Monday, March 30, 2009

Mortgage Banks Abandoning Homes

In a disturbing new trend, banks and mortgage holders are simply walking away from properties they had meant to foreclose on. It's simply not economically viable for them to follow through.

The whole purpose of foreclosing on a home or property is to take possession of it and get what they can for it, usually at a sheriff's sale. They typically take a loss, but the move accomplishes two things - they get the property off their books, and at least they get some of their money back.

Why has it happened? It works like this: when the adjustable rate mortgage kicks in or the occupant becomes unemployed, the foreclosure machine begins to roll. The occupants are evicted, the home is evaluated and basic home repairs are made, and then it's sold.

In the days before the economic meltdown, this was all just another day at the office. But there are so many homes going unoccupied that the system gets overrun. Houses that had some resale value when the eviction happened often become victim to crackheads and the home gets trashed.

Municipalities are strapped for cash, so the police force can't keep up. And the banks see a big fat zero and walk away.

But here's the rub; the mortgage is still in limbo and so often the previous occupant is still liable for making the monthly note. Fat chance.

And ironically, when the democrats in power (the Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi machine) were assuring us that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were "just fine", and McCain was calling for their reform, these evicted folks were paying tax money to bail out the banks that are now throwing them under the bus.

But they're not bothering to evict the gangbangers and crackheads.

The road to hades is paved with good intentions and no good deed goes unpunished.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Cap and Trade is Coming, Cut Utility Bills Now

For folks still drinking the Obama Kool Aid and think they're really getting a tax cut, it's time to dummy up. It's really a shell game. The bad news is that your taxes are going up; the good news is that I'm going to tell you how to do something about those pesky electricity, gasoline, and natural gas bills.

You see, Cap and Trade is a policy that Washington will push through. And it will increase your utility bills. Ernest Istook of the Heritage Foundation estimates that the average American household wil be ponying up an additional 50%.

Take a Look at Your Energy Consumption

Before you can lower your bills, you need to know where all that energy is going. Check out this energy efficiency checklist and make a diagnosis of your home. You might be surprised. Here are a few easy things:
  • Change your incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents. Buy the good ones, they last longer.
  • Set your refrigerator to 38 degrees and your freezer to 0 degrees. Keep your freezer full, even if it's frozen water in milk jugs; it's just more efficient.
  • Dress up your water heater with an approved insulating blanket.
  • Make sure your attic insulation is up to snuff.

How to Save at the Gas Pump

  • Fill up early in the morning while the gas is cooler. It is denser in that state so you actually get more volume.
  • Don't pump gas right after the tanker truck visits the station. Filling the underground pumps stirs up any settled stuff and you don't want it in your car.
  • Use a quality fuel additive. Experience the MPGreen Difference!

Follow these tips to start saving today!

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Formica for Non-Dummies

I ran into a friend the other day. He's a small business owner and when he opened his chiropractor's office, he slid me the contract for some office build out, including building a custom receptionist's area.

I say area because it was a combination desk, credenza, and one one of those elevated counters where the patients sign in. I don't know what the heck the official name is for a piece of furniture like that is, but it was fun to design and build.

I framed up the solid part of it and covered it with gleaming white plastic laminate (I know, everyone calls it Formica generically, but that's really a brand name).

Buy This Laminate Book Now!It was my first major job building a Formica countertop, but it's an easier project than you might think.

The key is that you have to proceed carefully; contact cement is not forgiving. It has zero open time, unlike other types of woodworking glues.

Do you need a lot of woodworking tools? Nah. But, if it involves wood, Rockler has the tool! Basically, you just need a router, table saw (or circular saw), J-roller, and a flat wood file.

DIY Projects You Can Do with Formica

The number of projects is really only limited by your imagination. Check this out:
  • Refinishing kitchen counters
  • Updating bath vanities
  • A friend of mine in Miami did the inside of his boat's cabin
  • Covering a coffee table
  • Making a smooth work bench top for your wood shop or arts and crafts work area
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Go ahead; you know you want to!

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Make Money at Home on the Internet

I listen to talk radio all day while I work as a freelance writer and keep hearing hearing this ad from the "Hawaii Beach Bum". All you have to do is follow his process and you can be a millionaire too!

Results not typical.

This form of a get rich quick scheme is just as bogus as the old addressing envelopes scam in the days when snail mail was the "in" thing.

