Gunning Daily News

Avoid a Kitchen Reno Disaster with These Helpful Hints

August 4, 2011 5:35 pm

Whether homeowners are trying to sell their house or simply would like to make some improvements, TouchStone Kitchen and Baths, a kitchen and bath design and installation company, provides consumers with the seven key questions to ask any contractor before they begin any renovation this summer.
“For most homeowners, a major kitchen remodel is a once in a lifetime experience,” says Carl Smith, President of TouchStone Kitchens and Baths. “A kitchen is the nerve center of a home and if a renovation is not handled properly it can be disruptive and stressful, to say the least. It is important to choose a company that has the ability to both balance form and function in the design and complete the project professionally in consonance with the homeowner’s lifestyle and desires,” Smith continues. 

To make remodeling a kitchen, bathroom or other area of a home less stressful and more streamlined, from the first little ideas to the final masterpiece, Smith suggests consumers use these questions and answers to make an informed, cost effective, and hassle-free decision about whom they hire:
1. Insurance: How is the contractor insured?

Some contractors operate with little or no insurance coverage policies?

If there is a worker injury, a homeowner injury or a construction mishap, the liability may fall on the homeowner. 

2. Manufacturer Warranty: Is it possible to prevent the warranty from being voided?

Product manufacturers offer warranties for the products they sell, but if they have been abused or improperly installed there is no coverage. Proper training and experience by professional installers insures that all warranties will be honored. 

3. Updated Showroom: Can I see how my kitchen might look and feel before we start the work?

When you are considering products and services for a kitchen remodel it is reassuring to be able to go to a showroom that has all of the products available to touch and see to verify the quality and durability. 

4. Creative Designing: Will this contractor find the perfect blend of creativity and technical considerations?

Every kitchen remodel begins with the design or blue print for the project.

Everyone wants a beautiful end result, but it is important to make sure the kitchen will also function. 

5. Financial Stability: Will the contractor be able to complete the work?

Some contractors will rely on the homeowner’s deposit, sometimes up to half the cost of the job, and still lack the financial fortitude and strength to complete the job before they get any other payments. It becomes essential to understand that the company can complete the kitchen, on schedule, even though the final payment is paid upon completion. 

6. Accountability and Trust: How do I know I can trust this contractor?

From the first telephone call, you’ll want to be confident that the contractor is easily reachable. Upfront, you need to know how the work is going to be completed and if there are any hidden costs. 

7. The Design and Build Process: How can I be sure that the contractor has my best interest in mind?

From concept to completion, homeowners are a part of the entire process. Ask for references and talk to previous clients to feel comfortable with your decision.

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

Deceptive HVAC Companies Leave Homeowners in a Pickle and Insurance Companies Holding the Bill

August 4, 2011 5:35 pm

Consider the following real-life scenario: 

At the peak of one of the hottest summers on record—the kind that prompt weathermen to caution against outdoor activities of any kind—your AC unit suddenly, and without warning, dies. As the temperature inside your house literally rises by the minute, you jump to action, anxious to find a quick fix to this major inconvenience. 

Lacking any real knowledge about your AC system, you scour the phone book (or Google) for someone, anyone, who can bring you relief from the oppressive and dangerous heat. At long last, you locate a local HVAC company willing to dispatch a technician and get you back on your feet. You breathe a sigh of relief, not knowing that your call has set in motion one of the oldest insurance scams in existence today. 

The rest of the story is all too familiar. The HVAC technician visits your home, briefly inspects your AC unit, and informs you that he's got good news and bad news. The bad news (predictably) is that your unit is damaged beyond repair, and you need a replacement system. The good news is that if he denotes "Lightning Damage" on his handwritten invoice, there's a very good chance that your insurance carrier will pay for it, because it's most likely covered under your homeowner's policy. 

And as you pick up the phone to call your insurance agent, you unwittingly perpetuate the continuous cycle of fraudulent HVAC claims. 

"It's been our experience that there are many honest HVAC companies out there," states Damon Stafford of HVAC Investigators of Charlotte, NC. "However, the blatant dishonesty and fraud that we encounter on a daily basis is disheartening. We see full replacement claims submitted to insurance companies where a breaker is simply tripped, or where the wiring leading to an HVAC compressor was accidentally cut by a previous repairman." 

