Mary Mastroeni
GoogleLinked InYoutubePinterest
 
Mary Mastroeni

Mary's Blog

Pruning Matters

June 27, 2011 5:27 pm

Your RIS Consumer Confidant has written a lot about landscaping, shrubbery and lawns, so now it is time to focus on a loftier target—trees. According to the U. S. Forest Service, trees are worth much more than their value of wood—25 times more than their country cousins in the forest—because trees enhance the value of real estate.

In some cases, the USFA says trees can raise the value of a lot compared to the same lot without trees by as much as 20 percent. On average, trees add between 5 and 7 percent to the value of a residential lot. Nationwide, that added value results in an extra $5,000 per lot.

Any property with trees invariably sells faster, too. So how do you enhance or best take care of the trees on your property? In this segment we’ll talk about pruning—an oft needed maintenance treatment that promotes good tree health and keeps trees and your yard safe—as well as looking good.

Just remember, pruning without a good reason is not good tree care practice. Pruning just because your neighbor is doing it may not be beneficial for the tree, and could result in too much live tree tissue being removed. This can cause the tree to become stressed, and perhaps decline.

In fact, industry tree pruning standards (ANSI A300) say no more than 25 percent of a tree’s foliage should be removed in a single season, and if the tree cannot tolerate a lot of pruning, even less should be removed.

A good arborist will work with a property owner to set an objective for the pruning job (i.e., what you want accomplished when the work is done). Pruning objectives usually include one or more of the following:

• reduce risk of damage to people or property
• manage tree health
• provide clearance for vehicles or roadways
• improve structure
• increase or improve aesthetics
• restore shape

Once tree pruning objectives are established, the arborist can provide specific details on how to prune your trees, without harming them, to get the desired result. In our next segment we’ll take a look at a common tree pruning practice that can actually take away from your real estate’s value.

Tags:

Leave Fireworks to the Professionals This Fourth of July—Tips for Fireworks Safety

June 24, 2011 5:27 pm

Each Fourth of July, thousands of people are injured from using consumer fireworks. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 9,000 fireworks-related injuries happen each year. Of these, nearly half are head-related injuries with nearly 30 percent of these injuries to the eyes. One-fourth of fireworks eye injuries result in permanent vision loss or blindness. 

July is Fireworks Eye Safety Awareness Month, and through its EyeSmart™ campaign the American Academy of Ophthalmology wants to remind consumers to leave fireworks to professionals.

"Too many Fourth of July celebrations are ruined because a child has to be rushed to the emergency room after a fireworks accident," says Marguerite McDonald, MD, a clinical correspondent for the Academy. "Potentially blinding injuries can be avoided if families attend a professional public fireworks display instead of putting on a home fireworks display." 

Children are the most common victims of firework accidents, with those fifteen years old or younger accounting for half of all fireworks eye injuries in the United States. For children under the age of five, seemingly innocent sparklers account for one-third of all fireworks injuries. Sparklers can burn at nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to cause a third-degree burn. 

"Among the most serious injuries are abrupt trauma to the eye from bottle rockets," according to Dr. McDonald. The rockets fly erratically, often injuring bystanders. Injuries from bottle rockets can include eye lid lacerations, corneal abrasions, traumatic cataract, retinal detachment, optic nerve damage, rupture of the eyeball, eye muscle damage, and complete blindness. 

For a safe and healthy Independence Day celebration, the Academy urges observance of the following tips:
• Never let children play with fireworks of any type.
• View fireworks from a safe distance: at least 500 feet away, or up to a quarter of a mile for best viewing.
• Respect safety barriers set up to allow pyrotechnicians to do their jobs safely.
• Leave the lighting of fireworks to trained professionals.
• Follow directives given by event ushers or public safety personnel.
• If you find unexploded fireworks remains, do not touch them. Immediately contact your local fire or police departments.
• If you get an eye injury from fireworks, seek medical help immediately. 

Find Eye M.D.s in your area or ask an Eye M.D. a question by visiting www.GetEyeSmart.org.

