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Open House

Affordable Travel Destinations; Why More Americans are Having Garage Sales; Gas Saving Myths; Vets Facing Foreclosures; Redecorating Your Home for Less

Aired May 24, 2008 - 09:30   ET


GERRI WILLIS, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Gerri Willis and this is OPEN HOUSE, the show that saves you money.
Memorial Day kicks off the summer travel season. We'll show you the best and most affordable places to go and how to save some gas along the way.

Why more and more Americans are selling their stuff in light of the up and down economy. And we've got some projects to keep you busy around the holiday weekend.

But first, let's get right back to those record high gas prices. If you are driving anywhere this holiday weekend, you are probably looking for any way to save money on gas, but there are some myths out there about gas savings.

Here to help us separate fact from fiction, CNN Money auto writer, Peter Valdes-Dapena.

WILLIS: Good to see you, Peter.


WILLIS: All right, well let's talk about the details, here. Obviously a lot of things out there about how you can save money. Some people say to fill your tank in the morning.

VALDES-DAPENA: Well yes, some people say if you fill in the morning because the gasoline is cooler, therefore there are more gasoline molecules per gallon in what you're pumping into your car. I know, and it's sounds like, come on, that's crazy, but actually a lot of people have e-mailed ...

WILLIS: Not true, right?

VALDES-DAPENA: No. There's not -- hardly a big enough difference in temperature. We're not talking about Kelvin temperatures in a laboratory freezer. There's not enough temperature between morning and afternoon to make any real difference.

WILLIS: But, you know, if you are in the habit of filling up in the morning, it can be good news because a lot of those stations actually change their prices between about 10:00 and Noon, so maybe you can beat that price hike, that's always a good idea. All right, you know, some folks out there say to use premium fuel. Isn't that more expensive?

VALDES-DAPENA: It is more expensive, but some cars do require you to use premium fuel. Most cars today don't and I've had people say: I put premium fuel in my except that it doesn't require premium fuel, and they say will I get better gas mileage?

Well, probably not really. If your car doesn't require it, it doesn't really need it, you're probably not saving any money. Even some cars today -- I just was driving a Pontiac V-8 earlier, great car, it says, "premium fuel recommended, but not required," that means putting regular in it really isn't going to hurt anything. Obviously, if your engine starts making noises, go back to the expensive stuff. But, if your car doesn't require it, it's not going to make a difference.

WILLIS: All right, so (INAUDIBLE), changing the air filter, some people think that, but it's changing the oil filter, right, that makes the big difference?

VALDES-DAPENA: Well, most maintenance that you do isn't going to make a real huge difference. I'm not saying don't maintain your car. And it will help somewhat with the fuel economy. Using the right type of oil is probably one of the more important things you can do.

If you use a heavier weight oil or a different weight oil than your car recommends, that can have an impact. But, things like changing the air filter, not that it's not good to do, I'm not saying you shouldn't do that, you actually should maintain your car, but don't expect a big bump in fuel economy.

WILLIS: What is the thing that's going to give me the biggest savings that might not be obvious?

VALDES-DAPENA: The biggest thing you can do is drive differently. Is really try to drive -- remember your gas pedal is the gas pedal for a reason, when you press it down, it pumps more gas into your engine. Accelerate more slowly from stop signs. Don't drive up to a red light and stop short right before.

Take advantage of that extra space to take your foot off the gas and coast and slow to the stop sign. On the highway, drive more slowly. The difference between going 65 and 75 miles-an-hour on the highway is about four miles a gallon.

WILLIS: You said earlier, savings of almost 30 percent just by not driving like a maniac, right?

VALDES-DAPENA: Right. That's actually a really big difference because that's the difference you can get if you look between the hybrid and the non-hybrid versions of a car. That's about the same amount of difference.

WILLIS: So, you buy a hybrid without paying the price. I love that. Peter, thank you for that.

