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Insurance Questions Potential Homeowners Should Ask before They Buy

April 16, 2011 7:11 am

RISMEDIA, April 16, 2011-Insurance Information Institute says insurance is often the last thing people think about when buying a home, but it should be a key factor.

When it comes time to buy that dream home, the cost to insure it is often overlooked. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) says there are two questions every potential homeowner should ask before they buy: How much will the home cost to insure? And, will separate coverage be needed for certain disasters, such as flood or earthquake?

Insurance is an expense you will have for as long as you own the home. Before purchasing a home, there are important factors to consider that will affect the cost of insurance. The I.I.I. has created the following checklist to help:

-How far is the home from the fire department? Houses that are near a fire station with professional firefighters usually cost less to insure.

-What is the condition of the plumbing and electrical systems? Poorly maintained, unsafe and/or outdated systems can cost more to insure.

-Is the home vulnerable to wind damage? Find out if private insurance is available, or a state-run insurance program. Is there a windstorm deductible, and how high is it? A home on or near the beach may be more costly to insure than one inland.

-Is the house at risk from flooding? Flood insurance is not covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy. However, it is available from the National Flood Insurance Program which is serviced by private carriers and from a few specialty insurers.

-What about earthquake risk? Earthquake insurance requires an endorsement or a separate policy.

-Is the house well built and well maintained? Homes built by reputable builders using disaster resistant materials and designed to meet current building codes are likely to better withstand natural disasters.

A knowledgeable home inspector and your insurance agent can be helpful in answering these questions. The home's loss history report can also provide useful information about its claims history of water damage, fire and other losses.

For more information, visit www.iii.org.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Word of the Day

April 15, 2011 1:11 pm

Right of survivorship. A feature of joint tenancy giving the surviving joint tenants the rights, title and interests of the deceased joint tenant. Right of survivorship is the basic difference between buying property as joint tenants and as tenants in common.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Q: What is the difference between a conventional and non-conventional loan?

April 15, 2011 1:11 pm

A: They are the same as conforming and non-conforming loans. A conventional, or conforming, loan is one not insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or guaranteed by the Veterans Administration (VA), two federal government agencies that make homeownership possible and generally more affordable for a large segment of the population.

However, that said, many major banks and private lenders now offer non-conventional, or non-conforming, loans for lower-income borrowers and those with blemishes on their credit.

In fact, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now the leading sources of non-conventional loans, thereby making the process of buying a home a lot easier for more people but not necessarily cheaper. The interest rates on these loans are much higher than rates on conventional mortgages.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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5 Tips to Help Discuss Family Finances with Your Children

April 15, 2011 1:11 pm

RISMEDIA, April 15, 2011-The third annual Parents, Kids & Money Survey from T. Rowe Price reveals that 86% of parents feel they-more so than educators or others-should have primary responsibility for teaching their kids the basics of personal finance. Yet, parents on average only grade themselves a B- for serving as role models regarding their saving and spending habits, with more than one-third grading themselves a C or lower.

Similarly, parents on average grade themselves a B for their personal knowledge about money, with more than one-quarter grading themselves a C or lower. Just 28% of parents say they are very prepared to discuss basic financial principles such as setting goals, the importance of saving, smart spending, inflation and diversification. Parents actually find it easier to discuss drugs and alcohol with their kids than family finances. They also find talking about investing just as difficult as talking about coming of age.

In addition, two-thirds of parents think they could be doing more to teach their children about money. The survey results are released in recognition of Financial Literacy Month, which occurs in April.

"The need for financial education has never been greater," says Stuart Ritter, CFP , a T. Rowe Price financial planner and father of three. "There are opportunities each and every day to share important lessons with children, and with kids able to grasp many of these important financial concepts at a young age, these conversations can start as early as elementary school, if not sooner. Parents don't need to be experts, but they should be able to share the basic tenets that will put their children on the right financial path."

