July 25, 2011

Mileage Rates Rise Due to High Gas Prices

Mileage Rates Rise Due to High Gas Prices
Do you drive a car, truck or van for work? If so, it's important to note that as of July 1, you're able to get an additional 4.5 cents per mile.

Businesses = 55.5 cents per mile driven (up from 51 cents through June)
Medical or moving = 23.5 cents per mile driven (up from 19 cents through June)
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) increased the mileage rate in response to the recent high gas prices. These mileage rates are used to calculate deductible costs for driving an automobile for business, medical and moving purposes.

NOTE: The rate for driving that is related to charities remains unchanged at 14 cents per mile, since that rate is set by a statute.

Make Sure You Qualify
Before you calculate your deduction, make sure you qualify. The IRS reminds taxpayers that they cannot use the standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle.

Additional Option
Although the IRS provides the standard mileage rate for ease and convenience, you're not required to use it. If you prefer, you can calculate the actual costs of using your vehicle instead of using the standard mileage rates.

Remember – if you have questions or concerns, talk to a tax consultant or accountant to discuss your options and unique situation. You can read the official release in the IRS' Announcement 2011-40.

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July 12, 2011

Facebook Launches Video Chat Feature!

Daily Real Estate News | July 7, 2011 | Share

Facebook Launches Video Chat Feature
Video chatting is coming to Facebook through a deal with Skype, announced Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, at a news conference Wednesday.

Russell Haskins with Homes & Land Media told Inman News that he sees Facebook video chat feature a powerful tool for real estate professionals in landing new clients and reaching out to younger clients.

"I guarantee you people will be interviewing agents using this new tool, whether [agents] like it or not," Haskins told Inman News. "If you're not ready, they can click on another agent and call [that agent]. I think this is another [tool] separating tech-savvy agents versus those who are timid."

Other real estate pros say they see the value in the video conferencing feature for using with oversea clients or clients relocating from other states too.

To use the video chat tool on Facebook, you’ll soon be able to just click a button on your Facebook chat list or a friend’s profile page to connect. (A plug-in download will be required to make and receive calls.) Facebook’s new video conferencing tool does not allow for group chats and is not available on mobile phones. It currently can be accessed at facebook.com/videocalling, until it officially rolls out in the next few weeks.

Facebook’s announcement follows on the heels of last week’s Google+'s limited debut, a challenger to Facebook. Google+ offers video chatting for up to 10 people through its Hangouts tool. (Read more about Google+)

Source: “Facebook Offers Video Chat in Arrangement With Skype,” The New York Times (July 7, 2011) and “Ready or Not, Here Comes Facebook Video Chat,” Inman News (July 6, 2011)

June 28, 2011

Freddie Mac: Better Days Ahead in Housing!

Daily Real Estate News | June 28, 2011 | Share

Freddie Mac: Better Days Ahead in Housing
Freddie Mac’s chief economist is optimistic that the housing market and economy will improve in the second half of 2011.

Freddie Mac Chief Economist Frank Nothaft said mortgage rates will likely remain historical lows of between 4.5 percent and 5 percent for the remainder of the year. Also, he expects more buyers to stop waiting on the sidelines as recent price drops in home prices have improved affordability.

Nothaft said consumers’ uncertainty about the economy has caused them to delay home purchases and other “big-ticket items.”

"Some potential buyers who have the means to buy are awaiting clearer signs that home values have firmed," Nothaft says.

But Nothaft says they should be getting their signs in the second half of the year, with projected job gains, and a growing, improved economy.

"Even though near-term concerns over income and sales growth are restraining consumer spending, business hiring, and new building, a number of positive signs in the economy indicate that growth will continue and is likely to accelerate in the second half of this year," Nothaft said. "Look for a gradual improvement in housing activity in the coming year.”

Source: “Freddie Mac Economist Sees Sunny Economy in Second Half,” HousingWire (June 27, 2011)

Read more:

U.S. Recovery: ‘Housing’ or ‘Lending’ Illusion?
Gear Up for a Housing Comeback

June 27, 2011

Sluggish Housing Market Lowers Divorce Rate?

