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Friday, 04 May 2012 11:52





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Question of the Week • 04-18-12 | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 April 2012 14:59






Non-contingent Offers Return; Buyer Beware | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 19 April 2012 13:23

Real Estate Reality

By Carl Medford, CRS
Special to the Forum

I’m old enough to know that life comes in circles… hang around long enough and things you thought were gone will suddenly re-appear.

Like men’s neck ties… if I’d only hung on to some beauties from years ago, I could wear them again!

While some things are OK to be back in vogue, others are not: we’re seeing a return to some real estate practices many hoped had gone the way of the dodo bird.


Non-contingent offers.

When markets overheat and multiple offers proliferate, some buyers become desperate and resort to whatever means necessary to land a home.

This can include shortening contingency time periods to “sweeten” a deal or removing them all together.

A standard residential real estate transaction for properties with four units or less includes three contingencies: loan, appraisal and inspections.

These are like “Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free” cards. If something happens to your loan, the house doesn’t appraise at contract value or your inspections uncover issues that you can’t live with — contingencies give you an opportunity to leave the transaction and get your good-faith deposit returned.

Contingency time periods are determined up front and, once a contract is signed, serve as transaction mileposts. After contingencies are removed, if you cancel a transaction, you run the risk of losing your good-faith deposit.

While standard purchase agreements default contingencies to 17 days, they’re frequently shortened to make offers more attractive. And, some reason, if we’re going to make them very short, why not just remove them all together?

It’s a tactic that can seriously harm buyers and lead to long-term issues, including litigation. Deeply concerned the last time these appeared, the California Association of Realtors issued a Market Conditions Advisory warning of the practice and inherent risks involved. Starting as a one-page document signed by buyers, it’s grown to two pages and now must be signed by both buyers and sellers. It includes the following:

“There is an inherent risk in writing a non-contingent offer. Only you, after careful consultation and deliberation with your attorney, accountant or financial advisor, can decide how much risk you are willing to take. It is your decision alone and cannot be made by your broker or real estate agent.”

Central Alameda County Realtors recommend you avoid this practice at all cost. You may get the property, but end up with a whole lot of grief in the bargain.


Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Prudential California Realty in Castro Valley. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association at


Which Financial Records to Save, Toss | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 April 2012 14:49


By Jason Alderman

If the memory of hours spent hunting for and organizing paperwork to file your taxes is still fresh, think about doing some financial spring cleaning so next year’s tax preparation won’t be such an ordeal.

Many people hold onto mounds of receipts and account statements because they’re not sure when it’s safe to toss them. (By toss, I mean shred – don’t give identity thieves any ammunition.)

Here’s when you wouldn’t want to lack proper documentation:

If audited by the IRS you must be able to justify deductions, charitable contributions, income, etc.

Track stock and fund transactions so when you sell you’ll only be taxed on profits above the purchase amount; also to justify claiming a loss on your taxes.

To claim tax credits/deductions for home improvements, such as energy-efficiency upgrades or for medical reasons.

If you make nondeductible (after-tax) contributions to an IRA or 401(k), to prove you’ve already paid taxes on the amount.


Your heirs will need your financial documents to settle your estate.

The IRS has several periods of limitations during which you can be asked to produce records proving income, deductions or credits you claimed:

Normally, they have up to three years after your tax return to request documentation.

However, if you failed to report income that is more than 25 percent of the gross income on your return, they have six years.

If you file a claim for losses from worthless securities, it’s seven years.

If you don’t file a return or file a fraudulent return, there is no statute of limitations.

So, you should probably hold onto back-up documentation for seven years, to be safe.

These records include:

• W-2 and 1099 income forms.

• Year-end bank and brokerage statements showing interest earned.

• Receipts, cancelled checks or other proof of payment for deducted expenses.

• Home purchase or closing statements, insurance records and receipts for improvements.

• Homeowners, car and medical insurance claim payouts.

Investment statements (stocks, bonds, mutual funds retirement accounts, etc.)

IRS Form 552 contains detailed instructions on what to save and for how long (

Hold onto certain documents for even longer than IRS audit requirements. For example:

Keep records for investments and major assets at least as long as you own them.

Save records and tax forms relating to retirement accounts, at least until you’ve drained their balances.

Toss monthly and quarterly loan statements after receiving year-end summaries, but always retain final payoff notices in case the loan erroneously goes into collection and you need proof.

Save all tax returns and attachments (Schedules, W-2 form, etc.) indefinitely. The same goes for hard-to-replace personal documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, divorce, adoption and military discharge papers, will, power of attorney, etc.

You can always save actual documents and receipts. But if your goal is to reduce paper clutter, scan copies and save as PDF files. Back up electronic “soft copies” on an encrypted flash drive or external hard drive in case your computer crashes. And, if you’re worried about fire, theft or other disasters, store additional copies in a safety deposit box or with a trusted friend.

Recordkeeping is no fun, but compared to tearing the house apart to prepare for an audit, it’s a small price to pay.


Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs.

Cashing in on Life Insurance Policy | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 April 2012 11:27

By Jim Miller

If you don’t need your life insurance policy any longer, are having a difficult time keeping up with the premium payments or could just use the money, a life settlement is definitely an option worth considering.

How it Works — A life settlement is the sale of an existing life insurance policy to a third party company for cash. Life settlements are typically best suited for people over age 65 who own a policy with a face value of $250,000 or more.

Historically, if an owner of a life insurance policy decided they no longer needed it, they would either let the policy lapse or turn it in for a meager cash surrender value. But now, with the life settlement option, you can actually sell your policy for two to three times more than the cash surrender value would be, but less than its net death benefit.

Once you sell it however, the life settlement company then becomes the new owner of the policy, pays the future premiums and collects the death benefit when you die.

How much money you can expect to get with a life settlement will depend on your age, health and life expectancy, the type of insurance policy, the premium costs and the value of your policy. Most sellers generally get 20 to 30 percent of the death benefit.


If you’re interested in a life settlement here are some things you should know:

Shop around: To ensure you get the best deal, get quotes from several brokers or life settlement providers. Also, find out what fees you’ll be required to pay.

To locate credible providers or brokers, the Life Insurance Settlement Association (LISA) provides a referral service at

Tax implications: Life settlements are also taxable if the cash surrender value of the policy exceeds the premiums paid on it. This can be very complicated, so be sure to consult a tax advisor. Also, be aware that receiving money from a life settlement can affect eligibility for public assistance programs like Medicaid or food stamps.

Be cautious: Life settlements are not regulated in every state so be careful who you deal with. Make sure the broker or life settlement firm you choose is either licensed in your state or is a member of LISA.

Other Options — If you don’t like the idea of selling your life insurance policy but could use some extra cash, here are some other options your insurance agent can help you investigate:

• Cash value withdraw: If you have any cash value in your policy, you can probably withdraw some of it to meet your immediate needs and keep your policy for your beneficiaries.

• A loan: You may also be able to use your policy to secure a loan from the insurance company, as well as a bank, credit union or other lender.

• Annuity “1035” conversion: Find out if you’re able to convert the cash value of your policy into an immediate annuity, which will make regular payments to you for a set number of years or for the rest of your life.

• Accelerated benefit: If you’re terminally ill, some policies have an accelerated death benefit which pays some of the policy’s death benefit before you die.

• Reduced premiums: If premium payments are your problem, your life insurer may be able to convert your policy to a paid-up policy, or lower your death benefit amount in order to reduce your premiums. Or, consider asking your beneficiaries to help pay the premiums.


Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is author of “The Savvy Senior” book.


Medical Alert Devices That Can Help Keep Seniors Safe | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 April 2012 11:23

By Jim Miller

There’s a wide variety of medical alert systems on the market today that can help keep elderly seniors safe, while living in their own home. Here’s a breakdown of some different styles and prices to help you choose.

Monitored Alerts

The most popular medical alert systems available today are the ones that will connect your mom to a 24-hour emergency monitoring service when she needs help. These units come with waterproof “SOS” buttons – typically in the form of a necklace pendent or bracelet – and a base station that connects to her home phone line.

At the press of a button, your mom could call and talk to a trained operator through the system’s base station receiver which works like a powerful speaker phone. The operator will find out what’s wrong, and will notify family members, a neighbor, friend or emergency services as needed.

If you’re interested in this type of alert, there are literally dozens of services to choose from. One of the most widely used is the Philips Lifeline Medical Alert Service (, 800-380-3111) which costs $35 per month, plus an $82 start-up fee.

Phillips also offers a new Auto Alert option (for $48 per month) that has fall detection sensors in the SOS button that can automatically summon help without your mom ever having to press a button.

Some other major players in the industry that are a little less expensive (under $30 per month) include: LifeFone (, 877-849-8942), LifeStation (, 877-478-3390), Bay Alarm Medical (, 877-722-9633), Alert1 (, 888-919-3692), LifeGuardian (, 800-378-2957) and MedicalAlert (, 800-800-2537).

One other unique product worth consideration is the MediPendant (, 888-216-0039) which runs under $35 a month. This system allows your mom to speak and listen to the operator directly through the SOS pendant, which often makes for better communication than the base station speaker phone.


No-Fee Alerts

If you’re looking for a cheaper option, consider a no-fee medical alert device that doesn’t have professional monitoring services. These products, which also come with an “SOS” button and a home base station, are pre-programmed to dial personal contacts (relatives, friends, caregivers or 911) if the SOS button is pushed. Most devices store about four phone numbers, and the system dials each number, one-by-one until a connection is made.

If you like this style, the Freedom Alert made by LogicMark (, 800-519-2419) is a good product that allows you to speak through the pendent. The purchase price: $300, with no ongoing monthly fees. Also check out Telemergency (, 888-558-7420), which offers a variety on no-fee medical alert devices that cost under $190.


Mobile Alerts

If your mom is interested in a device that works outside the home too, there are several mobile products that will let her call for help anywhere. These pendent-style devices, which fit in the palm of your hand, work like little cell phones with GPS tracking capabilities.

To call for help, your mom would simply push one button, and an operator from the device’s emergency monitoring service would be on the line to assist her. And because of the GPS technology they would know her exact location, which is critical in emergency situations.

Top products to check out in this category include the new 5Star Urgent Response sold by GreatCall (, 800-733-6632) for $50 plus a $35 activation fee and $15 monthly service fees, and MobileHelp (, 800-800-1710) which runs between $37 and $42 per month.

You also need to know that Medicare and most other insurance plans don’t cover medical alert systems, although in some states Medicaid will if your mom receives Medicaid-funded homecare services.


Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Adopt-A-Pet • 04-11-12 | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 11 April 2012 14:46





Question of the Week • 04-11-12 | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 11 April 2012 14:35






Real Estate Winter Begins To Thaw | Print |  E-mail
User Rating: / 1
Wednesday, 11 April 2012 14:13

Real Estate Reality

By Carl Medford, CRS
Special to the Forum

It’s been quite a ride!

According to Jill Schlesinger, CBS Moneywatch, “since the bubble burst in 2006:

• The S&P/Case-Shiller National U.S. Home Price Index tanked 33.8 percent from the peak, recorded in Q2 of 2006.

• The housing depression has wiped out more than $7 trillion in homeowners’ equity.

• We’ve seen 5 million foreclosures or short sales.

• According to CoreLogic, this has given rise to 11.1 million households owing more on their mortgages than their properties are worth (negative equity).”

It’s had its effect locally as well. Central County home prices have been chopped in half — Q1 home sales prices from 2006 averaged $626,000; we just closed Q1 2012 with an average of $308,000.

On a personal note, I’ve seen many friends lose their homes. Jobs have disappeared, entire industry sectors have been outsourced and many have had personal savings and retirement accounts obliterated.

Unable to cope with the financial strain, countless marriages have blown up, leaving a trail of devastated families in their wake.

Our government has been powerless to assist in any meaningful way: one of the hallmarks of the ruin has been the spectacular collapse of the vaunted Obama foreclosure prevention plans.

It’s not a ride any of us ever want to visit again. And, it appears, it may be over. Indicators from all over seem to suggest the sun is finally peeking from behind the clouds of financial catastrophe.

We’re in an election year, stock markets are headed up, IPOs are popping up like spring’s first blooms, foreclosure rates are spiraling downward… and Central Alameda County home prices are spiking upward as inventory plummets and buyers swarm like killer bees from one house to the next. In fact, the supply of available homes is so low, it’s reminiscent of Soviet supermarket shelves during the height of the cold war.

While it’s not completely over and, in reality, most of us will feel its affects for the remainder of our lives; the longer, cold season of financial desolation seems to be drawing to a close.

It’s akin to Aslan’s return to Narnia where his presence begins the thaw from the long, cold winter and Jadis, the dreaded White Witch, finally meets her well-deserved demise. And, like the Narnian talking beavers, we’re more than just a little bit excited that it feels like spring is finally on its way.

Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Prudential California Realty in Castro Valley and a licensed general contractor. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association at

Finger Injuries Common for Baseball Players | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 11 April 2012 13:45





By Dr. Eric Stuffmann


Our hands have more than 30 bones and major joints. So it’s no wonder our fingers are vulnerable to sprains and strains during softball and baseball season.

Fingertip trauma: The force of a fall or a flying ball can easily bend and injure our fingertips. Some of the most common injuries include fractures, sprains, dislocations and mallet fingers.


Finger sprains

A sprain happens when you overstretch or tear a ligament – the tough tissue that holds our finger bones together. Ligaments are often completely torn with a dislocation of a finger joint.

While a sprained finger may feel better after several weeks, soreness often persists for six to nine months.

Mallet finger

Strains are damage to tendons, which connect muscles to bones. In the hand, the most common example of this is a mallet finger. This injury happens when we rupture an extensor tendon at its insertion into the last bone in the finger tip.

In healthy fingers, the extensor tendon allows us to straighten the finger tip, but a mallet finger injury renders it impossible to straighten this joint.

The majority of these injuries can be treated conservatively with a splint, but delay in treatment can compromise the ultimate result. So it is imperative to seek medical attention immediately.


Finger fractures

Fractures of the small bones in our fingers should also be evaluated by a doctor immediately. The majority of fractures in the hand can be treated conservatively. However, some fractures require surgery.

In children, finger fractures present special issues. On the one hand, children are able to remodel their bones given the presence of growth plates. This means that a finger that is angulated or deformed can turn into a straight bone as the child grows.

But if there’s any rotation at the fracture site, the bone will not remodel. Another special consideration with children is that it’s possible to injure the growth plates in fingers, which could result in abnormal growth of the digit.

With finger injuries in general and fractures in particular, stiffness in finger joints is common. Patients need to work hard to regain motion and flexibility. A specialized hand therapist is frequently necessary to address stiff fingers.


What you can do

Most finger injuries have similar symptoms – swelling, pain and limited motion.

Rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) work well for minor sprains. You should see your doctor if the pain and symptoms persist after one or two days. Sprains can be diagnosed by physical examination while fractures are diagnosed by X-ray.

See your doctor immediately if you think you have a fractured or dislocated finger. He or she will administer the appropriate treatment, which may include realigning the fracture, if necessary, or immobilizing the finger in a splint or a cast.

In some cases, surgery may be required to realign and/or stabilize a fracture.

If not treated, finger injuries can sideline athletes of all ages for months. Stay in the game – see your doctor for early medical care.


Eric Stuffmann, M.D., is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and hand surgeon affiliated with Eden Medical Center.


For Academic Success, Get a Grip on Childs’ Stress Levels | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 11 April 2012 10:03



By Dr. Ben Bernstein

A child’s academic performance is directly affected by his or her stress level. If stress is too high or too low, your child’s performance will suffer.

I have seen how people can overcome their handicaps. I watched a student’s low SAT scores rise dramatically once he learned how to calm down during the test.

I saw the utter joy of a rower when she finally learned how to focus her energy throughout the entire race.

I was particularly moved when I watched the parents of a student I was coaching learn to build their son’s self-esteem instead of tear it down, by relaxing their completely unrealistic expectations of him.

Parents can have a tremendous impact on how a child handles stress. Here are some key tools for success using a balanced mind-body-spirit approach that boils down to being calm, having confidence and maintaining focus.


Physical Tension

Jitters and tension make it hard for anyone to concentrate. A bad case of nerves can seriously undermine students’ test performance because it robs them of their concentration.

Make sure your child gets enough regular physical exercise. Bike riding, working out at the gym, running and swimming are all tension-releasing activities that give her the opportunity to let off steam and “restart” her system.

Watching TV, talking on the phone and playing video games are not aerobic. All too often kids try to study after long hours of these activities and their energy is already zapped.

Check whether your child is getting enough sleep. Is he going to bed too late? Does he have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning? Does he appear tired at other times of the day, like after school?

Children need a lot more sleep than adults do, at least nine to ten hours a night, and anything less can severely hamper their school performance because their tired minds aren’t paying attention. Recent research shows that inadequate sleep can cause problems that look like attention deficit.

Review your child’s diet. A diet high in carbs, sugars and caffeinated drinks is, unfortunately, all too common in our culture. While sugary foods and “energy drinks” appear to keep the engine stoked, they are actually wearing your child down.

A balanced diet keeps glucose levels from going on a roller coaster and has a positive effect on metabolism, energy levels and brain function.

Learn to calm down yourself. As a parent, you can very easily pick up on what your child feels and start feeling the same way yourself. (Also, of course, you have your own adult problems to cope with.)

If your child is anxious or sad or angry, you may quickly begin feeling the same way, even if you were feeling quite calm just moments before. In psychology we call this an “induced reaction”—you are induced into your child’s state. This is a very human response, especially with people who are close with one another, like parent and child.

You increase your chances of reducing your child’s stress if you learn how to keep yourself calm no matter what is going on with your child.


Issues of Self Doubt

Your child’s doubt in himself and his abilities may cause his confidence to plunge both before and during a test.

Ask yourself if you are the right person to be your child’s confidant. You might think of yourself as your child’s best friend, but you may not be the first choice as a confidant. If that’s the case, you have to give up the idea that your child should confide in you about this issue.

Think of someone else your child can talk with. Enlist the support of a teacher she respects, a school advisor or counselor she trusts, a clergy member or one of her close friends who is a responsible individual. Encourage her to share her deepest thoughts with that person.

Make supportive – but accurate – statements to your child: “You work hard.” “You’ve taken on big challenges before and succeeded.” “You can do it.” “I believe in you.” “I know you’ve got what it takes.”


Difficulty Staying on Task

If your child has difficulty becoming motivated, find out what is getting in his way. Is it an overall sense of helplessness that even if he tries, he won’t get anywhere? Has achievement become a negative word?

Ask yourself whose goal it is that your child succeeds. Of course you want her to do well, but if she doesn’t have that goal herself, you are going to be in an uphill battle that you might never win.

Talk with your child about this. A straightforward discussion about her goals can go a long way toward clarifying why she needs to work harder.

Notice the ways your child becomes distracted. Does he stay on the phone, text, log onto the web, e-mail, play video games, watch TV, eat – all instead of doing his homework?

Can you help him set realistic working periods with breaks for “treats” and distractions? Consider getting a timer as a tool so he can focus better and more consistently.

Consider how focused you are. If you have clear goals and minimize distraction, you can be a good role model for your child. She can see the effects for herself.

Remember: cultivating good work habits is ultimately something children should learn to do for themselves because they see the positive results and feel good about having accomplished a goal. Though you may have to encourage and mentor them through this process, they are doing the work so that they can go on to lead a more fulfilling life.


Four Bad Parental Behaviors;

What to Do about Them

• Are You Comparing Your Child to Others? Stop! The best thing to do is to focus on what is going on with him and what he needs, not on what anyone else is doing or has done.

Go out of your way to ask your child questions so you can understand his needs.

• Do You Have Unrealistic Expectations for Your Child? Sometimes parents idealize their children and see them as mini superheroes capable of doing just about anything. This mentality gets in the way of seeing your child for who she is.

Be her greatest advocate and most enduring source of support. But be realistic by recognizing her true strengths and weaknesses. You have to acknowledge and – this is harder – accept the things she likes and the things she doesn’t and be honest about her possibilities and limitations.

• Do you think your child’s performance is a reflection of your parenting? If your child performs poorly on a test, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have done a bad job as a parent. It could just mean your child needs some help.

Don’t take it personally! Find the real problem and get the right help. If you have difficulty separating your child’s performance from your own self-esteem or from your own performance as a child, you can avail yourself of different forms of support such as parenting books, online help, peer counseling (talking with other parents) or professional therapy.

•Are You Micromanaging Your Child? Stop helicoptering to rescue your child from every little thing! Give your child room to grow. It’s hard to watch him make a mistake, or make the wrong choice, but true learning and growth come only through personal action. Wind him up and let him go. Let him fall and learn to pick himself up again by himself, on his own.

Ben Bernstein, Ph.D. of San Francisco, is a licensed psychologist, a national speaker on stress and performance, and a performance coach in the Young Musicians Program for inner-city teenagers at UC Berkeley. He is the author of “How to Be Calm, Confident and Focused on Any Test.” For more information, visit


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