August 30, 2011 8:57 pm
Smartphone users are at risk of personal information theft as hackers target mobile devices and online banking mobile apps. Users are being warned to take precautions to prevent identity theft, a threat that can jeopardize the financial stability of their assets.
A new virus that records and saves a user’s private conversation has recently emerged. The recorded conversation is uploaded to a remote server, where it becomes available to thieves and hackers. These tactics are being directed at smartphone users who are unaware of the increased malware attempts to steal important personal information.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that around nine million U.S. residents have their identities stolen each year. Thieves gain personal information to obtain credit cards, open telephone accounts and even rent properties. Information can also be used to apply for federal benefits such as Social Security payments.
These preventative measures are recommended for smartphone users to ensure the safety of their personal information and financial assets:
1. Lock Your Phone. If your phone gets lost or stolen, it can easily fall into the wrong hands. Even if the phone is not returned to you, the thief would have to restore everything to its factory settings if she/he wanted to use it. All personal information would be wiped-out.
2. Use a Secure Network. Transactions with personal information should always be used on a secure network. Avoid places with free Wi-Fi connections to ensure your data isn’t being transmitted openly, especially if you’re making money transfers.
3. Only Install Trusted Apps. Only applications from trusted companies should be installed. Always read through reviews of the app and consider the rating before downloading it.
4. Log Out. Never keep your log-in information stored on any application. Remember to log out each time you finish your online banking to terminate the username and password to your accounts.
5. Get Mobile Security Software. There are security apps available in certain mobile marketplaces that will act as a virus protection program. Packages from anti-virus companies such as McAfee or Norton can also be purchased.
6. Keep the default. Devices are on factory settings to give consumers the best type of protection – unless he/she changes it. Jail-breaking or unlocking a phone immediately voids the original software settings within a phone, which makes it much more susceptible to third-party manufacturers.
7. Beware of unknown texts. Just like emails, viruses can be attached to text messages, and if opened, the virus can infiltrate a mobile device. If you get a text from an unknown number, especially one that doesn’t look like a real phone number (e.g., 013284823157 or 82047), simply delete it.
Source: Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc.
August 30, 2011 8:57 pm
Existing-home sales declined in July from an upwardly revised June pace but are notably higher than a year ago, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Monthly gains in the Northeast and Midwest were offset by declines in the West and South.
Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 3.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.67 million in July from 4.84 million in June, but are 21.0% above the 3.86 million unit pace in July 2010, which was a cyclical low immediately following the expiration of the home buyer tax credit.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says there is a tug and pull on the market. “Affordability conditions this year have been the most favorable on record dating back to 1970, but many buyers are being held back because banks are offering financing to only the most highly qualified borrowers, ignoring a large share of otherwise creditworthy buyers,” he says. “Those potential buyers represent the difference between an uneven recovery and a much more robust housing market that could stimulate additional economic activity and create jobs.”
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 4.55% in July, up from 4.51% in June; the rate was 4.56% in July 2010. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year fixed rate dropped to 4.32%.
Contract failures – cancellations caused largely by declined mortgage applications or failures in loan underwriting from appraised values coming in below the negotiated price – were unchanged in July, reported by 16% of NAR members. In addition, 9% of REALTORS® report a contract was delayed in the past three months due to low appraisals, and another 13% said a contract was renegotiated to a lower sales price because an appraisal was below the initially agreed price.
NAR President Ron Phipps says an unacceptably high number of potential home buyers are unable to complete transactions. “For both mortgage credit and home appraisals, there’s been a parallel pendulum swing from very loose standards which led to the housing boom, to unnecessarily restrictive practices as an overreaction to the housing correction,” he said.
“Beyond the tight credit problems, all appraisals must be done by valuators with local expertise and using reasonable comparisons – it doesn’t make sense to consistently see so many valuations coming in below negotiated prices, often below replacement construction costs,” Phipps says.
The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $174,000 in July, down 4.4% from July 2010. Distressed homes – foreclosures and short sales typically sold at deep discounts – accounted for 29% of sales in July, compared with 30% in June and 32% in July 2010.
Total housing inventory at the end of July fell 1.7% to 3.65 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.4-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 9.2-month supply in June.
First-time buyers purchased 32% of homes in July, up from 31% in June; they were 38% in July 2010. Investors accounted for 18% of purchase activity in July compared with 19% in June and 19% in July 2010. The balance of sales was to repeat buyers, which were a 50% market share in July, unchanged from June.
Single-family home sales declined 4.0% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.12 million in July from 4.29 million in June, but are 21.5% above the 3.39 million level in July 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $174,800 in July, down 4.5% from a year ago.
