Mary Mastroeni
GoogleLinked InYoutubePinterest
 
Mary Mastroeni

Mary's Blog

Question of the Day

September 7, 2011 5:03 pm

Q: Should I hire a home inspector for a new home?

A: You would think not since it is new and the developer has to adhere to local construction guidelines. However, err on the side of caution – always hire an inspector, whether the home is old or new.

You can ask the builder to provide copies of any inspection reports on the property, architectural plans, surveys and pertinent construction documents for your inspector to review.

The inspector should either be a professional home inspector, an engineer, an architect or a contractor. When hiring a professional inspector, look for one who belongs to a home inspection trade organization, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).

This group has developed formal inspection guidelines and a professional code of ethics for its members. Membership in ASHI is not automatic. Proven field experience and technical knowledge about structures and their various systems and appliances are required.

As for rates, they vary greatly. Many inspectors charge about $400, but costs increase based on the scope of the inspection.

Tags:

5 Easy Ways to Become a Millionaire

September 6, 2011 5:03 pm

Who doesn’t want to be a millionaire? It’s a status most people aspire to—and, says Thomas J. Stanely, co-author of The Millionaire Next Door, it’s easier than ever to become one for those who lead a relatively frugal lifestyle and adhere to a few simple financial guidelines.

Stanley points to research that shows how five lifestyle and financial decisions can set you on the road to realizing your dream to be a millionaire:

1. Marry only once – The average millionaire is married with three children and a wife who may or may not work but is often a better budgeter than her husband. Marrying only once avoids the cost of divorce and remarriage, not to mention the cost of alimony, child support, etc.
2. Live on one income – If you and your spouse have two incomes, try to structure your expenses so you can live on one income and save/invest the second. Doing so provides a safety cushion if one spouse loses a job, and a painless way to build your net worth.
3. Choose the right career – That means one you enjoy, either as an employee or in your own, self-employed profession. The right career is also one that is in step with the trends and that you feel passionate enough about to put in extra hours when necessary.
4. Invest in appreciating assets – Millionaires generally invest at least 20% of their household income each year, primarily in “transaction securities such as publicly traded stocks and mutual funds—and rarely sell their equities. Most buy instead of lease their cars and tend to live in their homes for 20 years or more.
5. Don’t live like a millionaire – Warren Buffett is a good example of a many-times millionaire who lives a frugal lifestyle in a mid-price home and is more concerned with increasing his assets than in living the so-called high life. With discipline and a little common sense, you can be a millionaire, too.

Tags:

Hurricane and Earthquake Create Roof Damage; Timely Repairs Now Prevent Risks Later

September 6, 2011 5:03 pm

Regional Spotlight—The recent record-breaking earthquake and violent hurricane Irene pummeled homes along the East Coast, potentially damaging hundreds of thousands of roofs, according to Kirk Kandler, senior vice president of retail for Henry Company, a leading provider of building envelope systems. Kandler and other experts agree that homeowners need to act quickly to repair possible roof leaks to protect their homes, health and valuables.

Impact of the Double Disasters
The Virginia earthquake—the most powerful earthquake to strike the East Coast in over 60 years, caused an estimated $200 million to $300 million damage. Hurricane Irene's high winds, floods, falling trees and tornados caused another estimated $7 billion in damage.

"While both types of natural disasters can wreak havoc on a roof," explains Kandler, "it is the combined effect that can be particularly harmful, causing a variety of problems as a result of the shifting roof, high winds, flying debris and heavy rainfall. This 'perfect storm' of natural phenomena act together to dislodge, and split shingles, uplift and puncture roof membranes, and form cracks where different surfaces or materials come together."

Unfortunately, much of the damage is likely to be uninsured, as less than five percent of East Coast property owners have earthquake coverage and it is estimated that less than half of the hurricane damage is covered , placing a huge burden on homeowners whose properties are affected. Nevertheless, homeowners should contact their insurers early to determine the best course of remediation and move quickly to repair damage.

The Need to Act Quickly
According to Reed Hitchcock, executive vice president of the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA), it is imperative to address roof leaks immediately. "What starts as a small leak can turn into a significant and costly problem very quickly, resulting in moisture damage to a home's roof, framing, insulation, ceiling and walls and, ultimately, mold growth," he notes.