Ritter offers parents the following tips for discussing family finances with their kids:

Take advantage of everyday teachable moments such as going grocery shopping, opening the household bills or planning a family vacation to reinforce financial lessons and make them more memorable.

Help your kids set specific savings goals. Help them set both short- and long-term goals to provide real-life incentives and make the general advice to "save" more concrete. This will also better equip them to make smarter spending decisions.

Emphasize prioritization and focus on tying spending decisions back to the goals when your kids want something else. This can be a better approach than simply saying "no" and helps put the decisions in a context they will understand while making it easier to discuss the trade-offs.

Have open communications about the financial choices the family has to make and be careful about how you react to money issues. While you don't need to reveal all financial details such as exact household income, it's important to let kids know that the topic of money is not taboo and is open for discussion.

Make money conversations fun. This will better engage your kids and avoid the eye rolls that tend to accompany these types of discussions.

For more information, visit www.troweprice.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Tips for Childproofing Your Garage

April 15, 2011 1:11 pm

RISMEDIA, April 15, 2011-While you have probably spent countless hours childproofing the inside of your home, it is crucial that homeowners don't overlook the garage when it comes to keeping your children safe. Now that spring has arrived, your children will likely spend a lot of time outdoors in the coming months. Here are some ways you can protect your children from harm in and around your garage.

Door to house. Install a lock on the door leading outside or to the garage. Consider a self-locking Dutch door that allows you to pass groceries into the house without letting your toddler out.

Driveway blind zones. Always make sure children are safely out of the way before backing your car out of the garage or driveway. Some vehicles are now available with an optional rear-view video camera that shows the driveway in an in-dash display.

Garage-door openers. Test an electric garage-door opener's sensitivity by placing a 2-inch-high block of wood on the floor in the door's path. If the door doesn't reverse direction and go up, don't use the garage door opener. Open and close the door manually, or replace the garage-door opener. In addition to reversing when they come in contact with something, openers may be equipped with optical sensors that prevent the garage door from closing if a child or anything else gets in the way.

Hazardous substances. Store matches, antifreeze, charcoal lighter fluid, windshield wiper fluid, gasoline, and oil as you would medicine-in their original containers, out of your child's sight and reach in a locked cabinet. Dilute any antifreeze spills by hosing them off. Antifreeze can contain ethylene glycol, a toxic chemical that smells and tastes sweet. It's particularly hazardous to children or pets that may lick it off driveways and garage floors.

Laundry supplies. Stash detergent, bleach, and other laundry essentials in a locked cupboard. Keep all chemicals in their original containers; never transfer them to soda bottles or other beverage containers.

Ride-on toys. Don't purchase a riding toy until you're certain your child is mature enough to use it safely. Attach a tall flag on the back of a tricycle so it's visible to motorists. The lower it is to the ground, the safer a wheeled toy is. Always supervise a child when riding. Be sure your child has a safe riding area, where they can navigate without the risk of going into traffic, down steep hills, on steps, or into driveways. If there's no safe place to ride, use a riding toy only for visits to the park. To keep children away from the garage, store tricycles and ride-on toys in the house.

Stairs. To prevent falls down basement stairs, install a lock as high as you can reach on both the front and back of the basement door. Make sure stairs are well lit and keep all clutter and toys off steps.

Water heater. Reduce the setting of your hot-water heater to 120 F. An infant's skin burns much more easily than an adult's.

Workbench. Make your workbench off-limits, whether you're working there or not. Lock up power tools and all small or sharp objects.

For more information, visit www.consumerreports.org.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Homeowners Insurance Beneficial in Times of Need

April 15, 2011 1:11 pm

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 15, 2011-Like most homeowners, I share the opinion with many that insurance is one of the only things we pay for that we never want to use. But if or when you have to file a claim, a recent column from Becky Meier at the Pittsburgh Better Business Bureau provides some important advice.

Meier says taking a few immediate steps can significantly increase a property owner's ability to obtain a quick settlement from an insurance carrier.

Meier outlines the steps homeowners should take if they need to file a claim.

-If possible, photograph the exterior and interior of the premises, showing the damage.

