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Mary Mastroeni

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Question of the Day

August 11, 2011 8:03 pm

Q: Can I refinance a home loan more than once?

A: You most certainly can. During the most recent refinancing boom, for example, many homeowners refinanced their home loans two or three times within relatively short periods of time because interest rates kept treading downward, making it extremely attractive to trade in one loan for another.

Just remember that refinancing is basically like applying for a mortgage all over again. Each time you refinance, you will still have to go through the application process, get a home appraisal, and likely incur closing costs. Also, if you have a pre-payment penalty clause in your present mortgage, you will have to pay that penalty if you refinance. So be certain that it is actually worth it for you to refinance.

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The Low-Down on Credit Insurance

August 11, 2011 8:03 pm

I recently came across some great advice from Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler regarding costly and unneeded insurance being marketed to consumers who are borrowing money or making a purchase on credit. According to Gansler, this ”credit insurance” is notorious for being one of the most overpriced insurance products.

Credit insurance may be sold under the pretense of being mandatory, but rarely is. For instance, in Maryland and other states lenders cannot require the purchase of most types of credit insurance.

Lenders may require credit property insurance on loans secured by a piece of property, or a destructible possession, but a consumer is allowed to choose the insurance company.

There are three types of credit insurance:

1. Credit Life Insurance, which pays off an outstanding loan if a consumer dies;
2. Credit Disability Insurance, which makes payments on a loan if a consumer is disabled; and
3. Credit Involuntary Unemployment Benefit Insurance, which makes payments on a loan if a consumer is involuntarily unemployed.

If consumers wish to purchase insurance, Gansler says they should consider a few alternatives, including checking to see if their current homeowner’s or life insurance policy provides adequate coverage.

As with other forms of insurance, it is important for the consumer to check the policy closely before agreeing to its terms. Some good questions to ask include the length of any waiting period, limitations, cancellation terms, coverage length, financing and comparability to other similar policies.

U.S. Dept. of the Treasury reports that the cost of the Credit Life Insurance is often added to the principal amount of a loan. And lenders must disclose the terms and costs of obtaining the insurance since it can affect the terms of the loan.

Some policies may also combine Credit Life and Credit Disability (also called accident and health insurance) into one policy—and may contain provisions for cancellation of the policy. A bank cannot force you to buy credit insurance, but once you sign up for credit insurance on your loan, the cost of your coverage becomes part of your contract with the bank.

Then there is private mortgage insurance or PMI. If the borrower stops paying the loan, PMI is a policy that protects the lender by paying the costs of foreclosing on a house.

PMI usually is required if the down payment is less than 20 percent of the sale price, and while PMI protects the lender, it is typically paid monthly by you, the borrower.

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Water Damage 101

August 11, 2011 8:03 pm

2011 is shaping up as a year of record severe weather events, with storms and flooding occurring across the country. Property owners faced with water damage often find themselves with a major water restoration job on their hands, but it can be made even worse if they are not aware of the kind of water they are dealing with. WaterDamageLocal.com has identified three different types of water that should be identified before any water clean up procedures begin.

Water damage may be the result of weather, flooding, or mechanical failures such as burst pipes or sewage backflow. Whenever it occurs, the primary response should be to shut the water off at the source. This not only prevents any more water from coming in, but it also allows the property owner to determine exactly what kind of water they are dealing with. 

The categories of water are as follows:
Category 1 Water – Often referred to as Clean Water, this self-explanatory category consists of water that is clean at the source and contains no contaminants or other harmful materials. This may be from overflowing tubs or sinks, water supply lines, or appliance malfunctions. This water is safe to work with, although it should be noted that clean water may in fact become contaminated if left standing for too long, or if it comes into contact with contaminated materials. 

Category 2 Water – Often referred to as Grey Water, this is water that may contain some harmful elements. If ingested by humans or animals, it could cause some health problems. This could come from toilet bowls with urine, sump pump failures, or water discharge from dishwashers or washing machines. 

Category 3 Water – Often referred to as Black Water, if you haven't already guessed, this is the gross stuff—water that is highly contaminated at the source, containing sewage, bacteria, chemicals, or fungi that can be harmful, even fatal, if ingested by humans. Examples include sewage, toilet backflows from beyond the trap, and all flooding from seawater, surface waters, rivers, streams, etc. Black water should be solely treated by a qualified water restoration professional. 

