Gunning Daily News
May 23, 2011 3:49 pm
Q: What does a home inspector do?
A: A home inspector is a paid professional—often a contractor or an engineer—who checks the safety of a home. Home inspectors search for defects or other problems that could become your worst nightmare later on. They focus particularly on the home’s structure, construction, and mechanical systems.
It is not the inspector’s job to determine whether you are getting good value for your money. He does not establish value, only whether the home might collapse in a storm or if the roof might cave in.
A home inspection typically takes place after a purchase contract between the buyer and seller has been signed.
May 20, 2011 4:49 pm
Roughly half of women worry about cross-contamination of germs when cleaning and lack confidence that their home is sanitary, according to a new survey conducted by Maid Brigade and Mom Corps.
Despite elevated concerns about the safety and health of their home environments and the recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warning that indoor environments are two to five times more polluted than the outdoors, only 27.8 percent of total respondents say a ‘healthy safe environment’ is their primary motivator for house cleaning.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, about 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from allergies and asthma and their conditions are exacerbated by the tiny dry particles floating around in the home.
The natural response to this is to clean, but unfortunately some of the products used to rid homes of allergens contain irritating ingredients themselves.
“Asthma and allergy season is inside people’s homes every day of the year,” comments Marie Stegner, consumer health advocate for Maid Brigade. “The data suggests consumers may not view the inside of the home as an exposure point for sickness, allergies, or health risks.”
To help consumers become aware of invisible indoor air triggers that can cause potential health risks like asthma and allergies, Maid Brigade has released an educational video to show how green cleaning can help improve indoor environments. The video explains how to reduce the impact of allergens in the home including combating dust mites, mold, and pet dander and eliminating the detriments to household air quality that chemical fumes from cleaning products and spray air fresheners can also present.
The recent survey also shows that there is a lack of understanding regarding the effect many chemical-based cleaning supplies and ordinary cleaning equipment can have on family health including causing asthma and allergy attacks. Less than one in three women surveyed understand proper disinfection cleaning methods.
One in three survey respondents say they use outside cleaning help—an increase from 25 percent in 2009—to provide a better sense of balance and improve their quality of life. Most of the women surveyed who use local house cleaning services feel that the service is a necessity rather than an indulgence as they feel more time starved and burdened with their multiple roles than ever before. Seventy two percent of women also feel they work a ‘second shift’ when it comes to the number of hours they spend cleaning their homes.
More than 1,000 women between the ages of 25 and 64 were polled in the Maid Brigade and Mom Corps survey that probes women’s attitudes about housework, infectious disease and ‘doing it all well.’ The two companies formed an alliance in 2009 to help women improve their quality of life. To view the companies’ 2011 study findings, as well as survey methodology, visit maidbrigade.com/momcorps.
May 20, 2011 4:49 pm
All across America, there are homes that can actually harm those who live in them. From lead-based paint that can poison children, to cancer-causing radon, to cockroach and bedbug infestations. Next month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is hosting a National Healthy Homes Conference in Denver that will explore the latest research and interventions from dozens of public health, housing, and environmental experts from more than 200 organizations.
From June 20-23, these experts will present findings on how to produce healthier housing for people living with disabilities, including a growing number of adults with autism who are confronted with the lack of supportive housing options.
"It's shocking that the leading causes of preventable death, disease and disability are right in our own homes," says HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims. "Home ought to be a place where we feel safest, not a place where we're most likely to get sick or be injured. We need an honest conversation about supporting efforts to improve the health and safety conditions in our homes."
Asthma, lead poisoning, house fires, falls and drowning in bathtubs are just a few of the hazards that families face. For example, studies find that mold, cockroaches and dust mites trigger more than 4.5 million cases of asthma each year, costing $3.5 billion. In addition, lead poisoning and cancer are caused by lead-based paint and exposure to other environmental toxins, generate an estimated $53 billion in annual medical costs. Hazards that lead to falls and burns add another $222 billion.
To address these critical problems, HUD developed Seven Principles of Healthy Homes:
• Dry – Damp houses provide a nurturing environment for mites, roaches, rodents, and molds, all of which are associated with asthma.
• Clean – Clean homes help reduce pest infestations and exposure to contaminants.