VALDES-DAPENA: Thanks a lot. WILLIS: With record gas prices and record weak dollar, traveling overseas might be out of the question for many Americans, but fear not. My next guest says you don't have to travel far to get your money's worth. Patricia Schultz is the author of "1,000 Places to See Before you Die in the U.S. and Canada."

So, let's talk about this idea of saving money. Obviously, you want to travel differently than you might have in the past. One thing you could do, obviously, maybe you don't take the two week vacation.

PATRICIA SCHULTZ, AUTHOR: You know, you don't need to two weeks, especially if you consider as an alternative traveling here if the U.S. Let's say you're accustomed to traveling in Europe, but there's just so very much to see here. I think the possibilities are endless. So, see America first. And you don't need to drive to the other side of the country, either. I think, just to discover (ph) what's in your region, what's in your state. What's, you know, an hour or two hours drive away?

WILLIS: I love that idea. And you've got some great regional ideas for us starting with the San Juan Islands in Washington. Now, tell me about that kind of experience. What would I get?

SCHULTZ: Well, to me, it's really a string of islands mostly known within this area of the Pacific Northwest that's just so quintessentially beautiful. There are only about 40, I think, that are inhabited. There are hundreds of them and four of them are connected by fairy from Seattle. It's where the Seattleites go to decaffeinate, they say...

WILLIS: Oh, lovely. Well, let's get to Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And Oregon is really lovely. I believe it has a wine area, too, which you mention.

SCHULTZ: Yes. The Willamette wine district. Yeah, the Willamette wine region is actually quite close to Ashland, which is where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival takes place every year. The whole area, the coastline, too, of Oregon, is just especially beautiful. And the Ashland area is 15 miles north of the California border, it goes through October. Beautiful festival.

WILLIS: OK, let's go to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. You got to love that.

SCHULTZ: Yeah, it's the Four Corners area. It's one of my favorite regions in America. Sedona is in the heart of red rock country, so the area itself -- if you use that as a base, it's north of Phoenix. And you can also stay in Sedona and travel to the Grand Canyon, it's an hour or two from there. You can't miss the Grand Canyon, it's one of those must-see iconic destinations in America.

WILLIS: OK, I have to get you to Asheville, North Carolina, because that's the part of the country I'm from. Absolutely beautiful, so many attractions. You mentioned the Biltmore house and grounds, which are... SCHULTZ: Yeah, the Biltmore -- the largest private residence ever built in America -- 30 bedrooms, 45 bathrooms, running water, electricity, things that were just unheard of in the late 1800s when it was built by the Vanderbilt family. And the single most visited winery in America, right on the grounds, 8,000 acres, beautiful, beautiful.

WILLIS: And of course, the Appalachian Trail is not far away in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There's a ton...

SCHULTZ: And the Blue Ridge Drive originates in the Ashland area and goes north to Virginia. And festivals every weekend in that area in the highhands around Asheville. There's some kind of music festival going on, hillbillies, Zydeco, classical, dance, drama, it's a fascinating area of the country to be in.

WILLIS: And a happening spot. Patricia, thank you for your help today. We appreciate it.

Still ahead on OPEN HOUSE, garage sales everywhere. A quick and easy way to bring in some extra cash during these cash-strapped times.

And once you've cleared out the clutter, you'll likely want to spruce up, remodel and redecorate for less.

And a fitting story for this Memorial Day weekend, mortgage trouble for military families. We'll show you there is hope when OPEN HOUSE comes right back.


WILLIS: Welcome back to OPEN HOUSE. Let's talk for just a minute about the Senate mortgage plan that just made it through the banking committee this week. It would allow the Federal Housing Administration to back $300 billion in new loans to at-risk borrows. Now, here's how it works:

Say a distressed borrower has a home loan of $200,000, but in this market the house has lost value and is only worth $180,000. To refinance through the FHA program, the lender writes down the loan to 90 percent of the home's current value, so the new loan would be $162,000.

That's a fixed rate, 30-year mortgage. The lender is basically forgetting $38,000 of the original loan. In exchange the government guarantees that the lender will be paid back all of that new loan amount, even if the borrower defaults.

Now, this bill is similar to another piece of legislation that has already passed the House. Senators hope to get this bill to the president before the July 4th recess.

From defending our country to fighting off foreclosure, our servicemen and women face special challenges seeking support many of them so desperately need.

CNN's Deb Feyerick has the story.


CHRISTOPHER JOSEPH, ARMY VET FACING FORECLOSURE: These are the ones I had obtained when I was -- went overseas to Kuwait and Iraq.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Army Reserve Sergeant Christopher Joseph injured his back in Iraq when his truck broke down and his unit came under fire.

JOSEPH: Because it was dark and I couldn't see. It was so dark -- and you know, and they were shooting. And they were yelling out in Arabic in front of us and Arabic behind us and that really made me nervous, I didn't know what was going to happen next.

FEYERICK: Home, safe in New York with is wife and daughter, his back pain was getting worse. Before long, Joseph had to quit his job as an Army mechanic.

JOSEPH: I suddenly started getting into trouble and we notified them immediately that we were in trouble and let's try to work this out before it gets too far gone.

FEYERICK: Like a growing number of veterans and active duty troops...

JOSEPH: A lot of late charges, a lot of penalties, a lot legal fees.

FEYERICK: Joseph fell behind on his mortgage payments.

(on camera): You need to come up with $5,600 or they're going to foreclose on you.

JOSEPH: Exactly.

FEYERICK (voice over): Joseph realized he was about to lose his house.

(on camera): The Pentagon does not keep statistics on the number of military families facing foreclosure, neither does the Department of Veterans Affairs. But, based on phone calls asking for help, some veterans groups and officials believe the number conservatively is in the thousands.

(voice over): Congressman Bob Filner heads the House committee on veterans' affairs, he's sponsored legislation aimed at helping all who serve.

REP BOB FINER (D), CALIFORNIA: It is a real crime if lenders and mortgage brokers et cetera, do not take into account the active duty status of our young men and women.

FEYERICK (on camera): Did you tell your lender that look, I'm a veteran; cut me a little break, a little break? JOSEPH: We tried and we got bounced around a lot. That was the big problem with the lender, we got bounced around so much and they dragged the process out so long that that made us fall even further behind.

FEYERICK: Joseph is now trying to get financial help from non- profit groups in the hope of saving his house. Filner's legislation would help families like the Joseph's by freezing foreclosure on active duty troops for a year after they come home.

JOSEPH: We shouldn't have to go for any type of hard times. We served our country, we volunteered, we weren't drafted, we volunteered to do this, so we should be taken care of a little better and a little faster.


FEYERICK: For many people like Christopher Joseph, the only real help is through independent veterans' groups and non-profit agencies like USA Cares and the American Legion. It's a temporary solution, piecing enough financial aid together to delay foreclosure, but not necessarily prevent it -- Gerri.

WILLIS: Are there any protects, Deb, out there for active duty soldiers?

FEYERICK: There's a relief act that's supposed to help. It provides some money, but because it's so limited, that's why there's an attempt now at new laws. The military does give housing allowances to active duty soldiers, and many use it for rent, but another big problem is that service members are being evicted because of the actual homeowners of the rental properties are being disclosed on. So, it's just a spiral.

WILLIS: Oh, it's a double whammy. Deb, thanks for that story.

Here at CNN, America's economy is issue No. 1. This coming Monday, we'll bring you a special military life edition of "ISSUE #1" at 12:00 p.m. Eastern, 9:00 Pacific.

Still ahead on OPEN HOUSE, it's not just you, there are more garage sale signs around the neighborhood. Selling things to bring in some extra cash. And little improvements you can make around your home for $25 or less. You won't want to miss this one.


WILLIS: OK, you're going to love this. If you're looking for extra cash this holiday weekend, you might not have to look too far to find it. Everything you need to bring in a few extra bucks might be right underneath your roof. That's right, I'm talking about garage sales.

Our Stephanie Elam has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KATHY TAGGART, SELLER: It's a full king comforter with shams, 15, the price.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Spring cleaning season is in full swing, but attitudes about getting rid of household junk ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got a little bit of everything in that.

ELAM: ...may be a little different this year. The Salvation Army says donations are down in many areas of the United States. That might be the cause more people need to turn a buck on their unwanted things.

TAGGART: My goal is always to get it out of my house into somebody else's' hands who wants to use it.

SUSAN FLOECK, SELLER: We average from a quart to a couple of dollars. You know, once in a while we'll have electronics or, you know, some furniture and once in a while a couple collectible things.

ELAM: These residents of Metuchen, New Jersey, are trying their hand at selling their stuff. They're in good company. Last month, the number of garage sales posted on Craig's list, the online community featuring free classified ads, more than doubled from a year earlier.

BONNIE ANACKER, SELLER: You never know what somebody is going to want. If in doubt, put it out and then see if somebody wants it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jewelry from the '70s.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Books, clothing, household items, you know, my mom sells plants from her garden, lawn furniture, electronics, really everything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You like to buy it, oh, nice, brand new. Brand new.

ELAM: How much a seller makes varies. Many of the folks we spoke with say they earn anywhere from $50 to $100. Others who organize multi-family sales say they pull in much more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We usually make anywhere from $700, possibly, to $1,000. One year we made $1,500 because we had furniture.

ELAM: But, for some the garage sale is more than getting some extra cash from unwanted items.

JOHN PROPORA, SELLER: Well, for us, it's a lot of fun because we get to see our neighbors and talk to people and, I mean, it's the social aspects of just getting out and having fun.


WILLIS: Sounds like a good party.

CNN business correspondent, Stephanie Elam joins me now. So Stephanie, how does the economy weight into this? Obviously, people looking for extra dough, right?

ELAM: Sure, definitely. But, I mean, obviously, there is a huge difference between having a garage sale to uncluttered the house and to one to pay the electricity bill, and that's what we are seeing more of in this economy. Not very surprising.

WILLIS: Yeah, not surprising at all. But, if you are going to have one of these things, now, how do you do it the best way?

ELAM: Right, the first thing, obviously, you've got to advertise, that's the most obvious thing. But beyond that, here's what you need to do. Start early. The serious buyers will come first thing. I'm talking like between 6:00 and 8:00 in the morning. You can sleep later with your cash in your hand, so do that later.

Second, use colorful, easy-to-read signs that's going to direct your buyers right to where they need to go. Also, don't put everything with little tags on it, you don't need to do that. For one thing, its a lot of work. And you don't want to tag something lower -- at a lower price than you could have gotten for it. Also, this allows for more open bargaining position.

The other thing you want to keep in mind, grouping items, that's a great thing to do. If things are organized, buyers have more patience going through the area. The last thing, you don't want to be a change agent, be prepared with plenty of small bills and change because, you know...

WILLIS: Oh, that kind of change agent.

ELAM: Because you know, people are coming with small bills and (INAUDIBLE) their change, so be ready for it.

WILLIS: Stephanie, great story. Thank you for that.

Now, your home is the single most valuable thing you own, yet it pay can intimidate and confuse even the savviest investor. In my new book "Home Rich." I walk you through the entire experience of buying, maintaining, and selling a home. And show you how to come out ahead.

Up next, it's Memorial Day weekend and that, hopefully, means you've got an extra day of downtime around the house. Home improvements for less are coming your way, next.


WILLIS (voice over): Memorial Day weekend, the first big travel weekend of the summer season. And this year, folks are skipping the beach in favor of the city life. Topping's list of top destinations for the holiday weekend, New York City's theater district. Catch a show and enjoy the bustle and bright lights of Times Square. Coming in a close second, Las Vegas, Nevada. Gamble the night or day away on the famous Las Vegas strip. And third on this year's list, Chicago, Illinois. Check out the view from the sky deck at the Sears Tower or spend the day outdoors at Chicago's Navy Pier. But, be sure to stay long enough to see the fireworks.

That's your "Local Lowdown."



WILLIS: Depending on who you listen to, it may or may not be the best time to buy or sell a home. Another option, renovate and/or redecorate. Jessica Thuston is home editor with "Cottege Living" magazine.

All right, you've got lots of great ideas. Let's start. You have felt curtains for a child's room and we have all the ingredients, right here. How do I do this?

JESSICA THUSTON, HOME EDITOR, COTTAGE LIVING: Felt is a fantastic fabric, because it's really inexpensive. It's about $4.50 a yard, and the best thing about is that it's no-sew. You do not need a showing machine, sewing machine for these curtains, you don't ...

WILLIS: No needle?

THUSTON: No, no needle and thread, nothing. The great thing about felt is that when you cut it up the side, it doesn't fray like a normal fabric does and so, therefore, you just need to measure the height from your windows to your floor and basically just cut two panels out for those sides and...

WILLIS: Jessica, what's the yarn for?

THUSTON: This is a great project to do with your kids, if this is for their kid's room. You can really involve them in the project and take the yarn, just take a needle and sew it up the side, just in and out like that, just as a really decorative border for it.

WILLIS: And you've got an easy way to hang these.

THUSTON: Right, you just hang them -- these are regular upholstery tacks that you can get at any craft store or fabric store. And these are just -- work like thumbtacks, just tack them up to the ceiling and then they have a really nice hang and fold to them.

WILLIS: Excellent, chalkboard paint. Why would I want chalkboard paint?

THUSTON: Chalkboard paint is fantastic. It's so versatile in a kitchen, office, utility room, it is great for writing up a grocery list, say in a note, "don't forget the soccer game at 5:00," that type of thing.

WILLIS: You got everything I need to make my own.

THUSTON: Right. The great thing is, chalkboard paint usually comes in black, which doesn't always fit in all of our decor. And so, this is a way to make any color of chalkboard paint you want. You basically just take two tablespoons of unsounded grout, mix it in with -- per one cup of paint, you can use any color, you can have pink, red, any color you want, really fits in more with the decor.

WILLIS: All right, OK, you're really big on these silicone light bulbs. And they are kind of creepy, They're sort of soft an and gooey.

THUSTON: They are light bulbs that have been dipped in silicon, which absolutely emit the most beautiful glow. Really ups sort of the glam factor of any light fixture.

WILLIS: What's the wattage?

THUSTON: It's like four to six watts. It's low, so it's a soft glow, but it's perfect for dining, kind of a candlelight light feel.

WILLIS: Now, I like the idea that we're doing hardware for redoing the kitchen. Let's say I can't afford to redo my kitchen. You say, hey, there's an easy solution?

THUSTON: Switch out the hardware. It's very easy, it's inexpensive. And we've got a great tip. Don't shop on the cabinet hardware aisle at the home or hardware store.

WILLIS: How come?

THUSTON: The hardware there usually is about $5 to $8 a pull. When you multiply that by the doors and drawers you have, it can get up there. Go one isle over where they have the screen porch and door hardware. Both of these pulls are just utility pulls, they're about $1 to $2 a pull.

WILLIS: Wow, that's big savings.

THUSTON: Big savings.

WILLIS: All right now, you have another idea, take the outdoor lanterns and put them inside?

THUSTON: Exactly. Why not? This is a great look. Usually the outdoors fixture are a little bit more utilitarian, which is really in right now, sort of this vintage-style look. These would be great over a bathroom sink on either side of a mirror, in a kitchen, going down a hallway. It's just a really fun look and something different. These are $17 to $19 each.

WILLIS: Wow. OK. Well Jessica, great ideas. Thanks so much for being with us.

THUSTON: Thanks for having us. WILLIS: As always if you have an idea on how to save money, sand us an e-mail to And if you want to check out this "Project Savings" again, check out our Web site,

You can hear much more about the impact of this week's news on your money on YOUR MONEY with Christine Romans and Ali Velshi, Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00, right here on CNN.

Thank you for spending your Memorial Day weekend with us. Don't go anywhere, your top stories are next on the CNN NEWSROOM. Have a great weekend.