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Mary Mastroeni

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Question of the Day

November 14, 2011 7:04 pm

Q: What does a home inspector do?

A
: A home inspector is a paid professional – often a contractor or an engineer – who checks the safety of a home. Home inspectors search for defects or other problems that could become your worst nightmare later on. They focus particularly on the home’s structure, construction, and mechanical systems.

It is not the inspector’s job to determine whether you are getting good value for your money. He does not establish value, only whether the home might collapse in a storm or if the roof might cave in.

A home inspection typically takes place after a purchase contract between the buyer and seller has been signed.

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Breathe Easier: How to Banish Mold from the Home

November 11, 2011 3:48 pm

Often our first encounter with mold at home occurs in that infamous spot between the shower curtain and tub. Unfortunately, in most homes, this isn’t the extent of the mold—the more problematic mold is the insidious kind, hiding behind walls and in floorboards, and potentially contributing to a range of allergies and other illnesses. In fact, a 1994 study by the Harvard University School of Public Health, which involved 10,000 homes in the U.S. and Canada, found that half of those homes had mold levels that participants said caused a 50-100% increase in distressing respiratory symptoms.

What causes mold? Surprisingly, advanced building materials are one of the main culprits. In the last few decades, buildings have increasingly been made to prevent the infiltration and exfiltration of air, leading to higher humidity levels. The insulation materials used in this type of construction contain cellulose and other materials that lock in moisture. Adding to the problem, many wall cavities are wrapped in plastic, allowing for even more moisture. An aging home is at even greater risk, as normal occurrences like window and roof leaks bring in even more moisture—and moisture is a direct cause of mold. Limited ventilation or sunlight only makes the problem worse, and things can get bad fast—one square foot of moldy drywall can harbor more than 300 million mold spores. 

When you hear the term “mold,” it can generally be one of two types—allergenic mold, and black mold. Allergenic mold is found in nearly every home, in some amount, however small. This type can provide unpleasant symptoms if it becomes excessive, depending on a person’s sensitivity level. These symptoms include fatigue, nasal and sinus congestion, skin and eye irritation and headaches. While these symptoms can be extremely annoying and make someone ill, they’re almost never life-threatening.

What’s much more dangerous, however, is toxic mold—more commonly, the black mold stachybotrys. Shockingly, over 27% of homes in the U.S. contain black mold. Black mold, in smaller amounts, causes many of the same symptoms as allergic mold, but, in high levels or among people with preexisting conditions or compromised immune systems, black mold can cause neurological damage, causing debilitating headaches and even memory problems.

How do you find the mold in your home? Sometimes it’s easy—it may be right in front of you, or you’ll find it by its distinctly musty smell. Though it’s harder to find hidden mold, you can do so by looking behind and beneath fixed materials and appliances: refrigerators, dishwashers, sink cabinets, washer/dryers, carpets, vinyl flooring—anywhere near where water flows or where air doesn’t penetrate readily. Also, look for signs of discoloration on walls and ceilings; this can denote a moisture buildup behind which mold may lurk.

Once you find the mold, remove it with a store-bought anti-fungal solution, or get rid of it with a weak bleach solution—1 cup bleach in 1 gallon of water. (If mold exists in an area over 2 square feet, call a professional to have it removed). But even more important than removing it is eliminating as many of its causes and sources as possible.

Follow these 10 tips to drastically reduce the mold in your home:

1. Call in a home inspection professional to assess water-damaged areas.

2. Keep humidity low. Humidity levels should be under 40% in order for mold to stop its forward march.

3. Replace any carpets and furniture that have ever been significantly damaged (i.e., saturated in water), even if they look OK on the outside.

4. Carpet in the bathroom or basement? Don’t even think about it. And if you have it, get rid of it.

5. Use an air-conditioner during the summer. We know it’s not cheap to run the A/C, but if it’s in the budget, even setting it to 80 degrees when it’s 90-plus outside, will help. Use fans to circulate A/C most effectively.

6. Dust and clean furniture regularly, and vacuum carpets at least once a week (make sure your vacuum has a HEPA filter).

7. Provide adequate ventilation in hot areas. The kitchen and bath are two of the highest-risk rooms for mold. Install exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.

