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President Bush Signs Landmark Housing Bill into Law

by Alexandra Zega

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RISMEDIA, July 31, 2008-Landmark housing legislation signed into law yesterday by President Bush is aimed at ending the current cyclical downturn in the housing industry, helping home buyers and strapped borrowers and strengthening the housing finance system, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

“This milestone bill contains several provisions to get home buyers back into the marketplace, stop the slide in home prices, provide a lifeline to borrowers facing foreclosure, improve mortgage liquidity and bolster confidence in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,” said NAHB President Sandy Dunn, a home builder from Point Pleasant, W.Va. “We commend Congress and the President for taking this action to provide much-needed relief to the American people.”

For the past year, NAHB has been in the forefront in pushing for legislation to address the turmoil in the financial and housing markets and to bolster the nation’s faltering economy.

“By helping Americans avoid foreclosure, cracking down on predatory lending, protecting communities from the blight of abandoned homes, and providing generous tax incentives to encourage home ownership, this legislation will help strengthen the housing market and create jobs,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a chief architect of the bill, calls it “the most important piece of housing legislation in a generation.”

Prudential California/Nevada/Texas President Ed Krafchow agreed, saying the passing of the bill signifies an important turning point in the real estate industry.

“I think [the passing of the bill] is indicative of us coming through the storm,” Krafchow said. “The best part of this is, that this is a rebuilding process and now we’re on the other side of the perfect storm that hit the industry and certainly damaged the financial part of the business and greatly impeded doing real estate transactions. I’m not suggesting we’ve hit smooth sailing, but the majority of the storm is over and we’re starting to move forward in the business and the industry as it grows. That’s the most positive piece of the signing of this bill.”

Key elements of H.R. 3221, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, include:

- A temporary first-time home buyer tax credit. The tax credit will stimulate home buying, reduce excess supply in housing markets and shore up home prices.

- FHA modernization and expansion. A revitalized FHA will have greater flexibility to respond to the needs of borrowers, enable more working families to become home owners and play an important role in the mortgage markets. To address the foreclosure crisis, the FHA is given additional authority to insure up to $300 billion of mortgages to refinance loans headed for foreclosure.

- GSE (government-sponsored enterprise) reform. The law reforms the regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and permanently increases the conforming loan limit to help buyers in high-cost markets. To reassure financial and global markets, the government will temporarily expand its line of credit to Fannie and Freddie and permit the U.S. Treasury to purchase an equity stake in the companies through the end of 2009.

- Mortgage Revenue Bond Program. The measure gives states the ability to issue an additional $11 billion in mortgage revenue bonds, which will help strapped borrowers seeking to refinance their home loans.

- Low Income Housing Tax Credit. Enhancing this program will expand the supply of much-needed affordable rental housing.

Tax Credit Centerpiece of Housing Bill

The centerpiece of the housing bill is a temporary, $7,500 first-time home buyer tax credit for the purchase of any home. The tax credit can be used for homes purchased between April 9, 2008 and July 1, 2009. It is expected to provide a significant-and temporary-financial incentive for home buyers.

“The tax credit is the best stimulative measure,” said Dunn. “It will increase housing demand, get home buyers back into the marketplace and fight falling home prices, which threaten the economy as a whole.”

The original eligibility period expired in April 2009, but following a major grassroots campaign from NAHB members, the period was extended to June 30, 2009 to enable home builders to include the credit in their sales and marketing next spring and into the early summer-the peak home buying season.

NAHB has launched a new website, www.federalhousingtaxcredit.com, which includes a set of comprehensive questions and answers about how the credit works and how consumers can put it to their advantage.

For more information, visit www.nahb.org/mythbuster.

Housing Rescue Approved

by Alexandra Zega

RISMEDIA, July 25, 2008-(MCT)-The House approved a sweeping housing bill Wednesday that would provide tax credits of up to $7,500 for first-time home buyers and help an estimated 400,000 strapped homeowners avoid foreclosure.

The measure also would prop up troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, by giving the Treasury Department the ability to extend them an unlimited line of credit and buy up some of their stock, if necessary. The two companies back or own nearly half of the nation’s mortgage debt.