• Pest-Free – Recent studies show there is a connection between exposure to mice and cockroaches and the development of asthma. Improper treatment of pest infestations can leave pesticide residues, which could cause neurological damage and cancer.
• Safe – The majority of injuries occur in the home. Falls are the most frequent cause of residential injuries, followed by injuries from objects in the home, burns, and poisonings.
• Contaminant-Free – It is important to keep homes clear of contaminants such as lead, asbestos particles, radon gas, carbon monoxide, pesticides, volatile organic compounds, and tobacco smoke. Exposures to these contaminants are far higher indoors than outside.
• Ventilated – Studies show that increasing the fresh air supply in a home improves respiratory health. Even cooking in a poorly-ventilated home can produce harmful pollution.
• Maintained – Poorly maintained homes are at risk for moisture and pest problems. Lead-based paint in older homes is the primary cause of lead poisoning, which affects some 240,000 U.S. children.
The National Healthy Homes Conference will be held in Denver, June 20-23 and feature more than 150 educational sessions and workshops, allowing officials from the public health, housing, safety and environmental communities to collaborate and share ideas. NHHC is the housing industry's most comprehensive, progressive and educational forum on the issue of healthy, safe and sustainable homes. The conference is a federally sponsored event, bringing together a wide range of health, housing, and environmental professionals to work toward making housing healthy, safe and environmentally sustainable.
May 20, 2011 4:49 pm
The next few years will mark a new phase for the U.S. economy, characterized by accelerated job growth and increased opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly in international trade. This is according to a new report released recently by TD Economics, an affiliate of TD Bank, America's Most Convenient Bank®.
The American economy relies heavily on small- and medium-sized businesses. The sluggish economic recovery is partly attributed to the fact that SMEs have been hit on two critical fronts. One, they were highly concentrated in the hardest hit industries of the recession. And, two, tight credit conditions have been made worse with collateral tied to real estate. Of the two influences, the mix of industry concentration now seems to be the bigger, lingering issue holding back SMEs.
"Fortunately, the recovery is broadening out beyond the manufacturing sector and domestic demand is gaining strength. Opportunities for new firms to start up and take advantage of the economic recovery should continue to rise," says TD Deputy Chief Economist Beata Caranci.
"In the second and third quarters of 2010, small and medium sized enterprises—businesses that employ fewer than 500 people—began to reinstate their status as a dominant hiring source, accounting for 60 percent or more of national net jobs gains," says Caranci. "Although SME data at this disaggregated level is only available to the third quarter for 2010, there is reason to believe that small-sized firms were instrumental in driving the strong job gains seen over the February to April period in 2011. These firms have a high representation in the service sector where jobs accelerated sharply within the national non-farm monthly payroll figures."
The TD Economists also predict that along with the increased opportunities that are materializing from current, domestic economic improvement, there is enormous potential for small and medium sized businesses to tap into foreign markets.
"Emerging-market economies already make up 50 percent of the world economy and, in the next decade, that share will rise to 60 percent," says Caranci. "Given the increasingly diverse growth in world demand and the global competitiveness of the current American dollar, businesses adept enough to navigate products and services in an export market face a number of unique advantages over those focusing solely on the domestic market."
This opportunity, the TD Economists say, will allow SMEs in the service trade industry – a key driver of exports – to expand sales and provide services such as accounting, advertising, consulting and legal advice.
Although entering the export market presents great potential for SMEs, there are some challenges in exploring foreign markets, such as obtaining financing, high tariffs and transportation and shipping costs. However, like many aspects of owning a business, practice will make perfect. As firms become more experienced in navigating foreign markets, and recruit the appropriate talent and services, they will become more successful at the business of exporting.
"Looking beyond the U.S. business cycle, the increasing global nature of economic growth should not be overlooked as businesses recover from the recession," says Caranci. "Some are already gaining a foothold in high-growth countries in emerging markets such as Asia, and the potential to expand further is prodigious."
TD Economics provides analysis of global economic performance and forecasting, and is an affiliate of TD Bank, America's Most Convenient Bank.
May 20, 2011 4:49 pm
Q: Is there anything I should not tell my agent?
