Richard Parke
Richard Parke

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Becoming a Homeowner in 2015? What You Need to Know

December 31, 2014 12:57 am

With uncertainty over mortgage rates growing and new Fannie- and Freddie-backed programs rolling out next year, those seeking to buy a home will continue to contend with changing standards. If you’re planning to become a homeowner, take these steps before borrowing.

1. Get preapproved.
Stay ahead of the game by actually getting preapproved for a loan – not by getting an estimate from a lender. Not sure if you’ve been officially preapproved? Take note of what your mortgage professional does – if your credit report was submitted to an underwriter, you’re in good shape.

2. Don’t alter your credit habits. Don’t risk hurting your credit score while securing a mortgage. Keep all balances within normal range and avoid opening or closing credit cards – your debt-to-income ratio may suffer.

3. Avoid moving funds.
To mitigate your financial liability, put off moving funds until after you’ve closed on the home. That means no cashing out on investments, retirement accounts or CDs. Additionally, don’t use your savings to pay off debt or fund a CD – this can be a red flag to lenders.

4. Get your down payment gift early. If family is helping you with a down payment, have them deposit the money in your account more than two months prior to applying for a loan. You’ll avoid hassle with the banks trying to track down the source of the funds.

5. Create a PDF of all documents. Round up all documents related to your finances: bank statements for checking, savings and investment accounts, pay stubs, W-2s, tax returns and canceled rent checks. Compile these into one PDF for your lender’s convenience.

6. Be prepared to write letters. Lenders will want to know details about every potentially harmful financial scenario before approving your loan. If there are any discrepancies in your financial history, such as frequent moves in a short amount of time or a substantial monetary gift, be prepared to explain these situations thoroughly in a letter.

7. Cut costs on mortgage insurance. The new Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage programs require as little as three percent for a down payment – but insurance premiums through the FHA will come at a higher cost. Opt for private mortgage insurers, which generally have cheaper premiums.

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Tips for New Year's Resolutions in 2015

December 30, 2014 12:57 am

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who will make a promise to improve yourself this New Year, there’s bad news: You’re 92 percent likely to fail in sticking to your resolutions, says a recent study from the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology.

About 45 percent of Americans make resolutions. Ranking at the top is losing weight, and staying fit and healthy ranks No. 5.

“Of course, those statistics represent the average – you don’t have to be average!” says Dr. Virender Sodhi, founder of the Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Medical Clinic, (ayurvedicscience.com), which provides complementary and alternative medicine.

“There are plenty of things individuals can do to improve their odds of success if they resolve to become healthier and fitter.”

Dr. Sodhi, author of the new guide, “Ayurvedic Herbs: The Comprehensive Resource for Ayurvedic Healing Solutions,” (www.ayush.com) believes we can move much closer to a world of disease-free societies by following the laws of Mother Nature. Individual commitment to health via New Year’s resolutions is one path to take us there. Dr. Sodhi offers five tips for staying true to your goals.

Get away from the instant-gratification mentality and avoid unrealistic goals. Don’t expect to go from zero to 60 – 60 being your ideal body image – in just a few months, especially if you have little background in training. Unfortunately, most who have resolutions like losing plenty of weight and quitting smoking are used to easy snack foods and quick rewards. Health is a long-term labor of love; commit to the love and wait for results.

Establish good habits! People make resolutions because they know they’re important, but they’re hard. With each passing week, more people drop their promises for self-improvement. You’ll want to set the right goals; if you want to lose 100 pounds, focus on the first 10, and then the next. Make sure to establish new and good habits – it takes about 28 days to stick. Once you train your mind with good habits, achieving your goals becomes much easier.

What you should expect from your “labor of love.” Frequency, intensity and time – these are the three investments you’ll need for losing weight or gaining muscle. As a general rule, exercise at least 30 minutes three to four times a week. Make sure to start with the appropriate intensity for your health; too little intensity and you’ll see little if any results, but too much and you’ll be prone to quit. Don’t think that it’s always better to exercise for a longer duration. What matters is quality. Increase time and intensity once you comfortably meet goals.

Solidify the gains with persistent positive reinforcement. Learn to reward yourself in a new way by paying attention to the gains in your body. Notice the improvement in stress levels, breathing, energy, sex life, mood and overall strength. While these improvements are wide-ranging and palpable, they increase over time and can be subtle. Don’t let these improvements occur without a personal recognition of your accomplishments.

