August 24, 2011 8:57 pm
It has been a sweltering August, and with that comes ferocious summer storms that often include thunderstorms and lightening. Lightning can strike at an average current of 30,000 amps, the equivalent of 100 million volts of electrical potential. When lightening does bolt down, it is at a temperature of about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Statistically speaking, lightening storms are more responsible for injury, death and destruction each year than all hurricanes, tornadoes and floods combined. This statement is particularly true for the Northeast.
"Lightning striking a home can have a devastating impact on a family, even if no one is injured," says Kurt Detmer, vice president of marketing for a Michigan-based insurance company. "While it's true that lightning losses are generally a covered peril in most property insurance policies, many things can be lost that simply can't be restored. You can replace a damaged device, but personal photos, music, and other files stored on electronic devices can be irretrievably lost.” By following these few simple guidelines, you can keep your family safe and help prevent this sort of damage from ever occurring to your home.
Protect Your Personal Property
Every connection in your home is a potential route for lightning energy, including surface and buried connections, such as electrical, telephone, cable television and plumbing. Whole-house surge protection is ideally what you want to aim for. Surge breakers are available and can be installed on the main panel board. Alternatively, you can ask your utility company to install surge suppression right at your meter.
Equip devices separately, if possible. Things like telephones, computers and garage door openers can all be equipped with individual transient voltage surge suppressors (TVSS). These have three sets of MOVs (metal oxide varistor) rated at least 250-300 joules. If your device has built-in surge protection, MOVs are listed on their power supply circuit boards. Check all of your important electronics, and find out which of them needs to be protected.
Quality surge protectors are usually more expensive, however, provide better protection. In particular, higher-end surge protectors can activate thermal cut outs to prevent fire in the case of MOV failure. Most general protectors cannot do this.
Lightning rods are also a great idea employed by many. These need to be designed and installed by professionals, but they will provide additional protection. Or, if you want to do it the good old-fashioned way, unplug your electronics during a lightning storm. It really is the best protection for any electronic device.
By being conscientious of lightning damage that can potentially harm your home, you can take preventative measures to protect yourself, your family and your belongings.
August 24, 2011 8:57 pm
By Alexis McGee
With foreclosure numbers in the tens of thousands nearly everywhere across the country, many Americans who have never invested in real estate are wondering if now is the right time to find a great deal. The answer is yes as the indicators are strong for investors. Banks are selling foreclosed properties at huge discounts and strapped homeowners with foreclosure looming are looking for ways out of their predicament, including selling to investors.
Done right, buying a home pre-foreclosure creates a win-win situation. The homeowner gets needed cash, and the buyer, a solid investment property. Whether you opt to buy a discounted REO property from a bank or lender, or from an individual homeowner through a real estate agent, it’s essential to pay attention to the details.
1. Understand your state foreclosure laws. Before you set out to buy a foreclosure from anyone, it’s imperative that you understand the foreclosure laws of your individual state. Laws vary dramatically state by state and affect the foreclosure process timeline as well as sellers’ and buyers’ legal rights.
2. Use the right lead sources. Locate solid potential property leads with the help of reputable foreclosure listing websites and a professional real estate agent. Alternatively, you can manually cull county property records at your county recorders office.
3. Beware marketing come-ons like “instant riches.” Avoid websites or foreclosure “gurus” that promise instant riches with no effort and no money, or their “secrets” for a price. Keep your wallet in your pocket until you have thoroughly “Googled” the person and the company. If a website requires a user fee and won’t allow you a free trial first, look elsewhere.
4. Do your homework before you buy. Know the local market and the current prices for comparable properties in the area, as well as what kind of financing is available. Your real estate professional can help you with this. Even in today’s tight credit markets, money is available. If you plan to fix up a property then turn around and sell it quickly, don’t overlook a short-term cash loan from an individual money partner.
5. Investors: build solid relationships with listing agents for lender-owned (REO) properties. These are the people banks and lenders work with to sell the properties they own. With the right relationship, REO listing agents will contact you directly (before the property hits the Multiple Listing Service) so you get first shot at the good deals.
6. Know the quick sale market value of a property. Whether shopping for your own home or investing, before you buy a property, you must calculate the market value of the home if you needed to sell tomorrow. That value, minus your costs to fix up the property, to hold it, and to market and sell it, is the fair price to pay for the property today. If you’re buying the property as an investor, include your profit.
7. Know your not-to-exceed offer price. Set the number based on your calculations above, and stick to it. If you’re buying the home for your residence, you may have a tiny bit of wiggle room, but as an investor, it’s an absolute top offer price.
8. Look for motivated sellers. All discounts—read that "asking prices"—are not equal. REO lenders with overflowing properties in their portfolios likely will be willing to cut prices more significantly in order to remove the nonperforming asset off their books, especially given today’s credit crunch. For pre-foreclosure buyers, sellers need to understand how selling you their home will help them avoid foreclosure and put cash in their pockets for a fresh start.
9. Follow-up and patience is key. Whether you’re buying a bank-owned property or pre-foreclosure from a homeowner, success is in the details. Address and plan for all of them. Patience is critical, but as a buyer, time is on your side. Yes, it takes time and effort to buy foreclosures at a discount, but with the right knowledge and tenacity, your first deal is just around the corner.
For more information, visit www.foreclosures.com.
August 24, 2011 8:57 pm
Owning a vehicle can be enjoyable, but it also comes with a cost. On top of the purchase price, gas, maintenance, repairs and insurance costs can quickly add up. While insurance is mandatory for most people, overpaying for coverage can be avoided. Here are seven tips that may lead to lower auto insurance costs. With a little time spent, big savings could just be around the corner.
1. Shop around. With so many insurance companies on the market, collecting all the required information to make a decision can be overwhelming. Online comparison sites can do the analysis based on the information entered to present quotes for over 30 companies and provide the lowest rate available through its network. There’s also no need to wait for renewal papers to arrive, sometimes the available savings may well off-set the potential penalty.
2. Review current coverage. Most drivers are required to have liability coverage and many people choose to add comprehensive coverage. However, collision coverage may not be necessary for everyone. Collision coverage handles costs associated with damage sustained to the policy holder’s car. If the vehicle is very old, has high mileage, or is in poor condition, then it may not be worth the extra premium costs to receive this coverage.
3. Consider increasing the deductible. The deductible is the amount car owners are responsible for paying when a claim is made. A higher deductible would mean the insurance company pays less in the event of a claim. This decrease in risk is then transferred to the consumer in reduced premiums. There isn’t one ideal number for this as it all depends on each consumer’s comfort zone. There may be a preference to save more now with a higher deductible, or to have increased financial security in the event of a claim with a lower deductible.
4. Research discounts. There is power in numbers. The following are discounts that some insurance companies might consider when pricing a policy.
• Profession – By working in certain fields or holding a professional designation, there may be discounts available, depending on the insurance company. The quickest way to find out is by contacting your professional association or a broker.
• Group Affiliation – Alumni groups or trade unions may also provide discounts on insurance to its members.
• Auto clubs – Specialty vehicle clubs may have specially negotiated rates with certain insurers, thus offering lower premiums. Begin by checking the membership package, or contacting the current broker directly.
5. Combining insurance. Purchasing home insurance from the same company that provides the auto coverage may result in a savings of 5-10% off both premiums. Furthermore, adding another vehicle in the household to the same policy could lead to further discounts.
6. Installing winter tires. For those living in harsh winter conditions, this is more a matter of safety. Taking precautions to decrease the likelihood of accidents during dangerous conditions should always be considered. In fact, some insurance companies will take this into account and may offer a discount.
7. Accident forgiveness. Even the safest driver is susceptible to threats on the road from uncontrollable factors, like other drivers. Accident forgiveness will eliminate the effects that the first accident-related claim would have on premiums. Unlike the other tips that result in immediate savings, this will probably cost extra in the beginning. However, it may be well worth the additional cost so that effects on insurance rates are minimized in the event that you have an at-fault accident.
Stay informed and check for potential savings annually whenever their policy is up for renewal. The company that had the best rate for a specific car and driver profile last year may not be the one that can offer the best rate again. It doesn’t take long to grab hold of those savings; all you have to do is shop around.
For more information, visit InsuranceHotline.com.
August 23, 2011 8:57 pm
The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), in consultation with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has announced a Request For Information (RFI), seeking input on new options for selling single-family real estate owned (REO) properties held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises), and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).
The RFI’s objective is to help address current and future REO inventory. It will explore alternatives for maximizing value to taxpayers and increasing private investment in the housing market, including approaches that support rental and affordable housing needs.
"While the Enterprises will continue to market individual REO properties for sale, FHFA and the Enterprises seek input on possible pooling of REO properties in situations where such pooling, combined with private management, may reduce Enterprise credit losses and help stabilize neighborhoods and home values," says FHFA Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco. "Partnerships involving Enterprise properties may reduce taxpayer losses and meet the Enterprises’ responsibility to bring stability and liquidity to housing markets. We seek input on these important questions."
"Millions of families nationwide have seen their home values impacted as their neighbors' homes fall into foreclosure or become abandoned," says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "At the same time, with half of all renters spending more than a third of their income on housing and a quarter spending more than half, we have to find and promote new ways to alleviate the strain on the affordable rental market. Taking steps to encourage private investment in REO properties and transition them into productive use will help stabilize neighborhoods and home values at a critical time for our economy."
For more information visit www.fhfa.gov.
August 23, 2011 8:57 pm
By Paige Tepping
While technology is supposed to make our lives easier, it has many of us feeling like we can never fully disconnect. Whether it’s staying in touch with friends and family, keeping tabs on social media, downloading the latest app, checking the weather or finding the closest coffee shop, most of us feel like an essential part of us is missing if our phone isn’t within reach at all times.
But sometimes a vacation—or even just a little time away—from your phone can do wonders. Here are three simple ways to painlessly disconnect.
1. Shut it off. Getting to sleep at a decent hour is hard enough with all the things racing through our minds as we get ready to call it a night. Turning off your phone at night is a great way to temporarily set aside tasks that didn’t get completed in a given day and mentally prepare to hit the ground running the next morning. You can even resurrect that old alarm clock. Waking up to your favorite talk show might be the boost you need to get out of bed in the morning.
2. Take a time out. Designate a certain amount of time each day when the phone, computer or any other technology is off limits. Whether it be right when you get home from work or around dinner time, take the time to reconnect with your family or get outside and enjoy the nice weather.
3. Pick a hobby. Have you always wanted to take a photography class or learn how to cook? Once you gain back the time you used to spend on the phone or on the computer, you can invest that time in learning how to do something new.
August 23, 2011 8:57 pm
With kids heading back to school, everyone should take extra care to keep children safe.
“It’s going to take time for everyone to get back into the school routine,” says Craig Phelps, senior assistant vice president with Amica Insurance. “Many children will be going off to school for the first time, so they may not be as careful as they should be when crossing streets or running for their buses. Others may feel more comfortable returning to school, but they also may be more likely to take risks, such as failing to look both ways when crossing the street.”
That’s why it’s so important to be extra vigilant this time of year, Phelps said, especially around school buses and bus stops.
The National Safety Council notes that most children who lose their lives in bus-related crashes are pedestrians, four to seven years old, who are hit by the bus or by motorists illegally passing a stopped school bus. “The area 10 feet around a school bus is where children are in the most danger of being hit,” according to the NSC website. “Stop your car far enough from the bus to allow children the necessary space to safely enter and exit the bus.”
Here are a few tips on how you can be more alert behind the wheel:
• Slow down and be alert, especially in residential areas and school zones. Children are unpredictable.
• Watch for children at intersections and near the road – especially in the morning and after school hours.
• Take extra care when entering or exiting driveways.
• Beware of children darting out from between parked cars.
• Be careful when following or approaching a school bus, especially near school bus stops.
• All 50 states require motorists in both directions on undivided roadways to stop for school buses that have stopped to let children enter or exit the bus.
• Don’t pass a school bus on the right.
Parents and children should remember:
• Try to cross streets at corners, using crosswalks and traffic signals when available.
• Don’t run into a street or between parked cars.
• Get to the bus stop early and stand well back from the curb, especially when the bus is approaching.