Hours before the vote, President Bush dropped his opposition to a provision offering $3.9 billion in block grants to help local communities devastated by foreclosures. With the White House’s support, the bill is likely to pass the Senate and become law this week.

A spokeswoman for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the city intends to apply for some of the block grant money.

The 272-152 vote reflected a congressional push to send election-year help to struggling borrowers and to reassure nervous financial markets about the health of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The bill includes a program to help financially distressed homeowners refinance mortgages under better terms, by encouraging lenders to voluntarily restructure those mortgages. Lenders would agree to take less, and borrowers would agree to split any profits from the eventual sale of their home with the government. Borrowers could not get a second mortgage for five years.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the program would cover about 400,000 homeowners with mortgages totaling $68 billion.

The bill also would include:

–A $7,500 tax credit for first-time home buyers.
–A $500 to $1,000 deduction for 2008 property taxes for people who don’t itemize deductions on their tax returns.
–Higher limits, up to $625,000, on mortgages insured through Fannie and Freddie. A temporary limit of $729,750 until Dec. 31 would remain in place.

The backing for Fannie and Freddie is “a massively important provision” because it will help to restore confidence to the mortgage market, which has been buffeted by a large number of defaults, said Joe Murray, director of political and government affairs for Wisconsin Realtors Association in Madison.

Congressional analysts estimate that a rescue of the mortgage giants could cost $25 billion, and perhaps more, but they predict there is a better than even chance it will not be needed.

Murray said the other parts of the bill aimed at providing direct help for homeowners and potential buyers also will help the market.

Details of how the $3.9 billion in block grants would be distributed were not immediately available, but the city of Milwaukee already is planning how to use the money, said Eileen Force, press secretary for Mayor Barrett. Barrett was out of town on a family vacation Wednesday.

Among the city’s objectives for the money would be increasing the percentage of foreclosed properties that are sustained as primary residences, reducing the share of evictions that are foreclosure-related, and lowering the number of vacant properties, Force said in an e-mail.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), who represents Milwaukee, said she was pleased with the bill.

“The legislation provides the tools necessary to our local governments to address the blight of widespread foreclosure (and) it also gives working and low-income families access to affordable and sustainable housing,” she said in a statement.

But U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), whose district includes southern parts of Milwaukee County, voted against the measure, saying he objected to its provisions to stabilize Fannie and Freddie.

“This bailout plan aggravates the fundamental problem that led us here: Fannie and Freddie remain for-profit corporations but still enjoy a federal guarantee at the taxpayers’ expense against any risk of loss,” he said in a statement. “To force Americans already struggling to make ends meet to take on this risk is a dangerous precedent.”

Wisconsin’s delegation voted along party lines, with Democrats Moore, Tammy Baldwin, Steve Kagen, Ron Kind and David Obey voting in support, and Republicans Ryan, Tom Petri and Jim Sensenbrenner opposed.

In all, 45 House Republicans voted in favor of the bill.

The legislation gives Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson power to inject capital into Fannie and Freddie and provides for a federal agency to insure refinanced home loans. Paulson overcame opposition to the bill within his own party, such as that expressed by Ryan.

Democrats were more supportive.

“This is the most important piece of housing legislation in a generation,” Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) told reporters in Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said earlier he aimed to get it through the Senate by the end of the day. The bill is “a very good piece of legislation,” he said. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) threatened to delay that schedule if he can’t amend the legislation, his spokesman Wesley Denton said.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, helped steer the bill after backing Paulson’s call for the emergency measures for Fannie and Freddie, which would last through 2009.

Lawmakers, intent on limiting any losses to taxpayers, tied the potential aid to the federal debt limit. Still, they also raised that ceiling to $10.6 trillion from the current $9.815 trillion in the bill.

Washington-based Fannie and McLean, Va.-based Freddie own or guarantee about half of the $12 trillion of U.S. home loans outstanding. The companies face mounting losses stemming from the collapse of the subprime market.

Also standing to benefit from the legislation are companies such as General Motors and Northwest Airlines. Provisions in the measure would allow unprofitable companies to use tax credits that they have already accumulated to make investments in their businesses and work force.

An economic stimulus plan approved earlier this year included tax breaks that gave companies an incentive to increase their capital investments. But lawmakers who represent manufacturing states said it left out companies such as General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. that have not been profitable.

