March 6, 2012 7:50 pm
Q: What should I look for in a warranty from a remodeling contractor?
A: A well-written warranty document detailing specific information should be provided and incorporated as an addendum to the construction contract. Information should also be provided as to the procedure to follow for prompt warranty services, as well as what happens should a dispute arise over warranty issues.
March 5, 2012 7:50 pm
Q: How are individual property tax bills figured?
A: Unlike the income tax and the sales tax you pay, the property tax is not based on how much money you earn or how much you spend. It is based solely on how much the property you own is worth.
The real property tax is an ad valorem tax, or a tax based on the value of property.
Ideally, the owners of property of equal value pay the same amount of property taxes, and the owners of more valuable property pay more in taxes than the owners of less valuable property. The tax is calculated using a variety of formulas and is based on a property’s assessed value—its full market value or a percentage thereof –and the tax rate of the taxing jurisdiction, minus any property tax exemptions, such as those offered for the elderly or veterans.
March 5, 2012 4:50 pm
You’ve just moved into your new home—or new to you, at least. But while the congratulations cards are still coming in, you begin to notice a few little flaws you never noticed earlier—like stains in the bathtub, or a dusty chandelier that may not have been cleaned since the day it was installed.
Never fear, say the home repair gurus at Real Simple magazine. Even novice homeowners can make simple repairs with the expertise of a professional. Here are easy fixes for six of common challenges that may face the novice homeowner:
• Bathtub stains – Combine equal parts cream of tartar and baking soda with enough lemon juice to make a paste. Rub the mixture into the stain with your fingers or a soft cloth. Let sit for half an hour, then rinse with warm water.
• Tub decals – Spray the decals and surrounding area with WD-40, lifting the edges to get underneath if possible. Let sit, then gently scrape away the decals using the edge of a credit card. Degrease the tub with liquid dishwashing soap.
• Dirty chandelier - Allow the fixture to cool. Wear a pair of white cotton glovesâ€•one dry, one dampened with glass cleaner. (For crystal, use one part rubbing alcohol to three parts distilled water.) Wipe each prism first with the damp glove, then the dry one.
• Stuck sliding windows - A little silicone spray lubricant, sold at hardware stores, will grease the skids. Spray it onto a rag, then wipe along the tracks, whether they’re metal, wood, or plastic.
• Dried out cutting board - Revive by gently warming a bottle of pure mineral oil (available at drugstores) in a bowl of hot water, then wiping the oil onto the surface with a soft cloth. Wipe off the excess four to six hours later.
• Stuck-in light bulb - Press the center of a foot-long strip of duct tape onto the middle of the bulb. Fold each loose end in half so it sticks to itself. Gripping each end between your thumb and index finger, give a counterclockwise twist to loosen the bulb.
March 5, 2012 4:50 pm
Recent tornadoes tore through the Midwest, leaving tons of homeowners responsible for cleaning up the aftermath.
The Restoration Industry Association provides the following tips for individuals impacted by the storms:
• Notify your insurance company of the loss.
• Keep a notebook to track dates and times of conversations with individuals pertaining to your claim.
• Secure buildings to prevent vandalism or further damage from weather. Most insurance policies require homeowners to take reasonable action to protect a property from further damage. Tarp or board up open spaces only if safe and appropriate.
• Shut off main water, gas and electricity supplies.
• Save receipts for meals, hotels, toiletries, replacement clothing, prescriptions, etc.
• Take photos of each room or area for future reference and insurance claims. This will provide a digital inventory of some visible contents.
• If electrical appliances, including televisions and computers are damaged, do not turn them back on when power is restored. This can result in electric shock and/or do further damage to the appliance. Electronics can often be cleaned & restored by contractors who know what they're doing.
• When it is safe to enter a property, look for valuables and important papers (e.g., birth/marriage certificates, wills, tax records, etc.)
• Beware of scammers offering restoration services. Check references thoroughly.
• Wear heavy rubber gloves or work gloves and thick-soled shoes, preferably not tennis shoes.
• Wash your hands frequently—especially before touching your face or eating.
• Be careful of sharp items such as broken glass, nails, etc. while searching debris.
• Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
• Do not use bleach to disinfect since it is corrosive and can react with other substances. Use household disinfectants.
• Hard surfaces can be disinfected as well as some soft goods, depending on washability.
• Transport computers, art work and musical instruments to a dry environment.
• Damaged papers and books can be frozen temporarily to prevent further disintegration until they can be restored by a professional.
• Homeowners may hire any company they choose for restoration work, not just a company recommended by the insurance company.
March 5, 2012 4:50 pm
In the wake of recent severe thunderstorms, wind and hail damage across the country, homeowners could now be faced with another disaster: unscrupulous storm-chasing contractors.
