MANATEE – July 26, 2013 – Yes, the beach trekker does look as if he’s carrying a big insect on his back, but it’s just the latest cool Google technology, adapted to capture images of 825 miles of Florida beaches.
Tech giant Google is partnering with the state tourism marketing corporation to capture 360-degree panoramic images of the Sunshine State’s glam beaches, enabling potential visitors to check them out on the Internet before they ever leave home.
Trained by Google Maps experts, two teams started July 15, and will cover roughly 50 miles of beach per week, according Kevin McGeever, senior editor at Visit Florida, the state tourism marketing corporation.
One team is tentatively scheduled to work in an area from Palm Harbor to Sarasota, which includes Manatee County, during the week of Sept. 23, said McGeever Wednesday.
A Bradenton Beach resort owner was enthusiastic about the project.
“That’s awesome. That’s very cool technology,” said Gayle Luper, owner of the Bungalow Beach Resort, 2000 Gulf Drive. “A lot of people use Google to find us, but now, they can also use it to see the beach.”
One team member carries a 40-pound backpack with a camera system on top. It boasts 15 lenses angled in different directions to capture a complete picture.
The other team member scouts ahead, takes still pictures for a journal and tracks the weather.
Then, they switch.
Once the images are edited, integrated into Google Maps and uploaded to Internet websites, anyone with access to a computer can enjoy panoramic views of Florida’s world-class beaches beginning next year, said McGeever.
Although Google Maps has used cars equipped with similar technology to map street views across 5 million miles and 50 countries, the company wanted to expand to places cars can’t go, said Sierra Lovelace, a spokesperson for Google at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
“There are places in the world that are important to document with Google maps, so we developed a fleet of street-view platforms or vehicles with the same technology that can go places cars can’t go,” she said, noting company transportation alternatives include snowmobiles, trolleys and trikes.
However, the Street View Trekker can eyeball places even trikes and trolleys can’t negotiate, she said.
Google’s partnership with Visit Florida involved the loan of two Trekkers under a financial arrangement Lovelace declined to discuss, she said.
“The beautiful thing is that, both on Google and on our site, visitors can look for their favorite beaches – by name, geography and region,” said McGeever. “It’ll be a great tool.”
© 2013 The Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Fla.), Sara Kennedy. Distributed by MCT Information Services
WASHINGTON – July 23, 2013 – By now, most of us understand the importance of a credit score. Mortgage lenders, credit card issuers and, in some cases, insurance companies use this measure of creditworthiness to determine availability and cost of their products. Some employers factor credit scores into hiring decisions.
But the one aspect that has eluded even savvy consumers is how to get their credit scores. For advice, I contacted the woman known as the guru of credit scores, Linda Ferrari, author of “The Big Score: Getting it and Keeping it –7 Buying Power for Life,” (Consumer Power Press, $25).
In her book, she explains that while credit scoring has been around since the 1950’s, it only became mainstream in the 1980s. The three rulers of the industry – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – are for-profit companies that make money by collecting information about you from your creditors and reselling it to anyone who may want it … including you.
In 1956, Fair Isaac & Co. created an objective scoring system to analyze consumer data. By 1991, all three credit-reporting agencies were using a FICO model to generate a number between 300-850 that quantifies an individual’s ability to pay back money borrowed.
But you do not have just one credit score. Each reporting agency generates a different score using their data and their model. Lenders will typically pull scores from all three agencies, then choose the middle score on which to base their decisions. These scores can vary by as much as 100 points or more, says Ferrari.
So how can you, the consumer, find out your score? “That is a question that is really complex to answer,” Ferrari says.
Hundreds of versions of the three bureau-generated scores are sold to consumers and lenders by hundreds of different credit score vendors, Ferrari says. When you apply for a loan, you have no way of knowing which score is being used.
Here Ferrari explains the four ways to access your score and how each one may be different:
FICO score: Even though credit scores are referred to as FICO scores, you cannot get a true FICO score. You get a score generated from a modified version of a true FICO score. If you go to myFico.com or order your score from Equifax (which is 100 percent true to the FICO model) you can get the most realistic approximation of the score that most lenders use to make decisions. However, scores on myFico.com cost more than scores sold by many other vendors.
