Gunning Daily News

PuroClean Says Summer Brings New Challenges for Preventing Indoor Mold

June 6, 2011 5:19 pm

Should homeowners worry about mold in their homes during the summer months? The answer is an absolute "Yes," according to Steve Leger, executive vice president of operations for PuroClean. "Mold can grow almost anywhere there is moisture," says Leger. "And it grows on almost anything: paper, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood, fabric, insulation, even dust. It can cause serious damage to a family's home and health if the homeowner doesn't take steps to control and deal with it quickly and effectively." 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the key to both preventing and remediating mold in the home is controlling moisture. Mold cannot grow without moisture, so a homeowner needs to identify and control moisture sources in the home to prevent the spread of mold. 

During the warm summer months, the experts from PuroClean advise homeowners to keep an eye on these seasonal sources of moisture and take steps to control or eliminate them: 

• Air conditioner drain pans
• Condensation caused by high indoor humidity or overly cold indoor surfaces
• Outdoor sprinklers set to allow the spray to hit the walls of the home
• Unvented kitchen and bathroom moisture
• Clothes dryers that vent indoors or wet towels and clothing left to dry indoors
• Overwatering house plants
• Moisture from human sources (sweat, wet hair, breath) 

"These less-obvious moisture sources can be as dangerous as the typical leaks, spills and flooding that most homeowners recognize as potential breeding grounds for mold," says Leger. "Mold causes a hazard wherever it grows indoors, so homeowners need to be vigilant about controlling indoor moisture."
PuroClean professionals specialize in property emergency services and can help homeowners overcome the devastating aftermath of property damage caused by water, fire, mold and other conditions, according to Leger. When the damage is caused by water—whether from an indoor leak, flooding, or violent summer storms—technicians work quickly, professionally, and in accordance with restoration industry standards to ensure that the home is dried quickly and completely. This is the best way to help guard against the occurrence of mold. 

"Homeowners need to understand how prevalent mold is and how easy it is for mold to find a foothold in the home," says Leger. "While we can help a homeowner deal with mold after a flood or other disaster, the homeowner needs to stay on the alert to identify and correct everyday sources of moisture before mold has a chance to grow." 

For more information please visit www.puroclean.com.

Showhomes Home Staging: 5 Reasons Vacant Houses Are Hard to Sell

June 6, 2011 5:19 pm

Musty smelling, bare-walled, vandal-prone properties just don't sell. 

Last year of the estimated 130 million housing units in the United States, 11.3 percent or some 14 million stood vacant according to the U.S. Census. A large portion of these houses are vacant and for sale, leading to a glut of vacant houses crowding the market. 

Showhomes Home Staging is a franchised business with a twist: the company uses live-in Home Managers to manage vacant houses while they are on the market for sale and offset a homeowner's expense to stage the home. 

Here are five reasons a vacant house is hard to sell from Showhomes Home Staging: 

1. People don't simply buy houses; they buy the next chapter of their lives.
This is an emotional experience and emotion influences what people buy and how much they will pay. Vacant houses are devoid of life, and the chance to make an emotional connection is lost. 

2. Vacancy distracts buyers from looking at the house itself.
They wonder: "Is this a divorce? Why did they move out? Are they selling because they have money problems? Is this home hard to sell?" They'll make a low-ball offer, thinking the owner is desperate. 

3. When a house is vacant, buyers focus on flaws.
They look at nail holes, carpet wear and gaps in the molding rather than how the space works. In a vacant house, floors, walls and ceilings are all buyers see. This drives the price down. 

4. People can't visualize how furniture fits.
An empty bedroom might appear awkward or a living room might seem cavernous. Some spaces might confuse buyers because a use is not obvious. Buyers are derailed and move on to the next house. 

5. Vacant houses don't show as well as staged and occupied homes.
Without people, even the best house quickly looks and smells vacant. Dust settles, leaves scatter, and stale odors spread. These cues often shorten the showing time, leading to fewer sales. 

"Homeowners don't realize how much harder a vacant house is to sell," says Matt Kelton, Showhomes' COO. "In today's market you have to win the beauty contest to sell your home." 

For information please visit www.showhomesfranchise.com.

Rise in New Home Permits Signals Improving Housing Market

June 6, 2011 5:19 pm

Total housing starts in California—as measured by the number of building permits issued this spring—climbed slightly more than 9 percent over last year, according to the California Building Industry Association.

