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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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Furnace Filters and Their Effect on Indoor Air Quality

April 14, 2011 1:11 pm

By John Voket, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2011-While spring may make some of us sneeze or a little short of breath thanks to seasonal allergies, your home should be one place where you're able to breath easy. That being said, I went looking for some information about indoor air quality to pass on and ran into a great resource. Tim Kerfin of Kerfin Inspections Inc. working the Chicagoland region shared his recent blog about the effect furnace filters have on indoor air quality.

His observations could surprise you-and save you loads of money if you're currently buying expensive air filters for your furnace.

Kerfin says the furnace filter's purpose is to help keep your furnace clean, not your home. He says filter manufacturers do an excellent job marketing filters that clean your air, but the only thing they do is restrict the air flow throughout your home and stress out your furnace and air conditioning units.

For those who want supplemental air quality protection, Kerfin says there are some excellent air filters on the market that are separate from the furnace, or homeowners may consider installing a UV light in their furnace that kills mold spores.

Kerfin steers his clients to resources like the US EPA, which points out some air cleaners are highly effective at particle removal, while others, including most table-top models, are much less so. Air cleaners are generally not designed to remove gaseous pollutants.

The effectiveness of an air cleaner depends on how well it collects pollutants from indoor air (expressed as a percentage efficiency rate) and how much air it draws through the cleaning or filtering element (expressed in cubic feet per minute).

According to the EPA, a very efficient collector with a low air-circulation rate will not be effective, nor will a cleaner with a high air-circulation rate but a less efficient collector. Another important factor in determining the effectiveness of an air cleaner is the strength of the pollutant source. Table-top air cleaners, in particular, may not remove satisfactory amounts of pollutants from strong nearby sources.

People with sensitivity to particular sources may find that air cleaners are helpful only in conjunction with concerted efforts to remove the source.

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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9 Easy Ways to Green Your Lifestyle

April 14, 2011 1:11 pm

By Barbara Pronin, RISMedia Columnist

RISMEDIA, April 14, 2011-As more consumers understand the threat of global warming, it becomes more important to make 'greener' lifestyle choices; that is, to buy products and make lifestyle changes that benefit the environment we live in.

While updated standards are in place today to increase the efficiency of major appliances, there are many small changes every homeowner can make to save energy, improve the environment, and save some money in the bargain.

Here, according to a consensus of utility companies nationwide, are nine easy ways to do your part:

Reduce usage Stem the flow of plastic into our oceans by taking reusable cloth bags to the market when you shop, and a reusable coffee mug when you make your morning coffee stop. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and unplug appliances that will not be used for long periods especially that semi-empty extra refrigerator or freezer that is sucking up energy in the garage.

Recycle right You may think you've recycled that empty plastic detergent bottle, but only clean waste is actually recycled. Rinse all plastics, glass jars and soda cans before tossing them into the recycling bin. Remove the glossy advertising inserts before saving and bundling newspapers. Take those styrofoam packaging peanuts that came in your package and donate them to a local packaging store.

Buy organic Patronize local farmer's markets for organically grown produce and opt for certified organic packaged foods that have been grown without the use of pesticides and chemicals. Choose cleaning products that are environmentally safe and, when possible, consumer goods made with recycled materials.

Save energy replace incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents to save both energy and money. Seal off gaps under doorways to keep heat and air conditioning in. Programmable thermostats, double pane windows and attic insulation are relatively inexpensive investments that will more than pay off in the long run.

Involve the family Get the kids thinking and plan a monthly Family Green Meeting. Give a small prize to the family member who suggests the best green project for each month: start a family vegetable garden; organize a neighborhood recycling program; a list of ways to save water, energy.

Tune-up Tune up heating and cooling systems once each year, and change filters monthly or as needed. Sealing your heating and cooling ducts could improve the efficiency of your system by as much as 20%.

Decrease your carbon footprint Try walking, biking, car pooling or using mass transit whenever possible. Remember that fully inflated tires get better gas mileage, so check them often.

Green your thumb - Plant trees, both to shade and cool your home naturally and to help regulate climate change overall.

BYOB - Bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store to cut down on plastic use.

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 14, 2011 7:11 am

Right of first refusal. A person's right to have the first opportunity to either lease or purchase real property.

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 13, 2011 10:11 am

Reserve account. An account for money collected each month by a lender to pay for property taxes and property insurance as they come due.

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: Are home selling costs deductible?

April 13, 2011 10:11 am

A: If you sell your home and realize a taxable gain even after the exclusion, you can reduce your gain with selling costs.

Your gain is defined as your home's selling price, minus deductible closing costs, minus your basis. The basis is the original purchase price of the home, plus improvements, less any depreciation.

Real estate broker's commissions, title insurance, legal fees, administrative costs, and inspection fees are all considered to be selling costs.

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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