Gunning Daily News

Consumer Product Safety Commission Launches New Website

April 26, 2011 12:31 am

By John Voket

RISMEDIA, April 26, 2011-For some people it's rock stars, to others sports legends, but to your RIS Consumer Confidant, the ultimate interview comes from folks at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The agency recently enlisted RISMedia and yours truly to help spread the word about a first of its kind website, SaferProducts.gov.

The newly launched, searchable Consumer Product Safety Information Database website is open for your perusal, and available for any consumer product complaints you might have.

The CPSC is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under the agency's jurisdiction. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from all unsafe consumer products, including those that pose a fire, electrical, chemical or mechanical hazard, or can injure children.

While reports about one of their areas of interest-unsafe cribs-have been featured here already, the CPSC also works to ensure the safety of consumer products, such as toys, power tools, cigarette lighters and household chemicals.

The agency's outreach has contributed significantly to the decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 30 years.

Through SaferProducts.gov, consumers, child service providers, health care professionals, government officials and public safety entities can submit reports of harm involving consumer products. Manufacturers (including importers) and private labelers identified in reports will receive a copy of the report, and have the opportunity to comment on them. Then, as the database of incoming reports expands with consumers' participation, completed reports and manufacturer comments will be added to material already published online at SaferProducts.gov for anyone to search.

For more information visit www.SaferProducts.gov.

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.


What Your Contractor Won't Tell You; Five Steps to Avoiding Remodeling Disaster

April 26, 2011 12:31 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 26, 2011-Adding a room to your home, or remodeling an existing kitchen or bath, can be an exciting and rewarding experience. But selecting a contractor to do the work can be confusing at best.

"Your best bet is a personal recommendation," says Barbara Kavovich, who owns and manages one of the largest female-owned construction and renovation companies in New York City. "A satisfied customer can be your greatest resource in determining a contractor's skill and business ethics."

Barring that, she adds, there are questions to ask that will help you figure out whose hands you want to put your project in. Listed below are seven things Kavovich claims a contractor will never tell you-things you want to check out and check off your list before you sign on the dotted line:

1. "I'll probably go over budget." -Make sure your contract spells out start and end times, estimated costs of equipment and materials, and details on cleanup, supervision, rubbish removal and insurance coverage.

2. "I botched a few jobs." -Call the Better Business Bureau or the Department of Consumer Affairs to find out if complaints have been lodged against a contractor. Call his references, but better yet, visit a few sites where the contractor has worked.

3. "You won't be able to find me." -Your contractor may not be onsite every day, but you should know who is in charge when he is elsewhere, and how you may reach him if you need to.

4. "Don't pay me if you don't like it." -Contractors deserve to get paid for their work, but your contract should include language that allows you withhold money for work that is incomplete, incorrect or poorly done.

5. "I don't have adequate insurance." -Make sure your contractor has in-force Workmen's Compensation and general liability insurance. Otherwise, you may be liable for the cost of certain mishaps, or if one of his workers is injured while working on your property.

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.


Savvy Home Improvements

April 26, 2011 12:31 am

RISMEDIA, April 26, 2011-If you're looking to sell your home or just want to upgrade your current space, you need to know which home improvement projects will pay off in the long run and which ones will end up costing you.

The best home improvements will increase your resale value, positively affect utility bills, or reduce the cost of maintenance.

Instant Curb Appeal: While high-tech showers or appliances are perks to buying, they do not set the stage when a potential buyer enters the house. So if you're going to invest in a renovation, it should be one that instantly leaves an impression. Landscaping, new siding and refinished floors all show that a house is well maintained. They also send a message about the quality of an entire home stronger than a single upgrade can.

Seek Out Safety: How sturdy are your stairs? Are your walkways free of tripping hazards, such as cracked concrete or uneven paving? How secure are your doors and windows? Are your entrances and pathways well lit? Upgrading these areas will make your home safer for your family and help alleviate concerns for any potential buyers.

Get Energy Efficient: Making energy-efficient additions and repairs helps reduce the home's operational costs. Improvements, such as added insulation and upgraded HVAC systems, could reduce cooling costs by up to 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Home appliances account for about 20 percent of your utility bills, so efficient choices can cut your costs while helping the environment.

When planning an improvement project, consider the long-term benefits of high-quality materials. Using low-grade products to save money now can actually cause more headaches-and potentially cost you more money-later. Cheaper materials don't hold up as well over time and often require more maintenance.

