Gunning Daily News

Get Serious about Identity Protection

April 29, 2011 6:55 am

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 29, 2011-Whether through a smartphone, or with a click of a computer mouse, your RIS Consumer Confidant knows more Americans are bringing their banking, and their bank, home with them than ever before. They are shopping, ordering prescriptions, medical products, furniture and even cars, all through the Internet.

This is why David Nelson, an FDIC fraud specialist, warns the time to get serious about your own identity protection is NOW-and he offers these basic tips to protect yourself:

If you bank online, frequently check your deposit accounts and lines of credit to spot and report errors or fraudulent transactions, just as you should with traditional banking.

Never give your Social Security number, credit or debit card numbers, personal identification numbers (PINs) or any other confidential information in response to an unsolicited e-mail, text message or phone call, no matter who the source supposedly is.

Don't open attachments or click on links in unsolicited e-mails from anyone you don't know or aren't sure about. And watch out for sudden pop-up windows asking for personal information or warning of a virus.

Be on guard against scams hiding behind online coupon offers. Beware of any coupon site that asks for personal, financial or payment information, which can be misused by criminals.

Be careful if you download banking software onto a cell phone. Many cell phones called "smart phones" allow consumers to add computer-like features ranging from video games to "mobile" banking. The latest emerging threat comes from criminals selling malicious software for mobile banking, some even falsely displaying bank logos. These applications may contain spyware, and downloading them could be giving a hacker access to your bank account or payment card information.

Nelson's last word: "Only download mobile banking applications from a safe site, such as your wireless provider, phone manufacturer or your bank." When in doubt, he added, "contact your bank before downloading any banking applications to your cell phone."

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


How to Avoid Common Home-Purchase Contract Mistakes

April 29, 2011 6:55 am

By Tracey C. Velt

RISMEDIA, April 29, 2011-If you're buying a home, it's important to mean what you say and say what you mean when filling out the contract.

That's the advice of lawyer Jeff Marks, a partner with Ryan and Marks Attorneys LLP in Jacksonville, Fla. A real estate dispute in the Sunshine State illustrates his point.

Christine and Nigel Gibney contracted to buy a house from Helen and Randy Pillifant for $620,000. The purchase contract provided that the sale was "contingent upon this property appraising for no less than $620,000," according to court documents.

Two appraisals were done. One arranged by the Gibneys (the buyers) came in at $560,000. The Pillifants secured an appraisal that valued their house at $635,000. The buyers refused to close and terminated the contract.

The sellers sued for breach of contract, arguing that any appraisal of $620,000 or more obligated the Gibneys to buy the house. The Gibneys argued that any appraisal for less than $620,000 allowed them to terminate the contract.

Who's right? Florida's Second District Court of Appeal favored the would-be buyers, ruling in April 2010: "In our view, 'appraising for no less than $620,000' means that no appraisal may be less than $620,000," the court ruled. "The appraisal contingency allowed the Gibneys to terminate the contract if any appraisal valued the property at less than $620,000."

Too often, homebuyers and sellers think a contract allows for one thing, when the language says something else.

"Contingencies should be written in full sentences," Marks says. "In this case, it should have read, 'This agreement is contingent, at buyers' option, on the property appraising for at least $620,000 as determined by the appraiser for the buyers' lender,'" he says. "There's no confusion in that language."

Here are four ways to avoid making common contract mistakes.

Give Yourself Time to Get a Loan

Many contracts are contingent upon the buyer getting financing by a certain date. In today's tough lending climate, buyers are wise to allow themselves plenty of time to get mortgage approval for a loan. If the date passes and no financing has been secured, the sellers may terminate the contract and keep the earnest money deposit.

"You should also be realistic about your closing date," says Patti Lawton, a broker with Welcome Home Realty in Brunswick, Maine. "Don't try to close too quickly. There are a lot of things that need to be done properly and you must give lenders, title companies and others time."

Be Specific about Which Items Stay with the House

You've heard the story of the buyer who walked into a new home only to discover that the refrigerator and chandeliers were missing. Check the contract. As a seller, be sure you specifically state on the contract what will stay with the home. As a buyer, pay attention. Don't assume that the Sub-Zero refrigerator is yours once you close.

Know the Effective Date

Surprise! The contract doesn't always go into effect on the day you sign it. "In every contract, there are things that must be done within X number of days from the effective date: inspections, loan applications and approval, title searches," Marks says. "If you don't know the date that the contract went into effect, you may not have a valid contract."

