Gunning Daily News
June 30, 2011 12:53 pm
It's that time of year, when homeowners feel the itch to scratch things off the home improvement to-do list. Handyman Connection, a leading North American network of home repair and remodeling contractors, recently released guidelines to help people avoid the pitfalls of finding and hiring a contractor for home improvement projects.
"Hiring a contractor to work around the house means inviting relative strangers into your home for extended periods of time," says Dan Sage of Handyman Connection. "You want to have peace of mind about who you hire."
How do you make sure your handyman is reliable and trustworthy? Follow these tips for hiring the right home improvement contractor:
1. Go with local. Make sure you deal with people who actually live and work in your area. If you're looking online, some websites do a good job of appearing to be local when they're really not. Do your homework and hire local contractors, or national contracting companies with local offices.
2. Get it in writing. Some contractors will give you verbal estimates, or scrawl notes on a paper that doesn't identify who will do the work. Insist on written estimates on company letterhead.
3. Ask for a written guarantee. Like the estimate, the guarantee is something you'll want to get in writing. Do the contractors stand behind their work? If they do, for how long? A good rule of thumb is a guarantee of workmanship quality for a year.
4. Do they insist on cash? Don't buy it. If a contractor only accepts cash payment, keep looking. You want contractors you can trust to do business above-board.
5. Check out contractors' licenses and registrations. Make sure all licensing and registration is valid and up-to-date. If they're not, the contractor is either illegal or just plain sloppy—not the kind of people you want doing your home improvement projects.
6. See if you're offered a business card. Did the contractor offer you a legitimate business card? If they're the genuine thing, they will. Besides the typical contact information, look for the license number printed on the card.
7. Make sure contractors are insured. Get proof that contractors have third-party injury and property insurance. You just want to make sure that if something happens you're covered.
8. Find out if they're bonded. Reject contractors and related trades people who aren't bonded. Bonding protects you from being held financially or legally responsible for accidents.
9. Look for appropriate memberships. Make sure the contractor is registered with the Better Business Bureau. Also get proof that contractors are members of local Home Builders Associations or Chambers of Commerce.
10. Ask for references. Be concerned if contractors can't provide references from previous customers—there may be a reason.
June 30, 2011 12:53 pm
Seven Features That Can Devalue Your Home
If you are planning to sell your home in today’s market, you need to be realistic about its retail value. That means casting a critical eye, not just on your home’s condition, but even on factors that are beyond your control—such as the condition of neighboring homes, and the desirability of the area.
Says award-winning California REALTOR® Ellen Parker, “there are some issues that can devalue your home, or scare away potential buyers, even if your home appears to be an otherwise outstanding property.”
Because homes often decline in value the longer they are on the market, Parker suggests considering these seven factors before setting a price and listing your home for sale:
• Location, location, location—This can mean accessibility, and proximity to schools and services, as well as visual appeal of the area. Too many cell phone towers and power lines, and even being too close to an airport or a highway, can be considered eyesores or annoyances.
• Poor renovations—Poorly done renovations or unusual paint colors can be a turn-off to many buyers. Be sure additions and renovations are complete and choose standard colors if repainting.
• Unusual customization—A garage that’s been turned into a home gym, or a makeshift greenhouse in the backyard, may suit your needs, but not necessarily those of potential buyers.
• Poor curb appeal—First appearance is important, so be sure the exterior paint looks fresh, the front lawn is mowed and weeded, and free of bikes, toys or other equipment.
• Pets run amok—Puppy-stained carpeting and/or strong pet odors, like a litter box gone unattended too long, can turn off even the most devoted pet lovers.
• Run-down neighborhood—Neighborhoods may change over time, but if yours has gone from desirable to dodgy, take that into pricing consideration.
• Foreclosure fever—If your neighborhood is known for frequency of foreclosures, it may be a factor you can’t control, but potential buyers may be dubious about falling home values or surrounding homes falling into disrepair.
June 30, 2011 12:53 pm
In case you missed it, the U. S. Forest Service says residential trees can raise the value of a lot compared to the same lot without trees by as much as 20 percent.
On average, trees add between 5 and 7 percent to the value of a residential lot— and any property with trees invariably sells faster, too.
In this segment, we’ll take a look at a tree pruning practice that can actually reverse the benefits of having trees—ironically, this practice called “topping,” can decrease your property’s resale value!
My friends at the Tree Foundation of Kern, California (urbanforest.org) identify topping as the practice of cutting back large diameter branches of a mature tree to stubs. Unfortunately, many people believe topping is a proper way to prune trees, and the destructive practice is prevalent in some communities.
Check out these 10 Good Reasons Not to “Top”:
1. No Shade! Topping harvests the leaf crop that gives us the comfort of shade in our arid climate.
2. Starvation - Topping removes so much of the tree’s leafy crown that it reduces the ability to sustain life.
3. Shock - Once the leafy crown is removed, bark is exposed to direct sunlight and can cause scalding and death.
4. Insects and disease - Topped branches can’t isolate the wound. The exposed ends provide entry to insects and fungus.
5. Weak limbs - New growth from topped branches is weakly attached and more liable to break in a storm.
6. Rapid new growth - Topping has the opposite of its intended effect. New branches are more numerous and often grow taller than before.
7. Death - Some species can’t tolerate major branch loss and survive.
8. Butt ugly - A topped tree is a disfigured tree. It will never regain its grace and character.
9. Hidden Costs - Lower property values, higher energy costs, removal and replacement in the event of death or disease, corrective pruning to restore the canopy, degraded air quality.
10. Degraded wildlife habitat - Birds can’t nest in topped trees.
The folks in Kern advise anyone looking to promote good tree maintenance to consult an arborist member of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), the National Arborist Association (NAA) or the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA).
June 29, 2011 5:23 pm
Q: Are fees and assessments owed a homeowner’s association deductible?
A: Generally not because they are considered personal living expenses. But if an association has a special assessment to make capital improvements, condo owners may be able to add the expense to their cost basis when the property is sold. Another exception may apply if you rent your condo – the monthly condo fee is deductible every year as a rental expense.
June 29, 2011 5:23 pm
Buyer’s market. Describes an excess supply of homes for sale, in which there are few buyers and many sellers. In such a market, the buyer can typically negotiate more favorable prices and terms.
June 29, 2011 5:23 pm
Most people have one: that room in the house that they wish was just a little larger. What many don't realize is that with a little work and some TLC, they could have exactly what they're looking for.
Here, Lowe's offers 10 designer tricks to help you make any room look larger:
1. For the illusion of a larger room, use a color scheme that is light rather than bright or dark. Pastels, neutrals and white are all color possibilities.
2. Use a monochromatic color scheme on the furniture, rugs and walls. Select different shades and textures of your single color.
3. Lighting is a key element in opening up a space. Recessed spot lighting is visually appealing and is perfect for a small space. A torchiere light is great for bouncing light off of the ceiling and back down on the room. Skylights and solar tubes are natural alternatives for adding light to a room.
4. Limit the number of accessories to avoid the cluttered feeling.
5. The floor and the ceiling are the fifth and sixth walls of every room. A light-colored flooring such as light oak or a light-colored carpet will make the room appear brighter and more open. The same applies to the ceiling—use a light color or white to "open up" the space above.
6. Increase the appearance of the size of the room by adding wall mirrors. They not only reflect images, they reflect light and color. Be a little daring! Use mirror tiles to mirror an entire wall. Your room will appear to double in size.
7. Don't place too many pieces of furniture in a small space. A love seat may work better than a full-size sofa depending on the size and shape of the room. Add two medium-sized chairs or two small wood chairs. Place the chairs closer to the wall and then pull them into the area when additional seating is needed.
8. Add paintings or prints to the walls. One large painting works better than a group of small paintings.
9. The visual balance of a room is also important. A large, brightly colored element can overwhelm a room and decrease the appearance of space.
10. A glass table, whether it is a dining, coffee or end table, will keep the appearance of an open and free space.
For more how-to project ideas, visit Lowe's How-To Library at http://www.lowes.com/cd_How+To+Library_615580068_.
June 29, 2011 5:23 pm
The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) is urging people to pack earplugs when heading out to this year’s 4th of July celebrations and is urging them to exercise safety whenever around fireworks. The single bang of a firecracker at close range can permanently damage hearing in an instant. But by following some simple precautions, people can enjoy the 4th of July festivities and still protect their hearing.
"The best advice I can offer is to leave the fireworks to the professionals and sit at a comfortable distance from the display, where you can enjoy the colors and lights, but not expose yourself and your family to loud noises," says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, BHI’s executive director. "To protect your hearing, make sure you’re wearing ear plugs and that they’re securely in place before the show begins. And be sure to keep them in for the entire show."
Disposable ear plugs, made of foam or silicone, are typically available at local pharmacies. They’re practical because you still can hear music and the conversation of those around you when you have them in your ears. But when they fit snuggly, they’re effective in adequately blocking out dangerously loud sounds.
Noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Ten million Americans have already suffered irreversible hearing damage from noise; and 30 million are exposed to dangerous noise levels each day.
According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, consumption of fireworks in the United States has risen dramatically over the past decade, from 152.2 million pounds in 2000 to 213.9 million pounds in 2009. As more and more Americans come into contact with fireworks, it becomes increasingly important that people follow sound safety measures, including the use of ear protection.
