Buying and selling in the temporary normal

With all of this extended time spent homebound recently, many of us have discovered a new truism: if you have to be quarantined, you might as well do it in your dream home.

No matter what — the season, the economy, even a virus — people will continue to buy and sell houses. It’s only the process that changes. And buyers and sellers who can adapt and pivot are the ones who come out ahead.

Fortunately, real estate professionals are already adept at strategies that could prove especially helpful this year, as COVID-19 dominates the news.

Think: technology. Virtual tours will likely increase in popularity. Buyers were already screening houses online before seeing them in person, and a thorough virtual tour could dramatically increase the number of eyes on your property.

A 2018 report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said that 46 percent of buyers found a virtual tour very useful, while 74 percent used the internet to search for homes. Among millennials, that figure leaped to 92 percent.

Some other accommodations this year could include:

  • Sellers may request more hand-washing. Another NAR survey, this one in March, found that more sellers were requesting that visitors wash their hands or use sanitizer. (Some may also request the use of booties, a commonplace request already.)
  • Open houses may limit the number of people inside a home at one time – which probably makes for a more pleasant walk-through anyway.
  • Technology can also aid in brokering a deal. Already, contracts are regularly sent via email and signatures can be gathered online. Expect more of this.
  • Those who attend open houses in the coming months are more serious buyers, as the tire-kickers have opted to stay at home.

Get some social distance with a bike ride.

It’s commuting and fitness melded together: Faster than walking and as much exercise as jogging. It lets you enjoy the scenery, which, depending on your time in quarantine, could mean a lot.

If you aren’t already a regular rider, you’ll want to ease yourself into cycling. Begin with half-hour rides every other day or three days a week. And practice your basic skills in an empty parking lot. Learn to shift gears without wobbling and to look over your left shoulder while steering straight ahead.

When you take to the roads, always ride with traffic, ride in the street on the right. Use hand signals and obey all the traffic rules.

Buying a bike
If you decide that you like riding, you may want to get a new bike. Be sure to shop for one that suits your normal riding distance. Traditional 3-speeds are good for short rides, and 10-speeds are best for longer rides. Then there are all-terrain bikes that provide an all-purpose alternative.

When riding to work, put your belongings in a backpack or tie them down in a basket or rear carrier. Carry a tool kit to fix flat tires.

You’re never too old to take up cycling and benefit from it for the rest of your life. Studies at the University of California at Davis compared three forms of exercise: Jogging, bicycling and tennis. Middle-aged sedentary men were assigned to one of the three activities for 30 minutes a day three times a week. After 20 weeks, the joggers and cyclists had an equal improvement in endurance, and both groups lost a substantial amount of body fat.

When riding after dark, make sure you have lights on the bike, reflective tape on your helmet, and wear light-colored clothing.

Prevent hacks into home security system

The latest home security gadgets are a far cry from the early days of simple motion detectors. Whether it’s the Ring video doorbell, which alerts you to someone at your front door (and allows you to talk to them), or other systems that use facial or voice recognition, we’ve got cameras and eyes everywhere.
The downside, of course, is the potential for hackers to access those cameras and find their way into our homes.
Consumer Reports offers tips to keep our home security cameras from being hacked:

  • Keep your camera’s firmware up to date. Some cameras automatically download and install these updates, which fix software bugs and patch software vulnerabilities, while others require you to check for updates on your own.
  • Change your camera’s password. You should approach your security camera’s password the same as your other devices and use long and complex passwords without personally identifying information.
  • Set up two-factor authentication if possible. This means the camera company sends you a onetime-use passcode via text, phone, email, or authentication app that you input in addition to your username and password when you log in to the account. As CR points out, even if a hacker cracks your password, they won’t be able to access your camera unless they also gain access to your onetime code.
  • Set up a password manager. A password manager generates strong, random passwords and stores and remembers them for you. Many are free.

Securing internet of things

You are on vacation; wouldn’t it be nice to check in on the family pet? Or you are at work; it would be nice to check to see if the baby is down for a nap.
The convenience of security cameras and baby monitors make them an important part of the Internet of Things (IoT).
But they can and do have security issues.
Most security flaws involve software called iLnkP2P, which is often bundled with IoT devices like doorbells and video recorders. The software makes it easy to access remote devices from anywhere in the world, according to Krebs on Security. But they are easily hacked.
Here is what you can do to protect your security:

  1. Avoid connecting devices to the internet without a firewall or in front of a firewall. Keep IoT devices behind a firewall, such as is found on routers.
  2. Change the device’s default credentials if you can. On cameras and DVRs, you might not be able to do that.
  3. Update the firmware when an update is available.
  4. Disable Universal Plug and Play.
  5. Don’t buy Peer-to-Peer (P2P) devices.
  6. Don’t go cheap.
    Check out the internet security site: grc.com’s Shield’s Up.

