December 14, 2011 5:08 pm
It used to be that if you were moving into an apartment or anything but a sophisticated private community or condo complex, you dealt with a property manager or landlord. But I recently learned that today, even modest condo clusters, apartment complexes and entire neighborhoods are ruled by community or homeowners associations.
In a recent post from HALT, a Washington, D.C. based organization aiming to help Americans navigate the legal system with or without a lawyer, the number of community associations has exploded in the past decades, growing from 10,000 in 1970 to a quarter million today.
An estimated 50 million Americans now live within community associations. So if you’re in the market for a condo, townhouse or co-op, there are some important things you should know about your rights and responsibilities if your future home is part of a community association.
HALT says community associations require individual owners, as members of the association, to be bound by contract to a set of rules that is enforced typically by an elected group of members called the board of directors. The board also collects payments from members to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the association.
Community associations can exercise a tremendous amount of control over the residents living within them, including restrictions that dictate things like what color you paint your house, what type of shrubs or flowers you plant in your yard—even what your garbage can must look like.
HALT publishes a checklist for potential tenants and residents bound by community or homeowners associations. The organization advises you to:
• Carefully read the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions or CC&Rs. Determine whether or not the requirements and obligations of tenants are compatible with your needs and lifestyle.
• Obtain a copy of the bylaws. Carefully examine the by-laws and any additional rules or documents to be sure you will be a good fit in the association.
• Review the association’s financial status. Determine that the association is financially stable by reviewing its operating budget, reserve account and insurance cover- age. Also find out what your financial role will be—ask how much the assessments (or bills) are and what the process is for collecting and raising them.
• Visit the association and attend a board meeting. Get a sense of what living in an association would be like by visiting the association and talking to members. Also attend a board meeting or review minutes of previous meetings to get a feeling for how the association is run.
• Plan to get involved. Know that this legwork is only the first step. Prepare to stay informed by attending meetings and reading all notices issued by the board of directors once you move in.
December 14, 2011 5:08 pm
Winter is upon us, and if you haven’t already done your prep-work, now is the time. Preparing your home for a frosty season can save you time, money and the headache of dealing with sky-high heating bills. Plus, a well insulated home is environmentally friendly, as it uses less energy, so you’re helping the planet and your wallet. Now that’s a winter win.
To prepare your house for winter, some important steps you should take include:
• Replace or clean filters of forced air furnaces monthly.
• Have your heating system inspected annually by a qualified professional.
• Make sure you are not losing heated air through loose or faulty connections in your home's ductwork.
• Seal windows and doors with weather stripping or caulk.
December 14, 2011 5:08 pm
Many residents will be doing a fair amount of snow shoveling this season, which leaves some people thinking about all the pain that will come once they’re finally back indoors. However, shoveling snow can actually be good exercise if done safely and correctly.
"Shoveling snow for about fifteen minutes at a time counts as moderate physical activity, similar to a brisk walk," says Terry Carolan, PT, NCS, ATP, clinical manager at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. "Adults are generally advised to do about 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise at least three to four days a week and shoveling can help provide that—especially during the winter months when both outdoor temperatures and personal motivation tend to drop."
However, snow shoveling, like most types of exercise, does present some physical risks.
Kessler, a leader in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, offers these guidelines:
• Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
• Avoid caffeine or nicotine, as they can cause extra stress on the heart, especially among individuals with a history of or are at high risk for a heart attack.
• Dress in layers and be sure to wear a hat, gloves, and sturdy, non-skid footwear.
• Do some basic warm-up exercises before shoveling, such as walking for a few minutes or marching in place. Stretch the muscles in your arms and legs. Warm muscles will work more efficiently and are less likely to become injured.
• Try to shovel fresh snow rather than partially melted and packed snow.
- Lift small amounts at a time using your legs, not your back.
- Scoop snow in a forward motion and step in the direction as you throw the snow. Avoid twisting and tossing the snow over your shoulder or to the side.
- If possible, try pushing the snow forward rather than lifting.
• Make sure you have a good snow shovel. Many newer models offer ergonomic features to facilitate lifting and throwing.
• Pace yourself. Take frequent rest breaks and avoid over-exertion.
• Most importantly, if you experience any pain in the chest or arm, shortness of breath or profuse sweating, stop shoveling immediately and seek appropriate medical attention.
December 14, 2011 5:08 pm
While winter may not be gardening season, many seasoned gardeners know that planning ahead will provide you with better blooms come spring. Plus, what better way to stay warm this winter than focus on sunny days ahead?
Paul Ellison of Floral & Hardy Gardens design shares his top 10 tips for planning a garden design project.
1. Get references. Before contracting work with a garden designer, speak to previous clients and visit completed projects. This way you can gauge quickly the quality of work, ask the opinion of the owner and see how a project has aged since installation.
2. Agree fixed costs. Always agree fixed costs for the project up-front. With no certainty as to how long a project will take, agreeing to pay day rates can cause the overall price to skyrocket. Make sure that the fixed costs agreed include: a breakdown of design and each phase of the project.
