September 29, 2011 10:57 pm
The number of consumers across the country who filed applications for new home loans recently fell considerably as fewer borrowers sought to refinance their existing mortgages. Informa Research Services, a subsidiary of Informa plc (LSE: INF), suggests that consumers review online rate tables to find the best rates with which to refinance a current home loan.
The overall mortgage market slumped 9.6% during the week ending August 26, driven largely by a 12.2% drop in the number of refinance applications, according to the latest weekly statistics from the Mortgage Bankers Association. Meanwhile, the number of purchases actually ticked up 0.9%, but remains near historically low levels.
The refinance share of the mortgage market fell to 77.8% from the previous week's 79.8%, the report said.
Consumers who refinance their current home loan with a rate that is significantly lower than their current rate can reduce their monthly mortgage payments by as much as a few hundred dollars. The most efficient way to locate the lowest local mortgage rates in your area is to check online rate tables such as those featured on ERATE.com.
"Refinance application volume declined for a second week from recent highs, despite rates staying near a 10-month low," says Mike Fratantoni, the MBA's vice president of research and economics.
For more information, visit www.informars.com.
September 29, 2011 4:57 pm
Now is the time of year to ensure that the beautiful trees in your yard will remain healthy and produce a vibrant, green canopy come springtime by treating them against insects, fungus and diseases. If trees are not cared for, these pests can cause your trees to look sick and possibly die next year. The removal and replacement of a mature tree is an expensive proposition for homeowners, easily costing over $1,000 per tree.
Consider this: the Emerald Ash Borer beetle has destroyed over 30 million ash trees to date in the United States and Canada. The larvae from these pests cause the most damage to ash trees from August to October, when they are the most active and voracious. Pine Bark Beetles have multiple generations and can kill a tree within weeks. In 2010 alone, the Southern Pine Beetle, a bark beetle smaller than a grain of rice, killed 14,000 acres of pines in New Jersey. Spiraling Whitefly is causing visible damage to trees and property—especially car paint and outdoor furniture-- throughout Southern Florida due to the sticky honeydew it produces. Unsightly black sooty mold later grows on the honeydew, causing further annoyance to homeowners. Fungal diseases like Oak Wilt and malnutrition weaken a tree, reducing its chances of winter survival.
Tree treatment options are plentiful, but not all are suited to fall's cool, wet conditions. Tree trunk injection is proven effective to protect trees in autumn from destructive insects, diseases and malnutrition that are wreaking havoc across the country. The appropriate treatment formulation is injected directly into a tree's vascular system and is effective within a few short weeks. Unlike bark spraying and soil drenching, nothing is released into the air or soil during treatment when tree trunk injections are used. The active ingredient keeps working through the tree's vascular system into the spring, providing continued protection as trees begin to produce leaves. There is even one injectible treatment available that protects trees against insects for up to two years and can stop damage even if a tree is currently under attack.
Choosing to save trees by treating them is something financially and environmentally responsible that homeowners can consider right away. Professionally applied tree trunk injection treatments cost a fraction of the cost of tree removal and replacement, typically less than a month of cable television service. In addition healthy, mature trees provide shade, which helps reduce air conditioning costs.
In addition to treating trees, removing dropped fruit, dead branches and leaves from around your trees in the fall will help further protect them from pests.
To learn more about tree trunk injections please visit www.arborjet.com.
September 28, 2011 10:57 pm
In a perfect world, “work” and “home” would balance out neatly. We’d work from 8 to 5 each day, take an hour-long lunch, and then come home and spend uninterrupted time with our families. But for those of us here in the wake of the Great Recession, firmly entrenched in an “always on” society, this notion seems hopelessly outdated. Most of us are working longer, more stressful hours, and work is spilling over into evenings and weekends. No wonder a recent survey of North American employees found that 87% of respondents say their work/life balance (or lack thereof) is negatively affecting their health.
With so many people suffering from this problem, you would think the natural solution would be to encourage businesses to help their stressed-out employees find more balance in their lives. Not so, says best-selling author Jon Gordon.
