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Mary Mastroeni

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Before You Start House Hunting

September 27, 2011 8:03 pm

Right now is the ideal time to purchase a home, whether it’s your very first home or a vacation location for your family to relax at during the summer. But before you dive into the house hunt, there are a few things you should do to assure you’re fully prepared.

1. Determine your price. Don’t waste time looking at homes out of your price range. Before you begin looking, sit down with your family or spouse and set a realistic price range, including the amount of money you can afford to put down. 

2. Make a wants vs. needs list. Sit down and make a list of what you’re looking for. Make a detailed list of the absolute necessities, like good local school systems, versus things you simply want, such as a modern kitchen for the chef in the family or a guest room for relatives. Differentiating between wants and needs will make your search more focused.

3. Talk to your bank. Sit down with your bank and discuss your finances, determine your mortgage rate and figure out an affordable monthly payment. Don’t forget to factor in unexpected expenses, such as medical bills or a job loss.

4. Check your credit. Has it been a few years since you ran a credit check? There is nothing more heartbreaking than finding your dream home only to have the bank refuse to give you a loan due to credit. If your credit isn’t where it needs to be, work on building it up before you begin hunting.

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Home Inspection-What Homeowners Need to Know

September 27, 2011 8:03 pm

If you're in the process of buying or selling a home, you've likely been hearing quite a bit about home inspection. Home inspections play a critical role in providing homeowners with details about what repairs and upgrades need to be made to the home, and supply a more complete understanding of the home's overall condition. 

During a home inspection, a home inspector will perform a visual inspection of over 400 items within the home. Some of these items include: the structural components of the home, the foundation, roof and the visible electrical, plumbing and mechanical operating systems of the property. 

As a home buyer, a certified home inspection will allow you to feel good about the fact that you've made a sound purchase decision. A home inspection provides pertinent details about every aspect of your home, and reduces the risk of unwanted surprises after you move in. 

As someone selling their home, home inspection (also known as property inspection) allows you to prepare for or repair potentially problematic items. Home inspections help you sell your house faster, get the best price, and reduce the chance of last minute surprises that could complicate the sale. 

When you hire a home inspection company it pays to do your homework. Look for a reputable, highly experienced company. 


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Consumer Reports Poll: 48 Percent of Americans on Meds Making Risky Health Care Tradeoffs

September 27, 2011 8:03 pm

As a result of the flagging economy, Americans are making risky tradeoffs that could be dangerous to their health, according to Consumer Reports' annual prescription drug poll. Forty-eight percent of Americans who currently take a prescription medicine told pollsters they'd cut health-care costs, for example, by putting off a doctor's visit or medical procedure, declining tests, or ordering cheaper drugs from outside of the U.S. That's an increase of 9 percentage points since 2010. The full results are available online at www.ConsumerReports.org/health. 

The survey also found that to save money, 28 percent of Americans who take medication have resorted to potentially dangerous actions: for example, they skipped filling a prescription (16 percent), took an expired medication (13 percent), or skipped a scheduled dosage without asking a doctor or pharmacist (12 percent). Larger numbers (35 percent) of low-income Americans took these risky steps. 

Doctors could be doing more to insulate their patients from undue expenses. For example, not all doctors are routinely prescribing generics, which can be a tremendous money-saver; four out of ten respondents (41 percent) said their doctor only sometimes -- or never -- recommends a generic. "Doctors need to be stewards of their patients' resource concerns. When you walk into your doctor's office, you are a patient, first and foremost, but you are also a consumer, and your doctor should be tuned into this, especially during these tough times," says John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. 

The survey found that doctors are only slightly more likely to recommend a generic substitute for a brand-name medicine than not. Fifty-four percent of those polled said their physician "always" (26 percent) or "usually" (28 percent) suggests generics, versus 41 percent who said "sometimes" or "never."

While generics account for the majority of prescriptions among those taking drugs regularly, 39 percent of Americans reported a concern or misconception about generics.

Despite the costly burden of prescription drugs, very few doctors raise the issue of cost during their meetings with patients. Only 5 percent of patients found out the cost of a prescription drug during a doctor visit, while two-thirds (64 percent) first learned about cost when picking up their medicine at the pharmacy.
The number of Americans taking a medication who said that information about whether a doctor accepts money or gifts from drug companies is very valuable has increased significantly by nine percentage points since 2010 to 43 percent today.

Along the same lines, a strong majority (88 percent) of Americans who take a prescription drug harbor some misgivings about the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the prescribing habits of their doctors. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) agreed completely or somewhat that pharmaceutical companies have too much influence on the drugs that doctors prescribe. Just over half (52%) agreed that doctors are too eager to prescribe a drug rather than consider alternate methods of managing a condition. And half (49 percent) agreed that the drugs that doctors prescribe are influenced by gifts from pharmaceutical companies. 

"Some doctors are still taking money from industry and they may be lagging when it comes to suggesting alternatives to drug therapy, prescribing less expensive generics, and talking to their patients about cost issues. This is not a time for doctors to cave into industry influence nor is it a good time to be passive about the fiduciary interests of their patients," says Santa. 

The poll serves as a reminder that a large swath of Americans regularly take multiple prescription drugs to treat their conditions, and the sticker shock associated with paying for all those drugs is taking a toll:
• Half (49 percent) of Americans currently take a prescription drug, and among them, the average number regularly taken is 4.5 medicines. Consumers earning less than $40,000 and those aged 65 years or more take the greatest number of prescriptions (5.7 and 5.5 medicines, respectively). 

• Monthly out of pocket spending for those who regularly take a prescription drug is $59, a slight drop of $9 from two years ago. The decline appears to be driven by the increasing use of generics in response to household budget pressures.

"Our polling suggests that the burden of prescription drug prices is coming down as our medicine cabinets are more frequently filled with generic drugs. But the costs of multiple prescriptions has proved to be onerous for many Americans, so much so that some consumers are making unhealthy tradeoffs," says Lisa Gill, prescription drug editor, Consumer Reports Health. 

Some advice for consumers:
• Consumers should not change the dosage of their prescription drugs on their own. If cost is a concern, it's best for patients to raise the issue with their doctors when they prescribe medication, especially if the drug is being used long term for a chronic condition. Consumers might also talk to the office nurse or a pharmacist.
• Ask about the possibility of taking a generic instead of a brand name drug. Generics use the same active ingredient as brand-name drugs, are regulated in the same manner, and must prove their "bioequivalence," which means they release the same amount of the drug at the same rate as their brand-name counterpart.
• Pharmacists can be a helpful resource. They can point a consumer to a discount drug program. They know the pros and cons of drugs and their costs and they likely have a comprehensive record of an individual's medicines.
• Many chain pharmacies offer a month's supply for about $4 or a three month's supply for $10, though restrictions apply. Local independent pharmacies may be willing to match these prices.
• Avoid free samples when possible because they're usually available for newer, more expensive medications for which no generic is available, and that can cost a consumer when its time to fill the prescription.

For more tips, log on to www.ConsumerReports.org/health.

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Word of the Day

September 27, 2011 8:03 pm

Interest. A fee paid for the use of money; also a share or right in something.

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Question of the Day

September 27, 2011 8:03 pm

Q: What are the benefits of prepaying my mortgage?

A: You get to save thousands of dollars and shave years off the life of your loan because the additional payments made toward your monthly principal basically constitutes a partial prepayment of your mortgage.

Each mortgage has specific terms describing how and when prepayment may occur. Some lenders impose a penalty if you repay the loan too soon.

The total savings potential also will depend on how long you plan to live in your home. If you expect to move in the near future, do not expect to reap savings as large as those gained by people who pay ahead of schedule until they own their home free and clear.

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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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