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Think 'Earth First' at Home

March 13, 2015 1:57 am

(Family Features) Living an eco-friendly lifestyle starts at home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, residential use accounts for more than one-fifth of the nation's total energy consumption. Adopt an earth-first, energy saving mindset at home so that you can feel good about your family's contributions to protect the environment – and save money.

The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) recommends greening your home by improving your home's energy efficiency. Wasted energy is money lost in monthly utility bills. Numerous factors influence a home's energy efficiency. Air leaks, outdated appliances or inefficient heating and cooling systems can all negatively impact your home's energy usage.

Correcting any structural issues can also go a long way toward making your home more efficient. Give your home a thorough inspection to identify and repair leaks and cracks around windows, doors and duct work. Remember that poorly sealed attics and basements are also common culprits of energy loss.

Upgrading your appliances and temperature control systems also helps drive more efficient energy use throughout the house. Look for ENERGY STAR-certified products, which are designed to save energy without sacrificing on performance. Where possible, make purchases that will perform double duty, such as high-efficiency washing machines that can save on both energy and water usage.

Choosing the right energy source can also help lessen your impact on the environment. For example, using propane-powered appliances in your home can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to PERC, propane-powered furnaces emit 73 percent fewer greenhouse gases than electricity. Similarly, propane-powered storage water heaters emit approximately 39 percent less greenhouse gas than electric storage models.

Source: PERC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Repay Debt with a Tax Refund

March 12, 2015 1:54 am

This year, the majority of taxpayers (68 percent) would prefer to pay down their debt with a tax refund instead of growing their personal savings, according to a recent poll by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC).

The NFCC poll found that some taxpayers will use their refunds to pay for basic necessities (15 percent). Others indicated they’d use the funds to grow their savings (11 percent) or to have fun shopping or take a vacation (2 percent). Just four percent of respondents did not know how they would use the refund.

While there are a number of good reasons to become less dependent on tax refunds, it is wise to have a plan ready. In 2014, the average tax refund for individual taxpayers was $3,034 according to the IRS. Compare that to the average credit card debt of $5,047 for adult consumers with credit cards in the previous year, according to a report by CreditCards.com. If the average refund amount were entirely committed to the repayment of the average credit card debt, it could pay it down by more than half.
The NFCC encourages taxpayers to consider the following tips when deciding how to repay debt with their refund:
  • If the debt is costing more than what is being earned from interest on savings, debt repayment should be considered as the top priority.
  • If committing the entire tax refund to repay a debt does not completely erase the balance owed, a plan should be in place to accelerate the payoff of the remaining balance.
  • If using the refund to settle a debt for less than the balance owed, be prepared to pay income tax on the amount forgiven by the creditor.
  • To pay less interest over time, focus on eliminating the higher interest debts first.
  • Once a balance is repaid, avoid replacing it with new debt.
“The most important thing to consider is the impact that debt is having on quality of life,” says Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the NFCC. “Being in a position where savings has to be put on hold while debt takes center stage is not where consumers should be. Placing debt repayment on a faster track while reducing reliance on credit cards and loans will bring people closer to resuming progress toward reaching their personal financial goals.”

Source: NFCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Homebuyers: Identifying Costly Repairs

March 12, 2015 1:54 am

(BPT) - When you're about to buy a house, it's easy to get excited about its great location, spacious floor plan or beautifully decorated interior. Before signing on the dotted line, use this checklist to help avoid some potentially costly surprises and anticipate repairs or upgrades that may be needed.

Roof
- Ask when the current roof was installed. Is it the original roof, or has it been replaced, repaired, or covered over with new shingles in certain spots? Are there known leaks, and if so, where are they? Have any of the leaks caused damage to the attic or interior? Also look at the chimney to see if it's properly sealed around the edges and whether the gutters need repair.

Windows and Doors
– Next, take a look at the windows to see if there is any condensation between the glass panes. If so, it could mean window replacements are in order. Once you get inside the house and close the front door, see if any light is coming through between the edge of the door opening and the wall. This gap is an indicator that the door may need to be replaced since air can escape through it and cause higher energy bills.

Lighting and Electrical
– Throughout the interior rooms, many homes are staged to appeal to buyers with attractive lighting that shows off the space to its best advantage. You may love the way the lamps look in the bedroom, office or kitchen, but more importantly, check out how many electrical outlets there are and whether they are in convenient locations. Also, make sure you check to see if the lamps are masking the fact that there are no ceiling fixtures in each room. Will you need to rig up extension cords or invest in electrical work in order to support all the lamps, ceiling fixtures, appliances and electronics you wish to use?

Furnace
– At the basement level, be sure to check out the heating system. If the current furnace is more than 10 years old, it may be operating at a much lower level of efficiency than the latest manufacturing standards require, resulting in higher energy costs. Newer models can operate at nearly 20 percent higher efficiency than the government minimum standard, for the ultimate in energy efficiency.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Extend the Life of Your Washer and Dryer

March 12, 2015 1:54 am

One of the many perks of owning a home is having your own washer and dryer, but that convenience can be short-lived without adequate maintenance. To avoid having to replace an appliance, take these steps to ensure your machines are operating properly and efficiently for years to come.

