With the shortest days (and longest nights) of the year, midwinter can certainly live up to its bleak reputation— but this season also encourages slowing down, simplifying and getting cozy. This January, take advantage of the momentum a new year brings to clear out clutter, start a healthy habit and make plans for the year ahead. Here are 15 ideas for a refreshed and revived home.
1. Do the postholiday cleanup. Pack up holiday decorations carefully for next year and give your living space a thorough cleaning to pick up stray pine needles. Break down cardboard boxes, gather wrapping materials to recycle and find homes for holiday gifts.
2. Buy flowers and light candles. Boost spirits on short winter days by lighting candles (real or battery powered), and indulge in cut flowers from the market or a new potted houseplant to freshen the air.
3. Create space to get some exercise indoors.Especially if winters are cold where you live, making a workout zone in the house can be a great help in staying healthy when you can’t get outside. Even a corner of a room cleared of furniture can be enough space for rolling out a yoga mat or working out with weights.
4. Give your command center a reboot. The spot where you drop items as you walk in the door can be a clutter magnet. Make a fresh start for the new year by clearing away the paper, old pens, rubber bands and other random items that have migrated into your command center. Clean the surface, remove old notices from the bulletin board and put up a new calendar.
5. Sharpen knives. Cooking with sharp knives cuts down on prep time and is safer, too. Take your kitchen knives to a pro to be sharpened, and maintain them between sharpening sessions with a honing tool at home.
6. Give your kitchen a healthy makeover. Making a resolution to eat more healthfully? Start by clearing those less-healthy options out of your pantry and fridge. Place fresh fruits and vegetables front and center, and put healthy-food prep aids, like a juicer or blender, on the counter where you are more likely to use them.
7. Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. With more heater use and wood fires in the fireplace, and less opening of windows, winter is an especially important time to make sure those smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working. Use the test button on each device and change batteries as needed.
8. Clear clutter responsibly. If you are doing a new year’s purge of unwanted items, keep things out of the landfill and help others by donating gently used items to a good cause. For other items be sure to recycle responsibly — try the Earth 911 recycle search to find a recycling center that accepts electronics, paint, clothing and more in your area.
Egypt’s oldest pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser, in the ancient burial ground of Saqqara, is looking a little worse for the wear. After more than 4,600 years in the desert, some of the stones have eroded or fallen away, a rising water table has weakened the bedrock below the tombs, and a 1992 earthquake put the structure at risk. Unfortunately, the company hired to restore the ancient pyramid starting in 2006 may have made it worse.
Activists tell the Egypt Independent that the company, Shurbagy, has continued working on the pyramid after overseeing its deterioration and partial collapse.
Activist Amir Gamal of the “Non-Stop Robberies” movement told Egypt Independent that “New walls were built outside the pyramid as if the pyramid were a modern construction, which is opposite to international standards of restoration, which prevents adding more than 5% of construction to antiquities if necessary.” He continued to say that “Adding the modern construction is a large pressure on the decaying pyramid, which threatens catastrophe.”
Built in the 27th century B.C. for Pharaoh Djoser, the 200-foot-tall step pyramid was designed by one of the earliest known architect-engineers in history, Imhotep. It’s considered the earliest example of large-scale construction with cut stone in the world, a major deviation from the low, flat-roofed, mud-brick design of earlier Egyptian burial sites. Archeologists have criticized Egyptian authorities for choosing Shurbagy to oversee the restoration, as the company had not previously completed any restoration projects.
Yes. And no. And mostly yes again. And maybe it should be.
And since January 10 when the CFPB’s Qualified Mortgage rule took effect, it is definitely harder. So yes.
But there’s more to the story than that, and it doesn’t mean only Patsy Pays Perfect can qualify anymore.
The Qualified Mortgage rule has definitely put the squeeze on would-be homebuyers seeking a mortgage. People with lower income, the self-employed, those with credit scores on the margin, and people whose income comes from tips, bonuses or other harder to document sources are definitely being are all facing an uphill battle.
Industry analysts say that anywhere from 10% on the low side to 20% on the high side of people who have a mortgage now would not qualify for a mortgage under today’s rules.
But the rules and standards for getting a mortgage were already tightening long before the CFPB put their screws to it. In fact, the industry had largely self-corrected – as if it had a choice – long before Washington put it in ink with heightened documentation and tighter standards.
Mortgage applications, the first step in the mortgage process, have been down this year almost consistently.
Average new home prices in 70 Chinese cities declined for a second straight month in June and fell more sharply as property developers stepped up discounts to lure home buyers amid a housing market downturn.
Home prices slid 0.47% in June, compared with a 0.15% fall in May, according to calculations by The Wall Street Journal, based on data released Friday by the National Bureau of Statistics. May’s drop was the first month-over-month decline in two years. On an annual basis, the average price in June rose 4.05%, compared with 5.35% in May.
