October 11, 2011 8:57 pm
Carving pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns is an age-old Halloween tradition. However, it can turn into a plumbing nightmare if the pulp and seeds go down the garbage disposal. With the usual increase in clogged kitchen sink drains and jammed garbage disposals plumbers see this time of year, homeowners should show caution when partaking in this festive tradition with their families.
What many don't realize is that the pumpkin's stringy, slimy substances can harden and stick to many of the pipes in your kitchen sink. The trick to keeping pumpkin pulp and seeds from causing plumbing problems is being cautious when removing and disposing of the pumpkin's remains:
• Carve pumpkins on a newspaper away from the kitchen sink.
• Do not put pulp and seeds into the garbage disposal or toilet.
• Instead, throw all pumpkin-related material and newspaper in the garbage.
• For those who recycle, put the remnants in a compost pile.
And the treat for following this recommendation – pumpkin carvers can use the pulp and seeds for Halloween desserts, breads and muffins. Search the Internet for recipes that use both the pulp and seeds.
October 10, 2011 8:57 pm
Some people judge older food by smelling or looking at it, but what many don’t know is that some types of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness don’t affect the smell, taste or appearance of the food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It might seem like a no-brainer, but there really is no way of telling how good leftovers are if you don’t throw them out within three or four days. Organizing your refrigerator can help.
After coming home from the grocery store, many perishables can start to turn in as little as one hour, so it’s important to unpack your food items and place them appropriately in your home. Even different sections in your fridge can make a difference. The back of the fridge is the coldest area and is the perfect spot for milk, eggs or other dairy products. Milk should be thrown out one week after the sell-by date, while eggs last much longer, three to five weeks.
Raw meat, fish or poultry should be placed on plates and put towards the back of the fridge, but make sure to put these on lower shelves. This will prevent them from dripping or contaminating other foods. As always, if you aren’t using them for a few days, it’s always best to freeze.
Never pack your fridge too full. Spread out your items in the fridge to make sure there’s enough room for air to circulate throughout. For the freezer section, don’t stack foods until they are completely frozen through.
For cold cuts, cheeses and fresh fruits and veggies, Tupperware or other plastic containers with lids on them always extend shelf life. In addition, check your fridge temperature and make sure it’s set between 37 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit; the freezer should be set at 0 degrees.
By taking these simple steps, you can ensure that your food stays fresh longer and that everything you serve to your family is bacteria-free and healthy.
Source: Consumer Reports
October 10, 2011 8:57 pm
By Barbara Pronin
Setting a competitive sale price, most REALTORS® agree, is arguably the best way to speed up the sale of your home in today’s market. In addition to pricing your home right, you need to do everything you can to make your home stand out from the competition.
To do that, try to change your mindset and look at the property from the point of view of the buyer:
Start at the curb – What does the buyer see first? Keep the walkway neat, trim plants and hedges, replace worn front door or screen doors.
Focus on the entry – Potential buyers entering the home should see as spacious an interior as possible. Remove clutter, even small pieces of furniture that ‘close off’ further entry instead of inviting it.
Remove the personal factor – Shelves full of bowling trophies or your personal collections can be distracting to a buyer who is trying to ‘see himself’ in the living space.
Make small repairs – Replace that cracked light switch cover. Repair or replace a broken tile or a chip in the bathroom sink. Even taping back wires from audio or computer systems can increase a room’s appeal.
Make small updates – Brighter light fixtures, new cabinet door handles in the kitchen, or updating to modern bathroom accessories can go a long way toward giving your home a fresh, new look.
Scrub, scrub, scrub – New kitchen appliances, especially stoves, are a plus, but if you can’t replace the appliance, make sure oven racks, broiler pans and burner surfaces are scrupulously clean and shiny.
Add some "bling" – Brighter lighting, a shiny mirror in the hallway, fresh new towels, or a crystal vase of fresh flowers on the dining room table are small and inexpensive touches that can attract and please potential buyers.
If you need a reality check, take a walk through an open house or two in your neighborhood and compare your home to the competition. Then, adjust your price and/or make the small changes that make your home the best buy on the block.
October 10, 2011 8:57 pm
One of the nation’s largest professional associations of real estate appraisers recently released a form intended to help analyze values of energy-efficient home features.
An industry leader in green valuation, the Appraisal Institute issued the form as an optional addendum to Fannie Mae Form 1004, the appraisal industry’s most widely used form for mortgage lending purposes. Used by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration, Form 1004 is completed by appraisers to uphold safe and sound lending. Currently, the contributory value of a home’s green features is rarely part of the equation.