Sadly, this is nothing new for the HVAC industry, and as insurance carriers focus more on fighting HVAC fraud, it's leaving homeowners between a rock and a hard place. What could have been a simple $75 repair has become a significant cost that your insurance company may not be responsible for ... and you could be left holding the bill. 

"Due to the significant downturn in new construction business, the temptation for HVAC companies to take advantage of these situations has exacerbated. Our research shows that insurance companies routinely overpay on HVAC claims by an average of 65%," says Stafford. "And this ultimately affects us all, and by 'all,' I mean anyone who pays property and casualty insurance premiums. It's a sad reality, and what's worse ... most homeowners don't even know they're a part of the scam. They're just looking for relief." 

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

8 Tips toward Unplugging on Vacation

August 4, 2011 5:35 pm

You have your iPhone, your BlackBerry, your Android. You have your laptop or netbook with wifi. It's hard enough to unplug for the weekend...let alone an entire vacation. But for your own sanity and even that of your coworkers, you need to. 

There's no reason to take a vacation only to spend it working. The beach might be great, but think about how much better it would be if your phone was left in your hotel room.

Vacations are meant to help employees recharge so they can return to work re-energized and refocused. But if you're constantly checking in with the office, you won't get a real break.

To help you unplug and look forward to your vacation, here are eight tips from CareerCast.com:
1. Plan ahead. Coordinate your vacation time with your co-workers, team and other executive staff to ensure that things run smoothly while you're out.
2. Designate your main point of contact and give them a detailed account of all your projects and work commitments along with your emergency contact information.
3. Try to leave the majority of your work-related hardware at home.
4. Inform your key accounts, vendors and clients when and how long you'll be out of the office.
5. If you have a lot of projects that will need attention while you're out, consider distributing your projects among your co-workers or team.
6. If you can't resist the temptation to check in, try to set up specific times or days you will be checking messages.
7. Leave your mobile devices in your room so you can concentrate on family and friends and not be tempted to check in during the day.
8. If you receive urgent voicemails or emails while you're out, ask your main point of contact troubleshoot the issue.

Remember, your health is important, and taking a vacation may be all the help you need.

Word of the Day

August 4, 2011 5:35 pm

Deed restrictions. Provisions placed in deeds to control how future landowners may or may not use the property. Also called deed covenants.

The Value of Homes Increase with a Simple Paint Job

August 3, 2011 5:05 pm

Any homeowner who is looking to increase the value of their home should consider a simple paint job. Min Zar Ni, owner of Singapore House Painting Services, offers these tips for those who are thinking about adding a fresh coat of paint to their home: 

1. Use high quality paint. Nippon Odor-less paint is top of the line, so homeowners should look for contractors that use this brand. In some cases, residents may want to opt for antibacterial or washable paint. A quality contractor will help decide which kind of paint will work best for the type of use.
2. Apply at least two coats of paint. Some homeowners think they can save money by applying just one coat of paint, but the cost of a single coat of paint is much higher in the long run. Two coats is usually what will be needed for optimum coverage, except in the case of extremely rich colors like deep reds or blacks. Any fewer than two coats will not end up looking like a professional paint job.
3. Get the whole house painted at the same time, if possible. Professional paint contractors work in teams and can get a larger job done much faster than a single painter working in one room alone. It is much more convenient to get it all finished at the same time because there may not be enough elbow room for more than one contractor to work in a single room at once. A team can help move furniture, while a single contractor is left to do it all on his own.
4. Make sure the painting contractor will come give a free viewing to ensure a precise quote. Painting contractors can give a general idea of how much a painting job will cost, but that price should not be considered set in stone until they have seen the property with their own eyes. This will ensure a more exact quote and no awful surprises on the bill afterward. 

For more information, visit www.SingaporePaintingServices.com.

Healthcare Consumer Confidence Dips in July

August 3, 2011 5:05 pm

Americans' confidence in their ability to access and pay for healthcare declined in July after two straight months of improvement, according to a consumer sentiment index produced by Thomson Reuters.
The Thomson Reuters Consumer Healthcare Sentiment Index dropped from 99 in June to 96 in July, surrendering gains made since hitting a low of 95 in April. 