A report published by the Centers for Disease Control confirms, "Buildings with leaking roofs...are susceptible to mold growth." The report also points out that mold can appear on wet building materials within just 48-72 hours, feeding off of nutrients in wallboard, wallpaper and upholstery and causing illness in otherwise healthy individuals.

Historical weather records also suggest that homeowners should proceed with a sense of urgency. According to the National Hurricane Center, the climatological peak of hurricane season is mid-September, and tropical cyclone Katia is building force offshore even now.

Finding the Leak
The first step in remediation and the most difficult, according to Kandler, is to find the leak: "Eighty percent of leaks can be found at vertical protrusions, such as skylights, chimneys and roof vents. The remaining leaks are likely to be where dissimilar materials are joined, such as between shingles and flashing." Clues include ceiling staining or gaps between roofing surfaces.

Fixing the Leak
Three-quarters of the residential roofs in the United States are asphalt roofs, which can be relatively easy and inexpensive to repair, according to Kandler. Homeowners should check their roofing warranties prior to completing any non-emergency roof repairs.

If a homeowner is comfortable climbing on his own roof and addressing a roof leak, the first step is to identify areas where the leak may be originating. If the problem area is easily identifiable, the roof repair involves four easy steps:

1. Clear the area of any loose materials or debris.
2. Using a trowel, apply a quarter- to half-inch of roof cement/mastic over and around the area where the leak originates.
3. Apply some reinforcing fabric (available where the roof cement is sold) into the first layer of roof cement, press it in firmly with the edge of the trowel in a "waffle" pattern.
4. Completely cover the reinforcing fabric with a second layer of roof cement, quarter- to half-inch thick.

Repair vs. Permanent Patch
Kandler advises both homeowners and professional roofers to choose their materials carefully, as roofing products are not all equal. Repairs that don't involve replacement of shingles typically require just three items: trowel or putty knife, a quality roof repair cement and reinforced fabric. A quality mastic is identified as one that is:

1. Rubberized
2. All weather
3. All purpose - can be used on all roof surfaces
4. Made with virgin mineral spirits/solvents

In addition, homeowners should ask for roofing cements that provide a lifetime warranty. Some mastics offer only a one- to three-year warranty, which provides a short-term repair rather than a permanent patch.

The fabric should be designed for use as a roof repair reinforcement and is usually found wherever roof repair cement is sold.

For more information, visit www.henry.com.

Tags:

Consumer Reports Offers Energy Saving Tips

September 6, 2011 5:03 pm

Discussions about federal regulations on Energy Star ratings and energy efficient products continue and homeowners need to keep a pulse on the changes. The latest issue of Consumer Reports looks to help shoppers make the best decisions for their needs and possibly save some cash. Consumer Reports recent tests revealed some of the best appliances, electronics, and heating and cooling equipment are also among the most efficient. There are a number of home-energy retrofits that, if done right, can quickly pay for themselves. But not all efficiency promises pan out.

"You don't have to sacrifice performance, comfort, or convenience to save energy and money, providing you know what to look for," says Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports. "Our tests have found many models of efficiency among a variety of appliances, but shoppers should beware that there are also products whose energy-saving claims are mostly hype."

The full energy package, including ratings of light bulbs, testing-based information on alternative energy options as well as additional tips on saving energy, can be found in the October issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org. 

What's New, What Works and What to Think Twice About

Powering electronic devices can cost almost as much as powering your kitchen appliances. Electronics and appliances account for 30 cents of every dollar someone spends on electricity. Appliances have become more efficient, but increased use of electronics has offset those gains, according to the Energy Information Administration. To help save energy and money, be sure to set computers to hibernate when they aren't in use; ask the cable company about replacing the current set-top box with one that meets Energy Star's 3.0 specifications, which became effective Sept. 1, 2011. Also inquire about whole-house DVRs, which can eliminate the need for an energy intense recording device on each TV. Get rid of the early-model plasma TVs that could cost well over $200 a year to operate. There are now large screens that cost $70 or less per year to run, including the 55-inch LCD Samsung UN55D65000, $1,900 with a fine picture, and an annual energy cost of $29.