Water restoration methods may vary depending on the type of water involved. Many smaller leaks or spills involving Clean Water may be successfully remediated by the property owner, while spills involving Grey or Black may require professional treatment. 

Also, the given state may not remain static. Clean Water may become Grey and Grey Water may become Black if not treated promptly. Typically, there is a window of about 72 hours before categorical shifts occur.
Black Water should always be treated by a licensed, IICRC certified water damage restoration professional. Due to the amount of viruses and bacteria found in such water, as well as the fact that dangerous black or toxic mold may develop within 48 hours, the health risks are simply too great for the average homeowner. 

For more information, visit www.WaterDamageLocal.com.

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4 Ways to Dominate at a Foreclosure Auction

August 11, 2011 8:03 pm

Property investors are beating bushes and shaking trees to ferret out the best deals, according to, Jason Hartman, CEO of Open Door Auctions. Hartman is offering consumers four solid ways to score that prime property at a foreclosure auction. 

First, Hartman advises taking a look at the numbers. Buying properties at auction is hot right now and judging by the continued rate of foreclosures hitting the market, it won’t be letting up any time soon. Take a look at these numbers:
• lenders filed 3.8 million foreclosure notices in 2010
• that is 2% more than in 2009
• that is 23% more than in 2008
• 2011 is expected to be even worse, according to RealtyTrac 

Don’t let anyone tell you that foreclosures are on the decline because they’re not. For the savvy investor, there is still money to made buying properties at foreclosure auctions. Here’s Hartman's strategy for success when bidding at a foreclosure sale: 

1. Quantify – Before you even think about showing up and bidding at a foreclosure auction, do your homework. You have to be able to affix solid numbers to a variety of factors related to the property. Hold it up against comparable houses in the neighborhood in terms of value. Inspect the house thoroughly and know how much repairs are going to cost. Are there any weird things going on in the neighborhood that could affect your ability to rent the house? Like a hog farm going in upwind across the street? Or maybe a race track around the block that revs the engines late at night on the weekends? To put it plainly, don’t even think about bidding on the place unless you have quantified anything that could eventually be adverse to your profits. 

2. Start Small – Foreclosures auctions are not for the faint of heart. It will be mainly experienced, professional investors doing the bidding. For a rookie investor, it’s a good idea not to jump into a bid-calling, whistle-blowing, finger-signaling war with a bunch of veterans on the courthouse steps. Before you know it, they will have bid you up far past the level you wanted to go, and then jump out, leaving you holding the bag. Get your feet wet in the foreclosure auction arena by attending a small auction as an observer only. Perhaps the biggest mistake a new investor could make at a public house sale is to start bidding at the first auction you attend. By all means, attend the auction but keep your hands firmly in your pockets. 

3. Certified Check – One way to prove to everyone that you don’t have a clue about auctions is to show up without a certified check, usually for at least $5,000, depending upon the size of the properties being sold. You need to have this check to show the auction company you’re not just a tire kicker and have the legitimate intent to buy a property—if you’re bidding. Don’t forget to include the “buyer’s premium” in your calculations which is a commission that often must be paid to the company conducting the sale. 

4. Get the Best Deal – When it comes time to dive into bidding, here are a few things you should know in order to walk away a winner. The first few properties often go for less because bidders are trying to get a feel of the sale’s pulse. This gives you a chance to jump in a scoop up a property or two while everyone else is getting limbered up. And don’t forget, during the homework phase, not to obsess on a single property. You’ll have plenty of time to scope out more than one and you should do your due diligence on several. Give yourself an edge during the actual bidding by not joining in on a flurry of bids. This only serves to help drive the price higher. Instead, wait until the chaos has died down to make your offer. 

If you’re at an auction and notice a group of well-dressed men clustered around the auctioneer, don’t assume they represent the lender and are there to outbid everyone. There’s a good chance they might actually turn out to be clever bidders who arrived early dressed for the part, seeking to intimidate others from bidding against their supposedly “deep pockets.” You should pull out your best business suit and try this tactic. It might help dampen the bidding enthusiasm for a piece of real estate you covet. Remember, all is fair in love, war and foreclosure auctions. 

