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Archive for March 2013

HOME TRENDS: FREE ELECTRICITY FOR A DAY? HOW DO THEY DO THAT?

Deborah Laemmerhirt  203.994.4297

Electric utilities are advancing their programs to swap out old inefficient power meters with new, 2 way devices. With new metering capabilities homeowners will have powerful options in energy usage and management. The big buzz now trending is time-of-use, or dynamic electricity pricing.

Most homeowners today pay a one-size-fits-all price for electricity ( the kilowatt hour is the unit of measure) and have no incentive to alter their consumption in response to price fluctuations.

As the video (click image) will indicate, the cost to produce electricity moves around all day long so understanding TIME OF DAY usage is important.
 
The goal of smart meters is twofold. Two way meters can communicate with the utility and provide real-time demand data. Secondly, the process of smart metering will allow homeowners to manage when they use electricity and leverage special promotions that utilities will offer. Daytime electricity generation is the most expensive but if utilities can reduce daytime generation and move it to evening or late night there is a lot of money to be saved and eventual passed on to homeowners.

Some sort of smart meters have been around for 10 years and newer technology is fueling the trend. A few years back there were health and safety concerns but the industry seems to have worked out those problems. Privacy advocates also caution on “too much info” being sent to the power company.  Currently there is an estimated 10 million homes that have some type of metering technology installed. Some states that are rolling out the programs are getting push back from homeowners (Article from Texas) who say they are being forced to use the new meters against their wishes.  Please contact your local Public Utility Commission to convey any concerns.

What Will The Offers From My Utility Look Like?

Let’s say you pay 7.9 cents for a Kilowatt (1000 watts of electricity). Utilities will offer you 20% savings if you use electricity after 8 pm or even more after 11 pm when generation costs the least. (Click on video above)  Your smart meter will communicate just how much you use and when you use it. In many states that had energy deregulation, competing energy suppliers may entice new customers with “free electricity every Wednesday for two months”.  It won’t be long before you see offers form banks and credit card companies offering similar deals to sign up for a new service.

With rapidly advancing technology in the home automation industry, fueled by WiFi networks, your smart phone will communicate with your smart meter and tell you the optimal time to turn on the dishwasher or do the wash!   
 

 
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CT CONSUMER WATCH: NEW BILL IN CONGRESS AIMS TO PROVIDE EASIER OPT OUT

Deborah Laemmerhirt 203-994-4297

Ever visit a website looking for something, for example shoes? Then every other time you searched for something else,  Zappos or Shoe Outlet.com shows up first in your search rankings! Some say “pretty cool… how did they do that”. More and more are saying “OK, that’s enough”. Enter the growing area called Online Behavioral Advertising.

Many of the ads you receive on web pages and on web searches are, believe it or not, customized just for your eyes only. Ads you see can be based on predictions about your interests generated from your visits over time and across different Web sites. ( How Behavior Ads Work)

This type of ad customization – sometimes called online behavioral or interest based advertising- works through a system of files on your computer called “cookies”. Like crumbs used to document “where you have been”, these cookies tell websites a lot about where you have visited, what you have searched on and what you are clicking on. Then, this pattern of interest gets documented and entered into a profile created just on your viewing habits.

Senator Jay Rockefeller just reintroduced the  “Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2013,” which would make it law for all Web browsers, online companies, and app makers to give users a choice of opting out of being tracked online. The Senator introduced the earlier bill in 2011 but was promised by the ad industry they would make it easy for consumers to opt-out.  This time the Senator wants to make it extremely easy for consumers to opt out. He would involve the Federal Trade Commission which over sees online consumer issues

http://www.aboutads.info/choices is  a site where you can opt out of some tracking systems, but not all.

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HOME TRENDS: FREE ELECTRICITY FOR A DAY? HOW DO THEY DO THAT?

