Mary Mastroeni
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Mary Mastroeni

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HOAs vs. Solar Panels: What Gives?

May 18, 2012 5:46 pm

I have visited the subject of Homeowner Associations (HOAs) in the past, but it recently became apparent that HOAs are still making headlines - this time because many are still working to prevent the installation of energy saving solar panels. This is a conflict that is perplexing, to say the least.
Even where there are state laws on the books preventing the practice, HOAs around the country are apparently still preventing the installation of solar panels, and the solar industry and individual consumers are fighting back for their right to produce their own, green energy. 

Today, about two-dozen states currently forbid or limit HOAs or local governments from banning solar panels, according to a database run by North Carolina State University. But as equipment costs trend down and governments subsidize the cost of solar panels and systems, the issue is sure to continue plaguing energy-conscious consumers who are part of HOAs. 

While California's solar rights laws date back to the late 1970s, an appellate court recently upheld a decision forcing a couple to remove solar panels from their yard - although they were permitted to keep other panels on their roof. 

Texas has also adopted a law barring homeowners associations from blocking solar panels, permitting them on roofs, in fenced-in yards or on patios. And by this time next year in Georgia any neighborhood or association that does not set a ban will be unable to restrict a homeowner from installing solar panels.
On the other hand, if you are part of a HOA looking to find a compromise to suit energy-conscious residents, take a look at some advice from Molly Foley-Healy at Winzenburg, Leff, Purvis & Payne, LLP who posts on the subject at the Colorado Homeowners Association Law blog. 

She noted that in Colorado, HOAs are permitted to adopt aesthetic provisions (commonly referred to as “architectural guidelines”) that impose reasonable restrictions on the dimensions, placement or external appearance of solar panels and that do not significantly increase the cost of the solar panels; or significantly decrease the performance or efficiency of the solar panels. 

Associations are also permitted to adopt bona fide safety requirements, required by an applicable building code or recognized electrical safety standard, for the protection of persons or property.

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Where to Find Your Retirement-Planning Confidence

May 18, 2012 5:46 pm

With the leisure and reward of retirement a few short years away, the majority of baby boomers—born between 1945 and 1966—are confident they have adequately planned and saved for their golden years. This is according to new research from investing services company Scottrade, Inc., which also found that 56 percent of baby boomers expect to fully retire between the ages of 55 and 74. 

DIY Retirement Planning
Overall, 72 percent of Americans report a strong level of confidence in their ability to plan their own retirement. That confidence comes from two actions: discussing retirement plans and savings strategies with others, and monitoring the news. Thirty-nine percent also said their self-assurance came from the fact that they preserved most of their retirement savings through the economic downturn.
"More online and in-person investment education opportunities are available to Americans than ever before," said Kim Wells, Scottrade's executive director of product development and chief marketing officer. "The availability of easy-to-use online trading and investing tools is empowering investors to build their portfolios and take charge of their financial futures themselves." 

Retirement Fund Trends
Scottrade's research found that more than half of Americans, at 55 percent, are actively planning their retirement without the help of an advisor. This do-it-yourself action plan seems to be working. The majority of Americans did not see the value of their retirement accounts decline last year, and 73 percent reported the value of their retirement accounts either increased or stayed the same. 

For Americans who saw a decline in their account value, 67 percent expect to recover those losses within 10 years. In response, a growing number of Americans are looking to save more in order to rebuild their retirement accounts, and 35 percent of Americans plan to save up to 10 percent more. 

Staying on Track
For those who are uncertain whether they're contributing enough to their retirement fund, online calculators make it easy to determine how much should be contributed annually, based on age, income and retirement plan.

Source: www.scottrade.com

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Long Hours Can Be Tough on the Eyes

May 18, 2012 5:46 pm

Americans are known for spending long hours in the office, and their eyes often pay the price.
“Many people suffer from a problem called computer vision syndrome,” says Severin B. Palydowycz, MD at Hudson Valley Ambulatory Surgery, LLC. “As a result of looking at a computer screen during hours at the office as well as at home, they can develop a combination of eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, and dry eyes.” 

Computer vision syndrome is caused by several different factors, not just the computer screen. Poor lighting, glare, inadequate breaks, the wrong chair, improper positioning of the keyboard, and other aspects of the office environment all can contribute to eye discomfort. Dr. Palydowycz points out that unrelated and untreated common vision problems such as farsightedness and aging of the eyes can make symptoms worse. 