Storm chasers often go from house to house looking for people who need help cleaning up storm damage, offering promises of quick repairs for cash up-front.
“If a person you don’t know comes to your door promising to help if you’ll just pay in cash, just say ‘no,’” says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, which provides consumer reviews on local contractors and service companies. “Severe storms can be traumatic, and people trying to put their lives back together shouldn’t have to worry about trouble from shady contractors. With just a little research, you can find a reliable person who will get you back on the feet and keep you there.”
Roofs often take the brunt of the damage from storms, especially hail. Hail damage costs U.S. homeowners more than $1 billion in property damage each year. Only the destruction wrought by wind storms and tornadoes causes more damage, according to the National Weather Service. Be sure to know what your insurance policy covers in the event of hail damage. If you have damage, contact your agent as soon as possible.
Some storm-chasing roofing companies tell homeowners that they need their roof replaced, when it often just needs a few repairs. This is why hiring a company with a good reputation is so important, because few homeowners want to—or can—climb up on their roof and figure out what’s really needed.
“If your home suffers damage, get estimates from at least three licensed, local contractors with a good reputation,” Hicks says. “Understand that the best service companies are going to be the busiest, so patience is key. You might have to wait a little longer to get the work done, but you want to have it correctly the first time. You don’t want to get stuck paying for the same job to be done twice because you hired the first person to come knocking on your door offering help.”
Tips to avoid shady storm chasers:
• If a stranger comes to your storm-ravaged yard offering to repair your roof, remove trees or do other major repair work for cash upfront, just say no.
• Do your research: Check references and the status of the contractor’s bonding and liability insurance coverage.
• Don’t cave into pressure or scare tactics.
• High-quality tree services, plumbers, roofers and hauling companies are in high demand when storms hit. Beware the company with time on its hands when every other similar company can’t even answer the phones.
• Don't hire the first contractor who comes along and offers to do the job. Get at least three estimates to compare.
• Get estimates in writing and a contract that includes the project price, materials to be used and a timeline for completion.
Tips on what to do after a storm:
• Do a visual inspection: Look at your home, automobiles and other property exposed to the storm. Take a picture of any damage you find.
• Call at least three reputable contractors: Get apples to apples estimates for the repairs you need.
• Review your insurance policy: Ensure you know what you’re entitled to. Some insurance companies surcharge or up rate for any claim, therefore it is best to know if you have damage before you call.
• If there is damage: Call your insurance agent right away to file a claim.
• Check contractor credentials: Check that your contractor has a good reputation, is licensed, insured and can do the work.
• Get it in writing: Expect to pay a deposit for materials, but always get a contract in writing that discusses payment terms. Make sure the contract includes a termination clause, should the contractor fail to meet your guidelines. Never pay cash in advance for work.
March 5, 2012 4:50 pm
Are your family finances tight? Do you cringe when your kids start a new season of baseball or ballet because you know you are about to cough up $300 in gear?
Raising children can be expensive—but it doesn’t always have to be, according to Kate Raidt , author of The Million-Dollar Parent. Raidt, who is featured in Parents, Parenting and Woman’s Day magazines, suggests the following four tips to help your family enjoy the fun things in life but also relieve the financial stress that comes with raising children:
1. Ask for hand-me-downs. From sports gear to ballet apparel, Raidt suggests always asking for hand-me-downs. “When my daughter needed tap shoes ($60 a pair), I found a mom in the class before us whose daughter had just outgrown her tap shoes and she gave them to us for free! When we needed ballet shoes, the dance studio had an entire box full of donations and lost-and-found that they were selling for $2. Ask other parents or the sports league for used gear—and you will always find a better deal (or free) rather than buying these things new,” writes Raidt.
2. Babysitting Swaps. Raidt saves money on babysitting by finding arranging babysitting swaps. To do this, find a family with children of similar ages and swapbabysitting duties every now and then; one week, you will watch their kids while they go out together. Next time, they will watch yours. “Not only did this spruce up our marriage by having more “alone time” but we have not spent a penny on a babysitter in years. We have saved over $3,000 per year by implementing babysitting swaps!”
3. Tap Natural Resources. In most cities, tap water—especially once it’s been filtered—is perfectly healthy to drink. “Today’s families are drinking far too many sodas, juices and sports drinks and not nearly enough water anyways. So save money, calories, tooth decay, diabetes and obesity by drinking tap water in lieu of sugary drinks,” writes Raidt.
4. Reuse. Getting second-hand clothes, toys and furniture is a great way to save money and go green. “By shopping at yard sales, you pay 5 cents on the dollar what you would pay at a store—and you are the only person who knows it’s not brand new. Also, every family should have a yard sale of their own twice per year to clear out the clutter,” writes Raidt.
March 2, 2012 4:48 pm
Blockbusting. Illegal practice of creating panic selling in a neighborhood for financial gain. Typically exploits racial and religious bias to get homeowners to sell low so the properties can be resold at a mark up.
March 2, 2012 4:48 pm
Q: When remodeling, what cost controls or budgeting ideas might be helpful?
A: Plan ahead and create a realistic budget. Decide on the items and materials you would like to have in a room and set your budget accordingly. This will prevent hasty, and costly, decisions down the road. The experts suggest setting aside 10-20% of your budget to cover unforeseen problems and miscellaneous charges. Then, choose less expensive products that will help you achieve the look you’re trying to obtain. Avoid labor intensive design features, such as tiled floors. You may also want to pursue your home improvement in stages, if you can’t afford to pay for the entire project at once. Also, purchase surplus, secondhand, or discounted materials from other contractors, warehouses or classified websites like www.build.recylce.net to reduce costs. If possible, avoid too many take-out meals and/or hotel stays. Try isolating construction areas so that your living space isn’t interrupted and other household space can be used to heat or prepare meals once the kitchen is being remodeled.
March 2, 2012 4:48 pm
Healthy habits such as eating well, being physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight are key strategies for managing cardiovascular disease—the number one cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association. That is why it is incredibly important to approach breakfast with your heart in mind to start the day off right.
Kellogg's is now making it easier for shoppers to find its great tasting, fiber-rich heart-healthy cereal options with a new front-of-pack label. Their "Heart Healthy Selection" logo will appear on nine varieties, including new Raisin Bran Cinnamon Almond.
Considering the American Heart Association predicts cardiovascular diseases will increase by about 10 percent over the next 20 years, and that 40 percent of all adults (116 million people) will have at least one form of this disease, it is important to eat for your heart now. Here are some steps the brand recommends:
• Look for heart-healthy cereals. Heart-healthy cereals are great ways to kick-start your intake of fiber and whole grain each day. Additionally, they are low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and provide many key nutrients that the body needs.
• Pick fruits and veggies. Their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber do your heart good. Many contain potassium, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Adding fruits to cereal can really pack a nutritional punch to your morning breakfast bowl.
• Limit sodium. Eating less sodium (found in salt and other ingredients) may help support healthy blood pressure. Look for reduced—or low—sodium versions of frozen dinners, soups, canned vegetables, and sauces. Prepare foods with less salt and zing up the taste with herbs, spices, lemon juice or flavored vinegar.
• Trim saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fat. They not only raise the calories but can raise your risk of heart disease. Choose lean cuts of meat (with "loin" or "round" in the name) and skinless poultry. Use low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese. Buy packaged foods labeled "0 grams" trans fat per serving. Low saturated fat (1 gram or 5 percent or less of the Daily Value/serving) is ideal.
• Put more fish on the menu. Eat "oily" fish such as salmon, trout and herring at least twice a week for their heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, and prepare by baking, broiling, grilling, or poaching.
March 2, 2012 4:48 pm
You’ve landed an interview for a job you want with a company you would like to work for. Congratulations! It’s a great first step. Now, what can you do to pull off such a great interview that an employment offer comes next?
Prepare, say employment specialists at Indiana University, who offer five tips for putting your best foot forward at your next important job interview:
• Research the company – Employers are impressed when you know something about their company: what they do, their size, their values or mission, and the job they are seeking to fill. Get online to find out all you can – and be thinking, before the interview, how and why you would be a good fit.
• Practice describing yourself – In the course of the interview, you will likely be asked about your skills, your personality traits, and past employment experience. Practice emphasizing the positives, describing what you’ve learned from overcoming any weaknesses, and pointing out how your previous successes will add value to their company.
• Try to relax – Nervousness before an interview is normal. Take time to dress suitably, eat a high protein meal or snack, and leave plenty of travel time so you arrive calm and a bit early. The interview begins the moment you arrive, so be sure to smile warmly, shake hands when appropriate, and look everyone in the eye—beginning with the receptionist or assistant.
• Take notes – In a small notebook, feel free to take notes on job specifics the interviewer mentions – or to write down comments or questions you want to voice when you have the opportunity to do so.
• Turn the tables – At some point, you will be asked if you have questions. Make the most of the opportunity based in part on the notes you have taken. You may want to discuss the line of supervision, typical assignments, or opportunities for advancement. A first interview is generally not the time to discuss salary or benefits unless the interviewer brings up the subject. It is very appropriate to ask what the next step is in the hiring process.
• Write a thank you – Send a short, written thank you note to the interviewer within two or three days of the interview. Unless you have had previous email contact with the interviewer, use regular mail.