June 14, 2012 7:50 pm
A: Many people flock to refinance while mortgage interest rates are low, particularly when rates are two percentage points below their existing home loans.
Other factors, like when to finance, will depend on how long you plan to hold on to your home and whether you have to pay considerable fees to refinance. It also will depend on how far along you are in paying off your current mortgage.
If you expect to sell your home shortly, you are not likely to recoup the costs you incurred to refinance. And if you are more than halfway through paying your current mortgage, you probably will gain little by refinancing. However, if you are going to own your home for at least another five years, that is probably long enough to recoup any refinancing costs and realize real savings as a result of lowering your monthly payment.
In fact, if it costs you nothing to refinance, you can gain even more. Many lenders will let you roll the costs of the refinancing into the new note and still reduce the amount of the monthly payment. Plus, there are no-cost refinancing deals available.
Contact your lender, and its competitors, before you refinance.
June 13, 2012 7:50 pm
Between spring cleaning and summer inspiration, it’s not uncommon to be bitten by the remodeling bug this time of year. And thanks to popular home improvement shows and the ever-growing “DIY” movement, you might be tempted to hit the hardware store and start hammering, painting or grouting this weekend.
“Yes, being motivated to re-do some aspect of your home is a wonderful feeling,” says Fritschen, author of Remodel or Move?TM Make the Right Decision and founder of www.remodelormove.com. “But as with all big projects, it’s always best to think a home remodel through and take all variables into account before you begin.”
If you have a remodel project in mind for this summer, read on for Fritschen’s insight on summer remodeling, and why this is the perfect time of year for many projects:
First, learn about the many advantages of remodeling in the summer:
It can happen while you’re gone: If you’re one of the many families who go to the beach, mountains, or Grandma’s house for a week or so during the summer, Fritschen suggests scheduling your remodel to coincide so that you’ll be out of the house while the job is done. The workers will have more space, you won’t have to worry about safety hazards and staying out of their way, and you’ll be able to come home to a new and improved house.
Long days = faster completion. Everybody loves long, warm summer evenings. And remodelers have another reason to be thankful for more daylight hours and warm weather: longer working days! “Mother Nature makes it so much easier to complete projects in a timely manner during the summer,” Fritschen confirms.
You can eat al fresco. Summer is a wonderful time to remodel kitchens in particular because you don’t have to use them in order to eat well. While your kitchen is transformed, fire up the outdoor grill and eat on your patio furniture. “You could even spread a quilt in the yard and have a good old-fashioned picnic!” Fritschen suggests.
If exposure is necessary, it’ll be friendly! The fact is, you can expose your house to the elements more safely in summer. Whether you have an open wall because you’re adding on to your house, are replacing windows, or just want to open the windows and doors so the new-paint smell isn’t overwhelming, summer is ideal.
“Temperature and inclement weather aren’t likely to be big concerns in many regions,” Fritschen says. “Plus, if things do get wet, the higher temperatures will help them dry out faster.”
You’re more likely to be inspired. For a variety of reasons, your creative inspiration might peak in summer. It’s a happy, colorful season that leaves many people feeling extra-energized and motivated.
“Also, you might be out and about more in the warmer weather,” points out Fritschen. “You’re more apt to get ideas both from other people’s homes and in stores. So if you think a remodel might be in the cards for you—this summer or in the future—be sure to keep your eyes open for inspiration.”
It’s easier to maintain neighborly relations. Even if you and your neighbors are the best of friends, loud, noisy construction in the neighborhood can be frustrating—not to mention having to deal with extra vehicles and (depending on the nature of the project) blocked-off sections of road. According to Fritschen, these annoyances are most likely to have minimal effect during the summer.
“People are least likely to be homebound during the summer,” he says. “Who knows? Maybe your neighbors will be on their vacation during your remodel. Plus, everyone else on the block is more likely to be engaging in noisy outdoor activities as well. Between the sounds of mowers and kids playing, for instance, maybe any extra noise from your lot won’t be noticed.”
You can go underground to beat the heat. If you’ve been wanting to work on your basement, do it now…especially if heat is an issue for you. Your basement will be cool but not freezing, which will definitely be the case if you wait till later in the year.
Keep an eye out for more of Fritschen’s tips, coming soon in Part 2!
June 13, 2012 7:50 pm
It's hard to pick a sunscreen. You approach the shelf and are tasked with choosing between at least 20 different tubes. Not only that, each has a different level of protection, a special scent, an application method, and the absence (or presence) of certain ingredients. What are you to do?
Last summer, the Food and Drug Administration tried to arm consumers with the tools to pick the best sunscreen possible. It planned to cap sunscreens at SPF 50, do away with "waterproof" claims, and warn consumers to look for UVA protection.