More efficient appliances perform better than older ones, and the Energy Star program has improved. Starting this year, before a product can display an Energy Star logo, it must be tested for compliance by an accredited third-party lab. Front-loading washers use less energy and water than most top-loaders and extract more water in their spin cycle. Dishwashers with soil sensors adjust the use of hot water depending on how dirty the dishes are, saving energy and water. But watch out for many manufacturers introducing smart appliance lines in 2012. They will cost more, but smart technologies won't save money unless the home has a smart meter—an interface between the meter and the smart appliances and the utility companies implement time-of-use pricing—all of which are rare at this time.

There are more alternative energy options available to homeowners. Check out Consumer Reports first-ever report on a home wind turbine designed for residential use in the latest issue. Geothermal systems, which use the relatively constant temperature of the earth to heat and cool homes, are an emerging alternative to fossil-fuel-powered systems. A home energy audit can identify low-tech, high-yield energy retrofits. Expect to pay between $300 and $800 for a complete audit by a trained pro. The Department of Energy's website, www.energysavers.gov, has advice for conducting an audit yourself. But think twice about using a space heater to lower winter heating bills, unless you turn the heat down in the rest of the house. Also, there's little proof that cleaning ducts actually improve efficiencies, and shoddy work can damage the ducts. Only consider this if there is visible mold or vermin, or debris is coming out of supply registers. Before replacing the primary heating or cooling equipment in your home, consider having the duct distribution system sealed and insulated as the savings will be far greater than realized by simply switching to a more efficient furnace or central air conditioner.

Energy management is improving with the use of a "smart grid," that adds digital sensors, wireless communications, and other intelligence technologies to the nation's century-old electrical grid. The new grid could pave the way for wide-spread time-of-use pricing, which should help to make the demand for electricity more uniform over the 24 hour day, thus foregoing the need for more electric power plants while handling a greater overall load. Depending on the actual time-based pricing, some consumers may be able to reduce their energy costs.

One thing you can do now is buy a programmable thermostat, which can lower annual energy costs by as much as 10 percent. The Lux Smart Temp Touch Screen TX9000TS, $80 was one of the easiest to use during testing, and it kept temperatures constant. Think twice about switching utility suppliers to save money. Several states and the District of Columbia have restructured markets to allow consumers to choose their electricity and gas suppliers.

Smarter building practices, developed for new construction, are being used to make existing homes more energy efficient. Keeping heated and cooled air from leaking out of your home from ceilings, walls, and windows could lower annual energy costs by $500. Start by checking if your attic needs additional insulation, then seal and insulate leaky ductwork, and lastly, eliminate air leaks with a combination of caulk, foam board, expandable sealant, and weather stripping. Don't replace windows just for the sake of saving energy. Consumer Reports tests found that it could take up to 20 years to recoup that investment.

Alternative Energy Update: So Far, New Wind Turbine Delivers Little
Generous federal and local rebates and credits have helped put wind power on a growing list of options that use the forces of nature to trim an electricity bill. Wind turbines are supposed to save by powering homes and sending or selling any unused energy they create to a utility so that a credit can be provided back to the owner. But Consumer Reports early tests of one wind turbine suggests that one could save far less than the manufacturer claims, and wait decades for the investment to pay for itself.

At about $11,000 installed, the Honeywell WT6500 Wind Turbine being tested at Consumer Reports' Yonkers headquarters costs less than many wind systems, even before rebates. It's warranted for five years and can be ordered through popular home improvement stores, from dealers and online. It's one of the few that can mount on a roof. WindTronics, which makes the system, says it can deliver 18 to 23 percent of an average home's annual electricity needs, depending on wind speed. That should mean the Consumer Reports system pays for itself in about six years, given the energy it should create in the designated area, the 30 percent federal tax credit for small turbines, and the thousands in state rebates.

But so far, Consumer Reports has only seen a fraction of the total power that WindTronics says should be measured based on the area, even after several visits from a company-authorized installer. At that rate, the Honeywell wouldn't pay its way over its expected life of 20 years. Consumer Reports will be updating their data during the next year and will report on further developments as the testing continues.

