Archive for 2005

Power Outage Tips

Yep, It is getting that time of year again. Whether the culprit is the weather or an energy shortage, power outages can be a nuisance. Here are a few tips to help you get through:
Keep food cold by keeping the refrigerator door closed; place highly perishable items in a cooler with block ice or freezer packs.
Keep a supply of bottled water and some canned, non-perishable food on hand.
Make sure you have a flashlight and extra batteries in your home. I love the new EverLife flashlights that you just have to shake a little for them to work. A battery-powered radio will help you keep track of any storms.
Your cordless phone won't work during an outage, so be sure to have at least one conventional phone in your home in case of emergency.

Secret Tests To Check A Property’s Condition

If you’re considering buying a house that’s more than a few years old, there may be some hidden problems you can discover before you make a purchase offer. Although putting a professional inspection contingency in the contract will help protect you from surprises, doing your own inspection before making an offer could save you considerable time and money.
How can you tell if a property is worth buying? Here's how to look at the big picture -- for structural concerns, major repairs that are needed, appliances that have to be replaced.
Crawl The Walls
Start going to the right when you enter the house, and keep on following to the right. You will check each wall that way. Do the same on every floor. Look for settlement cracks, separating joints, defective plaster or other signs of stress or damage. Check wallpapered areas for crinkling or gathering, which may mean walls are settling or shifting.
Look For Leaks
Loose or wrinkled wallpaper could indicate a water leak somewhere. Look for water stains on the ceiling and walls. You may have to look closely -- bring a flashlight -- in case they have been painted over or repaired.
Spend time in the bathrooms and in every area with pipes, checking for leaks and drips. Also, run the shower and basin, then flush the toilet to check water pressure. Look for cracked or loose tiles and missing grout or mildew stains on the walls or floor, which could indicate a behind-the-wall leak.
Plug Into The Electrical System
Check every electric socket or outlet. Use a plug-in night light and turn every switch on and off. Look for extension cords and multiple plugs in sockets, which could mean insufficient or poorly placed sockets. Also check every appliance to be sure it works well.
Focus On Condition
Open and close every door and window. Look and listen for squeaking, sticking, or a tendency to close on their own. Check for evidence of shifting or settling around the front stoop, chimney and walks, and places where the driveway and the fence meet the house. Also check the deck for sturdiness and look for rotted wood. Go into the garage and check the walls, floors and doors -- inside and out.
Pay Attention To Pests
Look for termites and ants. Especially look along the foundation, around doors and entry points of wiring and pipes. Check the grading of the yard to be sure water runs away from the house.

If everything looks good to you and you decide to purchase the house, be sure to require a home inspection by a professional inspector before settlement. You will want a professional who will crawl into the crawl space, climb onto the roof and poke around with a flashlight in the attic. Your professional should also carefully inspect the major systems -- electrical, gas, plumbing and heating/air conditioning.
You can and should insist on a written report detailing what the problems are with the house, how important each one is. You may have to consult a contractor to estimate repair costs on any problems found.

Pitfalls of kitchen remodeling revealed

New book helps overcome obstacles

By Robert J. Bruss
Inman News

If you are thinking about renovating your kitchen, first read "Tips and Traps for Remodeling Your Kitchen" by R. Dodge Woodson. Especially if you are thinking of doing the work yourself or being your own contractor and hiring sub-contractors, this book will bring you to your senses.
Woodson, a contractor for more than 30 years, shares his expert insights into the kitchen remodeling business and all the important aspects. Placing a very high emphasis on price, the author explains the pros and cons of being your own renovation contractor or doing some of the work yourself.

If the book has a fault, it is Woodson makes some of the work seem too easy. For example, he makes "hanging Sheetrock" appear to be a simple job. It's not. Having been involved with many house and kitchen remodels on my properties, I've watched expert drywall workers; even these professionals sometimes have difficulties getting it right.
Although the book has many photos of remodeled kitchens, illustrating the topics such as floors and cabinets, it is mostly about hiring a general contractor or doing the work yourself. Woodson explains, often in painful detail revealing possible complications, what is involved in tearing out an old kitchen and replacing it with an up-to-date kitchen.
Not only does the author explain unanticipated problems that he has encountered over his 30 years of construction experience, but he emphasizes the possible pitfalls to be anticipated. If ever there was a book of required reading for kitchen remodelers, this is it because it exposes the pitfalls and how to overcome them.
Having watched many friends remodel their kitchens, I understand the possible problems. One couple I know took almost a year to complete their kitchen because the remodeling contractor they hired was a real dunce. After they fired him, they discovered other remodeling contractors didn't want to complete their project started by another contractor.
Woodson explains how to successfully remodel your kitchen. He begins with the basics, such as roughly drawing what you want and then interviewing several remodeling contractors. He emphasizes how to compare bids, check references, and then hire a contractor. Or, you can do it yourself based on the great information in this new book.
More important, the author emphasizes how to save money. He shares his calendar of when is the best time of year to hire a remodeling contractor. Don't tell, but the best time is November, December or January when most remodeling contractors are least busy.
In addition, Woodson explains how to get even a better price by agreeing with the contractor to make your remodel a "fill-in job" or a "reference job." A fill-in job is highly discounted because the contractor can work on it when his other jobs are tied up with sub-contractors who are late or he has time between jobs.
A "reference job" means the contractor can refer other prospects to inspect the work in your home. The author recommends becoming a "reference job" in return for a big discount. He says you are likely to get the highest quality work and best service because the contractor will be using you as a reference.
Any homeowner considering remodeling his/her kitchen must read this book for its "insider information," which only an experienced remodeling contractor knows. To illustrate, Woodson explains why homeowners can save by shopping for materials among suppliers to get the best discount prices. He even shares how homeowners can get the customary contractor's 10 percent discounts.
Chapter topics include "Planning Your Job"; "Drawing Your Own Rough Plans"; "Solidifying Plans and Estimating Job Costs"; "Choosing Your Materials"; "Getting Your Best Price on Materials"; "Subcontractors"; "Selecting Contractors and Subcontractors"; "Dealing with Contractors"; "Code Considerations"; "Financing Your Project"; "Ripping Out Kitchens"; "Unexpected Conditions"; "Flooring"; "Walls and Ceilings"; "Mechanical Work"; and "Cabinets, Countertops, Fixtures, Trim and Appliances."
This ultra-complete guidebook for kitchen remodelers cannot be recommended too highly. It won't help you decide what kind of kitchen you want. But it will show you how to profitably deal with the contractors and sub-contractors. On my scale of one to 10, this simple book scores an off-the-chart 12.
"Tips and Traps for Remodeling Your Kitchen," by R. Dodge Woodson (McGraw-Hill, New York), 2005, $16.95, 202 pages; Available in stock or by special order at local bookstores, public libraries, and

Blast From The Past

PastLove that retro look? You're not alone. Vintage and retro home furnishings, housewares and collectibles are hot.
If you're looking for authentic Fifties fabrics, a retro chrome floor lamp or starburst clock, or you just want to take a trip down memory lane, you may find these websites worth checking out:

Townhome Just Listed in Renton


I have more Homes avebale.

Please call me.

(206) 406-2710


19166 110th Pl SE Renton 98055
See Additional Pictures
Status Active Listing# 25135859 King County
Beds 2
Gas Fireplace 1
List Price 224,750

Year Built 1998 Townhouse

Covd Prkg. 2 Garage-Attached
SQFT 1194
Map: 686 Grid: D-2
Dishwasher, Dryer, Garbage Disposal, Range/Oven, Refrigerator, Washer

Interior Features : Bath Off Master, Ceiling Fan(s), Dining Room, Dble Pane/Strm Windw, Pantry, Security System, Vaulted Ceilings, Walk-in Closet

Location, Location. This wonderful town home has new red oak floors on the main level. The livingroom has vaulted ceiling and lots of tall windows. The diningroom has a glass sliding door to take advantage of the private back yard. Large kitchen with ample cabinets & counter space. This freshly painted home has a master bedroom with a large walk-in closet and a full bath. Also 2nd bedroom has it's own private bath. A 2 car garage,gas fireplace, powder room & much more. Come see it before it is too late.

Please Call me for more info.