The goal of smart meters is twofold. Two way meters can communicate with the utility and provide real-time demand data. Secondly, the process of smart metering will allow homeowners to manage when they use electricity and leverage special promotions that utilities will offer. Daytime electricity generation is the most expensive but if utilities can reduce…

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EASEMENTS SOMETIMES OVERRIDE PRIVATE CT PROPERTY RIGHTS

Deborah Laemmerhirt 203-994-4297

Suppose you’re quietly enjoying your new home one morning, when you’re disturbed by a crowd of strangers in hiking gear, passing through your property. You confront them and discover that they have been using the path by your house for years in order to access a public hiking trail. Can you

Types of Easements

    There are three distinct types of easements that can benefit or burden your property use, depending on your point of view.
    1. An easement in gross such as a public utility easement. This type of easement affects nearly every property. Since these easements are generally recorded in public records, knowledge of their existence is available to purchasers of the land. In some cases, they are obvious, such as overhead power lines. Occasionally an underground easement (a water or sewer line, for example) goes undisclosed. The possibility is one reason why land purchasers should have title insurance to protect them from possible problems.
    2. An easement appurtenant benefits an adjacent parcel, such as a driveway that you share in order to give neighbors access to their property. These easements are generally created by court action and recorded.
    3. Prescriptive easements

arise when people use property without permission, in spite of the fact that a homeowner has asked them to stop. A prescriptive easement can be created if the property use is open, well known, hostile, and continuous over a specified number of years, which varies by state.
    If the above requirements are me
t, claimant might be able to bring a title lawsuit against the property owner, as the Interior Trails Coalition did against the Alaska couple in the case described in this article.

stop them? Possibly. But private property owners should be aware that in some instances, access can be allowed through private property so the public can reach sites such as state parks or campgrounds. Failure to allow access can subject landowners to lawsuits and legal liability.

One example occurred when the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that a non-profit group could proceed with a lawsuit to establish an easement over a couple’s property to gain access to a public hiking trail. (Interior Trails Preservation Coalition v. Gregg and Donna Swope, No. S-11323, 6/24/05).

Facts of the Case

Gregg and Donna Swope purchased land near the Skyline Ridge Trail in Fairbanks in 1997. They bought it not knowing that for more than 40 years, hikers used a path through the property to access the trail. After observing some hikers cutting through the parcel, the couple posted “No Trespassing” signs on the land, according to court records. Some hikers ignored the signs, however, and continued using the path.

In 2002, the Interior Trails Preservation Coalition filed suit seeking to establish a public right-of-way through the Swopes’ property. The group asked a judge to declare a public easement through the parcel since hikers had used it to gain access to the trail since the 1950s.

Efforts to secure such easements are similar to the attempts to establish a legal claim to land under the doctrine of adverse possession. Under this doctrine, claimants must show that they possessed the land for a certain time period without the landowner’s objection. In the case of a public easement, a claimant must show the public used the land for a set time period without objections.

The time period needed to possess or use land to establish these type of claims are different under each state’s law. Alaska requires public use of land for 10 years in order for an easement claim to be filed. The coalition argued that since the public had been using the path to access the trail since at least 1955, the easement claim was established by 1965.

A state court judge threw out the non-profit group’s suit, however, finding that the organization hadn’t been in existence for 10 years, so it couldn’t show that it or its members had used the path for the time required to make a valid public easement claim.

 

A Higher Court Steps In

However, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the lower court ruling and reinstated the suit. The justices said the trial judge erred in focusing simply on whether the coalition used the trail, rather than the general public.

To have a valid claim for a public easement, “the coalition was required to prove continuous use by the public in general and not by the organization or any of its individual members,” the Supreme Court ruling stated. The coalition had sufficient evidence of public use to be able to press forward with its suit, the justices added.

The Alaska Supreme Court noted that other states have recognized the validity of public easements over private property. In New Hampshire, for example, the courts ruled in one case the that the general public’s use of a church’s property to access a public beach for 20 years was enough to establish a public easement claim. (Elmer v. Rodgers, 214 A.2d 750, 1965)

The Swope case should serve as a red flag that there are some situations in which there is little private property owners can do to bar public use of their land. Posting “No Trespassing” signs on the parcel won’t block public easement claims that have already been established through historical use of the property. Consult with an experienced land-use attorney when buying or selling property for an assessment of whether the parcel may be subject to such claims.

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CT Home Sellers – How Do I Know What My House Is Really Worth?

Deborah Laemmerhirt  203.994.4297

The market value of your home will be an important consideration in several decisions you might make, including refinancing, borrowing against the home’s accumulated equity, putting the home up for sale, estimating homeowner’s insurance, estimating annual property taxes, estimating the return from remodeling jobs, estate planning, and so forth. Remember, how much was paid for the home when it was first purchased is irrelevant to its current market value.