A year or so ago, my wife floated the idea of us attending a free-lunch seminar at a swanky Galveston hotel. The topic was internet marketing and on-line stores, something I've been doing for quite a while, so we went. - Sure beats stamp collecting!
Bottom line, they were selling turn-key, pre-fab on-line stores for roughly 20 times what my hosting service charges. The audience was mostly made up of retirees and they were eating this stuff up.

I raised my hand and asked why they didn't address organic SEO and content webs; how can they demonstrate success without these techniques? Needless to say, the huckster didn't field any more of my questions. Real questions were clearly cutting into his bottom line.

My pet project is my home improvement site which I've been steadily developing for almost a year. That's my way of saying constantly adding real content.

Sometimes I get on the first page of a Google search, sometimes not. What I'm saying is that success does not come overnight and the fact that high-tech scam artists are out there is really a bur under my saddle. Yee ha.

Yes, you can make money from affiliate marketing and product sales, but it's like anything else, it takes time and hard work.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Faced with a Mechanics' Lien?

Be afraid; be very afraid.

What is a mechanics' lien? It's basically a lien put on your property by a tradesman who has performed work on it and has not been paid.

Does this mean you intentionally stiffed the guy or gal? Not necessarily. For example, let's assume you decided to hire a general contractor to remodel a kitchen or build a deck for you.

Part of the contractor's responsibility is to hire the subcontractors needed - plumbers, electricians, roofing contractors, whatever. It is his responsibility to pay them; this should be transparent to you. You don't care how much they make or whether that master finish carpenter provides his own woodworking power tools.

But if the GC fails to pay them, and believe me, it happens all the time, the building subcontractors can put a lien on your home. And until you satisfy it by paying them, you are very limited to what you can do to your own property.

Basically, you're tied to it because you can't sell it. Wow.

Find A Contractor

But with a bit of common sense forethought, there are ways to protect yourself and avoid a mechanics' lien:
  • Have the GC and subcontractors sign a “Waiver and Release” form.
  • Check out all the companies involved with the BBB.
  • Ask for references from the general's past ten completed contract jobs.
  • Make sure he is currently bonded and insured.
  • File a "Notice of Completion" form.
A final note of caution: if you won't be around to monitor your home while the work is being performed, a prudent step to take is to perform a criminal background check. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Electric Range Diagnosis

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Electric ranges and ovens are simpler than you might think. What does this mean to you? With nothing more than a digital or analog multimeter and a few other tools, you can troubleshoot and repair yours in many cases.

In most cases, there are actually two voltages associated with this appliance, 240 for the heating elements and 120 for the lights and clock. This means that before troubleshooting a stove you'll need to flip two circuit breakers.

If you don't want to tackle this project yourself, be sure to use a reliable appliance repair company. Like most services, there's a few bad eggs out there.

One problem I have had with my stove in the past is cleaning the oven using the locked-down self-cleaning feature. It gets so doggone hot in there that anything on the element will cause it to fry a hole.

That means replacing the element. It's an easy job, but it can be pricey. Add insult to injury; many appliance stores won't sell you the part. They want the labor mark-up and shun us DIY types. Bummer.

But this company has all appliance replacement parts with speedy delivery.

Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and tackle it? Just follow this stove repair checklist. Just don't forget to flip your circuit breakers! Bzzz! Been there, done that...

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

How's Your Homeowners Insurance Stack Up?

Mine is with State Farm and I'm pretty satisfied. Other than the little tidbit I heard on the radio yesterday reporting that the homeowners insurance rates here in the Republic of Texas are the highest in the nation.

What in tarnation did we do to deserve that? After all, Katrina hit Louisiana, not us. Wait, maybe it's because we took in the refugees? No good deed goes unpunished, as they say.

Many capital improvements can raise what you should increase your policy's value. Like replacing your central air conditioner with a more energy efficient one (higher SEER rating).

I just got a letter from State Farm today letting me know how important it is to keep up with how much my home is insured for. Makes sense; it covers the home's replacement cost, not the market value. Different animals entirely.

Like the difference between a horse and a zebra.

The cost of labor and construction materials keeps going up whether you make home improvements or not. This means the value of your policy must go up if you want to rebuild to the current standard if you should experience a catastrophe, God forbid.