Consumers can submit questions about eye health to an ophthalmologist at http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/ask/

Tags:

Summertime Skin Protection Tips from Faces

June 24, 2011 5:27 pm

The dreary, rainy weather of spring is finally passing into the bright, sunshiny days of summer. People are hitting the beach and enjoying barbecues, but before you grab the beach blankets and hot dogs, make sure to pack the sunscreen, hats, and umbrellas to protect from over-exposure to dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays—which can cause significant skin damage and skin cancer. Dr. J. George Smith and Faces can help you and your family keep that damage to a minimum. 

UV rays are emitted in two forms: UVA and UVB. UVA rays break down collagen and elastic fibers, while UVB rays cause sunburn. Both types of UV rays can lead to skin cancer. These rays are not specific to the sun; tanning beds emit the same dangerous rays. 

To protect yourself and your family from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays, sunscreen is crucial.
“Many families are unaware of the seriousness of sun damage, so they underestimate the necessity of sunscreen and other protective measures,” says Dr. J. George Smith, founder of Faces cosmetic surgery, laser and skincare clinic. “The risk of skin damage is significantly increased in the summer months, so extra steps should be taken to prevent it.” 

Tans are no different than sunburns in that they are still considered sun damage. There is no such thing as a “healthy tan.” Tanning can even become addictive, which makes it an even more dangerous behavior. Though it may not be the popular choice, avoiding tanning beds and wearing sunscreen while exposed to the sun will greatly decrease the chances of becoming one of the more than 2 million people diagnosed with skin cancer in the U.S. each year. 

There are two types of sunscreens: those which are organic and chemical-free, and those which are chemical, says Dr. Smith. Chemical-free sunscreens can be advantageous in that they do not absorb into skin, which is particularly beneficial for babies and children. 

The team at faces recommends a few guidelines for protection from harmful UVA and UVB rays: 

• Apply sunscreens liberally at least 30 minutes before sun exposure so they can be fully absorbed by the skin. Sunscreens should be reapplied every 2 hours or after contact with water. 
• Use a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF (Sun Protection Factor), but if you have a family history of skin cancer or accelerated aging due to sun exposure, use 45 SPF.
• Always check expiration dates—old products lose their potency.
• Babies under 6 months old should not use chemical sunscreens.
• Zinc oxide is one of the preferred ingredients in a chemical-free sunscreen and is recommended for sensitive skin.
• Purchase products that are water –resistant, as most summertime activities center around water.
• Wear comfortable protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses with UV-protection.
• Avoid the sun during the middle of the day (from about 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.), when the rays are strongest. 

The National Foundation for Cancer Research also has helpful tips for skin cancer prevention this summer, which can be found in a downloadable Summer Sun Protection Kit, available at http://www.nfcr.org/skincancerkit. Skin cancer affects more than 2 million people in the United States each year. Some of the tips include: 

• If you are outdoors and your shadow is smaller than you are, it is best to seek shade.
• Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any over-the-counter or prescription drugs you are taking may increase sun sensitivity
• Do regular skin checks to make sure there are no abnormal growths.
• Use sunscreen even on hazy days, as UV rays still penetrate in cloudy weather.
Faces supplies high-quality sun protection products for all types of skin, including children and people with a history of skin cancer. 

For more information, please visit http://www.facesdr.com.

Tags:

Frugal DIY Projects to Make Life Simpler

June 24, 2011 5:27 pm

Most consumers lead very busy lives. They are used to a world where convenience is a way of life. As saving money becomes more fashionable and necessary, so do ways to make it happen. To help with this, Kim Danger, nationally known savings expert and author of "Instant Bargains," has collaborated with Uniroyal Tire in the creation of a new e-book, "Do-it-Yourself Tips for a Simpler Life," to show consumers time- and money-saving projects everyone can do.

This e-book features the best tips on home improvement, going green in the kitchen, gardening and homemade gifts. Download the free e-book at www.UniroyalTires.com.