When upgrading building materials, look for options that require little maintenance and have a high perceived value. Fiber cement siding is a great example of this concept, as it can recoup as much as 84 percent of the cost upon resale. According to Remodeling magazine's 2009-10 Cost vs. Value Report, re-siding with fiber cement is one of the best home improvement investments, providing more of a return on investment than kitchen and bathroom remodels. Additional benefits, like termite and fire resistance, add to the savings in the overall cost of maintenance.

What home improvements are not worth the money?

Room additions can be costly and risky, especially if the space added is customized, such as a sauna or wine cellar, which may not appeal to future buyers.

Marble countertops may look nice in the beginning, but the porous stone needs constant maintenance. Marble can be damaged by water, burned by hot pans and eroded by cleaning products. Unless extreme care is used, it is possible that marble countertops will need to be replaced at the time of sale.

High-tech systems for the Internet or sound are a nice luxury, but because technology is continuously improving, updates will become outdated rather quickly.

For more information, visit www.jameshardie.com.

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.


What Can Your Lawn Do for You?

April 26, 2011 12:31 am

RISMEDIA, April 26, 2011-Homeowners all over the country take great pride in their lawns. But a lush, green lawn can do more than boost egos. A healthy lawn can reduce allergens and dust, increase the value of a home, and reduce erosion and runoff.

Reducing allergies to ragweed pollen

Of all Americans who are allergic to pollen-producing plants, 75 percent are allergic to ragweed pollen. While a single ragweed plant may only live for one season, it produces up to one billion pollen grains during that time. A well-maintained lawn can help limit the amount of ragweed pollen in the air, as it is typically free of many pollen-producing plants and other problem plants, such as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. More than one half of the U.S. population is allergic to these noxious weeds.

Landscaped lawns boost your real estate value

Nothing beats a first impression. When prospective buyers are searching for a new home, well-landscaped lawns and nearby parks are important factors. A study conducted by Virginia Tech University estimated that attractive landscaping can increase the value of a home anywhere from 5 to 11 percent, depending on location. It was also reported that landscape investments are recovered fully, and sometimes doubled by the increased home values.

"Potential buyers can be immediately swayed by an unsightly yard, leaving them to wonder if the lack of care and attention to the lawn has been carried to the inside of the house," says Gray Mattern, Realtor in St. Petersburg, Fla. "If the buyer doesn't get past the negative first impression, he or she may decide to bypass the home completely without looking at the interior. In this buyer's market, it's important to appeal to a wide range of prospective buyers."

A healthy lawn reduces dust and soil erosion

Healthy grass holds soil in place and prevents runoff from being washed into lakes, rivers and streams. The University of Minnesota released results of a research study showing a lawn that is not fertilized actually has more runoff than a lawn that is properly fertilized, due to the increased health of the grass.

"Proper lawn care practices will be rewarded by an aesthetically pleasing property and will result in a variety of environmental benefits," explains Dr. Cathie Lavis, horticulture professor, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan. "A key factor to success is selecting the right grass variety for both your region and particular site conditions."

How to maintain a healthy lawn

"Lawn maintenance includes timely mowing and watering. Additionally, grass quality is generally measured in terms of color, density and uniformity," says Lavis. "Scheduled fertilization and an awareness of pests and their control will contribute to lawn quality."

Two elements of good lawn health are proper pesticide use when necessary and proper fertilizer use to ensure the grass has the nutrients it needs to thrive. A properly fertilized, healthy lawn helps prevent weeds, while pesticides control weed populations already present or before they emerge. Proper pesticide use also keeps grubs and insects at bay.

The key differences between lawn and garden pesticides and fertilizers are:

A pesticide is the generic term for insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Pesticides are meant to kill or control weeds, harmful insects and fungal and other diseases. The benefit of pesticides is their ability to prevent and stop pest problems-weed, insect, or disease-before they become out of control and threaten the health of your lawn.

Fertilizers provide the proper nutrients to your grass, plants and trees, enabling them to thrive. A fertilization program should include fertilizers that are formulated to meet the needs of your lawn.

Lawn and Garden Tips for Homeowners

When selecting and using pesticides and fertilizers, the product directions must be followed to make sure the product works properly and is used in a safe and environmentally sound way. Product labels specify the amount of product that should be applied, how much is needed for your treatment conditions, and how to safely apply and store products.

Ask yourself the following questions before choosing the right lawn and garden products to meet your needs:

What insect, weed or other pest are you trying to control? What is the problem with your lawn? The label will tell you which product best fits the needs of your lawn and where it can be used.

How big is your lawn? What treatment are you applying? Select the product that meets the needs of your lawn, and buy only what you need.

