Freakonomics Blog: “This Is the Sound of Chinks Appearing in Armor”

Real estate listing services will, from now on, be required to treat listings from discount brokers the same as those from traditional (read: high-priced) agents. This is good news for consumers on both sides. Sellers using discount agents will get equal booking, and buyers will have an easier time finding homes where the list price is not inflated by traditional realtors’ fees.

In plain English, this could mean that home prices trend slightly downward as traditional agents are forced to compete with discount agents.

BoingBoing: “China Unblocks Wikipedia, Even Though it Won’t Censor”

Following up on this post, it looks like China has unblocked Wikipedia, although it still seems to be trying to block individual pages. Chinese users are still having difficulty viewing the Tianenmen Square page, for example.

Still, this is a positive step. I wonder if Google and Yahoo! will now reconsider their policies. It’s also a shocking indicator of just how powerful information has become, if China feels it just can’t afford to entirely block Wikipedia.

Winona Daily News: “An $830,500 Difference: City Ordered to Pay $903,000 for Land it Originally Thought Worth $72,500″

When the city of Winona decided to take Rich Mikrut’s access to his truck-to-train transfer station, they offered him a measly $72,500. Mikrut was forced to use residential roads (probably not so easy when your business is giant shipping containers), and was buying up nearby properties to build his own driveway. Rather than settle for the $72.5k, Mikrut took the city to court and was awarded $903,000 for the city’s taking.

Article no longer available at WinonaDailyNews.com

Cleaning Up Maryland’s Eviction Mess

I’m having fun searching for “landlord” on YouTube lately. There are a ton of great videos of terrible landlords. Cameras are a terrific tool to use in a landlord-tenant dispute.

This video, however, shows what happens when a liberal eviction law is in place. In Maryland, a landlord may evict a tenant for even one day of late rent. Minnesota, thankfully, is not quite so strict, and requires notice, at least, before an eviction can be filed.

cdtv.net: “New Web Tool Helps Consumers Uncover Generic Drug Alternatives”

Uncovering the generic alternatives to discuss with a physician can be a problem, which now has a solution — a new interactive web service from DrugDigest.org called Check for Savings.

Looks like a great way to help takers of prescription drugs and their doctors, arrive at money-saving treatment options.

Dan The Mortgage Man – Credit Scores 101

Skip to 2:00 for the lowdown on credit scores, how they affect your life, and how you can keep them high.

#1 tip: Pay your bills. Pay them within 30 days of the due date, and even if you can’t pay the full amount due, pay something!

FYI, You can find out your FICO score at Fico.com. It’s free with the 30-day trial, but make sure to cancel on time if you want to avoid the $89.95 annual cost.

LA Times: “U.S. Rules Allow the Sale of Products Others Ban”

As manufacturers around the world are finding their products are deemed too toxic by many European and Asian countries, they are turning to a more loosely-regulated market, the United States. The products in question contain carcinogens and substances that may cause cancer or cause reproductive or neurological damage.

What kinds of products? Primarily formaldehyde-bearing wood products. Formaldehyde (a carcinogen) in the glue holding plywood together wafts off the glues, and may be inhaled by consumers when it is incorporated into cabinetry, furniture, or in other household uses.

For example, according to the article:

One birch plank from China, bought at a Home Depot store in Portland, gave off 100 times more formaldehyde than legal in Japan and 30 times more than allowed in Europe and China, according to July tests conducted by a lab hired by an Oregon-based wood products manufacturer. Formaldehyde exposure has been shown in human studies to cause nose and throat cancer and possibly leukemia, as well as allergic reactions, asthma attacks, headaches and sore throats.

Fortunately, some companies are rising to the EU standards across the board:

In the absence of U.S. regulations, some international corporations, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Mattel, Revlon and Orly International, have declared that all their products, no matter where they are made or sold, will comply with EU standards, the most stringent chemical laws in the world.

But companies that do change have a hard time. For example:

Columbia Forest Products, which spent $8 million to switch all its factories to nontoxic glues made of soy flour, says it is being hurt by the lack of U.S. standards for wood.

Even if regulation isn’t the answer, it would be nice if there were some set of standards (even industry-based) by which consumers could tell whether they were buying toxic wood or not.

Consumerist: “Compare Rents in Your Area With Rentometer”

This is a fantastic tool if you are looking to rent a place in the near future. The Rent-O-Meter allows you to plug in the type of apartment you are looking for along with your address, and will plot similar rents on Google Maps. Pretty cool.

Consumerist: “Payday Loanshark’s Waters Drain”

For those who don’t know, here’s how a payday loan works. You go to the payday loan place and write them a check, postdated to the day you are paid. They give you the money, minus something like 20%. On the day you are paid, they cash the check.

Except that 20%/month is actually 240% interest! Not cheap. Often, they will offer to roll the loan into a new one, taking another 20%, then another, then another. How do they get away with this? There is a federal law that says a bank is governed by the law of its state of incorporation. Guess why so many banks are incorporated in South Dakota. That’s right, no usury law!

According to the Consumerist, the military is finally cracking down on loans made to personnel, but that doesn’t do much to help non-military consumers getting regularly screwed by payday lenders.

“Contact Us for Pricing”

I ran across James Lileks’s comments on health clubs’ pricing policies today. I recall the same problem when I was looking at health clubs. Why is it that health clubs can’t get with the program and at least quote prices on line, if not allow people to sign up that way.This reminds me of Match.com’s recent change in its cancellation policy.

Article no longer available at StarTribune.com.