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Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

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Ice Dams

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

An ice dam, is a problem of house and building maintenance in cold climates. An ice dam can occur when snow accumulates on the slanted roof of a house with inadequate insulation and warm air leaks into the attic at penetrations for plumbing stacks, wiring, chimneys, attic hatches, recessed lights, etc. These warm air leaks are known as attic bypasses. Heat conducted through the insufficient insulation and warm air from the attic bypasses warms the roof and melts the snow.  Meltwater flows down the roof, under the blanket of snow, onto the eave and into the gutter, where colder conditions on the overhang cause it to freeze. Eventually, ice accumulates along the eave and in the gutter. Snow that melts later cannot drain properly through the ice on the eave and in the gutter.  This can result in:

  • Leaking roof (height of leak depends on extent of ice dam).
  • Wet, ineffective insulation.
  • Stained or cracked plaster or drywall.                                       
  • Rotting timber.
  • Stained, blistered or peeling paint.

Under extreme conditions, with heavy snow and severe cold, almost any house can have an ice dam, whereas a house that is poorly insulated with attic bypasses will have ice dams during normal winter weather. Giant icicles hanging from the eave are one indication of a poorly insulated attic with many attic bypasses. Although high snow levels along with extreme cold weather is generally considered the highest potential risk conditions for ice dams to accumulate, standing snow is not even a required prerequisite for ice dams to form.  It takes very little actual moisture to form ice dams. Proper attic ventilation is also a factor, if cold air is allowed to pass in through an eave vent and up along the entire underside of the roof deck, the outside surface of the roof may maintain a below-freezing temperature. Possible causes of inadequate ventilation can be improper roof system design (not enough ventilation or improperly installed ventilation) and/or improperly installed insulation that is covering the eave vents.

from Brian Molk of Servpro

Mortgage Market in Review week of 1/24/11

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

Mortgage bond prices started in negative territory and that carried through most of the week.  Spain and Portugal had relatively successful bond auctions, which reversed the flight to quality buying of US debt instruments that helped rates fall.  Lower than expected weekly jobless claims Thursday added to the losses causing rates to spike higher.  Analysts were looking for jobless claims at 425k and the actual release showed claims at 404k.  Leading economic indicators were higher than expected with an increase of 1% compared to the anticipated 0.6% increase.  Mortgage bonds ended the week negative by about a full discount point.

The Fed meeting will take center stage this week.  Look for the continued Treasury auctions to also factor into mortgage interest rate changes.

 

Looking Ahead

Economic

Indicator

Release

Date and Time

Consensus

Estimate

 

Analysis

Consumer Confidence

Tuesday, Jan. 25,

10:00 am, et

54.2

Important.  An indication of consumers’ willingness to spend.  Weakness may lead to lower mortgage rates.

2-year Treasury Note Auction

Tuesday, Jan. 25,

1:15 pm, et

None

Important.  $35 billion of notes will be auctioned.  Strong demand may lead to lower mortgage rates.

New Home Sales

Wednesday, Jan. 26,

10:00 am, et

300k

Important.  An indication of economic strength and credit demand.  Weakness may lead to lower rates.

5-year Treasury Note Auction

Wednesday, Jan. 26,

1:15 pm, et

None

Important.  $35 billion of notes will be auctioned.  Strong demand may lead to lower mortgage rates.

Fed Meeting Adjourns

Wednesday, Jan. 26,

2:15 pm, et

None

Important.  Few expect the Fed to change rates, but volatility may surround the adjournment of this meeting.

Weekly Jobless Claims

Thursday, Jan. 27,

8:30 am, et

425k

Important.  An indication of employment.   Higher claims may result in lower rates.

Durable Goods Orders

Thursday, Jan. 27,

8:30 am, et

1.9%

Important.  An indication of the demand for “big ticket” items.  Weakness may lead to lower rates.

7-year Treasury Note Auction

Thursday, Jan. 27,

1:15 pm, et

None

Important.  $29 billion of notes will be auctioned.  Strong demand may lead to lower mortgage rates.

Advance Q4 GDP

Friday, Jan. 28,

8:30 am, et

3.8%

Very important.  The aggregate measure of US economic production.  Weakness may lead to lower rates.