Maintaining the Washer

Ideally, your wash machine will be installed at the proper level. If you notice a slight vibration when your machine is running, it may be a sign of an unbalanced washer. Unnecessary vibrations can damage the motor, so make sure the washer is (and remains) level.

When using your washer, take care not to overload the drum inside. Too much stress on the machine can shorten its life. You can find manufacturer recommendations for maximum capacity in the user manual. Whether you use liquid or powdered detergents or pre-measure pods, make sure to use the appropriate soap for your machine.

When your washer is not in use, keep the lid open. This will allow any excess water to evaporate, keeping mold and mildew at bay. If you won’t be using the washer for an extended period of time, consider turning off the water to prevent hose leakage.

Maintaining the Dryer


To keep your dryer in good working order, periodic maintenance is key. Vacuum the dryer exhaust ducts every few months to avoid lint buildup, and inspect the ducts for any wire damage. If you notice a duct deteriorating, replace it as soon as possible. On a regular basis, clear out your lint filter to avoid restricting airflow inside the dryer – not doing so can result in fire.

If you’re in the market for an upgrade, purchase a dry equipped with a moisture sensor, which will prevent clothes from over-dying, conserve energy and save you money.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Identity Theft, Imposter Scams Top List of FTC Complaints

March 11, 2015 1:51 am

Records from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) show that identity theft was the top complaint among consumers in 2014, continuing a 15-year trend reflected in widespread data breaches last year.

Complaints regarding imposter scams increased significantly, surpassing prize, sweepstake and lottery and auto-related complaints to become the third most frequently reported issue. Complaints of imposter scams, in which con artists impersonate government officials or others, increased dramatically, particularly for IRS-related schemes.

Aside from guarding against identity theft and imposter scams, consumers should remain vigilant when it comes to debt collection and shop-at-home and catalog sales, which also comprised the majority of complaints last year.

Source: FTC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Thawing Temps Can Lead to Water Damage at Home

March 11, 2015 1:51 am

While most of us are anxious to emerge from our self-induced hibernation for warmer spring temperatures, thousands of homeowners will be facing floods and property damage as a result of ice dams. Homeowners should look for the telltale warning signs of ice dams, such as sheets of ice along shingles and icicles along the edge of eaves, and check the attic for frost accumulation.

Ice dams are partly the result of heat that escapes from inside a home into the attic, which then warms the roof during the winter months. When combined with the sun and fluctuating temperatures, this causes the snow on the roof to partially melt and then accumulate at the edge of the roof or overhang. Once eaves are full, the ice begins to expand under the shingles, causing them to separate.

Before this ice melts, homeowners are urged to call a certified roofing professional. Homeowners that take the unnecessary safety risk of trying to remove ice dams themselves can only remove the superficial ice, and end up causing far more damage to the shingles and eaves.

To prevent ice dams entirely, have a roofing inspection to ensure your attic is well ventilated. If the attic is cold, there will be less melting and refreezing on the roof. Ensure your attic is properly insulated in addition to the attic floor to minimize heat from rising from the house and causing snow to melt, which will reduce the risk of dangerous mold. Install an ice and water shield membrane under your roof covering at least six feet from the eaves line, and remove leaves from eaves regularly so melting snow and ice can flow.

Source: Integrity Roofers

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Seven Costly Mistakes New Homeowners Make

March 11, 2015 1:51 am

Owning a home for the first time is exciting, but that excitement can fade quickly if faced with extensive (and expensive) damage. New homeowners often inadvertently cause damage that can cost thousands of dollars or more in repairs.

The Home Book authors David MacLellan, George Wolfson and Douglas Hansen recommend steering clear of these common first-time homeowner mistakes.

1. Overloading Upper Cabinets in Kitchen

Avoid stacking heavy dishes in an upper cabinet, which is only supported by the wall behind it. Shelves may begin to sag if the cabinet struggles to bear the weight. At worst, your cabinet can detach from the wall completely.

2. Using Attic or Garage Trusses as Storage

Despite many homeowners doing otherwise, storing items on top of garage or attic trusses can lead to sagging, increasing the possibility that the roof may collapse. If you truly need the additional space, consult a structural engineer who can advise you as to the best course of action.

3. Tinting Dual-Pane Windows


Many new homes have dual-pane windows, which help insulate a home by sealing ‘dead air’ between two panes. Tinting can disrupt the reflection of the sun’s rays, trapping hot air in the dead air space. Heat can cause the elastic seal to rupture, eliminating insulation.

4. Disconnecting Bathroom and Laundry Vent Fans


The noise may bother you, but disconnecting a bathroom or laundry vent fan can increase water vapor, adversely affecting drywall and electrical outlets and leading to damages from dry rot, mold and mildew. Turn the fan on during each use of the room.

5. Irrigating against the Home

When installing an irrigation system, ensure that irrigation spouts spray away from the home and add-on structures. It seems like a no-brainer, but it can happen in places where you least expect it, including the posts of an overhead deck.

