REMAX 440/Central Blog

Understanding Travel Insurance

June 13, 2012 2:16 am

Travel insurance is protection against those unexpected bumps in your travel plans, and may be well worth considering now that hurricane season is underway. However, just like trying to buy homeowners insurance after the house is on fire, you can't buy travel insurance for a trip that's threatened by a tropical storm or hurricane that's been publicly named by the National Weather Service. That storm is now a 'known peril.'

"Trip cancellation and interruption protection, the most popular form of insurance coverage, is based on the occurrence of unforeseen events," says Jim Grace, president and CEO of "Once a storm has been publicly identified, it can only spell trouble for travelers without insurance protection. You need to purchase travel insurance coverage before a storm is predicted and named, not when it's bearing down on you or your intended destination."

The key is to plan ahead. Will you be traveling through or to a hurricane-prone region? Do you live in a hurricane zone where weather could prevent you from taking a trip to somewhere else?

Not all travel insurance policies are created equally. Coverage for weather-related trip cancellations and interruptions differs by insurance company and plan. The covered cancellation reasons can include:
  • Cancellation due to weather: when common carriers such as airlines and cruise lines cease service due to weather
  • Cancellation due to hurricane warning: cancellation of your trip if your destination is under a NOAA-issued hurricane warning
  • Destination made uninhabitable: if your hotel, resort, or vacation rental is devastated by a storm
  • Primary residence made uninhabitable: if your own home sustains destructive storm damage
  • Cancel For Any Reason: an optional benefit that allows you to choose whether or not to cancel.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Be Prepared: 5 Things That Can Go Wrong with Your Real Estate Transaction

June 13, 2012 2:16 am

Buying a home is one of the most exciting times of a person’s life. However, it’s important to realize that any real estate transaction is a very intricate process fraught with many pitfalls along the way. As Lexington, Mass.-based REALTOR® Kristin Brown Orr explains, “Every sale is different, with different buyers, different sellers, and different intermediaries. It's no wonder people find the process so daunting with all of its legalities, documentation, and fine print.”

According to Orr, the more buyers understand the potential problems that can occur when buying a home, the more prepared they will be to protect their interests. To that end, Orr highlights five problems homebuyers need to be aware of…along with potential solutions:
  • Failed home inspection. If the home you are buying does not fair well upon inspection due to health or safety concerns like mold, radon, faulty electrical systems, or structural problems, the seller should fix these issues or extend you a credit or discount in the sale price so that you can have them fixed. If he refuses to do so, you have the right to back out of the sale and search for a new home.
  • Seller is poorly motivated to sell. If a seller's heart is not in a sale, he might be prone to missing or canceling appraisals and inspections – all of which could threaten your purchase.
  • Seller hasn't found a new home to move into. If a seller has trouble finding a replacement property and refuses to consider temporary arrangements, you might find yourself in a tricky timing situation – particularly if you have a closing date on the home you are leaving. Are you prepared to wait it out in temporary housing while you wait for the seller to move out?
  • Title issues. If your seller owes money on the property you are buying, either for repayment of a debt, failure to pay taxes, or because money is owed for repairs or work done on the property, creditors with an interest in that property may take out a lien, rendering the seller unable to sell until those debts are repaid. In the meantime, you won't be able to make the purchase.
  • Failure of the seller to make agreed upon repairs. If the seller has contractually promised to deliver the property to you in a certain condition and fails to deliver, you have the right to terminate the contract and back out of the sale if you are not prepared to accept the property as is. An alternative to this situation is to talk to your attorney about either requesting a sum of money to do the fixes yourself, or request a hold back.
“The concerns listed above may seem gloomy, but it's important to remember that most real estate transactions wrap up smoothly,” says Orr. “Being educated about the potential pitfalls will simply give you a leg up on any problems that may arise. Do your homework and beware of risks. Keep informed in order to safeguard against anything within your control and keep a watchful eye so that if something does go wrong, you can address it immediately and land yourself the home of your dreams.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Beware 'Crash Fitness' Injuries