Q4. Employment Cost Index

Friday, Jan. 28,

8:30 am, et

0.4%

Very important. A measure of wage inflation.  Weaker figure may lead to lower rates.

Fed Focus

The United States central bank, the Federal Reserve, coordinates the borrowing and lending activities of federally chartered banks.  The principal reason the Federal Reserve was created was to reduce severe financial crises.  One way of accomplishing this goal is to control the amount of money that flows through the economy.  By manipulating the US money supply, the Fed influences inflation, unemployment, and the level of US economic activity.  The Fed has a variety of tools that it uses to control the money supply, but its chief policy tool is the manipulation of short-term interest rates.

No rate changes are expected at the Wednesday meeting but there is concern about the future considering the Dallas and Kansas City Federal Reserve banks requested a discount point hike.

Enjoy a prosperous week.  

by:  J. R. Esterkes

Royal Wedding Countdown Goes Under 100 Days

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

The royal wedding will be here before anyone knows it. That might strike some as strange, since the royal wedding hype is starting to drag on. However, an important milestone in the countdown has already been reached. On Wednesday, Jan. 19, there were 100 days to go until Prince William and Kate Middleton are to get married. On Thursday, Jan. 20, the countdown will go down from triple to double digits. Therefore, the number of days before the royal wedding may reach single digits before anyone knows it.

Prince William and Kate Middleton got engaged in October and made it public in mid-November. Over two months have now gone by since their big announcement, and there are only over three left. It may seem like there's still plenty of time before they walk down the aisle, yet it only seems that way.

It might already be too late to book hotel rooms for the royal wedding, although bookings have gone up by 40 percent, according to the Daily Mail. Once Prince William and Kate announced their route to Westminster Abbey, the nearby hotels became the hottest ticket in London.

1,000 new rooms are said to be prepared for April 29, with three new hotels opening as well. Yet although they were quick to spring up, they will just as quickly be snatched up by tourists and British citizens.

After Wednesday, there will be under 100 days left until the royal wedding. If onlookers haven't got their plans set for April 29 by now, it could be too late before long. But those difficulties are nothing compared to those who are actually putting the ceremony together.

For all that they've revealed about the big day so far, there are tons of other things that they have to keep secret right now. One of them is Middleton's dress, which the tabloids and blogs are scrambling to uncover. According to the BBC, there are over 300,000 Google results on the subject, although none of them know what the dress is.

There are still just under 100 days left for any royal wedding secrets to be uncovered. But even in the social media age, some things can still be kept under wraps. Considering the hype around Prince Williams and Kate, that may seem impossible. However, the royals remain adept at hiding a few things - after all, it took a few weeks for the engagement to be made public.

When the date of April 29 was first announced, it looked like a long way off. Yet the last couple of months have gone by in a flash, and the next 100 days or so will do the same - to the delight of Kate and William's massive audience.

Robert Dougherty Robert Dougherty Wed Jan 19, 6:04 pm ET

Boston housing market has 5-year shadow inventory

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

Boston housing market has 5-year shadow inventory

Friday, January 7, 2011, 2:07pm EST

A new report by Standard & Poor’s indicates the Bay State’s housing market has a way to go — say, another five years — before the after effects of the ongoing downturn have run their course.

The credit-ratings firm said measurements of so-called “shadow” housing inventory remain at distressing levels, both nationally and among many of the country’s largest cities, including Boston. All told, S&P said some $450 billion in mortgage debts are linked to these properties, considered distressed but not yet officially listed for sale. Examples of homes included in S&P’s shadow inventory are properties with debts that are 90 days or more past due as well as homes that are in some point in the foreclosure process.

With roughly $7 billion in distressed mortgage debts outstanding as of Sept. 30, Boston’s shadow inventory will likely take 62 months to clear. That timeline expanded from 60 months at the end of June and from 54 months at the beginning of 2010, according to S&P.

Nationally, the country’s shadow inventory stood at 44 months — or 3.5 years — at the end of the third quarter. Los Angeles had a shadow inventory of 178 months, or 14.8 years — the highest in the nation. New York’s inventory was 119.5 months, or 10 years. Miami, at 59 months, was the only top 20 city to see its shadow inventory shrink in the third quarter, according to S&P.