8. When you’re shopping for house paint for big or small painting projects, ask the sales rep about mold inhibitors you can add before painting.

9. Does your central air system have a fan from the Ford Pinto era? If so, replace it with a high-performance electrostatic air filter. Your local HVAC technician can help withy this.

10. Don’t neglect areas underneath the house—have a professional drain and ventilate all sub-basement areas, especially crawl spaces.

Charles Furlough is vice president of Pillar to Post Home Inspections.

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Top 5 Ways to Pay Less in Attorneys' Fees

November 11, 2011 3:48 pm

When speaking at seminars for small business owners, I am often asked how a business owner can pay less in attorneys' fees. 

I find that most business owners know the value a good attorney can bring to their business. An attorney can protect your business from risks and liabilities. An attorney can also create the policies and contracts that will help your business succeed. 

Yet, the advice of an attorney can be expensive. Many of the small business owners I speak with don't have extra capital in their business' budgets to pay attorney's fees. 

So what can a small business owner do to pay less in attorneys' fees? 

1. Do your own research: The internet is a free resource for small business owners. Answers to many legal questions are readily accessible. While not a substitute for legal advice, doing research on your own can shorten the time you need to meet with an attorney.
2. Draft your own documents: There are many websites that provide legal document templates that you can purchase for your business. I find that many small business owners are savvy enough to complete these documents on their own.
Most attorneys also have a collection of document templates. Ask if your attorney has a document that you can tailor for your business and have your attorney review.
3. Come prepared to meetings: Be sure to ask your attorney before you meet what documents and information you should bring to your meeting. This will eliminate the need for extra meetings and help you pay less in attorney's fees.
4. Respond to requests right away: Provide information your attorney requests in a timely manner. If your attorney has to call you twice for something, you are paying for an unnecessary telephone call.
5. Use your attorney before you have a problem: Business owners often ask me when they should hire an attorney. You may feel comfortable doing tasks by yourself. Or you may not have the time and prefer an attorney handles all legal matters. Regardless, don't make the mistake of waiting until there is a problem to call your attorney. 

Think of your attorney as an investment in your business. If a contract is integral to your business, you should have an attorney help you draft it. You will pay less in attorney's fees to have the attorney draft the contract than you will pay to have the attorney represent you in lawsuit over that contact. 

Jennifer K. Halford is an attorney whose practice focuses on business law and estate planning.

For more information, visit www.Findlaw.com.

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Make Your Vacation Healthy and Fun

November 11, 2011 3:48 pm

Adios vacation weight gain, hello paradise. The experts at Travel-Ticker.com, recently announced their top five tips for a healthy, feel-good vacation. Many travelers worry about balancing their healthy lifestyle while enjoying the pleasures of traveling, but as Travel-Ticker points out, it is possible to have a guilt-free vacation. Healthy habits can be kept whether you're exploring the hustle and bustle of a big city or the golden sands of your favorite beach.

"Your vacation should be a time of exploration and rejuvenation, where you experience new sights, sounds, food, and fun that leave you feeling completely satisfied," said L. Jasmine Kim, General Manager of Travel-Ticker. "However, that doesn't mean you have to let go of your healthy lifestyle while traveling. With a few simple steps, you can make healthy choices part of the fun of your trip, and avoid the guilt or regret at how much you ate or what exercise you didn't do."

To get the most out of your travels while still maintaining your healthy lifestyle, below are Travel-Ticker's top five tips and tricks to keep your body and mind in shape—no matter where you vacation. 

1. Eat like a local and remove temptations.
Part of the joy of experiencing any new destination is by tasting it, so feel free to partake in the local cuisine, but do so in a smart way. Shop the local farmers markets for healthy snacks and broaden your palate through the native treats that are offered from the region. You can then restock your hotel room mini-bar, replacing unhealthy temptations like candies and sodas with your own healthier options you nabbed at the local market. This not only saves you money on snacking, but these mini meals will eliminate hundreds of unnecessary calories and help boost your metabolism. Just beware of mini-bars with pressure sensors!

