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Mary Mastroeni

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Word of the Day

August 19, 2011 5:03 pm

Encroachment. A building or other improvement that extends beyond its boundary and intrudes upon the property of another.

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Question of the Day

August 19, 2011 5:03 pm

Q: What about state and local governments?

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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Last-Minute Summer Home Maintenance Tips

August 19, 2011 5:03 pm

The summer's not over yet. And while there's still time for some fun in the sun, this is also a good time to think about some last-minute maintenance that is sure to help you increase the longevity of your home and reduce energy costs.

Here are some tips from Andy Rathke, a former commercial and residential real estate and construction executive who now runs a HandyPro handyman franchise in Charlotte, NC.

Roof and Attic Ventilation and Insulation:
Make sure attic, soffit and roof vents are running, open and clear of debris to allow proper ventilation. Properly ventilated and insulated attics reduce heating and cooling costs.

Gutters and Downspouts:
Loose, leaking or clogged gutters can cause water damage on soffits or basement leaks. Before this happens inspect, clean and if necessary repair or replace.

Caulking and Grout:
Inspect caulking and grout around tubs, showers, sinks, windows and door. Replace if deteriorating to protect material behind the walls, avoid water damage and mold growth.

Air Conditioning System Inspection and Filter Change:
Have your air conditioning system checked by a licensed HVAC mechanic semi-annually to ensure top efficiency. Replace filters monthly to improve air quality and reduce energy costs.

Dryer Vents
If your dryer is taking more than one cycle to dry a load, there's likely lint accumulation in the dryer vent. Annual maintenance prevents dryer fires, keeps dryers running efficiently and saves money on energy bills.

"Consumers who follow these guidelines," says Rathke, "will increase the longevity of their homes and save money in the long run."


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How to Land on Your Feet after an International Move

August 19, 2011 5:03 pm

We arrived on Guam (from a relocation move) with emergency cash, documents and an advanced shipment of necessary belongings. Unfortunately, an 8.2 earthquake destroyed our hotel and damaged the unloading docks, leaving us—at least temporarily—with just a rental car and the clothes on our back. Clearly, it was time to re-evaluate our settling-in strategy.

Even under normal circumstances, unfurling in a new location requires more than just a simple unpacking strategy. Here are our top tips.

Networking: Check out international organizations that offer networking opportunities to global travelers. For example, Hash House Harriers, an international running club formed in the late 1930s, has chapters all over the world, including Guam, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. Meetup.com allows individuals of any interest category to connect throughout the United States. In Kuwait, there are both Canadian and American citizens groups, as well as a French language association.

Nora Dunn (www.theprofessionalhobo.com) is a member of Rotary International, a global service organization that not only provides her with immediate opportunities for service, but an instant network of local contacts that are happy to help a newbie. And don't forget university alumni associations, trade groups and other professional organizations, with chapters in the U.S. and abroad.

Infrastructure: During international moves, an ironing board, French press and chairs rank high on our must-have list. Other seasoned travelers, with special needs or diets, ease the pain of relocation by traveling with back-up supplies of medicine, medical equipment and cooking supplies.

During an extended stay in Scotland, Greenland and Iceland, one traveler filled individual Ziploc bags with coffee, spices and other nonperishable food items. The storage bags were stuffed into paper towel tubes and then stashed in her luggage. This strategy created a portable supply of kitchen ingredients.

With that stock, she prepared meals while staying in rented homes in Europe. Donna Frose, an international teacher whose career has taken her to the U.A.E., Singapore, Kuwait and Ecuador, has a different set of priorities. Arriving with one set of bed linens and a pillow, she immediately searches out a couch, membership in the local Canadian Women's League chapter and the nearest diet cola supply.

Routine: New digs mean new routines for everything from banking, grocery shopping and medical care. While living in Paris, we used an informal alumni association to help us find the best deals in entertainment, groceries and clothing. For example, an old college friend provided information about great parties and events, including a poetry reading at an elegant bookstore in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank of Paris.




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Filing a Damage Claim in the Wake of Severe Storms

August 19, 2011 5:03 pm

The end of summer and onset of fall brings the tall end of hurricane season, and also tornadoes throughout the country. For this, Allstate is providing these simple steps for customers and families to help during the recovery.