Excluding subsidized low-income housing, prices fell 0.48% in June from May, compared with a 0.16% decline in May. Home prices fell in 55 of the 70 cities in June, a broader range than the 35 cities that posted declines in May.
Real estate and construction are important drivers of the Chinese economy, accounting for more than 20% of growth in the world’s second-largest economy when cement, steel, furniture and other related industries are factored in, analysts estimate.
To arrest the slide, property developers—many of them holding large inventories of unsold units and facing tight credit—have been offering discounts, though some analysts expect prospective buyers to wait for lower prices.
“The price cuts have only just started, and now that the discounts are getting bigger, I would think it’s better for homebuyers, if they can wait, to hold off purchasing a home now,” said Song Huiyong, research director of Shanghai Centaline Property, a real-estate consultancy. “The price cuts could last for as long as a year this time, since there is little prospect for a broad-based stimulus.”
LEWISBORO — The Katonah-Lewisboro District Teachers’ Association has ratified an agreement on a new two-year contract with the school district to replace the contract expiring at the end of the current school year.
The school board will hold a public forum on the agreement on Jan. 6 before voting on whether to approve it on Jan. 13. The agreement covers the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years and includes very low raises for teachers.
Board of Education President Michael Gordon said the board’s goal has been to reach a fiscally responsible budget that preserves programming.
“Since so much of our budget is devoted to personnel expenses, obviously what we pay to our teachers and provide them in benefits is a significant issue,” he said.
In the first year the contract agreement calls for a 1 percent raise that is deferred to Feb. 1, 2012. Salary adjustments for education credits are also deferred until February. Teachers will also take a half-day furlough when school is not in regular session. The union will contribute to the cost of a $10,000 retirement incentive.
In the second year, a 1 percent salary increase will take effect at the beginning of the school year and another 1 percent increase on Feb. 1. Teachers will have to take a one-day furlough and contribute 13 percent to health insurance premiums, up from 11 percent.
Manhattan Real Estate Market Continues Steady Growth, as Luxury Sales Perk Up
The 2010 real estate market in Manhattan will be remembered for slow but steady growth, with luxury sales of $3 million and up finally making a strong return in the final months of the year, according to fourth-quarter market reports to be released on Tuesday.
The steadiness in the market was welcome news for brokers who had spent at least part of last year concerned about a possible double dip in prices.
The median fourth-quarter sales prices, in separate reports compiled by the city’s biggest brokerages and by the real estate Web site Streeteasy.com, ranged from $825,000 to $845,000. Those prices represent increases of 3 percent to 11 percent from the same period in 2009. But average sales prices, which were more affected by the increase in higher-end sales, ranged from $1.37 million to $1.48 million, as much as 14.4 percent higher than last year’s prices.
The prices are still far from the peak of the market in 2008, when the median was close to $1 million and the average over $1.7 million, but they are also up from the bottom of the market, in mid- to late 2009, when the median hovered around $800,000 and the average dipped below $1.3 million.
“The year started out strong and remained really solid, despite some slight bumps along the way,” said Diane M. Ramirez, the president of Halstead Property. In 2009 and early 2010, homebuyer tax credits pushed up sales of studios and one-bedroom apartments. Overall volume slowed significantly during the summer, only to return to more typical levels later in the year.
“Now things are selling across the board at all price points,” Ms. Ramirez said, “and we’re finally seeing a more normal market.”
You know the saying, “Life’s A Picnic“, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that Blogging’s a picnic too when you have the right tools, such as this super-easy image editing tool.
One of the ways you can really make your blog posts “POP” and get some extra google seo juice running through it, is by adding some visuals. If you compare a non-image laced blog post with one that has a few strategically placed images, you’ll notice immediately how much more inviting the one that has the images is to read versus the one that doesn’t. Does this bring us back to our picture-book days of preschool? Maybe so. But is it your goal to have your potential clients remain on your site and possibly even READ your blog posts? Definitely so!
Picnik was introduced just a few short years ago and is now one of the most widely used online photo editing tools available. There are of course both the free and paid versions, but for what you would be using it for, I would stick with the free one.
One of the tricks that Picnik is great for is bringing some dimension to your images within your blog posts. Adding a simple shadow effect takes an image from drag to “Dang!” in an instant!
We just got a new kitten for Christmas so I have to use his pic for a demonstration!
You can save a few hundred a month by buying discount items on Ebay or Amazon and by searching for the hottest deals. Saving a few hundred bucks a month is a ton over a year and its effects are even greater over 10 years. But what if that’s not enough? What if you need to somehow impossibly cut back your expenses like $1000-$1500 because you lost your job or your savings have depleted?
