August 23, 2011 10:33 pm
With kids heading back to school, everyone should take extra care to keep children safe.
“It’s going to take time for everyone to get back into the school routine,” says Craig Phelps, senior assistant vice president with Amica Insurance. “Many children will be going off to school for the first time, so they may not be as careful as they should be when crossing streets or running for their buses. Others may feel more comfortable returning to school, but they also may be more likely to take risks, such as failing to look both ways when crossing the street.”
That’s why it’s so important to be extra vigilant this time of year, Phelps said, especially around school buses and bus stops.
The National Safety Council notes that most children who lose their lives in bus-related crashes are pedestrians, four to seven years old, who are hit by the bus or by motorists illegally passing a stopped school bus. “The area 10 feet around a school bus is where children are in the most danger of being hit,” according to the NSC website. “Stop your car far enough from the bus to allow children the necessary space to safely enter and exit the bus.”
Here are a few tips on how you can be more alert behind the wheel:
• Slow down and be alert, especially in residential areas and school zones. Children are unpredictable.
• Watch for children at intersections and near the road – especially in the morning and after school hours.
• Take extra care when entering or exiting driveways.
• Beware of children darting out from between parked cars.
• Be careful when following or approaching a school bus, especially near school bus stops.
• All 50 states require motorists in both directions on undivided roadways to stop for school buses that have stopped to let children enter or exit the bus.
• Don’t pass a school bus on the right.
Parents and children should remember:
• Try to cross streets at corners, using crosswalks and traffic signals when available.
• Don’t run into a street or between parked cars.
• Get to the bus stop early and stand well back from the curb, especially when the bus is approaching.
• Walk in front of the bus so the driver can see you. Don’t board the bus until the driver says it’s okay.
• If you drop something, tell the bus driver. Don’t reach for anything under or in front of a bus where a driver might not be able to see you.
• Don’t talk to strangers at a bus stop, and don’t get into a stranger’s car.
• Remove headphones and put away cell phones before crossing the street.
• If you’re riding your bike to school, always wear a helmet and follow the “rules of the road.”
“We all need to work together to protect our children,” Phelps says. “Let’s get the school year off to a safe start.”
Sources: www.nsc.org, Amica Insurance
August 22, 2011 4:33 pm
Back to school season is upon us and with it comes a whirlwind of activity for most households. It seems for most of us that there are too many things to do and not enough time or energy to get it all done. In this day and age many households seek outside help, including house cleaning services. Professional house cleaning is one of the fastest growing home services, and is being adopted by a higher percentage of households every year. It is also a very important decision for homeowners to make; they are giving these service providers very intimate access to their most private spaces and information.
A good place to begin your search is to ask friends, coworkers and more who they use and why. A membership to a service like Angie's List can also be helpful. It has independent reviews of providers and grades them among many categories. Once you have selected a few potential candidates, make sure to ask the following questions before you settle on one. The answers they provide can be critical to making the right choice for your home.
Is the house cleaning service you are evaluating bonded and insured? Overlook this and you could find yourself on the hook for injuries that occur in your home. No professional provider would go without insurance, so know that hiring that nice independent cleaner could have serious financial implications if they get hurt on the job.
Will your new house cleaning service offer a guarantee? A good house cleaner will have a written guarantee as to the quality of the service they will provide and what is included. One thing the really good service providers guarantee is your day of service. You want to know that after you get the home all ready for your new house cleaning provider, they will show up as scheduled.
How do they pay their employees? If you hire a company, make sure that their staff is made up of employees of the company and not independent contractors. If instead you hire an individual cleaner, you can almost guarantee that great price comes at the compromise of ethical tax payments. Avoid potential embarrassment by making sure this is all covered by your new house cleaning service, otherwise it is your responsibility.
How many people will they use to clean your home? Will it be the same people each time? Good companies tend to work in teams. This provides reliability and consistency. While it is impossible to have the exact same people every visit, a good provider should try to give you the same team on each visit.