For more information, visit http://opendoorauctions.com/.

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Home Maintenance Tips for Fall

August 11, 2011 8:03 pm

Fall is the time to get your home ready for the coming winter, which can be the most grueling season for your home. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) suggests you perform a variety of tasks which will help you to avoid the most common— and costly—problems before they occur. Some of these tasks are: 

• Ensure leaves and other debris are removed from eaves and downspouts for proper drainage from the roof. Ensure that downspouts direct water away from the house foundation.
• If you have a gas, oil, or other non-electric heating system, have it serviced by a qualified company—every two years for a gas furnace and every year for an oil furnace or in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Have the chimneys or combustion vents checked for nests or other obstructions before turning on your heating system.
• If you have a furnace, check and clean or replace filters on a monthly basis during the heating season.
• Gently vacuum in and around hot water baseboard and electric baseboard heaters to remove dust. Remove the grilles on forced-air heating systems and vacuum inside the ducts. Ensure airflow dampers are open.
• If you have a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), ensure the air intake grille—located on the outside of the house—is clean, the filters and core within the unit are clean, the condensate drains properly (test by pouring water into the drain pan under the core and watching the flow through the drain tube), and the HRV is turned on and is set at the right speed.
• If you have a well, test the water quality.
• If you have a sump pump, ensure it is operating properly, with no obstructions or leaks in the drain line.
• If you have a septic tank, have it checked to determine if it needs to be emptied before the winter starts.
• Remove and store window screens, install storm windows, and ensure all windows, doors and skylights shut tightly, including the door between your house and garage; repair or replace weather stripping, as needed.
• Ensure that the ground around your home slopes away from the foundation wall to decrease the likelihood of water draining into the basement.
• Cover the outside of the air conditioner, and drain and store outdoor hoses. Close the valve to the outdoor hose connection and drain the faucet.
• Winterize landscaping by storing outdoor furniture, preparing gardens and, if necessary, protecting young trees or bushes. 

For more information visit www.cmhc.ca.

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Word of the Day

August 11, 2011 8:03 pm

Due-on-sale. Clause in a note or mortgage giving the lender the right to call the entire loan balance due if the property is sold or otherwise conveyed.

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Question of the Day

August 11, 2011 8:03 pm

Q: Is it possible to refinance following a bankruptcy?

A:
It can be difficult to do after a bankruptcy, unless you are willing to pay very high interest rates and fees. However, if you are contemplating bankruptcy, first talk with your lender and explain your situation. If your mortgage payments are current, the lender may be accommodating and refinance your loan, thereby helping to ease your financial burden.

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Back to School with Less Stress

August 10, 2011 8:03 pm

Seven Tips to Help the Family Get Ready

It’s nearly time for summer to move over and make room for back-to-school—possibly the family’s busiest and most chaotic time of the year, especially in multiple-child households.

But a little organization can calm the nervous, clothe the brood, and underline the joy and excitement that every new school year should bring, according to Cynthia Ewer, editor of Organized Home.

Ewer shares the following tips to ease the angst of preparing for back-to-school:

• Ease back into school year schedules – if the kids have been staying up later and sleeping in, start easing them back into school year schedules a week or two before school starts. Also plan meals and snacks as you expect to do during the school year.
• Create calendar central – Post a large-square calendar and bulletin board on or near the refrigerator. A central calendar noting practices, music lessons, and all after-school activities is the only way to plan and keep order.
• Have a try-on day – Designate one day for all the kids to try on last year’s clothes. Make notes about who needs what before you begin to shop. Don’t forget to check for possible hand-me-downs.
• Shop early – End of summer sales can yield great bargains on school supplies as well as clothing and shoes. Buy outright any clothing or supplies your kids will need right away. Think about using layaway for boots, heavy jackets, and other supplies that will not be needed for a while.
• Check the paperwork – Do your athletes need proof of medical exams? Immunization records? Birth certificates for registration? Make any needed medical appointments now, and gather all the paperwork you will need.
• Take aim at morning madness – How can you save time and avoid upsets? Enlist the kids to set the table for breakfast as the dinner table is cleared. Create a workable bathroom schedule that gives everyone equal time. Keep a basket in the kitchen to hold signed permissions, homework, and reports due in a place where kids can find them fast.
• Make practice runs – Be sure children know the bike or walking route they will need or where the school bus will meet them. Make car pool arrangements as early as possible, and if your teen will be driving for the first time, review routes, rules of the road, and rules of the household.