Also note that your residential insurance policy does not automatically cover flooding. That's a separate rider. Get it or weep.

The last and only time I made a claim was when my house flooded from a burst bathroom sink cold water supply line. Man, what a headache. Not the insurance, the clean-up.

Oh yeah, that was covered by the regular policy because it was a plumbing issue, not weather. All flooding situations are not created equal.

So I pass on this wee bit of advice: get ye over to Lowes or Home Depot and pick up "burst-proof" hot and cold supply lines for your sinks and toilets.

Replace them or hire a handyman to do it for you. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Time for a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden

It's a cool morning today, but the time of any more freezes are well behind us here. So I spent about an hour planting some more plants in my raised bed vegetable garden.

Sweet basil, lemon basil, lemon balm plants; and some red corn seeds. Already got 5 or so corn stalks that are doing well that I sprouted from seed. I had that many more, but I was a bit too aggressive and a cold snap got them. Argg!

I'm going to take a shot at organic gardening this year. I know, it's a bit more work, but I think it'll pay off.

My asparagus bed is producing well, sending up some nice fat spears; nothing like that skinny nonsense the grocery store carries (at premium prices, I might add). I took an opportunity to plant asparagus crowns about 5 years ago and the bed gets more productive all the time.

A single bed is supposed to last up to 15 years.

Something else I want to do, as Randy Lemon advises, is plant some herb companion plants for pest control. Randy is the Gulf Coast gardening guru.

The reason I planted so much basil is that I'm a nut for homemade pesto sauce. Since I'm amping up my running again, I can justify all the pasta consumption. I used to do a lot of long distance running, but fell by the wayside.

Now, it's time to get back to the old ways. That's what happens as we get older. Some go sedentary, and some don't. I choose not to. And hey, I've got to do something to build up an appetite for the garden harvest!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Refrigerator Diagnosis - You Can Do It

Most folks think of the refrigerator as just an unobtrusive part of the background, humming and chillin' out, if you'll forgive the pun. Until it fails, and all of a sudden they've got a couple hundred dollars worth of food hanging in the balance.

The first thought that comes to mind is, "Call the serviceman! Stat!" Well, that's the appropriate response if the thing is still under warranty, but if not, why not take a crack at refrigerator troubleshooting and repair yourself?

It's really pretty simple to fix many fridge issues on your own. Of course, if it involves refrigerant, you will have to call a kitchen appliance serviceman.

You can't even buy that stuff without an HVAC license. Right or wrong, that's the way the game is rigged.

But, (you knew that was coming didn't you? ;-) there are times when you might as well cut your losses and move on with the great roller coaster of life. Let me tell you a little story to illustrate...

A couple of years ago it was time for a new fridge, and since I happened to be flush with cash, I sprung for a brand spankin' new Maytag. My wife and I always bought Maytag gadgets in the past because of the quality.

Heck, I had to replace a clothes dryer heating element a few years ago on a Maytag unit and that thing is about twenty years old. Not too shabby.

Wrong! Maytag has sold itself and now boasts the name tag but sells junk. No, I didn't just buy a lemon; a Google revealed that folks all over were having the same ice maker and water dispenser problems for a couple of years and the company has made no moves to install upgraded circuit boards.

They just keep changing them until the warranty runs out. What a joke. Mine went out twice in the first year, which happened to be the extent of the contract.

Sure, I could have lived with that, but I also went through two compressors in that year. Customer service? They just blow customers off.

Too sad, but hopefully my experience will save you some grief when you go shopping? Let me know. If I get enough input, I'll post an article. Reach me at

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Monday, March 9, 2009

It's not Delivery, It's Homemade Pizza!

That's right, you were expecting the the DiGiorno commercial, yes? Nah, this is even better. You know I usually blog about home improvement topics, and that's all good; but believe it or not, I have other interests. And you should too!

Anyway, I've always liked cooking. Probably because I like eating. Doing DIY projects will give you an appetite. So will the things I used to be very active in: triathlons and marathons. I even completed six ultramarathons.

Glutton for punishment, I suppose.

Yeah, that stuff will give you an appetite! So for the topic I was leading off with, how about some homemade pizza? Making the pizza dough or crust is the first thing to do, but don't be intimidated; it's easy. The pizza crust recipe I dreamed up is whole wheat.

