December 22, 2011 4:10 pm
With the holidays officially over, it's time to get reorganized for the new year. If your home is in disarray, you may feel the need to take some time to get cleaned up and prepared for what's to come. The following tips can help you return to normalcy:
Clutter control: Make room for your new belongings by weeding out some of your old ones. For every new item you receive, donate or toss an older version. Challenge yourself to rid your closet of outworn or rarely used items. Alternately, you can try filling every leftover holiday mailing box in your home with items to donate to Goodwill or charity. Regardless of what you fill them with, you'll be surprised by how much clutter you conquer.
Sort before you store: With the rush over, it's very tempting to throw all ornaments and decorations in a box and never think twice about it. However, if you take the time to sort your holiday items, you'll be glad you did come December 2012. Organizing your holiday cookware, decorations, specialty linens, etc., will make next year's decorating process that much easier and may save you some space in the basement or attic.
Rid yourself of those white elephants: Don't allow those unwanted gifts to overtake your home. Designate a spot in your home for "regifts." Write a little note about who gave you the item to prevent any awkward mistakes in the future. You may even want to consider a white elephant exchange party where each guest brings an item they'd like to regift. Some venders online may allow you to sell unwanted items. Amazon Marketplace and Ebay are great sites to start, depending on the item. Appropriately dealing with these gifts is important to controlling the clutter in your house.
Start the new year off right with a clean and clutter-free living space. The time invested in the clean-up process will be time well spent.
December 22, 2011 4:10 pm
Many people looking for unoccupied homeowners insurance for an empty residence will find that the process can be difficult. Many companies will not cover such a dwelling or charge high premiums because of the increased risk associated with vacant properties. The chance of burglary and vandalism are higher. The potential of unnoticed damage which can compound problems and costs also increases. There may also be an issue with squatters.
If a residence is vacant for more than 30 days, a standard policy may become invalid. In order to find homeowners insurance that will cover this type of property for a reasonable price, here are four things that should be known to reduce risk and help lower rates.
1. Make the home look occupied. There are many things that can be done, such as asking a neighbor to park their car in the driveway and putting lights on a timer. It is also recommended to leave furniture in the home when securing your home. Be sure to also have newspapers and other mail stopped.
2. Prepare the central heating and water. If a house will be empty during the winter months, the risk of frozen pipes and water damage increase. By keeping the heat on at a low setting, this risk is reduced.
3. Set up regular inspections. The majority of problems with vacant properties are simply because of unnoticed issues and compounding damage and costs. By having a trusted third party make regular visits, this can be avoided and add peace of mind.
4. Secure the property and remove valuables. All entry points should be secure with an alarm set. Valuables should be removed so they do not attract attention that could lead to burglary.
By following these tips, you can reduce the risk and hopefully use it as leverage to receive lower insurance rates.
For more information, visit www.HomeownersInsurance.net
December 22, 2011 4:10 pm
Your credit score can affect many aspects of your life. The biggest, perhaps, is the ability to secure a mortgage should you be in the market for a home. The better the score you have, the less your debt will cost you in the long run. It's important to take control of your credit score before beginning the buying process. If you want to boost your score, here are a few tips to get that number heading in the right direction.
If you don't know what your score is or you are worried it might have errors, don't hesitate to contact one of the three big credit bureaus and request a report. Each bureau is required to give every requesting consumer one free report once a year. Check your report for errors and get them corrected as soon as possible. Send the credit agency a certified letter explaining what is wrong and include any documents that may support your claim. You don't want your score to suffer due to inaccurate records.
If you have missed any payments in the past, catch up as soon as you can. Within a few months, your score will improve if you get current and stay current. The negative weight on your score will lessen over time, erasing the negative marks from your record for good. Once you are current, do everything you can to ensure that payments are on time.
Going forward, keep your balances below your limit. Just because you have a certain credit limit doesn't mean you have to use it all. The less available credit you use, the better. Some credit card companies have been lowering credit amounts without telling consumers. If this happens to you, it could negatively affect your credit score because your utilization ratio will increase. The bureaus recommend using 33 percent below your available credit. Remember, a small amount of debt on multiple cards is better than having just one or two cards with a large bulk of debt. Spread out your spending, and keep those balances low.
