July 12, 2011 8:57 pm
Nobody is perfect and oftentimes, consumers make mistakes when shopping that may end up costing them. Here are the top five mistakes consumers make and tips for what you can do to protect yourself in the future:
1. You Don't Know Who You're Dealing With
You wouldn't buy a watch from the sketchy guy on the corner, so why entrust your credit card to a questionable website? The same is true for flyers you receive in the mail for discount services, or an unsolicited e-mail offer. Before you are wooed by a low price:
-Google the name of the company or site plus the word "complaint" or "scam" and see what you get.
-Look up the company's standing on the Better Business Bureau website (bbb.org).
-Carefully scrutinize any "free introductory offer" you receive. (Tip: If they require a credit card number, you should be wary of how "free" it really is).
2. You Forget to Save Receipts
No receipt means no proof of purchase. Without it, you'll only receive store credit if you need to return unused, still-sealed and still-tagged items. Keep receipts for minor purchases in a file for at least one month, particularly for those on your credit card (so you can compare them to your monthly statement). For items with warranties, staple the receipt to the owner's manual or keep in a separate "warranty" file. If you're sending the receipt off to claim a rebate, make a copy of it first for your records.
3. You Don't Use a Product Immediately After Purchase
Return policies and warranties start from the date of purchase. Even if it's July and you bought a snow blower on clearance, remember to start it to make sure it's working. It's also smart to check products you buy and plan to give as gifts at a later date: Do they work properly and are all the parts in the box?
4. You Don't Read Contracts Carefully
When you sign up for a cell phone plan, cable or satellite TV service, gym membership, or diet program, you are most likely agreeing to pay a monthly fee for a specified length of time and to owe a cancellation fee if you decide not to fulfill the terms of your contract. Read all the fine print before signing anything and make sure anything the salesperson tells you is also listed in writing. Ask plenty of questions. Are any additional charges such as taxes or "service fees" above the quoted price? Can you freeze your plan if you go on vacation? Is there a pay-per-month plan at a slightly higher rate? It may be worth considering, if you're not sure you're in for the long haul.
Remember to keep track of contract dates. Some services, such as cable TV and phone companies offer "introductory" deals of a flat rate for the first year or two and then significantly increase the price when the term is over.
5. You Don't Examine Warranty Policies
Right after buying a product, check the length of time of your warranty coverage and exactly what the warranty covers: Parts only? Repairs? Replacement?
If you save your receipt, you usually don't need to send in the Warranty Card. Companies typically just use these to collect customer data; the main consumer benefit is that you'll be alerted if the item is recalled.
When making a warranty claim, gather all paperwork before you call or e-mail, including your sales receipt, the model number of the malfunctioning item, and a detailed description of what went wrong. Take careful notes on your phone call, including date, time, and full name or customer-service ID number of anyone you speak with (or print out any e-mail correspondence). Get concrete instructions, including expected dates or time frames, and follow up if they don't follow through.
July 12, 2011 8:57 pm
It's often hard to decide when to repair older appliances and when to replace them. If your home's refrigerator is puttering, hissing or leaking, it may be time to make a game-time decision to ensure that you're never without a fridge in the home.
A good rule of thumb is to compare the cost of each. If replacing your fridge will cost you more than half the price of buying a new one, you're better off taking the plunge and purchasing anew. If the replacement will only cost a couple hundred dollars or less and your refrigerator isn't too old, replacing will be the better bet.
Side-by-side fridge/freezer combos with icemakers attached are more than twice as repair prone as top-or-bottom freezer models without an icemaker. The repair rate for side-by-side refrigerators with an icemaker is 36%; the rate for top-and-bottom freezers with an icemaker was 28%; and the rate for top-and-bottom freezers without an ice maker is 15%.
Always remember, the age and configuration of your refrigerator should always be taken into consideration. Generally, built-in fridges are worth repairing; side-by-sides should be considered repairable within five years; Bottom-freezers should be repaired within seven years; top-freezers should be repaired within three years and replaced if they are older than seven years.
Although replacing an entire appliance is an expense that no homeowner is ever ready for, there is a benefit to replacement. When shopping for a new fridge, find a model that uses less energy than older ones, particularly one that is Energy Star qualified. This will help you save on your monthly utility bills and assist your transition into becoming a green household.
For more information about repairing or replacing a fridge, visit consumerreports.org.
July 12, 2011 8:57 pm
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently expressed support for a five-year extension of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to ensure that the federally-backed flood insurance program remains efficient and effective in protecting flood-prone properties and creates more stability in the housing market.
Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, Barry Rutenberg, first vice chairman of NAHB and a home builder from Gainesville, Fla., told lawmakers that because the NFIP has had to undergo a series of short-term extensions over recent years, it has created a high level of uncertainty in the program and caused severe problems for the nation’s already troubled housing markets.
“Unfortunately during this latest interruption, many home buyers faced delayed or cancelled closings due to the inability to obtain NFIP insurance for a mortgage,” says Rutenberg. “In other instances, builders themselves were forced to halt or postpone construction on a new home due to the lack of flood insurance approval, adding unneeded delay and job loss. NAHB believes a long-term extension will ensure the nation’s real estate markets operate smoothly and allow the nation’s home builders to continue to provide safe, decent and affordable housing to consumers.”
The current reauthorization of the program expires on Sept. 30.
While NAHB supports reforms of the NFIP to ensure its financial stability, Rutenberg urges lawmakers to proceed with care, noting that steps that Congress takes to bolster the program’s balance sheet have the potential to greatly impact housing affordability and the ability of local communities to exercise control over their growth and development options.
To improve the solvency of the program and its attractiveness to potential policy holders, NAHB supports several reforms designed to allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the NFIP to better adapt to changes in risk, inflation and the marketplace:
• Creating a more expansive “deluxe” flood insurance option, or a menu of insurance options from which policyholders could pick and choose, could provide additional homeowner benefits while aiding program solvency.
• Raising the minimum deductible for paid claims would provide a strong incentive for homeowners to mitigate and protect their homes, thereby reducing potential future losses to the NFIP.
• Establishing a Technical Mapping Advisory Council, as seen in House bill H.R. 1309, would ensure the scientific validity of Flood Insurance Rate Maps.
• Keeping the Special Flood Hazard Area and any mapping to the 100-year flood level (1% annual flood risk), because any expansion would substantially increase the cost of home construction and severely impact housing affordability.
Established in 1968, the NFIP offers affordable flood insurance to homeowners and businesses in flood plains and other low-lying areas that otherwise might not be able to obtain coverage.
More than 20,000 communities nationwide participate in the insurance program, which currently covers about 5.5 million policyholders.
For more information please visit www.nahb.org.
July 11, 2011 2:57 pm
Depending on the distance and type, moving can sometimes be a stressful time, requiring lots of patience and keen problem-solving skills. When all is said and done, some families may want to stay close for the summer to save funds and really settle in to the new area. If a vacation isn't in your near future, consider the following tips for planning the perfect "staycation."
Explore the local scene. Since you're new to the area (or even if you're not) go explore a nearby area that is brand new to you. Untouched stores and parks in your area could offer up some fun and change of scenery for you and your family. More active homeowners can try an elongated bike ride to new territories. There is a world of possibilities all around you.
Try a new restaurant and ask for recommendations. Finding new eateries is always a great way to explore. Ask locals for recommendations--it's a great way to make friends and find places that are worth your hard-earned time and money.
Check out local fairs and carnivals. Dig through the local papers and try to find surrounding fairs or carnivals to entertain the family with. Flea markets and farmers' markets are always fun to discover, and carnivals are also very popular throughout the summer months. With a little research, you could find hours' worth of fun and entertainment.
Plan a day trip. There is even more to enjoy if you're willing to take a drive. Check for sources of entertainment up to three hours away from your home. By expanding the circumference of your search, you can still stay within driving distance from your home and save on the cost of hotel rooms. Full-day trips can offer a break from your neighborhood locale and allow you to enjoy another town or city in the surrounding area.
A "staycation" can offer loads of fun for the entire family but still be affordable. For recent movers or those looking to cut back this summer, don't overlook the many options that await you right in your own backyard.
Source: Relocation.com Blog
July 11, 2011 2:57 pm
Despite the current recession that has maintained a firm grip on the U.S. real estate market, the majority of Americans still view homeownership as the American Dream, according to a recent survey by Money Management International.
The 2011 survey conducted on behalf of Money Management International (MMI) found 81% of people still place a lot of value in owning a home, considering it to still be a key component in achieving the American Dream.
Despite an overall feeling of optimism regarding homeownership, the number of people who rent has increased from 34% to 38% since December, reflecting a nationwide trend toward renting.