Daily Real Estate News | June 27, 2011 | Share 

Sluggish Housing Market Lowers Divorce Rate?
More married couples are deciding to stick together for the sake of home equity, a new study finds. 

With a decline in home values nationwide, home owners are less likely to get a divorce, according to researchers. However, for married couples who rent, they are more apt to part ways. 

For the basis of their findings, researchers combined 1991 to 2010 data from the Bureau of Census’s Current Population Survey with Federal Housing Finance Agency figures of home prices. 

“Some of this evidence is consistent with home owners being locked into their homes—and hence marriages—by increased transactions costs in down markets,” researchers Martin Farnham, Lucie Schmidt and Purvi Sevak note in their study appearing in the American Economic Review. 

The researchers note that if housing values have such an impact on the divorce rate then policy makers may have a difficult decision ahead. “Policies to speed the foreclosure process are seen as key to restoring certainty and therefore liquidity to the housing market. Yet such policies, by relieving housing lock-in, may then increase divorce rates among foreclosed-upon couples,” researchers note in the study, adding that could spur the growth of single parents and the “efficiency gains in the housing market may be offset by welfare losses in these other areas.” 

Source: “Married to the Housing Bust,” The Wall Street Journal (June 25, 2011)

June 27, 2011

This is the year!

 

Money bags

This year, July has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays. This happens
once every 823 years. This is called money bags. So, forward this to
your friends and money will arrive within 4 days. Based on Chinese
Feng Shui. The one who does not forward…..will be without money.

Kinda interesting – read on!!!

This year we’re going to experience four unusual dates.

1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, 11/11/11 and that’s not all…

Take the last two digits of the year in which you were born – now add
the age you will be this year,

The results will be 111 for everyone in whole world. This is the year of
the Money!!!

The proverb goes that if you send this to eight good friends money will
appear in next four days as it is explained in Chinese FENGSHUI.

Those who don’t continue the chain won’t receive…….

June 25, 2011

Fewer Borrowers Strategically Defaulting

Daily Real Estate News | June 24, 2011 | Share 

Fewer Borrowers Strategically Defaulting
The percentage of borrowers who walk away from their mortgage despite still being able to pay is shrinking. Yet strategic defaults still account for nearly one-fifth of serious mortgage delinquencies, HousingWire reports. 

About 17 percent of all mortgage defaults that are 60 days or more past due in the second quarter of 2010 were strategic defaults. In the second quarter of 2008, that percentage peaked at 20 percent — which is more than double the number of strategic defaults in 2006, according to a study from Experian, a credit reporting agency, and Oliver Wyman, a consulting firm. 

Strategic defaults tend to be more common with borrowers who have jumbo mortgages and have higher annual incomes, according to Experian. 

In the second quarter of 2010, 30 percent of strategic defaulters earned more than $150,000 a year, and only 9 percent earned less than $40,000, Experian reports. Furthermore, 33 percent of delinquent mortgages were on homes more than $1 million. For comparison, only 6 percent of homes priced at $50,000 were attributed to strategic defaults, Experian notes. 

Experian notes borrowers with more expensive homes and higher incomes may be more financially savvy and be able to take the impact to their credit score more so than other types of borrowers. 

As home values began to dip in 2007, more borrowers became underwater on their homes, causing some to stop paying their mortgage and walk away from their home. 

Strategic defaults in general “aren’t likely to decline much unless residential housing prices increase and remain at higher levels,” according to the report. “Home owners have to see for themselves that their neighbors’ houses are selling for higher prices.” 

Source: “Overall Strategic Default on the Decline,” HousingWire (June 23, 2011)

June 22, 2011

Home Improvement Apps for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry: Your Digital Toolbox

Home Improvement Apps for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry: Your Digital Toolbox

By: Les Shu

Published: February 17, 2011

Downloadable iPhone and Android apps offer ways to maintain, improve, and save money on your home.