Automakers, manufacturers and other companies that qualify for the tax credits would benefit by as much as $30 million for making the investments this year.

Lawmakers said automakers could benefit from the tax changes as well as airlines; manufacturers such as Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and Owens-Illinois Inc.; and energy companies such as CMS Energy Corp., Arch Coal Inc., and Murray Energy Corp.

Reacting to the passing of this legislation, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “The bill the House takes up today, if enacted, will represent the most far-reaching reform of our nation’s federal housing finance system in a generation…Owning a home is an essential part of the American Dream. It’s not only about what it means to individuals, it is what it means to the community, putting down roots. It is what it means to the economy as we take an interest in our homes and make them habitable. By expanding homeownership opportunities and protecting families against foreclosure, we are helping keep the American dream of owning a home alive. By restoring confidence in the housing market, our economy can begin to grow and create jobs for the American people again.”

What’s more, the National Association of Realtors® President Dick Gaylord, a broker with RE/MAX Real Estate Specialists in Long Beach, Calif said, “Realtors® are in the business of building communities, and our 1.2 million members understand that this legislation will go a long way in helping people buy and keep their homes,” said NAR President Dick Gaylord, a broker with RE/MAX Real Estate Specialists in Long Beach, Calif. “We look forward to prompt Senate action to finalize this bill, helping ensure that every American who can afford to own a home and wants to do so will have the opportunity and that everyone who responsibly owns a home is able to keep it. This bill must get to the president quickly, and we urge him to act immediately to sign it into law.”

“The $7,500 tax credit for first-time home buyers is a needed stimulus for a weak housing market,” said Gaylord. “This bill would extend the tax credit availability through June 2009, which would have a further positive effect on the housing market.”

Bloomberg News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

By Avrum D. Lank - Copyright © 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Getaways: Aquariums That Let You Swim with the ‘Fishes’

by Alexandra Zega

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RISMEDIA, July 18, 2008-(MCT)-I was kneeling under 12 feet of water when the sensation began, the feeling of something soft and velvety on the back of my neck. A minute passed, then another, and it was still there, a feathery pressure.

There were nine sharks, including two very playful zebra sharks, swimming near me, but I wasn’t worried about the tickle coming from one of them. They all kept a respectable-if not respectful-distance, even if that was barely a foot away at times. After all, I had told dive master Yves Delpech I would not be intimidated by having the creatures on top of me, in a manner of speaking.

But when I decided to reach back and brush away what I felt on my neck, Yves, who was behind me, suddenly pushed my hand.

“Didn’t want you to put your hand in Gill’s mouth,” he said after we finished the dive.

Gill is a 250-pound Goliath grouper, who finds great sport in perching on the head or shoulders of folks whose attention is on the toothy critters who are the prime attractions in the “Dive with the Sharks” program at the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. He also has several rows of teeth sharp enough to seize the crustaceans that are part of this grouper species’ normal diet.

The big grouper goofs with visitors as relentlessly as the blind zebra shark, Zoe, who lives in the Wings in the Water tank of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, another of several aquariums in the country that offer the chance to pay for a dive with some exotic critters.

Zoe kept bumping me and rubbing against me, the abrasive quality of her skin evident despite my 3-millimeter-thick wetsuit. She wanted some of the food I was feeding the 36 rays in the Wings tank, assisting the aquarium’s volunteer divers.

The feeding isn’t part of the guest diver program in Baltimore, where I was encouraged to stick a hand (full of squid) into a ray’s mouth. But the animals remain “interactive”: rays brush their silky undersides across the guest divers’ heads, and Zoe leans on them like a border collie herding sheep. The experience provides plenty of fun to divers feeling starved for the pleasure of plunging into warm-water environments. There are also hours of “dry” diversions in the multiple galleries at each aquarium.

Baltimore and Tampa’s programs, which I experienced this spring, and similar ones (see accompanying list) are open to certified divers, but age minimums, certification requirements and the equipment provided vary. Check the aquariums’ websites for more information.

The program at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta has been questioned by some marine experts who fear whale sharks at the aquarium may suffer adverse effects.

Why dive in an aquarium when there are oceans and lakes aplenty?