(206) 406-2710

Lonnie Snyder / Keller Williams SE Sound
Lot Sizes And Square Footage Are Estimates.
Information From Reliable Sources, But Not Guaranteed.

What are the two most important factors when selling a home?

Price and condition are the two most important factors in selling a home, even in a down market. The first step is to price your home correctly. Use comparative sales information from your agent,(Thats me) or pay for a professional appraiser (usually $200 to $300), to objectively evaluate your home's worth. Second, go through the house and repair any obvious cosmetic defects that could deter a buyer.

In a down market, you may have to consider lowering your price and/or making a major repair, such as replacing the roof, in order to lure a buyer. Also, make sure that your home is getting the exposure it deserves through open houses, broker open houses, advertising, good signage and a listing on the local multiple listing service or online listings provider.

If this isn't happening, take it up with your agent or agent's broker. If you are still not satisfied you are getting the service you need, you may have to switch agents.

Putting Your Home's Equity To Work.

Do you have idle equity sitting in your home that could be building wealth instead? One of the great aspects of homeownership is that you increase your wealth every month by building equity in your home and reducing your tax bill at the same time.After you've been in your home a few years, you may have some equity that you could put to work for you. Even if the property has appreciated by just a few percentage points per year, significant equity can build up fairly quickly. Just be sure you retain enough equity that you'll be able to pay a real estate agent's commission when you sell the home.
Home equity loans are the most common means of tapping a home's value. In states where home equity loans are not allowed, however, you can still put your home's value to work by refinancing it for more than you currently owe--a "cash out" refinancing.The first way most homeowners think of using their equity is to pay off high-interest debt. That's one popular option, but you could also invest that equity in other ways. Here are six more ways to put your equity to work for you.
1. Trade Up
Using your equity as a down payment for a larger home could make financial sense. If you're in a $200,000 home now and it appreciates by 5% each year, your gain is $10,000 for the first year. In five years, that home would be worth $255,256. But in a $275,000 home, that same 5% growth would be $13,750 for the first year. After five years, the more-expensive home would be worth $350,977-nearly $100,000 more than the less-expensive home.Of course, you may not be able to count on 5% appreciation every year. It could be higher or lower, depending on the state of the economy and market conditions. Not to worry, though. Even 2% appreciation will still add up over time.Using additional equity to trade up will allow you to put a significant amount of money down on your next home. That could allow you to own a home you never could afford before.
2. Downsize
Another way to use your equity is to scale down. With the recent changes in tax laws, homeowners may sell a home every two years and walk away with tax-free profits up to $250,000 (for singles) and $500,000 (for married couples). By scaling down, you can purchase a smaller, less-expensive primary dwelling, and use the extra cash for investments, debt reduction or even purchasing an investment property.
3. Investment Property
While the stock market often bounces up and down, many investors feel comfortable with the security of real estate. Not everyone has extra money to play the stock market profitably, but landlords can enjoy income every month. The secret is selecting the right property and finding expert property management if you don't want to manage the property yourself. We can help with both these issues."Some buyers have found it beneficial to purchase a property in the area where their college-age children are going to school. Their child can help manage the units and share the housing with other students to defray costs. The young adults learn responsibility and property management skills, and you have a live-in manager to watch over your investment.
4. Second Home
The real estate market has been fueled during the past few years by retiring baby boomers purchasing second homes. Maybe now is the time to purchase that home on the beach, at the lake or in the mountains. We can refer you to a knowledgeable agent in a resort area to help you with this move.If you know you're retiring to a particular area in the next few years, study that market now. You may want to buy the home now while prices are still affordable. If you do, you could rent the home during the peak vacation season. Many second homeowners discover they can just about cover their annual property expenses by renting out during peak season.
5. Shared Equity
Another way to put your idle equity to work is to lend it to an adult child as a down payment for his or her first home. Some parents maintain a co-ownership interest while the young adult makes the mortgage payments. At the time of the sale, the equity is then split between the two. This is called a shared-equity arrangement.
6. Remodel
If you really like where you're living, but desire a few more amenities, consider taking cash out for remodeling or adding to your current home. The interest paid on some home equity loans is tax deductible, just as it is with your first trust.

Are there programs for fixer-uppers?

If you need home loan to buy a "fixer-upper" and remodel it, look at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 203(K) loan program. The program is designed to facilitate major structural rehabilitation of houses with one to four units that are more than one year old. Condominiums are not eligible.

A 203(K) loan is usually done as a combination loan to purchase a "fixer-upper" property "as is" and rehabilitate it, or to refinance a temporary loan to buy the property and do the rehabilitation. It can also be done as a rehabilitation-only loan. Investors no longer may participate - only owner-occupants. Owner-occupants are required to come up with only 3 to 5 percent. HUD requires that a minimum of $5,000 be spent on improvements.

Two appraisals are required. Plans and specifications for the proposed work must be submitted for architectural review and cost estimation. Mortgage proceeds are advanced periodically during the rehabilitation period to finance the construction costs.

Here are some helpful tips to improve your credit score!

  1. First and most important, find out what is being reported about you. There are 3 major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union).
  2. Check the back of each report you receive, you’ll find an explanation of the codes used in the file. Study these codes so that you’ll know which accounts you need to concentrate on most while you’re performing each step of the credit repair process.
  3. The first items to search for are what are known as “charge-offs”. This means that the creditor has given up on trying to collect the debt and they have written it off as a loss. You can not repair your credit without getting these items removed from your credit reports.
  4. Contact each creditor that has charged off a loan asking for re-instatement.
  5. Next, search for late payment entries. These are usually pretty easy to clear up. Just contact the creditors and explain why you had difficulty making your payments on time. Ask the creditors to remove the late payment entries after you have made timely payments for a period of time, say 90 days. Most will.
  6. Judgments will need to be removed next. You’ll have to pay off these loans in full in order to do so. Contact the lender and make arrangements to pay off the amount due with an arrangement (in writing) that the judgment will be removed and the account reported as closed after full payment is made.

MT-SI Cedarcrest High School Tolo 2005

"A Red Carpet Affair"

Just as the cobbler's kids have no shoes the photographer has no current family photos so this will have to do. Can't wait to see everyone at the reunion. Joy and Roy Baunsgard with boys, Troy 3.5 yrs, and Macoy 6 months.

MT SI Class Reunion Meeting

Hi Everyone, Save the date on your calendar for the next Class reunion meeting. Monday, August 22nd at 7:00pm at the Mount Si Golf Course Restaraunt for dinner and to view the facility and get some ideas, We got over half of our mailings back as "return to sender" so we have some work to do. I am working on a list so that we can start searching for the lost souls. As always please let me know if you have any current information on anyone.
More to come.
Thanks for your time and help.

MT SI Jeff Emanuel family

I live in Livermore, CA now. I moved here from Corvallis after I quit HP about 4 years ago. I'm a supervisor for a quality control and Inspection company. Our main business is in inspecting automobile parts prior to their getting installed on vehicles to prevent recalls and such.
I know I didn't graduate with you guys, but I lived in North Bend for alonger portion of my life than anywhere else, even to this day. I went to the graduation ceremonies in 85 with my friend Darryl Martin and watched ya'll graduate. My graduation was a week or two later down here in CA.

Here's a recent photo of me and my family. My wife, Sandi, and I got married in March of 1989. We are still married and we have two children, Brigette and Ryan (R.J.). Please post it for me. I'll look for you at the reunion.Thanks for offering the use of your web site.

MT-SI Memories

It's hard to believe it has been ten years already. I am looking forward to seeing everyone once again.

It just happened that in the process of cleaning up that I found some old photos.

Please fell free to e-mail me any old or new photos of yourself and or your family.

I will gladly post them on my Blog. I believe this will be easier, and fun for everyone.

Also it will not cost anyone money to view the photos or to post anything here.
Please Email photos to
Well I'm not sure about anyone else but I most definitely have to go on a diet.

Take care everyone and hope to hear from you soon.


