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Mary Mastroeni

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Question of the Day

September 26, 2011 8:03 pm

Q: What causes a foreclosure?

A: A lender decides to foreclosure, or repossess, a property when the owner fails to pay the mortgage. Unfortunately, thousands of homes end up in foreclosure every year.

Many people lose their homes due to job loss, credit problems, divorce, unexpected expenses, and during periods of economic instability.

Failure to pay property taxes may also cause a homeowner to lose his home. Trouble can also arise when owners neglect to pay local water bills and home insurance premiums.

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Getting the Biggest Value from Big Box Stores

September 26, 2011 5:03 pm

If you are okay with buying groceries in quantity, there is little question you will come out ahead shopping at the big box stores, where product mark-ups from wholesale are about 14% as opposed to the 25% or more at the average retail market.

Other items worth shopping for at the warehouse club store include tires—because the cost of doing business keeps tire prices lower than average—and televisions, if you have no problem choosing from fewer available models.

But the biggest big box stores require membership fees, so unless you are a fairly frequent shopper, add the cost of membership to your purchase. More important, not all commodities offered at the big boxes are necessarily a good buy.

From the financial gurus at Kiplinger.com, here are tips on the items you may be better off buying at specialty stores or other local retail outlets:

• Diamond jewelry – Stones at the warehouse club store generally are not branded, and quality can vary greatly. Also, salespeople at the big box store are less qualified to answer your questions or concerns than salespeople at a recognized jewelry store—which will also be better prepared to stand behind the quality of its diamonds.
• Appliances – You will always find more selection—and often better prices—at specialty stores or department store appliance sections. Price comparison is difficult, because the big box store inventory won’t include as many models and may be last year’s models at that. Time your purchase strategically and you’ll probably get bigger discounts when shopping local store sales.
• Plants and produce – If you need help choosing or caring for trees and plants, you may get more information and better advice from a garden shop with trained employees. Fresh produce at the warehouse club store comes in some pretty big quantities—and produce doesn’t have too long a shelf life. Unless you are sure that half those bananas and tomatoes won’t end up in the trash, buy smaller quantities at a local farmer’s market.

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Low-Cost Tips to Improve Your Home's Appeal - Part 1

September 26, 2011 5:03 pm

When selling your home, the goal is to sell it quickly for the highest price while investing as little as possible in renovations. With a limited budget and a little effort, you can greatly increase your home's appeal by focusing on what prospective buyers can see on their first visit. Take the following recommendations when preparing a house for sale and staging it for showings.

Tip No. 1: Refresh the exterior
First impressions count when it comes to selling a home. Most buyers won’t even leave their car if they don’t find the exterior appealing. The best ways to improve your home’s exterior include:

-Repairing and/or replacing trims, shutters, gutters, shingles, mailboxes, window screens, walkways and the driveway.
-Painting siding, trim and shutters and lamp and mailbox posts.
-Pressure washing vinyl siding, roofs, walkways and the driveway.
-Washing windows.

Tip No. 2: Spruce up the lawn and landscape
Home buyers associate the condition of your lawn and landscaping with the condition of your home’s interior. By improving the outside, you affect buyers’ impression of the entire property. The best ways to enhance the yard include:

-Mowing and edging the lawn.
-Seeding, fertilizing and weeding the lawn.
-Keeping up with regular lawn maintenance by frequent watering.
-Trimming and/or removing overgrown trees, shrubs and hedges.
-Weeding and mulching plant beds.
-Planting colorful seasonal flowers in existing plant beds.
-Removing trash, especially along fences and underneath hedges.
-Sweeping and weeding the street curb along your property.

Tip No. 3: Create an inviting entrance
The front door to your home should invite buyers to enter. The best ways to improve your entry include:

-Painting the front door in a glossy, cheerful color that complements the exterior.
-Cleaning, polishing and/or replacing the door knocker, locks and handles.
-Repairing and/or replacing the screen door, the doorbell, porch lights and house numbers.
-Placing a new welcome mat and a group of seasonal potted plants and flowers by the entry.

Tip No. 4: Reduce clutter and furniture
A buyer cannot envision living in your home without seeing it. A home filled with clutter or even too much furniture distracts buyers from seeing how they can utilize the space your home offers. If you have limited storage space, you may want to consider renting a temporary storage unit to place items you wish to keep. The best ways to declutter your home include:

-Holding a garage sale to prepare for your move, getting rid of unnecessary items.
-Removing clutter such as books, magazines, toys, tools, supplies and unused items from counter tops, open shelves, storage closets, the garage and basements.
-Storing out-of-season clothing and shoes out of sight to make bedroom closets seem roomier.
-Removing any visibly damaged furniture.
-Organizing bookshelves, closets, cabinets and pantries. Buyers will inspect everything.
-Putting away your personal photographs, unless they showcase the home. Let buyers see themselves in your home.
-De-personalize rooms as much as you can.