Cost is far less than a trip to Hawaii or Belize or the Caymans, to name a few popular dive destinations I have visited. You can pair the dive with a trip to a major city, and your kids (if they are too young to dive) can have a ball in the aquarium and watch through “underwater” windows as their family members frolic with the fish. Also, all learn something about the threats facing our marine habitats.

Did I mention water temperature? Tropical is my cup of sea, and that is what I got (about 75 degrees) in Baltimore and Tampa.

On top of that, the aquariums’ biggest tanks are so relatively shallow that air consumption is no issue, even for “heavy breathers” like me. You won’t run out of air-or things to see.

“You would need 25 years of diving to interact with as many species as you do on these two 30-minute dives,” said John Harman of Atlantic Edge Dive Center, which runs the guest diver program for the Baltimore aquarium. “We have one woman who has done this dive five times.”

The biweekly Baltimore program ($295) offers 12 divers a chance to explore the aquarium’s 13-foot-deep artificial Atlantic Coral Reef-with tube and fern coral and other fauna rendered in stunningly real detail-and its 9-foot-deep ray tank. (Anyone who has dived Stingray City off Grand Cayman will know how enjoyable it is to encounter the rays in shallow water).

The circular coral reef has 60 species of fish, including some spectacularly large angels, several types of grouper (all much smaller than Tampa’s Gill), wrasses, margates, snapper and a green moray eel named Oscar. You can glide under archways, squeeze through a “cave” and swim at different levels.
The six types of rays and Zoe the zebra shark (she’s actually spotted; their stripes change to spots in adulthood) have been sharing the Wings in the Water tank with Atlantic tarpon, a blacknose shark and Calypso the green sea turtle.

Calypso gets around fine despite the amputation of a flipper necessary to save her after rescue from a fishing net off New Jersey a decade ago. I got to scratch her back, which causes a similar reaction to scratching a dog’s “magic spot.”

You will learn about the aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program and its volunteer diver program during the 60-minute dive briefing Atlantic Edge gives.

In his shark-dive briefing, Tampa aquarium dive master Mike Knudsen dispelled some myths about these much-feared creatures, which need better press agents because they don’t get much good publicity. (What do you ever hear about a shark until one attacks a person who often is doing something foolhardy, such as swimming in a wet suit in areas with known shark inhabitants? They think the human looks like a tasty seal.)

Shark populations are dropping worldwide because of demand for their fins (shark fin soup is an Asian delicacy), their meat, teeth and hides. They do not reproduce fast enough to keep up with the numbers being fished out of the seas.

Tampa has five types of sharks, none of them “man-eaters” (Great white, tiger and bull are the only truly dangerous species, Knudsen said). The two nurse sharks lay on the sand during my 30 minutes in the tank, debunking the idea that sharks always move.

After exiting the cage used to descend into Shark Bay, the guest diver swims to a spot and then also is passive in this program, kneeling on the bottom and holding a large rock to avoid significant movement. The tank’s confines are so limited that the sharks, the grouper and a hawksbill sea turtle are almost always at close range as they move.

The zebras did underwater loop-the-loops, a display that seemed purposefully comical. The steely gray sand tigers glided lazily around me, seemingly staring with their eerily bright eyes and revealing the rows of impressive teeth they constantly shed.

Florida Aquarium officials note that from the time it opened in March 1995 through April this year, volunteer, staff and guest divers have spent more than 44,300 hours diving, completed 49,500 dives, and there have been zero shark incidents.

There was one unnerving moment, when a sound like an exploding cannon echoed through the water. That was just Gill, venting the air in his swim bladder. Fortunately, he swam away from my head before doing this whoopee cushion act.