“Work/life balance, at least in the sense that most of us think about it, is a myth,” says Gordon, whose new book is The Seed: Finding Purpose and Happiness in Life and Work. “It does not exist. For many people, it never has. Personally, I have never been able to balance the scales of work and life on a day-to-day basis. Rather, I’ve come to realize that the dance between work and life is more about rhythm than balance.”
Here is Gordon’s advice on rethinking the concept of work/life balance and finding passion and purpose in both arenas:
First, let go of the work/life balance notion. Instead, think “purpose and passion.” It’s true that work/life balance is a topic that seems to be on many minds, says Gordon, citing a recent NPR segment titled “In America, Too Much ‘All Work, No Play’?” But in many ways, he insists, a perfectly balanced life is a perfectly tepid life. How much balance do you think Bono has when U2 is on tour? What about an Olympic athlete preparing for a competition? Or the leadership team at Facebook? Probably not much, but their passion and purpose fuel them to work harder and longer with more joy and satisfaction in both work and life.
Identify the “seasons” in your company’s work flow. In nature there’s a season for everything. Spring (planting season) and fall (harvest) are times of extreme work. But there’s a slow down in the summer when plants are growing, and, of course, winter. Most industries/companies work this way, too. They have busy seasons (when they’re getting ready for major industry events or peak sales times, for instance) and not-so-busy seasons. It might be easy for you to plan your work/home life flow around these times. Not just in terms of when you plan vacations, but also in terms of daily work hours. During the slow time, it’s okay to leave a little earlier each day if you know you’re going to be working long hours once busy season arrives.
Keep in mind your family’s “seasons” too. Of course, you can’t base everything on work schedules. There are times your family needs you more than others: birth of a new baby, when a child starts school, or when an older parent is having a crisis and needs you to care for him/her.
Build up a “hard work” bank account with your company. When the company needs you to really push, push hard and do it cheerfully. This way, when you need to slow down the pace or take time off, they’ll be willing to work with you. Gordon suggests you think of it as making deposits into a bank account.
When you’re at work, really engage. Fully commit to whatever you’re doing at work. Don’t complain—positivity goes a long way. And don’t feel guilty that you are not at home. Feeling guilty is a recipe for misery and poor performance on the job and unhappiness at home. Commit fully to your season of hard work while planning for your season of rest and recharging.
When you’re at home, really be at home. Throw yourself into those precious family relationships. Don’t spend family time thinking about work or zoning out in front of the TV or computer. It’s not about the amount of time we spend with our families, says Gordon. It’s about how engaged we are during the time we do have with them.
“Understanding your rhythms and planning and committing to the seasons of your life may not help you achieve perfect work/life balance, but you will create a life that is more passionate, more productive, and happier in every way.”
For more information, visit www.JonGordon.com.
September 28, 2011 10:57 pm
Over the last year, Google had the velvet ropes out, only allowing in a limited number of people as they continued to beta-test their circle system and refine their social network. With the red carpet now rolled up, Google has extended the invite to everyone, making Google+ poised to take a huge cut out of Facebook.
Facebook is too large to falter though, right? Wrong.
Jay Correia, owner of the nationally recognized web design company, DreamCo Design, and many others in the technical arena are beginning to think otherwise.
It was just a few years ago that MySpace was the social network of choice. What caused the shift then? Facebook made many gains by learning from its predecessor’s mistakes. It also dug its hands into the Internet by offering up development tools to webmasters, allowing site visitors to log in or check in to various websites using their existing Facebook accounts, thus bolstering a huge user convenience factor.
With Google+ now hitting the shelves, it looks like the tides are about to turn. Fox News has also reported that Google appears to be working on rolling out a built-in voice feature that will allow members to communicate directly with one another via phone. Recent trends data also displays a huge increase in traffic for Google+ and a buzz about the web with the network receiving a huge influx of searches.
With an estimated 50 million people already signed up since launch, Google+ seems well on its way to taking a chunk out of Facebook.
Google+ has ramped up privacy and security, two gaping holes many users of Facebook have always been concerned with. It also offers up superior social networking functions with the circle system, allowing users to organize their social network like never before. Google also has the ability to eventually tie in Google Search, YouTube, Gmail, and many of its other pre-existing products into the network.