Match that paint color

If you see a color at a friend’s house that would look great in your home, use Benjamin Moore’s Ben Color Capture or Sherwin-Williams’ ColorSnap, free mobile apps for iPhone, to conjure up a matching paint color and code in a jiffy. Take a photo with your phone, and the app matches the paint as closely as possible, and will display secondary and complementary colors. (ColorSnap is also available for BlackBerry.)

Get rid of stains

Good Housekeeping magazine has placed all their best stain-removal and cleaning advice into their free @Home app. It also includes decorating ideas and a searchable list of the 5,000-plus products that have earned a Good Housekeeping seal.

Look for recycled stuff

If you’re searching for a cheap replacement part, or looking for a deal on slightly-used appliances and materials, eBay’s free Mobileapp lets you search the auction site’s entire marketplace from iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry devices. You can also put any of your disused-but-functional household items up for sale and recoup some cash.

 

For listings close to home, search the popular Craigslist site through the free Craigsnotifica for Android or Craigspro for iPhone.

Price comparison

Finding lower prices on electronics and appliances used to mean driving from store to store or scanning Sunday circulars. With the free Price Check by Amazon, you can scan a product’s barcode at a store and compare the price against Amazon and other merchants. (Android and BlackBerry versions are also available.) PriceGrabber has a similar app for iPhone and Android.

Carpenter’s tools in one

For $1.99, the iHandy Carpenterapp puts a ruler, protractor, bubble level, surface level, and plumb bob into your iPhone, allowing you to make measurements without lugging out the tool box. It’s perfect for simple jobs like hanging frames and mirrors.

 

Need just a level? There’s a free app for iPhone from iHandy and for Android from Johnson.

Calculate materials you’ll need

Before you approach a home improvement project, use the $1.99 Handy Man DIY to record dimensions of flooring, windows, walls, and more. It calculates how much material you’ll need and gives you a cost estimate.

Order supplies

If you’re in the middle of a home improvement job and need supplies, use the $4.99 Work Shop app to order them from your iPhone. It’s also a great tool for keep track of expenses or plan your budget for a future project.

Light the way

With the iPhone’s bright display and the super-bright LED flash, you can use it in place of a traditional flashlight to illuminate crawl spaces, attics, cabinet recesses, and other dark spots. There are many apps for this purpose, but two favorites are the 99-cent Flashlight (and 99-cent Flashlight+.

Know what and when to plant

Wonder why certain vegetation isn’t growing in your yard? Landscaper’s Companion provides a reference guide to more than 2,000 plants. You can search for a plant based on your garden’s sun exposure and garden zone, helping to ensure you won’t get any dead leaves after planting. The app costs $9.99.

Find a stud

Using your iPhone’s magnetometer, StudFinderPRO can help you locate studs by locating the magnetic fields emitted by metal objects like screws and nails. The app costs $2.99. A free Magnetic Stud Finder is available for Android devices.

Hire a virtual designer

Need decorating ideas for inspiration? Check out Home Interior Layout Designer–Mark On Call for $2.99. Created by an interior designer, the app can help you plan a space and determine if furnishings will fit. Also consider the $4.99 Living Room app for iPad and the 99-cent Dream Homeapp for iPhone.

 

A writer covering the latest technologies and trends for a variety of national publications, Les Shu is currently automating his home with the newest doodads to make it smarter than he is.

 

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June 13, 2011

How to Keep Your Passwords Secure


Daily Real Estate News  |  June 13, 2011  |    Share

How to Keep Your Passwords Secure 
What makes a good password vs. a bad password? You undoubtedly have several passwords that you use to protect your important business information — so how do you make sure those passwords don’t become easy guesses for would-be hackers or make you a victim of cybercrime?

Here are some tips from security experts. 

▪ Make your password 10 characters in length: Security researchers have found that a password with 10 characters would take a hacker, on average, 19.24 years at a hundred-billion-guesses-a-second rate to try every combination of those 10 characters to guess your password. 