Credit bureau score: All three credit bureaus sell credit scores to consumers, but in order to get a similar picture as lenders get, you would have to purchase your score from each of the three bureaus. Each bureau may offer to sell you scores from the other two, but know that Experian, for example, cannot sell you a real Equifax or TransUnion score because they are using their version of the FICO model to calculate it.
Online score: Hundreds of online companies offer credit scores to consumers, but while the data comes from the same three credit reporting agencies, it often applies general criteria not designed for any specific use and therefore isn’t a good source to determine how a certain type of lender may view you. These scores are often most affordable, but they can give an incomplete picture.
Lender scores: When you apply for any type of loan or credit, most lenders purchase scores from third-party vendors. When a lender requests your information, data is sent from the credit bureaus to the third-party vendor’s system which generates a score from each bureau. The scoring is based on whatever criteria the lender thinks is most important to their program. These scores are not available to consumers, but you can ask the lender to show you the score on which they are basing their lending decisions.
© 2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by MCT Information Services
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – July 15, 2013 – Karen Purdie feels she got flim-flammed by the moving man.
Last December, she went online, researched various moving companies and hired one to move her elderly parents from Grants Pass, Ore., to her home in West Sacramento. She got an estimate, told them what needed to be moved and set a delivery date.
Three days later, Purdie says, the movers showed up hours late – at 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. Her parents’ mattress was soggy, a dresser mirror was shattered and a number of items – including their favorite recliner chairs – had been left behind in Oregon by the movers. Worse, the moving crew wouldn’t unload anything until they were paid – in cash.
“It was horrible. It wasn’t a complicated move. Never in my wildest dreams would I have anticipated what happened,” said Purdie, a state employee, who’s filed a claim seeking reimbursement for damages.
Last year, consumers like Purdie filed more than 11,100 complaints with the Better Business Bureau nationwide. Nationally, moving companies rank among the top BBB complaint categories.
“When moving during the busiest moving time of the year, taking extra precautions when choosing a mover is imperative,” said Gary Almond, president of the Northeast California BBB, in an email. “Know who runs the business, where it’s located and ensure you know who is handling your personal and important possessions.”
The company that Purdie hired, Alliance Worldwide Van Lines, has several locations nationwide with “F” and “D-minus” ratings, based on consumer complaints. The BBB said the company may have subcontracted Purdie’s move to another firm. Efforts to reach Alliance were unsuccessful.
Certainly, moving is no one’s idea of a good time. Whether it’s schlepping furniture, books and belongings across town or cross-country, it’s a lot of work. But there are ways to make the adventure go as seamlessly as possible.
Don’t rely on TV or Internet ads. Get recommendations from friends or family. Check a company’s complaint history through the Better Business Bureau and its licensing status through state or federal agencies, such as the California Public Utilities Commission.
“The biggest mistake that consumers make is going online and not dealing with brick-and-mortar companies,” said Steve Weitekamp, president of the California Moving & Storage Association, which represents about 350 licensed moving companies in the state. “Anyone who tries to do this online is asking for a problem.”
In addition to checking a company’s licensing and complaint history, he recommends stopping by its office to gauge its professionalism.
Get it in writing
Get at least three estimates from companies that send an estimator to your home. Avoid online firms where you fill out a do-it-yourself inventory list.
Generally, for moves of less than 100 miles, you’ll be charged hourly rates. For longer-distance and out-of-state moves, you’ll be charged by weight and mileage. Some companies have minimums: i.e., at least four hours or 5,000 pounds.
Compare competing bids but avoid low-ball prices that seem too good to be true. Companies are required to provide a maximum price in writing on what it’ll cost, door to door.
“Before the first piece of furniture is loaded on a truck, the consumer should have a ‘Not-to-Exceed’ price. It’s the maximum they can charge,” said Weitekamp.
The best precaution, especially on a long-distance move, is to fill out an inventory, where you and the mover list all major items and their condition. Anything that’s already nicked or damaged should be noted. Be clear about exactly what is going in the truck vs. what you’ll be packing and moving yourself.
