William Neilson
Phone:  267-872-1326Office:  215-679-9797
Email:  wneilson@remax440.comCell:  267-872-1326Fax:  267-354-6937
William Neilson
William Neilson

Bill's Blog

Scam Alert: Holiday Hoaxes Cost Consumers

December 13, 2016 2:06 pm

While you may be brimming with holiday cheer and good will, scamsters are on the prowl for a quick buck. According to ScamAwareness.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about financial fraud, consumers should be on the look-out for the following three holiday scams:

1. Online Shopping Scams
With online sales tallying more than $1 billion on Thanksgiving Day alone and jumping 12.1 percent versus last year on Cyber Monday, the internet is prime hunting ground for criminals. According to the National Retail Federation, customers are expected to spend an estimated $117 billion online this holiday season, so it’s no wonder that internet purchase scams are the top fraud complaint reported by U.S. consumers each year. Scam artists offer merchandise, gift cards and even pets at a steep discount. Consumers should never wire money for an online purchase. A money transfer is the same as cash and once it is received it cannot be recovered. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!

2. Charity Scams 
The holidays bring out the best in most of us, which makes this the number-one time of the year for charitable donations. Scammers take advantage of this outpouring of goodwill by creating new charities or misusing the name and brand of a well-known charity to get donations sent directly to them. Before donating, consumers should verify that the charity and its web address are legitimate. When sending the money, use a check or credit card instead of a wire transfer or cash for donations.

3. Employment Scams
Who couldn’t use a little extra cash for holiday shopping? Savvy scammers are taking advantage of those looking for extra work by developing several employment scams. Some offer jobs that involve spending money up front for "training" or a "start-up kit"… which, of course, the victim never receives. Other fraudsters may send a fake check to a "new hire" and ask them to cash it, keep some of the money as payment, and then wire what's left back to them. The victims in both of these situations end up losing their money and a job they thought they had. Consumers should be aware that no legitimate company will ask them to pay money in order to earn money.

Consumers who think they've been scammed should contact their local police immediately. More information about these scams and others can be found at scamawareness.org. For more helpful financial and real estate information, feel free to contact me directly.
 

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Are Your Holiday Decorations Making You Sick?

December 13, 2016 2:06 pm

Most of us like decking the halls during the holidays. However, a recent report from a leading national environmental services company is shedding new light on how the most popular holiday accoutrements could be hazardous to your health.

Whether it's "Christmas Tree Syndrome" or candles that can release unwanted fumes - homeowners, family members and visitors can be at risk. So AdvantaClean (advantaclean.com) has created a "Healthy Home Holiday Check List," so homeowners can celebrate without sickness.

AdvantaClean CEO Jeff Dudan says Christmas Tree Syndrome, for example, can affect people regardless of whether there are real or artificial trees present, according to Dudan.

He says researchers at State University of New York found that 70 percent of the molds found in live Christmas trees can trigger severe asthma attacks, fatigue, sinus congestion and more. Fake trees can cause problems too — especially if they are not wrapped properly and have accumulated dust and mold spores. AdvantaClean offers the following suggestions.

For live trees:
- Hose off your tree to remove pollen and mold and let it dry before you bring it into the house.
- Wear gloves and long sleeves when carrying the tree to avoid sap touching your skin.
- Families with severe allergies should avoid buying a live tree. If you must have it, bring it in the home for no more than a week.

For artificial trees:
- Wrap the tree securely, store in a cool and dry place.
- Wipe down the tree and ornaments.
- Go easy on the spray snow to frost your tree and windows. Aerosolized chemicals can cause irritant reactions in the eyes, nose or lungs.

Since most candles with heavy fragrances are made of paraffin wax and are scented with synthetic fragrances derived from petroleum, they can emit chemicals and fumes that irritate breathing, triggering allergies and asthma - and produce unwanted soot.

So for better breathing choose candles made from soybean, palm, hemp or beeswax. For safer smells use candles that are scented with essential oils.

For more ideas on how to make your home more environmentally safe and healthy year-round, visit advantaclean.com/blog/

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How to Heat Your Home Safely

December 13, 2016 2:06 pm

As the weather cools, we tend to turn inward and crank up the heat. While this is a great idea for staying cozy, it can lead to some health and safety problems. Here are some tips to stay safe.

General furnace safety
If you're turning on your furnace for the first time in months, remember to:  

- Never store or use highly flammable products in the same room as any natural gas or heat-producing appliances.

- Never store ordinary combustibles such as rags, mops or paper on or near an appliance.

CO poisoning prevention
Heating units and other appliances should be properly maintained to avoid the threat of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Have natural gas furnaces checked at least once a year by a licensed heating contractor. In addition:

- Vacuum and clean in and around the furnace regularly, particularly around the burner compartment, to prevent a build-up of dust and lint.

