REMAX 440/Central Blog

Americans Making Changes to be More Energy Efficient at Home

March 14, 2012 7:26 am

While the vast majority of Americans say that they are knowledgeable about energy sources, many are not actually making the necessary changes nor monitoring their own usage.

According to the results of a recent Harris Poll, majorities of Americans are doing some basic things like turning off lights, televisions or other appliances when not in use (82 percent), replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones (58 percent), using power strips (56 percent), looking for ENERGY STAR labels when replacing appliances (55 percent) and using low watt bulbs (54 percent). But there are other things majorities of Americans are not doing. 

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,056 adults surveyed online between February 6 and 13, 2012 by Harris Interactive. 

Less than half of Americans have installed a programmable thermostat (37 percent), sealed gaps in floors or walls around pipes or electric wiring (34 percent), installed low-flow faucets (29 percent), energy efficient windows (28 percent) or added insulation to an attic, crawl space or accessible exterior windows (27 percent). And just one in ten U.S. adults (11 percent) have conducted a home energy evaluation or audit. 

There are certain regional differences as well. For example, over half of Southerners (55 percent) change their air filters monthly in comparison to just 27 percent of Easterners and 28 percent of Westerners. Three in five Westerners (59 percent) use low wattage light bulbs compared to just 48 percent of Easterners and, two in five of those living in the West (40 percent) have installed low-flow faucets compared to just 25 percent of those in the East and 23 percent in the Midwest. 

Controlling Energy Usage at Home
One way utilities around the country are helping households control energy costs is with Smart Meter technology. Yet just one in five Americans (21 percent) say they have been contacted by their utility or co-op about this or other energy efficiency tools. It seems to be used more in the West as one-third of those living there (32 percent) have been contacted compared to just 16 percent of Midwesterners. 

If they could control their home energy use and lower energy costs with a computerized dashboard in their home, almost half of Americans (48 percent) say they would be likely to install such a dashboard in their home, even with the understanding that they would have to proactively manage their energy use. Three in ten (31 percent) are neither likely nor unlikely to install this and one in five (21 percent) are unlikely to do so. This likelihood is a little soft as just 13 percent are very likely to install this dashboard and one-third (35 percent) are somewhat likely to do so. 

One reason this dashboard may work is that Americans would prefer to control their energy usage. If they were allotted a maximum amount of energy for daily use that varies during peak energy usage periods, seven in ten U.S. adults (69 percent) would prefer to manage that energy distribution themselves while only 9 percent would prefer to have their utility manage their energy use; one in five (22 percent) are not sure.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Mobile Technology Key to Apartment Hunting

March 14, 2012 7:26 am

A new survey reveals that when it comes to hunting for their next apartment, renters are accessing property information on the go using smartphones and tablets to search and browse online.

The Mobile, Search and Renters study from Apartment Finder, revealed that 97 percent of apartment seekers who used a mobile device in their search process considered it a valuable tool, with 48 percent asserting it as “essential” and 49 percent stating it as “helpful.” The national study of over 1,500 renters also reveals that mobile leads convert, as 73 percent of mobile device users contacted someone to view an apartment based on their search. The growth potential in mobile search usage is significant, with 85 percent of non-users stating they’d consider using a mobile device in their next apartment search. 

The Apartment Finder Mobile Renters study found that the activities conducted most often from a mobile device were:
• 72 percent viewed photos and videos of apartments
• 68 percent found details, price, description, amenities and contact information
• 59 percent searched by city
• 53 percent inquired for more information about an apartment community
• 45 percent located an apartment community with GPS
• 36 percent downloaded an apartment search app
• 24 percent shared listing information with friends and family 

Apartment Finder offers a suite of mobile marketing tools to help apartment communities reach renters on the go through a mobile-enabled website,, free integrated iPhone and Android applications, QR codes and text codes. These digital options help connect advertisers with apartment seekers with greater speed and convenience than ever before.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Employment Outlook Brightens

March 14, 2012 7:26 am

According to the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 3.5 million job openings on the last business day of January 2012, unchanged from December 2011. The hires rate (3.1 percent) and separations rate (3.0 percent) were little changed over the month. The job openings rate has trended upward since the end of the recession in June 2009. (Recession dates are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research.)

This release includes estimates of the number and rate of job openings, hires, and separations for the nonfarm sector by industry and by geographic region for January 2012. The release also includes 2011 annual estimates for hires and separations. The annual totals for hires and quits increased in 2011, while the annual total for layoffs and discharges decreased.

Job Openings
The number of job openings in January was 3.5 million, unchanged from December. Although the number of job openings remained below the 4.3 million openings when the recession began in December 2007, the number of job openings has increased 45 percent since the end of the recession in June 2009.

In January, the hires rate was essentially unchanged at 3.1 percent for total nonfarm. The hires rate was little changed over the month in all industries and regions. The number of hires in January was 4.2 million, still below the 5.0 million hires at the beginning of the recession (December 2007) but up 13 percent since the end of the recession (June 2009).

Over the past 12 months, the hires rate (not seasonally adjusted) was little changed for total nonfarm and total private but increased for government. The hires rate rose over the year in mining and logging; arts, entertainment, and recreation; and state and local government. The hires rate fell over the year in federal government. In all four regions, the hires rate was little changed over the year.

Net Change in Employment
Large numbers of hires and separations occur every month throughout the business cycle. Net employment change results from the relationship between hires and separations. When the number of hires exceeds the number of separations, employment rises, even if the hires level is steady or declining. Conversely, when the number of hires is less than the number of separations, employment declines, even if the hires level is steady or rising. Over the 12 months ending in January 2012, hires totaled 50.2 million and separations totaled 48.3 million, yielding a net employment gain of 2.0 million. These figures include workers who may have been hired and separated more than once during the year.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

How to Take the Chill out of Selling Your Home

March 13, 2012 3:26 am

While you may be waiting for the temperature to rise before putting your home on the market, there are many ways to effectively market your home in late winter and early spring. Here are some great cold-weather tips from Florida REALTOR® Melanie Tisdale:
  • Heat it up: If you are planning an open house or have showings scheduled, turn up the thermostat and make the home warm and inviting. A cold home shopper will race through a house and start questioning the windows and insulation.
  • Light it up: For homes with fireplaces, this is the perfect opportunity to show the potential buyer how cozy a fireplace can be. Leave some marshmallows and sticks nearby and invite those seeing the home to test it out.
  • Take care of snow and ice: If the property you’re selling is in a snowy climate, make sure that the walk is clear, the driveway is shoveled and put down salt to control any icy surfaces. If you aren’t currently living in the home that is for sale, make sure to hire someone to clear it for you.
  • Use photographs: If you have a beautiful lawn, stellar landscaping or an outdoor pool or deck, take some eye-catching photos of these amenities during the warm months and display them during a winter showing so buyers can get a better understanding of what the outside truly offers.
  • Schedule open houses: Winter and early spring is a great time to take advantage of less competition. Many serious buyers often come out during the winter months, including corporate clients who usually need to relocate within the first quarter of the year.
  • Emphasize the positives: Does your street get plowed quickly? Is it near public transportation to make it easier to get to work in the snow? Is it within walking distance of stores? Does it have a great hill for the kids to sled down in a safe environment? If so, accentuate these features.
Since a lot of people are waiting until spring to put their home on the market, having your home ready to show now is a great way to beat the rush.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Americans Saving not Spending Refunds

March 13, 2012 3:26 am

According to a new survey from, only 10 percent of American taxpayers plan to spend their anticipated federal and state tax refunds on vacations, down dramatically from 30 percent last year when a similar poll was taken. Most Americans said they will use their refunds to pay off debts (29 percent) or add to their savings or investments (27 percent).

According to, which launched an iPad app for federal tax returns in 2011, the survey results reflect consumer caution and conservatism in the face of a recovering economy.

In comparing results of the two surveys, the new poll found that of the 67 percent of Americans who expect to receive tax refunds this year:
  • Fewer people plan to spend their refunds on savings or investments this year than in 2011 (27 percent vs. 66 percent) or to pay off debts (29 percent v. 59 percent).
  • Fewer individuals plan to make home improvements (8 percent vs. 31 percent), buy products such as cars, electronics, or furniture (8 percent vs. 23 percent) or pay mortgages or education loans (5 percent vs. 19 percent).
  • Fewer people plan to give their refunds to charity (2 percent vs. 15 percent).
  • Those who plan to "do something else" with their refunds dropped to 9 percent from 38 percent in 2011.
The survey was conducted Feb. 12 - 15, 2012 by Ipsos, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent. The survey consisted of a national sample of 1,005 responses by adults 18 years of age or older from Ipsos' U.S. online panel and were interviewed online.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips to Keep Your Credit Cards Secure

March 13, 2012 3:26 am

In today's world of email, text messages and social media, consumers need to be extra diligent to safeguard their personal information. MasterCard suggests taking the following precautions to keep your credit cards secure and prevent fraud:
  • Be skeptical of unsolicited phone calls, email, text messages, or social media messages if they request credit card data or personal information such as passwords, date of birth, social insurance number, etc.
  • Examine links contained within emails or on any email attachments sent by an unknown or un-validated source no matter how harmless or familiar the title appears; instead, delete the message unless you are able to confirm the sender is legitimate.
  • If you followed an email link to a website (or a text message to a voice recording system) and provided card data that later seemed suspicious, contact your credit card issuer immediately so your account can be protected.
  • Guard against compromise by ensuring your home computer(s) have up-to-date anti-malware, anti-spam, and firewall software installed.
  • Keep close track of your credit cards, regularly review statements for unknown purchases/cash advances, and contact your issuer if you see any such unusual transactions.
  • Do not share your credit card and PIN details via email or text message.
  • The vast majority of merchant websites are reputable - though you should leave a suspicious site immediately if you suspect it is not what it claims to be.
If you suspect your credit card has been used fraudulently, contact your credit card firm immediately. Most companies will not hold you responsible for purchases made illegally.

Source: MasterCard Canada

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Retirement or... 'Rehirement'?

March 12, 2012 3:26 am

Thanks to a changing economic landscape and lifestyle desires of 50+ workers, the concept of retiring may one day become a thing of the past.

According to a recent article by Amy Chulik for the blog, “The Hiring Site,” the fading out of traditional retirement may not be so far off the mark. Fifty-seven percent of workers ages 60 and older said in a recent Harris Interactive study that they would look for a new job after retiring from their current company. Some workers are postponing retirement out of economic necessity; they just can’t afford to quit. Others, however, are choosing to continue the nine-to-five routine for a variety of reasons.

The survey, conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder and (CareerBuilder’s job site for mature workers and retirees) among 3,023 hiring managers and HR professionals and 878 U.S. workers ages 60 and older, also found that 11 percent of respondents said they don’t think they’ll ever be able to retire.
That said, there were a significant amount of respondents who do see retirement as an option within the next several years:
  • 1-2 years (26 percent)
  • 3-4 years (23 percent)
  • 5-6 years (22 percent)
  • 7-8 years (7 percent)
  • 9-10 years (7 percent)
  • More than 10 years (4 percent)
On the flip side, Chulik reports that many employers are actively seeking older job candidates. According to the survey:
  • 43 percent of employers plan to hire workers ages 50 and older this year.
  • 41 percent said they hired workers ages 50 and older in 2011.
  • 75 percent of the employers surveyed would consider an application from an overqualified worker who is 50 or older, with 59 percent of those employers saying they would do this because mature candidates bring a wealth of knowledge to an organization and can mentor others.
Chulik adds that older workers have been found to have a host of other advantages as well, including quitting less, being absent less, and having better social skills and job performance than their younger counterparts.

As Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, points out, many workers are moving away from a traditional “retirement” concept and instead seeking “rehirement.”

“Whether mature workers are motivated by financial concerns or simply enjoy going to work every day, we’re seeing more people move away from the traditional definition of retirement and seek ‘rehirement,’ Haefner explains in Chulik’s article. “At the same time, employers are seeing the value these mature workers can bring to an organization, from their intellectual capital to their mentoring and training capabilities. In a highly competitive job market, mature workers can use these skills to their advantage.”


Published with permission from RISMedia.

Keeping Your Home Safe When Selling

March 12, 2012 3:26 am

Security issues might not be top of mind when you’re knee deep in the process of putting your home on the market, however, home sellers should take certain precautions to keep themselves and their belongings safe.

According to Florida REALTOR® Melanie Tisdale, the home-sale process, which includes open houses, frequent showings, and an influx of strangers into your home, poses certain risks. However, by taking a few safeguards, says Tisdale, you can put your mind at ease.

The easiest solution is to remove valuable jewelry, fine art or collectables beforehand, storing them with a friend or family member. If that’s not an option, Tisdale suggests finding a place to hide valuables within the home—or, consider packing them in a suitcase you pop into the car whenever you leave for a showing.

The same consideration should be taken for personal information and paperwork. Filing cabinets that contain documents with account or social security numbers should be securely locked. And, unfortunately, lock up your medicine cabinet as well, a place where people often steal from, says Tisdale.

When you return to your home after a showing, make sure that all doors and windows are locked. Prospective buyers will often open windows or doors to make sure they work properly or to see another part of the home. Although it may seem far-fetched, Tisdale reports that there have been incidents where people unlock doors when looking at a home and then go back later to steal things.

One unsavory tactic involves two people coming into the home—one who explores rooms and one who distracts the agent. If you’re home is in a high-crime area, consider hiring a security guard or off-duty police officer to keep an eye on your home during the showing.

If your home does not have a security system, now may be the time to install one, Tisdale advises. Adding a security system will not only deter burglars but can also be a strong selling point of the house. Also, if you are selling a home in which you’re not currently living, consider installing motion sensors that will automatically turn on lights when it’s dark. You can also put a few lamps on a timer so it appears someone is home when you’re out.

Lastly, Tisdale recommends that home sellers enlist their neighbors to help keep an eye on their home, and to introduce the neighbors to your REALTOR® so they are not alarmed when he or she is in your home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Boost Your Refund with Home-Related Tax Breaks

March 12, 2012 3:26 am

Homeownership is not only a long-term investment for your family and your future, but an important annual tax benefit. The tax experts at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service® advise homeowners not to overlook the many credits and deductions that can add thousands of dollars to their refund amounts.

Be sure to review the following tax breaks available covering home-related areas, such as:
  • Mortgage Interest: The amount of mortgage interest paid on a principal residence or second home is deductible and generally reported on Form 1098. Taxpayers can also deduct all the points paid to purchase the residence, even if some have been paid by the seller. If certain requirements are met, the points may be deducted in full in the year paid. Otherwise, they may be deducted over the life of the mortgage. Seller-paid points that taxpayers claim as an itemized deduction reduce the cost basis of the home.
  • Buying a Home: Most of the expenses incurred when buying a home are not deductible. However, there are certain closing costs that are added to the basis of your residence. Keeping track of the basis of your home is important because when selling, it is needed to calculate any gain or loss.
  • Property Taxes: Taxpayers may deduct real estate property taxes in the year paid. They may be reported on Form 1098, the annual statement from the financial institution holding your mortgage. Taxpayers may also be able to deduct some of the taxes paid during closing. The taxes must be the responsibility of, and paid by, the taxpayer.
  • Energy Credits: There are energy credits available for making energy efficient changes to a home. For 2011, the credit is limited to 10 percent of the cost of improvements, up to a lifetime total of $500. The credit will be further limited for each category of improvement.
  • Home Improvements: Home improvements are not generally deductible on a tax return. Instead, the cost of improvements is added to the basis of the home and helps keep any gain below the $250,000 ($500,000 if married filing jointly) exclusion amount when the house is sold.
For those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of a foreclosure or short sale on their home, there are tax breaks available as well. Foreclosures and short sales are treated as both a home sale and a canceled debt. When the house is a taxpayer's primary residence, and they have lived in and owned the home for two of the last five years, any gain up to $500,000 on the disposition is tax-exempt. In addition, the canceled debt (mortgage still owed) is excluded from taxable income, as long as it is less than $2 million and is for the taxpayer's principal residence.


Published with permission from RISMedia.

5 Ways to Know When You’re Done

March 9, 2012 2:26 am

If you’re like most people, there just never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on our to-do lists. Worse yet, when we finally do get on a productivity roll, there always seems to be a distraction waiting in the wings to throw us off course. But the reality, says author Jason Womack, is that we could actually accomplish a lot more each day if we can learn to recognize and acknowledge when we’re done.

“One of the biggest time wasters we all face is spending too much time on those things that don’t require it,” says Womack, a workplace performance expert, executive coach, and author of the new book, Your “Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More.” “When we do so, we lose the time we actually should be spending on more difficult or time-intensive tasks. But when you learn to recognize when you’re done with a task, you’ll have valuable minutes and maybe even hours added back into your day.”

Womack offers the following five tips for learning how to recognize when you’re done:
  • Stop majoring in the minors. Many of us spend a lot of time on those projects and tasks that are easy for us. Then, we convince ourselves that we “just didn’t have enough time” to get to the harder stuff. But when it comes to knowing when you’re done and freeing up time during your day, completing these easy tasks quickly and efficiently is essential.
  • Before you start your work day, think about what your high leverage activities are and what your low leverage activities are, says Womack. For the low leverage activities, force yourself to move through them as quickly as possible. With these tasks, often perfection isn’t necessary. When you can accomplish these minor tasks more efficiently, you’ll have the time you need to do those major tasks justice.
  • Don’t overwrite emails. Much of your time each day gets eaten up by email. Make a conscious effort to keep your emails as short and sweet as possible. Get to the point quickly and use action verbs in subject lines so that both you and the recipient know what needs to happen before the email is even opened, advises Womack.
  • Quit over-staying at meetings and on conference calls. Often meetings and conference calls will take as long as you’ve allotted for them. Set an hour for a meeting and you’re sure to go the full hour. Pay close attention to how much of your meeting is actually spent focused on the issues at hand. Know the meeting’s objectives before you begin so that you can get to them right away.
  • Set your own deadlines and stick to them. It’s very easy to get distracted or sidetracked by things you think you should do or things others think you should do. Having a self-imposed deadline will help you ignore those distractions.
  • Know when it’s time to ask for help. Have you ever been stumped by a certain project or task? Did you walk away from it for a while and then come back to it hoping you’d suddenly know what to do? Sometimes knowing when you’re done is knowing when you, specifically, can’t take a project any further. Wasting time on something you’re never going to be able to figure out is much worse than asking for help.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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