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Top 10 Ways to Prep for a Remodel

June 16, 2015 12:33 am

Proper planning is essential before beginning a remodel, and may be the most critical step in the process, says the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). To prepare for the project, NARI shares the top 10 steps you should take before breaking ground on your next remodel.

1. Research your project. Taking time to research projects will provide a good sense of what is involved such as price, scope of work, return on investment and new product and material options. It is also a good idea to research property values in your neighborhood to make sure your project is in line with other homes in the area.

2. Plan project around the long-term.
How long do you plan to stay in your home? How might your family structure change over time? Life can change quickly, so these questions should be answered early on to ensure your project will fit your lifestyle long after it is complete.

3. Set your budget. Deciding on a realistic budget and arranging finances to support your project are essential. This number needs to include everything: the project, products, contingencies, etc. Don’t be afraid to share this with your remodeler; professionals are respectful of a client’s budget and will create a plan around it, not over it.

4. Use advanced search for professionals. The online world makes it easy to gather information about strangers. Ask friends, family and neighbors for referrals and then spend time researching that person online. Professional remodelers take their reputation seriously and hold credentials beyond licensing, such as certifications, memberships in trade associations and additional training. Look for examples of press coverage or involvement in industry presentations or events. Check online reviews and social media to see how they interact with past clients and peers.

5. Ask the right questions.
Time and cost are important, but getting the right information requires the right questions. Ask your professional remodeler about his or her educational background, training, specialties or past issues with clients. Ask about how the remodeling process will work.

6. Verify your remodeler.
Don’t take their word for it. Check the information given to you such as references, license numbers, insurance information and certifications by calling providers to verify. Request a visit to an active client’s jobsite. Make it known that you are checking on him; a true professional considers that as a positive sign to working with a homeowner.

7. Review contracts word-by-word. A remodeling contract protects you and your remodeler. Homeowners should review this carefully. Professional remodelers have done this before, and know what should go in a contract. Homeowners are not as familiar with remodeling and should ask about terms if they don’t understand. Pay attention to details about change orders, payment, additional fees, timeline and responsibilities. If it is not in the contract, it doesn’t exist.

8. Keep design in mind. Your design guides the entire project. Think about what you dislike about your current space and the intended use of the new space. Use Websites such as Pinterest.com and Houzz.com to gather design ideas. Make sure you can articulate specifically what you like about that design when talking to your designer. Professionals don’t recreate a photo – they incorporate accessibility, functionality, ease of modification, style and value into your design.

9. Make your selections. Deciding on products and materials is a larger process than most imagine. With so many options to choose from, product selections are one of the primary reasons for project timelines to get extended. Base decisions on quality, function, price, style and availability. Include selections in the contract to lock down pricing and keep your budget intact.

10. Create a communication plan. A common downfall in remodeling is lack of communication between homeowners and remodelers. Your remodeler should lay out a communication plan at the beginning of the project. If not, ask them to do so. This plan should clarify roles of everyone involved, communication methods, availability, and frequency of communication that is expected.

Source: NARI

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Don't Be Misled by Reverse Mortgage Ad Claims

June 16, 2015 12:33 am

Reverse mortgage advertisements are a dime a dozen, but that does not mean consumers are any less susceptible to false ad claims, says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). In fact, many reverse mortgage ads do not tell the full story.

“As older consumers consider reverse mortgage loans to tap into their home equity, they need to be careful of those late night TV ads that seem too good to be true,” says CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “It is important that advertisements do not downplay the terms and risks of reverse mortgages or confuse prospective borrowers.”

A reverse mortgage is a special type of home loan that allows older homeowners to access the equity they have built up in their homes and defer payment of the loan until they pass away, sell, or move out. The loan proceeds are generally provided to the borrowers as lump-sum payments, monthly payments, or as lines of credit. Most reverse mortgages today are federally insured through the Federal Housing Authority’s Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program, which carry some regulatory requirements.