June 12, 2012 2:10 am

As body-conscious consumers make their way to the gym to prep for sundresses and shorts, many will experience the unfortunate consequences of "crash fitness" – what happens at the gym when you try to do too much, too quickly – particularly after months of sedentary behavior. In order to help combat the uptick in pre-summer gym injuries, Gold's Gym and celebrity personal trainer Robert Reames, compiled the following top five injuries that people often succumb to while "crashing" at the gym and what you can do to prevent them:
  1. Shoulder/neck injuries: Due to today's volume of computer work, work in the seated position, driving and just overall poor posture, many people are naturally predisposed to shoulder and neck strain injuries. Poor posture combined with improper form at the gym can cause a quick unforeseen injury. Making a conscious effort to improve your posture is a step in the right direction!
  2. Lower back injuries: Gym-goers these days are often times hitting the gym too hard and too fast with little to no core-training or strength-training beforehand. Your core is your center and it comprises everything above your knees. Lifting too much too fast or using improper lifting technique can easily throw your back out. Check with a trainer if you are unsure of proper technique to maximize your workout while minimizing your chances for injury."
  3. Knee injuries: Many people who are looking to 'bulk up for summer' are lifting too much weight. They also have poor excessive range of motion or poor tracking at the knee joint. Begin slowly and focus on proper range of motion by not lifting too much weight all at once.
  4. Shin splints: Stretching plays a key role in avoiding shin splints. Proper stretching before a workout will help you elongate muscles, provide flexibility and promote healing after workouts are complete.
  5. Wrist injuries: Your wrist can be the weakest link of the chain and can compromise your large major muscle groups when working out. Improper stretching and 'overloading' weight can cause a wrist injury in a matter of moments. Take the weight 'slow and steady' and gradually add more weight to your exercises over an elongated period of time.

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Red Hot Kitchen Range Colors

June 12, 2012 2:10 am

What are the hottest colors in kitchen ranges right now? Would it surprise you to find out that according to BlueStar™, known for its chef-quality residential ranges, Ruby Red is this year's hottest color? Or that light pink, ultramarine blue and even violet purple have found a home in the kitchens of some of the most discriminating and prolific home chefs?

Award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson, for example, has an infused copper range in his home kitchen, while acclaimed chef Jose Garces favors his own Cobalt Blue range. According to BlueStar, color is making a splash in kitchens for people who not only take cooking seriously, but who want to make a personal design statement in the most treasured and active area of the house.

People are discovering that small bursts of color can make a kitchen pop, and there's no more predominant accent than a range, according to kitchen designer Georgia Tanajewski, CKD, CAPS, owner - oneIIone Studio in Atlanta, Georgia.

"Pops of color introduce flavor without a full scale commitment to a single, bold color. A colored range can work independently as a 'statement piece' or as a subtle backdrop allowing cabinets to take center stage," said Tanajewski. "In addition to ranges, people are introducing color accents by adding distinct hues inside kitchen cabinets or using an open shelf concept to showcase decorative pieces. Another trend is an inclination toward matte, rather than high-gloss finishes, like the BlueStar Jet Black range."

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Homebuilders: Lead Paint Bill would Ease Regulations, Maintain Safety

June 12, 2012 2:10 am

Responding to concerns from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and affiliated trade groups, Reps. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and a bipartisan list of original co-sponsors recently introduced legislation to make much-needed improvements to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Lead: Repair, Renovation and Painting” (LRRP) rule.

H.R. 5911, the Lead Exposure Reduction Amendments Act of 2012, is similar to legislation (S. 2148) unveiled earlier this year in the Senate by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and five other cosponsors that would help homeowners and remodelers to better comply with the costly work practices and record-keeping requirements of the rule without compromising safety standards.

“We commend Reps. Sullivan and Murphy for championing this bill that will not only make the EPA’s lead paint rule more workable, but continue to protect pregnant women and small children,” explains 2012 NAHB Remodelers Chairman George “Geep” Moore Jr., GMB, CAPS, GMR, a remodeler from Elm Grove, La. “This legislation will provide families greater flexibility to decide on their own remodeling activities and give them the peace of mind of knowing sound safeguards remain in place to protect against lead hazards.”

Additional co-sponsors include Reps. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), Billy Long (R-Mo.), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.)

The LRRP rule, which took effect on April 22, 2010, requires that remodelers and contractors working in homes built before 1978 be trained and certified by the EPA on lead-safe work practices before they can legally work in those homes.

Three months later, EPA removed the “opt-out” provision in the LRRP that allowed remodelers working in a home built prior to 1978 to forego more expensive work practices according to the owner’s wish if no children under the age of six or pregnant women resided there.

By removing the opt-out provision, EPA more than doubled the number of homes subject to the LRRP. The agency has estimated this will add more than $336 million per year in compliance costs to the remodeling community, and more importantly, without making young children any safer.

Further, EPA has failed to approve a test kit that meets the “false positive” and “false negative” criteria stated in the regulation.

By failing to perform a study of lead exposure rates from work on commercial and public buildings, the agency has also exceeded its congressional mandate by starting the process of extending the LRRP to those structures through an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Both the House and Senate bills would address these concerns and offer other reforms for EPA enforcement of the lead paint rule. Specifically, the legislation would:
  • Reinstate the opt-out provision to allow homeowners without small children or pregnant women residing in them – not the government - to decide whether to require LRRP compliance.
  • Suspend the LRRP if EPA does not approve a commercially available test kit that meets the regulation’s requirements.
  • Allow remodelers to reduce fines if they correct paperwork errors found during an inspection.
  • Eliminate the “hands on” recertification training requirements that force some remodelers to travel long distances to training facilities to receive proper certification.
  • Prohibit EPA from expanding the LRRP to commercial and public buildings until at least one year after the agency conducts a study demonstrating the need for such an action.
  • Clarify the definition of “abatement” to specifically exclude remodeling and renovation activities.
  • Provide an exemption to the regulation for emergency renovations.

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Keep an Eye on Food Safety While Picnicking

June 11, 2012 2:10 am

As you plan your next outdoor event, whether it be a backyard barbecue or a family reunion, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reminds us that foodborne bacteria multiply faster in warm weather, which can lead to food poisoning (also known as foodborne illness).

The FDA provides the following tips to help ensure food safety while dining al fresco this summer:
  • Prior to barbecue time - Defrost meat, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator or by submerging sealed packages in cold water. You can also microwave-defrost, but only if the food will be grilled immediately afterward. If marinating, use the fridge not the countertop. Never reuse marinade that contacted raw foods unless you boil it first, or set some of the marinade aside before marinating food to use for sauce later.
  • Handling fruits and vegetables - Thoroughly wash all produce before eating even if you plan to peel it. Fruits and vegetables that are pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated or kept on ice to maintain quality and safety.
  • When packing picnic gear - Place food from the refrigerator directly into an insulated cooler immediately before leaving home, and use lots of ice or ice packs to keep it at 40°F or below. Pack raw meat, poultry and seafood in a separate cooler if possible, or wrap it securely and store at the bottom of the cooler where the juices can't drip onto other foods. Place beverages in a separate cooler; this will offer easy drink access while keeping perishable food coolers closed. If your picnic site doesn't offer clean water access, bring water or pack moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands. Don't forget to pack a food thermometer.
  • Keep cold foods cold - Load coolers into the passenger compartment of the car; it's cooler than the trunk. Once at the picnic site, keep food in coolers until serving time, out of direct sun – and avoid opening the lids often.
  • When grilling - Have clean utensils and platters available. Cook meat, poultry and seafood to the right temperatures; use a food thermometer to be sure. Keep cooked meats hot until serving time, at 140°F or warmer; set them to the side of the grill rack to keep them hot. When removing foods from the grill, place them on a clean platter – never use the same platter and utensils you used for raw meat, poultry or seafood.
  • Watch the time and outside temperature - Don't let hot or cold perishables sit out in the "Danger Zone" (between 40°F and 140°F) for more than two hours – or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90°F. If they do, discard them.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

More than 50 Percent of Americans Over 65 Now Use the Internet

June 11, 2012 2:10 am

For the first time in Internet history, more than half of all U.S. adults over the age of 65 use the Web. This news comes from research conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which reveals that 53 percent of the over 65 set use the Internet. In addition, about 70 percent of Web-oriented seniors say they go online every day. Pew also reported that over 1/3 of seniors on the Internet, age 65 and older, use social networking websites, and 18 percent do so every day.

According to, "This is a high number, especially considering 66 percent of all adult Internet users access social networking sites."

"It's great news for the relaunch of our website and PhotoVideogram App on Grandparents Day in September as the ' Social Network,'" says Jeffrey Mahl, President of "The 50+ demographic is adopting the Web at an ever accelerating rate, which enhances our strategic marketing plan to grow in the online business with America's greatest, most talented and experienced national resource - our grandparents! They have so much to give back." presented its business plan yesterday at the National Investment Banking Association Conference in New York City. An important element of the plan is creating a diverse network of companies under the 'Grand' brand, each with a focus on products and services attractive to grandparents and people over 50 - from dating, gaming, entertainment, travel and leisure, to insurance, retirement planning, and investments. "The more tech-savvy they get, added Mahl, the more our audience will enjoy our offerings."

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A Check-Up for Your Garage Door

June 11, 2012 2:10 am

As the American home has evolved over the years, so too has the garage—both in the way it looks as well as its newfound functionality as the main entranceway to the home. In fact, more than 70 percent of homeowners enter and exit their home through the garage door, relying on it as the new front door.

Since the garage door now plays such a key role in many homeowners' daily lives, garage industry professionals, installers and leading manufacturers of garage doors and openers have teamed up to offer easy-to-follow tips for maintaining the safety and security of this access point, such as the following from LiftMaster:
  • Maintenance. To keep the garage door properly maintained and functioning safely, be sure to keep all moving parts of the door clean and lubricated, including the steel rollers.
  • Balance. To check balance, start with the door closed and pull the opener release mechanism so you can maneuver the door by hand. If the door is balanced (properly spring-loaded and running freely on its tracks), you should be able to lift the door smoothly without much effort and it should stay open about three or four feet above the floor.
  • Safety reverse. Since 1993, all automatic openers manufactured for the U.S. must include a safety reversing feature such as infrared sensors or "photo eyes." These sensors are installed near the floor on either side of the garage door opening. Once the invisible laser beam between the two sensors is broken by an obstruction, the door reverses automatically. If your opener lacks a similar safety reversing feature, it's time to get a new opener.
  • The six-inch rule. The photo eyes mentioned above should not be installed higher than six inches above the garage floor. If the eyes are installed higher, a person or pet could get under the beam and not be detected by the photo eyes.
  • Sensitive technology. Test your door's sensitivity by placing a two-inch thick piece of wood or a roll of paper towels in the path of the door before closing it. If the garage door does not automatically reverse and retract back to the open position, then the opener needs to be adjusted or purchase a newer model that comes with photo eyes.
  • Prepare for weather. Be prepared as summer heat and storms turn to summer outages. Once power is lost to the home, an automatic garage door opener will also be impacted. Ensure your opener is equipped with a battery back-up system.
Source: LiftMaster

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CDC: High School Smoking Rate Reaches New Low

June 8, 2012 2:06 am

According to a recent statement by Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the recently released Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows that the U.S. has cut high school smoking by more than half since rates peaked in 1997; the smoking rate reached a new low of 18.1 percent in 2011, falling from a high of 36.4 percent in 1997.

According to Myers, “The dramatic decline in youth smoking is a remarkable public health success story, reversing a large increase from 1991 to 1997. It means a healthier future for millions of children and will reduce the deaths, disease and health care costs resulting from tobacco use, the nation's number one cause of preventable death.”

Myers also emphasizes that the CDC research provides powerful evidence to elected officials that the implementation of specific strategies is highly effective, including higher tobacco taxes, tobacco prevention and cessation programs that include mass media campaigns, strong smoke-free laws, and effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing.

The survey also shows that high school smoking declines have been more gradual in recent years, falling by 17 percent from 2003 to 2011 after dropping by 40 percent from 1997 to 2003. Myers points out that smoking declined sharply when cigarette prices skyrocketed and funding increased for tobacco prevention programs immediately after the 1998 legal settlement between the states and the tobacco companies. But smoking declines have since slowed as tobacco companies countered cigarette tax increases with deep price discounts and states slashed funding for tobacco prevention programs in recent years.

“To continue and accelerate progress, elected officials at all levels must step up implementation of the solutions that we know work,” says Myers.

This year, the CDC launched the nation's first-ever, paid national media campaign to prevent kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit. “The FDA must continue to effectively implement its new authority over tobacco products, and Congress must continue to fund the Prevention and Public Health Fund that supports disease prevention initiatives such as the CDC's media campaign,” says Myers.

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More Than 4 Million Homes at Risk for Hurricane Storm-Surge Flooding

June 8, 2012 2:06 am

A recently released report indicates that just over four million homes in the U.S. along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are at risk of hurricane-driven storm-surge damage, with more than $700 billion in total property exposure.

The annual Storm Surge Report, released by information and analytics provider CoreLogic, details exposure of single-family homes to storm-surge damage within several predefined geographic areas in the United States. In the Atlantic Coast region alone, there are approximately 2.2 million homes at risk, valued at more than $500 billion. Total exposure along the Gulf Coast is nearly $200 billion, with just under 1.8 million homes at risk for potential storm-surge damage.

"Though more frequently impacted states like Florida, Texas and Louisiana get the most attention when it comes to hurricane vulnerability and destruction, Hurricane Irene made it very clear last summer that hurricane risk is not confined to the southern parts of the country," said Dr. Howard Botts, vice president and director of database development for CoreLogic Spatial Solutions. "That's why we felt it was important this year to highlight storm-surge risk in a brand new way to establish a better understanding of exposure throughout the states that are most at risk of a direct hurricane hit. As we got a glimpse of during Irene, our 2012 report shows even a Category 1 storm could cause property damage in the billions along the northeastern Atlantic Coast and force major metropolitan areas to shut down or evacuate."

Storm surge is triggered primarily by the high winds and low pressure associated with hurricanes, which cause water to amass inside a storm as it moves across the ocean before releasing as a powerful rush overland when the hurricane moves onshore. In addition to the property damage and potential lives lost to flooding, the speed and force associated with storm-surge waves can significantly increase geographic and economic impact in hurricane disaster areas.

According to Botts, "Homeowners who live outside of high-risk flood zones are not required to carry flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and may not be fully aware of the risk storm surge poses to their home or property. When a storm strikes the coast, storm-surge flooding can inundate homes far inland and cause significant losses from powerful surge waters, damaging debris and standing water left behind."

According to the 2012 report, Florida tops the list of states with the highest total number of properties at risk of being impacted by the effects of storm-surge risk at approximately 1.4 million homes and with the highest total potential exposure to damage at more than $188 billion. Louisiana ranks second in total properties at risk with nearly 500,000, while New York is second in total value of coastal properties possibly exposed at $111 billion. Differences in the rankings between the total number of properties and total property value at risk are due to varying levels of home values, trends in primary residence versus vacation homes, and population density between the states throughout the Atlantic and Gulf regions.

At the metro-level, cities examined in the analysis include New York, N.Y.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Miami, Fla.; New Orleans, La.; Tampa, Fla.; Boston, Mass.; Houston, Texas; Cape Coral, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Charleston, N.C.; Bradenton, Fla.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Mobile, Ala. and Corpus Christi, Texas. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, two of the top five and five of the top 20 most densely populated cities in the U.S. are located along either the Gulf or Atlantic Coast. The report reveals that the 10 cities with the highest total potential exposure to storm-surge damage represent more than two million properties, with total property value at risk exceeding $420 billion. The New York City metropolitan area, which encompasses northern New Jersey and Long Island as well, contains both the highest total number of properties as well as the highest financial exposure of properties at risk, with estimated values at more than $168 billion.

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