U.S. healthcare consumers polled in July predicted they will be more likely to delay, postpone or cancel office visits, elective surgeries, and therapies in the next three months. They also said they have had, and expect to continue having, difficulty paying for healthcare services and insurance. This is a significant reversal from June, when consumers generally expressed optimism for the future. 

"The index hit historic lows in April, rebounded in May and June, and recorded across-the-board declines in July," said Gary Pickens, chief research officer at the Thomson Reuters Center for Healthcare Analytics. "It is clear that consumer attitudes remain extremely volatile." 

The index, which is based on the Thomson Reuters PULSE™ Healthcare Survey, has two parts:
• A retrospective component gauges respondents' experiences during the past three months. It tracks whether they postponed, delayed or cancelled healthcare services and whether they had difficulty paying for medical care or health insurance. In July, retrospective consumer sentiment dropped from 98 to 96.
• A prospective component gauges respondents' expectations for the next three months. In July, prospective consumer sentiment fell from 100 to 97.

For more information, go to www.thomsonreuters.com.

Consumer Reports Finds Hidden Costs in Cell Phone and Digital-Wallet Payment Services

August 3, 2011 5:05 pm

While Americans are still using plenty of cash, checks, credit and debit cards to pay their bills, new electronic methods such as paying by cell phone or digital wallets are emerging. But before jumping in, consumers should be aware of disparities in loss liability and consumer protections, according to Consumer Reports.
CR's latest investigation into these new payment options finds that banks and technology companies are jostling for a greater share of the $50 billion a year in fees generated by everyday transactions. Some services by PayPal, Obopay, Square, Zong, and FaceCash already allow you to pay for purchases with your cell phone, but so-called digital wallet services are scheduled to hit the market soon. 

Google said in May that it planned to launch its version this summer. At least three competing digital wallets are planned for launch later this year and in 2012: from Visa in partnership with more than a dozen banks; Isis, a joint venture of AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless; and PayPal Mobile's point-of-sale technology. 

"As these new forms of payment grow more popular, consumers must be careful to understand the costs, and disparities in protections associated with the promise of new convenience," says Jeff Blyskal, Senior Editor of Consumer Reports. 

Despite all the hype, consumers don't seem to be clamoring to pay with their phones yet. According to a recent nationally representative survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, only 5 percent of survey respondents have used their cell phone to pay for day-to-day purchases in the previous month. Somewhat more use other fairly new forms of payment, including billing to their home or cell phone account (10 percent). 

Most of the new electronic payment options are tied to credit and debit cards, so whatever costs consumers incur in using their plastic will transfer to the new methods. Paying by mobile phone won't save them money. Google Wallet merchant transaction fees are the same as those charged on plastic payments, and the same is expected to be true for Visa's digital wallet. Square and PayPal Mobile charge merchants even more than the average big bank fee, 2.75 and 2.9 percent of the transaction amount, respectively. 

Among payment processors Consumer Reports looked at, only Obopay charges consumers (not merchants) an explicit flat 50-cent fee for payments over $10. You can transfer funds to your Obopay account from a bank account at no cost, but if you link a transaction to a debit or credit card, you'll pay a 1.5 percent fee. So on a $100 payment, fees can run from 50 cents to $2. 

Prepaid debit cards can be especially costly, whether you use them by themselves or link them to an alternative payment method. Many prepaid debit cards charge fees for activating and maintaining the accounts, and for transactions, balance inquiries, and reloading. 

Things often go wrong during the processing of 300 million noncash payments each day. In Consumer Reports survey, one in four Americans said they had an unauthorized charge, billing error, non-credited payment, or other problem in the last year when paying for purchases or paying bills. 

A consumer's right to get their money back when something goes wrong—errors, goods not delivered as promised, fraud— varies by the payment option used. Again, the underlying method of payment tied to your mobile device will govern their rights in such instances. Cell phone and digital wallet payment services linked to a credit card offer consumers the most protection. However, there is a large disparity in protection for services that link to prepaid debit cards and direct billing to consumers' phone bill. 