While advertisements frequently do not describe all the details of the particular product or service being sold, the incompleteness of reverse mortgage ads raises heightened concerns because reverse mortgages are complicated and often expensive loans intended for older, and frequently vulnerable, homeowners. According to the CFPB, the ads are characterized by:

Ambiguity that reverse mortgages are loans: Some consumers find it difficult to understand from the ads that reverse mortgages are loans with fees and compounding interest, and that the loans need to be repaid. Most ads either do not include interest rates or included interest rates in fine print. Other consumers thought that because the money they received through a reverse mortgage represented home equity they had accrued over time, there was no reason they would have to pay it back.

False impressions about government affiliation:
The advertisements leave some older homeowners with the false impression that reverse mortgages are a risk-free government benefit, and not a loan. Consumers often misinterpret the role of the federal government in the reverse mortgage market as providing consumer protections that are not actually offered.

Celebrity endorsements that imply reliability and trust: Many ads feature celebrity spokespeople discussing the benefits of reverse mortgages without mentioning the risks. Most consumers believe TV ads that feature spokespeople are portrayed as reliable and trustworthy.

False impressions about financial security and staying in the home for the rest of the consumer’s life: Many ads imply financial security for the rest of a consumer’s life. A reverse mortgage does not guarantee financial security no matter how long a consumer lives. A consumer can tap into their equity too early and run out of funds to draw on. In addition, borrowers with a reverse mortgage are still responsible for paying property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and property maintenance. Failing to meet these requirements can trigger a loan default that results in foreclosure. Most advertisements fail to mention such requirements.

Incomplete or inaccurate statements made in advertisements about reverse mortgages can pose serious risks to older Americans. Without more balanced information, consumers may not make the right financial choice and jeopardize their retirement security. This means they could run out of money for their day-to-day expenses or even lose their homes.

When viewing these ads, the CFPB says to keep in mind a reverse mortgage is a home loan, not a government benefit, reverse mortgage ads don’t always tell the whole story, and without a good plan, a consumer could outlive the loan money.

Source: CFPB

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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12 Tips for Cyber Security on the Road

June 15, 2015 1:03 am

Whether in for a long-awaited vacation or heading out on business trip, many travelers take their electronic devices along for the ride. If you plan to travel in the future, keep your devices and data safe with these tips, courtesy of the experts at Wombat Security Technologies.

Leave data-packed business devices and materials behind whenever possible. If you don’t think you’ll use it, don’t take it. Ask yourself, “Is this business critical?” If the answer is no, it shouldn’t make the trip.

Limit the credit cards and personal identification items you take with you.
Before you go, make a note of what items you’re taking and any relevant customer service numbers. Store that info in a safe place so you’ll have a quick reference in case your wallet is lost or stolen.

Explore the possibility of using a “disposable” phone and laptop when traveling
, particularly if you are an executive, manager, or business insider who deals with highly confidential data. This approach allows you to maintain connectivity without exposing the contact lists, files, and sensitive information that are stored on daily-use devices. If your organization doesn’t support this type of service, make the case for building a small repository of devices that can be issued prior to travel and then be wiped clean afterward.

Don’t leave your devices unattended in public, not even for a few moments
. It can be tempting to put your smartphone off to the side while you check your bags at the airport or to leave your laptop sitting on the table while you got to the café counter to get a refill. Thieves are opportunistic; they can snatch up your device in a second while you’re not looking.

Keep your devices concealed as often as possible, particularly when in a crowded place.
Many smartphones -- particularly iPhones and newly released devices -- are coveted by criminals, and there have been known instances of particularly brazen thieves swiping phones right out of unsuspecting users’ hands and disappearing into crowds. Keep your smartphone tucked safely in an interior pocket of your jacket or bag when not in use, and consider using a wireless headset if you are “walking and talking.”

Securely store your devices if you leave them behind. Naturally, your safest bet is to keep items with you, but sometimes that’s not practical while traveling. Remember that a hotel room is not secure; many people have access, and staff members often enter your room while you’re not there. A hotel safe is a better choice than leaving items out in the open or barely concealed in a suitcase.