Embrace supplemental support. Of course, all health efforts are connected to your overall well-being. When you make the investment to eat more vegetables, you’re reinforcing your commitment to exercise. Consider practices such as yoga and meditation, which will feed your health kick and provide unexpected benefits. Additionally, supplements such as kelp, green tea extract, Commiphora mukul (Guggul) and Bauhinia variegata (Kachnar) can yield even more health benefits. And, spices such as garlic, onion, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, long pepper, and cayenne pepper all have important thermogenic properties, which stimulates metabolism.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Why Your Garage Door Color Matters

December 30, 2014 12:57 am

I have provided loads of information about your home's front door in our previous two reports, and today, we'll touch on one final and related subject - your garage doors. We recently became familiar with color designer, forecaster and renowned color consultant Kate Smith.

Smith's recent blog at sensationalcolor.com noted that the biggest mistake she sees homeowners making is using color to draw too much attention to their garage doors rather than downplaying them.

This is even more pronounced on a home with a protruding garage that already dominates the view of the home. The following points represent Smith's DO’s and DON’Ts for painting garage doors:
DO paint the garage doors in the same color as the house itself and not the trim color or white (unless white is your house color) if you want to keep them from standing out. Painting the garage doors the same colors as the body of the house may also make a home appear larger.

DO paint the trim around the doors either to match the door or to match the trim on the rest of your home. Usually it looks best if it is the same as on the rest of your home but there are times when it may look better to not call attention to the trim with a contrasting color.

DON’T paint the garage doors in the same accent color as the front door or shutters. This usually draws too much attention to the garage doors and chops up the facade of the home.

DON’T highlight the details of a standard garage door by painting the door in more than one color. There are historic or special doors where this may be appropriate but for the majority of garage doors this is not the way to go.
If your home is brick, Smith suggests finding a color that blends with the color of the brick. And finally, Smith says homeowners can draw attention away from the garage with lighting, colorful plants and flowers, or an interesting bench or other tasteful visual element near the front doorway.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Why You Need a Real Estate Attorney

December 30, 2014 12:57 am

I recently ran across a great post by Jeff Zane - a practicing real estate attorney in West Palm Beach, Fla., and a member of the Palm Beach County Attorneys’ Real Estate Council.

The item served as a good refresher for anyone who thinks they can save money during a real estate transaction by foregoing the involvement of legal counsel.

According to Zane, a buyer or seller should actually engage legal counsel early-on. He says the earlier in the process you involve an attorney, the more value you gain by their representation and support your interests.

Zane says a real estate attorney protect clients from potential problems that can range from the merely annoying to very costly by reviewing all written communications and contracts. Your real estate attorney reviews everything that requires your signature, including binding agreements and sales contracts.

Zane says an attorney's primary concern is that these contracts contain provisions and contingencies that benefit and protect you, and negotiating any changes to that end. An attorney can eliminate vague or unenforceable terms, and draft documents that require funds to be put aside in case the parties don't live up to their agreements.

Once you have found a home and agreed upon a selling price, Zane says a thorough search of the property’s title must be completed to ensure there are no liens or other outstanding judgments against the property, such as back taxes, lost or forged deeds, claims of undisclosed heirs or simple clerical errors.

A good real estate attorney will evaluate the status of one's title and pursue appropriate legal remedies to clear any title defects; advise you on what your title insurance policy does and does not protect against; and emphasizing marketability of the title when you sell.

If the title company does not uncover an existing lien, the insurance is there to cover it. Your attorney should also interpret and counsel you about all legal documents related to the title and transaction, including deeds, mortgages and closing statements.

In our next segment, we'll continue reviewing why a real estate attorney is a good investment.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Medical Debt Has Significant Impact on Credit

December 29, 2014 2:54 am

According to a recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), 43 million Americans have overdue medical debt on their credit reports. Medical debt is incurred differently than other unpaid bills because it can result from an unpredictable event, and consumers are often temporarily responsible for the bill in its entirety before insurance coverage takes over.

“It’s hard for consumers to navigate the medical debt maze and come out with a clean credit report on the other side,” said Richard Cordray, CFPB director. “Getting medical care should not make your credit report sick.”

If a medical bill goes unpaid after a certain amount of time, the medical provider may hand over the account to a third-party debt collector. The majority of collections items that end up on consumers’ credit reports are furnished to the credit reporting agencies by third-party debt collectors. When a collection item ends up on a consumer’s credit report, it decreases the consumer’s credit score. These scores play an important role in the lives of American consumers because most lenders decide to grant credit and set interest rates based on them.

Complicating matters is the medical billing process itself. Challenges include cases where patients are billed multiple bills from multiple providers for one incident or treatment, and instances in which debt collectors “park” medical debts on credit reports as incentive for consumers to pay.

