Local and National Real Estate News from your Doylestown PA Agent - Kim Bartells

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Losing Sleep? It's Not Your Mortgage

June 30, 2015 12:45 am

A select group of Americans are getting a better night’s sleep as the economy strengthens, a recent CreditCards.com survey reports. According to the survey, Americans age 65 and older are sleeping more soundly than succeeding generations due to minimal stress over finances. A percentage of Americans, however, do experience some level of sleeplessness over finances.

The most common concern leading to sleepless nights is retirement savings, followed by educational expenses and healthcare and insurance bills. Mortgage and rent payments and credit card debt are less distressing than in previous years, the survey reveals.

"The biggest change over the past eight years has been the steady increase in the number of people losing sleep over educational expenses," says CreditCards.com Senior Industry Analyst Matt Schulz. "That's the only one of the five categories that has gotten worse since the Great Recession. Unless something slows the rapid rise in college costs, this could soon be Americans' biggest financial fear."

Predictably, those with an annual household income of $75,000 lost sleep over at least one of these issues far less than those with an annual household income below $75,000.

Source: CreditCards.com

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Evaluating Insurance in a Multigenerational Home

June 30, 2015 12:45 am

Multigenerational households are fast becoming the norm, with many families housing three or more generations under one roof. While this can be beneficial financially, multigenerational housing situations present some unique insurance considerations. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), it is crucial for multigenerational households to evaluate their insurance when a new resident moves in.

First, notify your insurer of your new circumstances and find out what your homeowner’s policy covers. Standard policies typically protect residents from fire or theft, but protection of personal possessions (including big-ticket items) may require additional coverage. When assessing your coverage, consider how long the family member plans to live with you.

Remember that dependents, such as college students, are covered under a parent or guardian’s policy, generally up to 10 percent.

If your new housemate is bringing a pet into the mix, ensure you have adequate liability coverage.

If your new household addition will be paying rent, he or she may want to obtain renter’s insurance. Policies are relatively inexpensive.

Source: NAIC

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How to Save on Unpredictable Energy Costs

June 30, 2015 12:45 am

Sizzling heat and freezing temperatures can take a sizable chunk out of household budgets throughout the year. “Changing seasons require renters and homeowners to adapt quickly when it comes to household savings,” says National Foundation for Credit Counseling© (NFCC©) spokesperson Bruce McClary. “The good news is that there is more than one way to achieve the kind of energy efficiency that can add up to extra savings.”

According to the NFCC, homeowners and renters can spend less on energy by:

• Turning off lights, televisions, stereos, computers, and other electrical devises when not in use;

• Installing a programmable thermostat to efficiently manage heating and cooling;

• Plugging items such as televisions and DVR players into a power strip to prevent them from running on standby;

• Drying dishes by hand instead of using a heated drying cycle in the dishwasher;

• Lowering the hot water heater thermostat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit;

• Replacing older shower heads with low flow attachments;

• Waiting for a full load before washing clothes and dishes;

• Using a clothesline to dry clothes or using the air dry setting on the dryer;

• Closing all windows and doors when heating or cooling the home.

Remember light bulbs, home appliances, electronics and other products that display the ENERGY STAR® label are products that comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy guidelines.

If energy costs have contributed to uncontrollable debt, the NFCC can provide financial counseling in-person, by phone, or online. To reach a certified financial counselor, visit www.nfcc.org.

Source: NFCC

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The Far-Reaching Impact of Household Food Waste

June 29, 2015 1:00 am

There’s no arguing food waste is a common occurrence in homes across America. According to a recent survey by TNS Global, more than half of households in the U.S. throw out leftovers at least once a week, and a nearly equal amount throw away food they bought, but never consumed. Government figures estimate households waste $900 in unconsumed food each year.

When asked what concerns them most when wasting food, almost 80 percent of respondents cited money lost; about half were bothered by the fact that others do not have enough to eat. Less than 20 percent pointed to adverse impacts on the environment, although the EPA says wasted food is the most prevalent material in landfills and contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA also expresses concern over the wasted energy, water and other resources used to produce the 30-40 percent of food that goes uneaten in the U.S.

