Mary Mastroeni
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Mary Mastroeni

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Making Energy-Efficient Changes in Historic Buildings

October 12, 2011 5:50 pm

I recently ran across some extremely valuable information from Sharon C. Park, AIA of the National Park Service’s Technical Preservation Services (www.nps.gov/hps/tps)--a provider of information and guidance on the care of historic buildings.

Technical Preservation Services provides the tools and information necessary to take effective measures to protect and preserve historic buildings, ranging from historic masonry and window repairs to lead paint abatement to accessibility for people with disabilities.

She recently wrote about The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation &Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings—the first set of official guidelines on how to make changes to improve energy efficiency and preserve the character of historic buildings.

In this first of two segments, we’ll cover some of the most frequent pitfalls to avoid when renovating a heating or HVAC system in a historic home or building:

• Don't install a new HVAC system if you don't need it.

• Don't switch to a new type of system (e.g. forced air) unless there is sufficient space for the new system or an appropriate place to put it.

• Don't over-design a new system. Don't add air conditioning or climate control if they are not absolutely necessary.

• Don't cut exterior historic building walls to add through-wall heating and air conditioning units. These are visually disfiguring, they destroy historic fabric, and condensation runoff from such units can further damage historic materials.

• Don't damage historic finishes, mask historic features, or alter historic spaces when installing new systems.

• Don't drop ceilings or bulkheads across window openings.

In addition, the guide warns about making aesthetic mistakes like installing new mechanical duct work that is visible from the exterior or adversely impacts the historic character of the interior space; leaving interior duct work exposed in highly-finished spaces where it would negatively impact the historic character of the space; leaving exposed duct work unpainted in finished interior spaces, such as those with a pressed metal ceiling; or placing HVAC equipment in highly-visible locations on the roof or on the site where it will negatively impact the historic character of the building or its site.

In our next segment, we’ll go through another punch-list of things to do when renovating a historic property.

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Are You Prepared for the Unexpected?

October 12, 2011 5:50 pm

CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison website, announced a new infographic educating consumers about common disasters Americans face everyday, including which disasters are most common in each geographic region. 

“Our hope in publishing this infographic is to help educate individuals and families so they can be better prepared for the possibility of disaster,” says Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey.

As shown by the infographic, the disasters that Americans face are costly. And when individuals are unprepared, these expenses are often charged to credit cards. While credit cards are often a good solution for minor emergencies, if the costs keep adding up and the disaster results in lost wages, individuals can be left facing hefty interest charges and fees if the credit card balances aren’t handled properly. 

To help individuals avoid the fees, CreditDonkey has included some practical tips individuals can employ now to help alleviate some of the financial stress that these disasters can place on a household. 

“No matter how prepared you are, there will always be stress when a disaster strikes,” says Tran. “But when consumers take the time to disaster proof their finances, that small time investment will pay off when they find themselves in an unfortunate situation. Without the financial pressure weighing them down, they’re able to focus on what matters most—their family.” 

Here are some of the tips that are included in the infographic:
• Review insurance coverage with a trusted insurance agent. They will be able to advise families on what is and isn’t covered by their current insurance plans and recommend any additional coverage.
• When looking to cut expenses, hang on to your medical insurance. The monthly cost of insurance is well worth the investment should an individual have to go to the hospital.
• Review health insurance coverage and become familiar with the medical providers and hospitals in your area. Some plans will only cover certain medical groups, so the hospital closest to home might not be the best option financially.
• Prepare for potential job loss with an emergency savings fund. Most financial experts recommend setting aside at least 6 months worth of expenses; some even recommend saving up to an entire year’s worth of bills. If that amount is a stretch, at least get into the habit of setting aside some of each paycheck to start growing your savings. Every little bit can help.
• Set up direct deposit for all types of income checks. This will eliminate the stress of having to locate and deposit checks should your home get affected by natural disaster and you need to relocate. 