Permits have been pulled for 9,360 new housing units, primarily in the multi-family sector, says Mike Winn, president of the California Building Industry Association. “The modest recovery we were hoping for seems to be getting back on track,” Winn observes. “As the economy slowly improves and employers begin to add more workers to their payrolls, we expect to see construction pick up as consumers begin to regain their confidence in the housing market and create a greater demand for new homes.”

In Orange County—after two years of virtually no new home-building—at least 3,000 new homes in 28 separate tracts, are now under construction and expected to be ready by next fall.

“Builders are coming out of hibernation,” notes Irvine-based housing consultant John Burns. “Builders are an optimistic breed, and they are cautiously optimistic now, gearing up because it takes the best part of a year to get ready for a recovering housing market.”

The increase in new home construction also signals a shrinking inventory of unsold existing homes. In Northern California’s Santa Clara County, for example, the inventory has shrunk to 50 days from 243 a year ago, according to estimates from the California Association of REALTORS®.

“This is just another sign that the state may be coming out of the worst housing slump in decades,” says San Francisco Realtor Jim Wall.

Although most home prices remain well below their pre-bust highs of three years ago, California’s housing market has shown signs of stabilizing, according to the state association. Home prices are rising slowly in many areas as the state shakes off its high unemployment rate and foreclosure rates decline. The median price of an existing single family home has risen 8.4 percent from a year ago.

California’s housing market is closely watched because it is the nation’s largest and helps fuel both the state’s economy and the national building industry.

How Do You Negotiate Salary?

June 6, 2011 5:19 pm

As the job market recovers, a unique phenomenon is beginning to happen, and one expert warns it could cost you money.

“As people who have been looking for work a long time start to get back into the workforce, many of them are so happy just to get a job that they sometimes accept a lower salary than they have to,” says Bill Humbert, author of RecruiterGuy's Guide to Finding a Job. “Some employers feel that they can probably get away with a lowball offer, and many job hunters will grab it just so they can have a job. The truth is there are ways to get the job and still get what you want.”

Humbert isn’t a career coach, but rather his expertise comes from working the opposite side of the job stream as a recruiting consultant for corporations. He knows how companies calculate salary, and how to judge their thresholds. His advice for job hunters includes:

Don’t Offer Salary Requirements – When you are asked to include salary requirements with your resume, that is typically a company’s first screen, and it can be used against you. I’ve seen people agonize over what to reveal, because they are afraid of pricing themselves out of a good job. My advice is to simply put “Open” in that spot. If your qualifications are on target, they’ll call you. If in the interview you’re asked what you made at your last job, reply by asking about the range for the one you are applying. You’d be surprised how much managers or human resource representatives will tell you.

Don’t Give Away Too Much – In many job applications, an employer will ask for your salary history. It is perfectly acceptable to write “Willing to discuss at appropriate time during interview process,” and leave those numbers blank. Writing down those numbers pigeonholes you, and reduces your negotiation power.

Don’t Negotiate Salary – That’s right. Don’t negotiate salary in the interviews. Instead, negotiate when you’ll give them your salary requirements. When they ask you for that figure, tell them you don’t know what you’d require until you have a clear picture of the job requirements and potential for advancement over the next five years. After you have that information, and you’re asked again for that number, respond by asking to go through what I call your “impacts”—areas of your job that directly impact the company’s bottom line. This discussion will allow you to demonstrate what you bring to the table. At the end of that discussion, simply tell them that you are very interested in the position, and that you’d seriously consider any offer they’d like to make.

Keep Networking – Once you have a job offer, it’s not a done deal until you accept it. Until that happens, keep networking and looking for jobs. It may give you valuable market-worth data about the position you’ve been offered. It may also be a safety net in case something goes awry between the time you receive an offer and the time you accept it.

Accepting the Offer – Once an offer is given, you have the right to ask for a clarification on it. Asking “Is there any flexibility in this offer?” may help to open a discussion of increasing the offer. If it does, don’t expect a large boost in base pay, but rather, an extra week of paid vacation, a signing bonus or other such perks.

“Keep in mind that salary negotiation is more art than science, so these tips may not always apply,” Humbert adds. “Many hourly workers don’t have as much flexibility on pay, and some companies have policies that would require you to adjust the script a little to fit those situations. The key thing to remember is that you don’t have to give them a salary range that would jeopardize your earning potential, and that you don’t have to accept their first offer most of the time. 

Remember that they are interviewing you because they need to fill that position. It’s important to the company to have someone in that job, and while they are considering you, they aren’t doing you a favor. They need what you have to offer, so you should get the best offer out of them that is possible.”