2. Jump in feet first. Use the best public transportation you have available—your feet. Not only will you save money by avoiding the subway and taxi lines, you'll also be able to explore the destination you're visiting in a more authentic way – like the locals do. Many hotels and cities around the world also offer free, locally guided walking tours or courtesy bicycles for guests and tourists that combine sightseeing and a workout in the same activity. Be sure to ask around or check with your hotel to find out what's available when you arrive. 

3. Gym, on-the-go. Wherever you go, it's easy to take the gym with you, sans all the equipment. A couple small additions to your suitcase will keep your exercise routine on track. For example, pack ultra-light gear such as a workout band or wrist and ankle weights, which can easily be used to create a workout regime any day during your vacation. Before you even leave for your trip, mentally prepare yourself to squeeze in a 30 minute workout daily, whether it's first thing in the morning or before you go to bed at night. 

4. Tune out to tune up. Your smartphone, MP3 player or tablet device isn't just for getting calls, playing music or reading – they can also be used as personal trainers. Download apps with stretching or walking exercises, or even 15-minute workouts that help add a bit more structure to your on-the-go exercising. From apps like iMapMyRUN, to FitnessClass for iPad, to Authentic Yoga with Deepak Chopra –inspiring beats and tech-savvy workouts will help you keep pep in your step, and further enjoy your surroundings with freshly released endorphins. 

5. Get adventurous. Some people think adventure vacations are just for adrenaline junkies, but thrill seeking doesn't have to mean a big physical commitment or giving up luxury. Many destinations have great accommodations while offering some of the best outdoors activities. Put on your running shoes and explore the area with a nice jog or brisk walk, or take in nature's beauty while mountain biking, hiking, or zip lining—whether it is in the Sierra Nevada mountains or South American rainforests.

For more information, visit www.travel-ticker.com.

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Word of the Day

November 11, 2011 3:48 pm

Prepayment penalty. Fee charged by the lender when a borrower repays the loan early.

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Question of the Day

November 11, 2011 3:48 pm

Q: What is the difference between appraised value and market value?

A: A certified appraiser who is trained to provide the estimated value of a home determines its appraised value. The appraised value is based on comparable sales, the condition of the property, and several other factors.

Market value is the price the house will bring at a given point in time, once the buyer and seller establish a “meeting of the minds” on price.

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Transform Your Dining Room from Dull to Divine

November 11, 2011 3:48 pm

'Tis the season for holiday entertaining -- and there's nothing more festive than a beautifully decorated dining room. Whether you're planning an open-house gala or an intimate dinner with family and friends, the following tips, provided by Ashley Furniture HomeStore, will help to transform one of the most popular holiday gathering spots in your home: 

• Add a festive accent rug. Using an accent rug is a quick and relatively inexpensive way to make a seasonal statement in any dining room. Choose warm colors, or add a vibrant splash of holiday color with a Scarlet hue. Keep in mind, when placing an accent rug under a dining room table, it should extend a minimum of two feet beyond each edge of the table, so it's easy for guests to sit and stand without catching the chair's legs under the rug.
• Design a beautiful centerpiece. After you've chosen your table cloth or festive table runner, it's time to think about the centerpiece. For autumn celebrations, it's all about yellows and oranges, pumpkins and sunflowers. For an easy DIY centerpiece, arrange colorful autumn corn in a clear glass bowl or tie it together to create a maze "bouquet." Add an assortment of small, colorful gourds to accent. For a festive holiday display, consider using a beautiful natural centerpiece, like a decorative tabletop spruce, classic red and white holiday amaryllis, poinsettias (pink, red or white), or a fresh pine and berry wreath with a candle in the center.
• Choose inviting aromas. The right scent can conjure up warm feelings of family, friends and fun. For the ultimate holiday vibe, place scented holiday candles around the room or showcase them in elegant candlesticks. If small children are around, be sure to place candles at a safe distance. Some of the most popular seasonal candle scents for holiday entertaining include evergreen, pine, eucalyptus, cinnamon, pumpkin and nutmeg.
• Infuse your own traditions. Holiday entertaining is all about family and friends. Create a new take on family traditions or vintage holiday pieces by adding your own twist. For example, introduce a silver or gold jewelry tree into the space—adorn it with ornaments passed down from generation to generation, or small framed pictures of family and loved ones. Drape grandma's favorite holiday lights over the fireplace mantel or her favorite red berries strings over a chandelier. No matter what you choose to do, you'll add a truly personal touch to your space.
• Consider a new dining room set. Maybe you've outgrown your dining room table or it's seen better days, it may be time to purchase a new set. 

