Gunning Daily News

10 Ways to Stop Wasting Money

March 23, 2011 9:13 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 23, 2011-If you are trying to save money for a car, a vacation, or a down payment on a house-or simply trying to tighten your belt-there are at least 10 ways to stop wasting dollars that could be stashed in your savings account. So say the money mavens at Kiplinger.com, who offer these suggestions for meeting your saving goals faster:

Buy used instead of new. Whether books, exercise equipment, cars or children's clothing, pre-owned is cheaper and often as good. Check eBay or Craigslist for gently-used local bargains.

Cut down on impulse purchases. From fancy coffee to another pair of shoes, it's tempting to buy because you want something. Before you make any purchase, stop, think and if you can do without, stash that money into savings instead.

Look for better buys. It's easy to stick with the same plans and providers we've been using for a while. Is it time to look around for a better buy on credit card companies? Cable service? Insurance?

Loosen up on travel. Discounts are available for flexibility on travel dates, booking at the last minute, or blind-booking through sites like Priceline.com. Look around before you book your next trip.

Don't pay for what you don't use. Are you getting enough value from your Netflix or magazine subscriptions? From your gym membership? Break old habits and pay only for what you really use.

Pay on time. Don't rack up fees and late charges by paying bills late. Return library books and rentals on time. Submit expense reports in time for reimbursement. Procrastination can cost plenty.

Make your money work for you. If your savings are earning scant pennies, look for high-yield CDs and money-markets. Consider free, online checking that pays better interest, like ING Direct.

Get it free. Why pay for books, software or even tech support? You can find plenty of freebies at the library or check online for free stuff.

Buying brand names. Clever advertising and fancy packaging doesn't ensure a better product. Try generics in canned foods, clothing, over-the-counter drugs and more.

Don't pay ATM fees. Find a bank that doesn't charge ATM fees and reimburses you for fees other banks charge. Or skip the ATM and get cash back when making a purchase at the grocery store.

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.


5 Common Gutter and Downspout Problems and How to Fix Them

March 23, 2011 9:13 am

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 23, 2011-As the constant drip of winter runoff continues throughout much of the country, we turn to the subject of gutter and downspout maintenance. That's where our friends at GuttersA-Z.com come in.

They publish a list of the 5 most common gutter and downspout problems along with tips to fix them.

1. Leaky rain gutters

This is perhaps the most common guttering problem that homeowners face each year. What happens when rain water sits in the gutter channel and seeps through joints between two sections? If you do find the cause to be from sagging guttering or standing water, you can adjust your gutter and add a couple of extra gutter hangers to fix the problem.

To repair the leak, you will need to dry out the two sections and clean the area with a brush or towel. Next, get a good tube of silicone caulk and caulk the seams on both the inside and outside of the gutter.

If the cause of the leaking is from a hole in your gutter, use a simple patch to repair it. First, apply some roofing cement to the area where the hole is located. Next, take a sheet metal patch and place it over the hole. Then, put roofing cement over the top of the patch.

2. Sagging gutters

Over the course of time it is easy for some gutters to begin to sag. Check for sagging gutters by inspecting for standing rain water or water marks inside the channel. If you notice a problem, you will need to take a 3-foot level and check your slope angle.

Generally, you should have a 1/4 inch slope for every 10 feet of guttering. If you need to make adjustments you can simply add or adjust your gutter hangers.

3. Loose downspouts

Another common maintenance issue is with downspouts that break loose or get disconnected from the gutter itself. This is an easy fix that takes very little time. You need a drill and a couple of sheet metal screws. Push the downspout back together and drill a couple of small holes in the two pieces. Next, screw the sheet metal screws through the pieces. One important point to remember: don't use long screws or they will cause debris inside the downspout that will clog it up over time.

4. Overflowing rain gutters

This problem is caused by a clogged gutter or downspout in most cases. To fix the problem, you simply need to clean out the area where the clogging is occurring. In some cases, this could be caused by having gutters that are too small to handle the rain water. In this case you would need to install rain gutters that are larger.

5. Pooling water near downspouts

To prevent water from pooling around your home and downspout, be sure to make it runoff well into your yard or driveway. You can use a downspout extension or other flexible tubing to get the job accomplished.

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

March 22, 2011 8:13 am

Property tax deductions. The Internal Revenue Service allows homeowners to claim as itemized personal deductions money paid for state and local realty taxes, as well as interest on debt secured by their homes. It also allows for the deduction of loan prepayment penalties, and the deduction of points on new loans.