Real-estate commissions evolving with market

By Elizabeth Rhodes
Seattle Times staff reporter
Q: How was the 6 percent commission paid by home sellers to real-estate agents established? It seems that with prices continuing to skyrocket, the commission doesn't really align with anything. For example, when I bought my house three years ago, the seller paid $20,000 in commissions. If I were to sell it now I'd pay about $27,000. Surely the cost of agents doing business hasn't jumped 35 percent in three years.
A: There's been an evolution in real-estate commissions over the years, said Dick Fulton, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service 2005 chairman of the board and a broker for Coldwell Banker Bain's Lake Union office.
In the 1920s, for example, a Washington real-estate association recommended a 5 percent commission to be paid by the seller. Years later, the federal government said that the use of an industry-wide commission schedule amounted to illegal price-fixing.
For the past 25 years or so, commissions have been in the 5 to 7 percent range. In recent years, discount brokerages have cropped up that charge a lesser percentage or a flat fee, usually several hundred dollars.
"The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission preclude any discussion between real-estate companies on the fees they charge," Fulton said. "It must be an independent decision."
In setting their fees, real-estate companies consider "their own business model based on their expenses, profits and what's in the best interest of their clients and agents," Fulton said. The level of services also plays a big role in setting commissions.
Discount firms, for example, often don't advertise homes beyond putting them on the Internet, do not hold open houses, and don't act as an intermediary in negotiations between buyer and seller. Full-service firms, by contrast, may do all that and hold "brokers open houses" — complete with a buffet lunch — to attract other agents who may have buyers at the ready.
All this means that sellers considering working with a particular agent need to be fully informed about which services they need, which will be provided and which won't because they can vary widely. And commissions are negotiable.
According to a national real-estate-industry survey Fulton cited, the average increase in expenses for large real-estate companies has gone up 33.5 percent a year from 2000 to 2004.
"The primary contributors to that were rent increases, salary increases for support staff, Web site development and Internet tools," Fulton said.
By comparison the Everett-Seattle-Tacoma Consumer Price Index rose 9.4 percent between March 2002 and April 2004.
Fulton added one more telling detail: It's easy to think that agents representing sellers don't have to do much in the kind of sizzling market we have now, where attractive, well-priced, well-located homes sell almost instantly.
But that's not true, Fulton said, citing a home on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill that received 24 offers.
"The expertise involved today in helping a seller navigate through a multiple-offer situation is very demanding," Fulton said.
Ultimately that home sold for tens of thousands over the asking price.

2006 Harleys revealed

Harley has revealed its 2006 model line up with a new version of the V-Rod and updates for the Dyna range.
The VRSCD Night Rod includes a ‘black denim’ paint option, blacked-out controls, mirrors and shocks and a blacked-out polished engine.
There are new slotted disc wheels, too.
The FXDI35 is a 35th anniversary Super Clide with wide bars a Fat Bob fuel tank (with dual filler caps) loads of chrome and the No1 logo just like the first model, 35 years ago.
For more on the 2006 Harleys follow the links below.

Click here for more pictures and specs of the Night Rod from Harley’s own site.
Click here for more pictures and specs of the FXDI 35th Anniversary Super Glide from Harley’s site.

Wireless connection lost : solution, fix

My father is in town visiting this week. So we pulled out our laptops to look at our favorite Blogs and to let him get caught up on his e-mail. After 5 to 15 minutes he would lose his wireless connection.
After searching this problem on Google I noticed a few things.

1. Reading through the 25 to 30 reports no one responded with a fix.
2. Everyone had different computers and routers.
3. Everyone was using Windows XP.

As I was checking my router settings and my father's laptop to make sure everything was correct I noticed my laptop never lost connection. the only difference between the two was that my father was letting windows configure his wireless settings.
Once I unchecked that box everything was fine. If you do not have another program to manage your wireless settings you will need to check the box and then uncheck it to remain connected.

So for those of you who need help getting there, here we go :
1. Click on your wireless network connection somewhere along the bottom right of your screen.
2. Click on Status.
3. Click on properties.
4. Click on wireless networks.
5. Uncheck the box at the top that says use Windows to configure my wireless network settings.

Again if you don't have another program managing your wireless settings you will need to check that box and then once you are hooked up to the network just uncheck the box to stay connected.

Hope this helps everyone out there.

Lets go for a ride.

10 Ways to Make Your Home Irresistible at an Open House

1. Put fresh or silk flowers in principal rooms for a touch of color.

2. Add a new shower curtain, fresh towels, and new guest soaps to every bath.

3. Set out potpourri or fresh baked goods for a homey smell.

4. Set the table with pretty dishes and candles.

5. Buy a fresh doormat with a clever saying.

6. Take one or two major pieces of furniture out of every room to create a sense of spaciousness.

7. Put away kitchen appliances and personal bathroom items to give the illusion of more counter space.

8. Lay a fire in the fireplace. Or put a basket of flowers there if it’s not in use.

9. Depersonalize the rooms by putting away family photos, mementos, and distinctive artwork.

10. Turn on the sprinklers for 30 minutes to make the lawn sparkle.

Buying a home directly from the owner will save on the cost of the house, right?

Wrong! The "for-sale-by-owner" sellers are doing their own marketing to save the commission a professional real estate agent would charge. So what is left for you to save? In fact, you might end up paying more if the house is overpriced. Beware of these costly pitfalls:

You end up dealing, in many cases, with an untrained novice who is not familiar with real estate law or the real estate code of ethics. Something might be overlooked that will cost you money later.

Additional legal costs
You will need a lawyer to draw up your sales contract, which should include safeguards for you that an experienced agent would typically suggest, such as making the contract contingent on a home inspection and approval of your mortgage loan.

You will have to be your own negotiator
Also, without agents involved, you would have to conduct your own negotiations on the contract and make sure all the details are taken care of before closing.

As a professional with the answers to your home-buying questions, I can make your search for a new home less confusing. Call or e-mail me, or click on "Comments" and ask your own questions.

What is a contingency?

A contingency is a condition on the sale put into the contract by either the buyer or seller to protect against specific eventualities.
Examples of common contingencies are: a requirement that the buyer obtain financing or sell the current home; the seller has a home inspection done; or the seller must repair certain items before settlement. Contingencies can be removed by an addendum to the contract, or they can expire if a time limit is specified in the contract.

Do you have more questions? Are there other terms you don't understand? Fell free to contact me. Just post it in the Comments & I will get that info for you.

The Rising Cost of Real Estate

The fact that the price of real estate is constantly on the rise is not really a surprise to anyone, is it? After all, everyone knows that they stopped making land a long time ago. In elementary school, we learned about the famous Law of Supply and Demand. As the supply shrinks, the demand always increases. Because the supply has been getting smaller and smaller, since the dawn of time, it makes perfect sense that the demand has been increasing significantly.
As a rule of thumb, the price of real estate doubles every 10 years. So if you buy land today, for $10,000, it’ll be worth about $20,000 ten years from now. Again, this is a rule of thumb, but historically it has proven to be accurate.
One of the major reasons for the rising cost of real estate is the growth of our world population. Take Phoenix, Arizona, for example. In 1940, the population was a small 186,000. By 1994, the population had reached over 1.5 Million. Las Vegas, Nevada, is another fast-growing area. Today, the population is nearly 1.1 Million, up from just 460,000 twenty years ago. Yes, the population more than doubled in twenty years!
You don’t have to look very far to see the effects of rising land prices. How many times have you talked to an old timer who said to you “Twenty years ago, I had the chance to buy that place for only $32,000. And they just sold it for $250,000….” These aren’t rare circumstances. They’re normal, common, everyday events.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, demand for new houses has sent land prices skyrocketing as high as 100% over the past four years. Builders are scrambling for parcels. One such parcel of ground, just 4.7 acres close to the freeway in Del Mar, California, was recently offered at the stunning price of $6.7 Million!!!
There are a few times, however, when land prices tend to stay flat, or even decline. Southern California in the early ‘80s is a good example. During times of severe, and I do mean severe economic slumps, real estate values have a tendency to stay flat. When the economy recovers, and buyers, builders and investors begin purchasing again, the prices quickly increase.
Inflation is another key to the rising cost of real estate. Remember how a loaf of bread used to cost less than fifty cents? Now it's $1.99 or so. The same is true in real estate. The same dollar today just won't buy as much property as it did yesterday. Inflation, especially when combined with rising wages, has created an environment in our real estate markets where the value of the dollar is diminished versus our buying power in times gone by.
Remember the Law of Supply and Demand and inflation, and remember that they quit making land a long, long time ago.