Source: CFPB

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Winterize Your Home to Avoid Unnecessary Insurance Claims

December 29, 2014 2:54 am

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, one of the worst winters in years is ahead for most of the United States with below average temperatures and abnormally high snowfall. Homeowners should consider the below tips to begin to prepare their homes for the cold months ahead and to avoid unnecessary claims.

1. Avoid ice dams.

Ice dams can form at the lower edge of your sloped roof when interior heat causes the snow to melt and refreeze. Once an ice dam forms, it blocks water from draining off the roof forcing the water inside, which can cause serious damage to your home's interior.

"Ensure the attic is properly ventilated and nicely insulated to minimize the amount of heat rising through the attic," said Paul Hurd, assistant vice president, National Property Product at Grange Insurance. "Homeowners should also seal air leaks in the ceiling so that warm air doesn't leak into the attic. In this case, cooler is better. Doing so will not only prevent ice dams from forming, it will limit cold air drafts and reduce energy bills."

2. Prevent bursting pipes.

Another potential cause of water damage is bursting pipes, which can happen when water freezes in a home's pipes. Secure insulation sleeves over any exposed pipes, seal cracks and holes near water pipes, and allow slow trickles of water to flow through faucets that are connected to pipes in unheated areas. If your home will be empty during the winter months, it is best to drain your water lines.

3. Keep sidewalks and driveways clear of ice and snow.
While your homeowner policy should have liability coverage, you can avoid claims by making sure your sidewalks and driveways are clear of ice and snow to prevent injuries. Try to shovel several times, even while it's still storming, so that snow doesn't get a chance to build up and bond to surfaces. Plus, it's much easier to shovel two inches of snow than five. Get down to the pavement beneath so that sunlight can warm it up and prevent ice from forming. In addition, use sandbox sand to add traction to slippery surfaces and prevent falls.

4. Properly shut down a vacant home.

For homeowners who close up a summer vacation home or leave for an extended period of time each winter, it is important to prepare before vacating. Homeowners leaving town should give a trusted neighbor a key so they can check the house periodically to account for any unforeseen damage and discourage burglars.

It is important that homeowners turn down their heat, but do not shut it off completely. They should also shut off water, clean out the gutters and arrange for snow removal services to clear sidewalks and driveways while the home is vacated.

5. Inspect heating systems and alternative heating sources.
Homeowners should inspect any heating systems, chimneys or other supplemental heating devices this fall. Although fireplaces, space heaters and wood stoves are popular heating sources, they require proper maintenance and caution to ensure safe operation.

"It is imperative to never leave wood stoves, space heaters or fireplaces unattended to prevent house fires," said Hurd "In the event of a house fire, call the fire department immediately. Once your family is in a safe place and accounted for, contact your independent agent to report the damage. He or she will help you file a proper claim."

6. Consider policy add-ons for further protection against harsh winter weather.
As weather pattern changes continue to impact insurance claims, homeowners should consider additional policy options to make premiums more affordable.

For example, homeowners should consider coverage add-ons for valuables damaged by water during a sewer, drainage or sump-pump back-up.

"Back-up of sewers and drains coverage provides coverage for losses caused by water which backs up through sewers or drains, or water that enters into and overflows from within a sump pump or sump pump well," Hurd said. "This coverage will provide peace of mind when winter storms approach this season."

Source: www.grangeinsurance.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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From Paint to Pools - Smart Shoppers Wait for Winter Bargains

December 26, 2014 12:51 am

Never mind the holiday season – if I had just one wish this holiday season, it would be that you save all your holiday spending until at least January.

There's nothing new about post-holiday sales on just about everything. But if Businessinsider.com is any predictor - and your New Year's resolution is to spruce up your home in 2015 - January and February are the best months to shop for a number of key home improvement items.

According to the site:
  • The dead of winter is the best time to purchase warm-weather luxuries like pools and hot tubs, when prices are the lowest. Plus, it's smart to allow several months to regrow grass after it gets torn up during installation.
  • Furniture showrooms get new floor models in February and are looking to clear out the current stock of couches, saving January shoppers up to 50 percent.
  • Many linen and bedding retailers and department stores are also slashing prices on sheets and bedding in January and February to make room for all the new threads coming in the spring.
  • Businessinsider.com says most people get new carpeting before the holidays or during summer remodeling season. That means January is one of the cheaper times to look for new floor covering.
  • And since slapping on a fresh coat of paint is normally reserved for summer, the site says home improvement stores offer deeper discounts in the winter.
  • Whitson Gordon at lifehacker.com suggests saving for the dark of winter to buy your new grill. He sites a Bankrate report flagging huge off-season deals on outdoor cooking appliances - at least in the colder states.
  • Gordon also points to PC World's advice to find the deepest deals on computer monitors in January and February - in case you're looking to upgrade your home office.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Top 10 Tips for Losing Holiday Weight Gain

December 26, 2014 12:51 am

Nobody likes to pick up extra pounds during the holidays, but nearly everyone does. For those determined to lose them quickly, we all know Rule Number One: Use willpower and cut back on food!