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: What can I expect from a good real estate agent?

March 22, 2011 8:13 am

A: Competence, efficiency, and ethics. According to the All America's Real Estate Book by Carolyn Janik and Ruth Rejnis, good agents take the time to qualify buyers and show properties in their price range. They plan showing routes carefully and have pre-inspected most properties. They have a thorough knowledge of financing options, are up on the latest housing trends, and share with prospective buyers data on the local housing market and home sales.

Good agents also adhere to a strict code of ethics. They avoid high-pressure sales tactics, refrain from showing properties that do not fit your needs or goals, and alert you to problems about the condition of the property. And they show respect for other agents and real estate firms by not "bad mouthing" them.

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.


10 Tips for Getting Your Finances in Order

March 22, 2011 8:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 22, 2011-Tax season is in full bloom and Americans are up to their elbows in statements, receipts and 1099s. The IRS tells us it will only take an hour or so to fill out our 1040s, but they clearly have not factored in the time it takes us to sort through-let alone find-our financial information. Thoughts of a giant post-April 15th bonfire may come to mind, but before you light the match, consider another, more sensible way to handle your finances.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Consumer Advocate Eleanor Blayney, CFP recommends that while you are cleaning up your house after a long winter, celebrate spring by cleaning up your finances as well. "Your goal should be to get into those forgotten corners, deal with the clutter, recycle the stuff that has value and throw out the rest," said Blayney.

Here are 10 ways to freshen up your finances:

Store it. Set up a three-tier storage system: get hanging files for information you will need within the next year, such as receipts or transaction confirmations; storage bins for documents you need to save for more than one year, such as tax returns (3 years after filing) or real estate records (for as long as you own the property, plus 3 years); and a fireproof, lockable box for difficult-to-replace items such as your Social Security card, wills and other estate planning documents.

Review your beneficiaries. Make a clean sweep of your estate plan by checking that the correct beneficiaries are designated on your insurance policies and qualified retirement accounts. For example, minor children cannot inherit assets outright without a trust or custodian.

Double check your estate plan. While you have your hands on those estate planning documents, reread them to see if anything in your life has changed that would make revisions necessary.

Get your free credit report. It's available annually (www.annualcreditreport.com). Get a copy and be sure to read it closely. That way, you can clean up any entries made by creditors that are incorrect.

Save automatically. Set up a regular transfer from your paycheck or checking account to a savings account and begin building an emergency reserve. Then forget about those savings. Just like that dust accumulating on the top of the fridge, it's out of sight, out of mind and most importantly, out of your easy reach.

Go digital. Don't ever again trip over the clutter of your busy life and forget to pay a bill or a credit card account on time. Use your mobile phone or computer to send yourself reminders of payments due and thereby avoid those late fees.

Protect what you own. While you are changing your clocks and checking your smoke detectors, check your home or renter's insurance as well. Make sure you have the necessary amount of coverage to avoid any major out-of-pocket losses in the event of fire, theft or other disaster.

Consolidate. Make your next spring cleaning a much easier job by consolidating your investment accounts with one provider. Often, custodians will provide a single statement on your accounts, even if the accounts must be separately titled. Having a single source for your investment information makes the job of monitoring and rebalancing your accounts more efficient. Be aware, however, that holding all your accounts with a single custodian can limit the amount of SIPC or FDIC coverage available to you.

Take a deep dive into your finances. When those spring showers keep you cooped up for a long afternoon, review all your checks, credit card statements and debit transactions from the year before. If you have online banking, you can usually export a year's worth of transactions into a spreadsheet, which you can then sort and classify. You'll see where you are spending the most money and can therefore focus your budgeting and cost-saving efforts accordingly. This review should also provide the basis for a workable budget going forward-a must for anyone wanting to clean up his or her finances.

For more information, visit www.cfp.net.

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.


Residential Remodeling Continues to Grow

March 22, 2011 8:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 22, 2011-Yet one more piece of data seems to suggest that homeowners are becoming more optimistic about the future. The Residential BuildFax Remodeling Index, a residential building and permitting database tracking 4,000+ cities and counties throughout the country, rose 18% year-over-year in 2010. After fourteen straight months of increase, it reached a peak of 103.8 in December 2010, the highest December number in the history of the index, which started in 2004.

