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Tom's Blog

Guidelines for Purchasing a Home Warranty

April 3, 2012 6:54 pm

Since 1988, the Service Contract Industry Council (SCIC) has been the leading advocate on behalf of consumers and the home service contract industry, making sure that the legal environment for home service contracts (often referred to as home warranties) is consistent from state to state. "Consistency across all 50 states helps to regulate the industry and ensure customer satisfaction and protection," said Timothy J. Meenan, executive director for the SCIC.

The SCIC offers the following guidelines when purchasing a home service contract for your home this spring.

What is a home service contract?
The typical home service contract is a one-year contract that protects a homebuyer or current homeowner against the cost of unexpected repairs or replacement of major systems and appliances that breakdown due to normal usage or defects in materials or workmanship. A home service contract can:
• lessen the risk of costs and delays if a system, system component or appliance malfunctions during the selling process;
• help to resolve issues discovered during the home inspection stage;
• reduce any after-sale liability by a seller;
• add value and improve marketability of homes; and
• increase a buyer's confidence in their home investment.
Who sells home service contracts?
Real estate professionals, builders and independent providers sell home service contracts. A home service contract can be purchased at any time, including at the time of purchase, and is usually transferable to a new owner, although a small transfer fee may apply.

What is the difference between a home service contract and homeowner's insurance?
• Home service contracts typically cover the major systems in your home in the event of breakdown or malfunction including electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems, and built-in appliances such as ranges, washers and whirlpool baths.
• Homeowner's insurance covers the structure of a home and personal belongings in case of a fire or natural disaster such as hurricanes and lightning, and provides liability coverage in case someone is injured on the property.
• Home service contracts are optional in real estate transactions.
• Homeowner's insurance is almost always required, especially if the buyer has a mortgage.
• A home service contract is not a substitute for a homeowner's insurance policy. A home service contract is a beneficial supplement to a homeowner's insurance policy as homeowner's policies generally do not cover items for breakdowns or malfunctions due to normal wear and tear or defects in materials or workmanship.
Do I need to be buying or selling a home to purchase a home service contract?
No. A home service contract provides valuable protection for current homeowners when a system or appliance fails.

Can I transfer my home service contract to the new buyer of my home?
Most home service contracts are transferable and may offer the option to allow the buyer to change or upgrade the service contract. A low-cost transfer fee may apply.

Can I customize the home service contract to meet the needs of my home?
Yes, but fees may apply. You may be able to purchase a home service contract that covers smaller appliances such as ceiling fans and built-in microwaves. Additional fees apply for coverage for private wells and septic systems.

How are contractors screened?
SCIC member companies typically put their contractors through a rigorous screening process that includes state license verification, detailed reference verification, and background checks.

How do I file a claim?
Homeowners are given a toll-free number to call. The home service contract company will verify your coverage and dispatch an independent contractor to assess the problem and replace or repair the item as necessary. A service fee, $50 on average, is charged per service visit.

What Can Cause a Denial of Payment?
• Improper maintenance
• Code violations
• Unusual wear and tear
• Improper installation
What is generally NOT covered?
• Outdoor items such as sprinklers
• Faucet repairs are not covered under all plans
• Garage door openers
• Spas or pools, unless specific coverage is requested
• Permit fees
What are the consumer's responsibilities?
Home service contract coverage varies from state to state and from policy to policy so the consumer needs to:
• Request a copy of the contract before buying
• Read the provisions carefully and become thoroughly familiar with all coverage, limitations and exclusions
• Carefully fulfill all contract responsibilities, such as regular filter changes for your heating/air conditioning systems
• Keep the service contract paperwork, original receipt(s), and all maintenance records
• Research the service contract company
About the SCIC
The Service Contract Industry Council is a national trade association that has been instrumental in working with state legislators and regulators across the country to develop laws to protect consumers.

For more information, visit

Turning Clutter into Cash

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

Springtime is a natural time to clear the clutter out of your home and garage. It may also be the best time to turn clutter into cash, according to entrepreneur and author Skip McGrath, who recently sold a non-working espresso machine for $50 on eBay.

“Garage sales are fine for picking up a little extra cash,” McGrath says. “But there are better ways to get the most from discarded treasures.”

McGrath, whose book, “Three Ways to eBay Profits,” demonstrates how to set up and use an eBay sales account, said browsing the site will give you a good idea of the prices many used goods sell for.

He suggests:
• Using the Internet to find buyers for particular kinds of used merchandise.
• Making the rounds of local garage sales to pick up goods cheap that can be resold at much higher prices.

He offers examples of “most wanted” goods that can be quickly turned into profit:
• Small kitchen appliances – Working or not, small appliances – especially bread, pasta and espresso machines – can sometimes be re-sold for up to 20 times their value. Check eBay for prices of similar items and be truthful about your item’s condition.
• Video games – These may be sold for up to $30 per game via, which buys directly from consumers. The company also pays up to $1 per used DVD and $5 for Blue-ray discs.
• 1950s furniture – Interestingly enough, ‘50s era vanities, dressers, desks and dining furniture are in high demand. Check with consignment and re-sale shops before letting them go cheap at a garage sale.
• Old holiday sweaters – Your old red sweater with the light-up Rudolph nose, or other colorful old holiday sweaters are also in high demand at consignment shops.
• Vintage electronics – Old stereo or high-fi equipment, especially LP turntables, reel-to-reel tape decks and speaker systems in working condition, are bringing good prices via eBay, Craigslist, and other Internet sites.
• Vintage lunchboxes, comics, and more – Check for a good idea how much ‘50s-era lunchboxes may be worth. Most in good condition sell for $20-50. But a 1954 Superman lunchbox in mint condition recently sold at auction for over $11,000.

Facing Foreclosure? Know Your Deductions and Credits

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

According to NPR, more than half the nation saw a spike in foreclosures last month. With more and more homeowners facing foreclosures, experts at The Tax Institute at H&R Block offer the following information on credits and deductions, which can provide assistance to individuals prior to and after this unfortunate circumstance.

• Mortgage Debt Forgiveness: homeowners who experienced foreclosure on their primary home may be able to exclude the amount of canceled debt from their taxable income if they meet specific criteria.
• Mortgage Interest Deduction: taxpayers are eligible to deduct qualified mortgage interest on their main home and a second home if they itemize deductions on Schedule A.
o They must be legally liable for repayment of the loan to deduct the loan interest.
o For 2011 filings, taxpayers who could not pay at least 20 percent of their down payment may have been required by their lender to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). If the taxpayer qualifies, the PMI may be deductible as mortgage interest.
• Real Estate Taxes: homeowners are able to deduct real estate taxes separately from mortgage interest on Schedule A and from property taxes.
• Non-Business Energy Property Credit: taxpayers may claim energy-efficiency credits for up to 10 percent of the cost of various home energy-efficiency improvements.
• Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit: a nonrefundable personal credit is available for property used to produce energy in a personal residence located in the US .
o The credit is also available for wind energy property and geothermal pumps.
o Real estate taxes must be based on the home’s value and assessed at least annually.

Green Housecleaning Makes a Healthier Home

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

Green cleaning is on the rise. Many homeowners and professional housecleaners are trading their bleach, pine-scented and other potentially toxic cleaning chemicals in for more environmentally friendly and all-natural cleaners.

"Spraying potentially toxic chemical-based cleaners into the air, pouring them down the sink or dumping them in landfills has a negative effect on both our health and our environment," says Angie's List founder Angie Hicks. "Your home no longer needs to smell like bleach or other chemicals to be considered clean. There are plenty of all-natural cleaning products that do an equally effective job, are easy on your pocketbook and are better for you and your family's health and for Mother Earth."

Many professional housecleaners are relying on biodegradable, non-toxic cleaners like baking soda, white distilled vinegar and some essential oils with disinfectant qualities (lemon, tea tree oil and eucalyptus, for example) to clean and disinfect. Distilled vinegar, for example, will kill nearly all bacteria with which it comes into contact, while baking soda is great for scrubbing out stains and even freshening up carpets and sink drains. 

Some cleaning companies make a concerted effort to find other ways to further reduce their environmental impact, like cleaning and reusing towels and rags instead of using and throwing away power towels or sponges.

"As awareness for eco-friendly cleaning increases, many cleaning companies are turning exclusively to non-toxic products or are willing to supply them at a customer's request," Hicks says. "Homeowners interested in hiring an eco-friendly housecleaner should still do their research before they hire and ask what products the housecleaner plans to use. Also check that the housecleaner is licensed, insured and bonded. That protects the company and the homeowner in the event an employee is injured on the job or damages property.

Consumers interested in purchasing eco-friendly cleaning products should always read the ingredient list to determine what the product is really made from. Many over-the-counter cleaning products are touted by the manufacturer as being green but still contain chemicals.

"It's never too late to go green when you clean," Hicks says. "Box up all those chemicals you no longer want and take them to a local hazardous waste center. Replace them with all-natural cleaning products or by using an eco-friendly cleaning service. Your home will still smell and look great."

Professional housecleaners are often a great value for busy homeowners, as they are often able to do the job in a fraction of the time it would take the average homeowner. Some professionals offer one-time cleans or can set you up on a less frequent rotation.
A typical cleaning includes dusting, vacuuming, mopping, cleaning of bathrooms and wiping down of all hard surfaces. There are projects many cleaners won't take on or will charge extra for, like doing dishes, laundry, washing windows; or deeper cleans, like refrigerators, cabinets and stoves.

Always spell out your expectations before you hire and make sure you are clear on how the company bills its customers.

To keep your home cleaner longer, professional housecleaners recommend minimizing clutter and sweeping and vacuuming between cleanings.


April 1-7: National Window Safety Week

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

As part of National Window Safety Week, April 1-7, 2012, the experts at following tips can help parents of youngsters adopt an extremely cautious attitude with children and the windows in their home. 

“Children should be taught at a young age to stay away from windows for their own safety,” says Gary Pember, vice president of marketing for Simonton Windows. “Parents can help safeguard children in the home by keeping furniture (including cribs) and anything else a child can climb on, away from windows. And, if your home has Double Hung windows, open only the top part of the window that children cannot reach, to allow for ventilation.” 

Pember offers these tips for window safety in the home:
Tip 1 - Remember the primary purpose of a window screen is to keep insects outside. Never push on screens, as they will not support the weight of a child or family pet.
Tip 2 - Lock windows when not in use to protect against intruders and make it more difficult for curious young children to open windows.
Tip 3 - Do not paint or nail windows shut. Every window in the home that is designed to be opened should be operational in case of an emergency.
Tip 4 - Refrain from nailing or attaching decorative lights to the interior or exterior of window frames.
Tip 5 - Plant shrubs or grass, and place “soft landscaping” like bark or mulch, directly underneath windows to help lessen the impact should someone accidently fall out of a window. 

Families with small children should pay special attention to windows and patio doors. Start with practicing home emergency fire drills. Show them the fastest safety route to the outside and make certain children know under what circumstances to use a window to exit a home. Since small children tend to “hide” from fire, make sure they understand how important it is to safely and quickly exit the home should a fire occur. 

“If a door is hot to the touch or not safe to exit through during a fire, then both children and adults should exit through an open window,” says Pember. “Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not to break the window glass. Doing so could cause injury. During family safety drills, show children how to operate windows and how to use chain escape ladders that should be kept in all bedrooms located above ground level. Also establish a designated meeting place for the family outside the home.” 


Word of the Day

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

Consideration. Something of value, usually money, given to induce another to enter into a contract.

Question of the Day

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

Q: What is a second mortgage?

A: It is a loan against the equity in your home. Financial institutions will generally let you borrow up to 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus the balance on your original mortgage.

You may incur all the fees normally associated with a mortgage, including closing costs, title insurance and processing fees.

Smart Business: Tips for Boosting the Reach of an Online Press Release

March 30, 2012 6:32 pm

Press releases are an essential public relations tool. Whether using an online press release to create widespread news coverage, or as an internet marketing tactic to gain backlinks and boost SEO or as a combination of both, press release distribution will help boost the reach received with each news release.

But how can you extend the reach of your PR? By placing a link to current press releases directly on a homepage or in a current news section of a website, online press releases will receive more targeted traffic. It is also a great way to keep those who already know about your company up to date with product and service announcements, tradeshow participation, executive hires and other important company news.

Another tool for boosting the reach of an online press release is social bookmarking. Social bookmarking is a way of submitting a news article to multiple sites, such as Digg or Delicious, which will house a link to your original story that is tagged by a short description and keywords. Users of social bookmarking sites can search news that was submitted as a way of finding stories interesting to them. These social bookmarking sites will not only gain more readers for a press release but they also help with search engine optimization.

The top trafficked social media sites are also a place that online press releases should be posted to boost their reach. By crafting a catchy Tweet, Facebook status update or LinkedIn post, and including a link back to the online press release, a company can generate increased visibility for their news. Not only will those connected with the company on these social networking platforms have the chance to see the news article, but when a post is re-Tweeted or "liked" all the connections of the networker who interacted with the post will also see the press release show up in their streaming news. Social sharing is a way that news can quickly become viral across the internet.

Source: TopWireNews LLC

OTA Updates April Fool's List: New Efforts to Combat Spear Phishing & Wireless Snooping

March 30, 2012 6:32 pm

It has been four years since the world worried about the havoc a virus called "Conficker" might wreak online on April Fool's Day, while new threats, including the ramped up spread of botnets, virus-laden advertising and malicious spear phishing are increasing. The Online Trust Alliance (OTA) recently announced Top Ten Ways Businesses Can Protect Consumers from Being Fooled, a list of simple-to-employ recommendations for businesses and government agencies to help protect their customers' and employees' personal data, financial assets and devices from being compromised.

OTA, with data from the FBI, Secret Service and forensics experts, developed the list to address the most common and dangerous threats based on a review of thousands of data loss and identity theft incidents.

Here are a few of the OTA’s suggestions:

1. The browser is the first line of defense, yet over 40 percent of users have outdated and insecure browsers, lacking integrated anti-phishing, malware protection and online tracking privacy controls. Make sure your browser is up-to-date.
2. Upwards of 10 percent of computers are infected by "botnets." Scan your systems weekly with tools and resources to help detect, prevent and remediate the threats.
3. Deceptive and malicious email continued to grow in the past year, targeting business users, government agencies and consumers. Implement Email Authentication to reduce the incidence of spoofed and forged email, which may lead to identity theft, and the distribution of malware and tarnish your brand reputation.
4. Cybercriminals are increasingly snooping and eavesdropping on wireless connections, including airports, coffee shops and the library. Always-on SSL (AOSSL) encrypts all connections and communication—including users' names and passwords. This standard is now implemented by leading sites including Twitter, Facebook, PayPal and Microsoft.
5. Enable automatic patch management for operating systems, applications, including add-ons and plugins. Proactive patch management can harden your system from known vulnerabilities. End-of-life applications that are no longer supported should be removed or used in isolated and secure sessions.

For more information, and to view the full list of tips for your business, visit

A Beauty Routine for Your Furniture

March 30, 2012 6:32 pm

You nurture, protect and care for the things you love. And, your furniture should be no exception. Whether it's a family heirloom or a brand new piece, everyone has furniture they love that should be cared for in the same way as they would personally care for themselves. Caring for home furnishings is more than dusting or giving an occasional polish; rather, it's about nourishing, revitalizing and bringing out furniture's inner beauty.

In a recent survey conducted by, nine out of 10 women say they have either a basic or no understanding of how to care for their furniture. And nearly half (44.7 percent) of respondents think about cleaning only when it's time to entertain— which means most furnishings are not properly taken care of on a regular basis.

To help educate people and get them to rethink traditional furniture cleaning, Guardsman, a furniture care pioneer for nearly 100 years, and TV design star Tracy Hutson, have teamed up to introduce furniture's new beauty routine. This new furniture therapy mirrors beauty care regimes like sunscreen and concealers, and includes cleansing, polishing and, of course, covering those tiny imperfections.

"You wouldn't just clean your face only when you have company coming over, or skip applying your anti-aging creams because you don't see a wrinkle on your face," says Hutson. An easy-to-follow furniture beauty routine will help revitalize, protect and restore your furniture:

Wood Care
• Dust -
Use a non-scratch cloth to lightly remove dust once a week. Always wipe the cloth in the same direction of the wood grain.
• Clean - Use a for-wood-only cleanser once a month. If it's a frequently used piece that tends to attract spills, such as a kitchen table, clean weekly. Spray the cleanser onto a cotton cloth to help prevent spotting. Wipe in the direction of the wood grain.
• Polish - Enhance and maintain wood's natural luster by polishing it twice a month. Use a no-wax, no-silicone product to restore natural radiance, free from greasy film and fingerprints.

Additional Special Care for Wood
• Moisturize - Oiled wood furniture needs to be moisturized weekly to protect from water stains, replenish lost oils and prevent cracking and fading from sun damage. Hutson recommends Guardsman Revitalizing Lemon Oil.
• Repair Damage - Always keep touch-up products handy to cover up scratches and minor blemishes.

Fabric Upholstery Care

• Proactively Protect - Spray fabric with a fabric protector that repels moisture and helps prevent food and beverage stains from bonding permanently to fibers. For the best protection, spray fabric after any professional cleaning, and reapply after any spills are cleaned and dried.
• Fight Stains - Stain fighting products, such as the Guardsman Fabric First Aid Stain Remover Kit, can help rescue upholstered furniture from the toughest, dried spills. Always start from the edges to prevent the stain from spreading. Blot spills as soon as they occur, but don't rub aggressively.

Leather Care
• Dust -
Weekly dusting with a nonabrasive cloth prevents dull build up and maintains luster.
• Clean - Once a month, use a cleaner to remove invisible oils, dirt and grime.
• Protect - Guard leather against moisture, body oils and stains with a leather protecting product, such as Guardsman Leather Protector.

Hutson says, "Beyond just cleaning, we need to protect and care for our furniture in the same way we take care of ourselves, so that our furniture can look its best and last for years."


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