Gunning Daily News

Spring Proves Ideal Time to Take Care of Home Related Projects

April 5, 2011 9:45 am

RISMEDIA, April 5, 2011-Your interests might be in gardening or redecorating, or maybe you're getting ready to sell your home. Either way, spring is the time for those home related projects. Many spring projects are more than just rejuvenating to the spirit. Some can also save money, make money, and/or improve your health.

Growing vegetables is a simple and rewarding pursuit, and nothing tastes as good as home grown. Gardens are also very scalable-a garden can be as small as a few pots on a condo balcony, and a large backyard garden might provide enough produce to get a family through next winter. Timing is the most critical factor. Each vegetable has its own timetable and characteristics. Some can be started from seeds indoors, and they must be planted early enough to be put in the garden when the weather is warm enough. Because southern climates are warmer, the date you plant the seeds and put the seedlings out will vary depending on where you live. Seed packets will contain that information, so read the backs before you buy any. If it is too late to start a particular seed indoors, you can still buy young plants and plant them directly in the garden.

Warm-season plants (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and several others), can be started indoors from seed in March or April, depending on where you live. There are also "cool-season" crops-lettuce, radishes and peas-which should go in earlier and yield their produce earlier. All benefit from warm and sunny window locations, as well as plant lights.

If you are planting outside you'll want to till the ground for best results, and work in needed nutrients, lime. etc., when you do. This is also a good time to remove weeds. Soil test kits will help you identify what's needed. Renting a power tiller may be needed for a large area, but you can use a shovel or a three-prong cultivator in a small garden.

Herbs are great garden additions because they have far better taste when fresh. Most require relatively little space to grow if that is an issue. Some, like oregano, thyme and sage, will come back year after year, and others, like chives, will self seed if you let them.

Some people prefer flowers instead of vegetables, or a combination of the two. Some of the same factors mentioned above apply to flowers. Some flowers, like marigolds, discourage deer and are a smart addition to a vegetable garden if deer are a pest in your area. Other flowers attract welcome guests, like hummingbirds. Flowers that are particularly attractive to butterflies might best be kept apart from gardens, since some butterfly caterpillars are also fond of vegetables.

Spring is also a great time to clean up and clear out your home. These days many people just sell their stuff on eBay, Craigslist or Amazon because it is more convenient and they usually make more money than selling it at a yard sale. It can also make space and defray some of the costs of some fairly inexpensive redecorating. A new rug, chair, and/or painting can change the whole mood of a room.

Clearing out space is also a good idea if you are thinking about selling your home this spring. In that case, think twice before replacing anything you sell. One of the principles of home "staging"-the art of making your home more attractive to buyers-is to have less stuff in your rooms because it makes them look bigger. Planting flowers is another way to add curb appeal, and what prospective home buyer would not like the thought of harvesting fresh veggies from their garden this summer?

Other cost effective curb appeal projects include adding shrubbery to an under landscaped yard and repainting inside and/or out if your home needs it. A home inspection is a good idea because you can identify and take care of any minor problems before a buyer's inspection identifies them. Buyers can be turned off by a long list of needed repairs because it suggests lack of ongoing maintenance and the potential for even more problems. If the inspection uncovers more serious problems, you may want to factor them into the price and sell the home "as is."

Remodeling projects are also popular in the spring. Homeowners have gotten more conservative in terms of their scope in recent years. This is a reflection of both weaker home prices and a weaker economy. Nevertheless, remodeling is often a more sensible alternative than moving to upgrade your housing resources. Between commissions and other expenses, selling costs can easily approach 10% of a home's value. In some cases it is the only alternative because of the housing market.

By contrast, sensible remodeling costs can often add 80-90% of their costs to your homes net value. That can also move into the positive ROI range if you're willing to do some of the finish work (like painting) yourself.

As always, we recommend that homeowners get everything in writing. Contractor disputes are common and can best be avoided when areas of potential misunderstanding are eliminated. That is best done by using a comprehensive contact that covers everything.