Do you need a spreader to apply the product? If you have a small, localized problem consider a ready-to-use spot treatment. Follow product label directions for spreader and spot applications. More is not better; read the label and apply only the recommended amount.

To get more information on the benefits of a healthy lawn, visit www.debugthemyths.com.

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.


Americans Prefer Smart-Growth Communities, According to NAR Study

April 25, 2011 8:31 am

RISMEDIA, April 25, 2011-Americans favor walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods, with 56% of respondents preferring smart-growth neighborhoods over neighborhoods that require more driving between home, work and recreation. That's according to a recent study, the Community Preference Survey, by the National Association of REALTORS .

"REALTORS care about improving communities through smart-growth initiatives," said NAR President Ron Phipps. "Our members don't just sell homes, they sell neighborhoods. REALTORS understand that different home buyers are looking for all kinds of neighborhood settings and that many home buyers want walkable, transit-accessible communities."

Walkable communities are defined as those where shops, restaurants and local businesses are within walking distance from homes.

According to the survey, when considering a home purchase, 77% of respondents said they would look for neighborhoods with abundant sidewalks and other pedestrian-friendly features, and 50% would like to see improvements to existing public transportation rather than initiatives to build new roads and developments.

The survey also revealed that while space is important to home buyers, many are willing to sacrifice square footage for less driving. Eighty percent of those surveyed would prefer to live in a single-family, detached home as long as it didn't require a longer commute, but nearly three out of five of those surveyed-59%-would choose a smaller home if it meant a commute time of 20 minutes or less.

The survey also found that community characteristics are very important to most people. When considering a home purchase, 88% of respondents placed more value on the quality of the neighborhood than the size of the home, and 77% of those surveyed want communities with high-quality schools.

The survey of 2,071 adult Americans was conducted by Belden, Russonello and Stewart from February 15-24, 2011.

For more information, visit www.realtor.org.

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 25, 2011 8:01 am

Special assessment. A special tax imposed on specific parcels of real estate that will benefit from a proposed public improvement, such as a street or sewer.

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.


Q: If faced with foreclosure, what are my options?

April 25, 2011 8:01 am

A: Talk with your lender immediately. The lender may be able to arrange a repayment plan or the temporary reduction or suspension of your payment, particularly if your income has dropped substantially or expenses have shot up beyond your control. You also may be able to refinance the debt or extend the term of your mortgage loan. In almost every case, you will likely be able to work out some kind of deal that will avert foreclosure.

If you have mortgage insurance, the insurer may also be interested in helping you. The company can temporarily pay the mortgage until you get back on your feet and are able to repay their "loan."

If your money problems are long term, the lender may suggest that you sell the property, which will allow you to avoid foreclosure and protect your credit record.

As a last resort, you could consider a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. This is where you voluntarily "give back" your property to the lender. While this will not save your house, it is not as damaging to your credit rating as a foreclosure. Exhaust all other viable options before making a decision.

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 Save a Million Dollars - 5 Tips That Can Help Make It Happen

April 25, 2011 8:01 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 25, 2011-It's possible to make a million dollars instantly if you win the lottery, inherit a fortune or marry into it. For most of us, however, the only way to save $1 million is to save and invest whatever money we have.

There is a way to do it easily within your working life though. If you begin when you are 18, and sock away $150 every month-and if your funds are invested at a feasible rate of 10% interest-you will have your $1 million in something like 42 years.

If you can't earn 10% interest, you will have to sock away a little more each month. If you don't have 42 years to wait, you will have to invest a little more each month and get the highest rate of interest possible. But it can be done by the time you are ready to retire.

Even if you can't manage to save $150 per month, there are ways to maximize whatever money you do save. From the financial gurus at Money magazine, here are five tips to help you on the road to wealth:

Spend less than what you earn. Make it your goal never to build up credit card and to save something of what you earn each month. It sounds simple, but it may call for a little self-denial.

Diversify your income sources. Don't be wholly dependent on your salary. Consider consulting on the side, getting a second, part-time job, or running a home-based business.

Establish and maintain a secondary income that frees up your time to earn more. For example, as your nest egg grows, buy and rent out property or start a business that can be outsourced or sold.

Set savings goals and track your progress monthly. Challenge yourself to save money you might otherwise consider spending.

Continue to earn, save and invest. How dedicated you are to saving and how wisely you invest can indeed combine to make you a millionaire by the time you are 50 or 60.

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 Homes Strengthen Economy Year-Round

April 25, 2011 8:01 am

RISMEDIA, April 25, 2011-While the housing industry celebrates "New Homes Month" in April, home builders want Americans to know just how much of a positive, direct impact residential construction has on the U.S. economy throughout the entire year.