For more information, visit www.AshleyFurnitureHomeStore.com.

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3 Tips to Effectively Manage Your Time

November 11, 2011 3:48 pm

The person who coined the phrase “time is money” must have been a sales rep paid on commission. In the real estate profession, the old cliché rings true: if you’re not talking to a prospect or client, you’re unemployed. As a real estate professional, how effectively do you manage your time? Do you spend your time as you would any other precious, nonrenewable asset, or are you the type of salesperson who is stressed-out, constantly jumping through hoops and consistently running late for meetings and client appointments?

We measure time far better than we manage it. In today’s high-tech world, physicists have become extremely proficient at measuring time. The atomic clock, based on strontium atoms trapped in a laser grid, is so precise that it has an inaccuracy of less than one second in 200 million years.

While we can all agree on how to measure time, we each tend to approach time management from our own personal perspective. Look at all the ways we view the use of time—we waste it, we save it, we spend it, we invest it, we borrow it, we steal it, we juggle it, we squander it, and we always seem to be looking for more of it. We have time wasters and time bandits and sometimes, in those rare moments when we find we have too much time on our hands, we even kill it. Time flies when we’re having fun, but tends to drag for those who are doing time. For some people time stands still, while others see time slipping away, like sand through an hourglass.

I am convinced that the improper use of time is the number one contributor to high turnover in the selling profession. I wish I had a nickel for every smart, talented and motivated salesperson who failed because he or she simply couldn’t or wouldn’t effectively manage their time properly.

Time Management Tips

1. Plan your schedule the night before and hit the ground running. When you’re not in control of your schedule, you invite stress to fill the void. Set and prioritize meaningful tasks to be accomplished. Whether it’s an appointment calendar or a software program, the critical first step to properly managing your time is to organize and schedule your day. Be careful not to confuse activity with productivity. For example, don’t just block off a couple of hours to make calls. Instead, set measurable activity goals to be accomplished, as much as 25 phone calls per day.

2. Identify your time bandits. Once you’ve scheduled your day, the next step in managing your time is to recognize and modify old behavioral patterns regarding the improper use of time. Avoid procrastination in all of its attractive forms. Having a planned schedule helps you say no to time wasters such as Web surfing, personal phone calls, long lunches and chatty coworkers. An open door invites continuous distractions. Effective real estate professionals focus on task achievement rather than tension relieving diversions.

3. Delegate. Ineffective salespeople “play office” and hide behind paperwork. Make a smart business decision and delegate all non-sales related tasks to an administrative assistant in order to free yourself up for client appointments and prospecting phone calls.

I encourage you to reduce your stress level and give yourself a pay raise by integrating these simple, yet highly effective time management tips into your daily business routine and remember, there’s no time like the present.

John Boe presents a wide variety of motivational and sales-oriented keynotes and seminar programs for sales meetings and conventions. Boe is a nationally recognized sales trainer and business motivational speaker. For more information, visit www.johnboe.com or call 937-299-9001.

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6 Strategies to Help Avoid Credit Card Fees

November 11, 2011 3:48 pm

The credit card fee changes of a few several months ago are designed, like previous changes, to protect consumers by adding clarity and transparency to interactions between card issuers and holders.

However, as these new rules take away revenue opportunities for card companies, issuers are raising other fees or creating new ones to compensate. Money resource Bills.com cautions consumers to be aware of the new rules and also learn how to avoid new fees.

In order to avoid these fees, personal money resource Bills.com shares the following strategies consumers can employ to better avoid additional charges that have arisen because of changes outlined in the Credit CARD Act.

1. Monitor your communications from your credit card issuer. One of the best ways to stay abreast of changes specific to your cards or situation is to closely monitor information sent from your issuer. New regulations require much greater disclosure on all changes, so any update will be sent to your attention. Be alert for all mailings and read them carefully before throwing away or destroying.

