Archive for May 2005

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.

Let me help you. Posted by Hello

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.