July 5, 2011 8:57 pm
Although drought can be brutal on lawns, trees and shrubs, John Crossmock, director of technical training and support for TruGreen, encourages homeowners not to give up on their outdoor living rooms.
"We're encouraging homeowners to be aware of local water restrictions, focus on effective irrigation, and pay close attention to the changing health of their lawns and landscapes," says Crossmock.
Signs of typical wear and tear on yards this time of year are amplified when lawns are stressed. Brown spots on lawns may not always be from lack of water or nutrients, but instead from insects that can mimic drought damage on select grass types. Homeowners need to have a clear understanding of the source of the yard problem to effectively resolve.
To help homeowners address drought impact on their lawns, here are several simple tips to help maintain the health of lawns and landscapes during the hot summer months.
Irrigation Efficiency: Ensure sprinkler heads and related water lines are working properly and that the irrigation system provides sufficient coverage. Low water pressure will affect coverage.
Water Restrictions Awareness: Become familiar with any local watering restrictions related to yards. Light watering too often is not as effective as a slow, thorough watering (about one inch) once or twice a week, optimally in the early morning. To ensure uniform coverage, consider placing a few empty one-inch deep food cans in the sprinkler pattern to measure the amount of water collected after each watering cycle. Adjust watering times and cycles if needed to provide for one inch of water.
Pest Problems: Inspect drought-sensitive plants and grasses. Although mature trees and many southern grasses will tolerate drought, others may not. Undiagnosed infestation of lawn insects and build-up of mites and insects on shrubs can also enhance the risk of plants' susceptibility to further decline from drought conditions. Ask a lawn care professional to assist in diagnosing plants for drought versus insect damage.
Feed: Lawns, trees and shrubs require proper nutrition to encourage healthy growth and the ability to recover from drought damage. If necessary, use a trained professional company that offers customized solutions to lawn and landscape problems based on the specific needs of the homeowner's region.
Mowing Schedule: Mow grass as needed and not as a scheduled weekly chore. Avoid mowing in the heat of day or if the lawn is extremely dry to allow the lawn to bounce back during the cooler temperatures of night. To help promote moisture retention and to prevent shock, disease and insects, do not cut more than one-third of the grass leaf blade and mow at the highest recommended height for your grass type.
Mulch: Return grass clippings back to the soil for added lawn nutrients. Apply three inches of organic mulch to base of shrubs and trees to help conserve soil moisture and to reduce weed pressure, but be mindful not to cover the trunk flare of the tree base.
With the proper care, your lawn and shrubbery can avoid becoming casualties of drought-like conditions and instead healthily flourish for years to come.
For more information, visit www.trugreen.com/.
July 5, 2011 8:57 pm
The ability to buy, sell and own property has defined our nation throughout its history, and as the U.S. just celebrated its 235 birthday, Americans continue to reaffirm their support of and aspirations toward homeownership.
“For over 100 years, REALTORS® have helped bring families home,” says NAR President Ron Phipps. “There’s a reason why homeownership is called the American Dream – it’s part of our collective history and an essential part of building our nation’s future, as well.”
Numerous studies have shown the value Americans place in homeownership. According to the 2010 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, first-time buyers most often cite the desire to own a home as the primary reason for their recent home purchase. Eighty-five percent of all recent home buyers consider a home purchase a solid investment, and 76% of them believe owning a home is as good as or better than an investment in stocks.
A recent New York Times/CBS News poll reported that nearly nine in 10 Americans say homeownership is an important part of the American Dream. In a recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey, 73% of respondents said they believe the federal government should provide tax incentives to promote homeownership.
“Owning a home has long-standing government support in this country,” says Phipps. “Historically, lawmakers have understood the value of homeownership in fostering communities, creating social stability, and building wealth over the long term. In fact, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, ‘A nation of homeowners is unconquerable.’
“The mortgage interest deduction was introduced as part of the federal tax code nearly a century ago, and the Federal Housing Administration, Federal Home Loan Banks, and Fannie Mae were all created during the worst economic crisis our country ever faced in the Great Depression.”
Studies also demonstrate tangible social benefits to homeownership. The NAR report, Social Benefits of Homeownership and Stable Housing, showed that homeowners are more active in their communities, benefit from improved education opportunities, and report higher levels of self-esteem and happiness when compared to renters. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that owners do not move as frequently as renters, providing more neighborhood stability. In turn, involvement in community quality-of-life issues helps prevent crime, improve childhood education and support neighborhood upkeep.
“REALTORS® will continue to work to ensure that this and future generations have the opportunity to pursue their dreams of owning a home,” says Phipps.
July 1, 2011 2:57 pm
Exactly how clean is your kitchen? Not as immaculate as you might imagine says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the CDC, while surfaces may look clean, many infectious germs may be lurking around. A regular cleaning schedule helps protect your kitchen from lurking grunge that can cause odors and harbor disease, says "Healthy Housekeeper" Laura Dellutri. She also recommends paying special attention to both the obvious and not-so-obvious spots in the room- like your garbage disposer, a big contributor to your sink's secret grime.
Dellutri offers these tips for helping maintain a healthy kitchen:
Suspect Kitchen Sinks: Disinfecting the sink after washing meats, fruits and vegetables will help prevent germs and bacteria from multiplying on sink surfaces and help avoid cross contamination in the room. All you need is chlorine bleach, water and a soft cloth. Dilute the bleach with water and wipe the sink with cloth dipped in the solution. Rinse immediately and wipe dry with a soft cloth. If the sink looks dull or cloudy, wipe it with a soft cloth moistened with undiluted white vinegar.
Disease-Ridden Disposers: Garbage disposers typically serve as an exit for fresh and left-over foods, but without proper cleansing they can create odors and house organisms that may cause illness and disease such as pneumonia, bronchitis and intestinal flu.
Grimy Dishwashers: Despite the myth that dishwashers are self-sufficient and clean themselves, hard water deposits, rust and food may be left inside the dishwasher, disrupting its performance and causing odors.
Reeking Refrigerators: To effectively clean your fridge and free it from odor-causing culprits, a complete refrigerator overhaul is the best solution. Empty the refrigerator completely and remove any expired foods. Use hot soapy water with a germicidal cleaner to remove all food particles and spills. Before restocking the fridge, place washable refrigerator liners over shelves to help prevent the need to scrub when a spill occurs. Storage is also critical - it prevents odors and spills with well-sealed plastic containers. And of course, an open box of baking soda inside the refrigerator will absorb new odors.
Spotty Microwaves: Splatters of food in a microwave not only look and smell bad, but they may also decrease efficiency. To clean the appliance, fill a microwave-safe bowl halfway with water, add a tablespoon of vinegar, and place it inside the microwave. Let the microwave run for five minutes, then wipe down the inside with a clean towel or paper towel. The heated water and vinegar will steam up the microwave walls and make wiping away dried-on food a cinch.
By examining these unsuspecting problem areas, you can increase the cleanliness of your kitchen all year long.
July 1, 2011 2:57 pm
As the market heads toward stabilization, some home buyers may still be uneasy about deciding to purchase a new home. However, there are plenty of reasons why buying a home now is more beneficial than waiting until later. Buying a home remains a wise long term economic decision for most of us because:
1. Homes can provide an excellent return on investment (ROI). Although historic annual home appreciation rates are modest, the purchase is usually highly leveraged. If you put 10% down, a modest 3% annual increase in your home’s value represents a 30% ROI.
2. There are many opportunities to gain sweat equity. For example, a well landscaped home can be worth thousands more than a home with a barren landscape. You don’t have to spend that much to get such a return. Buy a shovel and a bunch of small $5-$20 shrubs and trees, and wait a few years. Do your own remodeling (or some of the finish work, such as painting and trim) and those projects can add more to your home’s value than they cost.
3. A landlord can (and will) raise your rent, but a lender can’t raise your mortgage interest rate (assuming that it is a fixed rate mortgage).
4. Many people pay off their mortgage by the time they retire. With no more mortgage payments, they are able to live comfortably on modest retirement income sources. The equity is also transferrable—many homeowners who move to different locales after retirement simply roll the equity from their old home into a paid-off retirement home. A lifelong renter may well have paid more in aggregate for housing over their career, but they will still have to pay rent and many find that this additional expense severely cramps their retirement lifestyle.
5. Most owner-occupied neighborhoods have a sense of community that results from a relatively stable set of residents. That rarely happens in rental environments, where the residents of the neighboring apartments may come and go before you even meet them.
Key to a smart decision on whether or not to buy a home now is research into your current market outlook. There is plenty of research data on the Internet regarding the likely market direction of your area. Experienced real estate agents can also provide very useful local market insight.
For more information, visit www.AmericanHomeowners.org.