On a related note, CB Richard Ellis predicted in its annual market-outlook report that Massachusetts home prices will fall roughly 11 percent this year. That prediction was based on data provided by The New England Economic Partnership.

Boston Business Journal - by Craig M. Douglas

Mortgage Market Report 1/3/11

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

Market Comment

Mortgage bond prices started the week in negative territory.  Those losses were short-lived as trading was thin and choppy with continued large market swings.  There were few data releases.  The Treasury auctions showed relatively strong foreign demand for US debt instruments, which helped carry over to the mortgage bond market Wednesday afternoon.  Weekly jobless claims came in better than expected which was not good for bonds early Thursday morning.  Fortunately mortgage bonds ended the week positive by about 1/2 of a discount point. 

The employment report will be the most important release this week.  This data will set the tone for trading this month.  We ended last year with considerable volatility and this is expected to continue for some time.

 

Looking Ahead

Economic

Indicator

Release

Date and Time

Consensus

Estimate

 

Analysis

Construction Spending

Monday, Jan. 3,

10:00 am, et

Up 0.2%

Low importance.  An indication of economic strength.  Significant weakness may lead to lower rates.

ISM Index

Monday, Jan. 3,

10:00 am, et

57

Important.  A measure of manufacturer sentiment.  Weakness may lead to lower mortgage rates.

Factory Orders

Tuesday, Jan. 4,

10:00 am, et

Down 0.5%

Important.  A measure of manufacturing sector strength.  Weakness may lead to lower rates.

Fed Minutes

Tuesday, Jan. 4,

2:00 pm, et

None

Important.  Details of the last Fed meeting will be thoroughly analyzed.

ADP Employment

Wednesday, Jan. 5,

8:30 am, et

75k

Important.  An indication of employment.  Weakness may bring lower rates.

Weekly Jobless Claims

Thursday, Jan. 6,

8:30 am, et

400k

Important.  An indication of employment.   Higher claims may result in lower rates.

Employment

Friday, Jan. 7,

8:30 am, et

9.8%,

Payrolls +110k

Very important.  An increase in unemployment or a large decrease in payrolls may bring lower rates.

Consumer Credit

Friday, Jan. 7,

3:00 pm, et

Down $6.5b

Low importance.  A significantly higher than expected figure may lead to lower mortgage interest rates.

The Year Ahead

The future of the economy, recovery or additional weakness, will continue to be debated.  There is no certainty in predictions.  Data can be used to support both sides of the debate.  What we can be certain of is the fact that until the economy gains some stability, mortgage interest rates are likely to remain volatile.  Historically, mortgage interest rates seem to improve slowly.  In contrast, when rates increase, it is often fast and furious.  One negative day often erases a week of positive improvements.  Of course even that maxim was tested the last few months of last year as market swings of 1/2 a discount point both up and down were often seen in very short spans of time.  

It is possible for mortgage interest rates to push lower considering the Fed still wants to keep rates relatively low.  However, we are in unprecedented times and we have seen rates jump off the lows from last year.  The Fed isn’t the only player in the financial markets and there are many others buying and selling securities.  Remember that the Fed does not directly dictate that mortgage interest rates will be at a certain rate.  Rates are determined by the supply and demand for mortgage-backed securities. 

Despite spikes near the end of 2010, the Fed kept rates low.  The big unknown is how things will play out this year.  Now is a great time to take advantage of mortgage interest rates at these still historically favorable levels.

Leader Bank, Jeffrey Esterkes

10 Tips for a Smooth Home Remodel

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®
10 Tips for a Smooth Home Remodel

Follow these 10 tips when you embark on an exciting home remodeling project.

  1. Establish good two-way communication with the home remodeler. It’s essential to have good communication for a smooth home remodeling project. Does the remodeler listen? Does he or she answer questions clearly and candidly? Can you reach him when you need to? Does he return phone calls promptly? Does he let you know when problems arise and work with you on solving them? 

  2. Make sure you have compatibility and “fit” with the contractor. You’ll spend a lot of time with your remodeler so it’s important to have a good rapport and trust in him.  

  3. Set a clear and mutual understanding about the schedule. You and your home remodeler should agree on the schedule up front to avoid conflict and problems later in the project. 

  4. Request a written proposal. Often times, two people remember the same conversation differently. Get the proposal in writing and work with the remodeler to ensure it reflects your wishes. 

