Gunning Daily News

Question of the Day

June 22, 2011 4:51 pm

Q: Is equity sharing a good idea? 

A
: A shared equity mortgage, or partnership mortgage, can be a good way to purchase a home with little or no money down. In such an arrangement, the borrower/home buyer has an absentee partner who, as the investor, provides all or some of the down payment. 

Equity sharing is not as popular in a slowly appreciating real estate market as in a rapidly appreciating one when equity investors are easy to find. A type of equity sharing called tenants-in-common partnerships is becoming increasingly popular, especially in high-priced markets. 

First-time buyers are usually most interested in a TIC arrangement because it gives them a way to buy property collectively with an unrelated partner. 

Loan underwriting standards are more complicated with these types of deals because lenders have more than one party's financial situation to assess. 

It is a good idea to hire an attorney to help draft a shared equity agreement.


Word of the Day

June 22, 2011 4:51 pm

Breach of contract. When one party fails to live up to the terms and conditions of a contract, without a valid, legal excuse.

Can Going Green Save You Green?

June 22, 2011 4:51 pm

Scan the news today and the message is clear; our planet is facing an environmental crisis and many Americans are facing an economic one as well. As many people deal with tightening their belts and trimming expenditures, they struggle with the dilemma of saving the planet or saving cash.

MXenergy, a leading independent energy provider, wants customers to realize the struggle is an unnecessary one. In fact, a "green mindset" can actually help save you money.

"There seems to be the perception that a commitment to the environment is going to cost you," says Marjorie Kass, MXenergy Managing Director. "And while it is true that some environmental decisions, such as purchasing organic produce, can have a higher price tag, many choices and lifestyle changes can actually save you money."

For those interested in saving cash while helping the planet, MXenergy offers the following tips:

• When dealing with your home energy usage, a home energy audit is a great place to start. Simple steps such as changing to energy efficient lighting, sealing leaks around windows and doors, adding insulation to attics and walls, and fixing water leaks can all save you energy and money. Many utilities now offer customers programmable thermostats, which have been shown to reduce energy usage as well. Turning down your water heater, washing clothes in cold water, and plugging in to power strips are also easy decisions that ultimately save you cash.
• Think before you buy. Put the bottled water back on the self and opt for a good aluminum water bottle instead. Not only will you save the cost of water, you will be eliminating plastic. Consider planting a vegetable garden. You save dollars at the grocery store, gas for the drive and get the peace of mind knowing your garden produce doesn't have any added chemicals or toxins. Composting is great for your garden and also reduces the amount of trash and waste you produce each week.
• Go green behind the wheel. While a new high efficiency car may not be in your budget at the moment, that doesn't mean you can't save money and reduce your carbon footprint. Simple actions such as properly maintaining your vehicle, making sure your tires are properly inflated, combining errands and carpooling to work all save cash and earn you environmental bonus points.
• "I think what becomes clear is the fact that we all have simple choices we make each and every day that impact both our planet and our bank account," says Kass. "What we want to do as a company is not only help people save money on their utility bills but in all aspects of their everyday lives through inexpensive changes that also protect our planet."

Library Study: Demand Up for Technology, Budget Cuts Limit Access

June 22, 2011 4:51 pm

A new national report shows that U.S. public libraries continue to expand as technology centers for communities, providing essential resources for job-seekers and support for critical e-government services. In addition, as the demand for e-books increases, libraries are the starting place for free downloads.

However, budget cuts have forced libraries across the country to scale back drastically on operating hours and access to services, just when resources are most needed.
The 2011 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study reports that virtually all public libraries (99 percent) provide public access to computers and the Internet. More than 87 percent of libraries provide technology training, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) of libraries offer access to e-books, up 12 percent from two years ago.

Yet a pervasive "new normal" of increased demand for library technology resources, paired with decreased funding at state and local levels, is impacting service to millions of Americans, according to the report released recently by the American Library Association (ALA).