▪ Make sure your passwords are encrypted: If you use a password service to store all of your passwords so you can keep them straight, make sure the company does not store actual passwords but only the encrypted forms of it on the cloud. For example, the password bank LastPass only stores encrypted passwords on the Internet, and the information is only decrypted when you've retrieved it.

▪ Don’t use common words: Steve Gibson, a security expert and chief executive of the Gibson Research Corporation, suggests avoiding commonly used passwords as well as any words found in the dictionary. Instead, he stresses one of the strongest passwords you can make is a bunch of gibberish characters — again, at least 10 characters long. 

Source: “Guard That Password (and Make Sure It’s Encrypted),” The New York Times (June 11, 2011)

June 9, 2011

Are We In Another Tech Bubble?

Are We In Another Tech Bubble?

Are we in a tech bubble? Some crazy stuff is happening in the tech world:

  1. Earlier this year, Facebook was valued at $50 billion
  2. LinkedIn went public this month, in an offering that valued the site at $4.3 billion (and the share price doubled on its first day trading!)
  3. Groupon is eyeing an IPO that could value it at as much as $20 billion
  4. Pandora has just priced an IPO at about $1.3 billion
  5. Twitter is rumored to be worth $8 to $10 billion
  6. Gilt Groupe just raised $138 million at a billion dollar valuation
  7. Even the makers of FarmVille are thinking of going public, with a predicted value of nearly $15 billion. These huge numbers have inspired many a pundit to ask: Are we in a tech bubble? Again?

Dot-com booms and busts weren’t exactly pleasant the first time around in the late ’90s—just ask AOL or Yahoo. The stock market crash from 2000 to 2002 was responsible for a loss of $5 trillion dollars and tons of jobs. Are we going to repeat the mistakes of our past?

Signs Of A Bubble

According to Business Insider, the following are signs that there’s a bubble:

  • High company prices compared to the raw, hype-less data on how a company is doing
  • Everyone’s caught up in the buzz and justifying their huge expectations by looking at what everyone else is doing
  • Investors start to act as though rising prices are the same thing as awesome business fundamentals; they borrow tons of money in order to bet on the sector’s continuous rise

Is This A Tech Bubble?

Some signs point to yes and some point to no:

  • No. Some hot tech companies have high multiples (prices that they’re going for compared to their fundamental worth) but not as widespread or as outrageous as in the ’90s
  • No. Some people are starting to dive in headfirst, but the tech investment craze is nowhere near as over-the-top as it was during the first tech bubble
  • Yes. There is actually a lot of leverage and borrowing going on, in the form of stimulus packages from governments, debt from consumers and the government, and lots of low interest rates

No one can say for sure whether or not the current tech success is a bubble (though if it is, signs tell us it might not be as bad as in the late ’90s). But, a dose of perspective: The economy at large experiences big ups and downs, too, and the tech sector could be experiencing a natural cycle. Either way, tech isn’t the end all and be all, as it will be influenced by the broader economy. The future of the stock market is as unsure as ever—many economists predict huge gains this year, but skeptics suspect that we’ve overvalued the impact of the recovery. So, examining technology alone may not give us a complete picture of the future.

Invest Long-Term And Spread Out Your Risk

Investing should be a long-term process because that will afford you the time to weather both the good and the bad. As a result, we recommend against buying up tons of stock in individual tech companies (or any other companies, for that matter). Instead, think about spreading out your risk. That way, if one company or sector falters, you’ve got other things in your portfolio to fall back upon. Our favorite way to invest in a little bit of everything is through index funds (read here for what those are and how they work).

CLICK HERE

Further Exploration

If you’ll need your money back within five years, you shouldn’t invest it. Where to put it, then?

Posted  by Allison Kade

Click Here

 

May 31, 2011

10 Tips for Saving Water in the Garden

10 Tips for Saving Water in the Garden

By: Laura Fisher Kaiser

Published: April 5, 2011

Saving water in your garden translates to saving money on your water bill. Here’s how to become water-wise and still have a gorgeous yard.