What type of cleaning solutions will your house cleaning provider use? Will you need to provide anything? Going green is a big deal. It provides you with a safer home and potentially reduced risk of exposure to toxic chemicals.
How much will they charge and what’s included? This seems like an obvious question, but do not leave it open ended. Ask for a quote for your initial cleaning and for ongoing service. A good service provider will also provide you with a place to verify what is included in your cleaning service. A link to a website should suffice, or in a service policies handbook. It needs to be spelled out so that you are both on the same page.
By asking these basic questions, you can make sure you feel comfortable with your new provider before they enter your home.
For more information, visit www.betterlifemaids.com.
August 22, 2011 4:33 pm
In this summer of record-breaking heat, it is more important than ever to check your air conditioning unit for flooding problems.
“Air conditioning condenser units can produce up to two gallons of water a day, and this can overflow the drip pan and cause water damage in your home,” says Todd Snyder, president of a water removal service company.
Snyder said algae build-up in the condenser drain is a typical culprit, clogging the drain pipes and causing them to back up. He offers five timely tips to prevent water damage:
1. Run bleach down the water drain or use bleach tablets. This will kill algae and mold and keep the pipe clear.
2. Reroute the drain line away from your home to keep it from seeping inside the foundation or basement windows. Solutions include securing a length of PVC pipe or garden hose to divert the water.
3. Check to make sure the drip pan in the attic unit is not rusted or leaking. Otherwise your ceiling and floor could sustain water damage.
4. Clean all interior water damage immediately. “It has to be done quickly and completely to prevent dangerous mold from growing,” says Snyder.
5. Schedule an annual service check by a qualified heat and air conditioning specialist. It should ideally be performed before or after the hottest months. The drip pan should be cleaned under the coil and the condensation hoses checked and cleaned.
Some may not think about their A/C other than its ability to work when it is needed most. However, unit problems can result in overflowing drip pans and clogged lines.
“This can result in anything from water stains on your ceiling to, in the worst cases, a flooded house,” Snyder said.
For more information, visit http://www.floodkings.com.
August 22, 2011 4:33 pm
Second quarter 2011 commercial and multifamily mortgage loan originations were 107% higher than during the same period last year and 52% higher than the revised figures for the first quarter of 2011, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Quarterly Survey of Commercial/Multifamily Mortgage Bankers Originations.
“Commercial/multifamily mortgage borrowing and lending continues to rise from the depths of 2009 and 2010,” says Jamie Woodwell, MBA’s vice president of Commercial Real Estate Research. “Greater stability in property fundamentals and prices, and an improving sales market, are providing greater clarity for borrowers and lenders alike. Property values and interest rates—coupled with job growth, consumer spending, household growth and other macro-economic trends that drive demand for commercial real estate—will be keys to how property owners seek and qualify for mortgage financing going forward.”
The 107% overall increase in commercial/multifamily lending activity during the second quarter of 2011 was driven by increases in originations for all property types. When compared to the second quarter of 2010, the increase included a 141% increase in loans for health care properties, a 125% increase in loans for hotel properties, a 116% increase in loans for retail properties, a 114% increase in loans for multifamily properties, a 54% increase in office property loans, and a 34% increase in industrial property loans.
Among investor types, loans for conduits for CMBS saw an increase of 638% compared to last year’s second quarter. There was also a 150% increase in loans for commercial bank portfolios, an 87% increase in loans for life insurance companies, and a 58% increase in loans for Government Sponsored Enterprises (or GSEs – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).
Second quarter 2011 commercial/multifamily mortgage originations were 52% higher than revised originations in the first quarter of 2011. Compared to the first quarter, second quarter originations for health care properties saw a 161% increase. There was an 87% increase for hotel properties, a 73% increase for retail properties, a 47% increase for multifamily properties, a 31% increase for office properties, and a 6% increase for industrial properties.