2. Maintain prompt payment status with your credit card company. Despite all these changes, the simplest way to avoid fees is to pay your credit card bills on time. By missing or being late on a payment you will incur fees, potentially increase your interest rate and lower your overall credit score.

3. Pay down high balances to improve credit card utilization. This will show that you can responsibly manage your credit limit, minimizing the chance of higher tiers of interest rates or reductions in credit limit. Additionally, better credit utilization will help boost your credit score.

4. Maintain activity on your credit card accounts. By using the revolving credit lines that you need or want to keep and promptly paying on them, you can help avoid cancellation of those credit card accounts. This will also help avoid faux inactivity fees and help boost your credit score, while having a long existing credit line closed could lower your score.

5. Avoid over-limit fees through responsible spending habits. Credit card issuers have begun to charge fees for opt-in over-limit coverage. By remaining aware of credit limits and balances, consumers can avoid a need for this service and these fees altogether.

6. New regulations do not apply to corporate or small business cards. This means some small business owners might consider using personal cards for business expenses because of fee and rate limitations. However, these owners should remain cautious because their personal credit scores could suffer in the event of missed payments or defaults. Conversely, be aware of companies that are increasing solicitations for corporate card members to avoid new regulations.

For more information, visit www.bills.com.


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Survey: Most Americans Will Still Consider Showing up to Work When Sick

November 11, 2011 3:48 pm

It's going to take more than a cold or flu to get between most Americans and their jobs this cold and flu season, according to a new survey by Halls. The national telephone survey found that most working Americans won't sacrifice a sick day this year for most cold and flu symptoms, including a cough, sore throat, body aches and sinus headache. In fact, nearly half of Americans (44 percent) would consider going to work with a fever, and more than a third of Americans (32 percent) said they would show up to work no matter how sick they get this season.

The results aren't all that surprising based on the country's current economic conditions. With an unemployment rate upwards of nine percent this October, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the survey revealed that one in five Americans (19 percent) feel pressure by their boss or supervisor to head into work when they're sick. One in three (31 percent) Americans said they wouldn't get paid for taking off on a sick day, and one in 10 (11 percent) said they would likely fall behind on their bills by taking a sick day. Additionally, more than 10 percent of Americans thought they would not likely receive their next pay raise or promotion, or worse, would lose their job for calling out sick.

When it comes to being prepared this cold and flu season, there are many preventative measures that can be taken in an environment with people who may be sick, including:

• Get Your Flu Shot – The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a yearly seasonal flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against seasonal influenza. However, the good health habits and practices described below can also be helpful.

• Wash Your Hands Often – Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds – that's roughly the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice. Remember, when soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good alternative.

• Cough or Sneeze into Your Elbow – If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow to prevent the spread of germs.

• Disinfect Common Surfaces – Germs can live for hours, and in some cases, weeks, on common surfaces. Use a disinfectant regularly to wipe and clean doorknobs, phones, remote controls, toys, computer keyboards, and any other items that are shared at home or at the office.

• Practice Good Health Habits – Encourage your family to eat right and exercise. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables provide a loaded source of immune boosting nutrients. Exercising, whether you're walking or playing outdoor games, builds up immune cells in the body and can help you feel more energetic and healthier while increasing your immunity to certain illnesses.

• Drink Plenty of Fluids – Hydrate your body by drinking eight to 10 glasses of water a day to help flush out the system, and to keep your throat moist.

• Rest and Relax – Get as much rest as possible, and try to sleep at least eight or nine hours per night to rejuvenate your body. In addition, try using relaxation techniques that are at your disposal, such as massage, yoga, and meditation.

• Get Fresh Air – A regular dose of fresh air is important, especially in cold weather when central heating dries you out and makes your body more vulnerable to cold and flu viruses. Also, during cold weather more people stay indoors, which means more germs are circulating in crowded, dry rooms.

• Stock Up on the Essentials – Despite taking all these steps, you still may get sick this winter. Be prepared by stocking up on cough drops, tissues, soup, hand sanitizer, vitamins and fever reducer while you're still healthy.

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