Lets go for a ride.

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Pricing too high can be as bad as pricing too low.

Selling a house can be a bit like having a baby -- everyone gives you advice that you may or may not have asked for, in spite of the fact that the experience is unique to each individual every time. And just like having a baby, there are many myths and "old wives' tales" to be de-bunked.

Myth: You should always price your home high and gradually correct the sales price downward.
Truth: Pricing too high can be as bad as pricing too low.
Your strategy in listing high may be that you will always have the chance to accept a lower offer. But the truth is that if the listing price is too high, you'll miss out on a percentage of buyers looking in the price range where your home should be. Offers may not even come in, because the buyers who would be most interested in your home are scared off by the price and won't even take the time to look. By the time the listing price is corrected, you may have already lost exposure to a large group of potential buyers. Your real estate agent will be able to offer you a comparable market analysis for your home. This is essentially a document that compares your home to other similar homes in your area, with the goal of helping you to accurately assess your home's true market value.

Lonnie Snyder
Ready for summer. Let's go for a ride.

What Is Appraised Value?

It’s an objective opinion of value, but it’s not an exact science so appraisals may differ.
For buying and selling purposes, appraisals are usually based on market value—what the property could probably be sold for. Other types of value include insurance value, replacement value, and assessed value for property tax purposes.
Appraised value is not a constant number. Changes in market conditions can dramatically alter appraised value.Appraised value doesn’t consider special considerations, like the need to sell rapidly.Lenders usually use either the appraised value or the sale price, whichever is less, to determine the amount of the mortgage they will offer.

How High Tech Is Your Home?

If the latest technology or entertainment options are important in your new home, add the following questions to your buyer’s checklist.
1. Are there enough jacks in every room for cable TV and high-speed Internet hookups?
2. Are there enough telephone extensions or jacks?
3. Is the home prewired for home theater or multi-room audio and video?
4. Does the home have a local area network for linking computers?
5. Does the home already have wiring for DSL or other high-speed Internet connection?
6. Does the home have multizoning heating and cooling controls with programmable thermostats?
7. Does the homes have multiroom lighting controls, window-covering controls, or other home automation features?
8. Is the home wired with multipurpose in-wall wiring that allows for reconfigurations to update services as technology changes?
Visit the Consumer Electronics Association ( for a complete Tech Home™ Rating Checklist.

Motorcycle Insurance

The Basics

Okay, so you've just roared into town on your hog, and the new neighbors are getting nervous because you're wearing black leather and a chain link fence. You're thinking about unpacking boxes, but they're more concerned with bodily injury and property damage. Lucky for them, and you, those provisions are covered under a motorcycle insurance policy. Coverage for motorcyclists is basically the same as for automobile owners - but there are some minor differences.

  • Liability. Most states require motorcyclists to carry a minimum amount of liability in case of third party injuries, however insurance experts recommend purchasing as much as three times the minimum in these times of expensive litigation. The liability package also offers Guest Passenger Liability, coverage that offers injury protection to anyone who might climb on the back of your bike.
  • Collision. This coverage reimburses for damage to your motorcycle in case of an accident - minus the deductible. Coverage extends only to the factory parts of your bike. If you get fancy and add anything extra—like nifty chrome accessories - additional coverage will be required for compensation.
  • Comprehensive. This reimburses you, less the deductible, for circumstances other than accident, like vandalism, fire or theft.
  • Uninsured Motorist. If the knucklehead who hit your bike is uninsured, this coverage pays the medical bills and any lost wages you incur while out of action.
  • Underinsured Motorist. This coverage reimburses you if the knucklehead who hit you doesn't have enough insurance to cover all your damages.

Insurance premiums are determined by factors such as your age, driving record, what kind of bike you own and where you garage it. Unless you're high risk, there are ways to keep your costs down so you won't have to pay exorbitant rates. Insurers look kindly on clean driving records, no accidents and graduates from "ride-training" courses, which can earn you a discount of up to 15%

Discounts are also available if you belong to a motorcycle organization, are a "mature" motorcyclist, or if you insure with the same company that underwrites your car. Finally, if you reside in northern climes, you can check into a "lay up" policy, which suspends all coverage (except comprehensive) during those cold winter months.

Can you negotiate the price on new homes?

It can be difficult to negotiate the sales price with a developer because they may claim their prices are based on fixed construction costs. But it doesn't hurt to try. Experts say builders more likely to be flexible on price at the very beginning and the very end of a development project. Early on, most developers want to move people in quickly so the project picks up momentum. Later, developers may be more inclined to accept lower offers when only a few units remain. If negotiating the price doesn't work, buyers commonly negotiate for better amenities (upgrade carpet, light fixtures, etc.) or lot location. Experts say a developer will rarely pass up a deal over a couple hundred dollars' worth of carpeting, for example.

The Garage Sale

Having a garage sale prior to your move can help in two big ways:
.Depending on how well you fit the description of a pack rat, you could potentially earn a nice chunk of change.
.A methodical look at all of the things that you’ve collected over the years, followed by a big kiss goodbye to your favorite old T-shirts means fewer items to move.
Some additional tips:
.Hold your sale on the weekend and when the weather is mild.

If you have the time, make it a two-day extravaganza and make sure to have a friend or family member on hand with you.
.Remember The Golden Rule of garage sales: “Anything goes."

If you have doubts about the value of one of your items, put it out anyway. You never know when a complete stranger may want to buy your used flip-flops.
.Think about where you're moving your stuff and what items might be obsolete there.

A snow-blower in Miami? And don’t forget that some items might cost more to move than to replace--firewood, for example.
.Price items realistically.

Put yourself in the buyer's shoes: How much would you be willing to pay for clothing that went out of style 10 years ago?
.Check your ego at the door.

There’s a good chance that some of your most treasured items will be purchased for a costume or Halloween party.
.Keep the set up simple and organized.

Arrange your wares so that browsers have room to comfortably walk around. If possible, make an electrical outlet available to test appliances.
.Secure all cash that you receive in a safe place.

Keep out only enough money to make change and put the rest in the house. Don't accept checks unless you're well acquainted with the buyer.
.Place a classified ad in local papers, featuring your best or most unusual items.

It’s also good to take advantage of any free advertising in your community i.e. supermarket bulletin boards, church, school or local Internet community. Put up your signs a day or two before your sale. You can also have your sale announced for free by a local radio station that hosts a swap-and-shop program.

Post-sale leftovers? Show some kindness and donate them to charitable organizations. Some will send a truck to your home to pick up the goods(be sure to get a receipt, as your donation may be tax-deductible). If you’re turned down, simplify things by throwing out the item(s) in question.

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What Are Points?

Points are one type of fee paid at closing by you to your mortgage lender. There are two types of points: Origination Points and Discount Points. Each point equals 1% of your loan amount. For example, 1 point on a $100,000 loan would cost $1,000.

What is the difference between Origination Points and Discount Points?

They differ in where they are applied. Origination points are charged to recover some costs of the loan origination process. Typically, your Loan Officer's compensation is based on the Origination point(s). Depending on the lending institution, the Origination Point(s) may be negotiable in whole or in part.
Discount Points are used to "buy" your interest rate lower. This is known as a rate "buydown." A general rule of thumb is that one full Discount Point will lower your fixed interest rate .250% or your adjustable rate .375%. These points lower the interest rate for the entire term of the loan. There is usually some flexibility by the lending institution in determining the actual buydown formula, but less than with Origination Point(s).

Is there an advantage to paying one type over the other?

Actually, there may be, depending on your tax situation. There is no advantage to paying an Origination Point instead of a Discount Point. However, the Discount Point(s) that you pay may be tax deductible. Unfortunately, Origination Points are not usually tax deductible. The Discount Points are usually deducted under Schedule "A" of your IRS 1040 tax return. If you do not itemize your deductions (by taking the Standard Deduction) for other tax-related reasons, you may not be able to deduct the cost of the points when filing your tax returns. Please consult your tax adviser to determine if you qualify for these deductions.

Why do some lenders charge points but others don't?