Among investor types, loans for conduits for CMBS saw an increase in loan volume of 210% compared to the first quarter, loans for commercial bank portfolios saw an increase in loan volume of 41% compared to the first quarter, originations for life insurance companies increased 37% from the first quarter to the second quarter of 2011, and loans for GSEs increased by 20% during the same time span.
Index values for the first quarter were revised to reflect updated information submitted by survey participants.
To view the report, visit:
For more information, visit www.mortgagebankers.org.
August 19, 2011 4:33 pm
A recent study of over 1,400 U.S. consumers conducted by Boston-based custom research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey found that smartphones and tablets are not only more popular than ever, they are replacing relatively new technology like portable gaming systems as well as devices that have long resisted substitution, like TVs and laptops.
The increase in quality and capabilities of mobile devices has sparked major changes in consumer habits. For example: over half of smartphone and tablet users play games on their device and two-thirds of these people are using other devices less for gaming (particularly portable gaming systems).
Additionally, nearly two-thirds of tablet owners have used these devices to watch feature-length movies. As tablets become more mainstream, the data indicate that stand-alone DVD players will go the way of the horse and buggy.
“The increasing ubiquity and capabilities of smartphones, tablets and the mobile networks that support them are having enormous implications for the entertainment and consumer electronics industries,” says Chris Neal, vice president of Chadwick Martin Bailey’s Tech and Telecom Practice. “Content owners and advertisers of all stripes stand to benefit, while many specialty device manufacturers will need to course correct if they haven’t already.”
Not all consumer behavior changes are a zero-sum game, however. Overall consumption of entertainment, like watching videos on YouTube, social networking, and watching TV and feature length movies has increased as a result of increased smartphone and tablet ownership.
Everyday activities have also felt the effects of the mobile device revolution: 80% of mobile device owners have used their device for mapping and getting directions. Among these users, 89% say they’re using other methods like stand-alone GPS devices less.
The study also looks at behavioral differences by gender, age, income, region and device ownership. The research also takes a pulse on likely future trends: for instance, 26% of U.S. adults claim they are considering buying a tablet in the coming year.
For more information, visit http://www.cmbinfo.com.
August 19, 2011 4:33 pm
Warm weather means enjoying dinner al fresco, hosting neighborhood get-togethers and lounging outside. To create the perfect backyard retreat before summer ends, consider these three steps:
• Get Decked Out – Spend more time enjoying – rather than maintaining – your outdoor living space with materials that need only soap and water to keep a "like new" appearance for decades. Wood-alternative decking resists fading, staining, scratching and mold – even after years of heavy foot traffic and exposure to the elements. It's available in a variety of rich colors, to suit any of your outdoor needs and wants. Add a modular railing system with mix and match posts, caps and rails to truly set your deck apart from others in the neighborhood.
• Find the Best Seat Outside the House – Look for outdoor dining and seating options that combine livable design with worry-free durability. Always think about how your products will stand up against the sun, rain, wind, saltwater or snow. Expect the worst so that your tables, chairs, etc., don't need to be taken inside every time storm clouds roll in. Continue customizing your own style and look with the furniture you select.
• Brighten Up – Light up the night and extend the amount of time you can spend outside – while saving money on maintenance and energy costs – with proper lighting for the deck. Find a lighting scheme that works for your area, but that will be energy efficient as well. Consider long-life LED lighting that prevents voltage drops and features an optional dimmer and timer.
"An outdoor living space should be just as comfortable and stylish as a home's interior, while reflecting personal tastes and interests," says Ron Kaplan, chairman, president and CEO of Trex.com. "Take time to examine product samples and seek online resources, which provide ideas and support throughout the process – from product selection and design to installation.
For more information, visit www.trex.com.
August 19, 2011 4:33 pm
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury recently released the July edition of the Obama Administration’s Housing Scorecard—a comprehensive report on the nation’s housing market. The latest housing data offer continued mixed signals as home prices improved slightly but showed continued strain from foreclosures and distressed homes. Also, as more homeowners secure mortgage relief, fewer borrowers entered the foreclosure pipeline in June. The full report is available online at www.hud.gov/scorecard.
