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posted: 12/12/2014 12:01 AM

Guidelines for housing-related tipping and holiday purchases

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Several folks who provide housing-related services expect homeowners and renters to show a little extra gratitude this time of year.

Q. We retired to a high-rise condo complex earlier this year. It's our understanding that the doorman is supposed to get a holiday tip, but we don't know how much to give him. What would be an appropriate amount?

A. Tipping, obviously, is a highly personal choice. Some feel extra generous this time of year, while others believe tips are never warranted because the service provider wouldn't be working if he or she wasn't already well-paid.

Though most folks don't think twice about leaving a few bucks for a restaurant waiter or bartender, homeowners and renters often forget that many of the people who work in or around their property also expect a show of gratitude during the holiday season.

A building doorman should get at least $20 or $30, says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and founder of the San Antonio-based Protocol School of Texas. Tip more if you live in a high-cost area or in an upscale building, and include a note that specifies what you appreciate about the person and his or her services.

People who live in a single-family home and employ a gardener or landscaper usually tip the pro an amount equal to one-half or a full-month's pay. Nannies typically get a week's pay as a bonus, while part-time baby sitters get a tip that's equal to their usual nightly fee.

Some folks also feel that they should tip their mail carrier. The United States Postal Service prohibits carriers from taking money, but allows them to accept a gift card worth up to $20 as long as the card cannot be converted into cash. A box of candy, homemade cookies or the like are viable alternatives.

Oh, and if you're in a giving mood, please don't forget to tip your newspaper-delivery person $10 or $20. It may help to ensure you'll be able to read next week's real estate column!

Q. We are adding an entertainment center to our home. Should we buy a new big-screen HDTV now, at holiday sale prices, or will we save even more money if we wait until Christmas is over?

A. A lot depends on the type of high-density television you want.

If you're willing to settle for a "generic" HDTV that doesn't have a recognizable brand name, go ahead and buy it now. Many retailers slash prices to the bone on their own lines of televisions and other appliances this time of year, hoping that you'll linger long enough in the store to buy other household items or gifts with higher profit margins.

If you instead desire a name-brand HDTV -- Samsung, LG, Sony or the like -- you'll probably save money if you delay the purchase until mid- or late January. That's when retailers cut prices on televisions with more familiar names as the Super Bowl approaches.

Football's Big Show will be held Feb. 1. Expect prices on those name-brand HDTVs to be about 10 percent lower than they were on Black Friday, experts at bargain-hunting Internet site DealNews.com say.

There are a few other home-related purchases you probably should delay until next month. Though there are some good deals on furniture today, expect even steeper discounts in January as stores clear floor space for the new styles that will be released in February.

Retailers also typically offer their biggest discounts on treadmills and other in-home exercise equipment in January, hoping to cash in on the millions of Americans who vow to lose weight (but rarely do) in the new year. Expect cuts of up to 50 percent or more off regular prices, analysts at Deals2Buy.com say.

Q. I am retiring from the Air Force after 18 years of service. I have lived on-base my entire career, but now I'd like to buy a house. Could I get a VA loan to buy a duplex or small apartment building, live in one unit and rent out the others?

A. Yes. The Veterans Affairs office will guarantee loans for eligible vets to purchase a property with up to four dwelling units, provided that one of the units will be their primary residence.

You can get details by calling the VA at (877) 827-3702 or by visiting its terrific website, www.va.gov.

Real estate trivia: The U.S. Labor Department reports the average American household doled out $1,913 in cash contributions in 2012, from tips and charitable donations to pocket change for the homeless.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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