It is up to the individual lender whether or not they charge Origination Point(s). Almost every lender's pricing includes different levels of Discount Points. They may offer options with no points, 1 point, 2 points and maybe even more. The more points that you are willing to pay, the lower the interest rate the lender will offer you. It is common for each option to include fractions of points (for example, 1.25 points). Most lenders advertise their 0 point interest rates while others list their lowest possible rate with several points attached. When comparison shopping, make sure that you know all fees that are being charged. A lender offering 7.000% + 1 Discount point but 0 Origination Points may be a better deal than the lender offering the same rate with 0 Discount Points but 1.500 Origination Points. Both types of points are calculated using the same formula. Before making a final decision, look over all details of the offer, not just the interest rate.

So You Got Declined...

You need a loan, but your credit won't allow you to get any of those great rates. You'll be glad to know there are alternatives. In fact, There's a whole segment of the mortgage industry that only lends to people who, for whatever reason, find themselves with less-than-perfect credit.
Called "B paper" in industry lingo, loans offered include 2/28 and 3/27 loans. The number before the slash refers to the number of years that the initial rate is fixed. After that, the rate changes on a predetermined schedule (usually every 6 months or 12 months) for the remainder of the life of the loan. The amount of the rate change (called an Adjustment) is determined by a mathematical formula based on the U.S. bond market (typically the yield on the 1 Year U.S. Treasury Bill). The 2/28 is usually the best place to start for two reasons, one of which impacts the other. These B paper loans usually have a two-year prepayment penalty, meaning you can't refinance for two years.
Most A paper lenders want to see 24 months of on-time mortgage payments in order to approve a loan. So, if you get that 2/28 loan with a two-year prepayment penalty, you can put up with a higher interest rate, rebuild your credit, and refinance into a better loan at the end of two years.
B paper is just as competitive as A paper, if not more so. There are plenty of lenders out there, so although you won't get the lowest possible rate, you also don't have to pay an exorbitant amount in points on top of the higher rate. (One point is one percent of your loan amount.)
Remember that you're not only getting a loan. You're also rebuilding your credit. Think how good your credit report will look two years from now when you have 24 on-time payments behind you. Then you can apply for an A paper loan with confidence. On, you can compare up-to-date rates from over 1,400 lenders including B Paper lenders!

Dear Twinkie: Happy 75th, sweetcakes

By Candy Sagon
The Washington Post

C'mon, admit it. You eat Twinkies. You love 'em.
Maybe you feel a little guilty about it, but you're not alone. Americans spent $47 million on them in the past year.
That's right. The junk food we love to ridicule.
And yet despite it all, Hostess makes 500 million of them every year. And sales are increasing, according to Information Resources, a Chicago firm that tracks retail sales and trends.
This year the little cream-filled, yellow spongecake celebrates its 75th birthday — and no, it's not because the same ones have been on the shelf for that long. That's just one of the urban myths surrounding the snack cakes that were invented in 1930.
Back then, James Dewar, manager of Chicago's Continental Bakery, wanted to find another use for his company's shortcake pans. He decided to fill the small, oblong cakes with a banana-cream filling and name them after the "Twinkle Toe" shoes he saw advertised on a billboard in St. Louis. Banana-cream-filled Twinkies, selling two for a nickel, debuted as part of the Hostess baked-goods line. During World War II, when there was a banana shortage, the filling flavor changed to vanilla.
By the 1950s, Twinkies had become a school lunchbox staple. In 1999, President Clinton and the White House Millennium Council selected the Twinkie to be preserved in the nation's millennium time capsule, calling it an enduring American icon.
Nutritionists scoff at them for being fatty and sugary, but that doesn't keep Hostess from turning out about 1,000 per minute. And just in case you wondered exactly how that happens, the cakes are baked for 10 minutes, then the cream filling is injected through three holes in the top, which is browned from baking. The cake is flipped before packaging, so the rounded yellow bottom becomes the top.
The Twinkie factory is still in Chicago, which also happens to be the American city with the highest per capita consumption of Twinkies. Chicagoans can go to comfort-food restaurant Kitsch'n for Twinkie Tiramisu. Or Swank Frank, which sells those state-fair favorites, deep-fried Twinkies.
The cakes' sturdiness and longevity have led to the myth, say Hostess officials, that Twinkies have a shelf life measured in years, even decades.
In reality, Twinkies' shelf life is more like 25 days, says Theresa Cogswell, who calls herself the Twinkie guru and is vice president for research and development at Interstate Bakeries, the parent company of Hostess.
Still, a 25-day shelf life is pretty long. Twinkies are basically flour, sugar (three kinds of it), oil, eggs and chemicals (mainly preservatives and stabilizers). They're 150 calories each, about a third of that from fat. Cogswell doesn't think that's so bad. "There's no bad foods — just bad quantities," she says.
Lewis Browning, a retired milk-truck driver, has been eating one or two Twinkies a day for 64 years. "Had one for breakfast this morning with a banana and a glass of milk," he says from his home south of Indianapolis. The 22,000 he's eaten have earned him an appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and a lifetime supply of Twinkies from Hostess.
Others save their Twinkies for special occasions. Like weddings. Philip Delaplane, 50, a chef and instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, says he's loved Twinkies since he was a child. So does his wife, Pam. For their wedding last year, Delaplane built a four-tier wedding cake out of Twinkies and other Hostess snack cakes. "We didn't want anything too stuffy. We wanted something fun," he says.
Although he had back-up desserts in case guests balked at eating junk food, he needn't have worried. "They devoured the cake," he says. "I had used toothpicks to attach the snack cakes to Styrofoam forms and they just yanked them all out. It was the talk of the wedding."
While people like Delaplane maintain a nostalgia for the Twinkies of their youth, the snack cake has been linked to several not-so-sweet events.
When Minneapolis City Council candidate George Belair served Twinkies and other refreshments to two senior citizens' groups in 1985, he was indicted for bribery in what the newspapers dubbed "Twinkiegate." Although the charges were eventually dropped, the case led to a Minnesota fair campaign act, popularly known as the "Twinkie law." The law was repealed in 1988.
And, of course, there's the famed courtroom defense in the 1979 trial of former San Francisco supervisor Dan White, accused of shooting the city's mayor and another supervisor. White's attorneys argued that he suffered from severe depression that had been exacerbated by junk food bingeing. Although Twinkies were only mentioned in passing, the term "Twinkie Defense" was quickly coined by journalists to explain the legal strategy that led to White's conviction on a lesser charge.
Having a product linked to such dubious outcomes might upset some companies, but Hostess officials seem unperturbed. "[Twinkies] are a constant in your life. They always come back around," says Cogswell, who has worked for Hostess for 20 years. "The way we look at it, sometimes you just need a sugar fix."

Home-Buying Primer

You know you are ready to buy a home when owning is cheaper than renting and a home purchase is a natural fit for your lifestyle and financial needs, goals and obligations. Instead of making the home-buying decision based on income alone, consider it in a more holistic context that includes your complete financial picture. Viewing home buying in a vacuum is a common misstep first-time homebuyers should avoid. Other potential slip-ups include:
Not knowing the market
In a buyer's market, buyers who feel a competitive edge are more likely to leap before they look. The glut of information on the Internet makes obtaining home buying and local market knowledge a relatively easy task. Real estate agents, brokers, lenders, title companies and other real estate professionals offer free seminars, workshops and classes. The vast library of real estate guidebooks can also give you an edge. A lack of knowledge about home buying and market conditions tends to perpetuate additional buying errors.
Failing to get pre-approved
Get pre-approved - in writing - for what you can afford, not what the lender is willing to lend. A written pre-approval reveals that you are serious about buying and it helps prevent you from shopping for more than you can afford.
Uneducated buyers tend to offer too little and ask for too many concessions, including asking the seller to pick up buyer's costs, to make extensive repairs, or to provide a home warranty. That could insult the seller, even in a buyer's market. In a seller's market, it will alienate a seller who has taken the time to price the home right and prepare it for market.
Paying too much
Avoid multiple-offer bidding frenzies. Make the same price checks sellers make to price their homes right -- get comparables, track sale prices in your area, scan the local newspaper to check asking prices, visit open houses and use a knowledgeable real estate agent.
Failing to buy low now to sell high later
Buy the least expensive house on the best block. Buy into the least expensive neighborhood in the best community. The cheapest home in a neighborhood, community or region in transition provides the greatest return on your investment in any market. As you learn to avoid mistakes, you'll find it easier to put your emotions on hold long enough to reach your goal. That prevents buyer's remorse, an all-too-common malady suffered by ill-prepared buyers.