Turn off automatic check-ins and location tracking. These activities can reveal where you are (a confidential business trip or meeting, perhaps), but they also reveal where you aren’t. Scammers and criminals like to tap into schedules because it gives them more information about who you are and what you do.

Save the vacation posts until you’re back home. As with check-ins, the social updates you post while you’re out of town make it clear that you’re not at home and you’re not at your office. Many people have hundreds of social connections and followers, and a vast number of those online relationships are superficial. If you’re 1,000 miles away and you let everyone know that you’ll be off the clock for a week, you create a window of opportunity for a criminal to climb through. Though it’s tempting to detail your travels in real time, it’s important to consider the potentially negative ramifications of sharing this information.

Be careful about Bluetooth connections.
You may think nothing of pairing your smartphone to rental cars and other convenience devices. But did you know that information is sometimes stored after you terminate the connection? That means your contact lists and other data could be left behind in a car that doesn’t belong to you. Before you turn in your keys, make sure your data has been deleted.

Check before you connect.
Did you know that names of WiFi networks are manually created? This means that hackers can name networks anything they want. Scammers set up “rogue” and “evil twin” networks with names that sound trustworthy -- Airport WiFi, for example -- or that are similar to legitimate nearby networks -- Official Café Wireless instead of Café WiFi, for example. Once connected to a scammer’s network, your data is in their hands. To be safe, check with an employee or another trusted source before you access an open WiFi network.

Use https or a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your data.
A VPN adds a layer of encryption and security that is valuable when using any unknown connection. At a minimum, you must ensure that https is present in a web address before accessing a secure site (i.e., webmail, social media, or any site that requires a login). And whenever possible, hold off on doing any financial transactions on WiFi, including checking your bank balance or making ecommerce purchases. It’s safest to handle these activities on known, secure networks.

Consider traveling with a personal hotspot.
If you use a mobile hotspot leased from your service provider, you can be confident that you are getting a secure connection. This is particularly valuable advice for business travelers, given that it’s often necessary to network on the go.

Source: WombatSecurity.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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6 Bathroom Safety Additions for Seniors

June 15, 2015 1:03 am

Nearly one in three people over the age of 65 experiences an accidental fall each year, according to statistics from the CDC, and more than half occur in the home. To protect seniors from hazards, the experts at Roto-Rooter recommend the following bathroom safety additions:

• Equip showers and surrounding walls with sturdy grab bars. These should be anchored to wall studs so they will support the full weight of an adult. Some safety handles use super strong suction cups that are easy to apply and remove.

• Consider installing non-skid tape or mats in showers and bathtubs.

• A shower chair is also a safe solution that can be easily placed when balance is a challenge.

• Flexible handheld shower wands with an on/off button might be easier to use than a traditional shower head. These are especially useful in combination with shower chairs.

• Toilets can be replaced with ADA-approved raised-height models to lessen the chance of a fall. Additionally, raised-height seats can be installed on existing toilets.

• Check temperature settings on water heaters, as water over 120 degrees Fahrenheit can scald skin. Special no-scald faucets or a no-scald regulator can be installed as a secondary layer of protection.

Source:
RotoRooter.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Empty Nesters: How to Reclaim Your Space

June 15, 2015 1:03 am

(BPT) – The departure of children from the home may be bittersweet, but it is also an opportunity for empty nesters to reclaim their space. Updating the home after the kids move out with savvy improvements can help facilitate aging in place and boost resale value for those planning to downsize in the future.

If your children have left the nest, consider these home projects:

1. Find Your “Me” Space


Turn junior’s room into a space that works for you, like a home office, exercise room, music studio, craft room, workshop or home theater. Keep in mind your long-term plans. If you'll be selling the home at some point, consider a room that will have broader appeal, like a home office.