Google has even teamed up with search rivals Yahoo and Microsoft by allowing users to easily import contacts to invite to a user’s Google+ account, thus making the network grow that much faster.
The most important element involving the shift involves Google’s ability to self promote. Owning the most visited URL in the world certainly makes it easy to expose millions of people to anything you offer on the cheap.
September 28, 2011 10:57 pm
The Ad Council, in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), have joined together to launch a new phase of their Foreclosure Prevention Assistance Public Service Advertising (PSA) Campaign. The campaign aims to increase awareness of the Making Home Affordable® Program’s free resources and assistance for homeowners who are struggling with their mortgage payments.
One in 11 homeowners nationwide has missed two or more mortgage payments. Many struggling homeowners delay conversations about their mortgage concerns and enter foreclosure without ever reaching out for assistance. The new PSAs notify homeowners facing mortgage trouble that options other than foreclosure are available, and the sooner they act, the more options they have for the best possible outcome.
The Foreclosure Prevention Assistance campaign encourages homeowners to call 888-995-HOPE (4673) to speak one-on-one with a HUD-approved housing expert to discuss the solutions that are available based on their individual circumstances. In addition, the program website, MakingHomeAffordable.gov, serves as an online resource for struggling homeowners to learn about options other than foreclosure.
Created pro bono by Schafer Condon Carter, a Chicago-based advertising agency, the new television, radio, print, out-of-home, and online PSAs have been created in English and Spanish. The PSAs aim to inspire homeowners who are unsure of where to turn to reach out for help as soon as possible.
“The Making Home Affordable Program has already assisted over a million homeowners," says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "Housing counselors are ready to continue their work with homeowners to discuss specific solutions for their mortgage problems. Struggling homeowners do not need to work through their concerns alone. The key is encouraging homeowners to pick up the phone now to explore their options.”
“We are proud to continue our partnership with Treasury and HUD on this critical issue of home foreclosures that affects so many Americans,” says Peggy Conlon, president and CEO, the Ad Council. “We are confident that these new PSAs will resonate with homeowners struggling with their mortgages and encourage them to call 888-995-HOPE or visit the website to learn what they can do to prevent foreclosure.”
The Ad Council will distribute the new PSAs to more than 33,000 media outlets nationwide. The new advertisements build on the successful nationwide campaign first launched between Treasury, HUD and the Ad Council in the summer of 2010. The PSAs will air in advertising space donated by the media.
September 27, 2011 4:57 pm
Drywood termite swarming season is about to begin and homeowners everywhere are preparing to open their wallets to protect their houses from structural damage.
“I have seen termite swarm eruptions in grocery store parking lots, the middle of a huge lawn and of course in nearly 18,000 homes,” says Michael Allen, owner of Century Termite Control and author of the book Top Secrets of the Termite Industry; What Termite Companies Don’t Want You to Know, That You Should Know.
The cost of tenting an American home to get rid of termites ranges from $1,300 to over $3,000 depending on the size of the home and the pest control company you choose. Allen says if homeowners know what signs to look for they shouldn’t have to pay a penny to professionals.
“These chemical companies are multi-million dollar machines. They push their products to pest control companies that are supposed to push it to homeowners. The price keeps going up and there is just no reason for it. Termite companies aren’t helping homeowners do anything they can’t do by themselves.”
Here are four ways to protect your home from termites, according to Allen:
1. Stop the pheromones and you’ve stopped the termites. All termites line the tunnels they dig with pheromones, a scent that the bugs follow to get to and from your home. It’s a way of communicating to the other termites to follow the scent and find food. “All you need to do is break that line of pheromones with store-bought orange oil or a home made mixture and the termites won’t know how to get to your house anymore,” says Allen. “It will be as if they’ve lost the map and put up an electric fence.”
2. The north side of your home is especially vulnerable. Because the north side of your home gets the least amount of sun, more moisture can accumulate in the wood (cellulose), softening it up for the termites to eat. Try to keep the north side as dry as possible by turning away sprinklers and trimming back trees and overgrown vegetation that are blocking the sun. Other than swarming these insects never leave the infected wood for water. They rely only on the trapped moisture in the cellulose for a complete life cycle.