Courtesy of the American Homeowners Foundation and the American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance,

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 5, 2011 6:15 am

Real estate salesperson. Person who has passed a state examination for that position, and must work under the supervision of a broker.

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: Does the government offer assistance with home improvements?

April 5, 2011 6:15 am

A: Yes. Two very popular programs offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) include the Title 1 Home Improvement Loan and the Section 203(k) Program. In the first program, HUD insures the loan up to $25,000 for a single-family house to cover alterations, repairs, and site improvements.

The latter program, which also insures mortgage loans, is HUD's primary program for the rehabilitation and repair of single-family homes. Loans are also available from the Department of Veteran Affairs to buy, build, or improve a home, as well as refinance an existing loan at interest rates that are usually lower than that on conventional loans. The Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Loan program, funded by the Agriculture Department, offers low-rate loans to low-income rural residents who own and occupy a home in need of repairs. Funds are also available to improve or modernize a home or to remove health and safety hazards. The federal government isn't alone in its efforts to provide assistance. Local and state governments offer special home improvement programs. Contact your governor or mayor's office for more details.

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.

Simple Tips for Avoiding Tax Scams

April 5, 2011 6:15 am

RISMEDIA, April 5, 2011-As the height of tax season approaches, it's important for all filers to be vigilant about avoiding tax scams. The problem, however, is that many of the sites fraudsters use look like those created and maintained by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other tax authorities. Fortunately, with the right Internet security software and a few simple tips, you can avoid the traps set by these "phishers" and keep the season's tax refund scams at bay.

To get the phishing protection you need during tax season-and throughout the year-you should install Internet security software that checks for phishing and malicious websites before you visit them. Phishing scams are often carried out via email, so it is important to have anti-spam protection as well. Use Internet security software with automatic updates to help you stay protected from the latest spyware, viruses, Trojans, keyloggers, worms and rootkits.

In addition to getting up-to-the minute protection by way of your Internet security software, maintaining safe online practices is an important part of avoiding tax scams. Just a few of the tell-tale signs that a seemingly legitimate tax site or email message is really the handiwork of phishers include:

-Messages contain dire warnings or extreme promises of a large refund. If you receive an email message or IM containing such a message, don't reply to the sender, don't email any sensitive information, and don't follow any link contained within the message

-The site promises to automatically transfer a tax refund to your bank account after you provide your banking information, credit card number and/or other personal details.

-The site's URL doesn't begin with or another tax authority's primary URL name, and instead looks something like (or a similar iteration). When in doubt, go directly from the tax authority's site by entering its primary URL directly into your address bar.

-The email seems to be a government tax agency but is requesting that you inform them of your debit card's PIN number (or provide other sensitive information) in order to receive your refund. The IRS does not send such messages and already has the information it needs to provide you with a refund check or direct deposit.

-The email message alleges to be from the IRS (or another government agency) but has a file attached. Do not open the attachment, as these often contain harmful viruses or spyware.

For more information, visit

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.

Fire Safety Practice Family Fire Escape Plans

April 5, 2011 6:15 am

RISMEDIA, April 5, 2011-Fire happens unexpectedly, and many times in the middle of the night when families are sleeping. That's why it's important to have an escape plan in place you won't have time to create a plan during a crisis. Foremost encourages you and your family to be prepared and follow these tips.

Practice Fire Drills Often

Families should practice fire drills at least twice a year so everyone is aware of what to do when a real fire occurs. Set up multiple scenarios and practice drills at different times of the day so your family learns how to get out safely from every room in your house. Once everyone is comfortable, you may want to consider a fire drill at night when everyone's asleep to see if your smoke detectors are loud enough to wake your family members.

-Make a rough sketch of your home's floor plan and label all possible exits, including windows and doors.

-Plan at least two different escape routes from each room.

-Designate a meeting place outside your home, like your mailbox or neighbor's driveway.

-Assign someone to help young and elderly people.

-Choose someone to make sure family pets are safely out of the house and practice fire drills with your pets.