If you plan to age in place, remember to incorporate features in your “me” space that will facilitate your use of the room even if you experience mobility issues down the road. For example, you may want to take the opportunity to widen doorways, replace doorknobs with door handles, replace loose carpet or slippery tiles with slip-resistant flooring, and improve ventilation.

2. Embrace Natural Lighting


Vision changes as you age, so the artificial lighting that worked for you when you were in your 30s or 40s may not be adequate when you enter your 50s and 60s. Lighting is an important upgrade if you plan to remain in your home into your golden years. Look for improvements that will help aging eyes see better, like increased natural lighting and task lighting in work areas.

3. Create a Bathroom Retreat


Bathrooms sell homes, and if you've lived with an outdated master bathroom - or none at all - now's the time to renovate. In addition to all the luxurious features you've been dreaming of, like a rainfall shower head and heated floor, keep in mind the practical improvements that will make the room safe and usable as you grow older.

Look for slip-resistant flooring, improve natural and task lighting and replace faucet knobs with easy-to-maneuver levers. Install grab bars around tubs and toilets, as well as in the shower. Bath product designers are now making grab bars that offer the look of design elements coupled with the security of sturdy support.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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College Grads: Sidestep Financial Traps

June 12, 2015 12:10 am

Fiscal responsibility should be a top priority for anyone, but newly minted college graduates are more vulnerable to financial traps, say experts with the American Bankers Association (ABA). These traps, identified below, can hinder new grads from securing their financial future, including the ability to purchase a home.

Not Having a Budget – Simply put, don’t spend more than you make. Calculate the amount of money you’re taking home after taxes, then figure out how much money you can afford to spend each month while contributing to your savings. Be sure to factor in recurring expenses such as student loans, monthly rent, utilities, groceries, transportation expenses and car loans.

Forgoing an Emergency Fund – Make it a priority to set aside the equivalent of three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Start putting some money away immediately, no matter how small the amount. A bank savings account is a smart place to stash your cash for a rainy day.

Paying Bills Late – or Not at All – Each missed payment can hurt your credit history for up to seven years, and can affect your ability to obtain loans and the interest rates you pay for loans. Consider setting up automatic payments for regular expenses like student loans, car payments and phone bills.

Racking Up Debt
– Understand the responsibilities and benefits of credit. Shop around for a card that best suits your needs, and spend only what you can afford to pay back. It’s a great tool if you use it responsibly.

Not Thinking about the Future – It may seem odd since you’re likely just beginning your career, but now is the best time to start planning for retirement. Contribute to your employer’s 401(k) or similar account, especially if there is a company match. Invest enough to qualify for your company’s full match – it’s free money.

Source: ABA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Millennials See Value in Homeownership

June 12, 2015 12:10 am

Refuting reports otherwise, recent research from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) suggests Millennials value homeownership as much as any other generation – and then some. According to the “Gen Y and Housing” report, almost half of Millennials who do own a home believe it is a good long-term investment, and nearly three quarters of Millennials who do not yet own a home expect to be homeowners in the next five years.

Millennials who do own a home also cite the stability, privacy and square footage as positives. The majority of Millennial homeowners live in single-family homes; just a fraction live in attached units or condominiums.

Those who do not yet own a home remain steadfast in their preferences for neighborhoods with urban characteristics, such as a high degree of walkability, transportation alternatives and accessibility to shopping and entertainment.

The ULI research also noted an emerging trend among Millennials in which homeowners live in households with three generations of family members, or share housing with roommates.

Source: ULI.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Top 10 Hurricane-Proofing Steps for Homeowners

June 12, 2015 12:10 am

There’s no doubt hurricanes can be devastating to both property and finances. Residents in hurricane-prone areas should prepare their properties and protect their finances sooner rather than later, advises Julie Rochman, president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS).

“Now is also the time for property owners to review their personal emergency plans and homeowners insurance, complete a home inventory if they haven’t already, and stock on up needed supplies so they are ready for a potential storm. Don’t wait until it’s too late,” Rochman cautions.

The IBHS recommends homeowners add these top 10 hurricane-proofing steps to their to-do list to avoid property damage or a financial disaster.