May Maintenance Checklist

May's long days and mild weather energize most homeowners. The projects that seemed daunting in December become feasible thanks to more daylight and balmier temperatures. This is also the month to transition from indoor-focused winter living to outdoor-oriented summer living.
Exterior checkup
How did your home's exterior survive the winter? Check for and repair cracks in siding. Inspect exterior caulking, and replace if it has pulled back from surfaces or is crumbling. Patch any gap that allows water to penetrate siding. This is an especially important step if you plan on painting your home's exterior during the warmer months. Clean siding with a garden hose and long handled brush. Prime and touch up spots where paint is peeling, or simply prime if a big painting job is scheduled for later in the season.
Watch for pests
Warming weather activates insects. Carpenter ants and termites need bridges into your home, so inspect the perimeter and eliminate wood-to-earth contact and any vegetation touching the structure. Survey trees near your house for insect holes or rot, and do not stack firewood close to any structures. Look for actual insect activity after dark, when pests are active.
Maintain floors
Help your floors recover from the abuse they endured during the recent muddy months. Dirt shortens the life of carpets, vinyl floors and wood floor finishes. Deep clean your carpets and area rugs, wax and buff wood floors, and strip and clean vinyl and linoleum.
Clean fireplace and chimney
Clean the ashes from your wood-burning stove or fireplace and empty the ash pit. Clean your chimney at the end of the heating season, before deposits can harden and cause corrosion in the flue. Professional chimney sweeps can also inspect and report on your chimney's condition. Consider installing a spark arrester on your chimney after cleaning: It won't keep only large burning embers from escaping your flue—it'll also prevent birds and other critters from nesting in it.
Check and clean decks and patios
Your decks will experience more traffic in the coming warm weather—check them for structural soundness and dry rot, especially if they're up high. Replace rotted posts and floorboards. Brace wobbly posts by tightening bolts or adding galvanized reinforcing plates. Scrub deck with a solution of water and trisodium phosphate or a commercial deck cleaner (which may darken some types of wood). Edge around concrete patios.
Prepare pools and spas for use
Uncover and clean pool. Make sure pool gates and alarms are in good working order. Drain and clean hot tub or spa, and replace filter. Clean and condition spa cover to protect from ultraviolet deterioration.
Maintain driveway
Now that the rains of winter and spring are over, walk your driveway and note any cracks or potholes that need filling. Fixing these problems on a regular basis ensures that small potholes don't develop into sinkholes, and prepares asphalt driveways for sealing, if needed, during the warmer summer months.
Get air conditioners in good condition
Clean air conditioner filters and condenser coils monthly as soon as the cooling season begins. Make sure outdoor portions of window units are clean and free of debris. If you have an evaporative air conditioner, clean it, oil the pump and blower, check the belt and replace the blankets.
Maintain heaters
It seems counterintuitive, but spring is the best time for having your heating system serviced. Schedule your yearly checkup for forced air, oil and gas heating systems now, while technicians aren't responding to emergency fall and winter calls. Also, remember to clean filters once a month, and keep vents clear.
Check ceiling fans
Clean ceiling fans and light fixtures. Make sure fans are set to spin clockwise to cool your home in hot weather.
Eliminate clutter with a garage sale
May is the peak of garage sale season. As you stash winter's skis, sweaters and snow shovels and break out camping gear, shorts and gardening tools, set aside items you no longer need and have a garage sale. Sell your clutter on a Saturday, then on the following Sunday clean your newly spacious garage and enjoy closet doors that actually close.

What do all of those real estate acronyms in the ads mean?

If you find yourself stumbling over weird acronyms in a real estate listing, don't be alarmed. There is method to the madness of this shorthand (which is mostly adopted by sellers to save money in advertising charges). Here are some abbreviations and the meaning of each, taken from a recent newspaper classified section:
* assum. fin. -- assumable financing
* dk -- deck
* gar -- garage (garden is usually abbreviated "gard")
* expansion pot'l -- may be extra space on the lot, or possibly vertical potential for a top floor or room addition. Verify actual potential by checking local zoning restrictions prior to purchase.
* fab pentrm -- fabulous pentroom, a room on top, underneath the roof, that sometimes has views
* FDR -- formal dining room (not the former president)
* frplc, fplc, FP -- fireplace
* grmet kit -- gourmet kitchen
* HDW, HWF, Hdwd -- hardwood floors
* hi ceils -- high ceilings
* In-law potential -- potential for a separate apartment. Sometimes, local zoning codes restrict rentals of such units so be sure the conversion is legal first.
* large E-2 plan -- this is one of several floor plans available in a specific building
* lsd pkg. -- leased parking area, may come with an additional cost
* lo dues -- find out just how low these homeowner's dues are, and in comparison to what?
* nr bst schls -- near the best schools
* pvt -- private
* pwdr rm -- powder room, or half-bath
* upr- upper floor
* vw, vu, vws, vus -- view(s)
* Wow! -- better check this one out.

Rising cost of housing hits hard

By Siobhan McDonough
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The American dream of having a job and owning a tidy home is becoming a fantasy for more people.
Housing prices are outstripping wage increases in many areas, meaning more people are either spending above their means or living in dilapidated conditions, according to a pair of studies being released Friday by the Center for Housing Policy, a coalition pushing for more affordable housing.
It's generally accepted that a family should not spend more than 30 percent of its income on housing to ensure there is enough money for other necessities.
But in a recent six-year period, the number of low- and middle-income working families paying more than half their income for housing has increased 76 percent. In 2003, 4.2 million working families spent more than half their income on housing, up from 2.4 million in 1997.
The problem is even more acute for immigrant working families: They are 75 percent more likely than native-born working families to pay more than half their income for housing.
Barbara Lipman, the research director for the center, said a full-time job doesn't guarantee families a decent, affordable place to live.
"The problem seems to be impervious to economic conditions because the number of working families in this situation has grown during the boom-boom '90s and early 2000s," she said. "More families are competing for a limited supply of affordable housing. The price is going up faster than the wages of working families."
One of every eight families in the United States — or 14 million — had critical housing needs in 2003, defined as paying more than half of income for housing or living in run-down quarters. The center found homeowners now are more likely than renters to have critical housing needs — 55 percent of the 14 million are people who own their homes.
Meanwhile, the median-priced home in 2003 was $176,000, up more than 11 percent from 2001. During this time, national median salaries went up only 4 percent for licensed practical nurses (to $33,000), 3 percent for elementary schoolteachers ($43,000) and 7 percent for police officers $45,000).
Even though some people move farther out to find more affordable housing, their commuting costs increase and consume a chunk of their savings. The group found that for every $1,000 that families saved by moving farther out, they're only $225 ahead because their transportation costs go up so much.
"Choices are a bit grim — commuting longer distances, working longer hours, having another wage-earner in the family, taking a second job," Lipman said.
For renters, the center found a worker needed to earn $15.21 an hour in 2003 to have a two-bedroom apartment that did not consume more than 30 percent of income. But the national median wages of retail-sales workers and janitors were under $9 an hour.
In Los Angeles, the median income for a construction laborer was $29,050, more than $70,000 short of what was needed to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home of $335,000. A laborer made only half the salary required for such a mortgage in Atlanta, New York and nationally.
A stock clerk making the median income of $22,210 in Grand Rapids, Mich., earned just more than half of what was necessary to buy the median priced home for $130,000. The gap was wider still in St. Louis, where the median home cost $139,000.
In the rental market, a paralegal earning the median income of $21.26 an hour in New York City made more than enough to get a two-bedroom apartment that did not consume more than 30 percent of the paycheck.
But a paralegal earning the median $16.32 an hour in Chicago would fall short of the $17.85 an hour needed to have a two-bedroom apartment without undue stress on the budget.
The findings also indicate housing problems are far from limited to central cities. Most homeowners with critical housing needs lived in the suburbs.
For renters, more than half lived in central cities.
Lipman said government must do more to aid construction of affordable housing through zoning regulations. Communities need to work with developers and allow them to increase the density for market-rate housing. In exchange, developers must allow for a certain amount of affordable houses, Lipman said.
The Center for Housing Policy is the nonprofit research affiliate of the National Housing Conference coalition. Mortgage giant Freddie Mac paid for the report.