"We've seen our libraries and communities struggle throughout this uneven economic recovery. Since the recession began, libraries have grappled with budget cuts and decreased hours, while users wait in lines before doors open, eager to use library computers or access Wi-Fi, get expert assistance for job search, and learn how to download e-books," says ALA President Roberta Stevens. "We want patrons—and policymakers—to understand the dynamic resources available at today's library and keep those resources funded. Let's make sure that our investment in libraries yields its full potential."

While 70 percent of libraries report increased use of public computers, and more than half of libraries report an increase in use of electronic resources, 55 percent of urban libraries report operating budget decreases during the current fiscal year, followed by suburban (36 percent) and rural (26 percent) libraries. At the same time, 16 percent of libraries report decreased operating hours, a jump from 4.5 percent just two years ago.

For the third year, the greatest impact was experienced by those living in urban communities; nearly 32 percent of urban libraries report reduction of open hours, up from 23.7 percent last year.

Not surprisingly, libraries report again that services for job-seekers rate as the most important public Internet service provided to the community.

More than 74 percent of libraries offer software and other resources to help patrons create resumes and employment materials, and 72 percent of libraries report that staff helped patrons complete online job applications. Yet, 56 percent of libraries report they do not have enough staff to effectively assist job-seekers.

Increasingly, as government agencies eliminate print forms and close satellite offices, public libraries are the front lines, connecting people with essential e-government resources.

Nearly 68 percent of libraries report that staff provided assistance in completing government forms, and one-quarter of all libraries partnered with government agencies and non-profit organizations to provide e-government services. An Oklahoma library director reports that a major employer no longer distributes printed W-2s to employees. Since only a small percentage of residents have Internet access at home, employees had to depend on library computers and printers to retrieve the forms.

The proliferation of e-books marks a milestone in public libraries; the number of libraries that offer e-books has increased almost 30 percent since 2007.

"We've seen a dramatic increase in people coming to the library with their e-readers, eager to learn how to use it with the library e-book collection. It's a great opportunity to showcase our expansion into digital services. As a technology hub for our 26 communities, we make sure to feature a wide range of resources for users," says Contra Costa County Library (Calif.) Deputy County Librarian, Cathy Sanford.

"Millions of Americans each year go to their public libraries to seek educational resources, government services, employment information, and opportunities to improve their lives," says Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries and Special Initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "As libraries struggle to meet the growing needs of their communities, against the pressure of significant financial constraints, it is crucial that both public and private partners consider how they can help libraries sustain the critical services they offer."

Conducted by the ALA and the Information Policy & Access Center at the University of Maryland, this year's study builds on the largest study of Internet connectivity in public libraries that began in 1994. The study functions as an annual "state of the library" report on the technology resources brokered by our libraries and the funding that enables free public access to these resources.

The study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the ALA, can be found online at www.ala.org/plinternetfunding.

MPG Matters: Survey Reports Fuel Economy Is Key in New Vehicle Purchase Decision

June 22, 2011 4:51 pm

Out of all the consumers surveyed in a 2011 Maritz Research study, 42 percent say fuel economy is an "extremely important" new vehicle purchase driver—up 13.5 percent versus a decade ago. Millennials rank its importance even higher and rate it most often as having the "greatest impact" on future vehicle purchases. Fuel economy as a reason to purchase has jumped in importance across nearly all vehicle segments since 2001, becoming even more important for small vehicles.


More than 40 percent of consumers view fuel economy as "extremely important" when considering a new vehicle purchase today, a new study finds. What's more, one third of consumers say fuel economy will have the "greatest impact" on their next vehicle purchase, and younger buyers place an even higher priority on miles per gallon.

"Customers are telling us clean and green vehicles matter most because they are good for people's wallets and good for our planet," says Mark Fields, Ford president of The Americas. "We hear what they are saying, and that is why Ford is absolutely committed to giving our customers vehicles with top fuel efficiency."