Every mom wants a clean kitchen, but many never stop to consider how pricey the products they're using can be. With this in mind, Danger offers up DIY kitchen-cleaning tips that are not only green, but cost effective:

• Cutting boards are a frequently used kitchen item. To clean them naturally, wipe with vinegar and microwave on high for one minute.
• To combat grimy sponges, soak with white vinegar and microwave on high for one minute.
• Remove stuck-on food from pots and pans by making a paste with water and meat tenderizer to coat the area. Allow the paste to sit for a few minutes, then scrub off and rinse.

Gardens don't have to be a luxury reserved for those with green thumbs and ample space. Follow these tips for creating and maintaining a garden that suites your location and needs:

• For windowsill gardens, the most basic thing to start with is herbs. Choose easy plants that you'll use frequently while cooking, such as basil, oregano and parsley.
• If you have a patio or deck, try container gardening. The portability of the containers allows you to adjust plants to receive their optimal amount of sun exposure.
• Grow plants that are the most expensive to purchase in grocery stores.

Who says gifts have to cost a lot of money? Homemade gifts are a thoughtful way to show you care, without breaking the bank. Here are a few ideas:

• Use copies of your favorite handwritten recipe cards to create a personalized cookbook.
• Make a "25 Things I Love About You" book for someone special.
• For kids who love to dress up, fill a large tote with items such as hats, wigs, shoes and accessories that you've purchased from thrift stores and clearance racks.


Tags:

A Closer Look at Credit Unions for Home Loans

June 24, 2011 5:27 pm

With the release of the HBO movie, "Too Big to Fail," more and more consumers and homeowners are intrigued and perhaps shocked over the back room deals and manipulation of many of the nation's big name banks in the wake of the housing crisis. Many homeowners, first-time home buyers and REALTORS® are now looking to credit unions as a trusted, local lending resource in their community. Most of the nation's high-quality mortgages lending credit unions work diligently under the radar in terms of home finance alternatives. Consumers are a bit confused and unaware they in fact qualify for membership and in some cases are eligible to join more than one credit union. This well-kept secret is spreading in local communities and around the country. The Credit Union message is clear in the wake of a continuing search for an alternative trusted financial institution, "why not us and why not now."

Reports that a few "mega banks" dominate the home lending market are accurate. The question is are they earning the trust of consumers and REALTORS® or is it that most people are just unaware of the valued trusted alternative resource, namely credit unions. "Millions of people are members of credit unions and hundreds of millions more are eligible to join and likely don't even know it," says Bob Dorsa, president of the American Credit Union Mortgage Association, a non-profit association for credit union home lending advocacy. Likely "thousands of REALTORS® belong to credit unions but generally do NOT think of the credit union as a lending resource for client simply due to a lack of any working relationship," he adds.

Credit unions are found in almost every community, town and city in the country. Not all credit unions offer home loans but consumers need to pay more attention to obtaining competitive information including contacting a local Credit Union. Many credit unions operate under the radar and conserve their financial resources by NOT advertising all over the place. Instead they focus on offering better terms and lower fees to their members. The housing crisis has millions of homeowners in a state of uncertainty. First-time home buyers should not resign themselves to the thought of renting as their only option. Credit unions are among the most trusted financial institutions on the planet and deserve a chance to preserve the American Dream for every generation wanting to own their home.
Credit union membership nationwide is in excess of 90 million people. Credit Unions originated close to $200 billion in home loans in the 2 and 1/2 years, which should provide confidence and interest for millions of people who need help.

For more information as to how to find or join a credit union, contact your state's Credit union league or contact ACUMA at bdorsa@acuma.org for more information.


Tags:

Question of the Day

June 24, 2011 5:27 pm

Q: Should I consider a “B,” “C,” or “D” paper loan if I have bad credit?

A: B, C, and D paper loans are types of sub-prime loans. There was a time when they were hard to find. Then when the housing market took off, so did the number of lenders offering them. Not so today. High default rates on sub-prime mortgages made to high-risk borrowers with bad credit or those who had filed for bankruptcy or had a property in foreclosure, now have many lenders either shunning these loans or tightening credit requirements on them.

As a rule, these loans have not met the borrower credit requirements of “A” or “A-” category conforming loans. Because mortgage lending is divided into various credit grades, several factors influence whether you receive, say, a “B” or “D” designation, including past credit history, documentation, and your debt-to-income ratio. The more serious a borrower’s problems, the lower the grade of the loan and the higher the rates and fees associated with the loan.