• Walk in front of the bus so the driver can see you. Don’t board the bus until the driver says it’s okay.
• If you drop something, tell the bus driver. Don’t reach for anything under or in front of a bus where a driver might not be able to see you.
• Don’t talk to strangers at a bus stop, and don’t get into a stranger’s car.
• Remove headphones and put away cell phones before crossing the street.
• If you’re riding your bike to school, always wear a helmet and follow the “rules of the road.”
“We all need to work together to protect our children,” Phelps says. “Let’s get the school year off to a safe start.”
Sources: www.nsc.org, Amica Insurance
August 22, 2011 8:57 pm
Back to school season is upon us and with it comes a whirlwind of activity for most households. It seems for most of us that there are too many things to do and not enough time or energy to get it all done. In this day and age many households seek outside help, including house cleaning services. Professional house cleaning is one of the fastest growing home services, and is being adopted by a higher percentage of households every year. It is also a very important decision for homeowners to make; they are giving these service providers very intimate access to their most private spaces and information.
A good place to begin your search is to ask friends, coworkers and more who they use and why. A membership to a service like Angie's List can also be helpful. It has independent reviews of providers and grades them among many categories. Once you have selected a few potential candidates, make sure to ask the following questions before you settle on one. The answers they provide can be critical to making the right choice for your home.
Is the house cleaning service you are evaluating bonded and insured? Overlook this and you could find yourself on the hook for injuries that occur in your home. No professional provider would go without insurance, so know that hiring that nice independent cleaner could have serious financial implications if they get hurt on the job.
Will your new house cleaning service offer a guarantee? A good house cleaner will have a written guarantee as to the quality of the service they will provide and what is included. One thing the really good service providers guarantee is your day of service. You want to know that after you get the home all ready for your new house cleaning provider, they will show up as scheduled.
How do they pay their employees? If you hire a company, make sure that their staff is made up of employees of the company and not independent contractors. If instead you hire an individual cleaner, you can almost guarantee that great price comes at the compromise of ethical tax payments. Avoid potential embarrassment by making sure this is all covered by your new house cleaning service, otherwise it is your responsibility.
How many people will they use to clean your home? Will it be the same people each time? Good companies tend to work in teams. This provides reliability and consistency. While it is impossible to have the exact same people every visit, a good provider should try to give you the same team on each visit.
What type of cleaning solutions will your house cleaning provider use? Will you need to provide anything? Going green is a big deal. It provides you with a safer home and potentially reduced risk of exposure to toxic chemicals.
How much will they charge and what’s included? This seems like an obvious question, but do not leave it open ended. Ask for a quote for your initial cleaning and for ongoing service. A good service provider will also provide you with a place to verify what is included in your cleaning service. A link to a website should suffice, or in a service policies handbook. It needs to be spelled out so that you are both on the same page.
By asking these basic questions, you can make sure you feel comfortable with your new provider before they enter your home.
For more information, visit www.betterlifemaids.com.
August 22, 2011 8:57 pm
In this summer of record-breaking heat, it is more important than ever to check your air conditioning unit for flooding problems.
“Air conditioning condenser units can produce up to two gallons of water a day, and this can overflow the drip pan and cause water damage in your home,” says Todd Snyder, president of a water removal service company.
Snyder said algae build-up in the condenser drain is a typical culprit, clogging the drain pipes and causing them to back up. He offers five timely tips to prevent water damage:
1. Run bleach down the water drain or use bleach tablets. This will kill algae and mold and keep the pipe clear.
2. Reroute the drain line away from your home to keep it from seeping inside the foundation or basement windows. Solutions include securing a length of PVC pipe or garden hose to divert the water.
3. Check to make sure the drip pan in the attic unit is not rusted or leaking. Otherwise your ceiling and floor could sustain water damage.
4. Clean all interior water damage immediately. “It has to be done quickly and completely to prevent dangerous mold from growing,” says Snyder.
5. Schedule an annual service check by a qualified heat and air conditioning specialist. It should ideally be performed before or after the hottest months. The drip pan should be cleaned under the coil and the condensation hoses checked and cleaned.
Some may not think about their A/C other than its ability to work when it is needed most. However, unit problems can result in overflowing drip pans and clogged lines.