- Never store items in, on or around an appliance as this can obstruct airflow.

- Most forced-air units have a filter that cleans the air before heating and circulating it throughout the home. Check furnace filters every month during the heating season and clean or replace the filter when it becomes visibly dusty or dirty. 

- When installing a new or cleaned furnace filter, be sure to re-install the front panel door of the furnace properly so it fits snugly. Never operate the furnace without the front-panel door properly in place because doing so may create the risk of producing CO.

- Check the appearance of the furnace flame. If the flame is yellow, large and unsteady, the furnace needs to be inspected immediately by a licensed heating contractor to have the condition corrected.

- Never use an unvented natural gas heater in a home. 

- Never use an oven, range or outdoor barbecue to heat your home. These appliances are not designed for this purpose and can cause CO poisoning.

- Make sure all natural gas appliances—such as stove tops—are safely maintained and vented properly.

-Install a CO alarm in your home. Though these alarms may provide an extra level of safety, keep in mind that they require routine maintenance and replacement at least every three to five years to perform properly.

- Even with alarms in place, regular natural gas appliance maintenance is still required. Inspection and routine maintenance are still an effective defense against accidental CO poisoning.

- If you suspect that you or someone else is suffering from CO poisoning, call 911 immediately.

Source: www.socalgas.com

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Make Your Home Just a Little Smarter

December 12, 2016 2:06 am

According to a 2016 HomeAdvisor research report, Americans spent on average $564 - $2,260 to install a home automation system, with prices ranging as high as $15,000 to install a hard-wired system. While outfitting your home with a full suite of smart home technology can be pricey and intimidating, there are some smaller ways you can start to incorporate this all-the-rage trend into your abode.

Smart home automation deals with syncing household devices and systems with schedules or responsive sensors, says HomeAdvisor, which means that smart home technology is dependent upon  smartphone apps and wireless internet routers. The goal is to save on costs, and add convenience and security throughout your home.

A good place to start is with your thermostat. A variety of smart thermostats are available, allowing you to automate and control your home’s temperature from your smartphone. Some, like Nest, learn your habits throughout the day and set the temperature accordingly.

You might also want to consider a smart television. An evolution of the Roku and Apple TV external devices, smart televisions have integrated everything you could ever want right into your set - Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO Go, Pandora, network TV, gaming and much more.

Another great feature to consider is smart shades or blinds. These programmable, remote-controlled window coverings allow you to schedule open-and-close times in conjunction with the room’s exposure, putting you in control of energy saving and setting the mood.

Speaking of setting the mood, a whole host of smart light dimmers give you the option to control the lights in your home from your smartphone. This is an especially useful security feature while you’re away from your home for extended periods of time.

Another great security option is smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors—this technology alerts you to not only what the problem is but within which part of your home it’s happening.

While the smart home technology options are endless and fascinating, keep in mind that they are internet dependent, so if your home goes offline, so will your devices.

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Personal Finance 101: What is a Fiduciary?

December 12, 2016 2:06 am

Those looking into hiring a finance advisor may have heard the term “fiduciary” thrown around. But what is a fiduciary, and do you need one?

"Consumers are hearing the term 'fiduciary' more often, but increased awareness doesn't necessarily equal increased understanding," explains  National Association of Personal Financial Advisors CEO Geoffrey Brown.

What is a fiduciary? A fiduciary is a professional entrusted to manage assets or wealth while putting the client's best interests first at all times. Financial advisors who follow a fiduciary standard must disclose any conflict, or potential conflict, to their clients prior to and throughout the advisory engagement. Fiduciaries will also adopt a code of ethics and will fully disclose how they are compensated.

Non-fiduciary financial professionals can recommend investments with higher fees, riskier features and lower returns because they earn more money for the advisor, even if those investments are not the best choice for their clients.

Who is a fiduciary? Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) are held to a fiduciary standard of care. By law, they must act solely in the best interest of their clients. To ensure your advisor or a potential advisor is following a fiduciary standard, request to see the advisor's ADV (a form filed with the SEC) or ask if they will sign a Fiduciary Oath.

How can you find a fiduciary? Accountability is important in financial planning. While there are many people in the financial industry who profess to have the client's best interests at heart, they still may have conflicts that impact their recommendations. It's important for consumers to ask the right questions of any potential advisors.  

Source: http://www.napfa.org

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How to Keep Your Pipes From Freezing

December 12, 2016 2:06 am

Winter means toasty fires, steaming cups of hot cocoa and—for many—frozen pipes. Frozen pipes can lead to major damage, so it's important to keep them protected when cold air hits.  

Gary Eisenhauer, a manager at The Sunny Plumber in Las Vegas, recommends a few tips for protecting your pipes as the weather turns cold.  

- When an overnight freeze is expected, slowly run one or two faucets to keep water moving through the lines.