Tip No. 5: Clean, clean, clean
The cleanliness of your home also influences a buyer's perception of its condition. The appearance of the kitchen and bathrooms will play a considerable role in a buyer's decision process, so pay particular attention to these areas. The best ways to improve these areas include:

-Cleaning windows, fixtures, hardware, ceiling fans, vent covers and appliances.
-Cleaning carpets, area rugs and draperies.
-Cleaning inside the refrigerator, the stove and all cabinets.
-Removing stains from carpets, floors, counters, sinks, baths, tile, walls and grout.
-Eliminating house odors, especially if you have pets.
-Considering air fresheners or potpourri.

Source: BuyOwner.com


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Price too High? Negotiate for a Better Deal

September 26, 2011 5:03 pm

According to the Federal Reserve, economic growth remains slow and signs point to continuing weakness. Unemployment rates remain elevated, and household spending has been increasing at only a modest pace. While this may affect your household budgeting, it could also work in your favor. Charles Lankau, a business professor and expert in negotiation at Wake Forest University, says in this economy, consumers should be assertive when shopping for just about everything.

These days retailers and service providers are willing to negotiate to get your business, says Lankau. "As a consumer in today's economy, people need to ask themselves, 'Am I about to spend some money?' If the answer is 'yes,' negotiating is almost always appropriate. Price, terms, perks or extras--most of the time they are there if you just ask."

For those new to bargaining, Lankau offers the following tips:

• Give yourself permission to negotiate. Bargaining is one of many valuable budget-stretching tools available. Use it.

• Focus on the result, not on any misplaced embarrassment for asking. Think of how good it will feel if you get something for your efforts. Even if you are successful, it's a win-win situation. In most cases, the seller will still be making a profit.

• Touch a chord. Choose your words carefully to reach the emotional side of the person you are dealing with, for example: 'I'm just not sure I can afford this. Can you do any better?' Practice different approaches in the car to see how they sound.

• Practice. Just like in sales, keep trying, and your 'ask' will improve.

• Track your results. Keep a note card in your glove box and jot down every time you purchase an item for less than the asking price. It adds up! Seeing your savings grow is a great motivator.

Lankau says large purchases—like cars and homes—or competitive services for television or telephone, are expenses where people expect to negotiate.

However, deals can also be found in retail shops. "My mother never hesitated to point out a flaw, if there was one, in a blouse or sweater, and she almost always received at least a ten percent discount."

For more information, visit http://www.newswise.com.

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Home Appliances are a Leading Cause of Residential Water Damage

September 26, 2011 5:03 pm

A recent study by the Insurance institute for Business and Home Safety found that water damage related to home appliances were one of the top 10 reasons given for residential water loss, with failures costing an average of $5300 after the deductible was paid. 

After reviewing over 500 washing machine related claims, it was determined that over half of the problems reported occurred when the supply hose (which carries water into the machine) failed. Machine overflows and drainage failures accounted for the next 28%.

The life span of the washing machine has to be taken into account when looking at the failure rates, especially as it relates to internal component failure, machine leaks, or burst hoses.

These three elements combined account for two thirds of all washing machine failures. Most appliances were about 8 years old when the first failure occurred. Since most hoses are not replaced until they fail, it was determined that the age of the failed hose was approximately the same as the machine it serviced.
Most machines are only slightly older when their internal components begin to break down. The motor/pump assembly was the usual culprit, accounting for 40% of all claims that were examined.

For reasons unknown, the rate of damage claims was higher in the southern region of the country, as much as 67% higher than those found in northern states.

It was also determine that the location of the washing machine in the home can have an effect on the frequency and severity of the loss when failures do occur. For machines located in lower levels or basements, the presence of sump pump or other drainage device often prevented more serious water damage from occurring. Units located on upper floors put them in close proximity to valuable electronic or furniture items, which can substantially increase the cost involved with any water damage event.

Water Damage Local.com recommends installing washing machines either in the basement or upper floors of the home. Machine failures on the first floor of a home account for 30% greater losses due to their position relative to other valuable items.

In order to minimize the damage caused by a malfunctioning machine:
• Look for signs that the supply hose may be ready to fail. If the tube is worn or there are visible “blisters’, go ahead and replace the hose.
• When replacing the supply hose, opt for a reinforced steel braided hose.
• If the connections are loose, tighten them down. Loosening often happens as the result of a move or relocation of the unit.
• Replace hoses every five years, whether you think they need them or not. This lets you stay ahead of any wear and tear.
• Be sure and turn the water valves off completely if you are going to be gone for a period of several days.
Finally, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to reduce the risk of other types of washing machine related water losses. Never overload a machine, always use a detergent designed for this type of use and try to operate washing machines when someone is home.

For more information, visit www.waterdamagelocal.com.

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Word of the Day

September 26, 2011 5:03 pm

Word of the Day

Installment payment. Periodic payment, usually monthly, of interest and principal on a mortgage or other loan.

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Stripes Worth Saluting: Trend in Home Decor

September 23, 2011 5:03 pm

There are not many patterns that have been in fashion for more than 300 years.

"Stripes are always in style," says Jan Jessup, director of communications for the Calico Corners—Calico Home stores. "Think of ticking stripes, sailor-shirt stripes, regency stripes, tone-on-tone stripes, menswear stripes, ombre stripes, multi-color stripes, awning stripes, nautical stripes, flag stripes, flour-sack stripes, pinstripes and seersucker stripes. Stripes take the prize for versatility!" she notes.

While stripes never seem to go out of fashion, they're back in a big way—literally. "Bold stripes and wide stripes are a hot look now," adds Jessup. "They're great companions to the strong graphic prints on the market in floral, aviary and other patterns." Stripes are clean-lined and streamlined—and can look modern without being trendy. A two-color or multi-color stripe is a way of bringing more color into a room without a riot of pattern.

"Stripes usually run vertically on furniture or window treatments—however, we're seeing more and more stripes run horizontally, like a bold rugby shirt," observes Jessup. "This is a more casual application and can be a fun look on informal furniture—or a way to rev up a more traditional piece." Stripes can also be mitered on pillows and table skirts for visual interest and to show off custom workmanship.

Why do stripes have such enduring appeal? "They're orderly when life is messy," says Jessup. They add the illusion of height to a room or a window. They can be quiet and elegant, as in ombre silk stripes. They can be breezy casual and colorful. "Stripes are great mixers with other prints and patterns," she adds. "The right stripe can add zest and freshen an existing interior. Stripes come in a splendid variety of scales, textures and colors. They're timeless, they're trendy, they're now."

For more information, visit http://www.CalicoCorners.com.

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Your Fall Pumpkin is Packed with Power

September 23, 2011 5:03 pm

“Pumpkins produce warm pies, butter, cookies, bread and side dishes. They are loaded with an excellent source of nutrients. The bright orange color tells you that it is full of the important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Research shows that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene can reduce the risk of developing many types of diseases,” says Angela Paymard, Chairwoman of the Orlando based, N2N Global.

If you have kids, it’s a good idea to let them have a pumpkin for carving and choose another for cooking. It certainly is safe to let them use the seeds from the one they have carved. The best pumpkins for eating are the ones that are heavy for their size.

Preparing your Pumpkin:
Start with clean hands and wash the pumpkin in cool water to remove any surface dirt. Using a sharp knife, remove the stem, then scoop out the seeds and scrape away all of that stringy stuff. Cut the pumpkin into large chunks and rinse in cold water. Now you can boil, bake; even microwave the pumpkin, whatever your favorite recipe calls for.

If you’re not going to eat your pumpkin right away, make a puree by putting the peeled pumpkin into the food processor. Puree freezes well. Place it in plastic bags, and be sure to label and date them. In the freezer it will last up to a year. “If you don’t want to puree the pumpkin, cut it into slices, and boil it before freezing. That will yield the safest and best quality of food,” Paymard says.

Freezing Facts:
-Freezing does not destroy nutrients.
-Freshness and quality at the time of freezing can affect frozen foods.
-Freeze items you won’t use quickly, sooner than later.
-To successfully freeze vegetables, partially cook them in boiling water or in the microwave oven. Then chill them quickly before freezing and storing.

With mashed or pureed pumpkin, canning is not recommended. Pumpkin is a low acid food that is capable of building bacteria if stored in the wrong conditions. If the pumpkin is cubed or sliced, however, canning in a sealed, pressure container is safe.

Pumpkin seeds are also a very popular fall treat. After they are removed from the pumpkin, the seeds must be checked to make sure there is no excess pumpkin tissue. Once the seeds are clean, dry them of all moisture either under the sun or in a dehydrator. Seeds should not be stored with excess moisture. You can safely bake them once they are dry.

You can certainly make pumpkin preserves. It’s a popular and safe use of pumpkins; however, care must be taken into the preservation. Due to the low acidity of pumpkins, there must be a substantial amount of sugar or added acid to ensure safety and inhibit the build-up of bacteria.

The coming of the fall season brings these fresh, tasty pumpkin treats for all food lovers.

For more information, visit http://www.n2nglobal.com.

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Word of the Day

September 23, 2011 5:03 pm

Improvement. Any form of land development or man-made addition, such as the erection of a building or fence, to enhance the value of private property; also an improvement to publicly owned structures, such as a sewer or road.

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Question of the Day

September 23, 2011 5:03 pm

Q: Do state and local governments offer loans to assist with home renovations?

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.

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