It’s a good idea to use several different sources for information-gathering to allow you to make fair comparisons. Here are five suggestions:

1. Contact a real estate agent. You might not be ready to sell immediately, but most agents will do a comparable market analysis for you now so that they can obtain your business when you do decide to sell. The analysis will show the prices of both sold and still for sale comparable, local homes. A seasoned agent can give you a good approximation of what your home would be worth in current local market conditions and in consideration to its condition and size.

2. Pay for an appraisal. A professional appraisal won’t likely be free of charge. In fact, it’s likely to cost a couple hundred dollars. That said, it could worth it when you consider how many decisions are based upon the value of your home. The appraiser uses the information he/she obtains from physically inspecting your home and other data he/or she obtains from the market to issue an appraiser’s report. The report will include what criteria was used to arrive at the appraised value and a full description of your home.

3. Visit open houses in your neighborhood. You’ll get the opportunity to see for yourself how comparable homes compare. You may also learn some valuable information as you inevitably chat with attending local real estate professionals. You should, however, be mindful that the listing price doesn’t necessarily reflect a real market value. This is because many people find it hard to be objective about their own homes’ value and will price them how they personally value them, even against their real estate agent’s advice, instead of how they should be priced in relation to the market.

4. Research home valuation online. There are an array of Web sites offering either free or for-fee information on home valuation.

5. Price-per-square-foot is a common real estate valuation tool, especially online. However, don’t forget that there are plenty of other factors that contribute to a home’s value aside from square footage, as tiny, costly apartments in New York can attest. In other words, be sure to consider factors like whether the home is move-in-ready, recent updated, where it’s located, and other non-personal factors. Another consideration is how the square footage is calculated — with or without detached buildings, garages, and other typically non-living spaces. 

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Tax – Scam Artists Are Out!

This time of year brings out many tax–scam artists who prey on low-income consumers and unknowing seniors. Here are few tips that can hopefully keep you aware of the scams. The “IRS” sends you an email. The IRS doesn’t send unsolicited email to taxpayers. The IRS calls you and offers filing help over the phone……

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CT Homes:IF THE SKY FALLS: ARE YOU COVERED IF YOU GET HIT BY A METEOR?

Deborah Laemmerhirt  203.994.4297

When you think about it, are you covered from damage from a meteor hitting your home?  Homeowner’s Insurance rates are going up about 15-20% at renewal time due to natural disasters and other factors. There are some steps you can take to mitigate this increase but what follows are some resources to help you get well protected.

First, about the meteor.

From friends at the Insurance Information Institute:

While the likelihood of actually getting struck by a satellite, a meteor or an asteroid is extremely rare, the good news is that if one of these falling objects does hit you, your home or  your car, you would be you are financially protected by insurance.

If a satellite, meteor or asteroid falls on your car, coverage is provided under the optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.

In the tragic event that space debris were to strike a person, his or her injuries would be covered under health insurance and, in the event of a death, existing life insurance policies would kick in.

Disasters Adding To The Pressure On Rates

Homeowner’s Insurance premium rates are increasing this year 15%-20%% or on average $128 more than in 2012.  The biggest reason is a “given” in the insurance industry: disasters from last year impact this year’s premiums. Last year, Super storm Sandy cost nearly $100 billion in damage and associated costs.

When talking about weather-related disasters, 2011 was a record year. A dozen disasters each caused damage costing at least $1 billion. And that was just in the US. Because our domestic insurance companies carry insurance themselves for extraordinary events (called re insurance), insurance costs go up because of events all over the world. So the tsunami and earthquake in Japan literally cost you money in the end.

What To Do, What Not To Do

Around the home there are home and lifestyle situations that can cause your individual rates to go up. At the same time you may not be covered for some claims should there be an accident.

In this slide show here from MSN, you can see 12 areas that can cause rates to go up and events not to be insured.

As home values dropped in most parts of the country, consumer groups are warning homeowners not to insure on the value of your home but on the replacement value of the home. The two are very different.

Home values go up and down all the time but what never goes down is the price to build a new home comparable to the one you have now. That is what is called replacement value. The cost of raw materials and labor continue to escalate so we caution you to ask your insurance carrier about the best way to insure to replacement value.