A: Most definitely! Never reveal the top dollar you are willing to pay for a home. It will severely undercut your chance to negotiate the home price with the seller. While an agent may spend a lot of time showing you homes and sharing information, the reality is that she works for the seller, who ultimately pays each and every agent involved in helping to complete the home sale. The seller pays the agents in the form of a commission, a percentage of the proceeds from the home sale. The exception is hiring your own real estate professional, now commonly known as a buyer’s agent or a buyer’s broker.
May 20, 2011 4:49 pm
Valid contract. One that meets all requirements of law, is binding upon its parties, and is enforceable in a court of law.
May 20, 2011 4:49 pm
As a business owner or entrepreneur, you know that price can make or break your offering. If the price is set it too high then you can't make the sale. If the price is set too low, it steals away your profit with every transaction.
"When this happens it is a slow death by a thousand drips," comments Jason Marrs, price strategist and co-author of No B.S. Price Strategy with Dan S. Kennedy. "I say drips because a price that is too low is a reflection of something called a value leak. Like a slow leak in your house can go unnoticed for years, all the while causing profound structural damage, so too can a value leak in your business."
So what causes value leaks? Marrs answers that value leaks happen when you fail to recognize and collect on value that you are providing to your customers, clients or patients.
To put it another way, if you are not being compensated for your processing and shipping being faster than your competition—you have a value leak. If your waiting room is more spacious and cleaner than the competition, that is something of value. If you're not being compensated for it, it's a value leak. The list goes on and on.
Every business has value leaks. The question isn't if you have value leaks the question is how many and how severe.
Everything you add to your offering—be that service, quality, experience or something else –adds to the value being received by your customer. These value points also add to your costs of doing business.
"Value points must be recognized, accounted for, assessed and figured into your price," notes Marrs. "This will give you the ability to differentiate your offering from the competition, raise your price and produce more profit. That extra profit will then give you the ability to improve your offering, your service and your security."
Jason Marrs is a pricing strategist who coaches entrepreneurs and other professionals in overcoming price reluctance and resistance.
May 20, 2011 4:49 pm
Nearly one in eight Americans—13 percent—have either filed or considered filing for bankruptcy, according to a new survey by FindLaw.com.
The FindLaw.com survey found that people between the ages of 35 and 54 are 50 percent more likely to have considered filing for bankruptcy than people ages 18-34 or 55 and older. People of retirement age (65 and older) are the least likely to have considered filing for bankruptcy (7 percent).
More than 1.5 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy last year, according to the National Bankruptcy Research Center. That's the highest level since 2005, which saw a wave of bankruptcy filings just ahead of major bankruptcy law reforms.
Personal bankruptcies are often the result of a major life event, such as loss of a job, a medical emergency, home foreclosure and so on. Bankruptcy laws dictate who is eligible to file for personal bankruptcy, which debts can be wiped out, which debts will remain, and what happens to personal property, including homes.
"Bankruptcy can be a long, complicated and emotionally difficult process," says Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and editor at FindLaw.com. "Even after the bankruptcy is completed, it can affect people's lives for many years afterwards. Bankruptcy can be a useful tool for protecting debtors in some cases, but in other cases may not be the best option. People who are contemplating bankruptcy should consult with financial and legal advisers to discuss the pros and cons of bankruptcy, as well as potential alternatives, such as credit counseling and debt management plans."
The FindLaw survey was conducted using a telephone survey of a demographically balanced group of 1,000 American adults and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percent.
For more information visit www.findlaw.com.
May 20, 2011 4:49 pm
Seniors have lost almost one-third of their buying power since 2000, according to the Annual Survey of Senior Costs, released today by The Senior Citizens League (TSCL). TSCL is one of the nation's largest nonpartisan seniors advocacy groups.
In most years, seniors receive a small increase in their Social Security checks, intended to help them keep up with the costs of inflation. But since 2000, the Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) has increased just 31 percent, while typical senior expenses have jumped 73 percent, more than twice as fast.
In 2011, for the second consecutive year, seniors received no COLA. Prior to 2010, seniors had received a COLA every year since 1975, when the automatic COLA was introduced. Seniors are forecast to receive a very small COLA next year.