Existing condominium and co-op sales were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 550,000 in July, and are 17.3% above the 469,000-unit pace one year ago. The median existing condo price was $168,400 in July, down 4.0% from July 2010.
August 29, 2011 8:57 pm
These changes went into effect last Thursday and incorporate some of the same privacy features recently released by Google. Facebook members can now:
Choose who can read your posts: Members have full control over content posted on their walls. A new dropdown box offers options for Public (previously, "Everyone"), Friends, or Friends of Friends. Custom-created groupings can also be created in order to share with a limited selection of Friends, further protecting users' information and privacy.
Edit already-published wall posts: For already-published wall posts, users can now edit the privacy options for each specific posting. Previously, deleting the item in question was the only option, however, users may now edit the privacy settings on any selection, at any time.
The company says that further changes are on the horizon and that they plan on launching interactive tutorials alongside every new feature as they are rolled out.
For more information, visit www.consumerreports.org and www.facebook.com.
August 29, 2011 8:57 pm
This weekend's Hurricane Irene has left many states with rubble and debris that is in dire need of proper removal. For homeowners affected by Irene's wrath (or any other weather- or natural disaster-related damage), safety is a crucial, yet often overlooked aspect of the daunting clean-up task.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness encourage residents to be cautious when removing harmful debris from homes, yards and roadways.
Debris piles are dangerous - follow the safety guidelines below:
• Do not place debris on or near fire hydrants, utility boxes or gas meters. Dangerous gases could escape if utility boxes or gas meters are damaged during debris removal.
• Keep children away from debris piles. They can be full of broken items, glass, nails and other sharp objects. Children could easily be injured playing in, around or on these mounds of debris. The pile may also contain rodents, snakes or bugs.
• Do not allow children near equipment and debris removal operations. Inquisitive children could be standing or playing in the equipment operator's "blind spot" and may not be seen when equipment and trucks move.
• Keep all open flames and lit cigarettes clear of debris piles. The piles often contain flammable materials.
• Don't park cars near debris piles. This will make it easier for the equipment operator to pick up the material and reduce possible damage to your car.
• Drive carefully if you're behind a debris removal truck. Leave a safe distance between your car and the truck. Materials may fall from the truck creating a driving hazard.
• Observe all traffic rules and flagger directions when driving near debris collection sites.
For more information, visit www.fema.gov.
August 29, 2011 8:57 pm
As homeowners across the East Coast continue dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the threat of similar disasters underscores the importance of flood insurance, which is the only way for homeowners to financially protect their property or businesses from flood damages.
Hurricane damage from water is only covered by flood insurance, which must be purchased separately through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and if Congress doesn’t act soon, this critical program will expire on September 30, 2011, putting millions of homeowners at risk.
“As the leading advocate for homeownership and housing issues, NAR believes that the NFIP is essential to a properly functioning real estate market, ensuring access to affordable flood insurance for millions of homeowners,” says NAR President Ron Phipps. “REALTORS® support any and every effort to extend the program for as long as legislatively possible, so that American families won’t have to go without essential flood protection.”
Floods are also not just a coastal issue and are not only caused by hurricanes. Floods claimed more lives and property than any other natural disaster in the U.S. over the past century and have been declared in every state, along rivers and anywhere rain falls or snow melts.
The NFIP is set to expire on September 30 for the tenth time in three years, and NAR urges Congress to reauthorize the program for five years, before it expires. The NFIP ensures access to affordable flood insurance for more than 5.6 million home and business owners in 21,000 communities across the nation.
“We strongly urge Congress to speed passage of legislation to reauthorize the NFIP for the long term and end the current stopgap approach that has already led to numerous extensions and lapses of program authority in the past two years,” says Phipps.
NAR also calls on Congress to develop a proactive national policy to reduce natural disaster risk beyond floods, so that homeowners have access to affordable, comprehensive property insurance for a full range of natural disasters, and taxpayers no longer have to fund rebuilding efforts through federal disaster assistance.
“Whether it’s a tornado, flood, hurricane or earthquakes like those that hit Colorado and the Eastern U.S. this week, virtually every region of the country is susceptible to nature’s unexpected fury,” says Phipps. “Our thoughts are with all Americans who were affected by this hurricane, and we will continue to work with public policymakers on these important issues.”
August 26, 2011 8:57 pm
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued recommendations for residents in states that might be affected by Hurricane Irene to minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses in the event of power outages, flooding, and other problems that could be associated with the storm. But regardless of storms, if the power goes out under any circumstance, it's always important to know how to keep your food safe to ensure your family's health is never in jeopardy.