Make sure your home is structurally safe. Be extremely careful inside your home. Debris may be hazardous and the potential for collapse may exist. You may want to retrieve personal items, but if you're told by authorities to stay out, stay out. It's for your own safety.

Have necessary temporary repairs made to prevent further damage, keeping receipts for work performed.

If your home is uninhabitable, find out what living expenses your homeowners or renters insurance policy may cover.

Be patient and assist claims adjusters assigned to your case. Small losses may be settled quickly; extensive claims will take longer.

Notify creditors if bills have been lost or you're unable to pay.

Consider calling your utility company and ask them to stop billing if your home has been destroyed.

Report your claim to insurance company promptly.

Prepare to file an insurance claim by gathering all relevant policy numbers.

Inventory your home for damaged or lost items before your adjuster arrives. This will help speed up your claim process.

Work with a qualified tax expert to find out about tax breaks for which you may be eligible because of your losses.

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Pests and Mosquitoes Are All the ‘Buzz

August 19, 2011 5:03 pm

As Americans gear up for the final days of summer with last-minute vacations and Labor Day barbeques, one tradition remains as constant as back-to-school sales—pest activity. In a recent Omnibus survey conducted by Atlanta-based pest control leader Orkin, flies (45 percent), flying and stinging insects (40 percent) and mosquitoes (39 percent) were most frequently seen in and around homes within the past month. In addition, 30 of 31 Orkin region offices across the U.S. confirmed that ants are among the top summer pests affecting homeowners. 

"It's no surprise that flies, flying and stinging pests, mosquitoes and ants are most active this summer, given current weather conditions," says Greg Baumann, technical director for Rollins Inc., parent company of Orkin. "The sweltering temperatures coupled with seasonal rain showers in much of the country create ideal conditions for these insects in search of food, water and shelter, making them more prevalent."
Almost half (43 percent) of the respondents dislike pests because they could "bite, sting or attack [them]," while 41 percent dislike pests because they are a nuisance. 

Baumann notes these responses can be attributed to flying and stinging insects like bees and wasps, which can be difficult for consumers to control on their own and can pose serious health risks to people who are allergic to their stings. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, more than 500,000 people are sent to the emergency room every year from insect stings. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mosquitoes are most likely to bite between dusk and dawn – primetime for backyard activities. Mosquito bites can cause itchy, red welts, but the pest is infamous for transmitting West Nile virus, among other diseases. 

Although most ants can't bite or sting, the exception being fire ants, these filthy pests can contaminate food and surfaces with germs that could cause pneumonia, food poisoning and meningitis. Additionally, flies can carry more than 100 pathogens and transmit bacteria like E. coli and salmonella every time they land. 

Orkin suggests the following tips to keep these summer pests away:
• Store food and drinks in tightly sealed containers.
• Monitor regularly for nests around the home.
• Remove standing water from gutters, plant pots and other sources where pests can breed.
• Hire a licensed pest control professional.

For more information visit http://orkin.com.

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Word of the Day

August 19, 2011 5:03 pm

Encumbrance. Any impediment to a clear title. It can be a claim, lien, zoning restriction, or other legal right or interest in land that diminishes its value. The report of the title search usually shows all encumbrances.

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Question of the Day

August 19, 2011 5:03 pm

Q: Does the federal government offer home improvement programs?

A: Yes. Among the most popular:
• Title 1 Home Improvement Loan. HUD insures the loan up to $25,000 for a single-family home and lenders make loans for basic livability improvements – such as additions and new roofs – to eligible borrowers.
• Section 203(k) Program. HUD helps finance the major rehabilitation and repair of one- to four-family residential properties, excluding condos. Owner-occupants may use a combination loan to purchase a fixer-upper "as is" and rehabilitate it, or refinance a property plus include in the loan the cost of making the improvements. They also may use the loan solely to finance the rehabilitation.
• VA loans. Veterans can get loans from the Department of Veterans Affairs to buy, build, or improve a home, as well as refinance an existing loan at interest rates that are usually lower than that on conventional loans. 

Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Loans. Funded by the Agriculture Department, these low-rate loans are available to low-income rural residents who own and occupy a home in need of repairs. Funds are available to improve or modernize a home or to remove health and safety hazards.

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Proactive Car Care Pays Off Down the Road

August 18, 2011 8:03 pm

Gas prices and tough economic conditions are affecting Americans’ driving and spending habits. According to a recent survey sponsored by AutoZone, more than half of U.S. drivers are making sacrifices in order to accommodate for higher gas prices. 

