Gunning Daily News

Before You Hit the Deck, Inspect It

April 1, 2011 10:45 am

By Daniel DiClerico

RISMEDIA, April 1, 2011-If you live in a seasonal climate and own a deck, it should soon be the scene of cookouts, cocktails and general conviviality. Right now, though, it's probably covered in muck and maybe the odd assortment of lawn gear. As much as Americans love their decks, caring for them isn't always top of the agenda. Indeed, the last time we surveyed consumers nationwide, nearly 20 percent said they never clean or power-wash their decks, and 29 percent said they never stain or seal them.

Regular maintenance is essential to keeping a deck safe and secure. That's why Consumer Reports tests deck stains on an ongoing basis. We're just wrapping up our latest review of solid, semi-transparent, and clear stains. The final results won't be ready for several weeks, but if you need to restain your deck, you'll probably need to wait that long for the weather to improve. We recommend temperatures between 50 F and 85 F, with little wind or direct sunlight, which can cause the stain to dry too quickly.

Ahead of those weather conditions, you can perform a visual inspection of the deck and make any necessary repairs. Here's the three-point plan:

Step One: Clean the surface. Use soapy water and a soft-bristled brush to remove dirt, mold, and other debris. A power washer will also work, but hold the nozzle at least 12 inches from the deck to avoid damage.

Step Two: Spot splinters and popped nails. Both are a safety hazard. Break off splinters and sand sharp edges. Hammer nails and tighten screws.

Step Three: Check the structure. Be on the lookout for rotten boards, broken railings, and wobbly steps. Check the framing for rot and insect damage, especially where the deck ties into the house.

If you discover extensive damage to the deck, consider a replacement. Consumer Reports decking reviews cover wood, composite, plastic and aluminum. We currently recommend seven models across all four categories, with prices ranging from $175 to $1,000 per 100 square feet. That doesn't include installation, however, which could add thousands to the bottom line-another reason to take good care of the deck you've got.

For more information, visit www.consumerreports.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.


Statement from U.S. Commerce Department Chief Economist Mark Doms on Personal Income and Outlays in February 2011

April 1, 2011 7:45 am

RISMEDIA, April 1, 2011-The U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis recently released data on personal income and outlays for February 2011. Personal income increased 0.3 percent in February, nearly consistent with private-sector forecasts of a 0.4-percent increase. Wages and salaries rose a favorable 0.3 percent. Real consumer spending also increased 0.3 percent in February and has risen a moderate 1.0 percent at an annual rate above its fourth-quarter average. Additionally, personal income figures for both December and January were revised upward.

"The good news in today's report is that wages and salaries-an important and large component of personal income-are strong and rising," says U.S. Commerce Department Chief Economist Mark Doms. "Going forward, we hope to see even stronger growth in consumer spending as the economy expands thanks to key investments by this administration focused on job creation and global competitiveness."

For more information visit www.commerce.gov.

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 1, 2011 6:15 am

Recording. Entering or recording documents affecting or conveying interests in real estate in the recorder's office; until recorded a deed or mortgage generally is not effective against subsequent purchases or mortgage liens.

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 if you have more than one home?

April 1, 2011 6:15 am

A: For more than one home, you can exclude the gain only from the sale of your main residence. You must pay tax on the gain from selling any other home. If you have two homes and live in both of them, your main home is usually the one you live in most often.

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.


Investing: Is Your Mattress the Safest Bet?

April 1, 2011 6:15 am

RISMEDIA, April 1, 2011-During the most recent stock market reversal many equity investors panicked, selling stocks at the depth of the market and adopting investment strategies that they perceived would be safer and yield better returns than were available in a declining market by either investing in bonds and money market funds or simply holding on to their cash-so-called "mattress" investing.

The rationale behind mattress investing is that by holding cash rather than keeping it invested in declining equities, as many Depression-era families did by stuffing cash in their mattresses, the asset will retain greater value.

But did that strategy earn safer and higher returns? No, according to new research by National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) Senior Policy Analyst Pam Villarreal, which shows returns to equity funds outpaced any of the alternatives.

"Every investor has a comfort level when it comes to investment risk," says Villarreal. "But selling all stocks and holding the cash is a sure way to lock in a loss."

Indeed, Villarreal's research showed that equity funds outdistanced any of the alternatives, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) gaining more than 77 percent from March 2009 to January 2011. In March 2009 alone, the S&P 500 posted its largest 10-day gain since 1938, and in November 2010 the DJIA topped 10,000 for the first time since September 2008.

In fact, returns for consecutive $100 tax-deferred monthly 401(k) contributions from December 1, 2008 to December 31, 2010 vary significantly:

Contributions to a traditional savings account invested in money market funds would have yielded $21; an after-tax return of 0.71 percent

Contributions to a bond index fund would have yielded $140; a 5.39 percent return

But a contribution to an S&P index fund would have yielded $783; a return of nearly 26 percent

"Panic stock selling is a normal reaction by investors when markets turn jittery, but it can cost investors thousands of retirement dollars," Villarreal adds. "If investors do sell, even if it's to stash their cash under the mattress, the sooner they return to stocks, the more money they will have for retirement."

For more information visit www.ncpa.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.


Expect to Pay More for Travel This Summer

April 1, 2011 6:15 am

William J. McGee

RISMEDIA, April 1, 2011-Travel industry experts are in agreement on one thing: Consumers will be paying more for airline seats, hotel rooms, and rental cars this summer. Rising fuel costs have led some analysts to revise their forecasts, but they all predict travelers' wallets will be lighter than in 2010.

Here's what to expect:

Airfares. Whether you're looking short-term or long-term, prepare to pay more for an airline seat this year. For spring vacations, the "fareologists" at Bing Travel estimate the average ticket price will be 10.5 percent higher than in 2010. American Express notes that domestic ticket prices rose "significantly" in 2010-up 21 percent in economy and 39 percent in business class-and recently predicted airfares are "likely to remain on an upward trend" this year. Similarly, Advito's 2011 Industry Forecast calls for economy class increases of 7 percent within North America and 6 percent internationally. Earlier this month, the International Air Transport Association revised its 2011 worldwide forecast due to rising oil prices, but still predicted better revenues for North American carriers, which translates into higher fares.

Hotels. STR, a leading hotel industry analysis firm, predicts good news for the lodging industry this year, which means higher prices for you; average daily rates will increase by 6.8 percent (up to $109.16). Meanwhile, PricewaterhouseCoopers also forecasts average daily rates will increase this year, by 5.1 percent. American Express predicts that rates for non-business travelers will rise this year as well.

Car rentals. There's mixed news here. On the one hand, American Express predicts base rates will remain the same this year, or might even decline by as much as 2 percent due to excess inventory. However, Amex also notes: "Higher cancellation charges and new taxes and fees could drive the actual price per trip higher."

For more information visit www.consumerreports.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.


Housing Survey Shows Key Changes in Americans' Attitudes toward Housing and the Economy

March 31, 2011 8:45 am

RISMEDIA, March 31, 2011-Fannie Mae's latest national housing survey finds that Americans are more confident about the stability of home prices than they were at the beginning of 2010, even though they lack confidence in the strength of the economy.

Over 77 percent of respondents believe housing prices will hold steady or increase over the next twelve months, up from 73 percent in January 2010; but almost two-thirds still believe the economy is on the wrong track, virtually unchanged (61 percent) from the beginning of last year.

The Fannie Mae Fourth Quarter National Housing Survey-conducted between October 2010 and December 2010-polled homeowners and renters to assess their confidence in homeownership as an investment, the current state of their household finances, views on the U.S. housing finance system and overall confidence in the economy.

"Over the course of the last year, we gained deeper insights into Americans' confidence in the strength of the housing market and the economic recovery," says Doug Duncan, Vice President and Chief Economist of Fannie Mae. "More Americans believe that housing prices will remain stable over the next year. We are also seeing encouraging signs in the positive attitudes toward homeownership among younger Americans, despite the severe impact of the housing crisis on Generation Y. But most respondents to our survey continue to lack confidence in the strength of the economic recovery, and they are less optimistic about their ability to buy a home in the years ahead. This sense of uncertainty is weighing on the housing recovery today and reshaping expectations for housing for the future."

Additional survey highlights include:

Younger Americans, Hispanics and African-Americans are generally more positive about owning a home than the general population. Nearly 60 percent of Generation Y (ages 18-34) believes buying a home has a lot of potential as an investment, even though this age group suffered the steepest decline in homeownership during the housing crisis-from nearly 44 percent when home prices peaked to under 40 percent in 2009.

More than one-third of Hispanics (34 percent) and African Americans (35 percent) say they will buy a home in the next three years, compared to only one in four (23 percent) of all other Americans.

The percentage of Americans who believe that buying a home is a safe investment declined to 64 percent over the course of the year, from 70 percent in January 2010. This is down sharply from a similar survey conducted in December 2003, when 83 percent of the general population thought buying a home was a safe investment.

During 2010, survey respondents increasingly expressed a strong belief that it will be harder for future generations to obtain a mortgage. Three-quarters of those surveyed (74 percent) believe it will be harder to get a mortgage in the future, up from just over two-thirds at the beginning of 2010.

One out of three delinquent borrowers continue to say they have considered defaulting on their mortgage. However, that number fell from 39 percent at the beginning of the year to 31 percent in the fourth quarter. The number of delinquent borrowers who say they have seriously considered defaulting has also declined, from 25 percent in January 2010 to 19 percent.

For more information, visit www.fanniemae.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 31, 2011 7:45 am

Real estate. The land itself and everything extending below and above it, including all things permanently attached, whether by nature or by man.

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 do capital gains work when you sell your home?

March 31, 2011 7:45 am

A: If you sell your primary residence, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of gain-$500,000 for married couples-from your federal tax return. To claim the exclusion, the IRS says your home must have been owned by you and used as your main home for a period of at least two out of the five years prior to its sale.

You also must not have excluded gain on another home sold during the two years before the current sale. However, special rules apply for members of the armed, uniformed and foreign services and their families in calculating the 5-year period.

If you do not meet the ownership and use tests, you may use a reduced maximum exclusion amount. However, you can only use this amount if you sold your home due to health complications, a change in place of employment, or unforeseen circumstances.

If you can exclude all the gain from the sale of your home, you do not report it on your federal tax return. If you cannot exclude all the gain, or you choose not to, you must use Schedule D of Form 1040, Capital Gains or Losses, to report the total gain and claim the exclusion you qualify for.

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.


Recycling Mystery: Latex Paint

March 31, 2011 7:45 am

By Megan Dobransky

RISMEDIA, March 31, 2011-Program Director for San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority, Patti Toews is at the forefront of an innovative latex paint take-back program that exists only in her county.

"Latex paint is a very special waste," Toews says. "It's challenging. On one hand people can't just throw it away or pour it down the drain, but on the other hand, it's considered hazardous waste only in California. No other state mandates that latex, or water-based, paint be disposed of in any specific manner. "

Since 2009, residents of San Luis Obispo County can take their leftover latex paint back to any retailer that sells the paint to receive free disposal. There are three situations where retailers must take back the paint: when the customer has a receipt, when there's an even swap (for example, if someone brings 500 gallons to Home Depot, they must take it if that person is buying 500 gallons from them) or if a customer brings up to two fluid gallons per week.

"You can imagine the frustration on the retailers' end," Toews says, "especially if they have to take back paint that they didn't even sell- but it mostly doesn't happen that way."

Why latex paint is hard to recycle

Toews explains that, according to research, latex paint has a remarkably uncanny way of returning to the very retail store it came from. San Luis Obispo County has other take-back programs for everything from rechargeable batteries to books, but Toews says that no other material is returned in quite the same way as latex paint.

"The convenience factor is hugely beneficial," she says. "People tend to consolidate their trips and gravitate toward where they first bought paint."

But San Luis Obispo is unique, and many people in other areas don't know exactly what to do with their latex paint.

The messaging can be confusing; it's not hazardous, but you can't just throw it away. You can dry it out to throw it away, but don't leave an open can around children or animals because that could be dangerous.

What should I do with latex paint?

David Ramirez, Household Hazardous Waste Technician for Gilbert, Ariz., says the best thing to do is bring the paint into an HHW facility or event. "We want to get it in the doors so we can determine if it's usable or not, and take away all those other dangers."

The Gilbert facility recycles latex paint once it's been determined that it can be reused. "We have three 55-gallon drums," Ramirez says. "Two we use for all shades of brown, and the last one is for anything that isn't brown, which usually makes gray."

The facility pours the paint through screens into the correct drums. Once the drum is full, the paint is pared down into five-gallon buckets that residents, organizations or the city can take for reuse. They even scrape extra paint out of the original cans so they can be recycled as scrap metal.

Ramirez says many HHW facilities don't recycle paint in this way. In fact, some of them simply landfill the paint. However, he still suggests taking leftover water-based paint to them anyway. "Even if they don't recycle, it will be properly packaged and disposed of."

Can you throw latex paint in the trash?

Latex paint can be thrown in the trash only if it is completely solid. You can achieve this by leaving the lid off the can for a few days, or using an absorbent material like cat litter to solidify the paint.

However, the best thing solution to this issue is to attempt to buy the right amount of paint-latex or not-in the first place, and just use it up.

"That way, you don't even have to worry about disposal," comments Toews. "There are always a million projects to do. Be creative and find different ways to use it."

Toews suggests donating extra paint to charity organizations, schools or artists. If you want to keep leftover paint, look around the house for anything that could use a fresh coat or touch-up. That way, the only thing to worry about is recycling the container.

Megan Dobransky is the Resource Editor at Earth911.com.

For more information, visit www.Earth911.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.