The increase comes at a time when more and more homeowners are underwater, making the financing of remodeling projects more difficult. "We believe that many of these homeowners are drawing on their savings or other forms of consumer credit, such as credit cards to pay for the remodeling," said Bruce Hahn, president of the American Homeowners Foundation. "Anecdotal evidence that most homeowners are opting for less ambitious projects than in the past supports this view," he added. Another factor may be barriers to other alternatives. "In many markets it is very difficult to sell your home. Even if you can sell your home, financing its replacement may be a challenge because mortgage lenders have substantially tightened borrower requirements. If moving up isn't an option, improving your current home may be the next best alternative."

The West and South both saw better-than-average remodeling activity in December, with the South posting a four-year high and the West posting an index high. The Midwest suffered its usual significant November-to-December decline and the Northeast continues to lag all other regions while still showing signs of recovery. The BuildFax Remodeling Index for the Northeast was down 4.1 points (5%) month-over-month but up 1.3 points (2%) year-over-year; the South was down 0.6 points (less than 1%) month-over-month but up 9.1 points (12%) year-over-year; the Midwest was down 11.8 points (11%) month-over-month and down 0.1 points (less than 1%) year-over-year; and the West was up 2.9 points (3%) month-over-month and up 11.3 points (12%) year-over-year.

If a homeowner is lucky enough to have substantial equity in their home and good credit, financing a remodeling project through a new mortgage may make a lot of sense. Mortgage rates are at historic low levels and in many cases a homeowner who can do cash out refinancing will find themselves with new monthly mortgage payments that are lower than they have on their current mortgage. There's also hope for homeowners with limited equity in their home. Some lenders may be willing to base the allowed mortgage amount on the increased value of the home when the work is complete.

Homeowners need to be careful when selecting remodeling contractors. In good times and bad, complaints about remodeling contractors are near the top of both the Better Business Bureau's and the American Homeowners Foundation's complaint list. There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the risk. You should check the contractor's credentials carefully. Are they licensed and insured for workers compensation, property and personal liability? If in doubt, ask to see their insurance certificate. Do they belong to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers Council, and/or any of the more specific trade associations in the remodeling sector? That's a sign of commitment to the trade and to professionalism. Most also offer certification and/or management training and keep their members up-to-date on the latest products and techniques. Ask for recent references on similar jobs (employee and subcontractor turnover is often fairly high, so recent jobs are a reliable indicator of their current capability). Check their record with the Better Business Bureau while you're at it.

For all but the most minor jobs, it is especially important to utilize a comprehensive written contract. This will greatly reduce the likelihood of disputes with your remodeler. Most disputes arise over issues that were not decided in advance. Make sure it covers the description of the project, timetable, payment schedule, etc., with general provisions defining the responsibility of the contractor and the subcontractors, defects and correction, change order procedures, warranties, right to termination, and alternative dispute settlement mechanisms (since more than half of the costs of lawsuits represent legal fees, homeowners and contractors will almost always be better off with mediation, conciliation, and/or binding arbitration clauses should a disagreement arise).

Courtesy of the American Homeowners Foundation and the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance, www.AmericanHomeowners.org.


Data Shows Investing in Green Features Can Pay Dividends When Selling Your Home

March 22, 2011 8:13 am

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 22, 2011-I recently came across some interesting information regarding green homes from Jim Simcoe, a sustainability consultant, coach and speaker promoting green business practices. We often report on how to achieve greener homes, but Simcoe is coming up with data to answer the nagging question: can investing in green practices and outfitting really pay off?

Put simply, Simcoe says yes.

He says buyers will pay more for green properties provided the added value is more than the increased price. For example, if you can show a buyer that spending $10k more for a 'green' home will actually save them $250 per month in their total (mortgage + utilities) monthly bills, then they'll spend the extra $10k with you.

"We see this all the time," Simcoe says, "the key is figuring out the breakeven point between the increase in sales price-$10k in this example-and the total monthly expense." To best identify that matrix, Simcoe has developed a formula that calculates this number for consumers, which he provides among his services.

On the same subject, the latest Eco Pulse report generated by the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Shelton Group found nearly two-thirds of consumers would be willing to pay a 10% or higher premium for a home with a number of green features. Nine percent were willing to pay 30% more.