“The good news is that computer vision syndrome can be treated with simple changes to an office environment,” notes Dr. Palydowycz. He offers the following suggestions: 

• Adjust overhead, desk and window lighting, shades, and computer screen position to control glare.
• Position the computer screen 4 to 5 inches below eye level and about 20 to 28 inches away.
• Adjust the contrast and brightness on your screen and change font size so that type is easy to read.
• If possible, locate documents where you can see them without moving your head away from the screen.
• Consider getting glasses specifically for computer and desk work.
• Follow the 20-minute rule – for every 20 minutes of screen time, look away at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to relax your eyes.
• Blink often.

Sources: http://www.hudsonvalleyambsurg.com , http://www.tristateeye.com

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Word of the Day

May 18, 2012 5:46 pm

First mortgage. Mortgage on a property that is superior to any other. It is the first to be paid in the event of foreclosure.

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Q: Is Buying a Home in a ‘Bad’ Area a Good idea?

May 18, 2012 5:46 pm

A: It depends. So-called “bad” areas – often described as those that are residentially unstable or poor – have offered an affordable means of homeownership for many – particularly young, first-time buyers and low- to moderate-income families interested in a home they can call their own. Whether it is right for you to buy a fixer-upper will depend on your personal threshold for risk and your level of tolerance. That said, however, many run-down neighborhoods, particularly those close to downtown, are benefiting from a residential resurgence as an influx of newcomers jump-start what were once staid, unsafe or depressed areas.


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Three Things to Consider before Purchasing Your First Home

May 18, 2012 5:46 pm

(ARA)—Buying your first home will likely be one of the most exciting and scary times of your life. Beyond the basic considerations - location, number of bathrooms, ranch style vs. multilevel - there are a number of important financial factors to determine before deciding which house is right for you.

1. Determine how a home purchase will affect your current lifestyle. In addition to the overall expense of the home, it is important to consider how long you plan to stay in the home, as well as your overall debt, both on credit cards and other loans. According to Investopedia.com, affordability should be the No. 1 thing you look for in a home, but you also need to be stable enough to know you are going to want to live in the home you pick for at least 10 years. If not, you could get stuck in a home you can't afford in a city you're ready to leave.

Not surprisingly, location not only affects affordability, but also potential resale value. Amy Hoak of MarketWatch states, "Homes located within walking distance of amenities such as schools, parks and shopping aren't only more convenient for their owners, often they're also worth more than homes in neighborhoods where driving is the rule." Consider your lifestyle when you choose a location. Spending more to live within strolling distance of your favorite shops and restaurants is only valuable if you'll take advantage of that proximity. BankRate.com offers a handy tool to help predict your monthly mortgage payments in different communities.

2. Consider your options for purchasing a home. Building a new home gives you greater control over style and finishes, though your move-in date will depend on the construction schedule. Newer existing homes will likely require fewer updates than an older home, but may be priced at a premium. If you are shopping for a starter home, consider your plans for the future. A smaller house may require less home maintenance and upkeep, but if you are looking for a larger long term investment and a place to grow and raise a family, opting for more space from the get-go may make the most sense.

3. Whatever the condition or age of the home you purchase, there's always the chance you'll want to make some changes, such as renovating a bathroom or upgrading your kitchen, or remodeling parts of the home to accommodate an expanding family. Try to anticipate and factor these costs into your total budget before purchasing a home. When it's time for these changes, will you be ready financially?

According to Consumer Reports, kitchen and bathrooms are at the top of homeowner's wish lists in terms of rooms that need work. Luckily, updating the kitchen or bathroom to reflect your personal style doesn't have to be an expensive task. Replacing your plumbing fixtures and finishes can dramatically transform the space.

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Early Bird Alert: 10 Features of a Good Bird House

May 18, 2012 5:46 pm

Is your yard full of birds? Encourage nesting with a great bird house. The below tips outline the best things to look for when purchasing a bird house. 