While buyers of small vehicles are most likely to put fuel economy toward the top of their list of purchase considerations, fuel economy has jumped in importance in nearly all vehicle segments since 2001, the survey finds. Specifically:

• Fuel economy as a purchase reason for B-cars became the top consideration in 2011 (21 percent), up from fourth in 2001 (14 percent)
• Fuel economy as a purchase reason for C-cars nearly tripled in importance from 2001 (7 percent) to 2011 (19 percent), going from fifth to first
• After ranking 16th in 2001, fuel economy was listed in the top five most important purchase reasons for small utility vehicles in 2011
• Fuel economy was listed in the top 10 most important purchase reasons for sports car buyers for the first time in 2011
• Fuel economy as a top purchase reason for medium utility vehicles jumped 14 spots from 2001 to 2011
• Fuel economy as a top purchase reason for C/D-cars ranked fifth in 2011 after ranking 12th in 2001

The Maritz Research survey results also track with Ford's 2011 research and sales trends.

"Since December, we have seen industry-wide small car purchases increase from 19 percent to 24 percent," says George Pipas, Ford sales analyst. "It drives home the point that consumers are looking at more fuel-efficient choices."

Consumer habits shape decisions

For some, the idea of more ethical consumption is driving the desire for higher-mpg vehicles.

"Consumers are taking a logical approach to making their lives better," says Sheryl Connelly, manager of Ford Global Trends and Futuring. "Choosing a car that lessens their impact on the environment as well as their wallets can really create peace of mind."

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

6 Ways to Lighten Up for Summer

June 22, 2011 4:51 pm

Summer is nearly here, and with the longer, warmer days, we seem to shed our craving for cozy robes and slow-cooked crockpot meals. That’s a normal reaction, according to California fitness guru Mandy Radford, who urges getting out in the improved weather for longer walks and more exercise.

“In fact,” says Radford, “there are plenty of ways to help your whole family lighten up for summer.”

Radford offers six simple ways to help your family lighten up as summer settles in:
1. Change hairstyles – Shorter cuts for all and/or a few light streaks for the ladies will change everyone’s look and get them ready for increased summer activity.
2. Lighten up lip and nail colors – Ditch those tired reds and burgundies in favor of lighter shades, sheer lip glosses, and fresher looking natural French nails.
3. Check the bedding and bath – Trading heavy comforters for colorful, lightweight fabrics can lighten and brighten bedrooms—and moods! In the bathroom, try a new shower curtain and lighter, brighter towels.
4. Create summer in the kitchen – Keep a variety of fresh fruit in a pretty bowl or basket as a snacking go-to or a centerpiece. Lay off the sodas and keep a pitcher of iced tea, freshly squeezed juice or low-cal lemonade in the fridge.
5. Think salads – At lunchtime, say no to burgers and fried foods and lay in a supply of greens, veggies and tempting low-fat dressings. For dinner, add slices of pre-cooked chicken or a combination of slivered deli meats and cheeses.
6. Get out of the house – Sign the whole family up for a local fund-raising walk or bicycle race. Pack up a few Frisbees or a bat and ball and plan a Sunday picnic at the park.

Question of the Day

June 21, 2011 5:21 pm

Q: How can owning a home pay off at tax time?

A: A home provides many tax benefits, literally from the time you buy to the time you sell. The mortgage interest paid on a home loan up to $1 million for a primary residence or second home is tax deductible every year, as is the local property tax. Other mortgage costs—including late-payment charges and early-payment penalties—are also deductible.

And if you use a portion of your home for business purposes, you can take a depreciation deduction as well.

Many federal tax benefits are also available from local and state tax agencies. Contact your local tax agency for more information.


Word of the Day

June 21, 2011 5:21 pm

Blockbusting. Illegal practice of creating panic selling in a neighborhood for financial gain. Typically exploits racial and religious bias to get homeowners to sell low so the properties can be resold at a mark up.

Bug Prevention: Three Easy DIY Tips

June 21, 2011 5:21 pm

Each year, uncontrolled bugs—including, beetles, cockroaches, ants, centipedes, sow bugs and box elder bugs—are a relentless annoyance that homeowners across the country fight to keep out of their homes. 

Homeowners are faced with the uncomfortable prospect of these home insect invaders sullying their well-kept abodes, hiding in cracks and corners, searching for food and dragging in dirt and grime. These insects even invade the most private residential areas, including bedrooms and bathrooms.
This year, with the help of Raid Max Bug Barrier and DIY Expert Lou Manfredini, homeowners will be able to take measures to help stop unwanted bugs. Manfredini has teamed up with Raid to give homeowners tools and preventative tips to ensure any home is prepared before unwanted bugs attack. His tips have given homeowners across America the confidence and peace of mind that their families and homes are protected against uncontrolled pests. 