1. Re-adhere shingles to prevent water damage to your roof decking.

2. Secure soffits to the walls to keep them from blowing off and allowing wind-driven rain into your house.

3. Seal gaps in outer walls to prevent water from getting in.

4. Protect windows and doors against flying debris and pressurization with shutters or pre-cut shutter panels that can be put in place quickly.

5. Trim trees away from your home and remove any weak sections that might break off and fall or become flying debris.

6. Review your insurance policy to make sure you understand what is covered and what isn’t.

7. Check your coverage limits to ensure you can rebuild your home and replace your personal belongings.

8. Consider flood insurance because flooding is not covered by standard homeowners or renters insurance.

9. Check your hurricane/windstorm deductible and consider putting aside additional money to rebuild your home if the amount is high.

10. Update your home inventory to speed up the insurance claims process if you have damage. This will also be useful if you apply for disaster aid.

Source: DisasterSafety.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Eat Fresh: What Food Labels Really Mean

June 11, 2015 12:28 am

As more Americans seek to adopt healthy lifestyles, retailers have responded with a variety of food labels aimed at healthy eating. But what do all those buzz words really mean? Consumer Reports explains the science behind the labels:

“Fresh” – Genuinely fresh food products have either just been picked, gathered or produced, says the Food Marketing Institute. What fresh definitely doesn’t mean: frozen.

“Organic” – Foods dubbed organic are growing in popularity because the term is backed by the USDA, which certifies that the food item was produced within their guidelines. These include methods that cycle resources, conserve biodiversity and balance the ecosystem.

“Natural” – The USDA supports this label on egg products and meat and poultry, but producers can use it at their discretion on any item. For an item to truly be natural, it must be minimally process, contain no artificial ingredients, and be regulated by the USDA.

“Local” – Local is defined by the retailer, and as such, may not meet shopper expectations. A retailer typically labels items “local” if they came from somewhere in the state (à la Whole Foods), in bordering states, or within a specified perimeter around the distribution center.

“Artisan” – Fast food chains have been using the term artisan for years to distinguish their products from competitors, so identifying authentic artisan products can be a challenge. Food items categorized as artisan are generally not handmade, not small-batch or not high-quality, as the label suggests.

“Seasonal” – Experts at the Produce Marketing Association believe seasonal is a relative term. Because many produce items are imported from other regions, or even countries, items labeled seasonal may not truly be seasonally grown on farms in the area in which they’re sold.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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What to Consider before a Remodel

June 11, 2015 12:28 am

Many homeowners decide to remodel on a whim, but a number of factors must be evaluated thoroughly before taking on any project, says Sergei Kaminskiy, Kaminskiy Design and Remodel. It’s important to have a conversation, he says, about lifestyles, health issues, family growth plans, aging parents, work habits and other matters before beginning a remodel. To start, prioritize a list of the following for your remodeler.

Determine quality of life issues. Maybe you need more space and are considering a room addition or another level added to the home. Should you move or stay and remodel? For some, moving is not an option, due to a career, roots in the neighborhood or otherwise, and remodeling is the right choice.

Consider how long you plan to stay in the home. If it's short-term, decisions are much easier than to plan for 10-20 years. If you consider your home a legacy home that will be in your family for years, you will need to give consideration to current and future toddlers, teens and aging parents. If the home is long-term, it will make sense to use the best materials for roofing, flooring, surfaces since quality materials can last up to 100 years.

Evaluate the health and physical needs of your family. If you have an elder or you are an elderly couple and don't want to move to a retirement community, living on one level and avoiding stairs may be the best option. The same may be true if a family member has physical challenges. If this is the case, choose to turn a downstairs room or office into a bedroom with bath.

Calculate the cost of moving. Moving typically costs about 8-10 percent of the value of the current home. Don’t forget to add in the costs of upgrades like carpet, furniture, painting, etc., and you can easily see how it adds up even more.

Source:
KaminskiyHomeRemodeling.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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