Continuous downspout? It's unwise — and ugly

Q: I have gutters and downspouts from the upper roof of my two-story home that drop water down onto a lower roof. The lower roof drains this water down into the gutter below. It seems like this increased water flow on the lower roof would cause much more wear there. Why don't the downspout pipes continue from one gutter to the next?
A: Downspout lines are not extended across the roof simply because they are not attractive. When you have a long run from one gutter to the next, a large pipe running down the roof is a hideous sight. Furthermore, a pipe on the roof is subject to damage from people stepping on it or tree limbs falling on it, and it is more prone to plugging (as is the gutter).
More importantly, a downspout running down the roof would have to be secured to the roof. That would mean putting nail or screw holes into the roofing. Every hole is a potential leak point.
There are ways to attach this pipe without holes through the roof, but the cost is prohibitive. Thus, another reason you will not see continuous downspouts.
All that said, you raise an important issue about roof wear.
Roofing materials, particularly in composition roofs, are subject to greater wear beneath drains. Sometimes that extra wear requires replacement of a small roof section before the remaining roof fails.
Leaks inside walls are more likely if step-flashing isn't installed correctly — where upper walls meet lower roofs on a pitch. Ever see water screaming out of a second-floor downspout, onto the lower roof and right off the edge laterally? This happens a lot because the roof overhang always has a slight outward tilt.
Do I have a better solution? Nope. Like everything else, it is a trade-off and ultimately a function of the design of the building.


If you are considering buying a brand-new or older condominium, here are the five key questions to ask to avoid buying a bad condo:
A sharp buyer's agent should have the monthly condo fees for comparable nearby condo complexes easily available. Be sure to ask what services are included for each complex because that can make a big difference.
For example, the condo where I currently own has a monthly fee that includes heat, but not air conditioning and other utilities. Also, we have voted to annually raise our monthly fees by 5 percent to increase our maintenance reserves.
That wise policy came in handy last year when the elevator needed $23,000 of repairs, which we easily paid from the reserves without a special assessment.

Before making a purchase offer for a specific condo, the seller or the listing agent should give each serious prospective buyer a copy of the CC&Rs (conditions, covenants and restrictions), the by-laws, rules, recent financial statement, and minutes of the board of directors meetings for the last six months.
Prospective condo buyers should ask lots of questions, such as, "Are any special assessments or increases in the monthly fees under discussion?" Also inquire about the maintenance reserves.
There is no absolute minimum replacement reserve guideline, but two standards are (a) at least two to three thousand dollars per condo unit, and (b) 25 percent of the annual gross income for the homeowner's association should be in the reserve account.

Except for very small condo complexes, the best condo complexes have professional outside managers. Be very wary of buying in any condo complex where one of the condo owners is the manager.
Ask how long the professional manager has managed the complex; the longer the better. For example, the condo complex where I currently own a condo has had the same management company for more than 25 years.
Professional managers usually save the association the amount of their fees by obtaining low bids on quality services and by offering expert advice based on their experience managing similar condo complexes.

If the answer is more than 10 percent renters, that's not a good sign. When there are more than 20 percent to 30 percent renters, most mortgage lenders either refuse to make mortgage loans or they charge above-market interest rates. The result is condo resales can be hurt.

Most condo owners are very friendly. They don't mind telling prospective buyers what they like best and least about their condo. Better yet, ask current condo owners, "Would you buy here again?"
If you receive satisfactory answers to these five key questions, plus others you want answered, it's time to make your written purchase offer.
However, be sure your condo or townhouse purchase contract includes a professional inspection clause. That means, after the seller accepts your purchase offer, you have 10 to 15 days to obtain a professional inspection of the specific condo and the visible common areas.
When buying a brand-new condo, be cautious of any builder or developer who refuses to allow such a professional inspection. Perhaps the builder is concealing defects or serious construction mistakes, which a professional inspector will discover.

Pit-stop snacks can tip the scales

By Charles Stuart Platkin
Syndicated columnist

Many of us will hit the road this summer, and that means fueling up — our cars and ourselves. Convenience stores are becoming quick-service restaurants in our time-starved culture, a phenomenon that can be costly if you're counting calories. Take a look and see if you can make the right choices to stay fit.
7-Eleven Slurpee or a pint of Haagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream
Of course the ice cream has more calories, but the difference is smaller than you might think. A Coca-Cola Classic Slurpee has 330 calories and about 88 grams carbs for about 22 ounces. The 40-ounce Slurpee is nearly double at 600 calories, 160 grams carbs.
By comparison, a pint of Haagen-Dazs has 1,080 calories. But a Haagen-Dazs Vanilla & Almonds Bar has only 320 calories, 12 grams fat and 22 grams carbs.
Fit Tip: Try a 12-ounce Crystal Light Raspberry (or Lemon-Lime) Ice Slurpee for just 50 calories or a 22-ounce for 90 calories. Or have the Diet Pepsi Slurpee — it's virtually calorie-free!
Potato chips vs. Terra Chips vs. peanut butter sandwich crackers
They're all pretty much the same caloriewise because the chips typically come in 1.5- or 2-ounce bags.
• Terra Chips (per ounce): 140 calories, 7g fat, 18g carbs
• Wise Potato Chips (per ounce): 150 calories, 10g fat, 14g carbs
• Frito Lay Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers (one package): 210 calories, 10g fat, 23g carbs
Fit Tip: Choose the smallest bag of chips — don't pretend you're going to share or save some for later. Or try a fresh-fruit cup or an apple, orange or banana for a lower-calorie, more nutritious snack.
Sausage, egg and cheese on English muffin vs. a banana-walnut muffin
The banana muffin may sound safe, but it packs 605 calories, 30 grams of fat and 72 grams carbs. The breakfast combo is a better deal at 450 calories, 24 grams fat and 37 grams carbs.
Fit Tip: Go for small packs of cereal (90 to 150 calories) and use skim milk. Also, if you're getting an egg sandwich or burrito, choose either sausage or ham or cheese — not both meat and cheese. And you can always remove one of the links or take off some of the cheese before you heat it up.
7-Eleven 1/4-pound Big Bite vs. Don Miguel beef steak burrito
The 1/4-pound Big Bite hot dog has 365 calories, 34 grams fat, 2 grams carbs and 1,138 milligrams sodium, plus 120 calories for the bun, which has 22 grams of carbohydrates, 210 milligrams of sodium, 1.5 grams fat all of which adds up to 485 calories.
It's close, but the 7-ounce burrito has 390 calories, 8 grams fat, 61 grams carbs and 930 milligrams sodium, making it the better bargain.
Fit Tip: Get the 1/8-pound Big Bite hot dog for 280 calories (including the bun) — not bad if you only have one. Watch the condiments — especially the cheese and chili, which can add more than 250 calories. When it comes to burritos, stick to the 5-to-7-ounce size (300 to 500 calories) and avoid the 10-ounce (600 to 700 calories).
Ready Pac Chicken Caesar salad vs. Mediterranean-style turkey sandwich vs. a Hot Pocket Ham & Cheese
Be careful — the salad package reads 230 calories, but there are two servings, so the total is 460 calories, 42 grams fat, 8 grams carbs and 1,220 milligrams of sodium.
The Hot Pocket Ham & Cheese is the worst at 540 calories, 18 grams fat, 74 grams carbs and 1,410 milligrams sodium.
The turkey sandwich (400 calories, 14 grams fat, 43 grams carbs and 1,540 milligrams sodium) is the winner.
Turkey is normally a healthy choice, but beware: Most convenience-store sandwiches are prepackaged, so you can't "hold the mayo" or the high-calorie special sauces.
Fit Tip: Sauces load on calories, so scrape off any excess — just 1 tablespoon of mayo (the typical base for many sauces) has 100 calories. Look for low-calorie soup; many times all you have to do is heat it up or add hot water.
Nutri-Grain Bar vs. Power Bar vs. Clif Bar vs. Snickers
The Nutri-Grain bar is lowest in calories, but it's also about a third of the size of the others. If it satisfies you and you don't mind the sugar and the processing, it would be your best bet.
• Nutri-Grain bar: 140 calories, 3 grams fat, 27 grams carbs (contains high-fructose corn syrup)
• Chocolate Power Bar: 230 calories, 2 grams fat, 45 grams carbs (contains high-fructose corn syrup)
• Chocolate Brownie Clif Bar: 240 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 45 grams carbs (organic and contains no trans fat)
• Snickers bar: 280 calories, 14 grams fat, 35 grams carbs (contains sugar and saturated fat)
Fit Tip: Probably the hardest part of leaving a convenience store without buying anything unhealthful is staring at the candy bars while you're waiting in line. Stay focused and avoid impulse buys.
Arizona Iced Tea with ginseng vs. Gatorade vs. OJ
The iced tea has 175 calories and 45 grams carbs for a 20-ounce bottle, while 16 ounces of Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice Original has 220 calories, 52 grams carbs, 900 milligrams potassium and all that vitamin C. In terms of calories, however, Gatorade wins with 50 calories, 14 grams carbs per 8 ounces.
Fit Tip: Choose no-calorie flavored coffee, like 7-Eleven's chocolate cherry coffee, and use skim milk.

Pros and cons of negotiating real estate sales commissions

By: Robert J. Bruss

Listing agents need an incentive to sell your home.

Spring is the best time of the year to list your house or condo for sale. The obvious reasons are this is the season when there is the largest number of prospective home buyers in the market place and it is the traditional time of year when most home sales take place.
This year is an especially good time to sell your home because (1) mortgage interest rates are still affordable for most buyers and (2) in many communities there is a shortage of houses and condos listed for sale. Despite the listing shortage, recent statistics from the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders show home sales continue at a near-record pace nationwide.
Smart home sellers, even those who think they can sell their homes alone without a professional realty agent, know they should interview at least three successful local agents to learn the details involved in a home sale and the probable sales price for their home.
Among the many questions to ask each agent you interview for your listing is, "How much is your sales commission?"
As a home seller, do you realize sales commissions are negotiable? Most states now require listing agreements to say, "Real estate sales commissions are negotiable" or similar wording. But most home sellers don't understand the pros and cons of sales commission negotiations.

HOW HOME SALES COMMISSIONS ARE SPLIT. Most home sellers have no clue how home sales listing commissions are divided when a sale occurs. But they are sure realty agents are grossly overpaid for very little work, especially when a home sells within a few days of being listed for sale.
Regardless of the commission rate, there are usually four parties involved. They are the listing broker, the listing agent who represents that broker, the selling broker, and the selling agent who represents that broker.
For example, suppose you have a $100,000 condo to sell and you agree in the listing to pay a 6 percent sales commission. A buyer offers to purchase for the full $100,000 asking price. When the sale closes, that $6,000 sales commission will go $3,000 to the listing brokerage and $3,000 to the selling brokerage. Of these amounts, the listing agent will receive $1,500 (or more depending on the agent's commission split with the broker) and the selling brokerage will receive $3,000 with the selling agent receiving $1,500 (possibly more, depending on that agent's commission split with the brokerage).
In other words, of the 6 percent gross sales commission, 3 percent goes to the listing office and 3 percent to the selling office. Those amounts are then divided with the individual agents, according to their commission split agreements with their brokerage office.
But most home sellers and buyers don't understand their agent might take home as little as 1.5 percent of the gross 6 percent sales commission in our example.
Of course, the agents can agree to alter the commission split, such as 2 percent to the listing office and 4 percent to the selling office.
However, if either the listing agent or the selling agent works as an independent real estate broker, he or she would be entitled to keep the entire 3 percent listing or selling share in our example. Or, if the listing agent also finds a buyer (called a dual agency), then the sales commission is split between the listing agent and the brokerage.

HOME BUYERS SHOULD NOT NEGOTIATE SALES COMMISSIONS. If you are a home buyer, because sales commissions are paid by home sellers, it is not your job to negotiate sales commissions.
But you should understand what is going on, behind the scenes, with your money paid to the seller. For this reason, be sure to make a purchase offer that includes enough cash for the seller to pay their realty agent's sales commission.

WHEN HOME SELLERS SHOULD NEGOTIATE SALES COMMISSIONS. As a real estate broker for 38 years, I fully understand the economics of home sales commissions. But sellers should be aware that as home sales prices rise, the average sales commission rates are falling.
According to a recent nationwide survey by Real Trends, a highly respected real estate research firm, the average home sales commission rate has fallen to 5.1 percent of the sales price.
This result shows sales commissions really are negotiable. Traditionally, home sales commissions were 6 or even 7 percent of the gross sales price and many agents refused to negotiate.
If you have a modest-priced house or condo to sell, perhaps below $200,000, don't expect your listing agent to be very flexible about reducing the traditional 6 percent sales commission. However, if you are selling your $500,000 or higher priced home, that's the time to talk about "adjusting" the sales commission.

FLAT-FEE SALES AGENTS. In some communities there are so-called "flat fee listing agents" who will sell your home for a standard fee regardless of its sales price. However, some of these agents offer less than full service, such as expecting the seller to host weekend open houses and then phone the listing agent when a serious buyer wants to make a purchase offer.
A big drawback of these flat-fee agents sometimes occurs when a prospective buyer is represented by a "buyer's agent." Such agents will be reluctant to show such a "flat fee" home if the selling agent will receive less than the customary 3 percent of the sales price.
However, many flat-fee sales agents offer full services, including the ultra-important local multiple listing service (MLS) access with display at the popular Internet site where many prospective home buyers begin their searches.

DISADVANTAGES OF LOW SALES COMMISSIONS. As a home seller, if you think it would be smart to reduce the traditional 6 percent sales commission to 5 percent or 4 percent at the time of listing your home for sale, think carefully.
When your listing shows up in the local multiple listing service with only a 2 percent sales commission to the selling agent, do you think many agents representing buyers will show your home when similar homes offering a 3 percent commission split to the selling agent are available? Of course not.
Statistics show most home sales involve both a listing agent from one brokerage and selling agent from another brokerage. The sale is usually a result of the local MLS, the most powerful sales tool available to home sellers and their listing agents.
Another disadvantage, if you can convince your listing agent to accept a reduced sales commission is your listing agent might not be enthusiastic about selling your home. If your listing agent has other homes listed for sale at 6 and 5 percent commissions, but your home is listed at only 4 percent commission, he or she might not put as much time or effort into selling your low commission home.

THE HIGHER THE HOME SALES PRICE, THE MORE NEGOTIABLE THE SALES COMMISSION. If you are selling a "low end" house or condo, don't expect to negotiate much on the sales commission. The reason is the listing agent has to do just as much to work to sell your inexpensive home as to sell a higher-priced home.
However, if you are selling a "high end" home over $500,000 or $1 million, most real estate listing agents are willing to negotiate on the sales commission.
But beware some brokerages have strict sales commission rules for their sales agents. For example, I recently learned about a "famous name" nationwide brokerage that has a rule its sales agents cannot accept home listings less than 5 percent.
If I were selling my multizillion-dollar home and a representative of that brokerage wouldn't reduce the sales commission, I would just move on to another successful broker who will accept a reduced commission rate.
However, home sellers should remember the big pitfall of reducing the listing sales commission too low because it reduces the incentive for local agents representing prospective buyers to show your home. In fact, if your home is not selling, the solution might be to raise the sales commission above the local customary rate.

WATCH FOR "ADMINISTRATIVE FEES." In addition to the sales commission, some listing brokerages add an "administrative fee," typically $200 to $500, for handling all the office paperwork. As a home seller, look for this in the listing agreement.
If you don't want to pay that charge on top of the sales commission, most listing agents will still accept your listing if you cross that fee out. But the agent then usually has to pay it out of his or her pocket to the brokerage for office services.

SUMMARY: Real estate sales commissions are fully negotiable. However, home sellers who reduce their commission often cut the listing agent's incentive and, more important, the incentive of other local agents representing buyers to show and sell their homes.