If You Go:

Some U.S. aquariums that offer guest diver programs:

- Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta. Dive with the Gentle Giants (a whale shark, the world’s largest fish, is the prime attraction). One 30-minute dive. Daily. ($290). www.georgiaaquarium.org/swimordive/index.aspx.
- Florida Aquarium, Tampa. Dive with the Sharks (several species). One 30-minute dive. Daily ($150). www.flaquarium.org, click on Exhibits
- National Aquarium in Baltimore. Dive the Wings in the Water and Atlantic Coral Reef tanks. One 30-minute dive in each tank. ($295). Every other Saturday. www.aqua.org/guestdiverprogram.html
- Adventure Aquarium, Camden, N.J. Sharks Up-Close, Thursdays and Saturdays, Memorial Day through Labor Day; Saturdays all other times. Sea Life Up-Close, Fridays and Sundays, Memorial Day through Labor Day; Sundays all other times ($195 for either). www.adventureaquarium.com, click on Adventures
- Epcot Center, Orlando, Epcot Dive Quest, sharks, eagle rays, sea turtles, plus 60-plus fish species, 40-minute dive ($150), twice daily. disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/parks/tourDetail?id=EpcotDiveQuestTourPage&bhcp=1

© 2008, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (Philip Hersh)

5 Ordinary Areas in Your Life Where You Can Save Big Money

by Alexandra Zega

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RISMEDIA, July 17, 2008-(MCTcourtesy of C. Buck) - Everywhere you turn, it seems there’s another pinch in the pocketbook. From gas to groceries, everyone’s getting hit by higher prices.

To help stretch your dollars, here are five places to look for savings:

1. Bundle Up. If you’re dealing with separate companies - and separate bills - for your cable TV, phone and Internet service, think about bundling up. Many companies offer reduced rates if you purchase all three services at one time. There’s even a website, www.bundlemyservices.com, that offers tips and comparisons for more than 20 companies nationwide.

You can call your local phone or cable TV provider and ask about lowering your rates by combining services. Take advantage of special deals and limited-time deals.

One warning: If you sign up for a limited-time offer, be sure to call and cancel or renegotiate before the rates jump back up.

2. Auto Insurance. If you’ve been with the same insurance company for years, it can pay to shop around for a better rate. In California, the state Department of Insurance website (www.insurance.ca.gov /0100-consumers) offers a handy calculator that allows you to get general comparisons on basic annual premiums from dozens of auto insurance companies.

“It gives you a ballpark idea of how much insurance rates vary,” said Insurance Department spokeswoman Molly DeFrank. “It really does pay to shop around.”

A similar calculator is available online to show sample rates for homeowners (including renters and earthquake coverage), long-term care and supplemental Medicare insurance. Or call the Department of Insurance’s consumer hotline at (800) 927-4357.

(Note: In all cases, the rates are not firm quotes but a general comparison of sample rates.)

3. Credit Cards. Here are two ways to save, depending on whether you carry a credit card balance.

If you’re trying to pay off a monthly balance, pick up the phone. With so many credit card offers flooding mailboxes these days, there’s lots of competition. Ask your current card company for a lower rate, and if you get rebuffed, call again in another month or so, advises one credit card expert.

“This is one place where persistence pays off,” says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com, a website that offers comparison rates of about 1,300 credit cards nationwide.

On a $5,000 balance, for instance, if your interest rate is lowered by three points-say, from 18% to 15%-you’ll save about $12 a month, or $144 a year. If you’re paying off the balance at $100 a month, you’ll knock off 15 months of payments and save $1,500.

Perhaps the biggest savings of all is sometimes the hardest: whittle down your credit card debt. Pay more than the monthly minimum to avoid paying excessive interest over the long term.

If you don’t carry a monthly balance, consider getting a credit card that pays you. Lots of companies, from Southwest Airlines to Home Depot to Golden 1 Credit Union, are dangling rewards cards to customers. Typically, for every dollar you charge, you accumulate points toward merchandise or services.

“Pick a passion, an interest, a hobby and chances are there’s a rewards card that applies,” said Hardekopf, noting cards for NASCAR, Toys “R” Us, bookstores, home improvement stores, hotels and airlines. There’s even a credit card from Fidelity Investments that lets you accumulate dollars for a 529 college savings plan.

Some cards, like Discover More, offer cash back.

When choosing a rewards card, it’s crucial to look at the terms and conditions, especially on how to accumulate and redeem rewards, says Hardekopf. Some companies post it automatically to your account once a year; others require you to call in to request your cash back or risk losing it.

For quick credit card comparisons, go to www.lowcards.com. And to see how long it’ll take you to pay off that credit card debt, go to: www.cardtrak.com/tools.