Steps to follow to prepare for a possible emergency:
• Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer will indicate the temperature inside the refrigerator and freezer in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the food.
• Make sure the freezer is at 0°F or below and the refrigerator is at 40°F or below.
• Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers after the power is out.
• Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
• Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
• Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours. Purchase or make ice and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
• Group food together in the freezer — this helps the food stay cold longer.
• Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
Steps to follow after the emergency:
• Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
• The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) and the door remains closed.
• Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours without power.
• Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below when checked with a food thermometer.
• Never taste a food to determine its safety!
• Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for two days.
• If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
• If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe.
• Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
• Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
• Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.
With a little preparation, you can salvage the most food possible from your fridge and freezer and ensure that your family only consumes the freshest of products.
For more information, visit www.usda.gov.
August 26, 2011 8:57 pm
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has recently released Mortgagee Letter 11-29, which will keep the lending limit at $625,500 for Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs or reverse mortgages) through Dec. 31, 2011.
This is welcoming news for older homeowners interested in reverse mortgages. Reverse mortgages are available to homeowners 62 and older wherein the lender makes monthly payments or a lump sum payment to the homeowner. Many seniors use reverse mortgages to supplement social security, meet unexpected medical expenses, make home improvements, and more. No monthly repayment is required until the borrower no longer uses the home as their principal residence.
“Homes tend to be a higher value when borrowers 62 and older are allowed to withdraw larger amounts of equity out of their homes without having to qualify in the traditional income and debt requirements,” explains reverse mortgage expert Sue Drawdy.
If HUD had not extended the $625,500 limit, it would have dropped down to the pre-American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) conforming loan limit of $417,000. Drawdy says it is uncertain what will happen to the limit after December 31; unless congress acts, the loan limit will likely drop down to the 2008 limit.
“This extension of the loan limit makes now a great time to take out a reverse mortgage,” says Drawdy. “You can even purchase a new home with the reverse mortgage.”
August 26, 2011 8:57 pm
The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has conducted a full-scale research test program of how wind-driven water, such as that occurring during hurricanes, penetrates openings in residential roof systems at the IBHS Research Center in South Carolina.
“Wind-driven rain that gets into a house through openings in the roof can collapse ceilings and cause extensive damage to interior finishes, furnishings and other family possessions,” says Julie Rochman, president & CEO, IBHS. “The testing conducted by our engineers at the IBHS Research Center clearly demonstrated that water penetration during hurricanes could be substantially reduced by sealing the roof deck seams.”
For new construction or re-roofing, roof deck seams can be sealed from the exterior using a modified bitumen tape. For retrofitting when the roof cover is not replaced, homeowners can seal the roof deck seams from the inside with a closed-cell foam spray adhesive.
IBHS researchers built a 1,300 sq. ft., single-story duplex test building with construction features common in many coastal and inland areas of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states with hurricane exposure. The interior of the duplex was furnished with light fixtures, ceiling fans, furniture, carpeting and laminate flooring made to look like wood. Both sides of the duplex roof were identical, with the critical exception of using modified bitumen tape to seal the between-sheathing joints and gaps on one side of the roof.
The building was placed inside the 21,000 sq. ft. test chamber at the IBHS Research Center and subjected to several individual test sequences involving both high-speed, multi-directional, gusty winds and prolonged exposure to “rain” typical during a hurricane, delivered at a rate of up to eight inches per hour.
During the testing, 24 cameras were placed inside the test specimen to capture the water entering the duplex. Video footage of the interior of both sides of the building showed water entering the side with the unsealed roof deck, streaming off of light fixtures and ceiling fans. Approximately 30 minutes after the completion of the test, pieces of the ceiling on the unsealed side began to collapse.
“As the attic insulation became saturated, the water began to soak into the ceiling gypsum wallboard,” says Dr. Anne Cope, IBHS research director. “The combination of the weight of the saturated insulation and the weakened gypsum wallboard caused the ceiling to collapse in three places on the unsealed side of the home. However, on the sealed side of the duplex, the ceiling did not collapse and there was much less water entry.
Following the test, IBHS brought in a claims adjuster from a local insurance company who is trained in catastrophe claims adjusting to estimate the amount of damage each house suffered. He assessed the damage to the front three rooms on both sides of the duplex, including the kitchen, dining room and family room. During a hurricane or high wind event, winds generally come from a relatively small range of directions after the roof cover blows off, so damaged confined to one area of a house would be typical of most people’s experience.