Shorter trips and cutting back on dining out are just a couple of ways motorists say they are compensating for paying higher gas prices. Meanwhile, nearly half of survey respondents say that the economy has had an impact on their decision to purchase a new vehicle. This means more older vehicles are on the road and more vehicles in need of repair. According to the National Car Council, 80 percent of vehicles on the road are in need of service or parts.

While Americans are gripping their wallets, AutoZone reminds drivers of the importance of routine and proactive maintenance. A few dollars spent on car care can go a long way in increasing fuel economy and extending the life of the vehicle.

“Spending a few minutes and a few dollars performing routine maintenance checks can ease the pain at the pump and help extend vehicle life,” says Steve Stoll, director of merchandising at AutoZone. “A small investment in car care today could pay off down the road.”

Jody Devere, CEO of Ask Patty, an automotive advice website, recommends checking and maintaining critical vehicle components as the hot summer comes to an end. 

“Many vehicle components can be weakened during continuous days of hot weather,” Devere said. “Checking and replacing key vehicle components in early fall can uncover any damage that occurred during the hot, summer months.”

AutoZone offers the following tips to ensure vehicles are running safely and efficiently:

Check Fluids.
Checking and maintaining the levels on key fluids can prevent engines from overheating. These fluids include engine oil, transmission fluids and antifreeze/coolant. Also, changing to a quality, synthetic engine oil such as Mobil 1 Advanced Fuel Economy can improve fuel efficiency and engine performance.
Test Battery to Prevent a Breakdown.
Many batteries that fail during fall and early winter had become weakened by the scorching summer heat. Although batteries last an average of three to five years, the National Car Care Council recommends checking the battery at least annually, preferably during the early fall and spring, to avoid a breakdown during the hottest months of the year.

Replace and Maintain Vital Components.
Spark Plugs
Spark plugs can affect fuel efficiency, emissions and economy. As spark plugs wear, they do not burn fuel as cleanly, which is why it is important to change spark plugs at the proper interval. Motorists should purchase the correct type of spark plugs and replace them at the proper interval as recommended by the manufacturer. If the owner’s manual has been lost, many websites, such as the National Car Care Council’s website, www.carcare.org, offer a recommended maintenance schedule for vehicles.

Oxygen Sensors
Replacing oxygen sensors can improve gas mileage. Check and replace one- and two-wire sensors every 30,000-50,000 miles and every 60,000-100,000 miles for “heated” type oxygen sensors.

Air Filters
Replacing a clogged air filter can lead to increased performance and acceleration. Air filters should be checked at every oil change, and replaced every 12,000 miles.

For more information visit www.autozone.com.

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Winter Travel on a Budget? It’s Not too Early to Start Planning—and Saving.

August 18, 2011 8:03 pm

Winter Travel on a Budget? It’s Not too Early to Start Planning—and Saving. 

The sun is out, and beaches are still open, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to begin planning your winter vacation. Apple Vacations consumer research indicates that due to pent up demand from years of cutting back, Americans are booking their winter vacations earlier than last year. Waiting for a last-minute deal could mean winter travelers may miss out on their first hotel choice, destination or date. Apple Vacations is offering these tips to help consumers save money on winter travel: 

• Book an air and hotel package. Typically, companies that can package air and hotel together have more negotiating power, ensuring the lowest price possible.
• Investigate travel protection.
• When researching, be sure to compare apples to apples. For example, is the vacation from Company A the same as Company B? Does it include hotel transfers? Taxes? Meals?
• Whenever possible, book a nonstop flight. While the financial savings may be negligible, the costs to the environment are much less. Nearly half of the carbon emissions released by airplanes happen during takeoff and landing, so fewer stops mean a “greener” flight. It also means a quicker start to that winter vacation.
• Go all-inclusive. Today’s all-inclusives offer gourmet restaurants, premium brand drinks, fitness classes from certified professionals, all-day activities and nightly entertainment—a far cry from the boring buffet lines of all-inclusives of the past. Secrets Resorts in Riviera Maya, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, for example, have a la carte French, Italian, seafood and tepanyaki restaurants included in its package price.
• Look for packages that include extra values. For winter travel, hotels are offering free golf, free spa treatments, kids stay free and more. Travelers can save money on their vacation activities before they even arrive.

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