Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS
 
Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS

Jeff's Blog

5 Tips for Generator Use in Winter

October 22, 2015 2:31 am

With winter projected to bring unseasonably cold temperatures across much of the United States, homeowners should prepare now for possible power outages by inspecting and tuning up portable generators.

"Don't wait until it is zero degrees and the power goes out," says Dan Roche, director of marketing for Briggs & Stratton's Portable Power and Cleaning Systems division. "Because portable generators are not typically used unless the electricity goes off, it is important that users inspect, tune up and are prepared to safely use their generator before a power outage occurs."

To ensure your portable generator is operating efficiently, Briggs & Stratton recommends:

1. Thinking about fuel. If you have your generator in storage and do not plan to use it within 30 days, stabilize the gas with fuel stabilizer. Add the stabilizer according to package directions and run your generator for a few minutes to circulate the solution through the carburetor. This is also a good time to rotate your fuel supply. Pour the gas from your stored fuel into the car and fill up the gas cans with fresh fuel, again adding fuel stabilizer for storage.

2. Changing generator oil. Make sure your portable generator has enough oil to keep it running smoothly. Many generators shut down automatically to protect the engine if the level gets too low. To keep yours protected and ready for a winter storm or home emergency, check the oil level whenever you add fuel by referencing the dipstick and filling to the full marker. Keep a few quarts of oil on hand in case of emergencies. Refer to your engine manual for exact specifications.

3. Inspecting replaceable parts regularly. In addition to the engine oil, check out the carburetor, air filter, fuel filter and spark plug regularly according to the portable generator owner manual. Maintain your generator according to the maintenance schedule for peak performance and safety.

4. Getting a transfer switch. A manual transfer switch is the best way to use a portable generator for emergency use, as it connects directly to a home's electrical system to power furnaces, refrigerators, pumps and more. When engaged, a manual transfer switch isolates the generator power from the incoming utility lines, which is important to not endanger utility line workers and ensure the generator is not overloaded. A dedicated cable connects the generator to the transfer switch through an inlet box. This method protects the integrity of a home's electrical wiring, safeguards the generator and eliminates running multiple extension cords from the generator into the house.

5. Knowing how, where and with what. Keep a flashlight handy so you will be able to find your way to your generator and learn to start, adjust and shut off your generator to make sure you are familiar with how you will operate it when there is a power outage. Running your generator occasionally will not only help you learn to use it, but will also keep the engine well-lubricated.

Briggs & Stratton also encourages homeowners to think about where you will place the generator when you do need to use it. Do not run a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, basements, sheds or similar areas, even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide (CO) can quickly build up in these spaces and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off. Place the unit outside and far from doors, windows, vents and other openings that could allow CO to come indoors or be drawn into potentially occupied spaces. Direct the engine exhaust away from potentially occupied spaces.

Source: Briggs & Stratton Corporation

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Modern Family: Connected Homes Pose Risks

October 22, 2015 2:31 am

Securing personal information has become all the more challenging in the era of the digital data breach, as households become increasingly connected with Internet-enabled devices. And according to a recent ESET® survey, many Americans have a false sense of online security despite data breach notifications indicating otherwise, leaving their homes’ “digital doors” susceptible to cyber threats.

“From the digital workplace to the connected living space and across age groups and demographics, today’s households are more connected than ever and the number of connected devices is growing at considerable pace,” says ESET Senior Security Researcher Stephen Cobb. “Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed had between one and five connected devices at home connected to the Internet, with 30 percent owning six or more. Even more telling, 30 percent of those surveyed today have two to three more devices at home compared to last year. With so many potentially vulnerable digital entry points, this survey underlines the importance of cyber security as a core commitment in our digital lives.”

Remarkably, more than 40 percent of Americans fail to properly secure their wireless router – the gateway to most digital devices – by not resetting the factory-set default passwords.

Parents, however, have been taken steps to educate their children about cyber security. Seventy-five percent of parents have had a “CyberEd” talk with their children, and 90 percent have made at least one rule about using the Internet and connected devices. Still, nearly 60 percent of parents don’t require permission before downloading a new app or game or joining a social network. Seventy percent don’t limit the kind of personal information their children share on social networks, and 60 percent allow password-sharing with friends.

“There is no question that with the explosion of connected devices in the home, a fresh set of rules must be initiated in every household so that the always-on, always-connected family can enjoy the Internet safely and with a great level of confidence,” says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). “What this study reveals is that Americans are managing their lives and clearly reaping the benefits of the Internet, but it is not risk-free. With a shift in the paradigm, families can make practicing good cyber security a way of life and our interconnected families and communities will ultimately be safer and more secure.“

Source: StaySafeOnline.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Holiday Shoppers Plan to Gift Themselves with Savings

October 21, 2015 2:31 am

The adage “a penny saved is a penny earned” may ring more true than ever this upcoming holiday season. According to a recent Bankrate.com report, holiday shopping could take a backseat to saving as more Americans take steps to limit their spending. Their reasoning? Static income and a desire to save, says Bankrate.com Chief Financial Analyst Greg McBride.