1. Choose native plants

Native plants have had eons to adjust to the area’s normal rainfall, soil, and climate. Once established, they require little or no watering. Start your research on native plants at your local cooperative extension or botanical garden.

Websites such as eNature.com or H2ouse can help you find the best species for your location. Portland-based PlantNative has a handy database of nurseries nationwide that specialize in native plants.

2. Don’t supersize plants

The bigger the plant, the more water it might require. So don’t plant shrubs genetically programmed to grow bigger than you need.

Before you buy, research at the library or online how tall and wide mature shrubs will grow. A Leyland Cypress, for instance, could grow to 20 feet in a few years, overkill if you only need a 5-foot hedge.

Also, don’t overcrowd plants: Follow label planting instructions. Fewer plants require less water. And flora that looks sparse at first will fill the area in a few seasons.

3. Pile on the mulch

Mulching around plants is a great way to reduce water loss. Mulch also cuts down on water-stealing weeds.

Natural mulches include compost, bark chips, and pine needles. Save money by spreading your grass clippings and ground-up leaves on flower and vegetable gardens. These organic mulches gradually break down and add nutrients to the soil.

Inorganic material, such as landscaping paper, rocks, and pebbles, are a more permanent option, although they can heat up too much in some climates.

4. Make paths porous

Garden paths made of porous material allow rainwater to seep into the ground and nourish plant roots, not run off into the street.

Use gravel, pebbles, non-mortared concrete pavers, or spaced bricks. Beware, however, that weeds will grow between paving materials. To keep down weeds, line the walk with landscaping paper (or even newspaper) before you pile on the porous material.

5. Lose the lawn

A green lawn is a suburban ideal that drinks more than 20,000 gallons of water each year.

You can keep those cool blades under your feet and save water by planting drought-resistant varieties. Bermuda and buffalo grass, for instance, require 20% less water than fescue or bluegrass, according to the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Keep grass long to shade roots and retard evaporation. Mow less often; and when you do, raise the height of your mower blade to 3 inches.

6. Put thirsty plants together

To save water, group plants into watering zones. Place the thirstiest plants near the house where they can drink roof runoff. Farther out, make a “transition zone” for plants that need supplemental drip irrigation.

Farther still is a “natural zone” for native plants that can survive on rainfall alone.

7. Plant and water when it's cool

New plants and transplants need far less water if you put them in the ground in early fall or early spring when it’s cooler. By summer, they’ll have established a deep, healthy root system that needs less watering.

Water in the cool of the morning, when you’ll lose less water to evaporation than in the heat of the day. Resist watering at dusk; wet foliage during the night encourages fungus and mildew growth.

8. Do donuts

Trees and shrubs need extra water during their first couple of years to help roots take hold. An efficient way to keep roots moist is to mound several inches of soil into a donut-shaped berm. Make the berm the width of the tree–including branches.

Use a hose or bucket to fill the donut dam to the top. Water will absorb slowly instead of running off.

Another option: Attach a $25 to $30 drip irrigator bag to the tree. It looks like a plastic flotation tube and releases water slowly over several hours.

9. Follow the sun

Before you plant, get to know how–and how long–the sun bathes your garden. Determine patterns of shade and sun.

Use dry-soil plants in sunny areas, and use plants that require more water in shady areas where evaporation is slower.

10. Create the illusion of water

A good way to conserve water in the garden is to capture rain water from your roof in a rain barrel. During a moderate rainfall, a 25-by-40-foot roof can shed 600 gallons per hour.

All you’ll need is a capture system (roof gutters and downspouts), a storage system (large-capacity barrels) and delivery system (garden hose).

Also, use rainwater to fill water features, which calm your nerves and attract birds and butterflies. Use a recirculating pump to keep the water flowing; replace evaporation with your rain barrel supply.

Laura Fisher Kaiser is a contributing editor to Interior Design magazine and a former editor at This Old House Magazine.