water inside the carrier during transport; instead provide a few slices of fresh fruit or vegetables with high water content.
• Review the I.I.I.'s article on pet evacuation which includes more detailed information as well as evacuation tips for reptiles and pocket pets such as hamsters and gerbils.

4. After the Disaster
• Once you return to your home, do not allow your pets to roam loose right away. While you assess the damage, keep dogs on a leash and other animals in their carriers.
• Familiar landmarks and smells might be gone, and your pet may become disoriented. Pets can easily get lost in such situations, so give them some time to get used to their "new" surroundings.
• Be patient. Try to get your pets back into their normal routines as soon as possible, and be on the lookout for stress-related behavioral problems; if these persist, talk to your veterinarian.

For more information, please visit www.iii.org.