Keep old accounts open...even if you don't use them often. Part of your score is based on how old your accounts are. Closing older accounts erases the credit history that was accumulated through those accounts. To prevent a credit card company from closing your account, use it every now and then to keep it active. Even miniscule charges will suffice and protect your account and history.
Don't be afraid to check your score as often as you want. You checking your own score is seen as a "soft inquiry" by the credit bureaus. By checking often and properly managing your debt, you can be well on your way to raising your credit score.
December 21, 2011 10:10 pm
There are many ways to make the New Year greener and healthier. Just making a few small changes can have a great impact on the planet and personal health. There are many easy changes to implement into daily life to make the world a greener place.
Composting: Building a compost pile as a homeowner is an easy way to add many beneficial ingredients to the soil while reducing garbage volume at the same time. It can also benefit the community by reducing the nearly 25% of compostable landfill waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Recycle paper and electronics: Recycling is beneficial in many ways and can be a convenient and an environmentally conscious step in the coming year. Anything from paper and plastics to metals and electronics can be recycled. This can save on the consumption of resources, the amount of landfill space being used and energy use. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, the rest of these electronics go directly into landfills and incinerators, causing dangerous heavy metals and toxins to build up with serious environmental risks.
Go plastic free: Get rid of plastic once and for all this year by switching to reusable whenever possible. One way to save money and protect our environment from the harmful effects of plastics and the chemicals used and the emissions given off in producing them is to use reusable stainless steel water bottles and always carry cloth grocery bags anytime you are shopping.
Plant a garden: With the smallest amount of outdoor space, a garden can produce a wide variety of nutritious foods. Gardening can bring you back to nature while providing you and your family fresh wholesome foods with many benefits. If you don’t have room, consider a container garden or small herb garden to enhance your culinary experience.
Laundry: Whenever doing laundry, make sure it is a full load and wash clothes in cold water using a safe non-toxic laundry soap and hang clothes to dry for a clean, fresh and environmentally friendly way to do your laundry in 2012.
Support local farmers and eat in season: Most grocery store food has been picked in the fields, sent to distribution centers and shipped thousands of miles before ever hitting your grocery store shelf. In contrast, when you purchase from local farmers, you are not only putting a face with your food, but your food has been picked within a day or two of purchasing, making it ripe and delicious. Buying fresh local food has many advantages, including reduced vehicle pollution and packaging needed, while encouraging fresh and often-times organic and pesticide-free produce for better nutrition.
Unplug appliances and electronics: When it is time for an upgrade, consider purchasing new energy efficient models with an Energy Star label that guarantees that the product is energy efficient. This label is sponsored by the Department of Energy and the EPA and can offer substantial savings. If you are not in the position to purchase a new appliance, unplug the one you have if and when it is not needed or in use.
Turn it off: Turn the water off while brushing teeth and the lights off every time you leave the room. Consider purchasing low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and energy efficient CFL or LED light bulbs.
Use eco-friendly cleaning products: With just a few common household items, you can make your own cleaning products when you need them. Making your own cleaning products with ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, lemon and tea tree oil can save you money, time and the packaging required for the store-bought brands. Homemade cleaners are also safer and healthier when using non-toxic ingredients.
Never purchase paper towels or napkins again: Instead, use old washcloths cut into smaller squares, old socks for dusting, old t-shirts cut up for cleaning and reusable cloth napkins and hand-towels while out and about.
Borrow or buy used: Borrow your books, music and movies from your local library to save money while cutting down on the paper and ink needed to manufacture new. Set up online accounts with Ebay, freecycle.org or shop thrift stores and garage sales when looking for anything from clothing to furniture.
December 21, 2011 10:10 pm
A recent survey revealed that while the number of mobile shoppers is increasing dramatically, they are using their mobile devices to research products more than they use it to make purchases. Shoppers are comfortable making purchases from their home computers, but are more hesitant using their tablets and mobile phones to buy online. The survey found that 58 percent of shoppers have made purchases via their mobile phone as compared to 94 percent who have made purchases via laptops and 75 percent via tablets. For those who shop with their phone, 79 percent use it to research products, 73 percent to browse stores, and 77 percent to compare prices. Of the 58 percent of shoppers who make purchases via their mobile devices, 69 percent use both the mobile browser and apps to buy products (18 percent only use apps; 13 percent only use a mobile browser).
