November 17, 2011 9:30 pm
With 118.2 million pet-owning households, according to the latest survey by the American Pet Products Association, many families will invite their four-legged family members to participate in the holiday festivities. Whether it’s lighting the menorah or decorating the Christmas tree, every family has their own customs that make the holidays special. Here are some easy ways to incorporate pets into the family traditions this season.
Counting Down the Days: Buy your pet a 12 Days of X-Mas calendar at your local pet store. These calendars give pets a toy or tasty treat during the 12 days leading up to Christmas. This durable calendar counts down the days to the big day and lets pets join in the advent calendar fun.
Dressed to the Nines: The holidays mean plenty of parties and shopping for the perfect party dress or festive Santa tie. Dressing the part is now more fun for cats. Holiday cat ties give your feline friend a comfortable, yet festive accessory for the holidays. The festive bow tie features Christmas colors in a hip checkered design so cats look their best this holiday.
Delicious Dinner: The National Turkey Federation estimates that Americans eat 18 pounds of turkey a year, 33% of which is consumed during the holidays. Whether the family is feasting on a turkey dinner or delicious latkes, food is always part of the holiday celebration. Let pets safely join in and give them a special treat this holiday. People food is for people, but you can purchase holiday dinners specifically for dogs providing them with their own turkey dinner packed with wholesome ingredients that won’t ruin their diet. Now they can truly be a true part of the family dinner.
Giving and Getting Holiday Toys: A 2010 MSNBC report estimated that Americans spent $584.3 billion during the holidays. Giving and getting presents is one of the most popular holiday traditions. When waking up on Christmas morning, make sure cats and dogs have a little something under the tree. Make Hanukkah's eight crazy nights a little crazier with Hanukkah-themed pet toys from the same collection. These classy and classic holiday toys make the perfect gift for the family pet or a fantastic “thank you” to a pet-loving holiday party host or hostess.
Photos with Santa: Taking photos with Santa is a time old tradition. Luckily, pet parents won’t have to stand in line at the mall to let the family pet share in the fun. Petco stores nationwide will be offering pet photos with Santa on December 3 and 10, 2011.
For more information, visit www.petco.com/holiday.
November 17, 2011 9:30 pm
Saying that consumers deserve to know what they’re paying for, the nation’s largest professional association of real estate appraisers called on the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to require more transparency on home buyers’ forms.
The Appraisal Institute, in a joint letter with the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers, asked the CFPB to separate appraisal fees from administration and processing fees on the settlement forms that consumers receive when purchasing a home. Created by Congress, the CFPB oversees consumer disclosure laws and is authorized to develop new forms to inform consumers of charges assessed in processing mortgage loans.
“We see no consumer benefit with continuing to bundle two separate services and not fully disclosing such information to borrowers,” the letter said. “We urge the CFPB to revise these forms with a separate line for Appraisal Management (or management fees in total) as Congress authorized last year when it enacted the Dodd-Frank Act.”
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law by President Obama in July 2010, authorized the CFPB to separate appraisal and appraisal management fees to consumers on the HUD-1 settlement statement, the standard form used in the United States to itemize services and fees charged to the borrower by the lender or broker when applying for a loan for the purpose of purchasing or refinancing real estate.
However, the proposed form issued for comment by the CFPB still combines appraisal and appraisal management fees. (Management fees are those charged by an appraisal management company for administrative services; the appraisal fee refers to the actual cost of the appraisal itself.)
In their letter, the Appraisal Institute and the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers cited recent research from the National Association of REALTORS® that said borrowers are paying more for appraisal fees than they recently did, but noted that appraisers report their fees have been reduced by as much as 40 percent. This is because banks have passed through backroom administration expenses on the backs of consumers.
“The CFPB … has a unique opportunity to improve transparency for borrowers by requiring full disclosure of costs incurred for appraisal services and costs for appraisal management services,” the letter said, adding “…we believe that consumers deserve to know who is providing services relative to their loan and how much was paid. This is the spirit of transparency and the core presumption with development of a consumer disclosure form.”
To read the Appraisal Institute’s and American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers’ letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, go to http://www.appraisalinstitute.org/newsadvocacy/downloads/ltrs_tstmny/2011/AI_ASFMRA_CDF_final.pdf.
November 16, 2011 9:30 pm
With the rush of the holidays comes a slower-paced season for housing. Fear not, however! While there is typically less inventory around during the winter months, sellers have a unique opportunity to stand-out from their competition and truly shine. With the right staging and finesse, you can increase your chances of landing a sale and for the price you're looking for.