July 1, 2011 2:57 pm
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently urged lawmakers to take into account the differences in energy savings between the newest, highest-performing homes and older, less-efficient homes that comprise the vast majority of the nation's housing stock.
"With substantial amounts of energy lost in the nearly 130 million existing homes in the current stock, it is extremely important to develop an effective national energy policy that is not punitive to consumers who benefit from the most efficient new homes," Tony Crasi, a custom home builder from Akron, Ohio, told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "Rather, the policy must promote an effective retrofit plan for older, less-efficient housing that allows builders and remodelers to create the benefits of energy efficiency for all housing."
Testifying on behalf of NAHB on The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011, legislation designed to increase the use of energy efficiency technologies in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors of the economy, Crasi said that over the past two decades NAHB has played a leading role in developing, promoting and encouraging the growth of residential green and energy-efficient construction.
"The introduction of modern energy codes in the early 1990s has significantly improved the efficiency of new construction," he says. "In fact, the Energy Information Administration reports that homes built between 1991 and 2001 consumed 2.5 percent of total energy output in the U.S. By contrast, the 94.5 million older, existing homes consumed 18.4 percent of U.S. energy consumption, meaning the most inefficient housing is the most plentiful."
NAHB fully supports efforts to incentivize retrofitting the oldest, least-efficient housing and believes a national energy policy priority must include provisions that seek to save the energy lost in older homes and buildings.
"NAHB has consistently championed incentives for consumers to upgrade older housing, including ongoing support for incentives under Sections 25C and 25D of the Internal Revenue Code that provide federal tax credits for energy efficiency home improvement efforts and renewable energy products," said Crasi.
With access to credit a major concern, coupled with foreclosure, appraisal and inventory issues, Crasi said that builders face stiff challenges trying to construct new homes in today's market, leaving fewer, more-efficient homes available for consumers.
"NAHB is concerned with the changing dynamics of energy requirements for new housing because it has the potential to make the newest, highest-performing loans unaffordable for the average family," said Crasi. "Rather, NAHB encourages a national policy that directs limited federal resources to the biggest source of energy loss in the real estate sector: older homes and buildings."
For more information please visit www.NAHB.org.
June 30, 2011 2:57 pm
Gone are the days of zipping through airport security to make that quickly departing flight that you're running late to catch. If you are heading out on vacation or on a business trip this summer, here are some tips to ensure that you move through security as efficiently as possible and get to your plane on time:
1. Pack smart – Pack larger electronics, like laptops, DVD players and video cameras, in your checked luggage. If taking a carry-on bag only, packing a layer of clothing, a layer of electronics, more clothing, and then heavier items will help security officers to see what’s in your bag with a minimum of delay.
2. Zip your liquids – Security officers will provide one-quart plastic zip-top bags if they find unprotected liquids like make-up, gels, or shaving lotion in your carry-on. But save time by having them zipped in plastic when you arrive. Children’s liquids, like juice or breast milk (up to 3 ounces) must also be in plastic bags.
3. Do not wrap gifts – If you’re heading out for a birthday or wedding, pack the wrap and ribbon as they are. Security officers have the right to unwrap your pretty packaged gifts as part of the security check process.
4. Film in carry-on - Undeveloped film should go in your carry-on bag. You will be able to declare film that is faster than 800-speed to a transportation security officer for physical inspection to avoid being X-rayed.
5. Dress right – Avoid metal buckles or hair ornaments, loose change and heavy jewelry that is apt to set off an alarm on the metal detector and subject you to hand-wanding or pat-down inspection. To save time if you do have such items, remove them in advance and send them through the metal detector ahead of you.
6. Wear slip-on shoes – They are easier to remove and put back on quickly, which will be required, without having to sit down.
7. Carry the kids – Take small children out of carriers and strollers and carry them with you through the metal detector. Collapse or fold children’s equipment and send it through the X-ray machine along with diaper bags and other carry-ons. Children who can walk independently must walk through the metal detector on their own but will not be separated from you at any time.
By following these tips, you are well on your way to smooth travels and a relaxing vacation.
For more information, visit www.tsa.gov/.
June 30, 2011 2:57 pm
With more than 60 million Americans living in homes governed by community associations, emergency planning has become an essential skill of Home Owners Association (HOA) managers, according to the National Board of Certification for Community Association Managers (NBC-CAM), an independent board that develops certification (known as the CMCA – Certified Manager of Community Associations®) and standards for community association managers.