The green features chosen most often in the Shelton Group survey were:

-Renewable electric power generation systems such as solar, geothermal or wind (25%)

-Higher-efficiency appliances like those certified by Energy Star (25 %)

-Water-conserving features like low-flow showerheads or rainwater collection systems (21 %)

If you haven't gotten on the green bandwagon yet, maybe this is your year now that there is reliable data that investing in green features can pay dividends when it's time to sell your home.

For more information, visit www.jimsimcoe.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.


4 Simple Rules for Perfect Exterior Painting

March 22, 2011 8:13 am

RISMEDIA, March 22, 2011-If you want professional-looking results when painting exterior wood, approach the project as if you were a professional painting contractor. That means following four simple rules that come second nature to experienced painters, says Debbie Zimmer, spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute.

Here are four rules to achieve a perfect exterior paint job:

1. Take time to prepare the surface properly. According to Zimmer, this is where a lot of inexperienced painters go wrong. "It's important to fight the urge to start painting as soon as possible. Even the best paints can fail if they're applied to a poorly prepared surface," she says.

Before beginning to paint, clean the surface thoroughly. This can be done with rented power-washing equipment or by scrubbing with a long-handled brush using plain soap and water.

Afterward, remove any remaining loose, flaking, or peeling paint by scraping or wire-brushing. Next, sand down rough edges on the old paint, as well as areas where the paint is glossy.

Finally, brush off the dust and particles left from the sanding and scraping. Then sand and prime any areas where the wood is bare.

2. Buy top quality paint. "To get the best-looking and longest-lasting paint job, it's important to use the highest grade of paint," advises Zimmer. "On wood and many other exterior surfaces, top quality 100% acrylic latex paint is the best choice."

Because these paints contain more solids than run-of-the-mill paints, they form a thicker, more durable paint film. What's more, they hide better, so they'll often conceal the old paint color in fewer coats, saving a lot of extra work...and saving money, too.

"Top quality 100% acrylic latex paints also have better adhesion, so they get a better grip on a properly prepared surface," says Zimmer. "And they remain flexible, so they can expand and contract with changing temperatures. These attributes help top quality paints resist peeling and flaking, which adds to the life expectancy of the paint job."

Top quality 100% acrylic latex paints typically last 10 years or more, compared to three or four years for lower quality coatings, according to Zimmer. So, they are a much better value in terms of cost per year of service-no small consideration in these trying economic times.

3. Use quality brushes and equipment. For the best results when applying top quality paint, use quality brushes and accessories, says Zimmer. "Better quality equipment makes the work easier and helps apply the paint in a thicker, more uniform coat for a better-looking paint job."

She advises homeowners to choose brushes that are well-balanced and springy, with multiple lengths of split bristles packed tightly in a - to 1-inch thickness on a standard 4-inch brush.

When working with latex paints, it's important to use brushes with synthetic bristles-ideally, polyester. According to Zimmer, polyester bristles will hold their shape and maintain the proper stiffness regardless of the amount of water they encounter.

4. Paint in the right weather conditions. After you have your quality paint and tools in hand, choose the right type of day to apply the paint. Doing so will enable the paint to form a tough, durable, protective film.

Zimmer says it's best to do exterior painting in mild weather, ideally when temperatures are above 50 degrees F., and when the wind isn't strong.

On very hot days, try to avoid painting in direct sunshine, since surfaces sitting in direct sun can be 10-20 degrees hotter than the air temperature. One way to cope with this and still keep the job moving is to paint on the shady side of the house.

The four rules for perfect painting involve a lot of common sense and take a little self-discipline. But, if you follow them, you'll be rewarded with a beautiful, professional-looking paint job that will last for years.

For more information, visit www.paintquality.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

March 21, 2011 8:43 am

Promissory note. A written promise to repay a debt on demand or at a stated time in the future.

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: How does a lease option work?

March 21, 2011 8:43 am

A: A landlord agrees to give a renter an exclusive option to purchase the property. The option price is usually determined at the outset, but not always, and the agreement states when the purchase should take place whether, say, six months, or a year or two down the road.

A portion of the rent is used to make the future down payment. Most lenders will accept the down payment if the rental payments exceed the market rent and a valid lease-purchase agreement is in effect.

Before you opt to do a lease option, find out as much as possible about how they work. Talk to real estate agents, read published materials, and, in the end, have an attorney review any paperwork before you and the tenant sign on the dotted line.

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.