At one time, the outrageously high rates on these loans had dropped as more lenders began to offer them. Since the credit crunch spurred by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, rates on these paper loans have shot back up, reflecting in more stark terms their heightened risks.

Tags:

Word of the Day

June 24, 2011 5:27 pm

Brokerage. Business of a broker. Also, the amount charged for a broker’s service.

Tags:

Growth in Mobile Banking to Come from Consumers Who Plan to Buy a Smartphone or Tablet in the Next Six Months

June 24, 2011 5:27 pm

A recent study of over 1,400 U.S. consumers conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research Technologies found that 45 percent of US consumers own a smartphone or tablet. Of that group, 52 percent currently conduct some form of mobile banking. However, the real growth in the mobile banking market will come from those who don’t yet own smartphone or tablet.

The study shows 39 percent of those who plan to buy a smartphone or tablet in the next six months are highly likely to use their smartphone or tablet for mobile banking. By contrast, only 6 percent who already own a smartphone or tablet, but don’t mobile bank say they are highly likely to start in the next six months.

“I think what we’re seeing is that mobile banking among current smartphone owners has plateaued,” says Jim Garrity, vice president of Chadwick Martin Bailey’s Financial Services practice. “For all intents and purposes, those folks have already made a decision about whether or not they want to participate in mobile banking. The real opportunity is in the 14 percent of consumers who are planning to buy a smartphone or tablet in the next six months, because among that group many say they are highly likely to participate in mobile banking.”

For many it’s simply the convenience of being able to have access to account information and transfer funds from anywhere. For others, security concerns outweigh any convenience mobile banking has to offer. Qualitatively, a few consumers said:

“I always have my phone with me and prefer to take care of things when I think about them…I can check on things more frequently and move money around,” says a female surveyed, age 18-24.
“When away from my desktop it allows me to check my credit card balances. That’s mainly what I use it for…it helps me stay on track for budgeting,” says a male surveyed, age 25-29.

“If my phone gets lost or stolen I don't want that information to be easily accessible if my log-in information is saved…it seems easy to access and find out my financial information,” says a female surveyed, age 25-29.

The study also indicates that consumers are becoming more comfortable with using smartphones to make purchases. The research shows 45 percent of smartphone owners have made a purchase using their smartphone over the last year. And when it comes to paying for those purchases only 49 percent use their credit card, while over 40 percent used either a debit card or PayPal. There were also some gender differences. Men are more likely to use PayPal, while women are more likely to use a debit card.

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

For more information on Civility in America—2011, please visit Weber Shandwick at www.webershandwick.com.

Tags:

Incivility on the Rise in Other Aspects of American Life

June 24, 2011 5:27 pm

Over one-half of Americans (55 percent) believe that civility in America will get worse in the next few years. This is significantly higher than Americans' perceptions on incivility measured last year (39 percent). Civility in the workplace, schools and the Internet were explored in our second annual survey:

Incivility at Work

Over four in 10 Americans—43 percent—have experienced incivility at work. A nearly equal number (38 percent) believe that the workplace is becoming increasingly uncivil and disrespectful.

Workplace leadership is blamed for this decline by approximately two-thirds (65 percent) of those who perceive greater incivility in the workplace. This perception could possibly be fueled by the cynicism towards CEOs brought on by the recent recession or the belief that bosses are responsible for setting the tone at the top for acceptable behavior.

After workplace leadership, Americans who perceive greater incivility in the workplace cite employees themselves (59 percent) for workplace incivility. Other reasons include the economy (46 percent) and competitiveness in the workforce (44 percent).

As a consequence of this growing trend on the job, the majority of Americans (67 percent) agree that there is a critical need for civility training in the workplace.

Incivility Online

Asked about the civility of social networks, nearly one in two (49 percent) say that they are uncivil, an increase from 2010 (43 percent). However, Americans are much more inclined to name other sources besides social media and the Internet as uncivil—political campaigns, pop culture, media, government, the music industry and the American public.