"Community managers play a key role in any emergency response effort," says Dawn Bauman, executive director of NBC-CAM. "HOA managers must understand what types of disasters are likely to occur in their community, develop emergency response protocols, practice them and then communicate them."
Disasters range from summer wildfires to hurricanes, tornados to blizzards. Their impact on communities varies, depending on their size and location, the age of the housing stock and a community's degree of preparedness.
According to the American Red Cross, writing a disaster preparedness plan has six steps:
1. Committing to preparedness for the community or property. This means getting the HOA board and other top leadership committed to disaster planning.
2. Conducting a hazard vulnerability assessment. George Sullivan, an expert in disaster preparedness for the American Red Cross says, "A lot of people write an emergency response plan based on something that happened to someone else."
3. Developing an emergency response plan. "If you already have one, now is the time to revisit it and ask all the big 'what ifs,' such as 'what if we're no longer able to operate in this location?'" Sullivan says.
4. Testing your plan. An untested plan is not a real plan – so go ahead and plan those drills.
5. Communicating about preparedness. Managers must make preparedness top of mind in their communities, through newsletters and bill inserts.
6. Helping others. By definition, a commitment to disaster preparedness is a commitment to helping others – so some communities consider adopting a local school or church or hosting a blood drive.
"CMCAs learn these are things they have to be aware of," says Rosen, who teaches classes on emergency preparedness. "They know they are responsible for the people in their community, and they have to have a written plan."
When looking for a CMCA-accredited community manager, visit NBC-CAM's online directory of certified community association managers to find professionals with the latest knowledge and practical skills. For more information, visit www.nbccam.org.
June 30, 2011 2:57 pm
The National Association of REALTORS® supports comprehensive reform of America's housing finance market that protects taxpayers and ensures the availability of affordable mortgage credit today and into the future.
"As the leading advocate for homeownership and housing issues, NAR believes that a methodical, measured and comprehensive approach for reforming the secondary mortgage market is in the best interest of home buyers and taxpayers," says NAR President Ron Phipps. "A comprehensive and effective mortgage reform strategy is critical to help keep a level of certainty in the marketplace and not further disrupt the still fragile housing market recovery."
NAR supports the objectives of H.R. 1859, the "Housing Finance Reform Act of 2011," introduced last month by Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.). The bill takes a comprehensive approach for reforming the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"While NAR has concerns with some aspects of the legislation, we strongly support the bill's comprehensive approach to reforming the secondary mortgage market and greatly appreciate the efforts of Reps. Campbell and Peters to protect the affordable 30-year fixed rate mortgage, shield taxpayers from unnecessary additional bailouts, and ensure the availability of mortgage capital to all markets under all economic conditions," Phipps says.
NAR opposes the piecemeal approach of recent proposals that would quickly constrain or shut down existing secondary mortgage market facilities before identifying a viable replacement that would allow securitization to function under all market conditions.
"We believe that a fully private system is not a viable or sustainable alternative to the existing housing finance system and will severely restrict mortgage capital, raise costs for qualified, creditworthy home buyers, and place taxpayers at greater risk as too-big-to-fail government-backed financial institutions dominate the market," Phipps says. "NAR looks forward to working closely with Congress; the time has come to have a serious discussion about comprehensive reform of our nation's housing finance system."
For more information, visit www.realtor.org.
June 29, 2011 8:57 pm
By Nick Caruso
Whether buying a toy for your new home or simply replacing an older model, buying a new TV can be an exciting purchase. With new technology rapidly outdating the old, some consumers may not be aware of what's available or know what to look for when the time has come. Here are a few tips and items to consider when scouting out a new television for your home.
Widescreen and HD is Where It's At: With much of today's programming being presented in widescreen format, it's best to have a TV that can properly display it. Rarely are new shows broadcasted in the old 4:3 standard aspect ratio. For the best picture display, purchase a widescreen TV and make sure it has HD capabilities. Depending on your budget, you can choose between 720p or 1080p, which refers to the number of horizontal lines of pixels displayed on the screen at any given time. For TVs 30 inches or under, you may not see a difference between the two. For larger screens, it's best to pick 1080p if your budget allows for it. Once you go HD, you'll never go back!