3. Decorative finishes create easy access points for termites. Termites can enter where the brick or decorative finish material touches the ground. They crawl up between the gaps to get to the wood. This happens at the mudsill line. Get familiar with and measure your home’s mudsill line.
4. Bait stations lead termites to your home. Many unscrupulous pest control companies recommend putting bait stations in your home, but bait stations don’t work. The smell from the bait attracts termites and encourages them to build underground roads and highways close to your home. While some may take the bait and die, most of the insects will never get as far as the queen. There are millions of termites in an infected home. Killing even thousands a day will not make a dent. The remaining termites will just wind up feasting on what’s close to the bait station—your home. Any pest control company that wants to put a bait station in your house is not as interested in solving your termite problem as they are in forcing you to be a return customer.
“You can pay the pest control guys several thousand dollars,” says Allen, “or you can put in a little elbow grease to get rid of the pests by yourself and keep those few thousand dollars in your own bank account.”
September 27, 2011 4:57 pm
Back to school means crayons, notebooks, packed lunches and more teen drivers on the road. Driving safety may not be the first thing on your teen’s mind when the school season is in full swing, but teaching their teen safe driving practices should be the first thing on a parent’s mind.
Getting behind the wheel can be a big responsibility for any teen, especially driving during the busy school year. As a parent, it may be hard to send your teen off to school as a young driver, but arming them with safety knowledge can help them be a more confident driver and give you some peace of mind.
Here are some teen driving tips for you to share with your young scholar:
• Wear seatbelts.
• Don’t speed.
• Keep your hands on the wheel at all times.
• Be a defensive driver. Not everyone on the road is going to be as safe as you, so watch out for other unsafe drivers.
• Don’t drink or do drugs. This impairs judgment for driving and could potentially end in a fatality—not to mention, it’s illegal.
• Pay attention to the road while driving. Don’t get distracted with cell phone, radio, or passengers. Driving is a very important responsibility.
• If you are driving a sibling, make sure you are following the state laws regarding seatbelts, boosters or car seats.
• Be aware of bus stops, school zones and walkers and bikers.
For more information, visit www.Foremost.com.
September 27, 2011 4:57 pm
The results of a joint study between ThreatMetrix and The Ponemon Institute entitled “Mobile Payments & Online Shopping Survey of U.S. Consumers” have recently been released. The survey, which looked at U.S. consumers who self-reported they are active users of the Internet, revealed that only 21% feel they are completely protected against fraudsters when conducting mobile banking activities.
The majority of respondents (46%) feel somewhat, but not completely protected from fraud in this channel, with 23% reporting they do not feel protected at all. An additional 10% are still unsure about the level of fraud prevention measures surrounding mobile banking.
“Mobile banking is still a very new strategy for consumers and banks alike,” says Bert Rankin, vice president of marketing, ThreatMetrix. “The big question here is how banks can overcome this barrier to mobile adoption, and enable consumers to feel more secure when conducting transactions from their smartphone. While our survey results showed that many consumers found this functionality to be convenient, the overwhelming majority are still hesitant about mobile banking.”
According to the survey results, only 29% of consumers said they have indeed conducted mobile banking. Of those who have used mobile banking, half reported they did so out of convenience. Of those who expressed they have not used a mobile device for banking purposes, the same percentage (51%) cited it was because of diminished security. Twenty-three percent indicated that privacy concerns inhibited their use of mobile banking.
Along with mobile banking, mobile payments still have a long way to go for widespread adoption, according to survey results. In the survey, a mobile payment – sometimes known as a mobile wallet – was defined as “an alternative payment method." Instead of paying with cash, check or credit cards, a consumer can use a mobile phone to pay for a wide range of services and digital or hard goods. Sixty percent of surveyed consumers have never made a mobile payment, despite the fact that the majority own a smartphone.
However, 84% of consumers indicated that it is “important” or “very important” for online-payment service providers to express a commitment to protect them against fraud and other abuses – especially in the mobile channel.