Get Everyone to Sign

"Sometimes the home is owned by both spouses, other owners or an entity such as corporation," Marks says. "Make sure all of the parties sign the contract. If a party to the transaction fails to sign, they're not bound to perform the contract."

You've heard it before: Buying a house is one of the biggest financial decisions you're going to make. "Take it seriously and make sure everything that's important to you is in writing," Lawton says.

For more information visit www.bankrate.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Word of the Day

April 27, 2011 7:59 am

Subdivision. A tract of land divided by the owner into smaller lots for home sites or other use.

Copyright 2008 RISMedia, Inc., All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Q: How much can I afford?

April 27, 2011 7:59 am

A: The general rule of thumb is that you can buy a home that costs about two-and-one-half times your annual salary. A good real estate agent or lender can determine how much you can afford and estimate the maximum monthly payment based on the loan amount, taxes, insurance and other expenses. To find out now how your income, debts, and expenses can affect what you can afford, use the Century 21 calculator to figure out how much you may be able to borrow to purchase a home.

Copyright 2008 RISMedia, Inc., All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


When School's Out for Summer Choosing the Right Sitter

April 27, 2011 7:59 am

RISMEDIA, April 27, 2011-The end of the school year is a cause for celebration for millions of children around the nation. However, for their parents, it poses a serious question: Who is going to watch my children for the next three months? Sittercity.com offers the following tips to find the perfect summer sitter:

Start Early: Start searching for a sitter at least one month before school lets out. This will allow adequate time to identify and screen new candidates, check references and review background checks. Remember that most of the parents in your children's school will also be looking for summer sitters, so starting early gives you a leg up on the competition.

Parents start looking for summer sitters as early as January.

The majority of parents post a summer sitter job the first week of May.

Keep the Kids Learning: Summer vacation can be fun, but you can also use this time to continue to teach your children.

Write Down the Details: Write down all the events your children are signed up for this summer: camp, summer school, arts and crafts classes, play dates, etc., so your sitter has all the details. If your kids would like to have friends over or want to go to a friend's house, make sure to write down who they can visit, their contact information, address and details, so your sitter has them at hand.

For more information visit www.sittercity.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


New Site Helps Consumers Understand Financial Credentials and Find Qualified Advisors

April 27, 2011 7:59 am

RISMEDIA, April 27, 2011-Long confused by the "alphabet soup" of designations after the names of financial advisors, consumers now have a reliable resource to help them determine which credentials are rigorous and offered by leading institutions, versus "one day seminars" that often mislead the public.

The American College recently launched DesignationCheck.com-a website providing consumers with extended descriptions of the most common designations, tips on how to select a financial advisor, and search tools to help them find advisors with credentials well regarded by regulators.

DesignationCheck.com includes full descriptions of many designations offered by several universities and institutions. The site also offers insight on educational and experience requirements, codes of ethics, examinations, continuing education requirements, enforcement, accreditation, and information about the conferring organization. Non-profit organizations that would like to have their credential listed may submit their request through the "Feedback" section on DesignationCheck.com.

Larry Barton, Ph.D., President and CEO of The American College states: "At any time, but especially now in an erratic economy, there is an inherent lack of trust in insurance and financial planners. While no credential such as a CPA or CLU guarantees superb advice, we know for a fact that those with these designations are more likely to ensure sound and unbiased planning and that they have completed a course of study that took years and numerous exams to complete.

"Unfortunately, there are over 300 financial designations available, and some can be completed in just one day of study. We must encourage Congress to stop this insanity of unlicensed and unchecked, for-profit companies issuing certificates with initials that confuse consumers."

Barton adds "advisors with advanced education such as ChFC s, and CFP certificants are the kinds of professionals consumers should seek out. He continues by stating that "this robust website includes a wide variety of industry credentials and will help consumers connect directly with knowledgeable and qualified financial advisors."

DesignationCheck.com also contains links to other resources, including those available from FINRA and the AICPA. The 10 Considerations for Choosing an Advisor feature covers the questions consumers should be asking when they select an advisor, and the search feature helps consumers find a credentialed financial professional near them.

The advisor search tool focuses on the "big three" financial planning marks: CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter ), CFP Certification (through a link to CFP Board's site), and ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant ). Another link on the site helps consumers locate a CPA with the Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) credential.