The mortgage payment is America’s single highest expense.
Honoring your word is sacred. You signed on the dotted line and said you would pay your debts. Abraham Lincoln spent 17 years paying off debt he borrowed to start a business in 1833. The virtues of repaying debt and honoring your commitments are self-evident.
However, at some point you have to acknowledge when the snowball gets irreversibly big and you have to make a decision between food and the mortgage. Most people choose the former.
I do not advocate walking away from your mortgage for the sake of it, but if you can only hang in for 3-6 months, you might have to take a close and hard look at the situation and start preparing accordingly. While you might not need a short sale, you might need to prepare for one or at least look at this option. Downsizing and renting can potentially save you thousands of dollars per month.
How do I get started on a short sale?
Just like purchasing a home, it takes time to work a short sale – in many cases, even more time. Be patient and take it one step at a time. This can often take 90-180 days, and if successful, could be well worth your time.
1. Contact your bank – before the end of the road, you want to make sure that you’ve given them notice (i.e., speed bumps). Calling 30 days before you can’t make payment might not be helpful. See if there are loan modifications or refinancing programs that might help alleviate the burden. If you can’t find a viable and durable solution, then consider short selling your home. Request a short sale package to get the process started.
2. Find a short sales agent – it pays dividends to make sure you work with a realtor that has time of the day to answer your questions and go through the process with you. A short sale requires more time, thought, and effort to execute properly to bring all the relevant parties such as buyer, seller, lender, agents, title and escrow companies. Use an agent with good follow up.
3. Third party negotiators – sometimes (although not all) sellers in a short sales employ negotiators that charge a separate fee in addition to the realtor commissions (buyer’s and seller’s agent commissions). The beauty of this for the seller is that it does not directly cost the seller anything. It ultimately comes from the bank’s funds (or proceeds). However, there are plenty of short sales in which a “third party negotiator” is employed and the listing agent shares their commission with the negotiator.
I tend to like these arrangements where the seller’s agent and negotiator split the selling agents commission. Much of the work and brain damage comes from negotiating with the bank and making sure the borrower has everything right. If the seller’s agent does not do any negotiating besides list the property below market, they don’t earn their keep. In these arrangements, the listing agent can split their commission 35/65, where the agent gets 35% and the negotiator gets 65% or 50/50, etc.
Feel free to ask your agent whether they play to employ a negotiator and what the commission split is and why. While some agents can get prickly, you have every right to know if you plan to hire the agent.
4. Pricing – some agents will deceivingly tell you to list your property at a fire-sale price. They say this will help get an offer on the price after which you can send to the bank to move the short sale process along. If the agent tells you to fire-sale the property, do not use this agent. While this may not be fraudulent or negligent behavior, it shows inexperience. All banks that approve short sales employ a valuation method often know as a broker’s price opinion (BPO). This valuation gives the bank a reference point on the value of the property and whether the short sale makes “business sense” to approve.
For example, if the contract price is $300k, but the BPO comes back at $600k the bank will likely not approve a 50% discount. However, if the BPO comes back at $350k (a 14% discount) then may approve this just to get the property out of their hair.
Time is precious. Don’t waste it on apparent solutions that will not avail. In 2009, the banks were seen approving discounts of 15% or greater for homes. In 2010, banks have gotten tighter on their discounts and are typically seen approving discounts on short sales of 7-10%.
The goal: Price realistically and close to the market. You want the deal approved so you can get rid of debt and move on.
What is a Deficiency and Why is it Important?
As part of short sale negotiations you should know whether the bank will maintain their deficiency rights. A deficiency exists when a bank receives less money than it is owed. For example, you owe $400k but the bank only received $300k. $100k is your deficiency.
In cases where the bank maintains their full deficiency rights you may want to think twice about the short sale because you are still fully responsible for the deficiency. I have cases where borrowers negotiated this out of the deal. This is highly recommended if possible.
Test your home for radon — it’s easy and inexpensive.
Fix your home if your radon level is 4 picocuries per liter, or pCi/L, or higher.
Radon levels less than 4 pCi/L still pose a risk, and in many cases may be reduced.
EPA estimates that radon causes thousands of cancer deaths in the U.S. each year.
* Radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year, according to EPA’s 2003 Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003). The numbers of deaths from other causes are taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2005-2006 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Report and 2006 National Safety Council Reports.
Indoor Environments Division (6609J) EPA 402-K-09-001, January 2009
How to Order Publications
You can order Indoor Air Quality publications from EPA’s National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP) P.O. Box 42419, Cincinnati, OH 45242-0419 Website:www.epa.gov/nscep Phone: 1-800-490-9198 (M-F from 9:30-5:30 eastern) Fax: (301) 604-3408 E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas.