For more information, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.

Tags:

Trying to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient? Act Now to Save.

September 6, 2011 5:03 pm

MXenergy, an energy provider and a strong sustainability proponent, is encouraging homeowners to act now on home energy efficiency improvements, while federal tax incentives are still available.

"Clearly there are not the enormous incentives that were available two years ago," says Marjorie Kass, MXenergy managing director of marketing. "However, there are still significant savings to be had and for those homeowners on the fence about energy improvements or upgrades, now is the time to act before those dollars are gone."

The energy efficiency tax credits, which have been offered as part of the federal government's economic stimulus program, are set to expire on Dec. 31, 2011.

Efficiency Incentives Still Available:
Biomass stoves: $300
Central Air Conditioning: $300
Furnaces and Boilers: $150
Insulation: 10 percent of cost, up to $500
Roofing: 10 percent of cost, up to $500
Gas, Oil or Propane Water Heaters: $300
Electric Heat Pump Water Heaters: $300
Windows & Skylights: 10 percent of cost, up to $200
Doors: 10 percent of cost, up to $500

Kass encourages people to think locally, too. "Many people may not realize there are also numerous incentive programs on a state and local level that can offer additional savings," she says. "We know it is often the issue of cost that prevents people from making efficiency changes and it is our goal to help inform consumers so they can offset as much of the expense as possible."

To learn more about local incentive programs in your state, customers can visit www.dsireusa.org. Information about available federal incentives and how to qualify can be found at www.energysavers.gov.

For more information about MXenergy, visit www.mxenergy.com.


Tags:

3 Painless Ways to Boost Cash Savings

September 2, 2011 2:03 pm

Having a stash of ready cash is a great way to pay for unexpected car repairs, a new spring wardrobe, or a much-needed weekend getaway. But saving isn’t easy, and some people are just not motivated—or disciplined enough—to put away money for a rainy day by the most traditional means: stashing part of every paycheck in a designated savings account.

Others fear they won’t have enough left to get through the month if they put away a percentage of every check before they start paying the bills.

If that describes you, says financial consultant Farnoosh Torabi, you may benefit from tricking yourself into stashing a few bucks in less traditional ways. She offers three fun ideas for stretching your savings without feeling the burn:

• Save dollars, not change – Open your wallet every night and remove one or two singles. Place them in a coffee can on your closet shelf or an envelope in your dresser drawer. Chances are you won’t miss the missing singles, but do it for a year and your little stash could amount to $500 or more.
• Tip yourself – If you skip a manicure and do it yourself—or mow your own lawn or paint your own living room, take the cash you would have spent on the service and add it to your secret stash. Try tipping yourself every time you drive a carpool or take out the trash—or whatever other chores you choose to reward—and watch your cash stash grow.
• Save the savings – When coupons lower the cost of your groceries by a couple bucks or more, set aside the amount you’ve ‘saved’ and dump it into your stash. The same holds true for the money you ’saved’ by buying a wanted item on sale instead of at its regular price—or not buying it all.

Tags:

Beware Of Flood Damage Scams in the Wake of Irene

September 2, 2011 2:03 pm

Water Damage Local.com, a nationwide network of water restoration providers, is advising people to beware of scam artists in the wake of Hurricane Irene. The recent storm sideswiped the Eastern Seaboard, causing devastation from the Carolinas to New England. Such a scenario is prime territory for those looking to separate desperate property owners from their money. 