Yet, it's still confusing out there. But luckily, Consumer Reports has finally stepped in and issued its 2012 Sunscreen Buying Guide. It even rates the best sunscreens on the market. After extensive testing, the following are some of the magazine's top picks:
• No-Ad lotion with aloe & vitamin E, SPF 45
• Walgreens continuous spray sport, SPF 50
• Coppertone oil-free foaming spray, SPF 75+
• All Terrain Aqua Sport lotion, SPF 30
• Banana Boat clear ultra-mist sports performance active dry protect spray, SPF 30
• Coppertone sport high performance ultra sweat-proof spray, SPF 30
• Eco all natural sunscreen body lotion, SPF 30
Even if you choose the best sunscreen for your needs, Consumer Reports warns that you have not fulfilled your sun protection duties. It urges consumers to wear hats and cover-ups, check ingredients, spray carefully and reapply approximately every 2 hours. The sun's rays can cause cancer, so be careful out there this summer.
June 13, 2012 7:50 pm
(ARA) - Water and the summer months tend to go hand-in-hand - water skiing or fishing at a lake, taking a dip in a swimming pool and watering home-grown plants with a garden hose are among the season's most popular activities. Recent summers have also been some of the driest on record, prompting grass fires, drastically low lake levels and water utilities having to implement water restrictions on their customers.
The National Weather Service has predicted that states from Georgia to Texas to California and even the Hawaiian islands will see persisting and potentially intensifying drought conditions this summer. In addition to local droughts, water scarcity is a global issue. According to the United Nations' Water for Life campaign, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world's population, live in parts of the world where access to clean water sources is extremely difficult. Additionally, water around the world is unevenly distributed, taken for granted and wasted, polluted or unsustainably managed.
"Water scarcity and access to clean water are issues in the U.S. and around the world, but the good news is that we can all make a positive difference when it comes to saving water," says Caitlin Feehan, environmental engineer with MWH Global, a water-focused engineering consulting firm. "While climate change, population growth and tendency to waste resources are impacting the world's water, there are small steps each of us can take to conserve water every day."
So how can you positively impact water usage inside and outside your home? Here are five simple tips for the summer months:
• Start with smart landscaping decisions. Adjust your lawn mower to a higher setting - longer grass shades the root systems and holds moisture in soil better than shorter grass. Also, consider composting kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and garden waste to retain more water, reduce erosion and even decrease weed growth.
• Water your yard responsibly. When summer temperatures heat up, water your lawn in the mornings to reduce water loss from evaporation. You can also set your sprinklers to a lower pressure. Why? Higher pressure creates a fine mist that evaporates faster or will blow away, thus wasting water.
• Start your day by showering with a low-flow showerhead. Low-flow showerheads limit the water flow to around three gallons per minute as compared to twice that for a normal showerhead. Pick one up at a local home improvement or hardware store. If you're remodeling a bathroom, you can look at other water- and energy-saving gadgets like tank-less water heaters or low-volume flush toilets.
• Reduce the amount of water that runs down drains. It's estimated that 95 percent of water that flows through a home runs down the drain, but simple steps like turning off the running water while brushing teeth or washing hands until it's time to rinse decreases water waste. Consider collecting some of this water when there may be another use for it, such as watering a plant. Also, rather than running cold water from the tap until it's cold enough to quench your summer thirst, refill and store a pitcher of water in the refrigerator.
• Save water and energy in the laundry room. Reduce water waste by running a washer only when it's full. Using cold water also reduces the amount of energy used and conserves hot water for other household needs that require it. Need a new washer? According to ENERGY STAR, the average American family washes almost 300 loads of laundry each year, but can significantly reduce energy and water usage by purchasing ENERGY STAR-qualified products. For example, a full-sized ENERGY STAR qualified washer uses 14 gallons of water per load, nearly 50 percent less water than a standard machine.
"Summer is the perfect time to evaluate how we use water as part of our daily routine," says Feehan. "Water is our planet's most precious resource that we can all conserve for future generations by taking smart, simple steps today."
For more information on water savings tips this summer and information on incentives or rebates in your area, check with your local water utility.
June 13, 2012 7:50 pm
Neighbors can be the greatest people in the world, or they can be your worst enemies. But the reality is that most neighbors fall somewhere in between -- yes, even if you think you love them.
There are dozens of ways your neighbors can hurt you or your property value without ever letting it be known. That's not even including the usual ways, such as noise and failing to maintain their homes. Consider the following five examples.
1. Using your Wi-Fi. If you haven't put a password on your Internet, do it now. If your neighbor logs onto your network and downloads child porn or copyrighted content, you may be on the hook. The authorities (and record companies) will force you to spend a lot of money explaining that it wasn't you.
2. Stealing your land. Little known is the concept of adverse possession. If your neighbor plants bushes or erects a fence or driveway on your property, those few inches (or feet) will eventually become theirs. Be vigilant about property lines so your neighbors can't hurt you.
3. Fences. In some jurisdictions, both neighbors are responsible for the upkeep of shared fences. If your neighbor isn't fulfilling his duty, you may end up paying for half a replacement fence.
4. Bed bugs. This is one of the worst ways neighbors can hurt you. If you live in a condo, duplex or row house, they'll infest everything. And unfortunately, it's very hard to pinpoint their source, so everyone may end up being responsible for remediation.