“Stagnant income has kept a lid on spending, but also held back progress to saving – even though consumers increasingly recognize how important it is,” says McBride.

Per the report, Americans aged 50 to 64 are restricting their spending the most, but millennials are more than twice as likely as any other age group to limit their spending based on a need to save more. Those aged 65 and older are the freest spenders.

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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More Homeowners Go Smart for Security

October 21, 2015 2:31 am

Of all the benefits that smart home technology has to offer, security is the most sought after. According to Iris by Lowe’s annual Smart Home Survey, more than three in five Americans cite security as the top reason for owning a smart home product, and over half of Americans plan to purchase security cameras in the next year. Close to half of Americans also report that smart home products would help cut costs and save money on energy bills, and make their home more convenient overall.

In addition, results from the survey reveal that when it comes to purchasing considerations, cost of equipment, monthly fees, ease of use and energy-efficient are the most important deciding factors. Interestingly, parents with children under the age of 18 in the home are nearly three times as likely to purchase smart home products in the next year as those without.

When breaking down the results cross-country, Southerners are more likely than those in the Midwest to purchase smart home products for security benefits. Smart home product owners in the Northeast wish they could adjust their thermostats or start their coffee pots from their beds, likely due to the region’s colder climate.

The number one place Americans are most likely to buy a smart home product is at a home improvement store, either in-store or online.

Source: Lowe’s

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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The Most Popular Aging-in-Place Projects

October 21, 2015 2:31 am

For those who plan to age in place in their current home, household improvements in key areas can boost their overall quality of living. According to a recent Aging-in-Place Report by HomeAdvisor, more than half of homeowners aged 65-plus desire home automation systems, such as thermostats and lighting; nearly 15 percent desire assistive technology, such as automated countertops and shelving; and 10 percent desire in-home health monitoring systems, such as heart rate trackers or fall monitors.

The report also uncovered the most common projects related to aging in place. These are:

• Adding Grab Bars

• Building a Disability Ramp

• Installing a Stair Lift

• Adding a Personal Alert System

When hiring a professional to complete an aging-in-place project, almost three-quarters of homeowners make contact with the professional themselves, followed by the homeowner’s daughter.

Source: HomeAdvisor

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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12 "Digital Chores" for Your Household

October 20, 2015 2:28 am

From the moment we wake up until the time we go to bed, the Internet is the enabling thread that holds together our day. This increased connectivity, however, and our ever-growing number of connected devices have also made us more vulnerable to cybercrime. Against this backdrop, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) strongly recommend households complete the following “digital chores.”

• Create an inventory of all Internet-connected devices in your home.

• Use two-step authentication – also known as two-step verification or multi-factor authentication (where available) ‒ and long, strong and unique passwords for all accounts.

• Own your online presence.

• Review privacy settings available on social networking sites, cellphones, and other social tools the family uses. Decide together which settings provide the appropriate amount of protection.

• Secure your router. Make sure your router has a strong password and does not broadcast who you are through its name, such as "the Jones Family" or "123 Elm Street."

• Take action if your personal information is compromised. If you are a victim of cybercrime, report to law enforcement and other appropriate organizations, such as banks and credit card companies, etc.

• Connect smartly. Before connecting new devices, understand how to use any security and privacy settings and how to maintain the security of the device.

• Keep a clean machine. On a weekly basis, check every device to make sure everyone is keeping their devices secure by installing updates of apps, operating systems and security software to prevent against malware infections.

• It's also a good practice to protect homework, pictures, music and other vital family information by creating an electronic copy and storing it safely in the cloud, on a CD, USB or external hard drive once a week.

• Share with care. Always remember that before posting online about your kids, think about how it may be perceived now, how he or she might feel in the future, and who might see it. Engage in a conversation with your children about what they are comfortable with you posting and start by deleting posts that may make them feel uncomfortable.

• Include discussions about online safety and security as part of your regular conversations with your kids. Ask them what they do online, what new websites or apps they have used or want to use, and what their friends are doing online.

• Conduct a quarterly clean up. Go through files on your devices and delete things no longer needed, such as numerous draft documents, unflattering or no longer needed photos, old bookmarks, etc.

Source: StaySafeOnline.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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5 Tips for Filing a Flood Insurance Claim

October 20, 2015 2:28 am

If your property has been heavily damaged during severe weather, filing an insurance claim should be first on your list of post-storm to-dos. According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), when filing a homeowners or auto insurance claim, the first step is to call your insurance professional as soon as possible to start the claims process. If the storm caused you to relocate, let your company know where you are currently residing and how best to reach you.

Flood damage to either a residence or business is covered by policies provided by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as a few private insurance companies. Keep in mind that standard homeowners, renters and business insurance policies do not cover flood damage. The optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy covers flood-related damage.

When filing your flood insurance claim:

1. Locate the insurance company name and your policy number before calling your insurance professional.

2. Provide a list of damaged property to help your adjuster prepare a loss estimate. This includes a written inventory along with receipts, bills and photos, if possible.

3. Check with your adjuster before discarding flood-damaged items. If local authorities require disposal of these items for health or safety reasons, photograph them first for your records.

4. Understand that flood claim payment checks from your insurance company are often made payable to both you and your mortgage lender.

5. Make sure you understand what forms need to be filled out and when.

Homeowners, renters and businesses who sustained flood damage but were not covered by an NFIP policy may be eligible for state and federal assistance.

Source: I.I.I.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Mortgage Rates in 3-Month Holding Pattern

October 20, 2015 2:28 am

Mortgage rates remain below 4 percent – a trend that’s stayed virtually unchanged for 12 weeks straight, according to Freddie Mac’s recently released Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®). Rates as they stand are:

30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) – 3.82 percent (with an average 0.6 point)

15-year FRM – 3.03 percent (with an average 0.6 point)

5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) – 2.88 percent (with an average 0.4 point)

1-year Treasury-indexed ARM – 2.54 percent (with an average 0.2 point)

Recent comments by the Federal Reserve suggesting it may not raise short-term interest rates, coupled with weaker-than-expected consumer demand, have pushed Treasury yields lower. This turn of events indicates interest rates may remain lower a while longer.

“As the shock of the September employment report wore off, Treasury rates drifted higher,” explains Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “In response, the 30-year mortgage rate climbed six basis points to 3.82 percent, marking 12 consecutive weeks below 4 percent.”

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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What Costumes Will Reign Supreme This Halloween?

October 19, 2015 2:28 am

It seems the Force will be with everyone this Halloween.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2015 Halloween Consumer Top Costumes Survey, “Star Wars”-themed costumes will be most popular among adults, children and pets, along with “Minions”-themed ensembles.

“As we’ve seen for the past several years, Hollywood and pop culture both have a tremendous impact on how adults and their children decide to dress the part each Halloween, and it’s evident some of the biggest newsmakers of the year will be out in full force this fall,” says Matthew Shay, National Retail Federation (NRF) president and CEO.

More than 1.4 million adults and 1.8 million children will don a “Star Wars” get-up this year, according to the survey. Additionally, about one in 10 Halloween celebrants plan to dress their furry friends in costumes, including those of beloved “Star Wars” characters.

“It’s easier than ever for consumers to find creative Halloween costumes given the popularity of Pinterest and Instagram and the immediate access to pop culture trends,” says Pam Goodfellow, principal analyst with Prosper Insights, conductors of the survey. “It’s always a nice surprise to see what tops the list each year and to see just how creative people will get when it comes to what their own and even their pets’ costumes will be.”

Other top costumes for adults include:

- Witch

- Animal

- “Batman” Character

- Zombie

- Pirate

- Vampire

- Action/Super Hero

- Doctor/Nurse

- Slasher Movie Character

- Political

Other top costumes for children include:

- Princess

- “Batman” Character

- Action/Super Hero

- Animal

- “Frozen” Character

- Zombie

- Witch

- Pumpkin

Other top costumes for pets include:

- Pumpkin

- Hot Dog

- “Batman” Character

- Devil

- Bumblebee

- Dog

- Cat

- Shark

- Princess

Source: NRF

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The Dos and Don'ts of Home Fire Safety

October 19, 2015 2:28 am

Whether you’re a homeowner or renter, fire safety and preparedness is of the utmost importance. To protect against fires, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends the following dos and don’ts.

DO keep a smoke alarm on every level of your home. Stay safe with smoke alarms outside of every bedroom and each separate sleeping area.

DO address your needs. If you require eyeglasses, a hearing aid, a cane or a wheelchair, ensure they are next to your bed to quickly grab if necessary. If there is a fire, you may have less than three minutes to get out of your home. Be ready to act immediately.

DO make a fire escape plan with at least two ways out of every room. Identify a meeting place in the front of your home to verify that everyone is safe and help firefighters ensure everyone exited safely.

DON’T forget to test your smoke alarm every month. The risk of fatality in a home fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms. If your alarm doesn’t sound when tested, it’s time to replace it.

DON’T assume you’ll hear the fire alarm if it sounds. If you test the alarm and can’t hear it, consider getting a strobe light that will flash or a bed shaker that will shake when the smoke alarm sounds.

DON’T stop to call 911 until you’re safely outside and away from danger. Stay outside until the fire department says it’s safe to go back inside.

Source: FEMA

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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