For more information, go to http://www.creditdonkey.com

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Top 3 Ways to Collect in Small Claims Court

October 12, 2011 5:50 pm

Winning a case is often just the first part of a civil court battle. The second part: judgment collection. Even if you win in small claims court, you may be left wondering how to collect a judgment. 

And it can seem like a daunting task. Defendants generally don't like losing. They also don't like paying up.
How can you collect what you're owed? Here are some simple tips to help you collect: 

How to Collect a Judgment Tip No. 1: Familiarize yourself with your jurisdiction's rules. 
Many courts have self-help centers or informative websites that lay out rules and regulations. In California the debtor has 30 days after the judgment to pay the creditor. Rules like this one may be different depending on what state you're in, so it's important to search for regulations in your jurisdiction. 

How to Collect a Judgment Tip No. 2: Contact the other party.
Send the proper court documents and a letter to the defendant in the case requesting payment. Make sure you include all the necessary information. 

How to Collect a Judgment Tip No. 3: Utilize the court system.
If the defendant does not respond to your letter, there are other routes to collect a judgment. Depending on where you live, courts may order the sheriff to seize property or assets from the debtor. It's also possible that you can ask for post-judgment discovery to determine if the debtor has any assets. You might also be able to ask the court to put a lien on the defendant's property or garnish their wages. 

If your judgment collection isn't successful, you might want to consider contacting a debt collection agency or an attorney for more assistance. Or, ask if there are any non-profit agencies or free services to help you collect a judgment. Keep in mind that in many states, judgments are valid for 10 years (but may be renewable). 

For more information, visit www.findlaw.com.

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Word of the Day

October 12, 2011 5:50 pm

Loan servicing. Task of collecting monthly payments, handling insurance and tax impounds, delinquencies, early payoffs, and mortgage releases.

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Question of the Day

October 12, 2011 5:50 pm

Q: How can I protect my home from creditors?

 

A: Check with your state. It may provide special protection through the filing of a homestead exemption, which exempts some or all of the value of your equity in the homestead – the home that you live in and the land on which it sits – from claims of unsecured creditors. Whether to file a homestead exemption will depend on your situation. Contact your county recorder's office for details. 


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Top 10 Things to Check before Buying A Home

October 11, 2011 5:03 pm

If this is the year you are ready to take advantage of historically low home prices and interest rates to buy a home of your own, you have probably begun to narrow your ‘wish list’ to certain towns, neighborhoods or school districts.

But before you begin to tour some likely nesting prospects, says California REALTOR® Ellen Parker, you should prepare a checklist you can begin to tick off before you make your home buying choice.

Begin, suggested Parker, by checking off these top 10 factors:

• Location – Is the house near your work, shopping areas, and/or preferred schools? Does it have a view, a nearby park, proximity to the beach, or any other asset of particular interest to you?
• Neighborhood – Drive up and down the surrounding blocks. Are the yards and houses neat and well-maintained? Do the streets seem safe for walking or biking?
• Special needs – Are there too many stairs? Too much driveway elevation? Is the yard suitable for children or gardening? Is there a place to set up the workshop or office you want?
• Curb appeal – What’s your first impression of the home’s exterior style? Do you like the look of the brick façade? The tile roof? The long walkway?
• Size and floor plan – The larger the home, the more it costs to heat and cool. On the other hand, does the number of rooms suit your needs? Is a downstairs master bedroom practical when children’s rooms are all on the second floor?
• Room to expand – Is there room to add a second bath? An indoor laundry? Another bedroom? Needs expand as families do. Look at the home long-term.
• The kitchen – Does it have the open floor plan you want? Will you have to replace cabinets? Counters?
• Closets and storage – Is there enough storage space? Enough to grow into? If you have to add more, will you be giving up living space?
• Windows and lighting – Do you prefer bright, sunny rooms? Or more privacy? Keep that in mind in your home search. Will you have to install double paned windows? Check that electric outlets and fixtures accommodate your lighting needs.
• Extra features – Does the home have a mud room? An inside laundry area? What other features does it have that you may or may not find elsewhere?