5. Trees. When a branch hangs over into your yard, the tree is technically encroaching upon your property. You arguably have a right -- and duty -- to cut some branches so the tree isn't so side-heavy. If you don't, and they fall and cause damage, the injured party may try to hold you responsible. Ouch.
June 13, 2012 7:50 pm
Inspection. The act of physically examining and testing a piece of property to ascertain certain information.
June 13, 2012 7:50 pm
A: Just about every state now offers loans for renovation and rehabilitation at below-market interest rates through its Housing Finance Agency or a similar agency. Call your governor’s office to get the name and phone number of the agency in your area.
At the municipal level, many cities also have programs for special improvements to certain blocks and neighborhoods they are trying to spruce up. Call City Hall, as well as a Community Development Agency in your city.
June 12, 2012 6:20 pm
With summer coming on and children spending more time playing outdoors, every parent needs to arm their kids against intrusion by strangers.
“Stranger danger is a topic every family should discuss with all children over the age of three,” said police officer John Carpino, a contributor to the family safety Internet resource safetycops.com. “Knowing how to respond to strangers is one of the greatest safety issues of our time.”
Beyond warning kids not to talk to strangers, Carpino offers five tips for parents to impress on their children:
• Never approach a car pulling up to the curb for directions – Adults do not ask children for directions. If an adult calls to you from a car, run toward home and do not respond.
• Never agree to look for a ‘lost’ pet – Do not respond if an adult approaches you to help him or her find a lost puppy or kitten. Run toward home instead.
• Beware of police officers out of uniform – If a police officer needs to talk to a child, he or she will be wearing a uniform and driving a marked squad car. Run from anyone who is not doing so, even if they say they are officers.
• Remember the code word – Every family should set up a code word to be used in case of emergency. Kids should know that if someone other than a parent tries to pick them up at school or anyplace else, they must be sure that person knows the code word.
• Know your address and phone number and how to call 911 – Children should memorize their address and phone number as soon as they are able. They should know how to call 911 from any phone and be aware that no coins are needed to call 911 from a public phone.
June 12, 2012 6:20 pm
So you invested in a laminate floor? Good for you. These floors have a long lifespan, and if treated with respect, they can last even longer!
Unlike hardwood floors, which are subject to staining, fading in sunlight, and easily scratching and denting, laminate floors offer the look of hardwood or stone flooring without the expense and required maintenance.
To keep your laminate floor in perfect condition, follow these simple guidelines:
• Avoid letting dust, dirt and moisture accumulate. Place area rugs or doormats at entrances to help trap loose dirt and debris. Vacuuming or sweeping is usually sufficient to keep a laminate floor clean.
• Laminate's stain- and moisture-resistant surface makes spills and other messes easy to handle. Most spills will wipe up easily with a clean, white cloth. If not, dampen a rag with water and spot clean, or clean the area by damp mopping. Don't use a wet mop.
• Laminate doesn't require waxes or varnishes to keep it looking great. Never use wax, soap or detergents, which could leave a residue.
• Don't use wood polish on your laminate floor. It can create a dull finish and slick walking surface.
• Don't use abrasive cleaners, steel wool or scouring powder, as these may scratch your floor.
• Use chairs with soft casters and place felt pads under the feet of heavy furniture.
• Note that each manufacturer provides specific instructions on how to properly care for its laminate flooring. Check information provided on the product, or consult the manufacturer's website.
June 12, 2012 6:20 pm
From an elegant dinner party with close friends to a casual cookout with the whole family, your backyard can be the perfect place to entertain with ease during the warm summer months. Follow these simple steps and you'll be prepared to host a soiree at the spur of the moment.
Take a seat. Before inviting guests to stop by, spend a few minutes to get your patio furniture looking lounge-worthy. Plastic chairs can easily be cleaned by sprinkling baking soda on a damp sponge and wiping it down. The baking soda acts as a mild abrasive to help scrub furniture clean.
Set the stage. Make sure your lawn looks well-manicured by trimming overgrown bushes and trees and raking up any leaves or twigs that have built up. Then, spruce things up with inexpensive flower pots filled with colorful blooms. For evening gatherings, a few delicate strands of party lights will cast a soft glow around the backyard.
Fire up the grill. Burgers and brats are a staple of summer entertaining, so dust off the grill before company arrives. Sprinkle dry baking soda on a damp brush and then scrub the grill to remove dirt and food build-up. For tough stains, make a paste of three parts baking soda to one part warm water, and then scrub with a wire brush. Rinse the grill clean and let dry before barbecuing your favorite meal.
Party on. If you have some extra space, put together some party-ready essentials so they're always on hand. Stock up on plastic plates, cups, napkins and serving pieces so you're ready for an impromptu get-together. Other things to consider: citronella candles and a few inexpensive table cloths.
Make a splash. Keep pool water crystal clear and balanced with ARM & HAMMER Baking Soda, available in a convenient 13.5-pound, resealable bag. You can also clean plastic and vinyl pool toys with a solution of 1/4 cup baking soda mixed in one quart warm water -- just wipe down and then rinse.