“This month’s housing data paint a mixed picture of conditions in the market—despite growing evidence of progress in the broader economy,” says HUD Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic. “We’re continuing to see a slight improvement in home prices and a decline in mortgage defaults as our foreclosure prevention programs reach more borrowers upstream in the process. But we have much more work to do to help the market recover and to reach the many households there and across the nation who still face trouble.”
“Tens of thousands of additional homeowners are getting real relief from the Administration’s programs every month,” says Treasury Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Tim Massad. “These programs are setting standards across the industry that are yielding more sustainable assistance for homeowners in the face of the worst housing crisis in a generation.”
The July Housing Scorecard features key data on the health of the housing market and the impact of the Administration’s foreclosure prevention programs, including:
• Fewer homeowners fell behind on their mortgages during the month of June. In June, 4.4% of prime mortgages were at least 30 days late—a significant decline from the peak of 5.9% seen in 2010. Moreover, seriously delinquent prime mortgages – those at least 90 days late or in foreclosure – remained approximately 22% below a high of 1.9 million recorded last year. As new delinquencies decrease across the nation, the number of new homeowners seeking assistance through the Administration’s programs may also decrease.
• The Administration’s recovery efforts have helped millions of families deal with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Nearly 5 million modification arrangements were started between April 2009 and the end of May 2011.This includes more than 1.6 million HAMP trial modification starts, more than 938,000 FHA loss mitigation and early delinquency interventions, and nearly 2.4 million HOPE Now proprietary modifications, reflecting the reach of standards developed in the Administration’s programs. While some homeowners may have received help from more than one program, the total number of agreements offered continues to more than double the number of foreclosure completions for the same period (2.1 million). In June, nearly 32,000 additional homeowners received a permanent modification through the Administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP); more than 760,000 homeowners across the country have received a HAMP permanent modification to date with a median payment reduction of 37%.
• Even as new delinquencies continue to fall, eligible homeowners entering HAMP have a high likelihood of earning a permanent modification and realizing long-term success. The rate of modifications moving from trial to permanent is up to 74%, and the average time to convert from a trial to permanent modification is down to 3.5 months. Homeowners in HAMP modifications continue to perform well over time, with re-default rates lower than those on industry modifications. At one year, more than 84% of homeowners remain in their HAMP permanent modification.
For more information, visit www.Treasury.gov.
August 18, 2011 10:33 pm
By Paige Tepping
While long commutes to and from work can get old very quickly, using your time in the car effectively can go a long way toward helping you start and end your day on the right foot. Instead of stressing about the long lines of traffic that are going to make you late, the following tips will help you take advantage of your commute time.
On the way into work:
-Make a mental list of what needs to get done when you arrive at the office so that you can hit the ground running.
-Reach out to clients/customers. If you constantly feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day, making phone calls on the way into work is a good idea – of course, be sure to use a hands-free device while driving.
-Schedule appointments. Most offices (doctors/dentist etc.) are open in the early morning, so take the time to schedule appointments before the day ends and you forget to call.
-Find a talk show that you enjoy listening to or listen to a book on tape. This way you’ll be relaxed and ready to go by the time you get to work.
On the way home from work:
-Catch up with family and friends. If you’ve been putting off calling your parents, siblings and friends, take the time to catch up once you leave the office for the day.
-Unwind. Use your time on the road to unwind before you get home and you have to worry about making dinner, helping the kids with homework, etc. Listen to your favorite CD or radio station and don’t worry about things that didn’t get done.
-Decide on dinner. If you haven’t already decided what you are putting on the table for dinner, make a final decision on the way home from work. This way you can stop at the grocery store on your way home if needed. By having a meal already planned by the time you get home, you will be less apt to order take out.