“Many of today’s payment providers have yet to fully embrace and promote their fraud prevention strategies,” says Rankin. “This is reflected in consumer preference to use either credit cards or PayPal when making a mobile payment today, as these payment methods are most familiar to consumers.”
Sixty-one percent of survey respondents said they prefer PayPal, with 53% indicating a preference for just using a credit card. “Other payment processors like Google Wallet and CheckFree should be aware that fraud is a very real concern and often a barrier to consumers using these services when shopping from a mobile device.”
For more information, visit www.ponemon.org and www.threatmetrix.com.
September 26, 2011 4:57 pm
A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety found that water damage related to home appliances was one of the top 10 reasons given for residential water loss, with failures costing an average of $5,300 after the deductible was paid.
After reviewing over 500 washing machine-related claims, it was determined that over half of the problems reported occurred when the supply hose (which carries water into the machine) failed. Machine overflows and drainage failures accounted for the next 28%.
The life span of the washing machine has to be taken into account when looking at the failure rates, especially as it relates to internal component failure, machine leaks, or burst hoses. These three elements combined account for two-thirds of all washing machine failures. Most appliances were about eight years old when the first failure occurred. Since most hoses are not replaced until they fail, it was determined that the age of the failed hose was approximately the same as the machine it serviced.
Most machines are only slightly older when their internal components begin to break down. The motor/pump assembly was the usual culprit, accounting for 40% of all claims that were examined.
It was also determined that the location of the washing machine in the home can have an effect on the frequency and severity of the loss when failures do occur. For machines located in lower levels or basements, the presence of a sump pump or other drainage device often prevented more serious water damage from occurring. Units located on upper floors put them in close proximity to valuable electronic or furniture items, which can substantially increase the cost involved with any water damage event.
It is recommended that homeowners install washing machines either in the basement or upper floors of the home. Machine failures on the first floor of a home account for 30% greater losses due to their position relative to other valuable items.
In order to minimize the damage caused by a malfunctioning machine:
• Look for signs that the supply hose may be ready to fail. If the tube is worn or there are visible "blisters," go ahead and replace the hose.
• When replacing the supply hose, opt for a reinforced steel braided hose.
• If the connections are loose, tighten them down. Loosening often happens as the result of a move or relocation of the unit.
• Replace hoses every five years, whether you think they need them or not. This lets you stay ahead of any wear and tear.
• Be sure to turn the water valves off completely if you are going to be gone for a period of several days.
Finally, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to reduce the risk of other types of washing machine-related water losses. Never overload a machine, always use a detergent designed for this type of use and try to operate washing machines when someone is home.
September 26, 2011 4:57 pm
Given the recovering economy, some homeowners may be delaying smaller home repairs to save their hard-earned cash. However, delaying smaller issues could lead to larger problems down the road. Here are a few repairs that you would be best off not ignoring.
Never neglect your annual HVAC inspection. By having an HVAC inspection at least once a year, you can ensure that your heating, air conditioning and ventilation are all working properly. The inspection may find that the furnace blower isn't working properly, which can prevent a broken heat exchanger down the road. You may also find that the reversing switch in the heat pump is broken. If handled sooner rather than later, you can save hundreds (or thousands) of dollars by replacing these items for $100-300. It will also save you extra money on your heating bills.
Chimney inspections are also important. For $150, you can have your chimney inspected and cleaned, removing creosote buildup and helping to prevent water from leaking in. If too much moisture gets in and ruins the chimney liner, you may have to drop thousands of dollars on a new one. Again, spending a couple hundred dollars to clean it and make sure it has the appropriate capping and calking will save you thousands later on.
Regular termite inspections are not only beneficial, but will also give you peace of mind. Once a year, in the spring or summer, have an inspector come search your property for flying or grounded termites. The average homeowner loss for damage caused by these little buggers is nearly $3,000, but some losses can reach as high as tens-of-thousands of dollars. For under $200, you can rest assured.
Dryer vent cleaning can prevent clog-ups that cause fires in many homes. Excess lint in the vents can overheat, catch fire and possibly burn your entire home to the ground. Clean these vents out at least once a year to protect your home and belongings.