The Appraisal Institute’s addendum allows appraisers to identify and describe a home’s green features, from solar panels to energy-saving appliances. Form 1004 devotes limited attention to energy efficient features, so green data usually doesn’t appear in the appraisal report, or it is included in a lengthy narrative that often is ignored.
Appraisal Institute President Joseph C. Magdziarz, MAI, SRA, points out that the Appraisal Institute’s form also will make it easier for appraisers to determine whether recent home sales should be used as comparable sales. Sales that are truly comparable are key components in determining a property’s value.
“We hope lenders, home builders, real estate agents and homeowners will take advantage of this new tool,” Magdziarz says. “Mortgage lenders who want to see energy features analyzed should request the green addendum to be included with Form 1004. We also encourage lenders to provide the green addendum to homeowners so they can fill it out and provide it to their appraiser. If a new home is being appraised, home builders can use the addendum to provide data to appraisers. Real estate agents also can use the data to help populate the MLS.”
For more information, visit www.appraisalinstitute.org.
October 7, 2011 2:57 pm
In a season of shorter days and colder weather, Steven May, a national pet expert shares health care tips and safeguards for the fall season.
“Believe it or not, pet care tips do change from season to season," says May. Listed below, are the top five pet care tips for dogs and cats.
• Purchase reflective collars and leashes. This will help drivers see you in the dim-light hours.
• Purchase reflective sweaters and jackets for the cooler days and nights.
• Pay attention to any indoor plants that may be toxic to dogs.
• Clean and dry all paws and pads after each walk or outdoor activity. Your dog’s paws should stay dry at all times.
• Be prepared for the holiday travel period. Make sure your dog is current with all his/her vaccinations.
Bonus Tip: Halloween is just around the corner. Remember chocolate is toxic. Always inform and teach your children to be very careful when handling candy around pets.
• Clean the cat litter box after each use. Pet parents that have multiple litter boxes need to clean constantly.
• Replace your entire litter box, from top to bottom. It is a good practice to replace and purchase a litter box at least two times yearly. The use of cleaning products and your cat constantly using the box can stain, scratch and wear it out.
• Purchase a reflective breakaway collar. This will help drivers see your cat(s) in the dim-light hours.
• Tie-up and secure all electrical cords inside the home.
• Pay attention to any indoor plants that may be toxic to cats.
For more information, visit dailygrowlblog.com.
October 7, 2011 2:57 pm
Increased lending to creditworthy home buyers and more loan modifications and short sales are necessary to reduce the rising inventory of foreclosed homes and help stabilize and revitalize the housing industry and economy, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.
That was the message delivered recently by Allan Dechert, 2011 president of the New Jersey Association of REALTORS®, who testified on NAR’s behalf before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development regarding new ideas to address foreclosures.
“As the leading advocate for homeownership, NAR knows that foreclosures don’t just affect the families that lose their homes—communities, the housing market and the economy all suffer,” says Dechert. “Ensuring credit availability to qualified buyers and helping more distressed homeowners with loan modifications and short sales will help reduce the growing inventory of foreclosed homes and ensure that housing leads the way out of today’s economic struggles.”
Dechert says that creditworthy consumers continue to have difficulties securing fair and affordable loans despite their proven ability to afford the monthly payment. He says that NAR supports responsible lending standards; however, unnecessarily tight credit restrictions are putting downward pressure on home values, increasing the number of homeowners whose mortgage exceeds the value of their home, and adding to the number of foreclosures.
“Increased fees, higher downpayments and reduced loan limits are making it harder for borrowers to obtain safe and sound mortgage financing products. Greater access to financing for qualified borrowers and investors could help absorb the excess inventory of foreclosed properties,” says Dechert.
In testimony, NAR also urged the lending industry to take greater action to keep struggling families in their homes through loan modifications that reduce the probability of default and prevent further increases to the large inventory of foreclosed properties. Helping more families remain current on their mortgage by significantly reducing their monthly mortgage payment will allow them to remain in the home that they worked so hard to obtain and reduce the impact of foreclosures on local home prices.
Dechert says that continued short sale delays are also contributing to foreclosures and urged lenders and servicers to quickly approve reasonable short sale offers that would allow homeowners to avoid foreclosure. The current short sale process can be time-consuming and inefficient, and many would-be buyers end up walking away from a sale that could have saved a homeowner from foreclosure.