The Dangers and Signs of Loud Noise
Loudness is measured in decibels, with silence measuring at 0 dB. Any noise above 85 dB is considered unsafe. Most firecrackers produce sounds starting at 125 dB–presenting the risk of irreversible ear damage. Repeated exposure to loud noise, over an extended period of time, presents serious risks to hearing health as well. If you have to shout over the noise to be heard by someone within arm's length, the noise is probably in the dangerous range. Here are other warning signs:
• You have pain in your ears after leaving a noisy area.
• You hear ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in your ears immediately after exposure to noise.
• You suddenly have difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise; you can hear people talking but can't understand them.
Anyone can take the first step to addressing hearing loss by taking a simple, interactive screening test in the privacy of their own home by going to http://www.hearingcheck.org.
"Prevention is so critical to preserving our hearing, especially for children who are at highest risk for noise-induced hearing loss," adds Kochkin. "So make sure your family and friends fully enjoy the holiday festivities and celebrate smart. Leave the fireworks to the professionals. Stay a safe distance away. And pack the earplugs. Remember: close to 40 percent of hearing loss is preventable with proper protection."
Founded in 1973, the BHI conducts research and engages in hearing health education with the goal of helping people with hearing loss benefit from proper treatment. For more information on hearing loss, visit http://www.betterhearing.org.
June 29, 2011 5:23 pm
While celebrating our nation's birthday this weekend, Plastics Make it Possible® encourages Americans to take advantage of newly expanded opportunities to recycle plastics. According to a recent study, 94 percent of the American population now has access to plastic bottle recycling, and 40 percent can recycle other types of plastic containers such as yogurt cups, dairy containers and lids.
"Recycling plastics is an important way to protect our environment and help bottles, bags and containers from our summer celebrations live a second life as carpeting, decking, T-shirts, packaging and other products," says Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council, which funded the study. The recycling study was conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. for the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a nonprofit group that works to increase recycling.
To celebrate wider access to plastics recycling—and to encourage consumers to go red, white, blue and green—Plastics Make it Possible® offers the following reuse and recycling tips for Independence Day and other celebrations:
• Make a Place for Plastics—Be sure to set out a clearly marked recycling bin during your festivities. Check out Earth911 if you're unsure which plastic products can be recycled in your community—it's easy to search by zip code.
• Take Recycling Outdoors—Plastic bottles and containers are handy for outdoor gatherings since they're lightweight and shatter-resistant—make sure you bring a bag or bin for recycling them. Remember, caps can be recycled, too. The Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers recommends putting the cap back on the bottle and tossing the whole thing in the bin.
• Protect and Preserve—Insulated plastic foam coolers, re-freezable ice packs and reusable plastic containers can help you transport and preserve your party food and drinks—they also come in handy for fresh veggies and fruit from your farmer's market.
• Wave a Recycled Banner—You'll have another reason to proudly wave the American flag this July 4—some flag makers are using yarn made from recycled plastic beverage bottles.
• Save and Reuse—After the party is over, protect your decorations and other provisions from the elements in sealable plastic storage bins or bags —until it's time to celebrate again.
For more recycling and celebration tips, visit www.plasticsmakeitpossible.com.
June 29, 2011 5:23 pm
With the summer travel season in full swing, Visa is offering consumers tips on how to protect themselves from card fraud during their vacations. The website www.VisaSecuritySense.com provides helpful information for cardholders on how to protect their account information and resolve unauthorized card use.
"By spending a few moments building card security into their travel plans, summer vacationers can enjoy even greater peace of mind," says Eduardo Perez, Global Head of Payment System Risk.
The site includes summer travel tips consumers should keep in mind:
• If traveling outside the United States, inform the bank that issued your card which countries you will be visiting, and for how long.
• Keep a copy of your bank's name, its customer service phone numbers, and your Visa account number in a convenient place—separate from your card.
• Report lost or stolen cards and/or unauthorized transactions to your financial institution issuer immediately.
• Limit the number of payment cards and other personal information that you carry in your wallet or purse.
• Be aware of your surroundings when entering your Personal Identification Number (PIN) at an ATM or at the checkout.
• Don't leave your cards in your car's glove compartment. An alarming number of payment-card thefts are from car glove compartments.
• Save and check all receipts against your statement.
Cardholders can also turn to www.VisaSecuritySense.com for news about fraud scams, access helpful resources or find help to resolve problems.
June 28, 2011 4:53 pm
Q: Are up-front fees and closing costs deductible?
A: Many of the costs paid at closing are not immediately deductible.
The exception is points you pay to purchase your home loan. They are deductible for that year. Points paid when you refinance an existing mortgage must be deducted over the life of the new loan.
Some fees—including loan application, appraisal, document preparation and recording fees—that are assessed when purchasing a home can be recouped by adding them to the adjusted cost basis, the starting point for figuring a gain or less when selling the home.
Significant home improvements also can be calculated into your cost basis.