Think you are getting a good deal when a store goes out of business? What secrets are liquidators not telling me?

Lately we have seen some Circuit City stores and Linen’s n Things stores go bankrupt.  Once a store goes out of business many people flock to the store thinking they are going to get a steal of a deal, but are they really? What are the things you may want to know…about liquidators?

They change price tags – Most liquidators change price tags on all the inventory.  They raise the price on the items and then offer you 10%, 20%, etc. off those prices.  Sometimes they just put a new price tag over the old price tag, so if you peel back the price tag you may see that the original price maybe lower than the liquidators price.

Out to make a buck – Yes, liquidators just like any other business are out to make a profit, yet many people seem to think otherwise.

Discounts – Always start out small and then gradually increase closer to the date the store is actually closing. 

Bring in other stock – Liquidators may bring in leftover stock they have on hand and price it with that stores price tags.  You maybe purchasing items that were never originally sold in that store and are of lesser quality.

Gift Cards – Once the store is turned over to the liquidators gift cards are no longer honored. If you have a gift card and hear that particular store is having financial problems redeem your gift card as quickly as possible before the liquidators takeover. 

Exchanges/refunds – Liquidators do not offer any exchanges or refunds. Period!

Sold as is – Buyer beware. Liquidators do not take damaged/faulty items off the floor. All items are sold as is too.  Make sure you check that the item is working properly, not flawed, is the right size, not falling apart, broken, stained, etc. before you purchase it and walk out the door.

Remember…

A going out of business sign doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting a screaming deal.  Shop around.  

Know your prices and be on the lookout for items re-priced higher, peel back price tags, watch for prices cut out of the shelf tags, etc. 

Phone the store to find out when they are actually closing.  You will get a bigger discount closer to the actual store closing date.

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Why is Christmas shopping different this year? Do you shop on Boxing day or at the after Christmas sales?

Tis the season to be jolly.  Fa, la, la, la, la la, la, la!   With the economy in turmoil and retail sales slumping what are the things you may want to know…before you start buying all those Christmas presents?

Refund/Exchange policies may change – In uncertain economic times don’t take refund/exchange policies for granted even if you shopped at that store for years. Crippled with high inventory and slowing sales, new final sale – no refunds/no exchange policies are becoming more common place than ever before.  Double check the stores refund policies and especially so if the item is on sale.

Stores may go out of business/bankrupt  – Here today, gone tomorrow.  Shop at reliable stores.  More stores go bankrupt during the months of January to early March because sales basically drop off a cliff after Christmas.

Boxing day or after Christmas sales – With too much inventory on hand, deep discounts may occur before Christmas and less so after Christmas depending on inventory levels.  Pay attention to all those Christmas flyers, some items are already 50% to 70% off.

Prepaying or putting a deposit on a gift in advance – If you are ordering something that requires a deposit or prepayment, put it on your credit card for your own protection.  Credit card charges can be reversed back to the retailer in case of bankruptcy.  Cash/cheques can not. 

Gift certificates – If a store files for bankruptcy protection, a lot of times gift certificates become void and will not be honored.  By the same token, if you receive a gift certificate for an unique store you may want to redeem it as quick as possible. 

Shop early – For best selection and to get sales people to help you in general.  A lot of retailers have already laid off staff or are not hiring extra staff this Christmas.  Help may be limited and/or hard to find. Extra cashiers may be non-existent and lineups may be longer than usual. 

Comparison shop – In slowing retail environments stores slash prices and try to out do each others sale prices.  It pays to comparison shop beforehand as you may not be able to get a refund if you find the item for a much lower price somewhere else.  (read refund/exchange policies may change – above for further information)

Remember…

The best Christmas gift doesn’t have to be the most expensive, it is the thought that counts.

What are banks not telling you? Why should you deal with more than one bank?

The all mighty dollar and the bank account.  Almost everyone has one, but what are the things you may want to know…about banks in general?

Best rate – The bank will show you their products only. The competition may offer a better interest rate, a better mortgage rate or higher yielding investments. It pays to comparison shop.