1. No perch in front
Tree cavities in the wild have no perches, so birds that use nest boxes don’t need them. Perches can be a disadvantage in that they may attract House Sparrows, an invasive species that often takes over nests from native cavity-nesting birds.
2. Proper entry-hole size
The most common cavity-nesting birds can use an entrance hole between 1 ¼” and 1 ½” in diameter. This size also keeps out European Starlings, another invasive species that take over nest boxes from native species. Having the entry hole reinforced with a guard helps prevent squirrels and raccoons from reaching down into the box.
3. Floor dimensions
The inside dimensions of the box are important and should be at least 4 inches by 4 inches so there is room for the young of more common species to develop. Other birds such as woodpeckers or ducks have more specific needs.
4. Box height
The distance from the bottom of the entrance hole to the floor of the box should be at least 5 inches. This keeps the developing young well down in the box and away from predators that might approach the entry hole.
5. Be Able to Open
The box should open easily, either on the side, front, or top by turning a latch or removing a screw. This helps in two ways—to monitor the progress and health of the young and to clean out the box after the young have fledged and at the end of the season.
6. Ventilation
There must be holes or slits at the top of the box sides or along the top of the front of the box to let hot air out when the sun beats down on the box in summer.
7. Drainage Holes
The bottom of the box needs to have holes or cut off corners to allow any water to drain out of the box.
8. A Way to Attach the Box
Check to see if there is some way that you can attach the box to a pole, such as predrilled holes and screws or a mounting paddle on the back. Some boxes can be bottom-mounted and some can be rear-mounted on appropriate poles with the correct adapters.
9. Proper materials
Be sure that the materials the box is made of are ¾” wood or a similar material that will insulate the birds from cold and heat. Duncraft has been making beautiful, durable houses with recycled plastic. The only exception to wood or plastic is housing for Purple Martins—often these are made of metal.
10. Roof Overhang
The roof should overhang the entrance hole by 1 to 2 inches. This both shades the entrance hole and keeps the rain out. 

Source: Duncraft

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Keep Safe with Tips for 2012 Tornado Season

May 18, 2012 5:46 pm

This year’s tornado season got off to an early start across the South, and the National Weather Service is predicting another savage storm season after recording one of the deadliest tornado seasons ever last year. 

The next few months are typically the most active for twisters, so take the following safety suggestions into mind. 

"Deadly tornadoes can occur anywhere with limited warning, so it’s important to be prepared,” says Michael Gillerlane, a senior assistant vice president for Amica Insurance. “Make sure you have an emergency supply kit in your home with food, water and a radio with extra batteries.” 

It’s also important to locate an emergency shelter in your community and develop an emergency communication plan with your family in case someone is separated, Gillerlane said. Also, remember to keep your cell phone charged and with you, in case of an emergency. 

Most important, be aware of weather conditions that spawn tornadoes, especially powerful thunderstorms, Gillerlane said. Pay attention to news alerts:
• A tornado watch means tornadoes are possible, so make sure to keep checking for news and updates.
• A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated on radar, so it’s important to seek shelter immediately.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency says warning signs of a tornado include:
• Dark, often greenish sky
• Large hail
• Low-lying clouds, particularly if rotating
• A loud roar, similar to that of a freight train 

If a tornado is headed your way, stay inside and take cover, Gillerlane said. Basements are the safest place to stay. Turn off all utilities, especially natural gas or propane to avoid fire. If you don’t have time to go to an emergency shelter, stay inside your home, keep away from doors and windows and head to the basement if possible. 

"If a tornado does strike your community, monitor local news and weather before you head outside,” Gillerlane says. “Stay clear of downed wires and evacuate the area immediately if you smell gas. Also, be careful entering any buildings that have been damaged.” 

Source: Amica Insurance

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Word of the Day

May 18, 2012 5:46 pm

Fixtures. Any personal property that has been permanently attached to real property and therefore included in the transfer of real estate. For example, the kitchen sink is a fixture.

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Q: How Do I Determine the Value of a Distressed Property?

May 18, 2012 5:46 pm

A: One of the best ways is to get your hands on a comparable market analyses. See what price similar properties have sold for in the past and find out the listing price of others currently on the market.
It is important to examine the fixer-upper carefully and figure out how much it will cost to fix any defects or repairs. If you are unable to get in, talk with nearby neighbors about the home’s condition.
You can also do your own cost comparison by researching comparable properties recorded at the local county recorder's and assessor's offices, or at Internet sites specializing in property records. If the property is in foreclosure, you should get as much information as possible from the lender.

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