- Outdoor hoses and their connection to water sources are particularly vulnerable to freezing weather. Eisenhauer advises consumers to unscrew hoses from the outdoor facet to allow for drainage and keep outside hose bibs open to allow water to drain.

- All outside pipes and hose spigots should be insulated, this is easy to do with the purchase of an installation kit from your local hardware store.

- Pipes running against exterior walls, like those in kitchens, are often subject to freezing and typically have little to no insulation. Keep cabinets under kitchen and bathrooms sinks open to allow for warm air flow to prevent freezing.

- Pipes in unheated areas like basements, attics and near garages are also susceptible to damage from cold. Take special care to insulate these areas.

- Heat tape is a great product to insulate water pipe. These "pipe sleeves" could be as simple as newspaper wrapped around pipes to keep them warm and insulated.

- During cold spells, Eisenhauer recommends keeping your thermostat set at the same temperature during the night and day – this helps regulate temperatures and prevent unwanted expansion.Source: thesunnyplumber.com.

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And the Paint Forecast Is...Gray

December 10, 2016 12:06 pm

Despite the fickle nature of interior design trends, when it comes to paint, gray is topping the charts for the second year in a row.

"Gray, in all its variations, has emerged as the overwhelming choice of designers for spaces ranging from home interiors to elegant office settings, and everything in between," says Debbie Zimmer, color expert for the Paint Quality Institute.

What’s making gray the most popular color once again? Versatility, says Zimmer. "Gray is beautiful in its own right, but it is so perfectly neutral that it can work alongside other soft tints, or serve as a perfect foil for vibrant accent colors."

According to Zimmer, the color we refer to as gray is actually a wide range of complex grayish colors that often contain hints of red, green, blue, yellow, or some other hue.

Yellowish-grays paired with beiges or off-whites create neutral color schemes that are not only classic, but also calming. Similar results can be achieved with blue-grays. Meanwhile, red- or green-leaning grays often appear ultra-sophisticated.

Grays are practical, too. Since they work with so many colors, it's easy to change the overall appearance of a room by simply repainting an accent wall in a different shade, or adding a pop of color with pillows, rugs, wall décor or ceramics.

If you've decided to use gray as the dominant color in a room, get a variety of samples and paint swatches on your walls. See how different shades look in the various stages of natural and artificial light throughout the day, as well as how they complement your floors and furnishings. Zimmer also suggests asking the salesperson to show you the color formula. Pigment colors blended into the "gray" paint point to the colors you should choose for trim paint, accent walls, and even furnishings.

So, if you jumped on board last year with the gray trend, rest assured that your home design is still on point. And if you want to join in now, it's still not too late to “go gray"!    

Source: Paint Quality Institute
 
For more tips on incorporating gray into your home décor, contact our office today.

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Fan the Flames Safely: Fireplace Dos and Don'ts

December 10, 2016 12:06 pm

An inviting fire has long been the focal point of gatherings with family and friends, whether it’s inside around the fireplace or outside by the fire pit.
 
With that comes a host of safety requirements. Make sure you adhere to these dos and don’ts to ensure you’re lighting up responsibly.
 
Do…
  • Have your fireplace professionally cleaned (swept). How often? At least once a year, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). However, this will vary depending upon how often you light a fire. CSIA recommends that open masonry fireplaces be swept once they accumulate a 1/8-in of sooty build-up—enough fuel to cause a chimney fire. How about your fire pit? According to HGTV, if residue build-up becomes an issue, masonry fire pits may be cleaned using a solution of one part muriatic acid to nine parts water to scrub the interior. Once clean, rinse with water and allow it to dry for 48 - 72 hours before using.
  • Dispose of ashes properly. Place ashes in a metal container away from your home or other structures. Shovel ashes out of your fire pit regularly.
  • Make sure your smoke detector is functional. According to CSIA, detectors should be tested once a month to ensure they’re working properly.
  • Keep your fire manageable. Whether inside or out, too large of a fire can lead to excessive smoke and wayward embers that could ignite rugs and furniture inside, or trees and dried brush outside.
  • Have a container of water and/or working hose nearby when lighting an outdoor fire.
  • Have the right tools on hand, including an ash scoop, a long poker, and tongs for repositioning logs. 
Don’t…
  • Store ashes inside the house or within five feet of your home or other structures outside.
  • Burn the wrong kind of materials, such as trash, pressure-treated or green wood, which could release harmful toxins. Stick to dry, split wood and use leaves and sticks for kindling.
  • Forget to check the forecast before lighting an outdoor fire. Avoid windy conditions that can blow embers. Extremely windy conditions can also create problems for your indoor fireplace, forcing air down the chimney and smoke into your home.
  • Improperly position the logs in your fireplace. Logs should be placed toward the back of your fireplace and not be leaning toward the screen. This could cause smoke to filter into your home as opposed to up the chimney.
  • Wait to call the fire department if you suspect a chimney fire. If you notice embers falling down the chimney into your fire and/or hear a loud, rushing sound, you could have a chimney fire. Call 911 immediately, and follow your emergency fire plan. 
For more fire safety tips, contact our office today.