4. Major Purchases. Most of us don’t want to be shopping for a new fridge or washer/dryer, but if the old one dies, you have no choice. As with any major purchase, it pays to do some comparison shopping. Pick the model and features you want, then call or go online to compare prices at several appliance stores or retail outlets.

Also, check the manufacturer’s website, such as www.kitchenaid.com, to locate discounts and rebates that might not be available in the store.

Another option: Some retailers, like Sears, have warehouse outlets where they sell discounted merchandise for anywhere from 20% to 60% off regular retail. Typically, it’s returned merchandise, discontinued models or those with slight dings or nicks-cosmetic blemishes that don’t affect the appliance’s durability or performance.

Thinking about buying an extended warranty for that new dishwasher or dryer? According to Consumer Reports, it’s not necessary. Unless you sleep better knowing you have extended coverage, most of the time the repairs won’t outstrip the cost of the policy.

5. Treasure Hunting. OK, it’s not really treasure but there may be a stash of cash just waiting for you to uncover. We’re talking about unclaimed property-old savings accounts, utility refunds, dividend checks, product rebates and other money that is rightfully yours. In many cases, long-ago deposits are sitting dormant in banks or safety deposit boxes.

In California, financial institutions must turn over all dormant bank accounts, safety deposit boxes and the like that have gone untouched for three years or more.

It’s a big piggy bank waiting to be tapped. The state is sitting on about 8 million unclaimed property accounts worth $5.3 billion, according to the state controller’s office. Last fiscal year, a record 328,920 accounts were returned to individuals, nonprofits and businesses, up from 276,512 the year before.

“Especially in times like this, we are doing everything possible to put those unclaimed properties in the hands of those they belong to,” said spokesman Jacob Roper.

To see if you have unclaimed riches, contact the controller’s office at (800) 992-4647 or go online at www.ClaimIt.ca.gov, which also provides information in Chinese, Spanish and Tagalog. You can search for yourself, friends or family members.

And if you’ve moved frequently or lived in other states, go to www.unclaimed.org for a state-by-state listing of where to hunt for unclaimed property.

Happy hunting!

Alexandra Zega, Realtor

Reasons to Enjoy Your Coffee

by Alexandra Zega

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RISMEDIA, July 14, 2008-(MCT)-Ever feel guilty when you drink that morning cup-o-joe? Well, here’s a reason to enjoy your coffee instead. A new study just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that those people who regularly indulge in their favorite coffee beverage may live longer than those who don’t.

The authors of this study reviewed data from two large ongoing studies that have followed health professionals over more than twenty years, including their dietary habits-the Nurses’ Health Study, and, the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. What they found was that people who drank at least five to seven cups of coffee per week had a significantly lower overall risk of dying from any cause compared to those who did not drink coffee; people who drank 4-5 cups per day or more seemed to have the strongest protection.

The effect was usually stronger in women than in men, and most of the reduction in death was due to a reduction in cardiovascular disease. Women who consumed coffee in this study also had a small reduction in the risk of diabetes as well as chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis of the liver.

Why might coffee be beneficial? In this study, people who drank decaf coffee benefited as much as those who drank the “rocket fuel,” suggesting that there is something else in coffee besides the caffeine that is beneficial to our health. We do know that coffee is high in polyphenols-plant chemicals that are known to reduce inflammation. Polyphenols also have other positive effects on the heart, blood vessels, and blood sugar:

- They help to relax blood vessels, which can also lower blood pressure.
- They act as anti-oxidants and may help to reduce blockages in the arteries.
- They seem to improve glucose tolerance and utilization, thus reducing the risk of diabetes.

In addition to the polyphenols in coffee, the caffeine itself also seems to have benefits, including:

- Reducing the risk of diabetes.
- Thinning the blood by reducing platelet stickiness.
- Relaxing the airways in people with asthma which can improve asthma symptoms.
- Reducing the risk of gallstones and gout.
- Reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease (greatest benefit seen with 1-3 cups of coffee per day).
- Possibly reducing the risk of some cancers, including cancers of the liver, colon, and esophagus.