“Loan modifications—and short sales for those unable to meet their mortgage obligations—help stabilize home values and neighborhoods, and limit the losses incurred by lenders, the federal government and taxpayers,” says Dechert. “More must be done to streamline short sale transactions, since many potential home buyers are simply choosing to walk away from transactions due to the length of time it takes for lenders to approve and complete these sales.”
For more information, visit www.realtor.org.
October 7, 2011 2:57 pm
Halloween is an exciting time of year for kids, and to help ensure that they have a safe holiday, here are some tips to keep in mind throughout the season:
All Dressed Up:
• Plan costumes that are bright and reflective. Make sure that shoes fit well and that costumes are short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement or contact with flame.
• Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives. Hats should fit properly to prevent them from sliding over eyes.
• When shopping for costumes, wigs and accessories, look for and purchase those with a label clearly indicating they are flame resistant.
• If a sword, cane, or stick is a part of your child's costume, make sure it is not sharp or too long. A child may be easily hurt by these accessories if he or she stumbles or trips.
• Obtain flashlights with fresh batteries for all children and their escorts.
• Teach children how to call 9-1-1 (or their local emergency number) if they have an emergency or become lost.
Home Safe Home:
• To keep homes safe for visiting trick-or-treaters, homeowners should remove from the porch and front yard anything a child could trip over such as garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations.
• Homeowners should check outdoor lights and replace burnt-out bulbs.
• Wet leaves should be swept from sidewalks and steps.
• Restrain pets so they do not inadvertently jump on or bite a trick-or-treater.
On the Trick-or-Treat Trail:
• A parent or responsible adult should always accompany young children on their neighborhood rounds.
• If your older children are going alone, plan and review an acceptable route. Agree on a specific time when they should return home.
• Only go to homes with a porch light on and never enter a home or car for a treat.
• Remind children to stay in a group and communicate where they will be going.
• Remain on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk.
• If no sidewalk is available, walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic.
• Never cut across yards or use alleys.
• Only cross the street as a group in established crosswalks (as recognized by local custom). Never cross between parked cars or out driveways.
• Don't assume the right of way. Motorists may have trouble seeing Trick-or-Treaters. Just because one car stops, doesn't mean others will.
• Law enforcement authorities should be notified immediately of any suspicious or unlawful activity.
• A good meal prior to parties and trick-or-treating will discourage youngsters from filling up on Halloween treats.
• Consider purchasing non-food treats for those who visit your home, such as coloring books, or pens and pencils.
• Wait until children are home to sort and check treats. Though tampering is rare, a responsible adult should closely examine all treats and throw away any spoiled, unwrapped or suspicious items.
• Try to ration treats for the days following Halloween.
Source: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
October 6, 2011 8:57 pm
Traffic infractions can vary from minor to very serious and how an insurance company rates them varies as well. Drivers should know how these types of infractions affect premiums and when to shop around for a better rate.
When a driver is given a ticket, it may cause an increase in premiums depending on the type. It may also cause a much higher increase if it is a major or serious infraction. Even with a serious infraction you can still shop for a better insurance rate as there are insurance companies who cater to this market specifically.
Minor Infractions Mean Smaller Increases
Drivers can generally expect that an insurance company will raise rates for some of the following, treating them as minor infractions:
• Speeding tickets for speeds less than 49 km/hr over (this may vary)
• Running a red light or stop sign
• Failure to obey a traffic sign
• Failure to signal before making a turn or changing lanes
• Following too closely (tailgating)
Most minor infractions will cause some type of increase. However, there are a few minor infractions that may not result in an increase at all, depending on the insurance company’s rules. An example of these would be a parking violation or a red light camera ticket.
Major Infractions Result in Higher Rates
Drivers can expect to see heftier increases on their insurance premiums in the event of a major traffic infraction. These infractions are considered more serious than a minor infraction and result in a higher insurance increase. Again, there are no hard and fast rules for what an insurance company will define as a major infraction, but the following will often make the list:
• Speeding tickets for speeds more than 50 km/hr over (again, this may vary)
• Speeding in a school zone
• Driving while uninsured
• Passing a school bus with red lights flashing
When a driver receives a ticket for a major infraction, odds are good their insurance will rise in accordance with the severity of the violation. Of course, each insurance company makes their own determination on rate increases and on what is considered a major offence.
Serious Infractions Mean Serious Consequences
A serious infraction is not just serious to insurance rates but can have legal consequences as well. These might include large fines, loss of driver’s license or even jail time. They are considered serious because they are usually very dangerous actions that could put lives in danger and in some cases have already caused injuries or death. Some of the actions that fall into this category include:
• Careless or dangerous driving
• Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
• Vehicular manslaughter
• Assault with a vehicle
• Failing to stop after an accident
• Failing to stop for a police officer
• Illegal street racing
Drivers who face these kinds of violations are often not thinking about their insurance rates at first and it may come as a surprise later when the rate increase occurs.