August 18, 2011 10:33 pm
You probably noticed an increase in your water bill this month. During peak water use, usually in late July or early August, the average American uses about four times as much water than they do the rest of the year. From taking more frequent showers to watering the lawn to even washing additional loads of laundry, it all adds up.
"Aside from watering your lawn later in the day, there are many other summer water-saving tips that many people don't think about," says John Senescall, general manager of a Minneapolis-based plumbing and drain-cleaning service provider.
Here is a recommend list of plumbing precautions to save your wallet from the summer heat, while saving energy and staying within the family budget.
1. Check the temperature setting on your water heater. It should be set no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding and reduce energy use. Summer is a good time to turn the temperature down, especially when away on vacation.
2. Replacing an old shower head can save up to 7.5 gallons of water per minute without sacrificing water pressure. To clean mineral deposits from the showerhead, unscrew it, soak it in vinegar overnight and then gently scrub with a toothbrush to remove deposits.
3. Check washing machine hoses for rupture. Turn valves on and off to check for leaks.
4. Make sure that yard drains, gutters and downspouts are cleaned out, open and free of debris.
5. Check outdoor faucets and hose bibs to make sure water flows freely.
6. Beware of standing water. Excess water can result from leaky or broken pipes or a damaged sewer line. Standing water is not healthy for children or pets, and is a breeding ground for insects and germs. Inspect the yard for areas that are too wet or have unusual plant or grass growth.
7. Conserve water. Water your lawn before sun up or after sun down to reduce usage.
8. In humid weather, ductwork may sweat and cause condensation. This can cause a backup if the drains are not clear. If you have an attic installation, be sure to check for water in the drain pan, which could potentially ruin your ceiling.
August 18, 2011 10:33 pm
With interest rates lower than they've been in 15 years a lot of consumers are looking to save money on their monthly mortgage payments. Although this is a great option for many borrowers, choosing the right type of refinance is a very important decision.
You can save money by refinancing at the similar term you started with or you can shave years off your mortgage by refinancing into a shorter term mortgage, potentially without upfront costs. Some borrowers are waiting for the rates to bottom out before considering a refinance; the problem with that is there is really no consistent, verifiable way to predict which direction rates will go in the future. At this time with the current financial markets in such a "perplexed" state, no one can reliably predict the short term direction of mortgage interest rates.
The best refinance option depends on the specific borrower and their current economic condition and what the near future holds for them and their lifestyle choices. For example, an ARM may be the right fit for someone who knows they are going to be moving for one reason or another in the next five to seven years. They can get a short term ARM that will have a very low interest rate for a number of years. This could add up to be a significant savings over their current mortgage. If you are not planning on moving but would like to cut down on the number of years you will be paying your mortgage you could reduce your term in a refinance from the most popular 30 year fixed to a 20, 15 or 10 year fixed. The rates will be more attractive and the amount of interest you will save could be very significant over the term of your loan.
Before considering any refinance, you should take a very good look at the current mortgage, the interest rate, and how long you have been paying it off. Additionally, in today's environment it is very important to have a good understanding of home values in your neighborhood. In most cases, values have come down over the past few years and a reduced value on your home could influence your ability to refinance. Lastly, as mentioned above, know what your short- and long-term ideas are for staying in the current home or possibly moving to a new location.
It is important to ask a lot of questions about your lender and their way of doing business. Are they brokers? What banks do they use for mortgages? How long have they been in business? Can they supply references? It is also important to shop around for competitive rates on your transaction. Referrals are a great way to locate a mortgage person that you can trust. Ask your friends and family who they have had experience with and start your search with those that get favorable remarks.
When refinancing, be sure to understand the costs associated with the refinance. In some situations, the breakeven point when paying closing costs can be way too long to make it an effective move. However, if your mortgage lender offers a true no-point, no-closing- cost loan, it is probably a good reason to start the process right away.
For more information please visit www.PoliMortgage.com.