According to the adjuster’s report, estimated damage on the unsealed side totaled nearly $17,000, while estimated damage on the sealed side totaled approximately $5,400. This is a substantial difference totaling almost three times as much for the side of the duplex with the unsealed roof deck. Of particular note is that the furniture in the side with the unsealed roof deck had to be replaced, while the furnishings in the side with the sealed roof deck only had to be cleaned.
“The moment water enters your home, you have a potentially catastrophic loss waiting to happen,” says Rochman. "Water travels along beams, through electrical conduits, along wiring, and into walls, ceilings and floors; in other words, it can get just about everywhere, so keeping it out in the first place is the homeowner's best bet for preventing damage.
"Sealing the roof deck can significantly strengthen this critical part of a home and reduce the chances of a catastrophic loss due to water damage when the roof covering is compromised or blown off entirely during a high-wind event. And taping the seams on an average-sized roof costs only about $500 – a great, relatively small investment that could pay huge dividends when a storm hits,” she added.
August 25, 2011 8:57 pm
By Paige Tepping
In today’s market, it takes more than painting and trimming the bushes to get noticed. While home sellers across the country are resorting to dropping the price in order to make their home more attractive, it leads to one crucial question: what can I do differently to make my home stand out?
Larry Nusbaum, Resolution Assistance Contractor for the FDIC, offers the following tips for home sellers looking to differentiate their homes from the numerous homes that are on the market today.
1. Get lighted signage that’s illuminated even after dark. This will give prospective buyers extra time to see your home as they don’t have to depend on sunlight.
2. If you or your agent are hosting an open house, be sure to serve light snacks and hand out something that attendees will remember. You want something that will be a positive reminder of your home—seasonal gifts are the perfect way to stay top of mind. Be sure to at least have pens and key chains with your agent's name and contact information on them.
3. Create an informational flyer with all the local conveniences you can find: shopping, schools, universities, hospitals, malls, restaurants, gas stations and attractions in the area, in addition to local police and fire stations, even school bus pick up locations. Assume your open house attendees don’t know the neighborhood.
4. Hand out information pertaining to your home as well as information on the other listed properties in the area showing that your house is the best value.
5. Do some staging to make sure your home looks its best.
6. Be sure to offer incentives. Some examples include a gift card to a home improvement store, paying for a year’s worth of yard care or a free session with a landscape architect, offering a $1,000 landscape allowance, paying for a years worth of homeowners fees, offering $1,000 for new appliances or any home improvement, offering a new carpet allowance or paying for lawn service for a year—the possibilities are endless.
7. Paint the garage floor (concrete paint). Making the garage look fresh and clean will make the whole house feel newer.
8. Send letters to all the neighbors inviting them to “pick their neighbor,” and be sure to include information about your home and the open house. Give them an incentive to talk about your home with other individuals in their sphere of influence. (i.e. a $200 gift card if they find your buyer).
9. Put up signs in your front yard and be sure to hang up as many directional signs as the neighborhood allows.
10. Put out flyers in surrounding shopping areas.
11. Have your agent create a video of your home and put the virtual tour on the Web.
12. Have your agent post ads on Craigslist and on any other free online listing sites you can find.
13. E-mail HR departments at local companies as many employees prefer to live close to their jobs but don’t make time for the house hunting process. This will make it easy for employees to find your home.
August 25, 2011 8:57 pm
Already on vacation or about to leave? With hurricane Irene heading towards the northeast, homeowners are paying close attention to where the storm will hit. “A little known benefit in most travel insurance policies could really make a difference for those travelers,” advises Chris Harvey, CEO of a travel insurance comparison company. “If a traveler’s home is rendered uninhabitable by a hurricane, their travel insurance policy may cover them to cancel their trip or come home early and receive reimbursement.”
Although many travelers would cut a trip short if they find out something bad happened to their home, almost none would make a travel insurance claim because they didn’t know they could. Having the option to file a claim would give travelers the chance to get back unused trip expenses, as well as the costs of flights to get home. This provides extra protection and peace of mind that unforeseen expenses are covered not just if something happens on the trip, but also at home while they are away.
Travelers should remember, in order for coverage to be effective, all travel insurance policies must be purchased before a hurricane is named. Since Irene became a tropical stom on August 22, only policies purchased before that date will provide coverage for the storm.
Another limitation to take into account is a travel insurance policy cannot be canceled due to “fear” of something bad happening. If someone wants the choice to cancel without providing a reason, it is recommended that travelers find a policy that offers the Cancel for Any Reason benefit. Cancel for Any Reason allows someone to cancel the trip without explanation, and receive a refund up to 75% of the trip cost, however, to qualify for this benefit, travelers must purchase a travel insurance policy within 14-30 days of the initial deposit payment.
For more information, visit www.squaremouth.com.