And, lest you head to your nearest Starbucks to start pumping the caffeine, we do want to mention a few caffeinated risks:

- More than 200 mg of caffeine per day can increase the risk of miscarriage.
- Excessive caffeine may increase blood pressure, anxiety, and insomnia.
- Unfiltered coffee can increase your blood cholesterol levels, so use a filter when you brew.
- Caffeine increases the loss of calcium in the urine; if you have osteoporosis, it’s probably best to keep your caffeine intake under 300 mg/day, or take an extra calcium tablet for each cup of coffee you drink.

Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden are medical directors of Sutter Downtown Integrative Medicine program in Sacramento, Calif.

© 2008, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Three Ways to Save on General Merchandise, Spend Smarter

by Alexandra Zega

 

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RISMEDIA, July 8, 2008-(MCT)-Given all the recent economic malaise, there’s a good chance you’re trying to lower your spending. One way to do that is to cut back. Another way is to spend smarter. Are you doing everything you can to make sure you’re getting the best price?

From Consumer Reports Money Advisor, here are three tips for finding the best price on all kinds of purchases:

- Check online first. You can compare prices to make sure you’re getting a good deal before you buy. There are numerous online shopping “bot” sites that gather information from a variety of retailers. Popular “bot” sites to check include MySimon.com, NextTag.com, and BizRate.com. You can also search the Web for coupons and coupon codes.
- Look for frequent shopper discounts. If you shop regularly at a store, find out whether they offer discounts or some perks to customers who use the store’s credit card. If so, it could be worth your while to use their card. Some retailers let their customers sign up to receive special offers by e-mail. Look into this option, as well.
- Give alternative stores a try. For instance, Marshall’s and HomeGoods may carry the same products as a department store, but at a lower price. You can also look into outlet stores and dollar stores. In any of these alternative stores, you might find prices substantially cheaper than at other places.

© 2008, MarketWatch.com Inc.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

by Alexandra Zega

july3homespunweb.jpgRISMEDIA, July 3, 2008-Semiprofessional baseball started in the U.S. in the 1860s and over the years has grown into America’s favorite pastime. With the 2008 season in full swing, now is the perfect time to root for your favorite team.

Turner Field

Since it opened in 1997, the “Home of the Braves” has become an Atlanta landmark as well as the standard for baseball park design. In addition to hosting games throughout the season, tours of Turner Field are offered year-round. Tours begin in the Braves Museum & Hall of Fame, which features more than 600 Braves artifacts and photographs that tell the history of the team. Baseball fans are then guided through the broadcast booth, the luxury suite, the press box and the dugout. Visit http://braves.mlb.com to plan your trip.

Fenway Park

Named for the area of Boston in which the ballpark is located, Fenway Park is the home of the Boston Red Sox. Fenway celebrated its opening day in 1912 and saw its biggest crowd for a doubleheader against the Yankees in 1935. The ballpark features one of the last hand-operated scoreboards in Major League Baseball, which uses green and red lights to signal balls, strikes and outs. For more information, visit http://boston.redsox.mlb.com.

Yankee Stadium

One of the most famous sports venues in the U.S., Yankee Stadium has hosted games since 1923 and was formerly the home of the New York Giants football team as well as host to dozens of boxing’s most famous fights. Fans will soon find themselves cheering on the Yankees in a new ballpark that is set to open in 2009. Built to resemble the exterior of the original Yankee Stadium and an interior with a modern ballpark, each
seat will have a view of home plate. For more information on the Yankees’ new home, visit http://newyork.-yankees.mlb.com.

Chase Field

Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, has become one of baseball’s most recognizable landmarks within just a few seasons. Since the air-conditioned facility, complete with a retractable roof, first opened in 1998, fans have had the opportunity to watch the Diamondbacks without worrying about Phoenix’s summer heat or monsoon storms. More than 80% of the seats at the baseball-only facility are inside the foul polls, and there is no upper deck around the outfield, giving fans a clear view of the field. Visit http://arizona.diamondbacks.mlb.com for more information.

Progressive Field

Professional baseball is one of Cleveland’s oldest traditions, dating back to 1869. Both the Cleveland Indians and the city of Cleveland itself are working, living examples of the power of teamwork, conviction and dedication. Home to the world’s largest baseball video screen, fans are able to watch live video and replays. Progressive Field offers a fan-friendly facility featuring an intimate environment. Visit http://cleveland.indians.mlb.com to learn more.

 

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