Top cybersecurity threats in 2019

Data breaches, hacking, and skimming — all of it poses a threat to consumers and business during 2019.
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), data breaches increased sharply in 2018 with 1,027 breaches reported and 57,667,911 records compromised.
Today’s hackers are very deft at outsmarting security measures, said Michael Bruemmer, Experian Vice President of Data Breach Resolution, adding that, “cybercriminals always seem to stay a step ahead of new security gates.”
Experian’s top five threats for 2019 are:
1) Biometric hacking and detecting flaws in touch ID sensors, passcodes, and facial recognition. Although biometric data is the most secure method of authentication, it can be stolen or altered.
2) Skimming a major financial institution’s national network with hidden devices to steal credit card information, and invading bank network computers with undetectable malware.
3) Attack on a significant wireless carrier with simultaneous effect on iPhones and Androids, stealing personal information from millions of smartphones and possibly disabling all wireless communications in the U.S.
4) A breach in the security operations of a top cloud vendor will jeopardize the sensitive information of major companies.
5) The gaming community will be faced with cybercriminals posing as gamers for access to its computers and the personal data of trusting players.
According to the ITRC, significant breaches from 2005-2017 rose from about 200 per year to more than 1,300. Billions of data pieces have been exposed, allowing cybercriminals to monetize stolen data, leading to an increased risk of identity theft.

What can consumers do against security threats?

  • Do not share personal information with strangers over the phone, email or text messages.
  • Sign up for free credit report monitoring to receive alerts about your credit activity.
  • Get a free dark web scan to see if your Social Security number, email or phone number has been compromised. Hackers sell stolen information on the dark web.

Sometimes injury numbers don’t tell the story

Organizations with low numbers of on-the-job injuries can be proud of their record.

But number of injuries alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

Safety expert Don Groover, writing in Safety and Health Magazine, points out that, in dangerous situations, luck plays a part.

Groover gives this example: An observer stands below a worker on a high platform. The worker is using a hammer. The hammer falls and misses the observer. There are zero injuries on the job that day but, the fact is, the observer was lucky, not safe. The exposure to danger was still there.

The key is creating a work environment and a safety culture that recognizes exposure, not just injury.

In that example, you could say that the workers were in error, either because of the way the hammer was used or because of the position of the observer. While that might be true, Groover points out that the pool of exposure points is more important.

“A focus on exposures is a radical departure from a focus on hazards or unsafe actions,” Groover writes.

The key is focusing on the factors that cause vulnerability to dangerous situations before the injuries occur or, with luck, don’t occur.

“When a person is exposed, the outcome is out of their control,” Groover says. They could have good luck — or bad.

The significance of safety exposures becomes clearer when seen over time.

Groover gives the example of a worker who climbs on a unit to install a strap on a shipping container. When he steps back, he stumbles and falls five feet. He is uninjured.

He is lucky, and the company has zero injuries but their exposure, when considered across the system, is huge: An employee climbs up twice for each unit loaded. About 25,000 units are loaded per day, equaling 50,000 exposures per day or 18 million exposures per year.

Given this immense number of possible falls, relying on perfect execution each time from employees reveals a much bigger risk than merely calculating injuries per day.

New headlight technology stalled by regulation

New headlight technology stalled by regulation
Outdated federal regulations have blocked automakers from introducing new headlight technologies that could help drivers see better and even prevent some pedestrian deaths, experts say.

About 2,500 pedestrians are killed at night in the U.S., but new headlight technologies could help, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Adaptive beam headlight technology automatically adjusts head lamps to oncoming traffic, reducing glare and helping drivers see better. The technology is legal and widely available in Europe and Japan.

In fact, Japanese automaker Toyota petitioned the NHTSA in 2013 to allow adaptive beam technology, but no decision has yet been made.

NHTSA did evaluate the technology in 2014 when it was first introduced by Audi, according to ArsTechnica.com. At that time, NHTSA found the adaptive beams too slow to respond at an intersection or when two vehicles are oncoming on a curved road.

Drivers should use high beams responsibility for proper lighting does involve the driver, however according to the IIHS, drivers should always use high beams, except when another driver is approaching. According to one transportation study, drivers activated their high beams only 25 percent of the time they should have been using them.

Keeping track of a child at a theme park

One minute you are holding your kid’s hand, and the next, he’s gone.

At a crowded theme park, jostling crowds or just a busy kid can quickly turn a fun day into a terrifying experience for child and parent.

That was one mother’s fear as she struggled to hold on to her child at a theme park and she came up with a clever solution.

Michelle Walsh solved the problem that day by writing her cell phone number on her child’s arm. But later she improved upon the idea, creating the SafetyTat, a temporary tattoo for kids.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the plan worked well for one family touring a huge science center. In an instant, they lost track of their 4-year-old daughter. Then, just as quickly, the mother’s cell phone began ringing: Security had the child at the front desk. The tattoo worked.

SafetyTats are sold in children’s stores, amusement parks, travel stores, and online at safetytat.com.

You can get sticky labels with a place for a phone number and medical information.

Customized water-based tattoos can also be ordered online.

Facts to teach your new teen driver

Teen drivers are inexperienced, usually distracted, and impulsive, statistics show.

That’s every single teenager, from the A student to the wild child.

That won’t come as news to the insurance industry, which charges high rates for teen drivers. But, teens might not know the dangers of their own inexperience. Parents who are teaching their kids to drive might point out some sad truths.

First, teens have a lot of car accidents and car accidents kill.

Of all age groups, 16-year-olds have the highest crash rates, and a full third of all deaths among 13- to 19-year-olds are likely to occur in a car crash. In fact, more than 3,000 people die in car accidents every single day.

Second, teens are unusually distracted behind the wheel.

According to dosomething.org, more than half of teen drivers admit they use a phone while driving.

More worrisome is that texting can take eyes off the road for almost five seconds — a lot of time for something to go wrong. Car and Driver Magazine did a study on this and found texting while driving had the same effect as driving drunk.

Teens must learn to leave their phones unanswered while driving. That’s a lesson adults can learn too since 27 percent of adults have read or sent a text message while driving.

Third, driving around teen friends can be deadly. Fatality rates increase with each extra passengers in the car. It’s dangerous for the driver and for the teen rider. Fewer than half of teens say they would speak up if the driver was scaring them.

Teens must also recognize that their inexperience can get them into trouble. Driving in poor conditions such as snow, fog, or rain can be dangerous and teens must give the task their complete attention.

Tips for preventing pipes from freezing; thawing frozen pipes

Frozen pipes not only mean the inconvenient lack of water, they also can burst, causing an expensive repair problem.

Homeowners are often understandably frantic to get water pipes running again. But thawing the pipes improperly can lead to more problems.

Never use a device with a flame to thaw out pipes.

A little heat on the right pipe could get that water flowing. But a flame on the pipe is a very bad idea.

According to fire experts, flames under the house, even when directed at pipes, are a common cause of fire.

The open flame from a heater, especially a propane salamander, can instantly ignite insulation or flooring materials under a house.

Worse, pipes can heat up dramatically from flaming devices, with heat traveling along the piping systems inside walls. This heat can ignite wall materials, which can smolder for hours before being discovered, or bursting into flame. Alternatively, excessive heat on metal piping can cause water to boil, causing the pipe to burst, according to the Red Cross.
If you know where the pipes are frozen, first open the faucets and then apply heat with a hair dryer or electric heating pad.

Prepare ahead of very cold temperatures.

If you know your pipes are prone to freezing, take some simple steps ahead of cold weather.

First, give yourself a supply of water. Partially fill a bathtub with water when very cold temperatures are predicted. This can provide water for pets, cleaning, or bathing. It will also give you some breathing room so you can take your time unfreezing pipes.

Next, keep the faucets open to a drip. This will help prevent pipes from freezing. Although this can put a strain on water pump systems, it is usually better than broken pipe disasters.
Close garage doors, especially if there are pipes along the garage walls.

Open your cabinet doors in the kitchen and bathroom to allow warm room air to circulate.

Don’t turn down the house temperature during very cold nights.

Never set the thermostat to less than 55 degrees when the weather will be below zero.

Long-term prevention for frozen pipes

One of the best ways to prevent frozen pipes is with heat tape or heat cable. These low-heat products usually can be plugged in at the beginning of the season and left until Spring. This is especially good for pipes that are run along the outside of walls.

Be sure to unhook outdoor hoses and close valves supplying outdoor faucets.

If the problem with frozen pipes is persistent every winter season, consider moving exposed piping. Although this is a major project, it should prevent future problems.
Insulation in attics, basements and crawl spaces will help prevent frozen pipes, too.