Decide Between a Plasma or LCD: Knowing the difference between these types of TVs is crucial before making your decision. LCD televisions (short for liquid-crystal display televisions) utilize a technology based on polarized light, where two polarized panels are located in front of and in back of a thin layer of liquid crystal gel that is divided up into individual pixels. Plasma televisions, on the other hand, use ionized gas to form plasma (a type of gas with ionized particles) which emits units of light called photons. Thousands of cells, coated with phosphors, give off colored light when struck with these photons. This, in turn, creates the picture you see on the screen.
There are pros and cons to both technologies. Plasmas tend to have darker darks and brighter whites. If you decide on plasma, conduct some further research on contrast ratios. However, if your TV room is an area that receives a lot of sunlight, you may want to choose an LCD, as those screens will not create any glare due to incoming light. Deciding which technology you want to pursue and purchase is an important decision that must be made before you can begin looking at brands, sizes, etc.
Investigate the Back Panel: Do you have lots of video sources you'll need to plug in? Make sure to check the back panel to see what kind of inputs the TV has and if you'll be able to fully utilize all of your external devices (receivers, video game systems, Bluray players, etc.). You don't want to get your new TV home and have to juggle inputs--it never hurts to have too many.
Look for an Energy Star-compliant TV: Energy Star is a guideline imposed by the EPA and the Department of Energy to regulate energy saving measures for consumer electronics. Make sure your new TV is Energy Star compliant. It's a "green" effort that is good for the planet and one that will also save you money in the long run.
These tips only scratch the surface in terms of what you should know before making such a large purchase. However, once you narrow down your wants and needs, you can dig deeper in the quest of finding the TV of your dreams.
Sources: CNET Asia, Squidoo.com
June 29, 2011 8:57 pm
As the job market recovers, a unique phenomenon is beginning to happen, and one expert warns it could cost you money.
“As people who have been looking for work a long time start to get back into the workforce, many of them are so happy just to get a job that they sometimes accept a lower salary than they have to,” says Bill Humbert, author of RecruiterGuy's Guide to Finding a Job. “Some employers feel they can probably get away with a lowball offer, and many job hunters will grab it just so they can have a job. The truth is there are ways to get the job and still get what you want.”
Humbert's advice for job hunters includes:
Don’t Offer Salary Requirements – When you are asked to include salary requirements with your resume, that is typically a company’s first screen and it can be used against you. People agonize over what to reveal because they are afraid of pricing themselves out of a good job. Simply put “Open” in that spot. If your qualifications are on target, they’ll call you. If in the interview you’re asked what you made at your last job, reply by asking about the range for the one you are applying. You’d be surprised how managers or human resource representatives will tell you.
Don’t Give Away Too Much – In many job applications, an employer will ask for your salary history. It is perfectly acceptable to write “Willing to discuss at appropriate time during interview process” and leave those numbers blank. Writing down those numbers pigeonholes you, and reduces your negotiation power.
Don’t Negotiate Salary – That’s right. Don’t negotiate salary in the interviews. Instead, negotiate when you’ll give them your salary requirements. When they ask you for that figure, tell them you don’t know what you’d require until you have a clear picture of the job requirements and potential for advancement over the next five years. After you have that information and you’re asked again for that number, respond by asking to go through what I call your “impacts” – areas of your job that directly impact the company’s bottom line. This discussion will allow you to demonstrate what you bring to the table. At the end of that discussion, simply tell them that you are very interested in the position, and that you’d seriously consider any offer they’d like to make.
Keep Networking – Once you have a job offer, it’s not a done deal until you accept it. Until that happens, keep networking and looking for jobs. It may give you valuable market-worth data about the position you’ve been offered. It may also be a safety net in case something goes awry between the time you receive an offer and the time you accept it.
Accepting the Offer – Once an offer is given, you have the right to ask for a clarification on it. Asking “Is there any flexibility in this offer?” may help to open a discussion of increasing the offer. If it does, don’t expect a large boost in base pay, but rather, an extra week of paid vacation, a signing bonus or other such perks.
“Keep in mind that salary negotiation is more art than science, so these tips may not always apply,” Humbert adds. “Many hourly workers don’t have as much flexibility on pay, and some companies have policies that would require you to adjust the script a little to fit those situations. The key thing to remember is that you don’t have to give them a salary range that would jeopardize your earning potential, and that you don’t have to accept their first offer most of the time.
"Remember, they are interviewing you because they need to fill that position. It’s important to the company to have someone in that job, and while they are considering you, they aren’t doing you a favor. They need what you have to offer, so you should get the best offer out of them that is possible.”
For more information, visit www.recruiterguy.com.