Among the more nefarious scams to watch out for:
Insurance Fraud. A lot of people don’t have flood insurance, and as a result may be facing some fairly stiff repair costs. Some scammers pose as insurance agents, offering to write a policy that will cover the damage. Of course once they have the homeowner’s money, they vanish, never to be seen again. Residents should remember that no insurance company will write a policy to cover any damage that has already occurred. The time to take out flood insurance is, obviously, before the disaster strikes.
Contractor Scams. Following a disaster such as Irene, contractors will show up on doorsteps almost immediately, offering to repair the home or business. People falling for the scam will pay the scammer up front, usually for “materials,” only to find the person (and their money) vanishes almost immediately. The wise approach is to avoid any contractor who asks for money upfront, or who appears just a little too anxious to begin the work. Avoid the urge to get things done straight away and check references before hiring anybody.
Bogus Charities. These are as numerous in the disaster world as Tribbles on the Enterprise, with fly by night charitable organizations popping up to cash in on the unfortunate victims of natural disasters. Whatever they claim to represent, the only person who is going to benefit from the money donated is the scammer. Only make charitable contributions to reputable charities, with name recognition, such as the Red Cross or Salvation Army. If the charity calling you sounds legit, but their name is unfamiliar, give.org and charitynavigator.org are both excellent resources for verifying their claims.
E-mail Scams. This is the crazy first cousin to the Bogus Charity. Emails will show up claiming to be from a given organization, asking for a donation in the form of a credit card or bank account number. Of course if the number is given, the bank account is promptly drained or the card maxed out with charges in no time. These numbers should only be given out to persons or organizations that are familiar or trusted.
Facebook Scams. With the rise of social media comes the natural evolution of the scam artist to adapt to this new avenue of communication. This usually comes through the form of videos posted that ask for your personal information before they can be viewed. A scammer can do quite a bit of damage with just a person’s basic information. 

More than 40 million people are victims of scams every year, and the reason they keep cropping up is because people keep falling for them. Always verify the person you are doing business with, and report any fraudulent or suspicious activity to the police. 

For more information, visit www.WaterDamageLocal.com.

Tags:

Protect Your Child from Cyberbullying

September 2, 2011 2:03 pm

By Kate Raidt 

In October of 2010, authorities recovered the body of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate and another college classmate allegedly placed a camera in his dorm room and a personal encounter online. 

A month prior, 11-year old Ty Smalley, committed suicide after being excessively bullied at school. 

One in five youths between age 10 and 18 have been a victim of cyberbullying or participated in cyberbullying, according to a survey of 4,400 children conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center—an organization tracking the Internet bullying trend. This figure is conservative, because children are often afraid to come forward to their parents, bullying experts say. 

Cyberbullying can take on various forms, from a middle-schooler firing a hurtful text message to high school teens harassing a boyfriend or girlfriend online. The National Crime Prevention Council defines cyberbullying—a term practically nonexistent more than a decade ago—as what “happens when teens use the Internet, cell phones, or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” 

“It’s a daily nightmare,” says Alexandra Penn, founder of Champions Against Bullying, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles, California, that provides resources for reducing incidences of traditional and internet bullying in schools. “There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.” 

Cyberbullying has detrimental effects on its victims. 

• In schoolyard bullying, at least the victim knows he/she will be safe at home. But with cyberbullying, even your home can be a prison. Recent research posted in a special report by CNN says a child who had experienced cyberbullying from someone anonymous “may be more likely to feel isolated, dehumanized or helpless at the time of the attack,” according a study from the National Institutes of Health. 
• The perpetrators of cyberbullying are comfortable, and sometimes anonymous, hiding behind their computer. So the attacks on the victim are brutal. Messages posted on the internet are often permanent and difficult to remove. With one click of a mouse, comments can reach hundreds or thousands of students. • The perpetrators of cyberbullying are harder to catch. 

How to protect your children from cyberbullying:
• Talk to your kids. Ask them open-ended questions like “When was the last time someone sent you a nasty email?”, “Who at your school is being bullied? When have you been bullied?”, “What do you do when you see someone being bullied? What do you do when you are bullied?” Keep in mind that kids are typically bullied 5-times as much as they we willing to admit to their parents. So if they say they have been bullied once, then that is a good sign that they are being bullied regularly—and it’s time to be supportive and take action.
• Check their Facebook and email accounts. As long as you have good intentions, you wholeheartedly want to protect them and your child is a minor, then don’t fear privacy issues. Know what dialogue they are receiving from their peers—and what dialogue they are dishing out to others.
• Currently, there are no laws protecting the victims of bullying—unless, of course, they are murdered. Unfortunately, schools haven’t proven to take harsh action against bullies either. It is truly up to the parents to prevent and stop bullying. If your child is being bullied, sit down face-to-face with the bully and his/her parents and firmly say, “This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated again. One more incident and I will go to the authorities.”
• Most bullies don’t act alone. Teach your kids the importance of standing up to bullies if they are ever being coerced into co-bullying or witness bullying. Witnesses to bullying have the power to stop the bully and protect the victim—but far too many times the witnesses do nothing. Teach your kids to “do the right thing.” 

