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

Rentals More Accepting of Furry Friends

July 31, 2012 2:48 am

Choosing an apartment to rent has a lot to do with its pet policy, according to a recent survey from Apartments.com. Forty-three percent of respondents are current pet owners, with more than a quarter planning on getting a four-legged friend within the next year. However, renters need to do their homework first before bringing home a furry friend, as not all apartment buildings allow pets, and the ones that do often have fees associated with pet ownership.

Current and soon-to-be pet owners are in luck because property managers and landlords are recognizing that renting with pets is an increasing trend, and more buildings are starting to accommodate this demand. Nearly 70 percent of renters surveyed reported having no difficulties finding a pet-friendly apartment. More than half of respondents also reported having to pay a pet deposit at their current residence, with 36 percent shelling out more than $200 for their four-legged companions.

The survey also found that it is not just Fido and Fifi's owners who enjoy their pet's company; more than 34 percent of respondents said although they do not have a pet, they enjoy living in a pet-friendly building, and 20 percent of non-pet owning renters said they avoid buildings that allow pets.
The top five most popular pets for renters are:
  1. Small dog (Under 25 pounds): 35.5 percent
  2. Cat: 24.2 percent
  3. Large dog (More than 50 pounds): 13.6 percent
  4. Medium dog (26 to 50 pounds): 11.0 percent
  5. Fish: 4.3 percent
Source: Apartments.com

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Consumers Take Control of Banking Relationships

July 31, 2012 2:48 am

Today’s consumers are taking control of their banking relationships, increasingly likely to change banks and expecting to be able to choose between a range of service levels and costs, according to Ernst & Young's 2012 global consumer banking survey. The study, which questioned 28,560 banking customers across 35 countries, highlights how customers also expect to be financially rewarded for their loyalty.

Globally only 44 percent of customers say their bank adapts products and services to meet their needs. 70 percent of customers would be happy to disclose personal information if it improved the level of service and products they were offered.

The survey also reveals that loyalty reward schemes are on the rise. Twenty-seven percent of customers are enrolled in a scheme, up 50 percent from 2011. However, customers expect more – the overwhelming majority agreed that if you have three products or more with a bank you should get better service (86 percent), and that you should be charged lower fees or given better rates on your savings accounts (91 percent).

Consumers are becoming less loyal and increasing the number of banks they use. Consumers who use only one bank have fallen from 41 percent to 31 percent. The number of consumers planning to change banks has risen from 7 percent to 12 percent year on year and attrition rates have increased in several major markets. Poor branch experience (31 percent) and lack of personalized contact or service (26 percent) are rising up the list of reasons for changing provider, although dissatisfaction with high fees continues to be the most commonly cited driver of attrition, cited by 50 percent of respondents.

Banks have made progress in improving their communication channels. Both call center and mobile banking services have improved, with customer satisfaction up 8 percent and 16 percent respectively year on year, however the power of the consumer voice has overtaken banks communication channels.

Personal recommendations from family and friends are the top source of information about banking products, with 71 percent of consumers relying on this information as their primary source. Fifty-five percent of consumers refer to online communities or social networks for advice and a third of customers who use social networking use it to actively comment on the service they receive from their bank.

Source: Ernst & Young

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Top 5 Mid-Year Tax Tips

July 31, 2012 2:48 am

With taxes in the news almost every day, and many important tax breaks having expired at the end of 2011 and more set to expire at the end of 2012, taxpayers would benefit from spending some time this summer reviewing their tax profiles and learning about possible changes. Jackson Hewitt Tax Service has honed in on the top five areas taxpayers should consider now, that may help put you in a better position when filing your tax returns next year:
  1. Know how any major changes happening in your life can impact a tax return: A wide range of common life occurrences may trigger tax considerations, which can result in a higher tax refund or a reduction to the amount of income taxes owed. For example, did you get married? Did you have or adopt a child? Buy a home? Move for a new job? Decide to go back to school? All of these life-changing events, and many others, may have related tax deductions and credits available and it is important to know what benefits exist and who is eligible.
  2. Check your withholdings to make sure they are correct: The Form W-4 determines the amount of withholding from a paycheck. In some cases, it is beneficial to consider changing a withholding status during the course of the year, such as when a child is born – leading to a new dependent to claim – or, if a taxpayer works multiple jobs during the year. Withholding can be changed at any time by completing a new Form W-4 for your employer.
  3. Think about what you are saving: Putting money away in an IRA account, or participating in a company sponsored 401(k) plan, can be an easy, tax-free way to reduce taxable income and start saving for the future. Taxpayers in lower income brackets may also qualify for a tax credit. For 2012, you can contribute up to $17,000 for a 401(k) plan if you are under age 50 ($22,500 if 50 or over) and up to $5,000 for an IRA if under age 50 ($6,000 if 50 or over).
  4. Beware of impending changes: A double whammy of problems for 2013 is expected to occur if provisions are not made by December 31, 2012. Taxpayers need to know what deductions and credits will be off the table – and what new considerations may be available to them that could improve their tax situation.
  5. The results of the election can influence your tax situation: By the middle of November, we will know who will set the course for taxes over the next four years. There are many proposals being considered from general tax rates to tax rates on specific types of income, as with capital gains and dividends, and various considerations related to business, including small businesses.
Source: Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc.

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Time-Saving Laundry Tips to Get You Out of the Laundry Room and Back to Family Fun

July 30, 2012 2:44 am

From messy meals to remnants of craft time creations, parents know that life is full of all kinds of stain-inducing—yet magical—adventures. But the great times should live on through cherished memories, not through permanently stained clothing. When it comes to removing those stains—from mud to markers and everything in between—knowing how to care for your child's garments means you can get out of the laundry room more quickly and focus on the activities your family enjoys.

Aside from letting your washer and dryer do the heavy lifting, there are a few tricks of the trade worth keeping in mind when it comes to protecting clothing items, according to laundry expert Tara Aronson. "There's more to prolonging the life of your garments than simply checking pockets and choosing the right cycle," offers Aronson.

Put these five tips to the test to help better care for your garments, so you can spend less time sorting and treating stains, and more time with the family.

1. Spot, Treat, and Check - If you spill something on a garment, immediately rinse or blot away the stain using cool water to prevent it from setting. Make sure to read fabric care labels and wash accordingly to help clothing last. And before you toss garments into the wash, be sure to double-check the pockets, as well as zip zippers and fasten buttons - this helps cut down on snags, holes, etc.

2. Sort, Sort, Sort - Sort laundry by color, wash cycle and water temperature required. Make it easier on yourself and your family by placing bins marked for whites, darks, mediums and delicates in your laundry room.

3. Choose the Right Cycle - High efficiency appliances can wash clothing on various cycles. This means you can launder sturdy items such as jeans on the permanent press cycle using warm water, causing less agitation, while washing swimsuits, fine knits and undergarments on the delicates cycle with cold water.

4. Double-duty - If your clothing is heavily soiled, extra-large, or you want to use the cold water setting, add extra laundry detergent when you start the cycle. Some high efficiency washers feature a sanitize setting, which uses the hottest water available to thoroughly get rid of germs and grime.

5. Quick Dry - Dry only full loads. Drying only a handful of garments prolongs the drying time by reducing the tumbling. If you have to dry a smaller load, add a few bath towels to help with tumbling.

"Remember that properly caring for your garments can help sustain your favorite clothing," says Aronson.

Source: Family Features

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Freedom from Debt an Achievable Goal for Every Family

July 30, 2012 2:44 am

American households are carrying an average of nearly $16,000 of credit card debt, which translates into more than $2,000 in finance charges and fees each year, according to the Federal Reserve.

Even with statistics like these, freedom from debt is an achievable goal for every family. The first step in regaining control is to take an honest look at your overall financial picture. The experts at Money Management International have developed a “debt test” to help consumers asses their financial standing.

The Debt Test:
- Is an increasing percentage of your income going toward paying down debts?
- Is your savings cushion inadequate or nonexistent?
- Are you near or at the limit of your lines of credit?
- Can you only make the minimum payments on your revolving charge accounts?
- Are you often late with bill payments?
- Are you paying bills with money earmarked for something else?
- Are you using credit to pay for items you used to buy with cash?
- If you lost your job, would you be under immediate financial strain?
- Are you unsure about how much you owe?
- Are you being threatened by collectors with possible legal action?

A ‘yes’ to any of these questions is a sign that you need to take a good look at your total debt levels, spending habits and plans for payoff. While a single red flag is not a sign of impending doom, it is an indication that you should take action to avoid future trouble.

The following tips should help you regain control and overcome the burden of debt:

Stop using credit temporarily.
You cannot borrow your way out of financial difficulty.
Create a budget. After allocating funds for ‘needs,’ such as rent, food and bills, set aside an amount to go into savings each month. Then, set aside an amount that you can spend on ‘wants,’ such as clothing and entertainment.
Assess your debt. Gather all of your statements and find out who you owe, how much you owe, and what interest rates you are paying. Being informed will help you make a good plan for payoff.
Adjust your spending. Write down each purchase you make for two weeks. Then, take a good look at your list. There is a good chance little purchases are taking a big bite from your budget.
Communicate with your family. It is important that all members of your family understand your financial goals, and the changes that are going to be made, so they can fully support those changes.
Get help. Career counseling, VA benefits, United Way agencies and nonprofit credit counseling organizations may all be of assistance.
Learn from your mistakes. An emergency savings account can protect you from future setbacks. Practice your new habits each day to ensure that you are improving your financial standing rather than harming it.

Source: Money Management International

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Beat the Heat: Simple Tips to Protect Your Lawn from Extreme Summer Heat

July 30, 2012 2:44 am

Record-setting heat and drought conditions this summer have prompted many homeowners to give up hope for a green lawn. The biggest threat to lawns this time of year is heat, not necessarily only a lack of water.

"The solution to a distressed lawn is not just more water but how you water," said John Eden, a lawn care specialist with Denver-based Revive, Inc. "Watering deeper and longer, not more frequently, results in stronger root systems."

Here are a few lawn care tips for homeowners to keep in mind in order to combat the extreme temperatures:

Avoid watering during daytime hours: Avoid evaporation by running sprinkler zones during the late evening and early morning; Water twice a day, splitting the zone times in half.

Check sprinklers for water output and coverage: Place a shallow container on the lawn to measure water intake. Lawns require about two inches of water per week during the peak summer temperatures.

Reducing heat stress: During hot daytime temperatures, sun-exposed areas that are stressed can be cooled off by wetting ("syringing") the turf for a few minutes with a hose. Syringing can reduce damage by cooling and refreshing heat-stressed areas.

Mow smarter, sharpen blades: Set the mower height level as high as possible. Leave lawn clippings behind and use a mulching mower to recycle moisture and nutrients back into the yard. Be sure to sharpen the lawnmower blade twice each summer.

Source: Revive

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Electronic Cigarette Considered Safer Way to Quit Smoking by Most Americans

July 27, 2012 2:42 am

Electronic cigarettes have been making a lot of headlines recently. In the United States, e-cigarettes are grabbing a lot of popularity among smokers who want to quit the habit of tobacco smoking.

A new study in the American Journal of Public Health reports that about 40 percent of individuals had heard of e-cigarettes, and awareness was highest among smokers. A majority of Americans consider electronic cigarettes to be effective for quitting smoking and a healthier, safer way of smoking.

Electronic cigarettes go by many names including e-cigarettes, electric cigarettes, smokeless cigarettes and vapor cigarettes. They are available in a variety of flavors and nicotine strengths and can be purchased on the Internet and in stores.

Jennifer Pearson, Ph.D., MPH and research investor at Legacy, an antismoking group in Washington, D.C. says, “We don't have data to say about long-term effects of e-cigarettes, but they are probably less harmful than combustible cigarettes.”

E-cigarettes resemble traditional tobacco cigarettes in many ways. They have a cartridge containing liquid nicotine, a vaporizer that vaporizes the liquid nicotine into vapor upon inhalation, an indicator light to give smokers a more real feel, and finally the mouthpiece. The cartridges can be purchased again in case the cartridge runs out of liquid.

Findings from recent studies of vapor cigarettes suggest that smokers are using them as smoking cessation tools. Also, many harm-reduction advocates say that the main selling point of vapor cigarettes is that they only contain nicotine sans the harmful carcinogenic products that are found in tobacco cigarettes. This suggests that they may be a safer cigarette.

Source: http://electroniccigarettehub.org

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Five Quick Travel Safety Tips

July 27, 2012 2:42 am

Whether heading to the 2012 Olympic Games in London or escaping for a weekend getaway, vacationers should remember to take steps to protect their money, luggage and other valuables. Here are a few reminders you should take notice of in order to prevent thieves from ruining your vacation:

-Avoid bringing large amounts of cash. Carry one or two credit cards and use travelers checks when possible.
-Don’t bring valuable or irreplaceable jewelry, electronics or collectibles.
-Make sure each piece of luggage is labeled inside and out with your name, address and telephone number. This goes for carry-on luggage, too.
-Keep cash, credit cards, passports and airline tickets in the hotel safe. And keep your hotel door locked at all times.
-If you have to carry cash or credit cards, don’t keep them in handbags or outside pockets that are easy for thieves to access. Inside pockets and shoulder bags across the chest are safest.

It's also a good idea to leave a copy of your itinerary with a family member or friend who can contact you in the event of an emergency.

Here are a few other travel reminders from the USA.gov website:

-Remember to bring a photo identification card and updated passport if you’re traveling outside of the United States.
-Contact your doctor to see whether you need any immunizations before you travel to a foreign country.
-Don’t forget to bring any prescription medications you may need. Keep them in their original, labeled containers and carry copies of your prescriptions, including the generic names.
-If you’re traveling by air, review the Transportation Security Administration’s list of prohibited items to bring on airplanes.

By using these simple safety tips, you can help protect yourself and your belongings, making your vacation more enjoyable for everyone.

Source: Amica Insurance

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Drop Those Costs! Air Conditioning Energy Efficiency Plan That Can Save You Money

July 27, 2012 2:42 am

Staying cool costs money. In the summer, air conditioning is the big energy ticket item. In fact, the Alliance to Save Energy says that the average 2012 residential household energy bill will run around $2,200. They also say that simple changes can ease the strain and keep your home more comfortable at the same time.

The following American Cooling and Heating Six-Point Energy Star Efficiency plan can help you ease the burden on your A/C system, your pocketbook and your family’s comfort demands:

1) Air Filters
When things appear to be functioning correctly, homeowners forget the importance of changing their HVAC air filter. Dirty filters reduce air flow, force your system to work harder and result in wasted energy. Change the HVAC filter once a month. It will reduce cooling expenses and prevent the buildup of dust and dirt, which may even eliminate the future need for a service call.

2) HVAC System Tune Up

What would it cost to repair your automobile if you never changed the oil until the engine seized up? Although special circumstances such as landscaping-related dust and debris may prompt a need for a special maintenance call, once a year is typically sufficient for a home HVAC system. Spend a little to save bunches.

3) Programmable Thermostat
Not all home air conditioning systems have an installed programmable thermostat. Yet when correctly installed and properly used, a programmable thermostat can reduce your yearly energy costs by as much as $190.

4) Leaking Duct System
Low air pressure moving through your home may be the result of an improperly sealed heating and cooling duct system. As much as 20 percent of your cooling and heating cost may be coming to rest in the crawlspace beneath your home or in your attic.

5) Upgrade to a New Energy-Efficient HVAC System
Old systems cost more to operate than the modern energy-efficient products available today. A new energy-efficient home HVAC system can reduce your yearly energy bill by as much as $200. If your system is older than ten years or if it is not keeping your home livable and comfortable, perhaps you should have it evaluated by a quality HVAC contractor.

6) Proper Installation
Perhaps a new system is the only answer to your home cooling complication. If so, seek the best in performance, energy efficiency and installation services. Improper HVAC installation can reduce your energy efficiency by as much as 30 percent, not to mention the excess wear and tear on your equipment.

Source: American Cooling and Heating

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Top 10 European Destinations

July 26, 2012 2:42 am

Thinking of a European getaway? InsanelyCheapFlights.com has announced its list of the top ten cities to visit in Europe. Travelers looking to experience the splendor of Europe should do a little comparison shopping before booking flights, in order to experience everything Europe has to offer. Start with these destinations.

1. Rome, Italy
Located in the central-western part of the country, the Italian capital is often referred to as the "birthplace of western civilization." Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Rome is home to the Pope, St. Peter's Basilica, the Colosseum and the Vatican Museum.

2. Dublin, Ireland
Hugely popular with tourists across the world, visitors can take a stroll down the River Liffey, or sample the famous Irish craic whilst enjoying a pint of Guinness in Temple Bar. Don't miss the statue of Molly Malone on Grafton Street or the Ha'penny Bridge over the Liffey, which remains Dublin's most recognizable landmark.

3. Paris, France
Known best for its romance and iconic landmarks, the French capital is perhaps the most majestic city in the world. From the Eiffel Tower, to the Champs-Elysees and Sacre Coeur, the sights and sounds of this great city are simply endless.

4. London, England
With its pomp and pageantry, London has a place on any highlight list. Explore the countless museums and art galleries or take a short trip down The Mall and try to spot the Queen in Buckingham Palace.

5. Venice, Italy
A simply fascinating city with beauty and elegance to be found on every corner. Explore the many waterways and the Grand Canal before taking a walk over the famous Rialto Bridge and on to St. Mark's Basilica, not forgetting to set aside some time for a world famous Gondola ride.

6. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona is one of the most visited cities on the planet and it's easy to understand why. A warm year-round climate combined with fantastic beaches, sensational sporting action and a rich cultural heritage make Barcelona a must-see city.

7. Amsterdam, Holland
Amsterdam is one of the most eye-catching and alluring cities in Europe. With a picturesque canal, an abundance of museums and a thriving nightlife, Amsterdam can cater to everyone's tastes.

8. Prague, Czech Republic
The Czech Capital has seen immense changes throughout its history but has stood the test of time and is now one of Europe's most flourishing cities. Not to be missed are the Old Town Square, Prague Castle and the Lennon Wall.

9. St. Petersburg, Russia
Previously known as Petrograd and then Leningrad, St. Petersburg is the most Western city in Russia. It may not be its nation's capital city, but it is home to more than 200 museums, of which The Hermitage is one of the largest in the world.

10. Vienna, Austria
The Austrian capital is awash with cultural highlights and rich decadence. But with the stunning Alps just moments away and historical settlements to be discovered throughout, Austria has much to offer.

Source: InsanelyCheapFlights.com

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