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The Truth about Debt Settlement: Is It for you?

October 11, 2011 5:03 pm

Many people hear about friends or acquaintances that were relieved of credit card debt through debt settlement and think this might be the best solution to their payment problems. The Illinois CPA Society warns you need to fully understand debt settlement agreements before taking this serious financial step. 

How Does Debt Settlement Work? 
Simply stated, debt settlement is an approach to debt reduction in which the debtor and the creditor agree on a reduced balance that will be regarded as payment in full. A credit company must have a solid reason to believe that you are actually unable to pay them before entering into a debt settlement agreement. Unfortunately, you prove this by not paying them which is an instant black mark on your credit score that doesn't go away for seven years. Once you've proven you can't pay them, you must negotiate a balance you can pay. The debt doesn't go away, it just gets lowered.

What are some of the Consequences of Debt Settlement? 
In addition to having already hurt your credit score by non-payment, you must pay the negotiated balance immediately. Also, any debt that is forgiven is considered income—and you will have to pay taxes on that income.

Are There Alternative Solutions?
You can call your credit card companies and ask them to reduce your rate. Point out that you've been a loyal customer who's paid on time in the past. If the first person you speak to isn't authorized to lower your rate, ask to speak to a supervisor. Be persistent and assertive.

Also try to get rid of your payments faster by trying to pay more than the minimum; even $5 makes a difference.

How do you get on top of already large minimum payments?
Cut out extras to make it work and pay your credit balances down first—no more premium cable, expensive data packages on your phone or eating out too many lunches or dinners. What you save goes to paying your credit card. Also consider selling through consignment shops or eBay things you bought but aren't using. Look at your budget and lifestyle carefully to see where you're living outside of your means and identify where you can cut back.

Debt settlement is a serious decision with serious repercussions. It's important to think beyond your current situation. With debt settlement you'll have a black mark on your credit report that could keep you from any number of new things you'd like in the future—a house, apartment, job or car.

For more information, visit www.icpas.org.

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Majority of Americans Have Fire Escape Plans but Don't Practice Them

October 11, 2011 5:03 pm

According to a new nationwide survey, a majority of Americans don't practice what they plan when it comes to fire safety. The survey of 1,000 Americans revealed a surprising good news/bad news scenario related to fire escape planning.

Conducted by First Alert as part of a consumer education campaign tied to national Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 9-15), the survey showed that a majority (79 percent) of Americans reported having a home escape plan in place in case of fire or other emergencies. However, more than half (51 percent) have never practiced it, and 29 percent have only practiced it once.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends planning an emergency escape route and practicing it twice annually, while other fire safety organizations promote monthly drills to improve reaction time in case of an emergency.

"It is encouraging that so many people have given thought to a fire escape plan, but unpracticed, it cannot be as effective," says Deborah Hanson, director of external affairs for First Alert, a leader in residential fire and carbon monoxide (CO) detection devices. "The NFPA and local fire safety officials make strong recommendations because they know that proper planning can help prevent tragedy."

To develop an effective fire escape plan, First Alert and the NFPA offer the following tips:

• Involve everyone in your household in developing a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes. Identify two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Make sure everyone in the home understands the plan.

• Install smoke alarms throughout the home and test them monthly. Change batteries every six months to ensure proper function.

• Choose an outside meeting place (i.e. neighbor's house, a light post, mailbox, or stop sign) a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet after they've escaped.

• Have everyone memorize the emergency phone number of the fire department. That way any member of the household can call from a neighbor's home or a cellular phone once safely outside.

• Once you're out, stay out! Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, inform the fire department dispatcher when you call. Firefighters have the skills and equipment to perform rescues.