Know the extras
Movers can charge extra for elevators, flights of stairs (beyond a single-family home) or “long carry” fees when their truck can’t get closer than 75 feet from your front door.
Also, if they get to your house and there are 50 extra boxes in the garage or furniture that you changed your mind about taking, you’ll be asked to fill out – and pay for – a “change order” for the additional items.
Avoid peak times
The summer months, June through August, are when movers’ calendars and trucks fill up fast. Especially with apartments and rental homes, the first and last days of the month – and Fridays – are the busiest.
If possible, request a midweek or midmonth move. And try to schedule it at least 30 days in advance.
The lampshade gets crushed, the glass vase chips, the flat-screen TV cracks, the leather sofa is ripped. Damage can happen in the hustle and bustle of moving.
Under federal law, all moving companies are liable for basic repayment, if they damage an item during a move. It’s 60 cents per pound, per item. The coverage is included in your moving estimate.
But it could be woefully inadequate. If you’ve got a 10-pound, $1,000 Lalique glass bowl that gets broken, for instance, you would be repaid $6.
If you want added coverage, movers offer “replacement value” or “cash value” coverage against potential loss or damage.
Also, check your homeowners’ insurance to see if damages are covered.
If you’ve packed a box yourself and something breaks, you’ll have to show that the box itself was damaged. Otherwise, the mover can’t be sure that your packing skills didn’t contribute to the broken goods.
Do have a “first-off-truck” box that has essentials you’ll need immediately at your destination.
Don’t pack anything onto a moving truck that’s personally valuable: fine jewelry, cash, vital documents, business records, etc.
Another tip: Don’t move a flat-screen TV unless it’s been unplugged for 24 hours. If moved while still warm, it could suffer internal damage.
Too many consumers, said Weitekamp, make the mistake of not being present or paying attention while movers are at work. You should be an active participant, he said. Supervise packing. Do an accurate inventory. Watch as the goods go out and come in. Walk through the house to see that nothing gets left behind. At the new location, check the inventory for anything missing or not in the same condition.
“Moving is a very personal service, where you’re entrusting all your worldly possessions to someone you just met,” Weitekamp said. “The mover is going to load everything you own into a truck, close the door and drive away.”
A little caution ahead of time can save a lot of expensive headaches.
Copyright © 2013 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services.
NEW YORK – July 8, 2013 – Want to invest in real estate through a retirement account? It’s possible, but it’s also far more difficult than simply buying and selling investment property.
“Given the combination of bottomed-out home prices and a still-tight lending environment, utilizing funds from a retirement account to purchase investment homes with cash, or at least with a large downpayment, can give individual buyers a better chance of competing in this tight housing market,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.
Blomquist says investing with retirement money “gives consumers a path to more quickly build their nest egg since all proceeds from the real estate investment – whether that be from rental cash flow or from selling the property – go directly back into the retirement account.”
However, he also says retirement investors should conduct thorough research first.
Look before you leap
Retirement funds can be a good fit for some investors but it’s not for everyone. “It depends on the person’s age and the type of property,” says Sheldon Detrick, CEO of Prudential Alliance Realty in Oklahoma City, Okla. “Rental property, especially on the lower end, can be a good investment at any age. It’s usually profitable and easy to sell. On the other hand, buying land in outlying areas in anticipation of population growth is something only those under 50 should consider.”
Know the ground rules
Lorraine and Richard Walls, a couple in Midlothian, Va., decided to use their retirement accounts to buy investment properties in Southwest Florida. But before making the plunge, the Walls spent a full year researching how self-directed real estate IRAs work, learning the basic ground rules every investor should know before they get started. Those ground rules include:
• Title: Any property purchased by an IRA is owned by the IRA – not an individual.
• Purchase money: any money used to purchase a property with an IRA has to come directly from your IRA, not you individually, and you can’t be reimbursed by your IRA. This includes earnest money and closing.
• Rehab and carrying costs: similar to purchase money, any costs associated with rehabbing or carrying the property must be paid directly by the IRA. An IRA custodian can help with this.
• Income: any income generated from the property has to flow back into the IRA.
• Prohibited transactions: purchases made with an IRA need to be for investment, not personal use. Also an IRA cannot do business with family members of “lineal descent,” which includes you, a spouse, parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In addition, you cannot borrow money from a self-directed IRA or use it as security for a loan.
Use a Roth IRA to “pay taxes on the seed, not the crop”
According to Jeff Desich, chief executive of Equity Trust Company, choosing a Roth IRA over a traditional IRA is a “no brainer” for most real estate investors because although a traditional IRA allows for tax-free contributions, the earnings are taxed when pulled out for retirement down the road. “My dad would always say would you rather pay tax on the seed or on the crop,” Desich says.
Buy in your comfort zone
“We stuck to Lehigh (Acres, Fla.), which everyone said don’t do it,” says Lorraine Walls, adding that the couple now owns a total of nine properties in Lehigh Acres, one of the nation’s hardest-hit real estate markets. “I went with what I was comfortable with. We don’t need to make millions straight away.”
Plan your exit strategy but be flexible
Although she purchased the Lehigh Acres homes primarily for the long-term cash flow, Walls said steady gains in home price appreciation have her rethinking that strategy. “Actually, I’m thinking about selling because the prices have almost doubled in the last two years,” she said, noting that her real estate agent is urging her to list one home in particular. “I paid $58,000 for this property, and he wants to list it for about $105,000.”
Consider creative investing strategies
Early in his career, veteran real estate investor Stan Brady said he focused mostly on fix-and-flip properties that he sold to owner-occupant buyers. But his strategies have evolved over time to focus on optioning investment deals that he finds and negotiates for other investors who don’t have the time to find and negotiate those deals.
“A typical transaction for me would be taking an option contract … and then turn around and resell the property to a group of investors,” says the Atlanta-based investor. “Now they have a portfolio rental and I get back the profit in my IRA.”
Set up a 401(k) under real estate investing business
While a normal employer 401(k) plan won’t allow you to invest in real estate, everyone who invests in real estate is in business for themselves, Desich says, which gives him or her the right to have a retirement plan for that business. If someone is investing in real estate and finding success, then that person can set up a 401(k) that permits real estate investments and allows contributions up to $50,000 per year plus $50,000 for a spouse.
Make it a family affair and multiply your purchasing power
Investors have the option of partnering their IRA with others, according to Desich. For example, a husband and wife might each have a Roth IRA, and both may have a 401(k). Add in two kids who each might have a Roth IRA and the family can use all six accounts to purchase a deal and share the percentage.
Pay all cash or make a large downpayment to compete with institutional buyers
Besides the tax breaks that allow investors to build their retirement nest egg, self-directed IRAs give buyers the option of paying all cash or making a sizable downpayment – helping to compete in a market where multiple bids are the norm.
“Offer a high deposit and close within two weeks,” Walls says is her rule of thumb. “Offer them 50 percent, and bingo you’ll get it.”
Build a strong team around you
“You want to choose your partners wisely,” says Desich. “Biggest point outside the IRA, we help to connect the dots. Whoever you use, you need to have an attorney or accountant you work with who can help you; or find a custodian who can help you answer questions. We’re not all created the same.”
© 2013 Florida Realtors®
DNEW YORK – April 24, 2013 – A study conducted by Harris Interactive for Coldwell Banker Real Estate looked a changing marriage trends in America and how they impact the purchase of a first home.
According to the study, the timing of a first-home purchase hasn’t changed a lot over the years, but an upswing in later marriages means more couples are buying a home before they walk down the aisle – if they ever do – or making a purchase earlier in the marriage.
About one in four married couples between the ages of 18 to 34 purchased their first home together before their wedding date, compared to 14 percent of those ages 45 and older. According to the survey, 35 percent of all married couples purchased their first home together by their second wedding anniversary; 80 percent of these married homeowners said it strengthened their relationship more than any other purchase.
“What we’re seeing is that young couples are switching up the order and purchasing their first home regardless of whether or not they have set a wedding date,” says Dr. Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist and Coldwell Banker lifestyle correspondent.
“This is a huge movement within the American culture,” Ludwig adds. “While younger generations may be focusing more on their career, and in turn waiting longer to get married and have children, they are not delaying their dream of homeownership.”