Incivility causes Americans to change their online behavior—49 percent report that they have defriended or blocked someone online, 38 percent stopped visiting an online site because they were uncomfortable and 27 percent dropped out of a fan club or online community or forum.

Chris Perry, President of Weber Shandwick Digital Communications, says, "Digital conversations are meant to engage and foster multi-dimensional dialogue. They are not meant to demean others or be hurtful. Although this research shows online incivility slightly on the rise, the connectivity and opportunity for dialogue ultimately outweighs the risk."

Cyber bullying or online harassment of children or teens is of great concern to Americans today. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans—69 percent—report that cyber bullying is getting worse. An equally large number—72 percent —worry about children being cyber bullied. These high figures underscore parental concern about online incivility and youth. The majority of Americans—78 percent —believe that civility training should be offered in our nation's schools.

Tags:

1.2 Million Plan Fourth of July Travel, Reports AAA Michigan

June 24, 2011 5:27 pm

Nationally, AAA projects approximately 39 million travelers taking a trip at least 50 miles from home, down 2.5 percent. The Fourth of July holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, June 30 to Monday, July 4.

AAA projects a slight decline in holiday travelers mainly due to fuel prices being about $1 more per gallon more than last year. The July 4 holiday period is typically the busiest time of year for family auto travel. In Michigan, an estimated 87 percent of travelers will go by vehicle—compared to 84 percent nationally—with five percent flying and eight percent going by bus or train.

"While gas prices are significantly more than they were last year, prices have come down in the last two weeks and we are seeing travelers taking to the roads this summer holiday to enjoy our Great Lakes and outdoor destinations," notes AAA Michigan President Steve Wagner. "Travelers are making some adjustments to pay for the increase in gas costs."
While AAA's survey of intended travelers found that 56 percent said rising gas prices would not impact their travel plans, the remaining 44 percent who said it would said they would economize in other areas, including taking a shorter trip.

The average distance traveled by Americans this Fourth of July holiday weekend is forecast to be 573 miles, seven percent less than last year's 617 miles. Median spending is estimated to be $807, up 25 percent from last year's $644. The increase includes higher hotel prices. Rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase three percent from a year ago with travelers spending an average $147 nightly, compared to $143. Those heading to AAA Two Diamond hotels will pay $110 per night, up eight percent.

According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, airfares over the holiday weekend are expected to increase 11 percent more than last year, with the average lowest round-trip rate of $213 for the top 40 U.S. air routes.

The complete AAA/HIS Global Insight 2011 July 4th holiday forecast can be found at www.AAA.com/news.

Americans Closing Their Wallets Due to Incivility, According to New Survey

For the second year in a row, about two-thirds—or 65 percent—of Americans say that civility is a major problem, according to the annual Civility in America poll released by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate in partnership with KRC Research. Among the many aspects of American life impacted by incivility—such as politics, sports, schools, workplaces, among others—is American business, considered by 48 percent of respondents to be uncivil. At a dramatically increased pace from 2010, Americans are voting out incivility with their wallets by severing their patronage to companies (69 percent), redefining their perceptions of brands (69 percent), and spreading negative word-of-mouth about companies (58 percent).

The 2011 online survey was conducted in May among 1,000 American adults to assess attitudes towards civility online, in the workforce, in the classroom and in politics. An earlier release covered civility and politics.

Micho Spring, chair of Weber Shandwick's Global Corporate Practice, states: "Our second annual Civility in America poll confirms that the decline in civility is seeping into all facets of American life, including our workplace, our schools, our online lives and consumer sentiment. The risk of companies losing business because of incivility is startling and growing. The topic of civility deserves to be part of the growing national debate on how we communicate responsibly in our daily lives." Further underscoring incivility's power on the wallet, a recent survey by Consumer Reports found that 64 percent have left a store due to poor service. This data coincides with our finding that 65 percent of Americans have experienced incivility during a shopping trip.

In a related finding important for the marketplace, nearly six in 10 Americans (58 percent) report "tuning out" advertising because of perceived incivility. Companies whose businesses depend upon consumer perception should heed these findings as they try to emerge from the recession.

Tags: