Savvy Consumer Tips

The worst part about replacing deteriorating or broken sewer lines is knowing your driveway and landscaping will be torn up and need to be replaced. This can add thousands to your repair bill. Dale Maples, owner of MAPLEService, Inc., a Diamond Certified company, says the good news for homeowners is that improved boring technology now makes it possible to do trenchless repairs.

The technician first runs a cable from the clean-out area at the house to the end of the line at the hook-up to the main sewer. Then, using a hydraulic pump called the Trick Trenchless, a new sewer line is pulled right through the old one, destroying the old sewer line in the process. Mr. Maples says customers are amazed at how quickly the job is done – usually in one day – and the best part is your driveway and beautiful garden are left intact.

The key to mortgage matchmaking is being a careful listener. The Diamond Certified mortgage brokers I talked to say a good loan agent will ask the right questions first and then find a loan at the lowest interest rate that fits your particular needs. To get a good match, ask questions and expect informative answers.

The loan agent will pre-qualify you, evaluating your financial situation and credit scores. Here are some strategies to use when shopping for a loan. Don’t make large purchases, such as a new car, while you are buying or refinancing a home, as this new debt may affect your credit scores and therefore the interest rate you are offered. Speak to your loan agent before you pay off or close credit card accounts. Lenders often prefer that you have cash reserves available for your regular payments.

Most people do not realize all the options they have when it comes to cremation services and products. Patsy Daniels, President of Daniels Chapel of Roses Funeral Home and Crematory, a Diamond Certified company, emphasizes that when a family chooses cremation, they can celebrate someone’s life in a number of different ways.

One option is to use a rental casket, which contains the cremation container inside, for a traditional service. Another choice is having a memorial service without the body present. Remains may be taken to a cemetery and buried or inurned in a niche, scattered at sea or on private property, or returned to the family to keep at home. The best idea is to discuss all the options with your loved ones ahead of time, so your desires are known and can be carried out according to your wishes.

Be prepared. That's what Steve Gavriloff, owner of Westgate Real Estate, a Diamond Certified company, tells his clients who are selling homes Ð prepare yourself early in the process. With all of today's disclosure requirements, it makes good sense for a seller to get termite and home inspection reports done before they put it on the market. That way, you know what you're dealing with and you can make repairs or adjust the asking price accordingly.

If you anticipate the questions buyers will have and address them, you're more likely to have a smoother negotiation process. That's a plus for everyone involved. Besides getting those inspection reports done, Mr. Gavriloff also recommends that sellers freshen up the paint, replace worn flooring, and pay attention to landscaping details. Even though many buyers say they're looking for fixer-uppers, most prefer moving into a house that's already been spiffed up.

You are not getting your money’s worth if a home inspector is in and out of the house in an hour or two.  Experts home inspectors tell me that a thorough inspection of the average 1200 square foot structure should take three to three-and-a-half hours and should always include a visit to the attic and crawl spaces.

In the attic, for example, the inspector might find broken rafters, improper venting, mold or old compressed insulation that is no longer effective. Under the house, it’s common to find standing water near improperly directed downspouts and leaking pipes. The house framing should be checked to see if it’s bolted to the foundation and that the floor framing is properly secured. Ideally, the inspector’s final written report should include glaring safety issues, major concerns, improvements needed and problems that require monitoring. This report can be useful to buyers, sellers and homeowners who are planning a major remodel.

Tree specialists are specifically trained to prune trees using a methodical procedure. All of them follow regulations developed by the International Society of Arboriculture, according to Bill Mitchell, owner-operator of Mitchell Tree Service, a Diamond Certified company. What you want to avoid is having someone lacking the knowledge hack away at your trees, because eventually that butchering could destroy them.

A tree that's incorrectly pruned will not heal properly and its structure, the trunk, is weakened and becomes rotten inside. The right way to prune is to make the proper sized cuts down to the sap rings. Some trees also have special maintenance requirements. A lemon tree for example, should be trimmed on the inside to let in light, and if some of the green lemons are thinned out, the ones left will be larger. Fruit trees need pruning once a year, while with other trees, you can often wait 2-3 years.

Remember the video you took of your child's kindergarten graduation years ago, and the amazing video of your younger brother's bachelor party? Your old tapes, like old photographs, can deteriorate and all those priceless memories will be lost. Rhys Ludlow, owner of Ludlow Media Services, a Diamond Certified company, tells me that videotapes can last anywhere from 10 to 30 years, depending on how they're stored and how often they're played. Deteriorating tapes don't playback well. Images become jumpy and snowy. The magnetic particles on the tapes become unglued and clog the heads of your tape player.

To avoid losing your family's video collection, you may want to consider transferring your videos to DVD. DVDs have a 100+ year life expectancy and can be played thousands of times. On a DVD, you can mark where particular pictures/events are and make copies inexpensively. They're also easy to store and mail.

If your shampoo is drying out your hair, stripping out the color, or irritating your scalp, it’s time to talk to the professionals. Diamond Certified beauty experts say you may get better results with a professional quality shampoo made with better ingredients. While you may at first balk at paying $10 or more for a bottle of shampoo, you have to look at the cost per use. You need a lot less shampoo when you’re washing your hair with a higher quality product. When shopping for a new shampoo, you’ll find the ingredient labeling listing the chemicals isn’t all that helpful. Instead, talk to the experts. Mr. Walker’s staff recommends avoiding all-in-one shampoos, saying they’re not good for your hair, and if you have color-treated hair, look for a shampoo made specifically for that kind of hair.

The owners of California's oldest funeral firm caution against pre-paying for funerals, but they do advocate pre-planning as a family matter. The Evergreen Mortuary of McAvoy O'Hara Company, founded in 1850, is a Diamond Certified company. Owners Daniel and Richard O'Hara say that unless one is qualifying for benefits such as Medical or purchasing a new interment space, pre-paying for a funeral or memorial simply isn't necessary. Unchangeable prepaid instructions may deny family members meaningful involvement. The funeral director may interpret your choices rather than the family. Preplans are often inflexible and lack portability.

The O'Hara's recommend having an informed relative or close friend help make key decisions for an uncomplicated plan. Write a clear, concise and detailed explanation of your wishes, and then share it with your potential funeral director if you wish. Also check with your attorney about including appropriate terms or references in your will or Health Care Power of Attorney.

No one likes to think about death, especially our own. Making pre-need arrangements allows you to buy property and services at today’s prices, let your family know your wishes and it takes away the hassle of someone making decisions during an emotional time. Any money you pay in advance for services is placed in a trust, which is regulated by the state. Pre-need arrangements don’t have to be paid all in a lump sum; you can also make payments over time. It’s important to let your family know that you have done this planning. Many cemeteries will provide a pre-need planning guide, which outlines your wishes and arrangements. Keep the guide with other important documents such as life insurance policies, stock certificates and military papers. 

How many people in your life know all about your finances, your hobbies, your lifestyle and your goals and dreams? How many have peeked inside your closets and even seen your dirty laundry? Not many business relationships get as personal as the one you have with a real estate agent when you're buying or selling a home. That's why chemistry matters so much when selecting an agent, according to Mike Silvas, President and CEO of Morgan Lane, Inc., a Diamond Certified company.

While it's important to know how much experience an agent has, to ask for references, and to find someone with a good business track record, Mr. Silvas believes that consumers also need to choose someone who fits their personality. An aggressive buyer may want an aggressive agent; a shy person may prefer a more sensitive and empathetic agent. A great agent can adapt to the needs of any client, both emotionally and from a business point of view. So, I advise that you interview prospective agents for personality as well as experience.

Have you ever had documents notarized? This isn’t required too often for most of us, so you don’t know what to expect. People’s biggest concern is what will happen to the personal information they disclose to the notary.

Notaries keep journals, which contain identifying information such as signatures, addresses, California driver’s license numbers, passport numbers and even your thumbprint. These pieces of information could be used to create a false identity. The law provides safeguards, however. Notaries public are required by the state to keep their journals under lock and key. The information must be under their control at all times. When a notary resigns, these journals are turned in to the county clerk or the secretary of state for safekeeping. Notaries are also prohibited from selling names and addresses to any third party.

 When reviewing my homeowner's insurance policy recently, I realized that I had not had a conversation with my agent since 1986! A professional agent should not let so much time pass without initiating an insurance portfolio review, according to Diamond Certified State Farm Insurance® agents Al Ward and Jim Flynn, and with updated information, your agent can help you remedy gaps and other deficiencies while saving money by eliminating coverages no longer needed.

A check-up every few years may reveal that your home is underinsured or that the building code upgrade in the policy is inadequate. A real insurance pro will have a licensed team of people to answer your questions 24/7, but you can insist on meeting with your agent personally. Don't be afraid to ask how to save money such as discounts for both home and auto together. An outstanding agent will have a sincere interest in helping you best protect your family.

Working with an accounting professional now will let you determine what expenses are best paid in 2006, what income should be deferred into 2007, and how best to manage your professional and personal finances to pay the lowest legal tax bill. That advice is coming from Geoffrey Kulik, partner in the Sterck Kulik O'Neill Accounting Group, a Diamond Certified company. Tax planning helps businesses determine whether they should put off expenditures, take arcane-sounding steps like accelerating Section 179 purchases, or make other decisions in 2006 that will help cut their taxes.

Fall is also an excellent time of year to interview a CPA for your business. If you need tax help or other accounting services, choose one now. Most professionals can readily schedule an appointment this time of year. If you delay until the tax-preparation crunch starts after the first of the year, you could wait weeks or be asked to call after April 15th.

Let’s say you build an awesome-looking website. You expect to watch your visitor counter spin off the charts, right? Well, it doesn’t quite happen that way.  Tech savvy marketing experts say that most of your website visitors, (possible leads for your business) will come from search engine searches. That’s why your website needs to be Search Engine Optimized (SEO).

SEO is a process that makes your website attractive to search engines and therefore ranked higher. Rather than paying up to $5,000 per month for a paid search engine ad, why not build organic optimizing into the website itself? You should ask any website design company to give you examples if they claim to understand the organic search engine process. And if they guarantee results, that’s a red flag. Results cannot be guaranteed unless they’re hooking you up with paid advertising.

You might be a little embarrassed to tell your dry cleaner that your bedspread has pet urine on it, or that you have unusually strong perspiration that causes stubborn stains.

To get the best results possible, when you bring your clothes in for dry cleaning, let your shop know if special stains need to be treated.  Tell the dry cleaner how old the stain is and what action you have already taken. If you come in as soon as possible with a small ink spill on a shirt, the chances of getting out the stain are greater than if you wait a week.  A professional dry cleaner will note the areas that need special attention, such as extra dirty collars, and record any pre-existing damage like tears, loose buttons or moth holes.

Wishing you could wear that trendy new style you saw in the latest fashion magazine?  According to Stacy McLaughlin, owner of Biquor & Biquor Salon, a Diamond Certified company, what inspires most clients is the same for the best hairstylists.  And, that is keeping up with the new and latest trends in haircuts, color, makeup and fashion. Yet with the dazzle of a new style, it’s important to remember that the basics matter most.

A great stylist must understand the fundamentals of style. For example, he or she will evaluate your face shape, hair texture and lifestyle before suggesting a style. For hair color, your stylist will assess your skin and eye color to help choose the correct tones. And with make-up, your stylist will not only help choose complimentary colors, but will factor in your face shape and the contour of your eyebrows. Above all, the process should be fun and informative.