  5. Determine a clear and mutual understanding on the miscellaneous details. There are a lot of little details that need to be settled before work starts. What times of day will they be working? How will he access the property? How will cleanup be handled? How will they protect your property?  

  6. Remember to be flexible. Remodeling is an interruption of your normal life. Remember to be flexible during the project so that you can handle the unexpected and go with the flow. 

  7. Create a clear and mutual understanding of how Change Orders will be handled. With home remodeling there is always the chance you may want to change materials or other project details during the job. Agree with your home remodeler on how these changes will be handled before the start of work. Also understand that changes could affect the schedule and the budget, so it’s important you have all changes in writing. 

  8. Agree on a well-written contract that covers all the bases. The contract should include these elements: a timetable for the project, price and payment schedule, detailed specifications for all products and materials, insurance information, permit information, procedures for handling change orders, lien releases, provisions for conflict resolution, notice of your right under the Federal Trade Commission’s Cooling Off Rule (your right to cancel the contract within three days if it was signed someplace other than the remodeler’s place of business), and details on the important issues (such as access to your home, care of the home, cleanup and trash removal). 

  9. Ask for a written Lien Waiver from the home remodeler upon completion of the work. If the rhome emodeler hires subcontractors for portions of the work it is their responsibility to see them compensated. In order to ensure this has been done and to protect yourself, ask for a written lien waiver when the work is finished. This document will verify everyone has been paid.  

  10. Establish a project plan, covering all phases and dependencies in the work. Plan your big picture goals with the home remodeler and talk out your needs. Hire a home remodeler who will plan it out with you, listen to concerns, and answer questions.  

 

--From How to Hire Your Dream Remodeler by Tom Higgins, Superior Products Home Improvement, Littleton, Colo.

10 Real Estate Predictions for the New Year

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

10 Real Estate Predictions for the New Year

RISMEDIA, December 22, 2010—The start of a new year is often a time of reflection, as well as a time of anticipation for the future. It’s no different for real estate professionals, many of whom have weathered the recession and are now optimistic about 2011. From the return of new construction to the creation of healthier homes, the following are 10 residential real estate trends they see for the coming year:

1.) Building is back: After three years of little to no new development, John Wozniak of Wheaton, Illinois-based J. Lawrence Homes said the builder is excited about 2011. “After a couple of very challenging years, the market for new-construction housing is showing signs of life. Slowly but surely, homes are selling and new properties are breaking ground, such as the two communities we opened this year in Lynwood and North Aurora,” he said. “We’ve had encouraging sales and I believe they point to an uptick for 2011.”

2.) Apartments continue to thrive: If there has been one bright spot over the past few years in the real estate industry, it has been the rental market.

“People have realized the many benefits of renting, from having more flexibility with your housing commitments to a higher level of finishes and amenities. And, this demand will continue to outpace supply,” said Steve Fifield, president of Fifield Cos. “Appraisal Research reports that Chicago’s Class A downtown apartments are at a nearly 95 percent occupancy rate, and those numbers will continue to stay very strong for 2011.”

3.) Opting for established: The mega-communities in the exurbs are a thing of the past, said Brian Brunhofer of Meritus Homes. Instead, 2011 will see builders move toward smaller neighborhoods or pockets of homes in established communities. “Close-knit communities with respected homeowner associations, mature landscaping and neighbors waiting to greet you – that attractive quality of life is going to appeal to buyers much more in 2011.”

Seconding the movement toward established communities is Jeff Benach of Lexington Homes. “Buyers are looking for a safer investment for their home purchase,” he said. “We won’t see them roll the dice like in the past on a fast-growing town in a far-out suburb. They want a proven area with access to retail development and employment corridors. They don’t want to wait for the surrounding area to be built. They want everything already in place,” he said.

4.) Make it modern: Chalk it up to “Mad Men” or simply a pendulum swing in taste, but either way transitional and warm-modern design will be prevalent in 2011, said Brian Goldberg, a partner in LG Development Group. “Our clients are looking for a cleaner approach to the style of their homes – more mid-century and less traditional with a warm and tailored aesthetic,” he said.