 

Do-It-Yourself!  New online service: Accucoverage.com. This website can provide you with your home replacement value based on the same local conditions, costs and criteria an insurance company would use. The service asks you a few questions and derives a value estimate with your zip code based cost structure. The fee for the service is $7.95.

DID YOU KNOW #1

A growing number of policies do not cover sewer backup. For about $60 per year you can add about $15,000 worth of coverage should there be damage from a backup or sump pump failure.

DID YOU KNOW #2

If you are thinking of buying a existing home, you could be in for a increased homeowners premium because of the claims history of the home. You can see the insurance claim history in a report you can buy from ChoiceTrust.  Be sure to ask the home seller for a report of the home’s Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange report, or CLUE report, which lists the historical claims made on the home. You can look up your home’s CLUE report at http://www.choicetrust.com.

Update Based On Events:

Factoid:  An insurance industry report recently said that 32 million households in the U.S. own insurance policies that aren’t right for them. In fact, in 2008, 58% of homes were undervalued in their policies by an average of 21%.  Imagine if your home was destroyed by a fire and coverage fell 20% short.

“To make the most of your insurance dollars, it is very important that you let your insurance agent know about alterations to your home and other major events in your life,” said Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. (The III is a content partner with HomeActions)

Read on if any of these events occurred recently.

1. Have you gotten married or divorced?

2. Have you had a baby?

3. Did your teenager get a drivers license?

4. Have you switched jobs/lost Income?

5. Have you done extensive renovations on your home?

6. Have you decided to buy a retirement or vacation home?

7. Have you acquired any new valuables such as jewelry, fine art, antiques?

8. Have you signed a lease on a house or apartment (kids?)

9. Have you joined a carpool?

10. Have you retired?

 

1. Have you gotten married or divorced?

If you have gotten married, you may qualify for a discount on your auto insurance. Couples may well bring two cars into the relationship and two insurance companies, so take the opportunity to review your existing coverage and see which company offers the best combination of price and service.

 

If you are merging two households, you may need to update your homeowners insurance. And you may want to consider increasing your insurance for any new valuables received as wedding gifts, and for jewelry such as wedding and engagement rings.

 

After getting married, it is also important to review your life insurance needs. If one spouse is not working, he or she might be dependent on the working spouse’s income; if so, reviewing life and disability insurance coverage is prudent. And even if both spouses are working, couples often make financial commitments based on both incomes so the loss of one spouse’s income due to death or disability could be devastating without adequate insurance.

 

If you got divorced, you will probably no longer be sharing a car and may move to a smaller home. If this is the case, you should inform your insurer as you will need to set up separate auto and homeowners policies.

 

2. Have you had a baby?

If you have recently added a child to your family, whether by birth or adoption, it is important to review your life insurance and disability income protection. According to a MetLife study of survivors (i.e., spouses and children) of someone who died “prematurely,” 39 percent had no life insurance at all. Of these families, 40 percent had children under age 18. Therefore, in about 16 percent of all cases survivors of prematurely deceased persons were families with young children of who had no life insurance.

 

If you are planning for your life insurance to match your survivors’ expenses after your death, the new child will likely add to those expenses, requiring more life insurance to keep your family secure. If you plan to save for your child’s college education, life insurance can assure completion of that plan. And if you keep your current life insurance policy, don’t forget to update the beneficiary designations to include the new child.

 

3. Did your teenager get a drivers license?

It is generally cheaper to add your teenagers to your auto insurance policy than for them to purchase their own. If they are going to be driving their own car, consider insuring it with your company so you can get a multi-car discount. And choose the car carefully-the type of car a young person drives can dramatically affect the price of insurance. You and your teens should choose a car that is easy to drive and would offer protection in the event of a crash.

 

Also, encourage your kids to get good grades and to take a driver training course. Most companies will give discounts for getting at least a “B” average in school and for taking recognized driving courses.

 

If your teenagers move at least 100 miles from home-for example, to go to college-you can get a discount for the time they are not around to drive the car (assuming that they leave the car at home).

 

4. Have you switched jobs or experienced a significant change in your income?

If you had life and disability insurance through your former employer, and your new employer does not provide equivalent protection, you can replace the “lost” coverage with individual policies.

 

In the case of an income increase, you may have taken on additional financial commitments that your survivors will depend on. Make sure to review your life and disability insurance to ensure it is adequate to maintain those commitments.