3. Read the small print. Ensure a formal contract is in place and always read the small print; investigate anything you're not sure about before committing to sign.
4. Agree to timescales. Agree estimated project timescales, but do have an understanding that uncontrollable elements, such as the weather, may cause some delays.
5. Make sure construction work is guaranteed. Ensure that all construction work is guaranteed; investigate the type company you are hiring. Generally a limited company will be able to offer better value for money than a sole trader; the larger scale of a limited company means that greater purchasing power can translate into savings on materials- which are passed directly to the client.
6. Choose a company to design and build your garden. Make sure the company you choose is designing and building your garden; many garden designers outsource to independent contractors. The risk is that a larger chain of design and labor is more likely to result in communication issues and differing standards of work.
7. Plan ahead for winter. Consider the ways in which you would like to use your garden throughout the entire year; a good garden designer will not forget the winter months.
8. Consider your needs. Consider the practical side of you garden; do you need storage for children's toys or garden equipment? Be sure to build this into your plan.
9. Discuss future maintenance. Ask about the level of post-project maintenance of a proposed design. Unless you are an avid every-day gardener you will want to ensure your garden requires minimal upkeep.
10. Ask for advice. Seek professional advice before embarking on a project yourself; garden renovation can quickly become complicated. Before attempting complicated landscaping, such as changing landforms and bodies of water, seek professional guidance.
December 14, 2011 5:08 pm
Right of first refusal. A person’s right to have the first opportunity to either lease or purchase real property.
December 14, 2011 5:08 pm
Q: Are there standard ways to determine how much a home is worth?
A: Yes. A comparative market analysis and an appraisal are the two most common and reliable ways to determine a home's value.
Your real estate agent can provide a comparative market analysis, an informal estimate of value based on the recent selling price of similar neighborhood properties. Reviewing comparable homes that have sold within the past year along with the listing, or asking, price on current homes for sale should prevent you from overpaying.
A certified appraiser can provide an appraisal of a home. After visiting the home to check such things as the number of rooms, improvements, size and square footage, construction quality, and the condition of the neighborhood, the appraiser then reviews recent comparable sales to determine the estimated value of the home.
Lenders normally require an appraisal – which run between $200 to $300 – before they will approve a mortgage loan. This protects the lender by ensuring the home is worth the money you want to borrow.
You also can check recent sales in public records, through private firms, and on the Internet to help you determine a home’s potential worth.
December 13, 2011 5:04 pm
Holiday decorating plans do not normally include lacerations, falls and fires. Unfortunately, these hazards make an unwelcome appearance in the homes of thousands of consumers each year. To help avoid hidden decorating dangers, CPSC and UL are providing families with tips for a safe holiday home.
Reports of falls from ladders while stringing lights and hanging decorations, incidents of lacerations from broken glass ornaments, and other holiday-related injuries are increasing. During November and December 2010, CPSC estimates that more than 13,000 people were treated in emergency departments nationwide due to injuries involving holiday decorations. This is an increase from 10,000 in 2007 and 12,000 in 2008 and in 2009.
Although estimates of deaths and injuries related to Christmas tree and candle fires are down, there are still an alarming number of incidents. Live trees or other evergreen decorations that have dried out burn fast and hot in a matter of seconds if they come in contact with an open flame.
Between 2006 and 2008, there was an annual average of four deaths and $18 million in property damage related to Christmas tree fires. During this same time period, CPSC received reports of about 130 deaths and $360 million in property losses related to candle fires.
"A well-watered tree, carefully placed candles, and carefully checked holiday light sets will help prevent the joy of the holidays from turning into a trip to the emergency room or the loss of your home," says Chairman Inez Tenenbaum.
"This is easily the busiest time of year, but it's important to make time for safety while celebrating the holidays," says John Drengenberg, director of consumer safety at UL. "By committing a few minutes each day to safety, many accidents can be avoided and your holidays will be memorable for all the right reasons."
CPSC and UL suggest using the following 12 safety tips to help keep your holiday home safe this year:
Trees and Decorations
1. Buying live trees, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, its needles are hard to pull from branches, and its needles do not break when bent between your fingers. The bottom of a fresh tree is sticky with resin and, when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
2. Setting up a tree at home, place it away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, vents, and radiators. Because heated rooms rapidly dry out live trees, be sure to monitor water levels daily and keep the tree stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic, and do not block doorways with the tree.
3. Buying an artificial tree, look for the label "Fire Resistant." Although this label does not mean that the tree will not catch fire, it does indicate that the tree is more resistant to catching fire.
4. Decorating a tree in homes with small children, take special care to avoid sharp, weighted, or breakable decorations. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children who could swallow or inhale small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them.
1. Keep burning candles within sight. Extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room, or leave the house.
2. Keep candles on a stable, heat-resistant surface where kids and pets cannot reach them or knock them over. Lighted candles should be placed away from items that can catch fire and burn easily, such as trees, other evergreens, decorations, curtains and furniture.
1. Use only lights that have been tested for safety by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Lights for both indoor and outdoor usage must meet strict requirements that testing laboratories are able to verify.
2. Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets and do not use electric lights on a metallic tree.
3. Check each extension cord to make sure it is rated for the intended use.
4. Check outdoor lights for labels showing that the lights have been certified for outdoor use, and only plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)-protected receptacle or a portable GFCI.
1. Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if swallowed. Keep them away from children.
2. Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.
Sources: www.cpsc.gov, www.SafetyAtHome.com.
December 13, 2011 5:04 pm
Donating to your charity of choice in someone else’s name is a meaningful way to celebrate the holidays. However, doing your research before deciding on an organization will pay off in the long run and ensure you aren’t being scammed or taken advantage of.
"There are many worthy charities and residents should feel free to contribute to causes that mean something to them," said Carol Aichele, Secretary of the Commonwealth in Pennsylvania, whose department oversees charities in the state.
Most charities are legitimate and use the majority of their money for worthwhile projects, but some may misrepresent their cause or spend a high percentage of donations on administrative and fundraising costs. Before giving to any charitable organization, ask what share of your donation will go toward such expenses.
Other tips for informed charitable giving include:
• Never give to a charity about which you know nothing.
• Ask for written information about the charity's programs and finances.
• Don't feel pressured into giving on the spot or allow someone to come to your home to pick up the contribution.
• Never commit to donate on the phone if you're not familiar with the group.
• Never give cash, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. Always write a check payable to the charity so you have a record of your donations.
• All charities have expenses, so understand how your donation will be spent.
• Consult with your tax advisor to determine whether your contribution is tax deductible. Charitable donations made before Dec. 31 may be tax deductible for the tax filing due the following April.
December 13, 2011 5:04 pm
Between turkey and holiday cookies, don't forget the most important type of planning you should do this year: financial planning. M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group, offers these four aspects of your finances everyone should review before 2012 arrives.
Budgets: Review your monthly budget and track your spending. Keeping track of where your money is being spent will highlight unnecessary expenses. Begin saving today. A savings account can help when life throws an unexpected curve ball. Ideally, build an emergency fund that could pay your necessary expenses for six months.
Creating budgets with your children is also a great way to teach kids about money and the difference between a need and a want.
Retirement: Examine how much you've been putting in your retirement account this year. If possible, plan to contribute the maximum allowable amount to your 401(K) and take advantage of your workplace retirement plan to gain matching contributions. If your workplace does not have a matching program consider a Roth IRA.
College: College planning is essential for every family whether you are just starting out or are planning to support a grandchild's education. If you have not started preparing for future college expenses, start now. College savings plans can offer considerable tax benefits. Each state offers residents a 529 college savings plan that provides tax benefits or other perks to help parents and students prepare for college bills.
Investments: Invest wisely. Investigate investment options to determine which is best to meet your financial needs. A few options include money market accounts, CDs and government bonds, and IRAs. Solid investments can reap dividends in the future.
We all know how important it is to save money and prepare for the future and reviewing your budget and investments will ensure you're meeting your financial goals.
For more information, visit http://www.mibank.com.
December 13, 2011 5:04 pm
Routine tooth brushing and flossing and regular check-ups by a dental professional remain the cornerstone of a healthy mouth. However, according to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP), pairing a few well-known healthy-lifestyle habits with your daily oral health regimen may also help reduce your risk for periodontal disease.
According to the AAP, the following tips may help sustain healthy teeth and gums while also helping you live an overall healthy lifestyle:
• Eat and drink up. It is well known that eating a balanced diet leads to proper nutrition and helps keep the body running effectively. Studies published in the Journal of Periodontology (JOP) have also shown that certain foods can promote teeth and gum health. Foods containing omega-3, calcium, vitamin D and even honey have all been shown to reduce the incidence or severity of periodontal disease.
• Hit the gym. Frequent exercise is a recognized way to avoid being overweight, and it may ultimately reduce your risk of periodontal disease. In a study published in the Journal of Periodontology, researchers found that subjects who maintained a healthy weight and had high levels of physical fitness had a lower incidence of severe periodontitis than those that did not exercise.
• Stress less. Stress can lead to a variety of health complications, including periodontal disease. Research published in the JOP showed a relationship between stress and periodontal disease. Increased levels of cortisol, which the body releases when experiencing stress, can intensify the destruction of the gums and bone due to periodontal disease. In addition, another JOP study indicated that people experiencing stress are more likely to neglect their oral hygiene.
• Kick the habit. Smoking is not only a leading cause of respiratory and cardiovascular disease in the United States, it is also a major risk factor for periodontal disease. Several research studies have shown that smoking not only increases the chance of developing periodontal disease, but it can also affect the success of treatments for existing periodontal disease.
• See the doctor. Regular check-ups by a physician can help with early diagnosis of several health issues, including periodontal disease. A large body of research associates gum disease with other chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, by screening for systemic disease early and receiving any needed treatment, you may also benefit your periodontal health.