From Glamour.com, here are nine more tips for shedding pounds without (too much) pain:

Dump the holiday leftovers – Yep, that means the leftover fudge as well as the stuffing and gravy. You can’t eat what isn’t there.

Plan ahead – Treat it like a budget and plan your daily and weekly meals ahead as much as possible. When you do that, you are much less apt to just graze all day and/or make poor last-minute meal choices.

Eat all day – Five or six small meals during the day (salads, fruits, veggies, nuts, and small portions of meat, eggs or poultry) will keep you from feeling really hungry and falling off the wagon.

Get moving
– Burning the calories you do take in is always a smart strategy. Walk during lunch hour, work out at the gym, or take a short run in the morning or evening – or just get out in your own driveway and shoot some hoops with the kids.

Hit the protein
– Start the day right with a protein-fueled breakfast to keep you full longer. Try eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt on its own or a yogurt fruit smoothie.

Cut out the white stuff – This includes less nutritious carbs like white bread, white bagels and white rice as well as extra sugar or salt. Substitute yams for white potatoes and choose whole wheat breads and cereals. Try plain yogurt instead of sour cream and mustard in place of mayo.

Veg out
– Vegetables are healthy appetite suppressors. Keep a variety of colorful veggies washed, cut up, and very handy front and center in the fridge.

Hit the bottle – Water reduces cravings, flushes out impurities, and helps keep you feeling full. Carry it with you wherever you go. Try it in a thermos with lots of ice cubes and lemon.

Be patient – Think ‘progress’ and ‘baby steps.’ Don’t try to rush it. Rejoice each time a pound drops off.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Celebrate an Eco-Friendly Christmas

December 25, 2014 12:51 am

Although many homeowners may not realize it, the holidays are a prime time of year for energy waste. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, holiday lighting consumes the equivalent electricity of 500,000 homes in just one month.

And from Thanksgiving to New Years, Americans will throw away 25 percent more trash than they typically throw out the rest of the year. Because wasted electricity and extra trash lead to higher utility bills and more environmental strain, many customers are seeking ways to celebrate a greener holiday.

Smart home solution provider Vivint recommends five tips to save energy at home this season:
  • Energy-efficient appliances—A perfect gift this Christmas, energy-efficient appliances use between 10 and 50 percent less energy than their conventional counterparts.
  • Home automation—Smart home technology allows homeowners to automatically lock and unlock their doors, control holiday lights remotely, and schedule their smart thermostats all from a smartphone. All of these features save energy, and the smart thermostat alone can save up to $180 a year in energy costs.
  • LED light bulbs—LED Christmas lights (and LED lights in general) only use 10 percent of the power needed by incandescent lights and they last as much as 10 times longer. Conveniently, Vivint's Energy Management package comes with 12 energy-efficient bulbs.
  • Recycling—Recycling holiday wrapping supplies is a small effort that can make a big difference. In fact, if every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.
  • Solar—Installing solar panels is one of the greenest power solutions for any homeowner—and a great green gift. Thanks to solar's growing popularity, it has also become possible to install a solar energy system with no upfront costs and see huge savings immediately.
Source: Vivint.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Giving Season: Billions of Charitable Donations and Counting

December 25, 2014 12:51 am

As expected, Americans will continue to support their favorite causes this giving season, with TD Bank Group estimating over $570 billion in time and money donated. A recent report by the organization indicates that almost 95 percent of households donate to a charity each year, while half of Americans volunteer their time for a good cause.

"Americans are generous people, and nearly everyone gives to charity each year," says Craig Alexander, SVP and chief economist, TD Bank Group. "The benefits of giving are much more than that and have lasting impacts on local communities and society as a whole."

According to the report, Americans give almost 8 billion hours of their time volunteering each year. The vast majority of volunteers say they do it to make a contribution to their community, and because charitable giving inspires others to get involved. Many Americans volunteer as part of a group project with friends or colleagues, or join family members already helping others.

Source: TD Economics

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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