-Teach children they must get outside and not to hide in closets or under beds.

-Have one person to go to a neighbor's home and call the fire department.

Prepare Your Windows for Fast Escape

There is more to safety than simply knowing where the escape points are in your home. Check to make sure every window and door is fully functional before each fire drill. Teach your family how to unlock and open all of their possible exits. If they can't get a window open during an actual fire, instruct them to break it with chair, lamp or shoe and get out. Watch out for sharp glass.

-Remove any installation clips from the outside of your windows.

-Make sure windows are not stuck or painted shut.

-Check if screens and security bars can be quickly removed.

-Have a collapsible ladder ready for escape from upper-story windows.

-Have your entire family practice unlocking and opening windows and doors

Keep Fire Extinguishers Handy

Some small fires may be contained before they get out of control. If you know how to use an extinguisher and have an escape route in place in case the fire does grow larger, carefully follow the instructions and try to put out the flames. If the fire is not out after using the extinguisher, get out and call the fire department.

-Store a multi-purpose fire extinguisher in the kitchen and on every level of your home.

-Make sure they're dry-chemical extinguishers, suitable for class A, B and C fires.

-Teach all family members how to operate them.

-Always keep extinguishers recharged and ready to use.

-Never throw water on a grease fire. Instead smother the fire with a lid, baking soda or dry-chemical extinguisher.

Test All Smoke Detectors

More than half of all fatal home fires occur while people sleep. Correctly installing smoke detectors and checking them regularly will help warn your family when a fire does occur, giving you time to safely escape.

-Install at least one smoke detector on every level of your home. For extra safety, install one inside and outside of every bedroom.

-Place them on the ceiling or 6-12 inches from the ceiling since smoke rises.

-Have a qualified technician install hard-wired alarms.

-Make sure there is a battery back-up for hard-wired alarms.

-Test all fire detectors monthly.

-Change batteries at least once a year or immediately if your detector is chirping this means the battery is getting low.

Play it Safe During a Fire

If a fire does occur, these well-known tips can help you stay safe.

-Crawl to the nearest safe exit since the clearest air is 12 to 24 inches above the floor.

-Carefully touch the bottom of all doors before opening them. If they're hot, don't open them. Find another way out.

-Remember the stop, drop and roll rule. Don't run if your clothes catch fire. Stop, drop to the ground, cover your face with your hands to protect your face and lungs, and roll until you smother the flames.

For more information, visit

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 4, 2011 8:45 am

Realtor. A real estate broker or agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors, a professional real estate group that subscribes to a Code of Ethics. Not every broker or agent is a Realtor, a word that is a registered trademark and always capitalized.

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 is the difference between a conforming and non-conforming loan?

April 4, 2011 8:45 am

A: Conforming loans have terms and conditions that adhere to guidelines established by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two, big quasi-government corporations that purchase mortgage loans from lenders then packages them into securities that are sold to investors.

Their guidelines are far-reaching and as such set borrower credit and income requirements, as well as the down payment, and maximum loan amounts.

Non-conforming loans are for buyers, such as the self-employed or people with poor credit histories, who do not qualify for mainstream 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.

Avoiding the Con in Construction?Homeowners Save Money when Renovations Are Done Right

April 4, 2011 8:45 am

RISMEDIA, April 4, 2011-After a long winter, many homeowners are looking forward to the warmer weather of spring-and the home improvement projects that come with milder temperatures. In today's challenging economy, however, many homeowners look for ways to save money. But they need to be careful not to cut corners that may end up costing substantially more money down the road.

Homeowner education is the best defense against the unplanned expenses that often erupt in the wake of an unscrupulous or improperly licensed contactor. The good news is that homeowners can easily educate themselves for free via state websites that contain information about contractor licensing and insurance.