Ray Hartshorne, principal of Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, agrees. “From the single-family side, our clients are gravitating toward modern design instead of strictly traditional, that is simple, clean line exteriors and open floor plans that are comfortable for the family and versatile for entertaining,” he said. “In the multi-family sector, now more than ever, we are seeing an interest in contemporary-themed and luxurious interior design for lobbies and common areas.”

5.) Buying for the long term: The Census shows the average person moves about 11 times, but Jim Chittaro, president of Smykal Homes, predicts that number will slowly decrease. “Thankfully, the idea of a home as a short-term moneymaker is essentially gone, so when people do buy, they’ll do it with the intention of staying put for closer to 10 years rather than two to three,” he said

This means people will be studying floor plans more closely, to ensure the home will grow with them, Chittaro continued. “Buyers want to be sure the home will suit their needs not only now, but down the road, whether they plan to expand their family or prepare for kids to leave the nest,” he said. “Floor plans that can adapt to lifestyle changes with flexible features like second family rooms should do well in 2011.”

Brunhofer agrees that more buyers will be looking for a home for the long haul. “It’s not just floor plans that buyers are going over with a fine-tooth comb,” Brunhofer said. “Our buyers are very careful about school districts. They want to know they can send all of their children to a school with a proven track record and not have to relocate a few years down the road to ensure a good education.”

The shift to long-term buyers will also put long-term builders in the spotlight. “People are hesitant to buy a home from a builder or secure a mortgage from a lender they don't perceive to be well-established,” said Benach. “Buyers want to know their builder is committed to them and the community, and that it’s not about making a quick buck or boosting a shareholder’s financial interest. That personal connection is really important.”

6.) Upping the ante on amenities: In 2011, developers will continue to create new and exciting amenities to differentiate their properties and keep them relevant in the marketplace, said Tony Rossi, president of RMK Management Corp. “Renters are looking for something special, like an outdoor grilling area or special events like dance lessons,” he said.

But it’s not just enhanced outdoor spaces in apartments that will matter in 2011. Benach thinks condo and townhome buyers will also place a higher importance on outdoor space in the coming year, especially those who live in an urban setting.

“People may realize they don’t need to live with as much square footage inside their home, so to compensate they’ll want a place to call their own outside their home,” said Benach.

7.) High-tech takes over: Running your home entertainment system, appliances and lighting from a centralized control panel is old news. Going forward, we’ll see more homeowners want a smart phone app that can control their residence remotely, noted Goldberg.

“Each year, the demand increases for home technology that makes homeowners’ lives easier,” he said. “We’ll get to a point, and some of our clients are almost there, where homeowners can leave work and by activating an app on their phone have all of their home electronics queued up when they walk in the door – the oven is preheated, lights come on and a TV show turns on when motion sensors recognize they’ve walked into the room. It may sound like a movie, but some of this technology we can build into homes now.”

8.) Smaller homes stay the course: The average size of a new home decreased for the first time in decades from 2008 to 2009, and that trend will continue into 2011, said Benach.

“This trend is fueled by first-time buyers with smaller budgets, requiring smaller homes,” he said. “New buyers will have to be more conservative with their mortgages and will need to pay a higher percentage for a down payment, which means they’ll need a home with a smaller price,” he said. “People won’t be buying more than they need. So to meet their needs, we’ll see builders continue to trim the size of their homes and look for new ways to make square footage work harder.”

9.) Green and gorgeous: As the green movement continues to grow, high-end builders and developers have found ways to make homes both green and gorgeous. “The old mind set was that a green home couldn’t also be stylish and sophisticated. It was as if the two concepts were mutually exclusive,” said Hartshorne. “But new products and forward-thinking design have proved that today’s homeowners can have both. Also, building a green home doesn’t have to break the bank. We are constantly being introduced to attractive, sustainable building materials that are more cost effective than in the past.”

10.) Healthy homes: When you consider a study by the National Institutes of Health that found the number of people with allergies is as much as five times higher than 30 years ago, the trend toward building homes with a healthier environment will also gain ground in 2011, said Goldberg.

“Indoor air quality, low VOC paints and adhesives, and all-around healthier materials are becoming more and more of a concern for people building homes – especially for those with children,” he said.