No matter the type of infraction, insurance companies can only charge an increased rate for a specific amount of time. This is generally three years (from the date of conviction, not the date that you got the ticket) but may vary from company to company. Be prepared by knowing exactly when the infraction will fall off and follow up on it. Some insurance companies will leave the increase in rate on the policy until the next renewal date. A new company, however, may not be bound by this, so be sure to take the time to shop around.
October 6, 2011 8:57 pm
Given the current economy and housing market, now is as good a time as ever to purchase real estate with the intent of renting. For investors looking to hold on to a property for the long haul, there is great money to be made with the right plan in place. However, nothing is ever a sure-shot. If you plan on picking up a piece of rental housing, be sure to avoid the following mistakes to ensure long-term success:
Don't assume a cheap deal is a good one. It's true that there are definitely inexpensive properties out on the market, but don't be too hasty when deciding to buy one. If the neighborhood or area is deserted and vacant, it won't be that appealing to future renters and you could run the risk of having your rental go uninhabited. Do some homework about the town, city or neighborhood before you sign the dotted line.
Don't overlook various costs. Sure, the price is attractive, but have you factored in closing costs? How about maintenance or repair costs? Do the math before buying so you can be sure to not bite off more than you can chew.
Every day your property is empty, you lose money. Avoid any type of extended vacancy in your property. If the property is empty, you aren't making any money. Between tenants, be sure to clean and repair quickly so that a new one can move in.
Understand that being a landlord is hard work. Don't assume that you will get to sit back and watch the rent checks flood in. Not only will there be maintenance work to do throughout the year, but you should also have concerns about finding the right tenants to rent the place. If your renters stop paying, it could take weeks or months to properly evict them. Some landlords may even run into issues relating to theft. Properly screen all possible candidates whenever possible.
Don't assume that owning a rental is the same as owning a home. There are many laws that vary by state that all landlords must abide by. Renters will always make various demands and requests and will definitely take up some of your time. Hiring a property manager is also an option, but with it comes yet another added expense. Make sure you are mentally and financially prepared to take on the task of becoming a landlord.
By being prepared and learning about what it truly takes to become a landlord, you can avoid making one of these common investor mistakes.
October 6, 2011 8:57 pm
We need to keep housing first on the nation’s public policy agenda, because housing and homeownership issues affect all Americans, and a housing recovery is necessary for the nation’s economic well-being.
That was the message delivered by National Association of REALTORS® President Ron Phipps recently during the New Solutions for America’s Housing Crisis forum, where he joined a panel of experts to discuss solutions for addressing the country’s housing and economic challenges. The event was hosted by Economic Policies for the 21st Century and the Progressive Policy Institute.
“As the leading advocate for homeownership, REALTORS® know that issues like affordable financing, natural disaster insurance, the mortgage interest deduction, and foreclosures and short sales don’t just affect people who own a home—homeownership shapes communities and strengthens the nation’s economy,” says Phipps. “America needs strong public policies that promote responsible, sustainable homeownership and that will help stabilize the nation’s housing market to support an economic recovery.”
Phipps said that housing is not recovering at the rate it should be and called on legislators and regulators to do no harm. He said that proposed legislation and regulatory rules or changes to homeownership tax benefits need to help America out of today’s economic struggles and not further harm consumer confidence or exacerbate problems within the fragile real estate industry.
Overly stringent standards and lower mortgage loan limits are preventing qualified borrowers from getting loans, and Phipps called on lenders and regulators to reduce the overcorrection in underwriting standards for mortgages. He urged support for policies that ensure qualified borrowers can obtain safe and sound mortgages in all markets at all times and encourage sound lending without high downpayment requirements.
“REALTORS® support strong underwriting, but too stringent standards are curtailing the ability of creditworthy consumers from obtaining mortgages to purchase a home, and that’s impacting the recovery,” says Phipps. “Making mortgages available to creditworthy home buyers and streamlining loan modifications and short sales will help stabilize and revitalize the housing industry and reduce the rising inventory of foreclosed homes.”
Phipps recommended that political and industry leaders work together to help reshape real estate and put the country back on the right track. “Our goal is to help ensure that anyone in this country who aspires to own their own home and can afford to do so is not denied the opportunity to build their future through homeownership,” Phipps says.
For more information, visit www.realtor.org.