Bill Humbert, also known as RecruiterGuy, is a Washington, DC native and a graduate of Assumption College in Worcester, MA. He has been a professional recruiter since 1981, having worked with clients such as MCI Telecommunications, The Washington Post, Comsat Labs, USF&G Insurance, Geico Insurance, CSX Technology, Telegroup, LeFebure, Intermec Technologies, Digital Broadband Communications, Trex Company, Acciona Energy and others.

For more information, please visit www.recruiterguy.com.

Natural Disasters Underscore Need for HOA Disaster Plan

June 3, 2011 5:19 pm

These days, when tornado sirens blare, condo owners in Judy Rosen's 70-unit St. Louis high-rise go straight to the building's underground, windowless garage and huddle in the center.

They won't soon forget the late April "Good Friday" tornado that carved a 22-mile track of destruction through their city, damaging 200 homes and leaving thousands of people without power. Although the community wasn't damaged, residents were assured by the Crescent Condominiums' disaster preparedness plan.

"I would be just panicked if something happened to the people who live in my community," says Judy Rosen CMCA, AMS, PCAM, community manager with more than 30 years experience. "But because I took the time to sit down and write an emergency preparedness plan, I know I had done my job. That prepares me, and that prepares my community, for whatever can happen."

With more than 60 million Americans living in homes governed by community associations, emergency planning has become an essential skill of HOA managers, according to the National Board of Certification for Community Association Managers (NBC-CAM). NBC-CAM is an independent board that develops certification (known as the CMCA—Certified Manager of Community Associations®) and standards for community association managers.

"Community managers play a key role in any emergency response effort," says Dawn Bauman, executive director of NBC-CAM. "HOA managers must understand what types of disasters are likely to occur in their community, develop emergency response protocols, practice them and then communicate them. For that reason, HOA and condo boards must choose CMCAs to manage their communities."

Disasters range from summer wildfires to hurricanes, tornados to blizzards. Their impact on communities varies, depending on their size and location, the age of the housing stock and a community's degree of preparedness.

According to the American Red Cross, writing a disaster preparedness plan has six steps:
1. Committing to preparedness for the community or property. This means getting the HOA board and other top leadership committed to disaster planning.
2. Conducting a hazard vulnerability assessment. George Sullivan, an expert in disaster preparedness for the American Red Cross says, "A lot of people write an emergency response plan based on something that happened to someone else."
3. Developing an emergency response plan. "If you already have one, now is the time to revisit it and ask all the big 'what ifs,' such as 'what if we're no longer able to operate in this location?'" Sullivan says.
4. Testing your plan. An untested plan is not a real plan—so go ahead and plan those drills.
5. Communicating about preparedness. Managers must make preparedness top of mind in their communities, through newsletters and bill inserts.
6. Helping others. By definition, a commitment to disaster preparedness is a commitment to helping others—so some communities consider adopting a local school or church or hosting a blood drive.

"CMCAs learn these are things they have to be aware of," says Rosen, who teaches classes on emergency preparedness. "They know they are responsible for the people in their community, and they have to have a written plan."

When looking for a CMCA-accredited community manager, visit NBC-CAM's online directory of certified community association managers to find professionals with the latest knowledge and practical skills.

NBC-CAM is a 16-year-old independent board that develops certification and standards for community association managers. We administer the CMCA examination, a rigorous, three-hour test that measures managers' knowledge of community management best practices. Passing the CMCA examination and maintaining the standards of the CMCA certification is proof that a manager is a knowledgeable, ethical and professional. CMCA-certified managers have the skills to safeguard the assets of homeowners' associations, giving homeowners peace of mind and protecting home values. For more information, go to www.nbccam.org.

New Food Plate Icon Recognizes Important Role of Grains in a Healthy Diet

June 3, 2011 5:19 pm

The new United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food plate icon, released recently, illustrates in a simple but powerful way how consumers can eat a healthy diet, every day and at every meal. The MyPlate icon, which replaces the MyPyramid image used since 1992, depicts proportional wedges of grains, fruits, vegetables and protein on a plate. Grains comprise a large portion, signaling that USDA recognizes the importance of grains such as enriched white rice and whole grain brown rice in the diet.

The MyPlate icon is meant to serve as a daily reminder about what foods should comprise each meal, and to translate the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), released in January, into easy-to-understand consumer recommendations. Grains, fruits and vegetables covering about three-fourths of the plate, illustrate the recommendation that 45-65 percent of calories come from carbohydrates, which should be natural, wholesome foods that contain no added sugars or saturated fat.