Prepaid cards offer consumers no guaranteed protections against unauthorized transactions. The cards may have some protections in their contracts, but they're essentially voluntary and can be rescinded at any time. Visa and MasterCard prepaid-card holders may get assurances from those brands' zero-liability policies, which protect against unauthorized use and require issuing banks to give provisional credit for losses from unauthorized use within five business days of notification. But those policies have loopholes. Visa's doesn't cover ATM or PIN transactions not processed by the Visa network. MasterCard's policy offers no protection if a consumer reported two or more unauthorized events in the past 12 months, and it doesn't cover ATM or PIN transactions. 

For consumers who opt for direct-to-phone-bill charges, their rights in this area are unclear. Any protections are based on the wireless carrier's contract, and they vary widely. Consumers Union reviewed the contracts of 18 wireless carriers to find out what kind of baseline protections they contained; none provided protections for mobile payment transactions that are as strong as those guaranteed by law when consumers use a credit card or debit card.
Consumers may have some rights under state laws or public utility agency rules, but those also vary from state to state. So far, only the California Public Utilities Commission provides its state's residents the right to reverse unauthorized charges. California consumers can also bar third parties from putting charges on their phone bill. 

The bottom line—Consumer Reports offers the following advice for those considering the jump to any new form of digital payment service:
• Before signing up for a new payment method, read the fine print and check the transaction costs.
• Pay by credit card to get the best protections whenever you buy online or pay via cell phone, make a major purchase in a store, or worry that a seller might not deliver as promised. Avoid prepaid debit cards and billing to your telephone account. Ask your carrier to block third-party charges to your landline and cell phone.
• Take convenience claims with a grain of salt. Consider new payment choices, but separate true benefits from marketing hype. Keep your mobile shopping tools independent from any branded digital wallet you might choose. 
• You can control the risk of loss by knowing the threats with each form of payment and taking steps to protect yourself. Don't share your personal identification and account information, use security software and procedures for your e-commerce, and always keep cash and payment cards in a safe place.

For more information, visit www.consumerreports.org.

Noisy Neighbors? How to Handle Neighbor Disputes

August 3, 2011 5:05 pm

There’s no good way to put this: noisy neighbors are difficult. 

They play loud music at all hours of the night; they shout and throw tantrums; they have an odd affinity for power tools and revving their car engine; they bang around in their apartment at 3 a.m.
Besides taking the passive aggressive route and making your own noise, what can you do about it? Is there legal recourse for noisy neighbors? 

Before you attempt to fight your noisy neighbors with the law, you should try to cut the noise with kindness.
Your first bet is always to ask your neighbors to keep it down. Go over, introduce yourself, and explain your problem. Be polite. 

If they rebuff your request or require a second reminder, let your noisy neighbors know that, if it’s a continued problem, you will have to speak to your landlord (if in an apartment) or with the police. 

If the noise doesn’t stop after the second warning, go ahead and complain, but first determine whether your neighbors are breaking building rules or local noise ordinances. 

Unfortunately, local noise ordinances only prohibit certain types of unreasonable noise and only during certain hours. 

They may limit construction and lawnmowers until after 7 a.m., or restrict loud music after midnight. These rules are usually promulgated by your city or county, so do a search for your local code. 

If a police citation or a landlord complaint don’t do the trick, you can also try to sue your noisy neighbors for creating a private nuisance. This is a tough one, so you’ll likely need a lawyer.

For more information, visit www.Findlaw.com.


Word of the Day

August 3, 2011 5:05 pm

Deed of trust. Document resembling a mortgage that conveys legal title to a neutral third party as security for a debt. Also called a trust deed or deed in trust.

Question of the Day

August 3, 2011 5:05 pm

Q: How does refinancing work?

A: With a refinancing, you pay off an old loan on your home and take out a new one, usually at a lower mortgage interest rate. To refinance, you will generally need to have equity in your home, a good credit rating, and steady income. You can borrow a percentage of the equity to cover remodeling costs, debt consolidate, and college tuition. 

When you refinance, you will incur all the closing costs that go along with getting a new mortgage. So unless you are doing extensive renovations and can get a mortgage interest rate at least two points below your current loan rate, you may want to select another financing option.