What consumers are purchasing also differs from their buying behavior on laptops. Laptop shoppers’ most popular items to buy online are consumer products like clothing and electronics, but shoppers buy more digital products like music and apps on their mobile devices. On mobile phones, 70 percent of shoppers purchased digital goods, 60 percent purchased consumer products, 46 percent purchased services, and 38 percent purchased consumable goods. The majority of shoppers (76 percent) say ease of use is the reason they would buy one category of products over another and 34 percent cite price point as the reason why they would buy in one category over another.
While the use of mobile devices is increasing, the survey results strongly indicate that mobile devices are currently much better for window shopping than for buying - especially when it comes to consumer products. Mobile shoppers are still more comfortable purchasing using their laptops, although tablets are widely used for research and shopping. This demonstrates that consumers are open to new technology, but until mobile shopping is as easy as shopping on larger devices and security concerns are addressed, they will be more reluctant to fully embrace mobile buying.
December 21, 2011 10:10 pm
Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s (the “Enterprises”) foreclosure prevention activity increased in the third quarter of 2011 and totaled nearly 2 million foreclosure prevention actions since the beginning of conservatorship in 2008. During this period, the Enterprises completed one million loan modifications, helping borrowers stay in their homes.
According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s third quarter 2011 Foreclosure Prevention & Refinance Report, the increase in completed foreclosure prevention activity in the third quarter was driven primarily by loan modifications and repayment plans. Two-thirds of all borrowers who received loan modifications in the third quarter had their monthly payments reduced by over 20 percent. Additionally, the Enterprises' cumulative refinancings through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) increased 11 percent during the third quarter to nearly 928,600 loans.
Also in the report:
-The Enterprises have completed nearly 2 million foreclosure prevention actions since the start of conservatorship. Nearly 1.7 million of these actions have allowed borrowers to retain homeownership, with more than one million being permanent loan modifications.
-Loans modified since the start of HAMP are performing substantially better compared with loans modified in earlier periods.
-Serious delinquency rates continued to decline. However, the percentage of loans that have missed one payment increased during the third quarter.
-REO inventory declined for the fourth consecutive quarter as property dispositions continued to outpace acquisitions in the third quarter.
To view the third quarter 2011 Foreclosure Prevention & Refinance Report, visit: http://www.fhfa.gov/webfiles/22826/3q11FPRF.pdf. For more information, visit www.fhfa.gov.
December 21, 2011 4:10 pm
As with most decorating choices, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But with so many carpeting choices in today’s marketplace, it’s wise to know something about the basics of style and durability before you head for the store.
While many consider wool carpet best overall for sheer luxury and durability, carpets made of nylon or polypropylene are today’s two most popular choices--and the two best performing fibers. Polyester, which has great softness, is good for bedrooms, but for heavier traffic areas, nylon is perhaps the best option, with polypropylene a close second.
Work with an experienced sales representative to choose the style most practical for your family, your lifestyle and your pets. Apart from fiber, the carpet style will make a difference in overall look.
Berber: Loop-style carpeting features loops of the same height and performs well even in high-traffic areas. Many popular berber styles feature flecks of a darker color on a lighter background.
Cut pile: Loops are cut, leaving individual yarn tufts. Durability depends on the type of fiber, the density of the tufts and the amount of twist in the yarn. Cut pile carpet is available in a variety of finishes from plush velvet for a more formal look to Saxony, frieze or textured pile, which minimize footprints and vacuum marks.
Cut-and-loop: A combination of cut and looped yarns; provides a variety of surface textures including sculptured effects in squares or swirls.
Multi-level loop: Has two or three different loop heights to create pattern effects and surface texture. It also provides a more casual look.
Patterned or print: By using yarns of varying heights and treatments, patterned carpets offer everything from pin dots to floral designs to geometric prints.
When comparing carpets and carpet brands, remember the higher the density (how close the tufts are spaced together) and the tighter the twist, the better the overall performance.