According to Dr. Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, CDN, a leading national nutrition expert and associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, the plate will help consumers make better choices. "As a nutritionist I applaud the emphasis on vegetables and fruits. But, as a clinical practitioner who works with families, I know how difficult it can be for people to choose healthy foods. Here's where rice can be a great friend. People are already used to eating rice with other foods, and rice is a perfect vehicle to deliver fruits and vegetables in a variety of flavor options."

"The USA Rice Federation believes that consumers will benefit from this new nutrition communication initiative, and we look forward to working with USDA to educate the public and nutrition professionals about it over the coming months and years," says Betsy Ward, president and CEO of the USA Rice Federation. "The portion of the plate representing nutritious grains signifies the importance of rice in a healthy, balanced diet. Consumers can feel good about choosing whole grain brown rice and enriched, fortified white rice each day," she concludes.

"It's important to note that enriched, fortified grains are the largest source of folic acid in the U.S. diet, providing more than 15 percent of the total folic acid intake," states Dr. Ayoob. "In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently named folic acid fortification of grain as one of the 'ten great public health achievements of the past decade in the US' for its role in decreasing neural tube birth defects in the U.S. by 36 percent since 1998. Enriched white rice is a good source of folate, providing 23 percent of the 400 mcgs women need every day," he explains.

Fast Facts about Rice:
• The average American should eat six servings of grain foods daily, at least half of those whole grains and the rest enriched grains, according to the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
• Published research shows that rice eaters have healthier diets and reduced risk of obesity, heart disease and certain cancers.
• Rice is affordable. A serving of rice costs just 10 cents, making it a nutritional bargain.
• Rice is low calorie, sodium-free, and does not contain added sugars, trans or saturated fats.

The USA Rice Federation is the global advocate for the U.S. rice industry, conducting programs to inform consumers about domestically-grown rice. U.S. farmers produce an abundance of short, medium and long grain rice, as well as organic and specialty rices including jasmine, basmati, Arborio, red aromatic and black japonica, among others. Farmers in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas grow some 20 billion pounds of rice each year according to the highest quality standards. Eighty five percent of the rice Americans consume is grown in the USA.

For more information about the benefits of rice and recipes, visit www.usarice.com.

Half of Americans Have Cut Back on Products and Services because of High Gas Prices

June 3, 2011 5:19 pm

With Memorial Day come various events that signify the start of summer. These range from the first cook-out to opening the swimming pool to planning summer vacations. It also means the beginning of the summer driving season and higher gas prices are having an impact. Half of Americans who own a vehicle (51 percent) say they have cut back on products and/or services in order to pay the increased price of gasoline. As might be expected, those with lower household income are more impacted. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of those with a household income of less than $35,000 a year have cut back on products or services because of higher gas prices compared to 38% of those who have household income of $100,000 or more.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,184 adults surveyed online between May 9 and 16, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

There are many things people are cutting back on because of high gas prices. Almost three in ten of those cutting back (28 percent) have cut back on dining out while one-quarter have cut back on groceries (24 percent). One in five say they have cut back on entertainment (18 percent), while others have reduced driving or are staying home more (11 percent) and cut back on clothing purchases (10 percent). Some other things people have cut back on include personal grooming such as hair cuts or manicures (6 percent), auto repairs and upkeep (5 percent) and movies (5percent) while 5 percent say they have cut back on everything to pay for the increased price of gasoline.

Who can stop rising gas prices?
In looking at who to blame for the rising cost of gasoline, three things seem to stand out as having the most influence on price. Just under one-quarter of Americans (24 percent) say U.S. oil and natural gas industry profits have had the greatest influence on rising gasoline prices while 22 percent believe it is the world crude oil prices and 21 percent believe it's due to instability in oil producing areas.

So, who can best stop rising gas prices? One-third of Americans (34 percent) say the oil and gas industry while three in ten (28 percent) believe the federal government can best stop rising gasoline prices. One in five (19 percent) believe consumers can stop rising gas prices while 4 percent say state and local governments, 3 percent say the automotive industry and 12 percent are not sure.

Looking specifically at the automotive industry, half of U.S. adults (53 percent) say American automotive companies are not moving as quickly as they should to build cars that consume less gasoline, while 22 percent believe that are and 23 percent say they are not at all sure. This is a large change from 2006 when three-quarters of U.S. adults (74 percent) said American car companies weren't moving fast enough and only 9 percent thought they were.