You can’t see radon. And you can’t smell it or taste it. But it may be a problem in your home.
Radon is estimated to cause many thousands of deaths each year. That’s because when you breathe air containing radon, you can get lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.
Radon can be found all over the U.S.
Radon comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon can be found all over the U.S. It can get into any type of building — homes, offices, and schools — and result in a high indoor radon level. But you and your family are most likely to get your greatest exposure at home, where you spend most of your time.
You should test for radon.
Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon. EPA also recommends testing in schools.
Testing is inexpensive and easy — it should only take a few minutes of your time. Millions of Americans have already tested their homes for radon (see How to Test Your Home).
1) Pay down your credit cards. Paying off your installment loans (mortgage, auto, student, etc.) can help your scores, but typically not as dramatically as paying down — or paying off — revolving accounts such as credit cards.
Lenders like to see a big gap between the amount of credit you’re using and your available credit limits. Getting your balances below 30% of the credit limit on each card can really help.
While most debt gurus recommend paying off the highest-rate card first, a better strategy here is to pay down the cards that are closest to their limits.
2) Use your cards lightly. Racking up big balances can hurt your scores, regardless of whether you pay your bills in full each month.
What’s typically reported to the credit bureaus, and thus calculated into your scores, are the balances reported on your last statements. (That doesn’t mean paying off your balances each month isn’t financially smart — it is — just that the credit scores don’t care.)
You typically can increase your scores by limiting your charges to 30% or less of a card’s limit. If you’re having trouble keeping track, consider using a check register to track your spending, logging into your account frequently at the issuer’s Web site, or using personal finance software like Microsoft Money or Quicken, which can download your transactions and balances automatically.
3) Check your limits. Your scores might be artificially depressed if your lender is showing a lower limit than you’ve actually got. Most credit-card issuers will quickly update this information if you ask.
If your issuer makes it a policy not to report consumers’ limits, however — as is the usual case with American Express cards — the bureaus typically use your highest balance as a proxy for your credit limit.
You may see the problem here: If you consistently charge the same amount each month — say $2,000 to $2,500 — it may look to the credit-scoring formula like you’re regularly maxing out that card.
You could go on a wild spending spree to raise the limit, but a more sober solution would simply be to pay your balance down or off before your statement period closes. Check your last statement to see which day of the month that typically is, then go to the issuer’s Web site about a week in advance of closing and pay off what you owe. It won’t raise your reported limit, but it will widen the gap between that limit and your closing balance, which should boost your scores.
4) Dust off an old card. The older your credit history, the better. But if you stop using your oldest cards, the issuers may stop updating those accounts at the credit bureaus. The accounts will still appear, but they won’t be given as much weight in the credit-scoring formula as your active accounts, said Craig Watts, an executive at Fair Isaac, one of the leading credit scorers. That’s why Ferguson often recommends to her clients that they use their oldest cards every few months to charge a small amount, paying it off in full when the statement arrives.
5) Get some goodwill. If you’ve been a good customer, a lender might agree to simply erase that one late payment from your credit history. You usually have to make the request in writing, and your chances for a “goodwill adjustment” improve the better your record with the company (and the better your credit in general). But it can’t hurt to ask.
A longer-term solution for more-troubled accounts is to ask that they be “re-aged.” If the account is still open, the lender might erase previous delinquencies if you make a series of 12 or so on-time payments.
6) Dispute old negatives. Say that fight with your phone company over an unfair bill a few years ago resulted in a collections account. You can continue protesting that the charge was unjust, or you can try disputing the account with the credit bureaus as “not mine.” The older and smaller a collection account, the more likely the collection agency won’t bother to verify it when the credit bureau investigates your dispute.
Some consumers also have had luck disputing old items with a lender that has merged with another company, which can leave lender records a real mess.
7) Blitz significant errors. Your credit scores are calculated based on the information in your credit reports, so certain errors there can really cost you. But not everything that’s reported in your files matters to your scores.
Here’s the stuff that’s usually worth the effort of correcting with the bureaus:
Late payments, charge-offs, collections or other negative items that aren’t yours.
Credit limits reported as lower than they actually are.
Accounts listed as “settled,” “paid derogatory,” “paid charge-off” or anything other than “current” or “paid as agreed” if you paid on time and in full.
Accounts that are still listed as unpaid that were included in a bankruptcy.
Negative items older than seven years (10 in the case of bankruptcy) that should have automatically fallen off your reports.
You actually have to be a bit careful with this last one, because sometimes scores actually go down when bad items fall off your reports. It’s a quirk in the FICO credit-scoring software, and the potential effect of eliminating old negative items is difficult to predict in advance.
Some of the stuff that you typically shouldn’t worry about includes: