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Mary Mastroeni

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Taming Your Summer Water

August 8, 2011 5:01 pm

If your July water bill showed a marked jump in water usage, that is bad news for your wallet, as well as for the environment.

“Whether you are on a city water line or use your own well, the number of gallons used daily by a family may be expected to rise in hot weather,” says Charlotte Gorman, author of The Frugal Mind: The Little Book of Living Frugal. “But following a few simple guidelines to help conserve water can make a notable difference in your monthly bill as well.”

Below are 10 of the many tips Gorman suggests to help achieve these goals:
1. In the bathroom, use low flow shower heads, which reduce water usage by up to 40 percent.
2. When showering, wet your body, then turn off the water as you lather up. Turn the water on again to rinse off after you have lathered and shampooed.
3. When you brush your teeth, turn the faucet off as you brush. Turn it on again only to rinse.
4. In the laundry, most clothes washers use up to one-third more water for permanent press loads. Save your laundry until you have a full load, and don’t use the permanent press cycle more than necessary.
5. In the kitchen, avoid thorough rinsing of dishes that are going into the dishwasher. Scrape off remaining food, rinse only briefly, and let the dishwasher do the rest.
6. Use a pan in the sink when washing fruits and veggies. The saved water can be recycled to water indoor or outdoor plants.
7. Water yards, vegetable gardens and plants in the early morning or evening. Try watering less often than you have been accustomed to, and use a soaker hose instead of sprinklers to get the most water for your buck.
8. Don’t let the kids play in the sprinklers every day. Thirty minutes of water play could squander several hundred gallons each time.
9. Cover children’s wading and swimming pools when not in use to reduce water evaporation. You won’t need to refill them as often.
10. When it’s raining gently, move your car out of the garage and let nature wash it for you. A quick rubdown afterward should leave the car shiny and save water.

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Fannie Mae Releases July Consumer Indicators

August 8, 2011 5:01 pm

Fannie Mae's July national consumer attitudinal survey finds that Americans' attitudes about the economy and household finances are growing more pessimistic—with 70 percent of Americans believing that the economy is moving in the wrong direction, while only 23 percent think the economy is moving in the right direction. Key indicators show that more consumers across the country have diminished expectations for home prices and their personal finances, more are thinking about renting as a next step, and twice as many are reporting significantly higher expenses than incomes.

"The impact of recent financial market volatility on household wealth has been a setback to consumer confidence, which we're seeing in our survey results and in Americans' continued restraint in their willingness to take on additional financial commitments," says Doug Duncan, vice president and chief economist of Fannie Mae. "Our overall July survey data, beyond the eleven indicators we present this month, show that most Americans think the economy is on the wrong track. The sluggish pace of job growth, coupled with this economic uncertainty, is clearly having an impact on consumers' attitudes toward the housing market and their own personal financial situations."

Survey Highlights
Homeownership and Renting
• On average and consistent with June, Americans believe home prices will decline slightly over the next year.
• Only 11 percent of respondents say it is a good time to sell one's home (similar to May and June 2011 survey results).
• Despite Americans' expectations that rental prices will go up in the next 12 months, fewer Americans say they would buy their next home (down 5 percentage points) and more of those surveyed say they would rent (up by 3 percentage points).

Household Finances
• For the third month in a row, optimism about personal finances has declined, with 35 percent of respondents expecting their finances to get better over the next year (down from 40 percent in April).
• Consistent with June, 20 percent of respondents report significantly higher household incomes over the past 12 months, while 17 percent report significantly lower incomes.
• As compared to past months, four times as many Americans report significantly higher household expenses (up from 37 percent in June to 40 percent in July) as significantly lower expenses (10 percent).

For more information, please visit www.fanniemae.com.

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Cleaning Challenges: Minimizing the Mess

August 8, 2011 5:01 pm

It can be a challenge to keep the house clean, especially for busy families. When the kids are home from school, it means more dirt, mud and sand get tracked in—whether it's from sports practice or backyard fun.
Pets add to the mess, too. In fact, a recent study conducted by the NPD Group revealed more than half of pet owners (51 percent) reported that managing and cleaning up pet hair is their number one cleaning chore.
Pierra Jolly, founder and editor of JollyMom.com, a website devoted to her daily trials and tribulations of raising a three year old and Labrador retriever in Atlanta, can relate. 

"Certain times of the year I typically double my cleaning efforts, making sure that everything is under control just in case we are babysitting, dog sitting or hosting an unexpected cookout or sleepover," says Jolly. "Unless I stick to my established cleaning schedule, I fall behind." 

Keep your sanity with these Jolly Mom tips for minimizing messes.
Clean One Room a Day to Keeps Messes Away—Develop a cleaning schedule where each day is devoted to one room in your home (for example, kitchen on Tuesday, bedrooms on Wednesday). Save the rooms that are considered high-traffic areas for later in the week in case of unexpected company. 

Avoid Pet Hair Emergencies—The guests are about to arrive and suddenly you realize that your pet has picked an in-opportune time to hop on the couch. Tidy up with the Hoover T-Series WindTunnel Pet. Made with pet lovers in mind, it comes with an Air-Powered Pet Hair Hand Tool. Rubber blades collect hair and powerful suction carries it away. A rinsable filter and high-quality HEPA filter helps absorb odors from your furry friends, all for less than $100. Additionally, consider grooming more frequently to help control shedding.
Start at the Top—When you are cleaning a room, start at the ceiling with the corners and light fixtures, and work your way to the floor. Finish by vacuuming to pick up all the dust and dirt from your efforts. 

Leave the mess outside—Make sure the dirt from the outdoors stays where it came from. Avoid tracking in grass, mud and sand by establishing a mud room; a place for the kids to store toys, shoes, towels and sports equipment. 

Let the Air In—After giving the carpets a deep cleaning, open the windows. Fresh air will speed up the process of drying carpets, allowing your family to enjoy the cleaned rooms without spoiling the hard work.

For more information, visit www.editors.familyfeatures.com.

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Time to Plant for Fall

August 5, 2011 5:01 pm

Now that most of summer’s produce is here, or well on its way, it’s time to start planning your garden for fall. Below are some hardy things to plant now for a full fall harvest.

1. Broccoli. Plant at the end of summer but well before the first frost, about 10 weeks.

2. Cauliflower. Plant in rich soil and be sure to water well.

3. Lettuce. Be sure to shade new seedlings from the afternoon sun.

4. Spinach. This hardy veggie lasts well into winter. Plant at least 5 weeks before first frost.

5. Cabbage. Not everyone is a cabbage fan, but this vegetable does well in cooler temps. Be sure to keep soil wet and the young plants shaded from too much sun.

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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Is Not Just a Cold Weather Risk

August 5, 2011 5:01 pm

Back-to-back carbon monoxide incidents within one week of each other reaffirm what safety officials keep telling citizens: the risk of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning is not only a danger linked to cold weather and furnaces.

In both emergencies, faulty rental water heaters were the source of the deadly carbon monoxide gas.

Safety expert Carol Heller offers these CO summer safety tips:

1. Have all fuel-burning appliances inspected annually by a licensed professional. Boaters with watercrafts that have sleeping quarters, generators and/or inboard gas engines should also have annual inspections.
2. Replace carbon monoxide alarms every 7 years, per CSA certification. CO alarms from other manufacturers must be replaced every 5 years.
3. Replace batteries in CO alarms at least once annually
4. Consider purchasing CO alarms that have a digital display, which will alert you before harmful levels of the invisible gas are reached
5. Install CO alarms on watercraft that have sleeping quarters, generators and/or inboard gas engines. And remember, the boat moored next to you could also be a source of CO so stay safe in any marine situation.
6. If your CO alarm sounds, evacuate immediately and call 911.

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What Homeowners Need to Know about Summer Mold Danger

August 5, 2011 5:01 pm

It's summertime! The sun is shining, the weather is warm. Who's thinking about mold? American Leak Detection says that if homeowners are not thinking about mold, they should be. Summer's heat and humidity—especially when combined with an undetected or untreated leak—can set the stage for mold to flourish. 

"The best way to deal with indoor mold is to prevent it in the first place," says American Leak Detection President Bill Palmer. "That means you need to recognize the signs that you may have a leak, and locate and repair the leak promptly. Undetected leaks can allow mold to take hold, and that can create a health risk to you and your family and expensive damage to your home." 

Even without a leak, mold can flourish when summer's downpours and steamy weather cause heat and humidity to raise moisture levels in basements, crawl spaces, closets and other enclosed, dark places. Palmer advises that if homeowners notice any of the following seven symptoms of a plumbing leak, they should take action promptly: 

1. The continuous sound of water (like a toilet running) when nothing is turned on.
2. The water meter reading changes when no water is being used. (Mark the indicator on the meter; don't use any water for an hour; then check the meter. If the indicator moved, there may be a leak.)
3. The water bill escalates over a period of weeks or months. (Compare bills month to month.)
4. The walls or floors have wet, spongy, moist or discolored areas when nothing has been spilled.
5. Foul odors coming from floors or walls near drains or sewers.
6. Cracks in the building foundation, uneven vegetation growth, or the earth shifts for no apparent reason.
7. Warm spots on the floor, particularly on concrete slab floors. 

If any of these signs are present, and the homeowner is unable to quickly identify and repair the leak, it's time to call in a specialist, like the leak detection experts at American Leak Detection. Their trained technicians specialize in minimally invasive leak detection to identify not only the source of the leak, but also its origin, which is critical in limiting property damage during repairs. 

For more information visit http://www.americanleakdetection.com.

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Word of the Day

August 5, 2011 5:01 pm

Deficiency judgment. Judgment issued against a borrower when the sale of foreclosed property does not bring in enough to pay the balance owed on the mortgage.

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Question of the Day

August 5, 2011 5:01 pm

Q: What are co-ops?

A: Cooperative apartments – known as co-ops – are not really owned by people as real property. Instead, people own shares of stock in the company that owns the building in which they live. But for all practical purposes, the experts say owning a co-op is almost like owning real property. Personal loans to “buy” a co-op apartment are written almost like mortgages. And the IRS treats co-op owners much like real property owners. They can deduct interest paid on their apartment loans and on their portion of the municipal taxes and mortgage interest paid by the corporation.

Shareholders in a co-op are entitled to occupy specific units, use the common areas, and have a vote in the corporation. To maintain this right, they must pay a monthly fee that covers their share of operating expenses.

As for governance, a board of directors, which is elected from among the residents, runs the co-op. Under most bylaws, the board may evict any tenant/shareholder who fails to pay the monthly maintenance fee. Everyone is expected to abide by the rules, which may prohibit pets or even children under a certain age.


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Law Offers New Protection to Short Sale Homeowners

August 5, 2011 5:01 pm

A new law signed recently by California Governor Jerry Brown offers extended protection to state homeowners who are forced to short sell their homes.

SB 458 ensures that any lender who agrees to a short sale must accept the agreed-upon short sale payment as payment in full on the outstanding balance of all loans, including second mortgages.

The previous law, SB 931, enacted in 2010, held that a first mortgage holder must accept the agreed-upon short sale amount as full payment, but the law did not extend to junior lien holders.

“The signing of this bill is a victory for California homeowners who have been forced to short sell their home only to find that the lender could pursue them after the short sale closes, and demand additional payment to subsidize the difference,” says California Association of REALTORS® President Beth L. Peerce. “The new law brings closure and certainty to the short sale process and ensures that once a lender has agreed to accept a short sale payment on a property, all lienholders—those in first position as well as in junior positions – must consider the outstanding balance as paid in full, and the homeowner will not be held responsible for any additional payments on the property.”

An urgency clause in the new law makes SB 458 effective immediately upon signing.

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Stamped Concrete Design Ideas for Last Minute Summer Projects

August 5, 2011 5:01 pm

There’s no need to put off hardscaping projects for another year; get started this summer. More and more homeowners and business owners across the globe are turning to stamped concrete to create a concrete surface that is both functional and aesthetically appealing. The availability of patterns and designs have transformed the way consumers look at stamped concrete. 

Decorative stamped concrete has come a long way since it was first introduced in the market in the 1980’s. They’ve gone from cookie-cutter patterns to intricate replicas of natural stones, at a fraction of the cost and upkeep requirements. This application is great for transforming driveways, courtyards, patios, walkways and any other concrete surface. 

For more information on stamped patterns, and ideas on incorporating stamped concrete into last minute summer projects, visit http://www.StampedConcrete.org.

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