Practice your home fire escape plan at least twice a year, making drills as realistic as possible. Allow children to master fire escape planning and practice before holding a fire drill at night when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not to frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill.

It's important to determine during drills whether children and others can readily waken to the sound of smoke alarms. If they fail to awaken, make sure that someone is assigned to wake them up as part of the drill and in a real emergency situation. Also, consider switching to voice-enabled alarms such as the new Child Awakening Alarm from First Alert. This technologically advanced alarm uses a loud, pre-recorded and tamper-proof human voice to alert residents in case of smoke or unhealthy levels of CO and also to the specific location of the hazard within the home.

"Studies show that children ages six to 10 are awakened more readily by voice, so this new technology provides an increased level of safety," explains Hanson. "These alarms also help save time by identifying where smoke or CO is detected in the home, so residents can determine the fastest and safest ways out."

First Alert products range from combination smoke and CO units to smoke alarms with escape lights, along with basic battery-powered products.

For more information and a complete home safety checklist, visit http://www.firstalert.com/safety_checklist.php.

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Homeowners and Renters Are More Interested in Home Buying: Survey

October 11, 2011 5:03 pm

Despite the recession and declines in home prices, Americans still view homeownership as being important to the economy and the American family, according to the “Housing 360 Survey” conducted among more than 3,005 homeowners and renters across the U.S.

“We thought people would be soured after watching home values fall but instead we found the typical American still places high value on homeownership,” says Frank Anton, CEO of Hanley Wood, LLC, a media and data research company serving the housing and construction industries. “We found this holds across all demographic groups and across the country, even in hard-hit places like Nevada and Arizona where there have been 50 percent or more declines in value. The increase in the rise of rental rates in many markets is one factor driving people to consider buying.”

The survey found that despite the recession and housing crisis, homeownership is still very important—that both renters and homeowners feel it is a good time to buy a home and 19 percent of homeowners and 29 percent of renters are considering buying a home in the next two years. In fact, the survey findings support that up to two million potential home buying consumers are waiting to jump into the market when the time is right.

The Hanley Wood “Housing 360 Survey” answers why renters and homeowners are not buying. For homeowners, there is no urgency to buy, and given the turmoil in the markets, many of them are happy where they are. For renters, there is also no urgency to purchase a home. There are major problems they are facing: First, they have the challenges of being able to qualify for a mortgage and raise the down payment. And second, they have concerns about the economy and their jobs.

“There are obstacles in the way of home buying. The overcorrection in the mortgage market is a drag on the process. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other and it’s stalling the housing market and therefore the economy,” says Kent W. Colton, president of The Colton Housing Group and senior fellow at Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Some significant findings in the survey include:
• Positive aspirations are tempered by harsh realities.
o Concern about the economy and job security
o Challenges in the mortgage market
o Concern about home equity and the direction of home prices
• Now is a good time to buy. Seventy two percent of owners and 59 percent of renters think now is a good or very good time to buy.
• New and existing homes both attractive. Twenty nine percent of owners and 12 percent of renters would prefer to buy a new home. Thirty four percent of owners and 41 percent of renters would prefer to buy an existing home. People prefer new homes because they are new and there is less maintenance. They prefer existing homes because they are more affordable and they want to live in an existing community.
• Renting is a preferred choice for many. People rent for financial reasons, for convenience and for flexibility. • Doubling up trends increased. Thirty percent of respondents are “doubling up” –living with adult children or parents.
• Now is a good time to remodel. Forty two percent of owners say now is a good time to remodel. Top remodeling priorities are maintenance and energy efficiency. Most homeowners will pay for remodeling from personal savings.
• Staying put in retirement. Sixty percent of homeowners plan to stay in their current home for their entire retirement. 

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

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Word of the Day

October 11, 2011 5:03 pm

Loan origination fee. Paid by the borrower to get a loan; it covers expenses incurred by the lender, such as the cost of the appraisal, credit report, title search, etc.

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