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The Hidden Cost of Convenience

August 10, 2011 8:03 pm

With so many different devices deemed necessary these days, people often are unaware of the amount of energy used and the costs associated with keeping these devices running. While there has been a lot of discussion on "vampire" devices, electronics that continue to consume power even when in the stand-by position, it seems that many other everyday hidden costs are overlooked.

According to the California Energy Commission (www.consumerenergycenter.org), older refrigerators could be costing you up to $280 a year in electricity. A newer, more efficient model could pay for itself in a year or two.

Similarly, if you have an older television with the classic cathode-ray tube in it, even if just as a secondary TV in the bedroom, it still may be consuming more energy than you think. A study done by Cornell University found that a similar size LCD monitor compared to a CRT monitor used nearly 69 percent less energy (25 watts (LCD) vs. 80 watts (CRT)), including 40 percent less when in stand-by mode.

A more everyday example that might not be considered as often is batteries. Standard alkaline batteries may last a long time, but we constantly need a supply of them on hand and they can be expensive. When you stop to add up how many AA or AAA batteries a standard home uses (all those remote controls, wireless keyboards, mice and game controllers, not to mention the loud toys for the little ones), the hidden cost of replacement batteries can surprise you. Luckily, there's a solution that's more efficient and costs less over time. Rechargeable battery technology has improved in the last five years that gets rid of many of the questions of using rechargeables.

Rechargeables are now more appealing and more cost-effective than ever before. If they are able to meet the demands of our remotes and alarm clocks, the only thing that holds us back is either not acknowledging the hidden costs associated with our portable power needs, or our lack of awareness of the new technology that could save us money in the long run and lower the total cost of ownership of our favorite portable devices. We know rechargeable batteries are convenient for our cell phones, music players and readers, but we don't usually stop to think about them for other everyday items.

When we become aware of hidden costs and how they affect our pocketbooks over time, we become smarter consumers and realize that a little up front investment can often mean less money paid out over time, saving us more money to buy the things we want.

For more information, visit http://us.sanyo.com.

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Americans Say 'Yes' to New Requirements for Teen Drivers

August 10, 2011 8:03 pm

A recent national survey from Allstate Insurance reveals that nearly six in 10 Americans favor a federal law that establishes minimum requirements for state graduated driver licensing (GDL). Survey results show that support for a national law corresponds with low opinions about teen driving skills, which received the lowest ranking among all ages surveyed.

Currently, the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STANDUP) Act is pending in Congress as part of the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Improvement Act of 2011 (MVHSIA) or Mariah's Law, named after an Arkansas teen killed in a crash involving texting. STANDUP calls for uniform standards that restrict nighttime driving, limits the number of passengers in a teen's car, prohibits the use of cell phones while driving, and issues permits and licenses with specific age requirements and through a gradual, multi-phased process.

When asked about the specific provisions included in the STANDUP Act, Americans are solidly in favor of the policies. Key findings include:
• Seventy-six percent back a minimum age of 16 to receive a learner's permit, and 69 percent favor requiring three stages of licensing.
• Seven in 10 Americans favor restricting unsupervised nighttime driving for those under age 18, and 65 percent support restricting the number of non-family passengers for drivers under 18.
• When asked about the prohibition of cell phones or texting while driving for younger drivers, 81 percent are in favor.
• Support for STANDUP and its individual provisions crosses all age groups, geographic regions, and political affiliation.

The survey also shows that American drivers are highly critical of teenage drivers, giving them the lowest rating of all age groups. Eighty-one percent rate teenagers as "average" or "poor" drivers.

"Results from this survey show that Americans clearly understand that GDL laws can help save lives, and that a majority of them support a legislative solution that safely introduces teen drivers to the road," says Bill Vainisi, senior vice president and deputy general counsel, Allstate. "What's needed now is national leadership in the form of uniform standards for those GDL laws."

For more information, visit www.allstatenewsroom.com.

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