"While FINRA and a few other sites provide lists of popular designations, there is no other site that provides as much detailed information for consumers about what each credential represents," says Barton. "We believe it is critical for families to have this tool available free of charge so they are able to choose their advisors carefully and with full information about their qualifications."

For more information, visit www.TheAmericanCollege.edu.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Keep Your Home Cool as the Weather Turns Warm

April 27, 2011 7:59 am

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 27, 2011-When it comes to air conditioning, your RIS Consumer Confidant strives to be one cool source of information. And with the hot, muggy weather of summer just a scant month or two away, it's time to take a look at a couple of the hottest new A/C concepts on the market -the split and multi-split.

A split type unit is sometimes ideal for a room with outside walls, as indoor and outdoor units are both required for each room. But with a multi-split type air conditioner, a single outdoor unit can be connected to multiple indoor units. This solves the problems of limited installation space as well as exterior clutter.

Even with zones in almost every room, it is unusual for all indoor units to be operated simultaneously, so a multi-split type air conditioner is the right choice for almost any home. The outdoor unit's capacity is shared between operating indoor units as needed, so a smaller-scale system can handle the whole home.

But are these ductless systems as efficient as the traditional systems? LEED Certified architect Maia Kumari Gilman recently blogged that it's "all a matter of degree."

Kumari says ductless air conditioners are often recommended in building retrofit situations, where it doesn't make sense to rip out walls or to add soffits to accommodate new duct runs.

Kumari likes that they are also easily set up to offer cooling to different zones instead of a single zone, thereby allowing the occupants to have control over their temperature environment. So if an occupant wants to cool only one room, then the system offers that possibility without cooling the whole space. And without duct runs, there is also a reduced chance of air leakage, which also saves energy. So, Kumari declares that ductless air conditioners are indeed "green."

An even greener alternative, she suggests, is to forego the air conditioner in lieu of an old fashioned ceiling fan that works to make the human body feel cooler rather than actually changing the temperature of the surrounding air.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Is This the Right Time to Buy a Home? 5 Reasons Why the Answer is a No-Brainer

April 27, 2011 7:59 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 27, 2011-Much has been made in the media lately about sinking home prices and the higher than normal rate of foreclosures. Understandably, this has produced some hesitancy about whether this is the right time to buy. However, most real estate industry watchers agree that there may never have been a better time to take the plunge and purchase a home.

Rock-bottom interest rates, motivated sellers, and a great supply of houses to choose from are only a few of the reasons why now is an optimum time for new homeowners. In any economy there are at least five reasons why buying a home makes more sense than renting-especially over a long period of time. A few of those reasons are financial; the others have to do with an improved way of life for growing families.

This spring, Realtors nationwide are asking consumers to consider these facts before deciding whether or not to buy now:

Equity builds over time: Home prices will always fluctuate somewhat. However, if you stay in your home for a length of time, you will build equity-building wealth by paying off your mortgage and owning your property outright.

There will be tax savings: For most, the interest on a home mortgage, and real estate property taxes, are tax deductible. The money you pay in rent is not.

You will have more control: The decision to paint your home, remodel the kitchen, plant a garden or put in a swing set will be yours alone. If you rent, the landlord must agree to any changes made to the property.

Cost will remain stable: A landlord can raise your rent. However, if you have a fixed rate mortgage, your payments are set for as long as you own your home.

Pride of ownership counts: The sense of pride and permanency in owning a home will help you and your family establish roots in the community you live in. That is an advantage few renters can experience.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Word of the Day

April 26, 2011 12:31 am

Steering. The illegal practice of directing potential home buyers to or away from certain neighborhoods in order to maintain or change the character of an area, or create a speculative situation.

Copyright 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Question of the Day

April 26, 2011 12:31 am

Q: How much can I expect to spend on maintenance?

A: Expect to spend up to one percent of the purchase price of your home every year to cover everything from painting to repairing gutters to caulking windows and maintaining routine system repairs and maintenance. An older home may require more maintenance, although much will depend on how well it has been maintained over the years. Take the upkeep seriously, and budget accordingly. Otherwise, your home's value could suffer if you allow it to fall into a state of disrepair. Remember, too, that the cost of good home maintenance is usually minor compared to what it will cost to remedy a situation that you allowed to get progressively worse. For example, unclogging and sealing gutters may cost a few hundred dollars, but repairing damage to a corner of your home where gutters have leaked can potentially cost several thousand dollars.

Copyright 2010 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.