"Professional licensing is a way for the government to regulate professionals that can cause harm," says Kia Ricchi, a licensed contractor and author of Avoiding the Con in Construction. Ricchi stresses the importance of using state websites. She teaches homeowners how to use these sites to find vital information about prospective contractors' conduct and character. Ricchi also recommends working closely with the local building department and having the contractor pull a permit for the work directly. "A building permit is important because it helps ensure that the work is code compliant and that the contractor is licensed and insured as required by the state. Beware of the contractor who asks you to pull a permit yourself," says Ricchi.

Ricchi and her book are fonts of information for homeowners who, without education about the contracting process, might easily fall prey to unsavory contractors who "seem" competent and professional.

For more information visit

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.

Quarterly Hiring Outlook Is Strongest in 3 Years

April 4, 2011 8:45 am

RISMEDIA, April 4, 2011-According to CareerBuilder and USA TODAY's latest job forecast, nearly three-in-ten employers (28 percent) reported they hired full-time, permanent employees in the first quarter of 2011, the highest since the first quarter of 2008. The momentum is expected to continue with the same amount of employers planning to add full-time, permanent positions in the second quarter. The survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive from February 21 to March 10, 2011, included more than 2,800 hiring managers and human resource professionals and more than 5,600 workers across industries and company sizes.

"While employers are keeping a close eye on world events, their confidence levels in regard to recruitment have remained intact," says Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder. "Job listings on CareerBuilder are up across all categories, from healthcare and technology to manufacturing. Our latest survey points to continued, measured gains over the next three months. As the nation moves toward greater financial stability, more employers are investing in talent for the long-term."

Hiring in Q1 2011

In the last survey completed in December 2010, 23 percent of employers expected to hire full-time, permanent employees in the first quarter of 2011. The number of employers who actually added headcount in the first quarter was 28 percent, signifying seven consecutive quarters where actual hiring exceeded projections. This is also a jump from last year, when 23 percent of employers reported they had added full-time, permanent headcount in the first quarter of 2010.

Ten percent decreased headcount in the first quarter 2011, an improvement from 12 percent last year. Sixty-two percent said there was no change in their number of full-time, permanent employees while one percent were undecided.

Hiring in Q2 2011

Twenty-eight percent of employers plan to increase their full-time, permanent headcount in the second quarter, but if current survey trends persist, that number may ultimately come in higher at quarter end. Six percent expect to downsize staffs. Sixty-three percent anticipate no change while 4 percent are undecided.

Looking at actual hiring for the second quarter in 2010, 24 percent of employers reported they had hired full-time, permanent staff while 11 percent decreased headcount.

Competition for Highly Skilled Talent Increases

With more job openings comes more competition for highly skilled workers. One-third (33 percent) of employers are concerned that top performers will look for employment opportunities outside of their organization as the economy improves. Fourteen percent reported that top talent already left their organization in the first quarter of this year.

Workers in general reported more optimism about the job market, according to the survey. Thirty-one percent of workers said they are likely to start looking for another job as the economy improves.

Temporary Hiring

Employers continue to leverage temporary staff to help meet increased business demands. Twenty-nine percent of employers reported they hired contract or temporary workers in the first quarter. Twenty-six percent plan to do so in the second quarter. Seventeen percent said they are planning to transition some contract or temporary staff into permanent employees in the second quarter.

Hiring By Region

Hiring is expected to pick up more in the West in the second quarter. One-third (33 percent) of hiring managers in the West expect to increase full-time, permanent headcount compared to 28 percent in the Northeast, 27 percent in the Midwest and 24 percent in the South.

Although employers in the South are less likely to add full-time, permanent employees than other regions in the second quarter, they are also less likely to downsize. Four percent of employers in the South expect to decrease staff levels compared to 6 percent in the Northeast, West and Midwest.

Hiring By Company Size

Hiring among small businesses-the major driver behind new job creation in the U.S.-is showing signs of improvement. Twenty-three percent of companies with 500 or less employees plan to recruit full-time, permanent employees in the second quarter, up from 19 percent last quarter. Seventeen percent of companies with 50 or less employees expect to add new employees, up from 14 percent last quarter.