 

If your income decreased, you may want to cut your household expenses, including your life insurance premiums. Fortunately, term life insurance rates have been dropping, so if you bought your life insurance more than five years ago, shop around-you might be able to pay less for the same protection. If you have two or more policies you might be able to replace both with a single policy at a lower rate because you may reach a “milestone” amount of insurance. (For example, at many companies, $500,000 of insurance costs less than $450,000 because of the milestone discount.) But don’t drop existing life insurance until after you have a new policy in place.

 

5. Have you done extensive renovations on your home?

If you have made major improvements to your home, such as adding a new room, enclosing a porch or expanding a kitchen or bathroom, you risk being underinsured if you don’t report the changes to your insurance company.

 

And don’t overlook new structures outside of your home. If you have built a gazebo, a new shed for your tools or have installed a pool or hot tub, you should speak to your agent.

 

If, as part of a renovation, you purchase furniture, exercise equipment or electronics, you may need to increase the amount of insurance you have on your personal possessions.

 

6. Have you decided to buy a retirement or vacation home?

If you are searching for your dream vacation home or a second home you might retire to, make sure you research the availability and cost of homeowners insurance before you commit to the purchase. Often, the very factors that make a vacation home seem ideal, whether it is a waterfront property or a mountain retreat, can introduce risks that, together with the fact the home is likely to be vacant much of the time, can make it costly and difficult to insure.

 

In the event you have already bought a vacation home, don’t skimp on the insurance. The risk of theft or disaster is just as significant, if not more so, in a second home as in your primary residence.

 

If your new property is close to the water, be sure to ask about flood insurance. Damage to your home or belongings resulting from flood is not covered under standard home owners insurance policies. Flood insurance is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as some private insurers, and is generally sold through private agents and brokers. You can ask your agent or representative whether your home is at risk for flood, or enter your address on the NFIP Web site to find out whether your home is in a flood zone. If you have a very valuable home, some home owners insurers offer excess flood coverage over and above that provided by the NFIP policies.

 

7. Have you acquired any new valuables such as jewelry, electronic equipment, fine art, antiques?

A standard home owners policy offers only limited coverage for highly valuable items. If you have made purchases or received gifts that exceed these limits, you should consider supplementing your policy with a “floater,” a separate policy that provides additional insurance for your valuables and covers them for perils not included in your policy such as accidental loss. Before purchasing a floater, the items covered must be professionally appraised. Keep receipts and add the new items to your home inventory.

 

8. Have you signed a lease on a house or apartment?

If you are renting a home, your landlord is responsible for insuring the structure of the building, but not for insuring your possessions-that is up to you. Nevertheless, nearly seven in 10 renters say they do not have renters insurance, despite the fact that, according to the U. S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, rented households are burglarized at rates about 50 percent higher than owned households. If you want to be covered against losses from theft and catastrophes such as fire, lightning and windstorm damage, you should invest in renters insurance. Like homeowners insurance, renters insurance includes liability, which covers your responsibility to other people injured at your home, or elsewhere, by you and pays legal defense costs if you are taken to court.

 

Regardless of whether you are an owner or renter, you will have the following options when it comes to insuring your possessions:

 

    * Actual cash value pays to replace your home or possessions minus a deduction for depreciation.

    * Replacement cost pays the cost of rebuilding or repairing your home or replacing your possessions without a deduction for depreciation.

 

Think carefully about what your financial position would be in the aftermath of a disaster, and make sure you have the type of policy that is right for you.

 

9. Have you joined a carpool?

If you are a frequent carpool driver, whether it is to work, or ferrying kids to school and other activities, your liability insurance should reflect the increased risk of additional passengers in the automobile. Check with your agent or representative to make sure your coverage is adequate.

 

10. Have you retired?

If you commuted regularly to your job, then in retirement your mileage has likely plummeted. If so, you should report it to your auto insurer as it could significantly lower the cost of your premiums. Furthermore, drivers over the age of 50-55 may get a discount, depending on the insurance company.

 

As part of your annual review, it is always a good idea to talk with your insurance agent or company representative.

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CORRELATIONS AND YOUR PORTFOLIO

The purpose of diversification is to combine assets with low correlation in order to reduce the risk and volatility in your portfolio. Correlation is a statistical measure of how one asset class performs in relation to another asset class. Correlations can range from +1 to -1. A correlation of +1 means the two assets move…

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