Some other significant findings in the survey include:
• Income is key when purchasing a home. A majority of respondents indicated that the ability to comfortably make a monthly payment is the most important factor to consider when purchasing a home. Only seven percent of respondents cited the ability to afford a down payment as a key factor when making the decision to become a homeowner.
• Owning a home is a good investment. According to survey results, 69% of people believe that owning a home is still a good investment, despite the housing bubble.
• The desire to own a home trumps renting. Reflecting attitudes consistent with the importance of homeownership to Americans, 66% indicated in the survey that they would prefer to purchase a home rather than rent if they were in the position to change residence.
• Lenders and financial professionals are the first choice when seeking help. When asked where they would turn in the event that they are unable to make their monthly mortgage or rent payment, 35% of people responded that they would contact a lender or financial professional. Attaining a second job was a close second, with 32% indicating they would look for more work in order to stay in their residence.
For more information, visit MoneyManagement.org.
July 11, 2011 2:57 pm
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced recently that HUD will provide $5.4 million to public housing authorities in 18 states to supply permanent housing and case management for 676 homeless Veterans in America. This is the fourth and final round of the FY 2010 Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) funding to support homeless Veterans.
HUD-VASH is a coordinated effort by HUD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and local housing authorities to provide permanent supportive housing for homeless Veterans.
“As our young men and women return from Afghanistan and Iraq, they deserve to be treated with dignity and honor. Yet our nation's Veterans are 50% more likely than the average American to become homeless,” says HUD Secretary Donovan. “These vouchers continue to get more of our Veterans off the streets and out of homeless shelters into permanent housing.”
“Our mission is to end Veterans’ homelessness,” says VA Secretary Shinseki. “This effort is an excellent example of how VA works with HUD and our community partners in that shared mission. The project-based vouchers will provide dedicated permanent housing for Veterans and allow them to live in support of each other, as neighbors.”
The vouchers announced are part of a set-aside of project-based vouchers HUD announced last September that would be competitively awarded to housing authorities that received HUD-VASH vouchers in 2008, 2009 or 2010. Under HUD’s project-based voucher program, housing authorities can assign voucher assistance to specific housing units. These vouchers will enable homeless Veterans to access affordable housing with an array of supportive services.
With the announcement, HUD will have funded 10,186 housing vouchers for homeless Veterans nationwide for FY2010. HUD will announce the 2011 HUD-VASH funding during the summer. VA Medical Centers provide supportive services and case management to eligible homeless Veterans.
Veterans are referred to the public housing authority for these vouchers, based upon a variety of factors, most importantly the need for and ability to benefit from supportive housing. Supportive housing includes both the financial help the voucher provides and the comprehensive case management that VAMC staff provides.
Veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program rent privately-owned housing and generally contribute no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. VA offers eligible homeless Veterans clinical and supportive services through its medical centers across the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico.
For more information, visit www.hud.gov and espanol.hud.gov.
July 8, 2011 8:57 pm
In cities and the suburbs, sometimes the air inside a home is more of a problem than the air outdoors. The sources of air pollution can come from anywhere—air fresheners you use to mask various odors, your shedding cat or dog, dusty furniture (and the aerosol spray you use to clean it), dust mites in bedding, a poorly ventilated kitchen range, and so on. If you want to neutralize and refresh your home, consider these easy steps to reduce the fumes.
Prevent problems. To cut down on dust mites, put your pillows, mattresses and box springs in dust mite-proof covers. Wash very dirty or dusty laundry in the hottest water. By doing so you’ll not only cut down on dust around the home, but you’ll protect your family from any sort of related allergens from popping up as well.
Ventiliate. Cooking, cleaning, using hair spray and polishing your nails can release volatile organic compounds that are linked to a variety of health problems. Use fans in the kitchen and bathroom to reduce your exposure and minimize humidity that can cause mold and mildew. Poor ventilation can allow pollutants to stay in the air.
Ban smoking. Don't smoke or allow others to do so in your home or car. Smoke is a hard smell to get out of clothes, fabrics, carpeting and drapery. The clinging odor will last awhile. Prevent any sort of lingering smell by not allowing smoke in your home.
Eliminate odors, don't mask them. Find the source of bad smells (bad food, musty sheets or blankets, pet-related smells, etc.) and tackle the problem the old fashioned way—by cleaning it up. Use a box of baking soda in the area instead of air fresheners, which cost more and can contain VOCs and phthalates.
Make your cleaning count. Because dust can harbor pollen, pet dander, bacteria, mites, mold and mildew, dust furnishings regularly with a damp rag or an electrostatically charged duster. Vacuum often, ideally with a low-emissions vacuum. There is no replacement for a hardcore cleanup.