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How Social Media Can Help You Buy a Home

December 10, 2016 12:06 pm

Home sales are ticking upward with the National Association of REALTORS®’ Pending Home Sales Index now 1.8 percent higher than this time last year. As home prices and interest rates continue to rise, now is the time to seriously consider taking the plunge into buying a home.  
 
But many would-be homeowners are intimidated by the process of buying a home and remain on the sidelines, to their own disadvantage. How can you streamline this often overwhelming process? With the help of social media.
 
Utilized these days for way more than sharing personal updates and photos, social media can actually play a key role in making big decisions, like buying a home. Use social media in the following ways before and during your home search:
 
1. Connect with agents on Facebook. Just about every real estate agent worth his or her salt has a Facebook business page. Search for agents in the towns you’re considering and send a friend request or private message. Start following their feed and you’ll get a good idea of their overall real estate savvy, in addition to a sneak peek at their new listings. You’ll also get a feel for who they are as people, which is important, because good chemistry with your agent leads to a better outcome in terms of finding your dream home.
 
2. Check out LinkedIn profiles. Once you’ve narrowed down the field of potential agents you might want to work with, look them up on LinkedIn. Here, you’ll be able to learn about the company they currently work for, as well as their career history. You’ll see what networks they’re a part of (networking is key to helping you find the right home), what awards or achievements they’ve received, what skills they excel in, and recommendations from others.
 
3. Use Twitter for housing and interest rate updates. Twitter is a great way to get quick news updates on what matters most to you right now: interest rates, home values, market trends, and more. Follow a few credible financial and real estate news organizations and become an educated home shopper.
 
4. Put hashtags to work. Use hashtag searches on Instagram, including the names of neighborhoods and towns you’re interested in. This will give you a view of the communities you’re considering, the restaurants, the culture, the overall lifestyle, and more. If you want to see some actual listings in the towns you’re interested in, add the term ‘real estate’ into your search.  
 
5. Tour homes and towns on YouTube. Nothing gives you a better view of a town or listing than a video. Lots of agents post listing videos, so be sure to check them out.
 
6. Get organized with Pinterest. Pinterest can serve as your digital scrapbook of the neighborhoods, homes, interior designs and home features you’re interested in. Your Pinterest page can evolve further once you’ve purchased your home, serving as a gateway to décor and home improvement ideas.

When it comes to buying a home, social media will not only help you get informed, but it will also go a long way toward helping you make the right connections. So start friending, following and posting and find the home that’s right for you faster.
 
Contact our office today for more tips on using social media to help you buy a home.

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Store-Branded Credit Cards: Worth the Rates?

December 10, 2016 12:06 pm

“Would you like to save an additional 10 percent on today’s purchase by applying for a credit card?” That option is always so tempting and can often take every bit of willpower to resist. When you consider what you’re potentially paying in the long run, however, you might have an easier time saying no to store credit cards.
 
According to the results of a recent CreditCards.com survey, store-branded credit cards are charging record-high interest rates, such as 29.99 percent at Big Lots, 29.24 percent at Zales and 28.24 percent at Staples. The survey was conducted using the terms and conditions agreements of 68 cards from 44 retailers. Each of the 100 largest retailers (as defined by the National Retail Federation based upon 2015 sales) that offers a retail credit card program was selected for the study.

Over the past year, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate by 0.25 percent, and the average store credit card interest rate rose by 0.41 percent. The Fed is expected to take a similar action this month, which will likely push store card rates even higher.

The average store card charges 23.84 percent, according to the report, much higher than the national average for all credit cards, which is 15.22 percent. Retailers get customers to sign up for these cards by offering incentives, but the deals aren't very generous. For example, while half of the credit cards offered by the nation's 100 largest retailers give new cardholders a sign-up bonus, only 13 exceed $25 for a $200 purchase.

For example, Best Buy's 10 percent sign-up bonus would be worth $100 to someone who buys a $1,000 television. But the benefit would be lost—and then some—unless the cardholder pays the entire bill before interest starts to accrue.

But what about the ongoing rewards offered by store credit cards? According to the report, unless you’re a frequent shopper at the store in question, such rewards tend to pale in comparison to those offered by general-purpose cards. For example, someone who spends a lot at Target would benefit from its 5 percent cash-back program since the best general-purpose cash-back cards yield about 2 percent.

The bottom line? As with any credit card—but even more so with store-branded credit cards—unless you can pay off the balance in full each month, you’ll be spending much more in the long run than any offer or reward could make up for.

Source: CreditCards.com
 
To learn more about store-branded credit cards, contact our office today.

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