I first got interested in making my own pizza from a buddy of mine, a club mate in the Bay Area Running Club (the one in Clear Lake, Texas, not the one in California). Coye Jones was a fanatic about making and eating pizza.

My favorite was the "Eggs Benedict" special. I sit here salivating just thinking of it. Coye was also one of the engineers that ushered in some of NASA's ground (or rather, space) breaking accomplishments. Awesome dude.

Another one of my favorite things to cook up is Panamanian-style empanadas. I grew up on these things, both when I lived in Las Cumbres in the rain forest, in Panama City, and in the Canal Zone. (Long live Balboa HS Bulldogs, rah!)

The next recipe I'm going to write an article about is ceviche. Can't wait to get started on that one.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

The Reverse ATM PIN Myth

This morning I got one of those send this important information to everyone you know emails. Sometimes these are indeed good advice, but sometimes, like this one, they're major bogus.

Real urban myth material. This one gives this tip: if a crook is trying to coerce you into withdrawing cash from the bank ATM machine, just enter your PIN in reverse. This sends a silent message to the police dispatcher.

Fast, quick, and in a hurry, here's comes the cops, swooping down like Barney Fife from Mayberry with his one bullet.

But I checked it out before forwarding it to all my friends, thereby saving their lives and earning lifelong appreciation and favor. Sorry folks, says, no no no, this one's BOGUS, unlike identity theft.

Identity theft happens every day, and unlike having a goon sitting next to you in the passenger seat, you bank account can be tapped out without your knowledge. Luckily, there are companies like LifeLock around who specialize on preventing theft before it happens. No shredder required.

It actually has a basis in fact. Joseph Zingher of Chicago (yeah, where Obama began his socialist regime), actually developed this system, dubbed SafteyPIN. He tried to market it, but to no avail.

The banks wouldn't pay for it, and as the police pointed out, the perp and victim would be long gone before SWAT (or good old Barney) arrived on the scene.

So don't believe this one, folks. If anything, the crook will go postal on you when he notices you trying to figure out your PIN backwards. After all (and be honest) how many among us learned scholars can actually recite the alphabet in reverse?

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Camouflage Vinyl Siding?

Little Giant Ladder: Big Trex

Yo, Bubba! No, I thought it was a joke too when I first heard of it. But it seems that Style Crest, Inc., has licensed the Mossy Oak® Obsession pattern and come up with WildSide camouflage vinyl siding.

You've got to wonder who was on that product development focus group. Can it go on double-wides? I don't mean to mock, but...

I don't have anything against vinyl siding and I realize there are a whole lot of camo enthusiasts out there. Heck, I've got a pair of camo britches and ball cap too, but still...

Imagine Bubba, who lives in the East Texas piney woods, comes home late one night after hefting a few at the Dew Drop Inn with a few buddies and can't find his house. "Dang," he thinks, "I thought fer sure I left it behind that dang truck up on blocks!"

“While we would be thrilled to see a whole sub-division of homes in WildSide siding, we are focused on the outdoor enthusiast who has been hunting for a way to showcase their love of the outdoors on a grander scale,” said Brad Johnson, Vice President, Marketing, Style Crest Building Products.

Well, we'll just have to see where this one goes. Or not.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

A Woodshop Full of Saws

In my shop the other day, it suddenly struck me how many saws I own. It's not like I'm obsessive-compulsive collector or pack rat, it's just that over the years they've accumulated.

Why? Because for one thing, of all the woodworking projects and on most of the remodeling contracts I've completed, almost all involved cutting in one form or another. You name it, siding, Hardiplank, fiber cement backer board, mitering baseboards, etc.

I've landed more than one contract through services like Angie's List.

Also, because if you want to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you have to start with a silk sow. In other words, the way the finished product looks and works depend on all the steps. It's all the summation of the small steps along the way.

In order to yield precise cuts, you have to use the right saw for the job. Sometimes only a coping or a dovetail saw will do, for instance. Or the DeWalt track saw I received a few months ago to do a review of.

Sometimes, it's a beautiful thing to be a freelance writer. I get lots of stuff to write reviews of. Books, tools, gadgets, and more. I only take those assignments if I think it's a quality product.

I'm always impartial, but I'm not going to set out to review something I can tell is junk right out of the starting blocks.

If this keeps up, I'm going to need a bigger shop...

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