"For many years, seniors have watched helplessly as the value of their benefits has eroded. Those losses have added up, and millions of seniors— among our most vulnerable citizens—are barely able to scrape by today," says Larry Hyland, chairman of The Senior Citizens League. "To put it in perspective, for every $100 worth of expenses seniors could afford in 2000, they can afford just $68 today."
A senior with an average Social Security benefit in 2000 received $816 per month, a figure that rose to $1,072.30 by 2011. However, that senior would require a Social Security benefit of $1,414.70 per month in 2011 just to maintain his or her 2000 lifestyle.
The study examined the increase in costs of 30 key items between 2000 and 2011. The items were chosen because they are typical of the costs seniors must bear. Price increases for 22 out of the 30 costs exceeded the COLA. The selected items represent eight categories, and each category was weighted (based on typical expenditure levels) in order to calculate the overall loss of buying power.
A majority of the 37 million Americans aged 65 and over who receive a Social Security check depend on it for at least 50 percent of their total income, and one in three beneficiaries rely on it for 90 percent or more of their total income.
To help increase buying power, The Senior Citizens League is lobbying for a change in which Consumer Price Index (CPI) is used to determine the COLA. The government currently calculates the COLA based on the CPI for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), a slow-rising index that tracks the spending habits of younger workers who don't spend as much of their income on health care.
The government does track the spending patterns of older Americans, and has done so since 1983 using the CPI for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E). By tying the annual increase in the COLA to the CPI-E, seniors would see much-needed relief in their monthly checks. For example, a senior who retired with a benefit of $460 in 1984 would have received $13,723 more over the past 27 years with the CPI-E.
With 1.2 million supporters, The Senior Citizens League is one of the nation's largest nonpartisan seniors groups. Its mission is to promote and assist members and supporters, to educate and alert senior citizens about their rights and freedoms as U.S. Citizens, and to protect and defend the benefits senior citizens have earned and paid for. The Senior Citizens League is a proud affiliate of The Retired Enlisted Association.
Visit www.SeniorsLeague.org for more information.
May 20, 2011 4:49 pm
With the warmer months around the corner, consumers are beginning to organize their wallets to plan for summer activities. And, travel and vacationing top most Americans' lists, according to a recent survey conducted by Ally Bank, with 26 percent of respondents indicating this is where they will spend the most money this summer.
"With so many Americans hitting the road this summer, easy access to vacation money is important," says Deposits and Product Innovation Executive Diane Morais. "When traveling it's helpful to have your funds at your fingertips and not have to pay fees to access it."
While Americans agree on one thing—travel is a priority—many (22 percent) are still considering "staycationing" or picking a local spot for their summer getaway. Data also shows that most Americans are keeping costs low with 37 percent of respondents planning to spend less than $500 and another 33 percent expecting to spend between $500 and $2,000 for summer travel.
"It's never too late to start stashing away vacations funds. One way to do so is to take advantage of low or no-fee checking, savings and short-term CD options like we offer at Ally Bank," says Morais. "Savers can create completely separate accounts for their travel needs and better budget and manage their travel costs without dipping into other savings plans or going into debt."
While cash will be the most popular form of payment, respondents with higher ranging incomes are more likely to have special accounts dedicated to summer travel. Twenty percent of those who make between $75,000 and $100,000 and 15 percent of those making more than $100,000 indicate they will use these special accounts to travel.
• Planes, trains or automobiles: Most (53 percent) Americans plan to take their trips by car and 16 percent will board a plane to get away this summer. Only three percent will set sail on a cruise. Vacationers who live in metro areas (21 percent) are much more likely to travel by plane than those in non-metro areas (5 percent).
• Expenses, expenses, expenses: Thirty-one percent of respondents believe that transportation will cost the most and 29 percent expect accommodations will be the most expensive part of their vacation expenses.
• Coastal influence: Respondents on the coasts (39 percent of east coast respondents and 46 percent of west coast respondents) indicate they take between two and four vacations a year.
• Battle of the sexes: More women (30 percent versus 22 percent of men) indicate they will spend the most money on travel and vacationing this summer.
• Age differences: Respondents in the youngest age bracket—the same group that plans to spend the least on summer travel to begin with (42 percent of those between 18 and 34 years will spend less than $500 on summer travel) —are also those who plan to spend the most (28 percent and a majority) on entertainment and leisure activities during their vacation