Rick Croce, from Wheaton-based Smykal Renovations, said this trend applies to existing homes, too. “Due to the economy, many people have decided to stay put in their existing home, which means they’ll be investing in changes to make it look better and live healthier,” he said. “We expect to be pricing out more jobs that include installing HVAC systems with better filtration, using low-VOC materials and even replacing old doors and windows to safeguard against exterior pollutants.”

New Changes in Homestead Act

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

According to the Boston Globe article of 12/18/10, “The legislation clarifies ambiguities in a law first enacted in 1851. The statute, amended a number of times in ensuing years, provided $500,000 in protection from creditors — but only for homeowners who file a so-called homestead declaration with a county registry of deeds, a process that can cost between $35 and $100. Under the new law, homeowners do not have to make such a filing unless they hold more than $125,000 in equity in their homes. They can still get $500,000 in protection if they file a homestead declaration.”

For more information, please contact me at 978.471.9750 or ingridmiles@kw.com.

Received from North Shore Association of REALTORS

5 Holiday Shopping Traps to Avoid

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

5 Holiday Shopping Traps to Avoid

RISMEDIA — Finding the right gift at the right price can be challenging, especially during the holiday season when deep discounts and door-buster sales abound. A recent issue of Consumer Reports highlights five traps holiday shoppers can avoid.

"Knowing how to navigate sales, comparison shop, and cut through salespeople jargon is half the battle to stress-free holiday shopping," said Tod Marks, senior editor at Consumer Reports. "Shoppers need to take precautionary measures before purchasing gifts to make sure they are getting the right product, for the right price, with no strings attached."

Five Holiday Shopping Traps to Avoid

1. Deep discount come-ons. "Door-buster" sales promise big savings. Consumer Reports found an electric percolator "on-sale" at Kohl's stores and Kohls.com for $61.99, a discount from the regular $69.99. But those prices are higher than the $59.99 manufacturer's suggested retail price. Retailers, especially discount stores, commonly sell below MSRP. Using a Web search, Consumer Reports found better deals. The best price was $30.03 plus $8.21 shipping at Salestores.com.

What to do? Comparison shop before buying and don't worry about missing a sale, it's likely that another one will come around before the season ends.

2. Gift-card gotchas. New federal rules for gift cards limit issuers' ability to charge certain fees and impose expiration dates. Inactivity and service fees can be charged only if a card hasn't been used for at least one year. But issuers can still charge fees to buy cards, as they do for bank-issued variety, those that bear a credit-card logo. For example, expect to pay $3 to $7 for an American Express gift card. Also, gift cards are not protected if an issuer goes bankrupt. If that's the case, the card could be worthless.

Beyond that, many people never get around to spending their gift cards. A quarter of people surveyed by Consumer Reports in October 2009 who received gift cards the previous year said they hadn't redeemed their almost one year-old cards.

What to do? Give cash or a check. Cash never expires and is good anywhere. If the check is never cashed, the money stays in your bank account.

3. Extended-warranty pitches. Salespeople push service plans because retailers keep 50 percent or more of what they charge for them, but they are notoriously bad deals. Some repairs are already covered by the standard warranty that comes automatically with the product. Consumer Reports' data shows that products seldom break within the extended-warranty window of coverage, when items do break, the repairs, on average, cost about the same as the warranty.

What to do? Some credit cards automatically extend the manufacturer's warranty on anything purchased with them, so check the card's website. Even if the warranty expired, check with the retailer or manufacturer, which might choose or be legally obligated to repair and make good on a product that prematurely fails or otherwise shows signs of a defect.

4. Return-policy limitations. Some retailers relax their return policies during the holiday season, but don't count on it and always learn the rules before buying. Some companies have different return policies for in-store, online, or mail-order purchases.

What to do?
Keep the receipt and let the recipient know the return policy. If the store provides a special gift receipt, include that with your gift.

5. Restocking fees. Many items, especially electronics and special orders, are subject to restocking fees that range from 10–25 percent if they are not returned in a factory-sealed box.

What to do?
Don't open the package unless you're sure you want the item inside. Items such as computer software, music CDs, and movie DVDs generally aren't returnable if the seal is broken. If a fee is charged, try to negotiate a partial refund, but never pay a fee if the item is defective.