6. Altering Finished Grades

If you’d like to install a walkway, patio, drainage system or even a pool, make certain that your contractor doesn’t just pour concrete over the existing finished grade. Doing so can result in water flow towards the home, which can cause the foundation to shift. A shifting foundation can lead to both interior and exterior damage – a costly, and preventable, repair.

7. Improperly Installing Add-on Structures

Before installing any structure, such as a trellis, sun screen or lanai, check with your municipality for any building codes that may apply to your situation. Do not nail or bolt the structure directly the exterior wall. Homeowners who do so run the risk of dry rot from rainwater collection.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Favorable Economic Outlook Peaks Since Recession

March 10, 2015 1:33 am

More than a third of consumers have a favorable view of the economy — the highest rate measured following the Great Recession, according to a recent LIMRA survey of Americans. The study also found for the first time since October 2008, consumers with a negative view of the economy are in the minority.

“Consumer sentiment on the economy tends to be seasonal – it’s not uncommon for us to see a boost at the start of each New Year,” said Jennifer Douglas, associate research director, LIMRA Developmental and Strategic Research. “To a greater extent, the strong equity markets, labor market, and low gas prices are likely to have prompted a sense of personal financial well-being, influencing their opinion of the broad economy.”

The quarterly study also tracks consumer confidence in various sectors of the financial services industry. The survey revealed that consumers show increasing confidence in the financial sectors.

“While confidence levels aren’t where they were prior to the Great Recession, the financial services industry is slowly earning back the trust and confidence of the American people,” noted Douglas.

Source: LIMRA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Correcting Credit Report Errors Just Got Easier

March 10, 2015 1:33 am

All three credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian – will take part in a plan to minimize errors on credit reports, the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) reports. The program, dubbed the National Consumer Assistance Plan, will enhance their ability to collect complete and accurate consumer information and will provide consumers more transparency and a better experience interacting with credit bureaus about their credit reports.

“While we are pleased that the most recent comprehensive study by the Federal Trade Commission showed that credit reports are materially accurate 98 percent of the time, we are always looking for ways to improve our procedures, and this consumer assistance plan will allow us to do that,” said Stuart Pratt, President and CEO, CIDA. “While all three nationwide credit bureaus have been and continue to operate in compliance with the applicable federal and state laws, we have never hesitated to go beyond the letter of the law to voluntarily improve the existing credit reporting environment.”

Here’s what consumers can expect under the National Consumer Assistance Plan:
  • Consumers visiting www.annualcreditreport.com, the website that allows consumers to obtain a free credit report once a year, will see expanded educational material.
  • Consumers who obtain their free annual credit report and dispute information resulting in modification of the disputed item will be able to obtain another free annual report without waiting a year.
  • Consumers who dispute items on their credit reports will receive additional information from the credit bureaus along with the results of their dispute, including a description of what they can do if they are not satisfied with the outcome of their dispute.
  • The credit rating agencies (CRAs) are focusing on an enhanced dispute resolution process for consumers that are proven victims of identity theft and fraud, as well as those involved in mixed file situations.
Implementation of the consumer assistance plan will begin over the next few months.

Source: CDIA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Outdoor Living: 4 Hot Trends

March 10, 2015 1:33 am

(Family Features) Inspired by neighbors, home improvement shows and social media channels like Pinterest and Houzz, today's homeowners are entering the deck planning and building process more informed than ever before. But sorting through this wealth of information and inspiration can make it hard to decipher what's really hot for today's outdoor spaces -- and to choose what's right for your home.

Surveying the wide variety of options is the first step in deciding how you'll approach designing your outdoor space. Start by considering some of the top influences expected to dominate the outdoor living landscape this season, according to decking and railing manufacturer Trex Company.

Designing Outside the Box
Gone are the days of simple squared-off decks and basic slab patios. Regardless of the size of the yard – or budget – homeowners today are thinking and building beyond the basic square space. Remodelers and architects report increased interest from customers in decks with multiple levels, curves, cantilevers, pergolas and even walls to create three-dimensional interest and define different functional areas.

Bringing the Indoors Out

The lines between indoors and out will continue to blur as homeowners look to extend the style, comfort and function of their interior spaces to their outdoor living areas. More and more indoor activities are migrating outside with the addition of features such as outdoor kitchens, dining nooks and fireplaces. Demand is also up for features like integrated benches with cushions and accent pillows, storage components and lighting, along with accessories such as ornamental post caps and railing with decorative balusters similar to those found inside the home.

Tropical Staycations

From New England to Southern California, the look of the tropics will dominate as a top outdoor design scheme. Materials that evoke the ambiance of an exotic island getaway are all the rage, from tiki torches, cabanas and waterfalls to deck boards featuring warm colors and multi-colored streaking inspired by tropical hardwoods.

High Performance, Low Maintenance
While aesthetics drive many deck-building decisions, performance is just as important. Increasingly, homeowners are seeking high-performance, low maintenance materials that allow them to spend more time enjoying their outdoor living space than maintaining it. This motivation has contributed to the continued innovation and popularity of composite decking and railing.

Source: Trex

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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