"Home building is a key driver of the American economy," said NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev. "By generating economic activity, including new income and jobs, purchases of goods and services, and revenue for local governments, housing-which has historically accounted for around 17 percent of the GDP-can put America back to work."

Economists at the National Association of Home Builders estimate that the one-year local impacts of building 100 single-family homes in a typical metro area include $21.1 million in local income, $2.2 million in taxes and other local government revenue, and 324 local jobs.

The employment effects extend beyond the home-building industry. About half of the jobs are in construction, with the other 50% creating employment opportunities in industries ranging from production and sales of home furnishings to service providers such as real estate attorneys and landscapers.

Those 100 new homes also provide the community with additional, annually-recurring impacts of $3.1 million in local income, $743,000 in taxes and other revenue for local governments, and 53 local jobs.

The income earned from construction activity is spent and recycled in the local economy, and the new homes that are built become occupied by residents who pay taxes and buy locally produced goods and services. Those tax revenues help pay for a wide range of government services, including local school teachers, police departments and road repairs.

In order to accommodate population growth and necessary replacement of older homes, however, a long-run trend of approximately 1.7 million new homes a year is needed. Yet as of February 2011, the annual projection for housing starts stood at less than 500,000.

"The gap between actual home starts and what is required to fulfill America's future housing needs represents more than 3 million jobs," said Nielsen. "Restoring the health of the housing industry is a crucial first step in stabilizing our country's path to economic recovery."

During New Homes Month, home builders also bring attention to the advantages of newly built homes, including safety, amenities, energy efficiency and floor plans to fit a wide variety of modern lifestyles. Combined with today's near record-low interest rates and competitive prices, the current market offers new home buyers unprecedented opportunities.

For more information, visit www.nahb.org.

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.


Buyer's Market Spurs Confidence in Young Professionals and Affluent Homeowners

April 25, 2011 8:01 am

By Paige Tepping

RISMEDIA, April 25, 2011-As the cold temperatures become a distant memory, and the spring selling season gains momentum, consumers have come to agree on one thing-now's a good time to get off the fence and into the real estate market. This is the overall theme in the latest American Express Spending and Saving Tracker survey, a monthly survey that tracks the spending and saving habits of consumers in order to get an indication of what's happening in the market. "This month's Spending and Saving Tracker provided an up-to-date look at various consumer trends and gave us the opportunity to assess how consumers are feeling about the current market in addition to gauging homeowner confidence," says Leah Gerstner, vice president of public affairs at American Express.

"This month's survey points to the fact that consumers overwhelmingly feel that we are in the midst of a buyer's market," she adds. The data also points to the fact that a seller's market is at least a year away, which is certainly positive news. While homeowners aren't necessarily willing to settle for less than the asking price when selling their home, two of the biggest areas of interest in the latest survey deal with homeowners including home improvement projects on their to-do list, as well as the willingness to include concessions to get their home sold.

Home Improvements

"In looking at the results of our latest Spending and Saving Tracker survey, our thinking was that if consumers overwhelmingly view today's market as a buyer's market-which they do-they are likely to have plans to put more money into their home," adds Gerstner. In fact, the survey found that about 64% of homeowners currently have home improvement projects on their to-do list for 2011. While the plans are in place, the amount that homeowners are budgeting to spend has gone down quite a bit from last year.

"Homeowners are looking for better ways to stretch their dollars, and many are looking toward energy-efficient home improvements that will pay off in the long run." The survey shows that among homeowners who are looking to go green, the most common items homeowners would spend their money on include energy-efficient windows and doors, insulation, roofing, heating and cooling systems as well as alternative energy systems.

Concessions

Another finding that stood out in the latest survey had to do with whether or not sellers were willing to make concessions to get their homes sold, especially in today's market. While 44% of sellers were willing to give away appliances during a sale-the biggest concession among young professionals and affluent homeowners-another 28% said they would take care of requested repairs in order to get their home sold. "While a large majority of sellers are willing to make concessions to get their home off the market, the willingness to make concessions is down among young professionals when compared with the 2010 survey," says Gerstner. "This is an important finding as it shows that young professionals are more confident in their ability to sell their homes today."

"Homeowner confidence in today's market has increased compared to last year," says Gerstner. "In fact, the survey shows that the confidence level is pretty evenly split-42% of homeowners are confident they will get their asking price in today's market, while 47% of homeowners aren't that confident." Even though home values continue to be on the low side, young professionals and affluent homeowners are seemingly more confident in today's market.

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.