5 Holiday Shopping Traps to Avoid

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

5 Holiday Shopping Traps to Avoid

RISMEDIA — Finding the right gift at the right price can be challenging, especially during the holiday season when deep discounts and door-buster sales abound. A recent issue of Consumer Reports highlights five traps holiday shoppers can avoid.

"Knowing how to navigate sales, comparison shop, and cut through salespeople jargon is half the battle to stress-free holiday shopping," said Tod Marks, senior editor at Consumer Reports. "Shoppers need to take precautionary measures before purchasing gifts to make sure they are getting the right product, for the right price, with no strings attached."

Five Holiday Shopping Traps to Avoid

1. Deep discount come-ons. "Door-buster" sales promise big savings. Consumer Reports found an electric percolator "on-sale" at Kohl's stores and Kohls.com for $61.99, a discount from the regular $69.99. But those prices are higher than the $59.99 manufacturer's suggested retail price. Retailers, especially discount stores, commonly sell below MSRP. Using a Web search, Consumer Reports found better deals. The best price was $30.03 plus $8.21 shipping at Salestores.com.

What to do? Comparison shop before buying and don't worry about missing a sale, it's likely that another one will come around before the season ends.

2. Gift-card gotchas. New federal rules for gift cards limit issuers' ability to charge certain fees and impose expiration dates. Inactivity and service fees can be charged only if a card hasn't been used for at least one year. But issuers can still charge fees to buy cards, as they do for bank-issued variety, those that bear a credit-card logo. For example, expect to pay $3 to $7 for an American Express gift card. Also, gift cards are not protected if an issuer goes bankrupt. If that's the case, the card could be worthless.

Beyond that, many people never get around to spending their gift cards. A quarter of people surveyed by Consumer Reports in October 2009 who received gift cards the previous year said they hadn't redeemed their almost one year-old cards.

What to do? Give cash or a check. Cash never expires and is good anywhere. If the check is never cashed, the money stays in your bank account.

3. Extended-warranty pitches. Salespeople push service plans because retailers keep 50 percent or more of what they charge for them, but they are notoriously bad deals. Some repairs are already covered by the standard warranty that comes automatically with the product. Consumer Reports' data shows that products seldom break within the extended-warranty window of coverage, when items do break, the repairs, on average, cost about the same as the warranty.

What to do? Some credit cards automatically extend the manufacturer's warranty on anything purchased with them, so check the card's website. Even if the warranty expired, check with the retailer or manufacturer, which might choose or be legally obligated to repair and make good on a product that prematurely fails or otherwise shows signs of a defect.

4. Return-policy limitations. Some retailers relax their return policies during the holiday season, but don't count on it and always learn the rules before buying. Some companies have different return policies for in-store, online, or mail-order purchases.

What to do?
Keep the receipt and let the recipient know the return policy. If the store provides a special gift receipt, include that with your gift.

5. Restocking fees. Many items, especially electronics and special orders, are subject to restocking fees that range from 10–25 percent if they are not returned in a factory-sealed box.

What to do?
Don't open the package unless you're sure you want the item inside. Items such as computer software, music CDs, and movie DVDs generally aren't returnable if the seal is broken. If a fee is charged, try to negotiate a partial refund, but never pay a fee if the item is defective.

Displaying blog entries 51-60 of 66

Contact Information

Photo of Ingrid Miles, CBR, SRES, Lead REALTOR, Stephen Mil Real Estate
Ingrid Miles, CBR, SRES, Lead REALTOR, Stephen Mil
Keller Williams Realty
11 South Main St & 1 Merrimac St
Topsfield & Newburyport MA 01983 & 01950
Direct: 978-471-9750
978.861.4218
Fax: 978-861-4218

The property listing data and information, or the Images, set forth herein were provided to MLS Property Information Network, Inc. from third party sources, including sellers, lessors and public records, and were compiled by MLS Property Information Network, Inc. The property listing data and information, and the Images, are for the personal, non-commercial use of consumers having a good faith interest in purchasing or leasing listed properties of the type displayed to them and may not be used for any purpose other than to identify prospective properties which such consumers may have a good faith interest in purchasing or leasing. MLS Property Information Network, Inc. and its subscribers disclaim any and all representations and warranties as to the accuracy of the property listing data and information, or as to the accuracy of any of the Images, set forth herein.”