“This can result in anything from water stains on your ceiling to, in the worst cases, a flooded house,” Snyder said.
For more information, visit http://www.floodkings.com.
August 22, 2011 8:57 pm
Second quarter 2011 commercial and multifamily mortgage loan originations were 107% higher than during the same period last year and 52% higher than the revised figures for the first quarter of 2011, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Quarterly Survey of Commercial/Multifamily Mortgage Bankers Originations.
“Commercial/multifamily mortgage borrowing and lending continues to rise from the depths of 2009 and 2010,” says Jamie Woodwell, MBA’s vice president of Commercial Real Estate Research. “Greater stability in property fundamentals and prices, and an improving sales market, are providing greater clarity for borrowers and lenders alike. Property values and interest rates—coupled with job growth, consumer spending, household growth and other macro-economic trends that drive demand for commercial real estate—will be keys to how property owners seek and qualify for mortgage financing going forward.”
The 107% overall increase in commercial/multifamily lending activity during the second quarter of 2011 was driven by increases in originations for all property types. When compared to the second quarter of 2010, the increase included a 141% increase in loans for health care properties, a 125% increase in loans for hotel properties, a 116% increase in loans for retail properties, a 114% increase in loans for multifamily properties, a 54% increase in office property loans, and a 34% increase in industrial property loans.
Among investor types, loans for conduits for CMBS saw an increase of 638% compared to last year’s second quarter. There was also a 150% increase in loans for commercial bank portfolios, an 87% increase in loans for life insurance companies, and a 58% increase in loans for Government Sponsored Enterprises (or GSEs – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).
Second quarter 2011 commercial/multifamily mortgage originations were 52% higher than revised originations in the first quarter of 2011. Compared to the first quarter, second quarter originations for health care properties saw a 161% increase. There was an 87% increase for hotel properties, a 73% increase for retail properties, a 47% increase for multifamily properties, a 31% increase for office properties, and a 6% increase for industrial properties.
Among investor types, loans for conduits for CMBS saw an increase in loan volume of 210% compared to the first quarter, loans for commercial bank portfolios saw an increase in loan volume of 41% compared to the first quarter, originations for life insurance companies increased 37% from the first quarter to the second quarter of 2011, and loans for GSEs increased by 20% during the same time span.
Index values for the first quarter were revised to reflect updated information submitted by survey participants.
To view the report, visit:
For more information, visit www.mortgagebankers.org.
August 19, 2011 8:57 pm
A recent study of over 1,400 U.S. consumers conducted by Boston-based custom research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey found that smartphones and tablets are not only more popular than ever, they are replacing relatively new technology like portable gaming systems as well as devices that have long resisted substitution, like TVs and laptops.
The increase in quality and capabilities of mobile devices has sparked major changes in consumer habits. For example: over half of smartphone and tablet users play games on their device and two-thirds of these people are using other devices less for gaming (particularly portable gaming systems).
Additionally, nearly two-thirds of tablet owners have used these devices to watch feature-length movies. As tablets become more mainstream, the data indicate that stand-alone DVD players will go the way of the horse and buggy.
“The increasing ubiquity and capabilities of smartphones, tablets and the mobile networks that support them are having enormous implications for the entertainment and consumer electronics industries,” says Chris Neal, vice president of Chadwick Martin Bailey’s Tech and Telecom Practice. “Content owners and advertisers of all stripes stand to benefit, while many specialty device manufacturers will need to course correct if they haven’t already.”
Not all consumer behavior changes are a zero-sum game, however. Overall consumption of entertainment, like watching videos on YouTube, social networking, and watching TV and feature length movies has increased as a result of increased smartphone and tablet ownership.
Everyday activities have also felt the effects of the mobile device revolution: 80% of mobile device owners have used their device for mapping and getting directions. Among these users, 89% say they’re using other methods like stand-alone GPS devices less.
The study also looks at behavioral differences by gender, age, income, region and device ownership. The research also takes a pulse on likely future trends: for instance, 26% of U.S. adults claim they are considering buying a tablet in the coming year.
For more information, visit http://www.cmbinfo.com.