-Immediately call your insurance agent to report your claim. The agent will prepare a Notice of Loss form and an adjuster will be assigned to assist you.

-Separate the damaged from the undamaged property, and put it in the best possible order for the adjuster's examination. If reasonably possible, protect the property from further damage.

-Good records of your insured property can be of significant assistance to you and your adjuster. Use your inventory to work with the adjuster in presenting your claim.

-Damaged property which presents a health hazard or which may hamper local clean-up operations should be disposed of. Just be sure to adequately describe discarded items so that when the adjuster examines your losses and your records, these articles are included in the documentation.

-Good records speed up settlement of your claim. Compile a room-by-room inventory of missing or damaged goods, and include manufacturer's names, dates, place of purchase and price. Try to locate receipts or proofs of purchase, especially for major appliances, and note manufacturers' names, serial numbers, prices and dates of purchase.

If you're in the market for an insurance company, consider visiting bbb.org for a referral.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Alarm Systems - How Important Are They to Your New Home?

April 15, 2011 1:11 pm

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 15, 2011-According to FBI statistics, a home is burglarized every 14 seconds in the United States, and homes without an alarm system are three times more likely to be broken into.

Those are pretty compelling reasons to consider installing an alarm system. But what should you know before choosing one-and the company to install it?

With hundreds of companies and plans available, interview several different companies before deciding, and follow this checklist from the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association:

-Contact your insurance agent or the crime prevention unit of your local police department for a list of reputable security system companies.

-Make sure the company is state licensed and ask if they do background checks on their employees before hiring them.

-Ask for a free security inspection and system recommendations, and get a written estimate including the monthly monitoring fees.

-Compare similar systems and pricing.

-Determine whether you will own the system or lease if from the alarm company.

-Make sure the system you choose is equipped with a battery for backup power and that it will be monitored by a central system around the clock.

-Negotiate. Most companies, especially in today's economic climate, will negotiate on providing system add-ons such as a free motion detector, additional keypads or even one month's free monitoring service.

-Once your system is installed, choose a user-friendly code that every member of the family can remember and let your insurance company know that your home is being monitored. It may net you some new insurance discounts.

-Last but not least, check back with your city to see if homeowners with security alarms must register with the local police department.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Q: Why do I need an agent if I can find a home by myself on the Internet?

April 14, 2011 1:11 pm

A: While more buyers now use the Internet to gain access to listings, or available properties for sale, it is still a good idea to use an agent. The agent brings value to the entire process: he or she is available to analyze data, answer questions, share their professional expertise, and handle all the paperwork and legwork that is involved in the real estate transaction.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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New Ways to Approach Diet and Exercise Can Help You Stay on Track

April 14, 2011 1:11 pm

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2011-If you feel stuck in a rut, it may be time to shake things up. Finding new ways to approach exercise and diet can make your efforts to improve your overall health more engaging and help you stay on track.

Pittsburgh Steelers dietitian and author Leslie J. Bonci, RD, advises athletes on how they can stay at the top of their game. Here, she offers some tips to help you find new ways to stay on top of yours.

Groove It: Get Moving to a New Beat. If you've never tried working out to music, now's a good time to start. And if you do have an exercise playlist, try out some new tunes. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has found that the faster the beat of the music, the higher the intensity of the workout. Your body naturally moves to whatever beat it's listening to, so speeding up the beat can help you get more from your workout. The ACE research also showed that a faster tempo makes intense exercise seem less stressful.

Change It: Take on a new workout. Doing the same kinds of exercises all the time can get boring-which makes it harder to keep doing them. Shake things up and dare yourself to get moving in a new way: try a dance-based workout such as Zumba, kickboxing, ballroom dancing, a spinning class or circuit training. Or if you really want to challenge yourself, join a local, high-intensity boot camp. Many gyms and fitness centers have low-cost, short-term "try-it" options that let you sample the different options before you commit to a long-term class. Some memberships also let you work with a personal trainer a few times for free. That's a great way to get some tips and training customized for you.