High Interest Savings Accounts/ Very low mortgage rates – Sound too good to be true? Beware of teaser rates. These rates may only be valid for a few months. Then you can end up paying a higher interest rate on a mortgage and/or earning less interest on your bank account over the longer term. 

Commissions – The bank is there to sell you their products. It is always a good time to invest no matter what the stock market is doing.  Ever wonder why they keep suggesting to purchase their new mutual fund, certain types of investments, etc.  Higher commissions bottom line. What! You didn’t know your financial advisor gets a commission?  It’s not like they want to reveal that information to you, because you may think they are not looking after your best interests if you know they are making commissions off of your investments.

Banking fees – Only seem to keep increasing.  Mistakes are common. Complain, point out mistakes, say the fees are unreasonable, many times they will reverse the fees to keep your business.

Fine Print – Banks never explain the fine print in detail.  Make sure you know what you are signing and the liabilities, fees, etc. associated with it.  Leave your pride at the doorstep, ask questions, don’t assume anything.

Online Accounts – These accounts may not be suitable for everyone, as some online transactions may take longer to process, like an out of town cheque, etc.  Plus, they not as secure as the bank makes them out to be. Usually, banks will offer you higher interest rate if you open one of these online accounts.  Read the fine print, ask about transaction clearing times, find out if the account is right for you.

Mistakes – Banks are not immune from making any kind of mistakes, not depositing your pay cheque in the right account, withdrawing the wrong automatic payment amount, etc. Someone else may have the same bank account number as you with a different transit number (different city).  If the person moves to your area, vacations/visits your area, mistakes can be made in your bank account.  Check your accounts over on a regular basis.

Credit cards – Once again the banks will only offer you their products. The competition may offer better reward programs, interest rates, etc.

ATM’s – Ever wonder why you are starting to see so many generic ATM’s now?  It’s all about the money making opportunity in the fees. Also, if you need to withdraw cash while you are on vacation, not all banks are created equal when it comes to foreign transaction fees.

Identity Theft – Banks don’t advertise their problems with identity theft. Use only one bank?  Probably not a good idea in this age of identity theft.  Because an identity thief ruins your credit rating, you will not be able to go out and open up an account at a totally different bank to resolve an identity theft problem. 

Remember…

To shop around.  Just because you have been dealing with the same bank since you were 12, it doesn’t mean the bank is offering you the best interest rates, best banking fees or the best of anything.  

Try not to be fooled by fancy advertising. Sometimes this is more about increasing the banks business in general and good PR. Offers might not be as rosy as they appear. 

Deal with more than one bank to protect yourself in the event of possible identity theft. 

Always read the fine print, don’t assume anything.  Ask questions, forget about how dumb you think your questions may be. Better to understand the liabilities/risks rather than having to deal with unexpected financial surprises in the future.

Check your accounts over for possible errors on a regular basis.

What are the pitfalls of choosing a real estate agent too quickly? Should I hire the first real estate agent I meet? Why should I interview a real estate agent before buying or selling a home?

Sooner or later you may need the services of a real estate agent to purchase a property or to sell a property.  Many people choose real estate agents based on familiarity/comfort rather than looking at the real estate agents qualifications and whether the real estate agent actually suits their needs.  Unfortunately, talking on a real estate agents blog for a few months or meeting a real estate agent at an open house for few minutes is not a guarantee that you will receive the type service you are actually looking for. What are the pitfalls and things you may want to know… if you choose a real estate agent too quickly?

Personality clash – Lets face it, some people in life can rub you the wrong way as you get to know them. Of course, this goes both ways, clients rub real estate agents the wrong way and real estate agents rub the clients the wrong way. Rather than suffering it out, seek to mutually break your contract if the person is driving you crazy and you are about to lose your cool. 

Promotion/Marketing – Does the real estate agent attend showings? What are they saying about your home behind your back?   If a potential buyer makes negative comments is the agent just agreeing with the negative comments or coming back with positive spin instead?  How your real estate agent responds to negative comments about your home can make or break a potential sale.  