One way to reduce food waste is through proper packaging. Plastic packaging helps prevent food waste by providing barriers to oxygen, light, temperatures, moisture, microbes and other factors that lead to spoilage.

“Just a little bit of plastic packaging can prevent a whole lot of food waste,” says Steve Russell of the American Chemistry Council.

Though less than half of survey respondents say they actively use proper packaging at home, nearly all said they take or one or more steps to prevent food waste, such as eating leftovers and avoiding over-buying of perishables.

Source: Plastics Make It Possible

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Property Manager Preferences Differ in Renter Screenings

June 29, 2015 1:00 am

Whether evaluating an individual new to the rental market or a seasoned tenant, property managers often prioritize factors when assessing candidates. Did you know the size of a property manager’s portfolio can have an impact on those priorities?

According to a recent TransUnion survey, the number of properties one manages can impact which qualities are valued when reviewing prospective residents. Small property managers, the survey says, prefer an individual to have favorable income and employment circumstances, while large property managers mainly screen for rental and eviction history. Small property managers are defined as those managing 100 units or less. Large property managers are defined as those managing 101 or more units.

Both small and large property managers also place importance on criminal and background checks. Credit history, the survey says, is the least important factor.

Source: TransUnion

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What to Look for in a Home Maintenance Pro

June 29, 2015 1:00 am

Cutting maintenance costs is a priority for many homeowners, but the search for an affordable professional may lead to disreputable websites that offer services at a discounted rate, warns the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA). While the savings may seem attractive, it is important to be able to differentiate between the deals that are too good to pass up and deals that are just too good to be true.

Before hiring an HVAC professional, for instance, ask for credentials. A good indicator of a trustworthy professional is the NADCA certification, which sets performance standards when assessing new and existing systems, evaluating and verifying the cleanliness of system components, guiding the restoration of systems and preventing job-related hazards.

Another good indicator is if the company is licensed and insured. Be sure to ask for this information before signing any contract, as well as a system inspection prior to hire. A reputable HVAC professional will gladly complete this task.

Lastly, evaluate the numbers. The EPA estimates duct cleaning services range from $450 to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, so avoid advertisements for “whole house specials” under $100, NADCA says.

Source: NADCA

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Not a Beach Bum? Visit One of These Coastal Gems

June 26, 2015 12:43 am

Many beachgoers consider lounging with their toes in the sand a day well spent, but for others, spending hours idling on the beach can be a drag. If you're in the "can't wait to get off your towel and do something" camp, there are several beaches worldwide that offer more than just sand, seashells and sunshine, say the experts at Cheapflights.com. Here are their five top picks.

1. El Castillo, Tulum, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Even if you aren't a huge beach fan, it's tough not to appreciate the postcard-perfect combo of white sand and turquoise water set against cliffs that you get at El Castillo in Tulum. But there’s much more to do here than sit on sand. This beach is directly below the Mayan ruins of Tulum, meaning you can combine some cultural exploration with a bit of beach hopping. El Castillo is the largest structure among the Mayan site and can be seen directly from the beach.

2. Long Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Long Beach, as the name would suggest, is long. This stretch of sand located in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve between Tofino and Ucluelet clocks in at just over 4 miles. Options include surfing (or learning how to surf), kayaking and jogging.

3. Kite Beach, Cabarete, Dominican Republic

If your speed of beach-going leans more toward, well, speed, then this is the beach for you. Cabarete is a small village in the northern part of the Dominican Republic that's within walking distance to Kite Beach, an aptly named mecca for kiteboarders. Kite Beach gets constant trade winds and warm waters, which is why it's so popular among kiteboarders. If you're interested in trying the sport, there are several local businesses that offer lessons and rent equipment.

4. Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Known as one of the best surfing spots in Costa Rica, Playa Grande in the Guanacaste region attracts surfers from around the world. The breaks at Playa Grande are moderate and constant, meaning it's a suitable surf spot for both experienced and new surfers. And, if you're in the area between October and May, you might be lucky enough to spot a leatherback turtles coming ashore.

5. Maho Beach, St. Martin

If you like watching planes coming in for a landing, then Maho Beach was made for you. The popular stretch of sand in St. Martin is located at the western end of the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport and it's known around the world for the ultra-close encounters with planes you can have there. How close? Close enough to reach out and touch a wheel!

Source: Cheapflights.com

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6 Ways to Finance a Renovation

June 26, 2015 12:43 am

(BPT) - If you're planning to take on a home improvement project, you're in good company. A recent report by the Joint Center of Housing Studies at Harvard University predicts that the home improvement industry is expected to post record-level spending this year. As you prepare for your renovation, it’s important to review your financing options based on the size of the project, your intended repayment plan and whether you plan to use a contractor or do it yourself. Some financing options to consider:

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)
- A HELOC can provide ongoing access to funds using the equity in your home, which typically results in lower interest rates than unsecured credit. This type of credit may also provide you potential tax benefits. Consult your tax advisor regarding the deductibility of interest.

Mortgages with Built-In Renovation Financing
- These loans help homeowners complete renovations with a loan amount that is based on an appraiser's estimate of what the property value will be with completed improvements. This is also an option for aspiring homeowners who purchase properties that need repair. Whether a home purchase or a refinance, this option finances the renovations and mortgage in one loan.

Cash-Out Refinance Mortgages - A cash-out refinance replaces your current mortgage with a new and larger mortgage that pays off your current balance and allows you to use the equity in your home to provide additional funds for other purposes.

Credit Card - Credit cards can be used for large or small purchases and may earn rewards, which can add up to significant benefits when you're making big home improvement purchases. However, credit cards often have higher interest rates than other loan or credit options, which should be taken into consideration.

Personal Loans and Lines of Credit - These personal credit options typically offer quick credit decisions and access to funds in a day. Lines of credit provide ongoing access to funds.

Savings - If you have a do-it-yourself project or a small renovation, accessing your savings might be an option. By paying cash, there is faster access to funds and nothing to repay.

Your bank may not be the best source for what color to paint your room or which walls to move, but it can help you identify your financial options. Each option has its associated benefits and considerations, and your bank can provide valuable information to help you make informed decisions about which options are right for you.

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How to Spot a Section 8 Scam

June 26, 2015 12:43 am

According to a recent report by the Better Business Bureau, homebuyers seeking affordable housing are becoming increasingly susceptible to “Section 8 scams” aimed at collecting personal information and fees from unsuspecting house hunters. These scams often take the form of a fake website that offers a voucher waiting list or lists supposed Section 8 rental properties.

If the site asks for your personal information, especially your Social Security number, do not submit it. If the site requests a registration fee, do not provide bank information or any other details that could comprise your finances. If the site asks for a wire transfer or prepaid card for first month’s rent, do not remit any funds.

Keep in mind these scam sites may rank high in search engine results or display an Equal Housing Opportunity logo. Don’t fall for it.

If you are interested in Section 8 housing, register for a housing choice voucher program through your local housing authority. You can find your local authority’s contact information by visiting HUD.gov. If you are confronted with a scam site, you may file a complaint with HUD or the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/Complaint.

Source: BBB.org

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Window Replacement Popular for First-Time Buyers

June 25, 2015 12:06 am

First-time homebuyers are often faced with remodeling and repair projects as they work to make a house their dream home. For these homeowners, window replacement is a priority. In fact, more than half of customers who purchase windows are first-time buyers, according to a recent study by J.D. Power.

When selecting windows, most homeowners prefer to make decisions themselves. Others rely on guidance from an outside source, such as a window installer, independent contractor, retailer, window store representative or architect, the study finds.

Homeowners tend to assess new windows based on appearance and design, operational performance, durability, ordering, delivery, price and warranty.

Source: J.D. Power

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