Log It: Keep a Food Journal. Improving your overall health also means learning how to make better food choices. Keeping a food journal can help you take an honest look at your eating habits so that you can make healthy changes. Be sure to record everything you eat and drink right away; make a note of what you did while eating (watched TV, worked at computer, etc.); describe your feelings while you ate. Understanding the emotions behind your food choices can be very helpful in making changes.

For more information, visit www.familyfeatures.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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Last-Minute Income Tax Filing Checklist

April 14, 2011 1:11 pm

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2011-With the U.S. federal income tax filing deadline just a few days away, many U.S. taxpayers are still preparing to file their returns, and Freedom Tax Relief, LLC has provided the following checklist to assist in the process.

"The IRS has reported that it has received some 89.7 million income tax returns so far, about 63 percent of the 141 million returns they anticipate for 2010," said Jeff Staley, managing partner of Freedom Tax Relief. "That means that nearly 40 percent of taxpayers have yet to file. It's time for those people to get serious about completing their tax returns."

The Internal Revenue Service in the past has reported that people who will receive a tax refund usually file earlier than those who do not expect a refund. Many people who owe taxes or expect to break even have yet to complete their returns. To finish preparing their tax returns, Staley suggests taxpayers review these items:

1. Gather all needed information before beginning. Many online resources can provide a checklist of materials needed to prepare an income tax return. Tax preparers or tax preparation software will also provide those lists. In general, taxpayers need data about their income, expenses (especially for business and home purchases), charitable contributions and medical expenses. Taxpayers should collect this information before sitting down to complete the return.

2. Complete the income tax return form. People who have a simple return, without business income and without prioritizing deductions, can often complete a free form, available online from the IRS. For more complex situations, carefully evaluate needs before selecting forms.

3. Check the completed form for errors. Even if a professional tax preparer completed the form, filers should read through their returns to be certain they understand them and do not find discrepancies. Tax return software usually provides an error review; taxpayers should take advantage of that utility to check for and correct common errors.

4. Check with a tax expert to answer questions. If serious questions arise as a taxpayer reviews the tax return, it is worth the investment to obtain answers from a tax expert. Some online services will respond to questions for a fee. A professional tax preparer often will charge as much to review a return as to complete it in full. Some tax preparers will answer questions regarding a self-prepared or online-prepared return for a fee.

5. Don't forget to file! Taxpayers who complete their forms early are at risk of putting the forms aside and forgetting to actually file, either by mail or via the full online e-file process.

6. Follow up to be sure the form was accepted. Those using an e-filed form will receive a receipt confirming that the IRS received and accepted the return. Many states provide similar confirmation. It is important for taxpayers to watch their email or check back with the e-file system to confirm receipt and acceptance of the tax return.

7. Keep documentation in a safe place. After filing, it remains important that taxpayers retain all documentation that pertains to the income tax return. Many of these documents must be available for review for seven years following income tax filing (check with a tax specialist to determine specific requirements). Taxpayers should carefully store information including W-2 forms, 1099 forms, and proof of expenses and charitable contributions in files labeled with the tax year, kept in a safe place.

8. Revise W-4 if needed. Taxpayers who wind up making significant payments of taxes to the IRS on filing day might wish to revise their W-4 forms to have more taxes withheld from their paychecks this year. Greater withholding will ensure that more tax is paid to the IRS throughout the year, and that less is required in the next tax filing season (assuming income and other financial considerations remain the same).

9. Save for estimated taxes if needed. Similar to the above, if a taxpayer has, or starts, a business, he or she might be required to file quarterly estimated income taxes. If that is the case, the taxpayer should plan to save a portion of each month's income to cover those taxes. He or she should also place a reminder on the calendar to make those quarterly payments on time to avoid penalties and interest.

For more information, visit www.freedomtaxrelief.com.

Copyright 2011 RISMedia, The Leader in Real Estate Information Systems and Real Estate News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be republished without permission from RISMedia.


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