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

How to Travel Productively

April 12, 2012 4:58 am

If you’re a frequent business traveler, chances are you’ve probably honed your strategies for traveling comfortably and productively. A recent article from Inc. magazine online offers six great tips from seasoned road warriors for making the most out of travel time:
  1. Stay Connected. Carry extra batteries, and battery powered chargers and adapters. Bring a high-quality hands-free set for your phone so that you can answer calls in noisy places and still be heard. Also consider getting a long-battery-life laptop with an extended battery, which can provide you with six to seven hours of battery life.
  2. Bring back-up. When you can’t connect to the Internet, be ready with reserves. Since you can’t always get to everything you need from your laptop or smartphone, print back-ups and/or put important documents on a memory stick.
  3. Travel light. Minimize the stress of last minute packing by keeping toiletries, technology kits and other basics ready to grab and go. Consider investing in a tablet, which gives you access to books, magazines, newspapers, games, movies, music and more all in one convenient, easy-to-carry place.
  4. Appoint a troubleshooter. Designate someone to coordinate what you can’t manage while traveling and have set times to check in and deal with questions. This will give you peace of mind that things are moving smoothly back at the office and help you avoid dealing with a fire drill while on the road.
  5. Tune in to your time zone. Seasoned travelers recommend changing your watch at take-off when traveling to another time zone. This will put you in the right mindset from the get-go. Once you arrive at your destination, try and stay up until the hour you’d normally go to bed. This will help your internal body clock reset more quickly.
  6. Plan time to recharge. Pushing relentlessly can be counter-productive, so be sure to make time to recharge, whether that be going for a run or taking in a local sight.
Source: Inc.com

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Check Your Temperature When Grilling

April 12, 2012 4:58 am

As the weather warms up and cooking duties move outside to the grill, don’t forget to take your meat thermometer with you. A staple of traditional oven cooking, the meat thermometer is just as important when grilling outdoors, preventing you from overcooking or undercooking meat.

According to Consumer Reports, not all grills cook evenly, so it's important to take the temperature of your meat. Just remember these three numbers: 145 degrees F for whole meats, 160 for ground meats and 165 for all poultry. A good meat thermometer costs only $15 to $40, and the most accurate in Consumer Reports’ testing were made by Polder, Oxo and Maverick.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its rules for cooking pork, saying that you can now cook it to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F, instead of 160, followed by a three-minute rest before carving. That's the same as beef, lamb and veal. According to the National Pork Board, this new standard temperature results in pork that is tender and juicy as opposed to tough and dry.

Consumer Reports also suggests checking the USDA's website for the proper cooking temperature, however, if your grill cooks unevenly, arriving at the right temperature will be a challenge. This is a key feature that Consumer Reports tests—technicians test cooking evenness at both low and high temperatures and recommended grills are those that ace these tests. Among Consumer Reports’ Best Buys for medium-sized grills are models from Char-Broil, Kenmore, Brinkmann and Aussie that range in price from $200 to $400.

Source: Consumer Reports

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Debt Collector Calling? How to Spot a Fake

April 12, 2012 4:58 am

Consumers across the country are reporting creditor calls on loans they never received or on amounts they do not owe, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is warning consumers to be on alert for scam artists posing as debt collectors.

However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate debt collector and a fake one. Sometimes a fake collector may even have some of your personal information, like a bank account number. According to the FTC, the caller may be a fake debt collector if they:
  • Are seeking payment on a debt for a loan you do not recognize
  • Refuse to give you a mailing address or phone number
  • Ask you for personal financial or sensitive information
  • Exert high pressure to try to scare you into paying, such as threatening to have you arrested or to report you to a law enforcement agency
If you suspect that a caller may be a fake debt collector, the FTC advises you to ask the caller for their name, company, street address, and telephone number. Tell the caller that you refuse to discuss any debt until you get a written "validation notice." The notice must include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor you owe, and your rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

If a caller refuses to give you all of this information, the FTC stresses that you should not pay. Doing so may only prolong the scam to pressure you into paying even more money. Here are the steps you should take instead:
  • Stop speaking with the caller. If you have the caller's address, send a letter demanding that the caller stop contacting you, and keep a copy for your files. By law, real debt collectors must stop calling you if you ask them to in writing.
  • Do not give the caller personal financial or other sensitive information. Never give out or confirm personal financial or other sensitive information like your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number unless you know whom you're dealing with. Scam artists, like fake debt collectors, can use your information to commit identity theft – charging your existing credit cards, opening new credit card, checking, or savings accounts, writing fraudulent checks, or taking out loans in your name.
  • Contact your creditor. If the debt is legitimate – but you think the collector may not be – contact your creditor about the calls. Share the information you have about the suspicious calls and find out who, if anyone, the creditor has authorized to collect the debt.
  • Report the call. Contact the FTC and your state Attorney General's office with information about suspicious callers. Many states have their own debt collection laws in addition to the federal FDCPA. Your Attorney General's office can help you determine your rights under your state's law.
Source: ftc.gov/credit

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'Mad Men' Effect Sparks Return of 'Secretaries'

April 10, 2012 4:54 am

A recent survey of administrative professionals witnessed a significant increase in the use of the term “secretary” to describe one’s job title. This shift marks a reversal of popularity for a job title that has been in decline for at least 20 years.

With the 60th anniversary of Administrative Professionals Day approaching on April 25, the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) conducted a biannual benchmarking survey of its members on a variety of topics, including job titles, responsibilities, salaries, job satisfaction, and technology.

Though the top two job titles for IAAP members were Executive Assistant (29 percent) and Administrative Assistant (25 percent), the third most common job title was Administrative Secretary (7 percent). That's the first time in several years that Administrative Secretary made it into the top three job titles. In fact, the number of admins with "secretary" in their titles nearly doubled in two years, going from 8 percent to nearly 15 percent.

It's unclear why there are more secretaries, though the IAAP believes it may be due to a "Mad Men Effect." The popular AMC series may stoke nostalgia for the classic image of the American corporate secretary.
Regardless of their titles, admins are professional and integral members of their office teams. In 2011, administrative professionals supported an increasing number of executives or managers. Approximately two-thirds report that their level of workplace autonomy and authority has increased in the last five years. About 80 percent say their overall contribution at work has also increased during the same period.

Source: International Association of Administrative Professionals

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Americans Leaning More Towards Home Buying

April 10, 2012 4:54 am

More consumers may be looking to purchase homes with a shift in several key housing market indicators, according to Fannie Mae's March 2012 consumer attitudinal National Housing Survey.

More Americans now expect both home rental and home purchase prices to increase over the next year. Nearly half of consumers expect higher rental prices, the highest number recorded since monthly tracking began in June 2010. Thirty-three percent expect home prices to increase, up 5 percentage points since last month, and the highest percentage recorded in over a year. In addition, confidence in consumers' views of their own finances is stabilizing—for three straight months—44 percent believe their personal finances will get better over the next year. These trends may be providing Americans with an increased sense of urgency to buy a home as 73 percent of Americans now believe it is a good time to buy a home, up from 70 percent in February.

"Conditions are coming together to encourage people to want to buy homes," says Doug Duncan, vice president and chief economist of Fannie Mae. "Americans' rental price expectations for the next year continue to rise, reaching their record-high level for our survey this month. With an increasing share of consumers expecting higher mortgage rates and home prices over the next 12 months, some may feel that renting is becoming more costly and that homeownership is a more compelling housing choice."

Here are several other important survey highlights:
  • 33 percent of respondents expect home prices to increase over the next 12 months, a five percentage point increase from last month, the highest level over the past 12 months.
  • On average, Americans expect home prices to increase by 0.9 percent over the next 12 months (up slightly since last month).
  • 39 percent of Americans say that mortgage rates will go up in the next 12 months, a five percentage point increase from last month.
  • The percentage of respondents who say it is a good time to buy rose by three points to 73 percent, the highest level in over a year, while the percentage of respondents who say it is a good time to sell rose one point to 14 percent this month.
  • On average, respondents expect home rental prices to increase by 4.1 percent over the next 12 months, a significant increase since February, and the highest number recorded to date.
  • 48 percent of respondents think that home rental prices will go up, a three percentage point increase from last month and the highest number recorded to date.
  • 66 percent of respondents say they would buy their next home if they were going to move, up one point since last month, while 30 percent say they would rent, up one point versus last month.
  • The rise in confidence in the economy's direction leveled this month, with 35 percent responding that they think the economy is on the right track, consistent with February's total. The percentage who say the economy is on the wrong track rose slightly from 57 percent to 58 percent.
  • Only 12 percent think that their personal financial situation will worsen in the next 12 months, consistent with February as the lowest value in over a year, and tied with January 2011 for the lowest to date.
  • 21 percent of respondents say their income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago, up 1 point versus February, while 63 percent say it has stayed the same - consistent with February's values.
  • 34 percent say their expenses have increased significantly over the past 12 months (a slight increase of one percentage point).
Source: Fannie Mae

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30-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage Ticks Down to 3.98 Percent

April 10, 2012 4:54 am

Freddie Mac has released the results of its latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey ® (PMMS®), showing average mortgage rates changing little from the previous week, with the average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage remaining just below 4.00 percent for the second consecutive week.

Other important details from the PMMS:
  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.98 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending April 5, 2012, down from last week when it averaged 3.99 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.87 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.21 percent with an average 0.7 point down from last week when it averaged 3.23 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 4.10 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.86 percent this week, with an average 0.8 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.90 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.72 percent.
  • 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.78 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, unchanged from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.22 percent.

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How Birth Order Affects Financial Decisions

April 9, 2012 4:54 am

Does birth order really influence financial behavior? A new survey from CouponCabin.com reveals that some of that theory rings true when it comes to how first borns, middle borns, last borns and only children stack up financially. The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of CouponCabin from March 13 - March 15, 2012, among 2,211 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.

According to birth order theorist Alfred Adler, first borns are likely to be power-hungry conservatives, highly responsible and organized, as they've been expected to lead by example during their formative years.

This theory is supported when it comes to overall financial responsibility, as the survey found 87 percent of first borns said they consider themselves extremely/very/fairly financially responsible. This figure was only slightly smaller than middle borns, with 88 percent reporting that they consider themselves extremely/very/fairly financially responsible. Last borns came in at 85 percent.

Later borns, including middle and last borns, according to Adler, are usually considered to be the most open to new experiences.

On the contrary, only children, who in theory often share many characteristics with first borns, reported the highest instance of taking financial risks at least sometimes (39 percent) such as borrowing for short-term investments or investing in risky ventures. They were closely followed by first borns at 38 percent, and then middle (36 percent) and last borns (35 percent).

Adler also theorized that middle borns are typically competitive, as they sometimes have to compete for the same attention that their older and younger siblings receive. Middle borns are competitive when it comes to saving, as they reported the highest instance (65 percent) of putting money into their savings accounts each month. This bucks the theory that first borns are the conservative ones, as first borns with a savings account were the least likely (57 percent) to report they put money into it each month. Sixty percent of last borns who have a savings account said they put money into it each month.

Middle borns, who report they are the most financially responsible, are also the most likely to be asked to lend money to their siblings. Nearly half (49 percent) of middle borns said they have been asked by their older or younger siblings for dough. First borns (36 percent) and last borns (29 percent) report the lowest instances of being asked to lend money.

When asked about birth order and their beliefs on how it affects personality, 75 percent of only children agree that birth order affects people's personality traits, with 73 percent of first borns, 69 percent of last borns and 64 percent of middle borns agreeing.

Source: CouponCabin.com

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U.S. Private-Sector Jobs Increase in March

April 9, 2012 4:54 am

Private-sector employment increased by 209,000 from February to March on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the recently released ADP National Employment Report®.

The report, created by Automatic Data Processing, Inc. (ADP®), in partnership with Macroeconomic Advisers, LLC, is derived from actual payroll data and measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month. Estimated gains for previous months were revised higher; the gain from December to January was revised up by 9,000 to 182,000, and the gain from January to February was revised up by 14,000 to 230,000.

According to the report, notable employment gains were seen in the following areas:
  • Total employment: +209,000
  • Small businesses:* +100,000
  • Medium businesses:** +87,000
  • Large businesses:*** +22,000
  • Goods-producing sector: + 45,000
  • Service-providing sector: +164,000
According to today's ADP National Employment Report, employment in the nonfarm private business sector rose 209,000 from February to March on a seasonally adjusted basis. Employment in the private, service-providing sector increased 164,000 in March, after rising a revised 183,000 in February.

Employment in the private, goods-producing sector rose 45,000 in March. Manufacturing employment increased 23,000, while construction employment advanced 13,000 and the financial services sector added 8,000 jobs during that period.

"During the first quarter of this year, monthly gains in employment shown in The ADP National Employment Report averaged 207,000 jobs, compared to 156,000 per month over all of 2011," explains Carlos Rodriguez, president and CEO of ADP. "This is a positive development, and I would hope that job growth will be even more robust for the remainder of the year."

According to Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, LLC, "Labor market conditions continue to improve at a moderate pace. Employment grew in all the major sectors of the economy tracked in the report, and across payrolls of all sizes. Today's data marks the twenty-sixth consecutive monthly gain in private employment as measured in the report.

* Small businesses represent payrolls with 1-49 employees
** Medium businesses represent payrolls with 50-499 employees
*** Large businesses represent payrolls with more than 499 employees

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Top New-Home Design Trends

April 9, 2012 4:54 am

If you’re in the market for a newly built home—or if you’re in the process of having a home built—you’ll want to consider the latest home-design trends on display at the recent International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Fla.

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), leading architects and builders are incorporating the following trends into their designs:
  • Reworked Spaces: New homes are being designed to allow plenty of space for family interaction in high-traffic areas such as the kitchen, and to eliminate rooms such as formal dens and home offices that aren’t frequently used. Small spaces devoted to home management, also known as “pocket offices,” are being included in large pantries or spaces nearby the kitchen or family great room. Window seats and alcoves are being used to provide an area for private time, without taking up a lot of space. A popular and efficient location for laundry facilities is now added onto the master bedroom’s walk-in closet.
  • Expanded Amenities: Multifamily development designs are increasing the number of resident amenities in order to compensate for smaller unit sizes. Gyms and media rooms have been common for years, but facilities such as libraries and business lounges with individual workspaces are now being offered as well.
  • Multigenerational Living: Many families are all living under one roof due to increasing cultural diversity and the state of the economy during the past few years. New single-family home designs reflect this with “shadow” units that are built alongside a home, or separate living units that access the main floorplan through a door, or homes with at least two master suites—often with one located on the ground floor to be more accessible for elderly occupants.
  • More Impact, Less Cost: Rectangular home designs are more cost effective, so new homes no longer have the formerly-popular feature of multiple roof lines or the resulting unnecessary interior volumes they created. But home designs now include innovative modifications that are still visually stimulating, such as using two windows in a corner with mitered glass to allow unobstructed views and maximum light to come in. Another example is using a mix of materials in the home’s façade such as metal, wood and stone to give the home a modern look.
The latest new home design trends that support modern lifestyles are just one of the many reasons to buy a newly-constructed home. Safety, energy efficiency and near record-low interest rates and competitive prices make today’s new home market an attractive opportunity for many families.

Homebuyers can access resources to help guide them through the home-buying process on NAHB’s website at www.nahb.org.

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Tips for Hiring a House Cleaner

April 6, 2012 4:50 am

If the demands of your busy life are preventing you from keeping your house in tip-top shape, then you might want to consider hiring a professional house cleaner.

Measure the cost/benefit ratio when considering this step. For example, if cleaning your home is preventing you from spending quality time with your family—or simply enjoying some necessary down time for yourself—then it might be well worth investing in a house-cleaning service.

Angie’s List, the online community of consumer service reviews, offers the following tips for making the right hire:
  • Meet the house cleaner in person. Before you hire a house cleaner, make sure you feel comfortable having that person in your home. Check references on past work.
  • Ask about prices, fees, cancellations. Find out in advance how much a full service will cost, not just the hourly rate. Some companies charge per hour, others per visit or based on square footage. Find out if there is a fee should you have to cancel a cleaning appointment. Also find out if you can hire for a one-time service, or if an ongoing service contract is required.
  • Service guarantee. What if you're not happy with the service? Is there a guarantee? Find out how far in advance you should make your appointment. Some cleaning services operate anywhere from as little as a day to as long as several weeks in advance.
  • Decide how you want the service to enter your home. Establish beforehand if the service will use a key, garage code or if a family member or neighbor will let them in.
  • Ask about insurance. Does the company maintain proper liability insurance? Is it bonded? Does the company do background checks on employees?
  • Consider cleaning agents. Will the company bring its own supplies? Talk about what cleaning agents they use and eco-friendly options available.
  • What's important to you? Talk to the company about what you expect; what you like/dislike. Make any concerns or expectations you have clear upfront.
Be sure to communicate your preferences to the cleaning service—i.e., how you like your dishwasher loaded, what collectibles you’d rather dust yourself—and provide feedback on the job once it’s done. This will ensure an optimal cleaning experience and provide peace of mind that your investment is well worth it.

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