A teenage victim of bullying, Joey Kemmerling said in an interview with CNN, “You feel so helpless, and day in and day out you’re being called something, and they’re telling you the same message: ‘Your life is worthless.’ And you start to believe it.” 

“I believed that I did not deserve to live,” the teen added. 

Joey’s mother said it was his decision to fight back against bullying online that really started to turn the tide. He began a Facebook page for bullying victims to share their stories, which has since grown into a nonprofit called the Equality Project with close to 6,000 members. 

We should never have to lose another teenager or young adult to bullying ever again. But it will take our entire communities fighting back to make bullying history. Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?

Kate Raidt is the author of The Million-Dollar Parent and founder of FatNoggin.com.

For more information visit www.swparents.com.

Tags:

Back to School Red Light Safety Tips

September 2, 2011 2:03 pm

As millions of students nationwide head back to school, the National Coalition for Safer Roads (NCSR) is calling special attention to red light safety for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. 

No matter how they get to and from school—cars, buses, bikes, or simply walking—NCSR is striving to educate parents and students about the importance of staying safe by being vigilant about their surroundings. 

"As many parents focus on back to school supplies, it is essential that they take the time to talk with their children who are either heading to school for the first time, or back to school, about traffic and road safety precautions to ensure a safe commute," says David Kelly, president and executive director of NCSR, and former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). "The greatest risk for children is when they are walking to school or waiting for the bus, when they are at-risk for falling victim to careless red-light runners." 

Since 2000, 130 school-age pedestrians (younger than 19) have died in school transportation-related crashes with 56 (43 percent) between the ages of 5 and 7, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

Red-light running is the leading cause of urban crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). In 2009, 676 people were killed and an estimated 113,000 were injured in crashes that involved red-light running, with pedestrians, bicyclists and occupants in vehicles that are hit by the red-light runners accounting for about half of the deaths. 

To highlight the importance of back to school road safety, NCSR is reminding adults and children about important Red Light Safety Tips: 

• Always Stop on Red
Whether it's a red light, stop sign, pedestrian crosswalk signal, or school bus signal — always stop! 

• Be Alert
Drivers: Be aware of children walking to and from bus stops, as they might not be paying attention to you and could dart into the road.
Pedestrians: Always stop, look and listen before crossing an intersection — even if the pedestrian signal shows the walking figure.
Cyclists: Always wear a helmet and be aware of the around traffic you. Be cautious and share the roadway.
 
• Never Rush
Drivers: Obey posted speed limits and never try to beat a light to save a few seconds. No family should have to suffer the loss of a loved one because of someone's desire to beat a light.
Pedestrians: Try to arrive to your bus stop early and map out your route ahead of time so you are never rushing to catch the bus. Always wait at least 6 feet from the curb and don't approach the bus until it comes to a complete stop.
Cyclists: Plan your route ahead of time so you are never rushing. Use designated cycling lanes when possible and be sure to share the roadway. 

• Avoid Distractions
Drivers: Reduce any distractions inside your car so you can concentrate on the road and your surroundings. Never talk on your cell phone or text while driving!
Pedestrians and Cyclists: Listening to music, talking or texting on cell phones as you walk or ride your bike are deadly distractions that leave you unaware of your surroundings. Keep devices off and your eyes and ears open. Stay alert and aware of your surroundings. 

"There are too many close calls with careless drivers at intersections. We're promoting back to school road safety and red light safety to help protect our children, our families and our communities from the callous and dangerous behavior of red-light runners," Kelly says. "By using innovative technologies such as red light safety cameras at dangerous intersections across the country, we can put an end to deadly red-light running. Together, we can protect our communities, families and children by always stopping on red." 

For more information, visit http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/buses/kidsschoolbus_en.html.

Tags:

Word of the Day

September 2, 2011 2:03 pm

First mortgage. Mortgage on a property that is superior to any other. It is the first to be paid in the event of foreclosure.

Tags: