Archive for March, 2010

Will A 5-Day Delivery Schedule Save The U.S. Postal Service?

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

According to the U.S. Postal Service, they will lose $23 billion a year for the next ten years if something doesn’t happen right away.

Since its inception 235 years ago, the USPS has not only delivered the mail, but profits as well. Not so much anymore; in 2008 the USPS agency began to lose money for the first time in their history.

By the end of this fiscal year, the U.S. Postal Service will have lost an additional $7 billion, and will owe the U.S. Government $13.8 billion. By the year 2020, the USPS will have lost an astonishing 238 billion dollars.

But the Postal Service has a plan to save itself – a plan that cost them $5 billion to develop.

The plan, believe it or not, is to simply stop delivering mail on Saturdays.

The U.S. Postal Service says that by delivering mail only five days a week, they will save an estimated $3.5 billion a year. The Postal Regulatory Commission however thinks the savings will be more like $1.9 billion. But either way, the money saved isn’t nearly the amount the agency is projected to lose.

The PRC will likely take six to nine months to crunch the numbers. If it approves the plan, the issue goes to Congress, which has been circling the growing fiscal crisis of the post office for nine years now, ever since the Government Accountability Office placed it on a “high-risk list.” For the last several years, Postmaster General John Potter, who makes $845,000 a year and has struggled to bring the agency into the 21st century in his nine years on the job, has asked Congress for a number of fiscal fixes. In 2003, Congress reduced the Postal Service’s pension costs by about $9 billion. In 2006, it relieved the agency of $27 billion in pension obligations to employees with military service. And last year, Congress cut the agency’s annual retiree health benefits by $4 billion. With each fix came a promise of “fiscal solvency” from Potter, so to say that Congress is losing patience with the Postal Service is an understatement. Even if the House and Senate do pass the plan to cut Saturday delivery, it’ll be a miracle if that happens before the plan is set to go into effect in 2011. In the meantime, the Postal Service will just keep losing money and probably raising postage rates, which it has done eight times since 1999.

Full Article Lost in the Mail By Matthew Philips, Newsweek

So what do you think? Will a 5-day delivery schedule save the day?


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How To Make Perches For A Hummingbird Feeder

Friday, March 26th, 2010

How to Make Perches for a Hummingbird Feeder

from wikiHow – The How to Manual That You Can Edit

The best hummingbird feeders are easy to disassemble and clean, and have perches for the birds to sit on while drinking nectar. The most commonly available hummingbird feeders have a base and a removable nectar reservoir, but no perches. You can get more enjoyment out of your hummingbird feeder by adding perches. The birds will be much more likely to stay for several minutes, and you’ll have better luck seeing and observing them. Heavy coated wire can be used to make an inexpensive but effective perch for the birds to sit on.

Steps

  1. Prepare the feeder. Remove the base from the reservoir and place the base on your work surface.
  2. Make the anchor wire. Measure around the point where the reservoir attaches to the fee plus 1″ (2.5cm).
  3. Secure the anchor wire. Bend the last 1/2″ of each end of this wire into a little hook. Bend the wire into a circle and hook the ends together. Bend the wire a little more if necessary to make it round. Fit it over the feeder base. It should be a loose fit.
  4. Make the perch wire. Measure the circumference of a circle about 1″ larger than the circumference of the feeder base. Cut a length of the heavy-guage coated wire equal to this length plus 1″.
  5. Secure the perch wire. Bend the last 1/2″ of each end of this wire into a little hook. Bend the wire into a circle and hook the ends together. Bend the wire a little more if necessary to make it round. Lay it around the feeder base.
  6. Make the connector wires. Measure the distance between the two round wires. Cut connector wires equal to this length plus 1″. The number of connector wires you’ll need is equal to the number of feeder holes in the base.
  7. Use the connector wires to connect the anchor wire and perch wire. Bend the last 1/2″ of each end of each connector wire into a little hook. Hook each onto the anchor wire with the hook facing upward spacing them so that the connectors are between the feeder holes. Put the perch wire into the hooks at the other end of each connector wire. You will likely have to “play” with bending the various wires to get everything to fit together.
  8. Clamp it together. Once you’re satisfied with the arrangement, use the pliers to clamp down all the connector wire hooks. The whole thing should look like two wheels connected by spokes. It should be rigid enough that if you pick it up, the various parts don’t rearrange themselves.
  9. Fill the feeder. Fill the feeder with hummingbird food, and hang it where you can see it.
  10. Enjoy visits from your new friends!


Video (see below)

The hummingbirds will use the perches, and stay at the feeder longer, increasing your chances of seeing them.

Tips

  • If your connector wires are too short, you can always bend the perch wire in a little bit where it meets the connectors.
  • If you don’t have a tape measure, you can just start bending the wire “freehand” around the feeder base and cutting the wire when you meet up with the end.
  • If the heavy wire is not very flexible, (i.e. it doesn’t flop or bend much if you shake it gently) you may not need to bend the ends into hooks. You can just “butt” the ends together bending the wire so that the ends are close together. Hummingbirds are very small and only weigh a few ounces so they aren’t going to bend the wire by sitting on it.
  • Use coated wire as some believe that birds do not like to stand on metal.
  • Don’t worry if it’s not perfect or beautiful — the birds won’t care. In fact, they’ll likely show their appreciation for your efforts by hanging around more.
  • Remember to clean and refill the feeder every few days. Perches won’t entice the birds to come if the food is moldy or the feeder is dirty!


Things You’ll Need

  • Hummingbird feeder with wide base and removable reservoir
  • Heavy-guage coated wire
  • Thinner wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Pliers
  • Tape measure (optional, but helpful)


Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Make Perches for a Hummingbird Feeder. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

Bank of America Corp. Cutting More Loan Balances

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

In an attempt to avoid more foreclosures, the Bank of America Corporation said it will be offering more borrowers reductions in their mortgage-loan balances.

This move enhances an agreement Bank of America reached 18 months ago with state attorney generals and is the mortgage industry’s boldest move yet in addressing the dilemma facing millions of homeowners across the country who owe more on their house than it’s currently worth.

The relief is available only to those Bank of America customers who are at least 60 days overdue on payments, whose loan balance is at least 120% of the estimated home value, can prove a financial hardship is preventing them from affording payments. The bank is estimating that 45,000 customers will qualify for the program.

Reductions of as much as 30% in loan principal will be offered to struggling borrowers who have subprime or so-called option adjustable-rate mortgages, known as option ARMs. (Option ARMs, no longer available, allow borrowers to start with minimal monthly payments and face steep increases later.) Also included will be certain loans that have a fixed interest rate for the first two years before starting to adjust annually.

…banks are finding that many deeply underwater borrowers aren’t willing to keep making even reduced payments because they believe they have little hope of ever having equity in their homes and would be better off renting and perhaps buying a cheaper home later. The Bank of America program is aimed to give such borrowers more hope by reducing their loan balances to current estimated home values.

Full Article Bank of America to Cut More Loan Balances By James R. Hagerty, Wall Street Journal


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Health Care Overhaul Bill To Go Before The Senate

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Another step has been taken in the fight over health-care reform and whether you agree with the historic bill or not, it cleared the House of Representatives last Sunday and is now on its way to the Senate, where lawmakers are expected to vote on a package of changes to the bill this week.

This package of changes on which Senators are preparing to vote, comes in the form of a “reconciliation” bill – amending the Senate bill that the House lawmakers just approved.

Some of the changes the Senate will be voting on include adjustments to at tax on high-value health plans and an extension of subsidies to buy insurance. When put together, both the Senate bill and House bill will cost $940 billion over 10 years; aiming to extend insurance coverage to 32 million more Americans.

Although Senate Democrats plan to approve the reconciliation bill by the end of the week when Congress goes out on recess, the Republicans are promising to load up the bill with amendments in an attempt to get it kicked back to the House and ultimately killed as a bill.

Republicans are also vowing to make the healthcare-overhaul bill an issue in congressional elections this fall; the Democrats are planning to fight back.

Late Sunday night President Barack Obama said the House’s vote on the Senate bill does not represent the end of the work that our country is facing; Obama will reportedly sign the main overhaul bill this Tuesday.

“The work of putting American families’ dreams back within reach goes on,” Obama said. “And we march on, with renewed confidence, energized by this victory on their behalf.”

When Obama signs the main overhaul bill that the Senate passed Sunday night, it will become law. The Republicans are attempting to weaken the overall legislation of the bill by pulling it apart via the reconciliation bill.

Since it takes just 51 votes for approval, Democrats are using the reconciliation process in the Senate to make changes to the main overhaul bill.

Obama’s party is using this tactic because it lost its 60-seat supermajority with the election of Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass; Democrats cannot block the stalling tactics of the Republicans with only 59 votes.

Source: Action on health-care overhaul shifts to Senate – ‘Reconciliation’ bill teed up; Obama, Republicans pivot to campaign mode By Robert Schroeder, Market Watch

For more on the reconciliation process, read What the heck is reconciliation?

Health Care Reform Bill Senate

Forensic Loan Audits – A Cautionary Tale

Friday, March 19th, 2010

In desperate times, people take desperate measures – and often times it’s the kind hearted and well intentioned people who get burned.

Please read the story below as a cautionary tale. It’s yet another reminder of the creeps out there chomping at the bit to take advantage of those in most need of honest help.

Keith Tinney, along with 15 other Stockton, CA residents just wanted a little help modifying their home loans. They met with Paul Killmar who said he would conduct a “forensic loan audit” and find where the banks violated mortgage agreements, thus providing the borrower with ammunition when trying to obtain a loan modification.

There are good people out there who can actually help, but there are so many bad people sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart. Just remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The 66-year-old Tinney took Killmar on his word, and was ultimately milked out of $2,900.

… Tinney leads a list of 15 Stockton residents who allege a Southern California man named Paul Killmar bilked them for more than a combined $50,000 by charging upfront fees for forensic loan audits on their mortgages. There could be others, too.

So-called forensic loan audits promise to find where banks have violated their end of mortgage agreements, with providers saying they scour the fine print on the loan documents. Struggling homeowners are told they can use that information to pressure their lender into some type of loan modification.

In late February, state Attorney General Jerry Brown called forensic loan audits “phony mortgage relief services,” and warned against the scam.

Upfront fees for mortgage relief help have also been outlawed.

Those warnings came too late for Tinney and at least 14 other Stockton residents who were referred to Killmar through Stockton businessman Claes Carlsson, who runs the financial services company Asset Invest.

Carlsson says he was as shocked by the scam as his clients and cut off his referrals after receiving complaints. But he did convince some of his clients they could find help through Killmar.

Finish Reading SCAM WARNING TOO LATE FOR MANY by Keith Reid -Record Staff Writer; March 18, 2010 12:00 AM

Contact reporter Keith Reid at (209) 546-8257 or kreid@recordnet.com.

Ensure Your Remodeling Project Pays Off

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

You might not be selling your home anytime soon, but you could in the future, and what you’re doing now will have a definite have an effect on on that.

Repairs get the biggest returns

You may think it’s the big things like a updated kitchen or a hot tub that will bring in the buyers, but often times it’s the lack of general repairs that need to be done that really catches their eye.

Austin, TX real estate appraiser Jim Amorin says, “If a property is known to have issues, today’s buyers won’t even look at it.”

He goes on to point out that asking sellers to not only pay for the repairs as part of the agreement, but also pay a penalty to compensate the buyer for the inconvenience is now common practice., and that $20,000 roof repair you never did because you wanted to save money, could very well turn into a $30,000 credit to the buyer.

Remodel instead of adding on

The desire for a large and spacious home is dwindling. But that doesn’t mean you can’t add value to your home.

Instead of adding on to your house, remodel the existing areas to better suit the needs and wants of today’s buyers.

Eco-friendly upgrades can save money

Green-living is huge right now. Why not make your house part of the environment-friendly trend?

Think energy-efficient – with such features as EnergyStar appliances and extra wall insulation.

Perhaps the best way to go green is make the changes while you’re there anyway. For example, when it’s time to replace your furnace, upgrade to a super-efficient model – it could very well save you, and your future buyers, $150 or more in annual heating costs.

Get more tips on how remodeling your home can pay off at Money.Cnn.Com.

home remodeling tips

The Wrong Way to Invest in Real Estate

Monday, March 15th, 2010

By William Bronchick

“Real estate fever” . . . it’s hit the Country like a plague. Zillions of “newbies” are hitting the bandwagon, trying to make a profit where they lost in the stock market. I meet them all the time, and many are making big mistakes!

Mistake #1: Stock Market Mentality

You’d think after losing $7 trillion in the stock market people would have learned! Nope, they are making the same mistake, which is assuming what happened yesterday will happen tomorrow. Nine of ten new investors I meet say they are interested in real estate because they saw someone else make money from the rapid appreciation of the market over the last few years. But, buying real estate solely for short-term appreciation is often a big gamble! If you buy real estate to hold for 15 years or more, the chances are you will come out on top. If you buy a property and flip it in within a year, you probably are fine, too. And, despite the risk, many people can intelligently time the “boom” of a local market (or subdivision within a market) and make a profit. But, if you buy a rental property for full market price with break even or negative cash flow, you’d better have a backup plan if the market doesn’t keep going up. Investing is a lot like surfing… if you don’t know how to ride the wave, you will drown!

So, should you refrain from investing if you think the market has peaked? Absolutely not! You can find bargain-priced properties in every real estate market, even the hottest. You can find low-interest rate financing that will increase your cash flow so if values drop, you still are covered. You can plan short-term (six to 12 months), because real estate markets rise and fall slowly. And, if you keep a cash reserve for your business, you won’t sweat when the market tanks, because you know that in the long run, real estate markets virtually always come back.

Mistake #2: Investing Blind

You’d think after losing $7 trillion in the stock market people would have learned! Nope, they are making the same mistake, which is blindly buying real estate based on bogus advice or complete lack of education. Real estate is one of the few investments in which risk is directly proportional to knowledge. True, it has a higher learning curve than investing in the stock market, but there’s no proof that having knowledge of the stock market reduces risk (just ask your mutual fund manager).

I read a comment on a real estate discussion group on the Internet. In response to an inquiry as to whether a particular seminar or training program was worth the money, someone answered, “Why waste your money on that stuff? Just use your money as a down payment and learn as you go.” This is probably the worst advice you could ever give a beginner. Money for real estate deals is easy to find if you can find good deals. But, you won’t know what a good deal is without having first invested in your education!

The more knowledge of real estate investing techniques, financing, acquisition, negotiating and, of course, your local marketplace, the less risky your investments will be. A bargain real estate purchase will generally always be a safe investment; a bargain stock purchase isn’t – after all, who says the company you bought into will be in business next year?

Mistake #3: No Cash Reserves

Ask anyone in real estate long term (or any other business, for that matter) and they will tell you the two most important words for survival are: “cash flow.” Heck, even K-Mart failed to learn that valuable lesson!

In order to stay in real estate long term, you need cash reserves. Buying real estate nothing down is easy; handling negative cash flow, repairs and other expenses in the meantime is the trick. In fact, if you can handle the bad times, real estate will always make you come out on top. Lack of cash reserves puts unnecessary pressure on you to do substandard repairs, accept less than qualified tenants and give into tenants’ demands for fear of vacancy.

When you have a sufficient cash reserve, you act rationally. You hold out for a higher sales price. You hold out for a qualified tenant. You leave properties vacant rather than rent to low-lifes. You call a tenant’s bluff when they threaten to leave. You take care of necessary repairs and improvements on your properties. It’s a whole different ballgame than operating from a lack of cash. Like I said, buying properties with no money down isn’t hard; it’s handling the cash flow. In other words, you can buy real estate without money, you just can’t survive in business without cash reserves. Thus, consider accumulating cash reserves before investing in rental properties.

Mistake #4: Being Greedy

Many investors get started flipping properties to other investors, which is a good idea to generate cash reserves. However, you must be realistic about how much profit is in a deal. If there is a potential for a $20,000 profit in a rehab project, you can’t expect to make $10,000 flipping that property to a rehabber. A rehabber has a huge risk in embarking in such a project and wants a large enough profit to justify the risk.

For example, if a house needs $10,000 in repairs, the rehabber investor wants to make at least a $20,000 profit. If you find a deal with $20,000 in profit potential, how could you expect to get $10,000 for flipping the property if the rehab investor you flip it to is only going to make $10,000? You should be happy making $2,500 and moving on to the next deal. If you want to make more than $2,500 on such a deal, then you must find and negotiate a better bargain that has more profit potential.

Mistake #5: Treating Real Estate as Anything Other Than a Business

People are lured to real estate because of the quick buck that it promises. Don’t hold your breath, you won’t get rich quick. An “overnight sensation” usually takes about five years. More than ninety percent of the people who take a real estate seminar quit after three months.

Why the high fallout rate? Lack of action and unrealistic expectations. Real estate investing should be treated with the seriousness of a career. It takes months, even years for a business to cultivate customers and have a life of its own. You need to treat real estate like any other business. Give yourself at least six months to see if real estate works for you. It may even take a year before you buy your first property. Maybe in the second year you will buy three or four properties. If you work hard at it and keep your eyes and ears open, you may even find your first deal in 30 days. Certainly, you will not make money by talking or thinking about it; you must go out and take action.

[Source]


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Is The Government Foreclosure Prevention Program Working?

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Since it started a year ago, nearly 1.1 million borrowers have enrolled in the Obama administration’s foreclosure prevention program, yet only about 170,000 have seen the application process through to completion; meaning only 16% of the 1.1 million have benefited from the program.

Designed to lower the borrower’s monthly payments, the foreclosure prevention program aims to reduce mortgage rates to as low as 2% for 5 years, and extend loan terms to up to 40 years.

For a homeowner to qualify for a permanent loan modification, they must be able to make three payments, provide proof of their income, and write a letter documenting their specific hardship. To date, an estimated 90,000 borrowers have not been able to successfully do this, and have dropped out of the program.

As of last month, a mere 3,900 Las Vegas homeowners had completed the foreclosure prevention program – a bleak statement for a city as hard hit by the foreclosure crisis as it has been.

With a combined 18,000 homeowners receiving permanent modifications, the California areas of Los Angeles and Riverside have received the most help.

To persuade mortgage companies to participate in the administration’s program, the government has set aside $75 billion in subsidies. Less than 1% has been spent.

If things keeping going the way they’re going, the Government program will have a minimal effect on the foreclosure crisis. Analysts are warning that the majority of borrowers will never complete the process, and those who do, could very well fall behind in their payments once again.

Read: Mortgage relief aid reaches few homeowners

foreclosure prevention program
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Four Family Members Charged In $16 Million Real Estate Fraud Conspiracy

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

The Orange County, CA District Attorney’s office has announced they have charged four family members –
including a mother and her two daughters – in a conspiracy to commit more than 16 million dollars worth of
real estate fraud by forging documents and buying homes using straw buyers*.

If convicted, each of the four defendants could be facing as much as 19 to 40 years in prison.

Here’s what we know about each defendant, and the charges being brought against them:

Sushama Devi Lohia, 71, Newport Beach
Felony charges include 13 counts of conspiracy to commit a crime, 19 counts of forgery, 6 counts of identity theft and 4 counts of recording false and forged instrument and other charges. She is the mother of defendants Supriti Soni and Suniti Shah.

Supriti Soni, 49, Corona del Mar
Felony charges include eight counts of conspiracy to commit a crime, 10 counts of forgery and other charges. In addition, prosecutors are seeking a stiffer sentence for her, if she’s convicted, because she was imprisoned in 2003 for perjury.

Suniti Shah, 48, Newport Beach
Felony charges include five counts of conspiracy to commit a crime, nine counts of forgery, six felony counts of identity theft, four counts of recording a false and forged instrument and other charges.

Dinesh Valjeebhai Shah, 60, Newport Beach
Felony charges include two counts of conspiracy to commit a crime, four counts of forgery, four counts of
identity theft, four counts of recording a false and forged instrument and other charges. He is Suniti Shah’s
husband.

According to prosecutors, the alleged scheme happened like this:

-Between June 2006 and October 2009, Lohia, Soni, Suniti Shah and Dinesh Shah obtained 54 fraudulent loans on 29 properties in Orange County through the use of straw buyers’ credit.

-The four defendants then fabricated loan applications to reflect significantly higher incomes for the straw
buyers, supplying altered bank statements to reflect the higher incomes, falsifying employer information on
loan documents and forging the names and signatures of straw buyers on various deeds and loan documents.

-They used the personal and credit information of the straw buyers to complete the fraudulent documents used in obtaining loans, as well as took fraudulent loans under their own names.

-The 54 loans were all approved by then-Washington Mutual Bank.

[source]

It’s scary out there – and in desperate times, people make desperate decisions.

Always play it safe by being cautious when meeting with a new Realtor or Lender, and ask all the questions you can think of – even if you think they’re silly or will make you look stupid.

Scammers feed off ignorance and fear, so be sure to gather all the information you can before making any
choice of this magnitude.

Remember to go with your gut. If what your hearing sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

*A straw buyer is a person who uses or allows their credit to be used for the purchase of a property they never intend to use or control. Straw buyers can also be used to purchase non-owner occupied properties by being paid simply for the use of their credit. [source]


Clipart from Clipartheaven.com

Home Buying Anxiety: Anyone Can Do It One Step at a Time

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

The process of buying a piece of real estate can seem pretty overwhelming. There are so many overlapping things happening at any time, with so many individuals involved, and it’s all too easy to get lost in knowing what comes next. In this article we will explain just how it all works.

Get Yourself Pre-Approved
The highest priority thing you should do when you are looking for a home is to get yourself pre-approved for the home loan. This will involve completing forms showing your income and assets. Once you are pre-approved, you will know how much money you can plan to spend.

Home Search
Start looking. It’s better if you start the process already having defined what it is that you actually want.

You can define your ideas methodically, by making a list.

Find the Perfect Home
So, you’ve found what you’re looking for! The right place might be the first home you see or the nineteenth.

Making an Offer
Before making your offer, do your research. Find out what homes in that particular neighborhood have recently sold for. Make the seller an equitable offer — too little and you might alienate them, or too much and you would end up paying a higher price than you have to. When you make an offer, you will probably need to put up anywhere from 1% to 3% of the asking price in earnest money. The offer will cover terms of the transaction in addition to the price, such as being subject to inspection, any needed repairs, and your preferred closing date.

Acceptance of the Offer
After a little negotiation back and forth, the seller and you will reach an agreement on the terms of the deal.

Review of Title
Title review, in most states, is normally done by a real estate attorney who examines the title and gives a written opinion as to whether the seller’s title is clear and meets the requirements of the contract of sale.
In some states this is done without a lawyer but almost without exception there is a requirement for some kind of title search.

Home Inspection
Never buy property without having it inspected by a reliable inspector. An inspection can reveal problems that could be significant, from mold to a crumbling fireplace. If the inspection does uncover problems, you will have to discuss and agree on doing repairs with the seller.

Getting an Appraisal
An appraisal offers a professional estimate on the matter of the property’s legitimate value. The lender will not lend you more than the appraised value of the home. If the appraisal comes out to be lower than the agreed sale price, your deal is in trouble. Possible solutions include your making up the difference additional cash, the seller agreeing to lower the sale price to match the appraisal amount, or getting a second appraisal.

Commitment
You will feel a big sense of accomplishment when the lender reviews the files and finalizes your loan — almost done!

Final Walk Through
Your final walk through inspection is conducted shortly before closing. During the inspection, you have the opportunity to ensure the property is in the shape in which you agreed to take it. Any and all of the repairs required to be done by the seller need to have been completed satisfactorily. The final inspection is your chance to assure yourself that the property has not been damaged since you agreed to buy it.

Closing and Possession
The closing process will transfer the title to you, the buyer. As the buyer you will be expected to hand over the agreed down payment on the home and the closing costs. Before going to the closing find out exactly how large a check you’ll need to have on hand.

That’s it! You’re done. Once you’ve accomplished these simple steps, you’ll have your dream house.

This article was presented by Automated Homefinder, the best Louisville Colorado home specialists.

home buying steps