Gunning Daily News

5 Ways to Make Budgeting Less Painful

March 30, 2011 8:45 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 30, 2011-In today's shaky economic climate, it's no wonder that many families are worried have made belt-tightening a way of life. But there are ways to ease the pain of shaving expenses, says Oregon budget counselor Owen Spangler.

"Families who share the obligation to save can be pretty creative," Spangler said. "It's possible to rein in family expenses without sacrificing family fun."

Spangler suggests the following tips for making budget cuts less painful:

Make budgeting a family affair Decide together which regular expenses can be cut. Shall we get rid of premium cable channels? Give up the morning coffee stops? Cut back on dance or karate lessons? Try to view the cuts not as a penalty, but as a means toward more important goals.

Sock it away Once you've determined how much these cutbacks will save the family monthly, make arrangements with your bank to have that amount automatically transferred from your checking account to savings.

Swap activities Take up the slack of activities cut by instituting new ones. Try a family game night or staying home for a movie and popcorn evening. Check out free activities at the local library, or give up eating out for a cook-in evening with new recipes to try.

Share the pain Friends and neighbors are going through the same hard times. Invite another family over for charades or board games. A few laughs and a little hot cocoa can do a lot to improve anyone's mood.

Set a goal A newer car? A family outing or vacation? Make the saving fun. Put up a bulletin board with pictures of the goal, and a piggy bank to which everyone can contribute. Just a few cents a day from every family member can add up to a tidy sum.

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 30, 2011 7:15 am

Real property. Land and buildings and anything permanently attached to 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.


Q: Can I refinance a home loan more than once?

March 30, 2011 7:15 am

A: You most certainly can. During the most recent refinancing boom, for example, many homeowners refinanced their home loans two or three times within relatively short periods because interest rates kept treading downward, making it extremely attractive to trade in one loan for another.

Just remember that refinancing is basically like applying for a mortgage all over again. Each time you refinance, you will still have to go through the application process, get a home appraisal, and likely incur closing costs. Also, if you have a pre-payment penalty clause in your present mortgage, you will have to pay that penalty if you refinance. So be certain that it is actually worth it for you to refinance.

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.


More Than 25 Percent of United States at above Average to High Risk for Flooding

March 30, 2011 7:15 am

RISMEDIA, March 30, 2011-The winter's elevated snowfall totals have put 14 states at above average to high risk for spring floods, according to the National Hydrologic Assessment from the National Weather Service.

The report, which is issued each spring, warns that a large portion of the North Central United States from Montana to Missouri and areas in Eastern New York and Southern New England could be impacted. National Weather Service data shows this year's snowpack in the North Central United States contains moisture levels that are among the highest in 60 years, and snowfall totals in portions of the Northeast have been far greater than usual. Experts are concerned that these factors could create increased flooding problems during the annual thaw.

"Water is a home's worst enemy," states Rhonda Hills, Kudzu.com vice president and chief marketing officer. "When water infiltrates the home it can cause structural issues, create fire hazards, ruin drywall and create unhealthy mold problems. Homeowners who live in flood-prone areas should become knowledgeable about the threats their homes face and what steps they can take to quickly restore their homes if water damage occurs."

According to the report, the Mississippi River is likely to experience major flooding from its origins near St. Paul, Minn., to St. Louis-more than 500 miles downstream. The flooding outlook in these areas and the Northeast is the result of late autumn rains which left the soil saturated prior to the winter freeze. The soaked soil will be unable to absorb the meltwater from the annual thaw and will instead force the runoff into already swollen waterways.

The home experts at Kudzu.com recommend the following steps to prepare homes in flood-prone areas:

Check sump pumps to ensure they are working properly. If your pumps are malfunctioning, contact a plumber to have them immediately repaired.

Seal basement walls with waterproofing materials. Taking this step will help prevent water from seeping through exterior walls and into your basement.

Install sewage backflow valves. These valves prevent sewage from backing up into your home through toilets and drains. These valves will need to be installed by a professional plumber.

Move furniture and other important items to higher floors or at least off the ground if possible. Also, seal important documents and valuables in plastic bags.

Learn how to turn off your gas and electrical supply. You may need to turn these off if you are forced to leave your home.

According to Kudzu.com, Homeowners who experience water damage should use these tips to help restore their homes:

Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible. Your agent will want to assess your home's damage. Be sure to take pictures of everything that has been damaged so you can properly catalog your losses.

Contact a licensed electrician to assess your electrical system and appliances. Water may have damaged these sensitive items, and it's critical to have an expert review them and ensure they're safe to use.

Remove drywall and insulation that was submerged in water. Wet drywall and insulation can present a mold hazard. Drywall will need to be cut away above the flood line so the wall can be opened and the interior can begin drying.

Open windows and doors to allow air to circulate. If it is safe to employ the use of electricity, use box fans and dehumidifiers to help speed the drying process

When cleaning, wear rubber boots, long rubber gloves, safety goggles and a breathing mask. Also, be sure to clean every surface in your home. Flood waters can be contaminated with chemicals, sewage and other hazardous materials. Floors, countertops and other submerged surfaces should be disinfected and thoroughly cleaned.

For more information visit www.kudzu.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.


10 Easy Ways to Sneak Exercise into Your Day

March 30, 2011 7:15 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 30, 2011-If you think you can't afford the time or money to work out at the gym, don't use that as an excuse to go flabby. There are plenty of ways to sneak a little exercise into your day without upsetting your busy routine or putting a strain on your wallet.

From Chicago physical therapist John Paul Tatum, here are the top 10 ways to exercise daily without even thinking about it:

1. Take the stairs At work or at home, opt for the stairs instead of using the elevator or escalator.

2. Pass up the premium parking spot park on the far side of the lot and walk further to the store or office.

3. Forge the drive-thru Get out of the car and walk into the drive-in restaurant, cleaners, bank or pharmacy.

4. Clean it yourself Instead of using a cleaning service, do that dusting and vacuuming yourself. You can even wash your own car to save money and keep moving.

5. TV with exercise instead of heading for a snack during the commercials, do some jumping jacks, crunches or push-ups.

6. Window shop Walking briskly downtown or through the mall is great exercise. Bonus points if you push a stroller.

7. Play with the kids Break out the hula hoop, the jump rope or the Frisbee. Kids can give you a great workout!

8. Let traffic be your friend Stuck in traffic? Sneak in some invisible exercise by tightening your stomach or gluteus muscles. Hold for 10 seconds, then release and repeat.

9. Stay off the phone At work, deliver messages in person to co-workers instead of using email or the phone.

10. Use that coffee break time Instead of sitting and schmoozing, use that 10 minutes to walk briskly through the corridors or around the outside of the building.

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 29, 2011 9:15 am

Real estate investment trust (REIT). Entity that allows a very large number of investors to pool their money in the purchase of real estate, but as passive investors. The investors do not buy directly. Instead, they purchase shares in the REIT that owns the real estate investment.

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: Should I put more or less down, if I can afford it?

March 29, 2011 9:15 am

A: Putting down as little as possible lets you take full advantage of the tax benefits of homeownership. Mortgage interest and property taxes are both fully deductible from state and federal income taxes. Also, making a small down payment frees up cash that you can use to meet unexpected home improvements.

Some real estate experts contend it is more economical, however, to make a larger down payment, thus reducing the amount of debt financed over the life of the loan. A borrower could potentially save several thousand dollars, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, Inc., All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


Gardening Time Savers

March 29, 2011 9:15 am

RISMEDIA, March 29, 2011-the DIY approach to lawn and garden care has many advantages, such as saving money and offering some fresh air and exercise, but sometimes it can turn into a timely endeavor. By the time you round up tools and supplies, figure out a plan of action and get working, you could easily lose half of your day to lawn care.

By approaching lawn and garden care smartly however, you can still have time for many other activities with family and friends. Here are five best practices from the experts at Ames True Temper that are sure to be time savers for you this year:

Get organized. Nothing's more frustrating than not having a shovel or watering can on hand when you need it most. Reorganize your shed or garage on a regular basis. It will help you keep track of what you have and what you need. A quick trip to your local garden center will be more productive when armed with a shopping list.

Make a plan. Draw a map or layout of what you'd like each of your garden beds to look like. Label the plants that you'd like to use in particular areas; this way you've got clear direction.

Use multipurpose, time-saving garden tools. There are many steps when it comes to outdoor projects, and the more motions you can cut out, the better. The Ames Planter's Pal is a multipurpose hand-held tool that offers seven functions in one. Whether weeding, cutting twine, opening a bag of mulch or digging a hole, the Planters Pal has all of your needs covered. Another time saver is the Ames Water Genie, a lightweight innovative watering can that connects to your spigot. A retractable hose housed inside the watering can design allows you to walk around your yard and patio to water plants with precision, without having to walk back and forth for a water refill or to turn the spigot on and off.

Take preventive steps. Edge your gardens, and lay landscape fabric between the mulch and ground to prevent weeds from cropping up among your plants. This will help save time otherwise spent weeding.

Get the family involved. The more helping hands you have, the easier it will be to get the job done. Ames True Temper makes a line of real Kids Garden tools so it's easy for everyone to help out.

Once you're equipped with the right tools and know-how, you'll be able to create and maintain a beautiful lawn and garden in no time.

For more information visit www.ames.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.


How to Choose a Real Estate Agent

March 29, 2011 9:15 am

By John Voket, RISMedia Contributing Editor

RISMEDIA, March 29, 2011-When it comes to buying a home, it pays to partner with the best real estate professional available. And since a transaction of this nature will certainly be among your most significant financial commitments, you need to choose the agent or broker who is best suited to handle the deal, and the specific desires of his or her client-you.

If you are venturing into the real estate market for the first time, and wondering what to look for in an agent, take some sage advice of Bob Stewart. He and his wife, Carolyn, have been catering to buyers and sellers in the greater Salt Lake City area for almost 15 years.

In general, he recommends first time buyers to meet many and narrow their list of candidates to a few finalists before making up their minds.

"You should find an agent with a proven track record," Stewart says. "They should work full time in the real estate field, and should have worked in real estate for some time so they have some experience."

Stewart says that since the thriving markets in recent years have brought a lot of new blood to the field, that influx may have deluded the quality of agents in Salt Lake City or anywhere else.

"So you shouldn't be afraid to tell an agent you are considering several before you make your choice," he explains. "We always assume potential clients are interviewing several others."

Agents should focus on their strengths in the interview, notes Stewart, but it's more important to look for individuals who seem comfortable and experienced.

"The potential client should get a feel for whether or not their personality meshes with the agent being interviewed-it bodes well for a good working relationship," Stewart says. "And it's important that a client not feel slighted if an agent determines they are not right for you, either. It's almost always for the best."

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.


Can You Qualify for a Mortgage? It May Not Be as Difficult as You Think

March 29, 2011 9:15 am

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, March 29, 2011-throughout the past generation, there may never have been a better time to buy a home. Interest rates are low and there is plenty of inventory, which is why home prices are low as well. If you are ready to jump in, but fear you may not qualify for a mortgage loan, you should be aware that there are four main factors that will impact a mortgage decision:

Ability to make a down payment, usually between three and 20% of the purchase price.

Two years of steady employment, at the same job or in the same field.

Good (not perfect) credit score-around 660 should do it.

Monthly income between two and three times the estimated monthly mortgage payment.

If you don't quite meet all four requirements, there are several things you can do, according to editors at Business Week:

Meet with a lender anyway. Don't assume you are out of the ballpark. It can't hurt to talk with a lender to see whether you can qualify. At worst, they may give you suggestions as to how you may qualify down the line.

Use a mortgage broker. Brokers deal with many lenders and may be able to shop around for a lender who is willing to work with you. They charge a fee, but it is well worth it if they can find you the mortgage loan you want.

Get a co-signer-This isn't easy, because if you default on a loan, the co-signer will be responsible for paying it. But if you know someone with good credit who has great faith in your ability to pay, a co-signer could be a workable option.

Plan for the future. If it turns out you cannot qualify for a home loan right now, you should at least know what you need to do to overcome the obstacles. If you make home-ownership a serious goal, you should be able to qualify in the not-too-distant 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.