Don't neglect the basics. Just because the weather is colder doesn't mean you should neglect the outside of your home or the yard around it. Clean up the lawn in the fall to prepare for winter showings. If there are any repairs necessary for the outside of the house—roofing problems, a new paint job, etc.—plan ahead to complete these tasks before showing the home. Exterior curb appeal still counts for buyers rushing for the warmth of indoors.
Take advantage of a seasonal interior. Make the inside of your home feel as warm as possible. Crank up the heat or start a fire in the fireplace. The goal is to paint a picture for buyers to see themselves living in your home. Maximize the space of each room by cleaning up clutter or rearranging the furniture. Do anything and everything to make it feel warm and inviting.
Make sure to keep the home's paths clear. It may seem obvious, but it is crucially important to keep your walkways and driveway clear of snow, ice or debris. For homeowners who have already vacated, this may be a challenging aspect of the home-selling process. Keep in mind that many buyers and agents may not want to deal with a home that's difficult to get into.
Light it up. Make sure all of the home's lights are on. If the home is being showed during the day, open the curtains and let the natural light shine through. Make the home look as bright as possible and worry about the electricity bill later.
Keep holiday décor conservative. Although you will be tempted to make your home stand out, keep decorations in check and don't overdue it on outdoor lighting. Avoid overly religious decorations as to not offend anyone.
If your home is properly staged, fixed-up and ready to go, you won't suffer from a drought of interested buyers. Always putting your best foot forward is the best strategy to have no matter what the season.
Source: Associated Press
November 16, 2011 9:30 pm
The Pew Research Center recently published interesting findings concerning the wealth of households by age. Using government data, the authors of the report noted the following conclusions about the generational distribution of wealth and the ongoing crisis in housing:
• Households headed by adults 65 and older were 42% wealthier in 2009 relative to same-aged households in 1984
• Households headed by adults 35 and younger were 68% poorer in 2009 relative to same-aged households in 1984
As a result of these changes, the wealth gap between older and younger households has grown substantially. In 1984, the wealth ratio between households 65 and older and households 35 and younger stood at 10-to-1. In 2009, this ratio had grown to 47-to-1.
The authors of the report explain the primary cause:
Housing has been the main driver of these divergent wealth trends. Rising home equity has been the linchpin of the higher wealth of older households in 2009 compared with their counterparts in 1984. Declining home equity has been one factor in the lower wealth held by young households in 2009 compared with their counterparts in 1984.
Moreover, the authors make similar claims we have touched upon regarding the long-run demographic impact of the ongoing crisis in housing:
For the young, these long-term changes include delayed entry into the labor market and delays in marriage—two markers of adulthood traditionally linked to income growth and wealth accumulation.
Digging into the findings, the authors emphasize how important housing wealth is to older homeowners. If you exclude housing equity, the net worth of households headed by individuals 65 and older would have been 33% lower in 2009 than their counterparts in 1984, instead of 42% higher as it now stands.
For young households, there is no such difference. If you ignore housing equity, such households would be 66% poorer than their 1984 counterparts, instead of 68% poorer when one factors in home equity. So the growing gap in wealth between young and old is primarily due to the fact that older households strongly benefited from homeownership, despite recent price declines.
Taking all forms of wealth into consideration, from 2005 to 2009, according to the Pew estimates, household net worth for all households fell 28%. However, the Great Recession has been particularly hard on younger households, who form the majority of first-time home buyers. Household net worth for those younger than 35 has fallen 55%. For those 35 to 44, net worth has fallen 49%. For those 65 and older, net worth has declined only 6%.
The Pew Research findings concerning wealth and age have a direct impact for understanding housing demand. The Great Recession has clearly taken a toll on household balance sheets, and particularly on the wealth of those age classes that constitute the majority of would-be home buyers. This economic consequence, along with job market uncertainty, is the reason for pent-up housing demand. And policy proposals that would place homeownership further out-of-reach of today’s emerging households and aspiring members of the middle class will have long-run impacts on both demography and household wealth.
For more information, visit NAHB's Eye on Housing blog at eyeonhousing.wordpress.com.
November 16, 2011 9:30 pm
Whether you're in between moves or simply need the extra space, self-storage is a fantastic option for those who find they need to temporarily unload some personal belongings. To further protect your property, renters should look into and purchase storage insurance. At some facilities, it may not be an option. However, if you are not required to purchase it and think that your property is automatically safe, think again. Most times, if your property is worth seeking extra storage space for, it's worth insuring.
According to StorageFront.com, renters generally have three different options in terms of insurance:
1) Some homeowner's or renter's insurance may allow for additional coverage for your storage unit, however, you must check with the facility to ensure that they accept this type of coverage. When you go to rent your unit, proof of insurance will be required by the storage facility. Make sure to have that on hand.
2) Facilities may offer their own insurance premium ranging from $2,500 to $5,000. Although there may or may not be a deductible, rates may be higher and coverage lower compared to insuring through your homeowner's or renter's policy. Be sure to inquire about what types of damages are covered and if any items are excluded from the policy.
3) Independent self-storage insurance may be your best bet. Outside insurance companies may have a partnership with particular storage facilities, but oftentimes they operate independently. This type of insurance will insure higher-valued items and may protect against damage that other policies may not cover.
Though prices per plan vary, insurance typically runs $8 for $2,000 coverage; $12 for $3,000 coverage; and $20 for $5,000 coverage. Some providers may even provide coverage for 50% in case of burglary. (Taking pictures of all your items in the storage unit is highly recommended. If items are damaged during a burglary, snap photos of them as well along with a broken lock or a damaged door).
As always, it's best to understand whatever policy you sign up for. Make sure you acquire all of the details at the time of signing so that you can be prepared and knowledgeable in the worst case scenario that you need to put a claim in.
November 15, 2011 3:26 pm
One can never have enough moving tips. For those preparing to pack up their belongings and head to a new home, efficiency and ease are as important as ever. Although moving can be an exciting time, it can also be somewhat nerve-racking.
To make your move run smoothly, heed the following recommendations whether you are a homeowner or a renter:
1. Get rid of clutter. Two months before the date of the move, go through every room in the house and decide what items should not be moved. Donate or sell any clothes, furniture, or other items that are unwanted.
2. Start searching online for a moving company, if desired. There are many companies to choose from, so be sure to find a quality company and book early. Read as many reviews as possible and learn from others' mistakes.
3. Cancel and order utilities. Contact telephone, electric, gas, water, and other services to inform them of the move. By planning ahead, extra charges can be avoided and moving into a new home will be smoother.
4. Pack smart. Plan ahead when packing and use a moving checklist to stay on track. Get all the supplies beforehand, such as bubble wrap, boxes, tape and markers. Label boxes in detail with the room they go to and the contents. Pack unneeded items first and the most used items last. Have a couple of boxes of essentials that are easily accessible, which can include an alarm clock, change of clothes, toiletries, coffee maker, etc.
5. Safety first. Whether you are hiring a professional company or going at it solo, be sure to keep walkways clear, remove rugs, tripping hazards and low-hanging items. Ensure young children have a care provider and pets are kept safely away from loading and unloading areas.
6. Know what not to pack. Items such as pesticides, paint thinner, lighter fluid, and other dangerous chemicals should not be packed by professionals or in a moving truck. Valuables, irreplaceable items and important documents should be kept safe with the homeowner and moved in the truck cab, car or shipped with a tracking number.
7. Smile! This time can be more exciting than stressful with a positive attitude and a bit of preparation. Try not to stress and enjoy the excitement of your new neighborhood.
For more information, visit www.miamimovers.com.
November 15, 2011 3:26 pm
Is your home safe? Believe it or not, the leading cause for a trip to the emergency room is an unintentional home accident or injury. In fact, according to the Home Safety Council, the leading causes of unintentional home injury and death in the United States are falls, poisoning, fire/burns, and drowning.
Protecting your family and making your home safer is top priority. Prevent accidents, serious injuries, pinpoint potential hazards, and decrease the likelihood of potential home disasters by having the right safety equipment on hand.
The leading cause of accidental death in the United States is carbon monoxide poisoning. Produced by everyday home appliances like water heaters, charcoal grills and propane stoves, this odorless, tasteless and colorless gas sends more than 15,000 Americans to the emergency room each year. Those exposed to carbon monoxide are typically misdiagnosed because they experience flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, headache and fatigue. The best way to protect yourself against carbon monoxide poisoning is a carbon monoxide alarm, and at just under $20, it won't break the bank.
Every 150 minutes, someone dies from a fire-related injury in the U.S. The number one cause of death, however, is actually from smoke inhalation and toxic gases, not burns. That means having a smoke alarm in your home is essential, especially considering that four out of 10 home-fire deaths occur in homes without smoke alarms. Battery operated, super affordable and designed to protect your family from smoke inhalation and accidental fires, it's a must-have home safety item. If you have a large house, consider putting a smoke detector in each room for maximum security.
The third major cause of home-related injuries and death in the U.S. is unintentional slip-and-fall accidents. In fact, accidental falls are the number one cause of injury-related death for those 60 and up. Luckily, you can prevent accidental falls by eliminating tripping hazards (like electrical cords and rugs) and installing snazzy night-lights in dark areas, especially near stairs and hallways. A motion activated night-light is highly recommended, as it automatically turns on in a dark room when motion is detected. No switching or fumbling in the dark is required.
Many fatal home accidents can be prevented. Spend some time going over how you can keep your family safe and be sure to have the proper equipment on hand to do so.
November 9, 2011 9:22 pm
With the colder weather settling in, it’s time to take some time to get your pets settled in for the winter. Even if your cat or dog is normally an outside pet, winters can be especially tough.
“Just like people, pets can get hypothermia,” warns Nancy Peterson of The Humane Society of the United States. “We recommend keeping your cat indoors all the time.”
In addition, most dogs are safer indoors, except when taken out for exercise. Regardless of the season, shorthaired, very young, or old dogs and all cats should never be left outside without supervision. Short-coated dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a sweater during walks.
If you choose to leave your dog outdoors, even during part of the day, make sure that there is a dry, draft-free doghouse that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his/her body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw; any bedding should be moisture resistant. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic. Provide plenty of food and make sure water is unfrozen and in a plastic dish.
There are dangers other than cold, as well. For instance, warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood or wheel well. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine. The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet, and automobile antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Better yet, use antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol; if swallowed in small amounts, it will not hurt pets, wildlife, or your family.
Colder temperatures are on their way! Make sure your family and its pets are prepared.
November 9, 2011 9:22 pm
By Barbara Pronin
In these tough economic times, most of us have already found ways to save a little money – from eating out less often to shopping at discount stores to driving no more than necessary. Here are ten surefire ways to improve your bottom line over the long haul:
Slash the incidentals – Read your credit card statement carefully, being on the lookout for ongoing monthly fees you can eliminate – like club memberships, subscriptions and that daily stop for high-priced coffee.
Pay yourself first – Start saving as though it were a monthly bill, dumping five or 10% of each paycheck into savings before you start writing out your checks.
Make the payment wisely – Put that money into an interest-bearing online savings account or mutual fund – and make the payment automatic.
Pay ahead on your mortgage – It may be tough, but adding even an extra $25 to your monthly mortgage payment can make a surprising difference in paying off the mortgage early and saving thousands of dollars over the period of the loan.
Shed credit card debt – Use credit cards as sparingly as possible and pay off any balances monthly. If you are already in debt, ask the card issuer for a lower rate or transfer the balance to a lower interest card.
Say goodbye to late fees – If it seems your credit card bill is always due before you get your paycheck, call the card company and ask to have your due date changed.
Get the better of your “addictions” – Whether it is designer coffee every morning or cigarettes with their walloping “sin tax,” do your best to wean yourself and you’ll save more in the bargain.
Analyze workday expenses – Brown bag it instead of eating lunch in restaurants. If possible, commute by carpool or public transportation. Avoid extra fees for same-day dry cleaning service. Where else can you save?
Review your estate plan – If you don’t already have one, get a will or living trust – and review it every year. These are vital regardless of marital or family status and could help save measurably when the time comes.
Sources: MSNBC, Bankrate.com, the New York Times Home Finance Center, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine
November 9, 2011 9:22 pm
The cold seasons are here and households everywhere are igniting their fireplaces and turning on their space heaters to evade chilly weather. And with the cold weather comes many timely reminders of the overlooked dangers of fireplaces.
The United States Fire Administration reports that, on average, 54,000 home-heating-related fires occur every year around the country. The tragedy of these events stems from the acknowledgement that these fires were likely avoidable with proper maintenance. It's imperative to take care of your fireplace before heavy use occurs. Prepare yourself with the following suggestions:
Get your fireplace checked by a professional. For a wood-burning fireplace, with a flue and chimney, the biggest problem is creosote buildup. Shine a light up your chimney and look for fuzzy or shiny black stuff. Creosote looks fuzzy initially, like black mold. After a while, it looks shiny. If you see shiny black stuff in your chimney – that's highly flammable, and you need to clean that professionally before using your fireplace.
Sometimes birds and squirrels will make a home in your fireplace. Their nests are flammable, but a nest is something that you can probably clean out on your own. You can also slow creosote buildup by using the right wood. Burning soft or fresh woods gives off more moisture than burning seasoned hardwoods like maple. Moisture creates creosote.
For electric fireplaces and space heaters, maintenance is less complex but is equally important. Electric fireplaces are easier to take care of, but you're still dealing with a heat source, so ensure that you set up your portable heater three feet away from any flammable objects. Turn off your space heater every few hours so it's not always running. And make sure that the outlets you plug your unit into are working properly.