So What?
In May of 1979, one-third of Americans (35 percent) felt the U.S. auto companies were moving as quickly as they could to build cars that consume less gasoline while 60 percent felt they were not. Fast forward 31 years, and the situation hasn't improved much as Americans still don't feel car companies are moving fast enough. But, with three in five adults (62 percent) expecting that gas prices on Labor Day will be higher than they are now, it just may be that nothing is fast enough to help ease the pain at the pump.

For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

Postal Service's Carbon Footprint Shrinks

June 3, 2011 5:19 pm

As suggested by its Reduce our Environmental Footprint Go Green Forever stamp, the U.S. Postal Service became a lot greener last year. Known globally for sustainability innovations and leadership, the agency reported an 8 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from a fiscal year (FY) 2008 baseline. The reduction of 1,067,834 metric tons of CO2 is an amount equal to the annual emissions of approximately 204,000 passenger vehicles. 

"These results demonstrate the Postal Service's commitment to reduce our GHG emissions 20 percent by fiscal year 2020," says Emil Dzuray, acting USPS chief sustainability officer. "Our leaner, faster, smarter energy reduction and conservation efforts have placed us more than one third of the way to our goal."
Reduced facility energy use represented almost half of the Postal Service's GHG emissions decrease.

"Postal Service employees are laser-focused on reducing energy use at Post Offices and mail processing centers," says Tom Samra, vice president, Facilities. "We are proud to have reduced our facility energy-related emissions 12 percent from FY 2008 to FY 2010—enough to power approximately 39,000 average American households for a year."

From FY 2003 to FY 2010, USPS reduced its facility energy use by 29.4 percent, or 9.9 trillion BTUs, an amount equal to the energy used by approximately 100,000 average American households in a year.

The Postal Service voluntarily reported its FY 2010 GHG emissions reduction progress according to Federal Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Reporting Guidance. USPS reported a reduction of 9.5 percent in facility energy and fuel use, and 7 percent in contracted transport, wastewater and solid waste. While this is the Postal Service's first fiscal year federal GHG emissions report, it is the agency's fourth year of publicly reporting its GHG emissions.

Other factors supporting USPS' positive GHG results are:
• More than 400 cross-functional Lean Green Teams across the country, which produce significant results in energy reduction and resource conservation.
• More than 44,000 alternative fuel-capable vehicles.
• Green mail delivery, including nearly 10,000 "fleet of feet" walking routes, nearly 70 bicycle routes and close to 80,000 "park and loop" routes, where carriers deliver mail on foot after driving to neighborhoods.
• More than 27 billion Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM stamps and shipping supplies provided to customers in FY 2010, which meet established standards for human and environmental health and recyclability. USPS is the only mailing and shipping company in the world to have earned this certification.

These energy-conservation actions are part of a comprehensive strategy USPS is using to meet its goals to reduce energy use in its facilities 30 percent by 2015 and GHG emissions 20 percent by 2020.

USPS also helps customers reduce their own carbon footprints. Visit usps.com/green and the green newsroom for more information.

USPS has won more than 75 environmental awards, including 40 White House Closing the Circle, 10 Environmental Protection Agency WasteWise Partner of the Year, Climate Action Champion, and Direct Marketing Association Green Echo awards, as well as the Postal Technology International Environmental Achievement of the Year.

The Go Green Forever stamps can be ordered online at usps.com/green.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

Word of the Day

June 3, 2011 5:19 pm

Adjustable rate mortgage (ARM). Mortgage loan on which the interest rate falls and rises with changes in prevailing rates. The mortgage rate is tied to a selected index and may be adjusted annually. Also called a variable rate mortgage.

Question of the Day

June 3, 2011 5:19 pm

Q: Is private mortgage insurance necessary?
A:
Lenders require private mortgage insurance (PMI) on most conventional loans with less than a 20 percent down payment. They believe there is a correlation between borrower equity and default. They have found that the less money borrowers put down, the more likely they are to default on a loan. PMI guarantees the lender will not lose money if this happens and a foreclosure is necessary.

The buyer pays this insurance, usually a small fee at the outset and a percentage of the face amount of the loan that is added to the monthly payment.

What most homeowners do not realize is that the insurance is usually no longer necessary after enough equity has built up in the property. Contact your lender if you meet this requirement and want to drop PMI.

A precaution: do not confuse PMI with mortgage life insurance. The latter pays all, or a portion, of your mortgage in the event of your death.