Control critters. Seal cracks and crevices and properly seal and put food away. You'll be less apt to attract pests and need to use pesticides. To minimize your exposure to pet dander, banish pets from sleeping areas and upholstered furniture.
Rethink pricey fixes. There's little medical evidence that an air cleaner alone can ease allergies and asthma; try low-cost solutions first. There's also no proof that cleaning ducts prevents health problems or that dirty ducts increase airborne particulates.
If your home is stuffy and you want to decrease the amount of air pollution, try simple tactics first. By keeping your house clean and tidy, you’re already halfway there to improving your family’s air quality.
Source: Consumer Reports Health blog
July 8, 2011 8:57 pm
By Keith Loria
Most homeowners do a lot of work to get their house ready before placing it on the market. There’s cleaning, packing, de-cluttering and lots of yard work to make the home look its best. The one area that often is forgotten is the garage.
“The garage is the most overlooked aspect when preparing a home,” says Doreen Forbes, a personal moving consultant with a Michigan-based realty and moving company. “But the garage is a valuable addition and major priority for many prospective home buyers.”
A clean and useful garage is a highly marketable add-on for any property. Large garages are especially beneficial, since they can provide shelter for multiple vehicles, additional workspace and possibly even dedicated storage.
Most people can’t properly visualize what a garage can be if all they are seeing are old tools, boxes and junk piled everywhere. Even if you need to use some of the area for storage purposes, you should make sure everything is neat and organized.
“Cleaning, painting and organizing any garage can make it 100% more appealing to any potential buyer, for no significant investment of money and only a few hours labor,” says Ram Bhagwandin, owner of a contracting company in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. “There are few other interior staging solutions that work so well for so little investment of time and effort.”
You can also work with a home stager to help make the garage stand out to prospective buyers. Unlike other areas of the home, garages don’t tend to need costly fixtures or furniture.
“Garage staging is not difficult and does not need to be expensive,” Forbes says. “Keeping it presentable can be the difference between getting a terrific offer or seeing yet another buyer move on to the next home.”
Functionality is often key for many home buyers, and real estate experts say that buyers consistently cite storage, space and usefulness as the main criteria used to rate any garage.
The first thing you should do when preparing a garage is to remove all the junk that has collected over the years and organize everything on clean shelves. Vacuum up any dirt and do away with spider webs and bugs, which often find comfort in the corners of a garage.
“You should also make sure that the lighting works and all the electrical outlets are covered and working,” Bhagwandin says. “You can put industrial flooring in, paint the walls and ceiling and replace any coils or parts of the door that are rusty and not working properly.”
Also, if you have an automatic garage opener, you should make sure that everything is working properly.
There are also companies that specialize in making the garage a more useful part of the home, if you feel you need the assistance. Search online for local companies that help with custom, installed garage organization and storage systems.
So, while a garage may not bring buyers to the house, once it’s seen, it may the catalyst for making them stay.
July 8, 2011 8:57 pm
The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) has published a report “The State of Hispanic Homeownership” that offers an overview of compelling data on the Hispanic home buyer market and why it is poised—due to its population size, high desire and buying clout—to drive first-time home buyer purchases and accelerate the nation’s economic recovery.
According to the report, minorities and immigrants will drive growth in housing demand due to their population size, age and greater propensity to be married with children. In particular, within the next 15 years, they are expected to drive demand for condominiums, smaller starter homes and first trade-up homes. They are also expected to represent a rapidly growing segment of the middle and middle-upper markets for housing.
“The Latin boom has been forecasted for years but we are now seeing the front edge of it and it has the potential to help the nation’s housing system get back on track if we can create a safe credit environment for new buyers to get into the market,” says Carmen Mercado, president of the 18,000-member trade group. “Our report quotes data from a number of sources that highlight the fact that enthusiasm for homeownership in the Hispanic community remains as strong as ever.”
The report, which was penned by former Housing Fellow, Researcher, Author and Watchdog Alejandro Becerra, asserts that a combination of forces make it likely that Hispanics are poised to reinvigorate the ailing housing market including:
• Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the nation and represent a growing portion of the age group 26 to 46 years of age that are involved in most home sales;
• More than other population groups, Hispanics can pick up stakes and move to other parts of the country in search of better jobs and more affordable housing;
• Hispanics continue to attain steady gains in income, education and entrepreneurship and demonstrate a strong work ethic, desire to succeed and purchase power enabling more of them to achieve homeownership;
• The current environment of record low interest rates, government-backed loans and less predatory lending are making sustainable homeownership more affordable.