Hiring in larger organizations is also trending positive. Thirty-six percent of companies with more than 500 employees plan to add full-time, permanent staff in the second quarter, up from 30 percent last quarter.

The survey also indicates fewer employers are planning to reduce staff levels. Five percent of companies with 500 or less employees plan to decrease full-time, permanent staff, down from 7 percent last quarter. Among employers with 50 or less employees, 4 percent expect to decrease staffs, down from 6 percent last quarter. Seven percent of those with more than 500 employees plan to downsize, an improvement from 9 percent last quarter.


Thirty-nine percent of employers anticipate no change in salary levels in the second quarter compared to the same period last year. Thirty-eight percent expect there will be an increase of 3 percent or less. Fifteen percent expect their average changes will be between 4 and 10 percent and 2 percent predict an increase of 11 percent or more. Three percent anticipate a decrease in salaries.

For more information visit

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 the USDA Guidelines Really Lead to Healthier Eating Habits?

April 4, 2011 8:45 am

RISMEDIA, April 4, 2011-As National Nutrition month comes to a close, Alere Health, the health management services business of Alere Inc., highlights four ways that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) updated dietary guidelines can be used to encourage actionable changes in behavior.

In January, the USDA released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), using the most blunt language to date about the need to confront America's obesity epidemic. The guidelines also include changes that reduce recommended sodium and trans fats levels.

But to Alere, a global company that provides industry-leading health and wellness programs, the most important takeaway is the emphasis on empowering individuals to make changes in behavior. Alere encourages health plans and employers seeking ways to improve health to look beyond the words and focus on practical ways to encourage action.

Below is a look at the top four ways the dietary guidelines can encourage practical lifestyle changes:

1. "Empower individuals and families." People are more likely to make lasting changes in behavior if they are truly motivated. The new guidelines emphasize ways to focus on the positive aspects of adopting a healthier lifestyle, building skills to help people "heighten enjoyment of preparing and consuming healthy foods." This includes activities such as gardening, cooking together and eating as a family.

2. Promote "behavior change through environmental strategies." The guidelines acknowledge that many individuals lack the knowledge or motivation to change behavior without support. Given this, it's critical that organizations embrace changes that can make environments more conducive to healthier lifestyles.

3. Advocating a "healthy eating pattern." The guidelines also acknowledge that rigid prescriptions simply don't work when encouraging dietary changes. They emphasize flexible "eating patterns" that accommodate personal preference, cost and availability. Specific dietary recommendations include:

Mediterranean-style diets: The guidelines cite extensive research on Mediterranean-style diets that emphasize vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil and whole grains, with only a small amount of meat products.

Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods: The guidelines go into detail about how nutrient-dense foods can help individuals limit their calories, particularly from solid fats and added sugars.

4. "Set the stage for lifelong healthy eating, activity and weight management." The guidelines cite obesity prevention as one of the most urgent public health issues in America. They note that "lifelong habits are developed throughout childhood," and focus on ways to support healthier approaches for families. Alere has taken the lead in helping organizations work proactively to provide tools to combat childhood obesity with its Healthy Kids Program. This six-week online program provides parents with specific strategies they can use to improve their family's health.

"When you consider the state of our nation's health, blunt talk and specific guidelines are necessary," says Heather Zeitz, R.D., vice president of health content and programming for Alere. "But the new guidelines demonstrate that the most powerful way to change lifestyle behaviors is with a coordinated, participant-centered approach. At Alere, we recognize the scope of the challenge, but are hopeful that the USDA's call to action will help unite the cause for encouraging real changes that can have a real impact."

To show its commitment to healthy eating, Alere will feature live cooking demonstrations by celebrity chef Carla Hall, a finalist on the TV show Top Chef and now competing on Top Chef's All Stars, at the World Health Care Congress April 4-6 in Washington, D.C. An advocate for healthy cooking, Carla supports Michelle Obama's child obesity campaign by demonstrating healthy cooking in school cafeterias. She will perform a series of demonstrations on April 4 and 5 in booth No. 203.

For more information visit

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.