Source: Consumer Reports
December 21, 2011 4:10 pm
While house shopping can be fun, it can also be intimidating for those who are new to the experience. There are many factors to consider when looking to purchase a home- from what neighborhood to which floor plan and much more.
Focus on four key factors when looking to buy a house:
1. Location, location, location. A house needs to be near what's important to you and your lifestyle. How important is it to you that your home is close to your office? Is it more important to you that you're close to a good medical center or a convenient grocery store? Everyone has their priorities, and you have to consider your family's when thinking about location.
2. The house. Does the floor plan meet your needs? Does it have enough room for your family to grow if future growth is in your plans? Think of buying for the long term and consider whether the house meets your needs, not just now, but any future needs you can anticipate. And don't discount your gut feeling. If this home doesn't feel like home to you, then move on.
3. Affordability. Getting pre-qualified for a mortgage before you begin visiting homes is the best way to know what you can afford. Often people fall into the trap of looking first, and falling in love with a home that's well out of their price range. Only look in whatever price range you can pre-qualify for.
4. Resale. As much as you like the idea of seeing you and your family growing old and gray in your new home, chances are you won't. Most people do not live in their house even for the full term of their mortgage. When home shopping, keep in mind that at some point you will probably want to put your home on the market, so don't compromise. If you decide a house has some aspects that you can overlook, you need to be aware that someone else may not feel the same way. When home shopping, choose a house that is not only appealing to you, but is also likely going to appeal to others down the road.
December 21, 2011 4:10 pm
The New Year has arrived along with a nationwide blast of cold temperatures leaving homeowners wondering how to bring heating and related energy costs and usage down while maintaining home comfort. In addition to plugging air leaks, the Alliance to Save Energy is encouraging homeowners to use sunlight as a cheap alternative to heating their home.
The Alliance provides the following tips for homeowners to heat their home for less this winter:
-Open curtains and other window treatments on your west- and south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to naturally heat your home, and close them at night.
-Let a programmable thermostat “remember for you” to lower the heat while your home is empty and/or overnight to reduce heating costs by up to 10 percent–and allow you to come home and wake up to a toasty, comfortable house.
-Keep furnace filters clean - check and change your filter every month during heavy-use winter months to assist air flow so your system doesn't have to work harder to keep you warm.
-Seal your heating and cooling ducts. In a typical house with a forced air system, about 20 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts. Sealing and insulating ducts increases efficiency, lowers home energy bills and can often pay for itself in energy savings.
-Properly maintain your HVAC system. Just as a tune-up for your car can improve your gas mileage, a semi-annual or yearly tune-up of your heating and cooling system can improve efficiency and comfort. The federal government’s ENERGY STAR website (www.energystar.gov) can help you find a qualified individual.
For more information, visit www.ase.org.
December 21, 2011 4:10 pm
In light of recent tragedies nationwide involving tipped over appliances, The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently completed a review of various tip-over hazards that can occur in the home.
Families must be aware of leaving children unattended in the kitchen, even if the stove is turned off. Many accidents occur when children attempt to climb on top of a stove door causing the appliance to topple over. With senior citizens, the same can happen when they are leaning on it for support. If the stove is on at the time of the incident, the heat will only make injuries worse and risk of death greater. Most of the time, none of the appliances involved in these types of accidents were properly secured to the wall.
The CPSC recommends the following to prevent related tragedies in the future:
-Manufacturers should create better stability in their designs. Models should be able to support 100 pounds on an open oven door. Although this may require some major redesigns, the added safety bonus will benefit everyone.
-Manufacturers should design door hinges that lock in the open position should an oven start to tip forward.
-Install anti-tip devices that prevent an appliance from working unless they are properly installed.
-Appliances should be programmed to automatically shut off the heat should they begin to tip.
Consumers should be aware that these types of incidents can occur in their home. To prevent this from happening to you or your loved ones, be sure to secure your stove with tip restraints provided by your manufacturer. New appliances made after 1991 should have shipped with them included, but may or may not be pre-installed. The CPSC reports that it is not aware of a single injury or death caused by an appliance with tip restraints properly installed.
For more information, visit www.cpsc.gov.