Past national housing surveys also reveal that Hispanics strongly aspire to become homeowners and are more motivated than the general population to buy a home for both emotional and financial reasons. Strong family values and larger family sizes compel this group by a wide margin to yearn for a place to call home. Fifty-seven percent of Hispanics consider owning a home a symbol of success, compared to only 33% of all Americans.
While Hispanics have been severely impacted by foreclosure, the larger population of potential home buyers were unaffected by the crisis and demonstrate an eagerness to become homeowners. The association’s report maintains that tight credit, higher fees and stricter underwriting requirements continue to remain barriers and that downpayment assistance and savings programs are crucial to enabling buyers to afford homes even at present historic low prices.
While policy makers, industry leaders and consumer groups are in the midst of an intense debate around Qualified Residential Mortgages (QRM) and other key issues the report advocates for housing policy that protects consumers but allows for an industry that can adequately serve and meet the affordable housing needs of low- and moderate-income households.
July 7, 2011 8:57 pm
In a lagging economy, more homeowners are willing and able to take on do-it-yourself projects to prevent paying big bucks to professionals. Many resort to online research when trying to determine whether or not to tackle a project hands on. While this might be a good first step, sometimes it is hard to judge whether or not you should attempt a job. Try to find step-by-step directions and examine the different types of tools necessary. Do you own them? More importantly, do you know how to use them?
If you are unsure about any part of the process, consulting an expert is a great next step. Keep in mind, also, that a botched job can sometimes cost even more than hiring someone in the first place. So, when exactly should you sit back and hire a pro?
When safety is an issue, hire a professional. Any job that includes fiddling with the home’s electrical system is a risky one to take on. The risk of electrocution is extremely high, making it a very dangerous do-it-yourself job to tackle. Not only does it risk physical harm, but incorrect work could become a safety hazard within the home’s structure.
Gas lines should always be avoided. If you aren’t 100% sure how to check for gas leaks, do not attempt messing with gas lines yourself. Mistakes like this could equal severe consequences such as explosions or carbon monoxide poisoning. Heights can be tricky as well. Homeowners should carefully assess jobs that require you to be high up, such as trimming trees or fixing a roof.
A less obvious job you should be careful with is ceiling fan installation. Many like to install these themselves, but aren’t aware of the fact that more than 19,700 people a year are injured by improper mountings and installs, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International, an organization that focuses on electrical safety. If you have any doubts in your fan installs, seek professional help.
Large power tools should also put question marks in your head. Tools such as circular saws, chain saws, nail guns, etc., should be properly handled. You can seriously injure yourself with misuse, putting yourself out of commission for weeks or months at a time, or in the most severe cases, death could occur. For this and all the aforementioned scenarios, professionals can help keep you and your family safe by completing jobs that may be over your skill set. Put away that pride, and hire a pro.
Water situations can also be sticky. If leaks and water damage are left unfixed, they can lead to mold, or worse, pricey and complex repairs. Though mold situations should be alleviated immediately for health purposes (it affects air quality and could make your family quite sick), it’s often a deal breaker for home sales—a huge red flag for buyers. Even jobs like installing a skylight could lead to mold and leaks if not done properly.
Worst case scenario, water could end up leading on the inside, dripping behind walls and causing damage to drywall and wooden beams.
Add up the costs. If the cost of materials and tools runs exceptionally high, hiring an expert might even be the most cost efficient way to get the job done. If you make a mistake in ordering, you could even be subject to restocking fees and nonreturnable special orders. Allowing a professional to take over will prevent you from making these mistakes.
For extra-large projects, you may want to refer to a pro as well. Small jobs, such as changing lighting fixtures, cabinets, retiling or painting, may be completely doable for most do-it-yourself homeowners, but if you are replacing a multitude of windows on your house or remodeling an entire room, you may want to think twice. Heavy lifting and installations can be handled by pros, while touch-up aspects can be done by you later down the road. Sometimes it simply isn’t worth the work and expense involved if the job is too large.
There definitely is an appeal to completing tasks yourself. It feels good to see the results of your own efforts, and it is usually more affordable than hiring help. However, when safety is at hand or the damage risk is extraordinarily high, hiring an outside professional is entirely worth the headache-free renovations.
Source: The Wall Street Journal