"As a contractor, one of the issues I often came across when tearing down walls was finding a bug infestation," says Manfredini. "Infestations can be easily handled with a few smart home solutions that start to work in minutes and can be long-lasting. It's all about being prepared." 

Prepare, Prevent and Patch to Control Bugs
As a DIY expert, homeowners frequently ask Manfredini how they can get their home to look its best, maintain its value and keep unwanted bugs away. Manfredini shares three key guidelines for approaching home improvement and repelling pests: prepare, prevent and patch. 

Prepare the Wooden Deck
Before the family starts spending more time on the deck, take a close look at wooden planks and the foundation for signs of rotting or splitting. Walk the deck carefully while checking for protruding nails, loose railings and other safety hazards. After making any needed repairs, carefully clean and re-seal the wood. A pressure washer will do a great job getting the deck clean. Then let it dry for at least 48 hours before applying an oil-based deck stain. Also, check for signs of potential bug infestations. 

Prevent Uncontrolled Pests
As the warmer months roll in, so do uncontrolled pests and bugs. Cockroaches, ants, box elder bugs and centipedes prefer to lurk under the kitchen sink or behind walls, potentially causing unseen infestation. Manfredini recommends Raid Max Bug Barrier; the automatic battery operated trigger lays down a continuous stream of formula which starts working within minutes and is long-lasting. Simply spray the entire perimeter of the home indoors and out, paying special attention to gaps in the walls, doors and windows where insects can enter the home. 

Patch the Walkways
Before summer officially begins, check the driveways and walkways. If they're pitted, chipped or cracked, consider repairing them and re-sealing with an asphalt or concrete sealer. Patching these surfaces helps stop ants from nesting near the home. 

"Ultimately, the biggest mistake to home maintenance is not doing it," Manfredini said. "With people spending their money cautiously these days, prevention is key." 

Worst Offenders
• One German cockroach means there could be hundreds or even thousands inside the home. A cockroach can live weeks without eating. If you see one, treat your home immediately.
• American cockroaches are typically outdoor species that enter homes in southern regions of the U.S. looking for food and water.
• Box elder bugs invade in the fall to stay warm and protected for the winter.
• A 2010 Raid Max Bug Barrier survey found that 69 percent of women most worry about ants and 44 percent worry about cockroaches invading their homes.

For more information about Manfredini and Raid Max Bug Barrier, please visit www.KillsBugsDead.com.


Summer Learning: ‘Fun & Games’ Keep Kids Learning All Summer Long

June 21, 2011 5:21 pm

For kids everywhere, summer vacation is an inch away. As their focus turns to sleeping in and swimming pools, students work towards the last day of school, where inevitably many will flip an internal switch— learning off, play time on! But the two don’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, mutually exclusive. 

There is a wealth of research that supports the idea that children greatly benefit from learning over the summer. Without educational engagement, students can forget many of the skills they just acquired—in reading, spelling, and particularly, in math. Similarly, the importance of play in child development is a widely researched topic. According to a 2007 report from the American Association of Pediatrics, play helps children reach essential social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones. 

“One of the best, most effective, ways for students to learn is through play. It is both a natural and research-supported approach that educators use all the time,” comments Senior Vice President for Curriculum and Instruction for Connections Academy, Dr. Patricia Hoge. “The great thing about summer is that it offers students a lot more time to play to their hearts content—to really explore a subject, ask questions and think—and this helps kids’ brains stay sharp. For parents who are uncertain about where to find the ‘teachable moments’ in play, our teachers have come up with some great tips to get you started.” 

This summer, the educators at leading virtual school Connections Academy are encouraging parents to use games to combat summer learning loss. Here are their “Top 10 Summer Learning Tips” featuring games to help give kids an educational boost while enjoying summer fun! 