How does a real estate agent plan to advertise your home? MLS only? Free websites?  Advertising budgets and promotion vary from agent to agent.

Best price – Getting the best price really depends on how good the agent is and whether it is a buyers or sellers market. In a hotter sellers market some real estate agents are more concerned about getting the quickest sale possible rather than getting you a good price.  Others may not have the experience how to price the type of home you have or how to price a home in a quickly rising market. Recommended selling prices can vary 100k or more in a sellers market.  In a buyers market, you have to be aware of your competitors prices and may have to adjust your price expectations accordingly.

Listening/understanding needs – Does the real estate agent take time to listen to you?  Answer your questions and go over things with you?  Is the agent taking you to see the type of properties you are looking for in your price range?  

Level of service provided/assistants – What level of service are you expecting? Real estate agents provide various levels of service.  Some you can contact directly via cell phone, others you have to call the real estate office and have them paged, others may have assistants, etc. Some popular real estate agents may only offer personal assistance once or twice and then you may be passed onto their assistants instead. These assistants may be competent or incompetent, been in the business for a few years or a newbie with limited experience.   

Commissions – Are negotiable and not carved in stone.  Some real estate agents will negotiate their commissions, others will not.  Don’t end up like one of my friends who verbally negotiated 25% off the commission rate, only to have the real estate agent back out of the deal because it was not in writing.

General communication – How does the agent communicate with you in general? Are you met with insults or you don’t know what your talking about, if you bring up a real estate news story?  Are they polite or in a big hurry? Do they return your calls or does it take hours and you have to keep calling them back instead? Is the agent always on their cell phone while showing you homes?  If they are not listening to what you are saying about the homes during showings, how will they be able to help you find the right home you are looking for?

Remember…

Whether buying or selling a home take the time to interview at least three real estate agents. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and make sure any verbal agreements are in writing. Pay attention to the number of negative and positive comments made.  Does one outweigh the other?  Is this the type of agent you wish to hire?

If you are not sure how to interview a real estate agent or need further tips on questions you should ask, please google:

How to interview a real estate agent when buying a house 

or 

How to interview a real estate agent when selling a house

Please note: I didn’t provide specific links to websites, because each person has their own comfort level on what information they may want to know and how tough they want those questions to be.

What are the secrets hotels are not telling you?

Whether going on an exotic vacation, on a business trip or on a weekend getaway, sooner or later you stay in a hotel.  From one star to five star and somewhere in between, from the best stay ever to a complete disaster, what are the secrets hotels may not be telling you and the things you may want to know…

Lousy room – If you booked your room through an auction or discount website instead of directly with the hotel, the hotel knows you are most likely not to be a loyal repeat customer and are just looking for the cheapest rate.  There is a possibility you can end up in a room that is beside the ice machine, over the bar, beside the elevators, facing the garbage bins, etc.  If the hotel is full you also will be the first to be shuffled off to the alternative hotel.  Priority is given to repeat customers, people who book directly with the hotel, etc.

Security Lock – When you occupy your room you will notice an extra security lock on the door.  It is there for a reason, like not having maintenance people, maids, etc. entering your room while you are in the shower, sleeping, etc. Plus, the hotel staff can make mistakes, double book rooms and viola you have a new hotel guest entering your room while you are in it.

Bad Location – Hotels will exaggerate their location and surroundings, they could be on the edge of a busy freeway, in a high crime/unsafe area, a long distance away from the airport/attractions, have unattractive views, etc.  

Doctored photos – A lot of photos on hotel websites are “staged” rooms, touched up, etc. What kind of room you see on a photo may not necessarily be what you get. 

Bed bugs – “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” is just not a saying you heard when you were growing up.  Bed bugs are making a resurgence everywhere.  They look like apple seeds, like to hide in cracks and crevices.  You can’t tell whether a hotel has bed bugs based on cleanliness alone. Bed bugs come out at night and bite.  You can’t feel them biting either because they have a numbing liquid that basically freezes your skin.  

Pull back the sheets, check the mattress crevices and by the headboard, you will be able to see signs of them if they are there. Goggle “hotel reviews (such & such hotel)” and read what people are saying.  Try not to think it will not happen to you, even the most posh hotels have had problems with bedbugs. 

1-800 – Room rates on toll free reservation lines can cost you more than booking with the hotel directly. Ninety percent of people also book their hotels in the morning, try booking your room in the evening you may get a cheaper rate.

Employee theft –  Although theft is frowned upon by hotel owners/management there are no guarantees that all employees working at the hotel are honest.  It just takes one employee to help themselves to everything from your snacks to your valuables. Keep an eye on your valuables, store them out of sight and lock them up.

Room preference – Hotels can make you feel secure that you will get the type of room you have requested, but a hotel will not guarantee that.  This really depends on how full the hotel is and if they have that type of room available when you arrive.  Read the fine print in your confirmation.

Extra charges – Minibar charges, local & long distance telephone charges, internet charges, gift shop item prices, etc.  Hotels make a lot of money from these high mark up items.  

Cleaning standards – This really depends on how fussy the hotel owner/manager is in general. Some items like telephones, tv remotes, keyboards, light switches and gaming devices don’t get cleaned and are full of germs. Although, sheets are clean, items like bed spreads and blankets may only be washed weekly, monthly or every few months. Coffee makers and mugs located by the toilet should be rewashed and relocated to another part of your room as toilets splash.

Luggage safety –  Hotels assume no legal responsibility if your luggage is stolen off the bellhop’s luggage cart. Expensive luggage may attract thieves. Small locks that come with your luggage purchase are not secure, buy a high quality lock. 

Special rates/Package rates – These deals/specials are more about good PR. They are usually not so special and may end up costing you more than the hotel’s regular rates. 

Remember…

Check other traveler’s reviews/photos online and verify/double check everything else that is of importance to you.

Why do rental car company rates vary so much?

Car rental companies.  Seems every time you pick up the phone you get a different price quoted. Sometimes you can get a cheaper rate online and other times you can get a cheaper rate over the phone. What is up and what are the things you may want to know…

Smallest car is cheapest to rent – This myth has been circulating for years. Rates are based on availability,demand/volume rented. Ask “What is the best rate you can give me?” instead.  

Going green? – Rental car companies will charge you a lot more to rent a hybrid vehicle compared to many other types of vehicles. The higher rate may pay off if you are planning to do a lot of driving or you consider it an environmentally conscience thing to do.

SUV’s – Have fallen out of favor lately.  Many times you can rent a mid size SUV for the same price as a compact car and for a lot less compared to medium to full size cars.  

Where you live – Some car rental companies charge higher rates if you are a foreign visitor compared to a citizen of that country, other rental car companies do not charge you extra.  Shop around for the best rates.

Last Minute specials – Most car rental companies offer last minute specials on their websites.  If you have made a regular reservation earlier and then you find a last minute special that turns out to be a better deal, you can always book the last minute special and cancel your original booking. 

Special discount rates – Repeat customer, AAA, CAA, government, travel industry, etc. These rates may not necessarily be the cheapest rates in comparison to the “best/lowest rate” options on the company website.  

Insurance coverage – Your insurance company at home or credit card may offer you rental car insurance coverage for a much lower rate or free in comparison to what the car rental company will charge you.

Season/time of the year – Like hotels you will pay a premium to rent a car during peak traveling seasons like Easter, Christmas, spring break, summer break and long weekends.

Other websites – Websites like priceline, hotwire and rentalcars.com may offer you some better rates too.

Remember…

Allow yourself time to shop around for rental car rates before you arrive at your destination.  Check several different companies as rates can vary quite dramatically. 


Please note the following changes

Hi Everyone,

I have deleted the sister blog to this one called “Is it your taste?” due to lack of interest and traffic.  In its place, I have started a new blog called Cooking with Coco. This is where I will post my favorite recipes. I have also moved all the recipe links that were on this blog over to the new blog.

I hope you enjoy it, literally!

Thanks

Coco

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