1.Take a Chance!
Monopoly and Monopoly Junior are classic board games that put math skills to the test. Counting money, buying and selling, and making change, all reinforce math concepts that many students are learning as early as first grade and kindergarten. Be sure to stop the game as needed to explain and assist with math problems. 

2. Move over Milton Bradley—invent a Game
Encourage children to get creative and develop their own board game. Use a piece of cardboard as the “board,” break out the crayons and markers, and let imaginations run wild. Refer to favorite games like Candy Land for ideas about structure and format. Kids will have a ball making their own playing pieces and even dice with modeling clay. This activity is an artistic way to boost logic skills. Don’t forget to ask children to write directions—it’s a great way to support reading and writing. Fun Fact: Check out the history of Candy Land on Hasbro’s website. 

3. Test your knowledge—Online Trivia Quiz Challenge
Check out an interactive online educational activity that you and your kids can play together. Connections Academy’s free online Quiz Bowl Challenge is available to the public and features 20 trivia questions about “fun & games” – board games, playground games, sports, and more. 

4. Chalk it up
Replicate and enlarge a word search outdoors—in your driveway or in your favorite park—using sidewalk chalk. Kids will love the giant scale of their word search and will have fun practicing reading and spelling while searching for words. Try using different themes for each puzzle (book characters, presidents, states, etc.) to encourage your child to learn more about that particular subject or topic. Need an extra challenge? Have your child make up a word search for mom and dad! Be sure to check park rules to make sure that sidewalk chalk is allowed. 

5. Be Wordy
With Scrabble and Scrabble Junior Edition, students can dig deep into their vocabulary for words that will get the highest score—and they won’t even realize that they are practicing spelling at the same time. Ask kids to use vocabulary words from the previous school year, and award extra points if they can use the words in a sentence. When children come across a word they don’t know, refresh research skills and break out the dictionary and explore the definition together. Try making a rule that words must be three or more letters. 

6. Deal out the Fun
Pyramid solitaire is a great way for students to keep those basic math skills in check—it’s a great game to play when family and friends are not available. Students will practice their addition finding pairs of cards that add up to 13, and removing them from the pyramid until there are no more pairs left. To learn how to play, visit http://www.solitairecity.com/Help/Pyramid.shtml. Seems too simple for your child? Try racing the clock! Can your child beat his or her time the second and third time playing? Better yet, let them race you! 

7. Jump on it 
Add an educational twist to Hopscotch that will challenge children’s math skills. Instead of drawing the traditional hopscotch board with chalk, replicate a calculator large enough for your child to jump on the buttons. Kids can pick a number and then start creating math equations using addition and subtraction! To learn the details of how to play, visit familyfun.go.com, and search for Do-the-Math Hopscotch. Want more of a challenge? Try multiplication and division for a real brain boost. 

8. Game (show) on
Trivia-packed Jeopardy is one of the most popular and educational television game shows around. Why not develop your own, modified, version? Children will enjoy coming up with their own trivia categories and can use their research skills to come up with tricky trivia questions to stump their friends. To play, assign dollar amounts to each trivia question. For each correct answer kids are “awarded” the dollar amount. No real money is used, but keeping score of their winnings reinforces math skills. And be sure to encourage educational topics that stretch beyond “The Life of Justin Beiber.” 

9. Seek, Look, Find
Scavenger hunts are fun for all ages, and adding an educational element is easier than you think. Instead of using a list of objects, give your child clues that will lead to various objects around the backyard, playground or park. (Example: Find an object that might be classified as igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic. Answer: rock.) For an extra challenge, use riddles for identifying objects. Kids will be so wrapped up in the hunt they won’t even realize they’re using problem solving skills! For a large group, divide everyone into teams. 

10. Read to me
Although it doesn’t possess the same “game” qualities as the other tips on this list, no summer learning tips list would be complete without paying homage to the simple and joyful act of reading to and with children. Take turns reading pages, start a chapter book that can be read in installments, and make up your own stories—maybe even about a magical playground or spooky board game. Parents and children alike will benefit from this activity and it will encourage a lifelong love of reading. 

To learn more visit http://www.ConnectionsAcademy.com.