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

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Spruce Up Your Home this Year

January 1, 2015 1:15 am

(BPT) - Making a New Year's resolution is common, and many people set goals for ways to improve themselves. If you have set a goal to lose weight, learn a new skill or get promoted, congratulations. But while you are striving to attain your personal goal, have you ever thought of setting a goal to refresh your home in a way that will have your friends talking?

Setting a home improvement goal is more common than you may think and you can make a dramatic improvement to your home with a complete remodel. You can take on several smaller projects - any time of the year - that will leave you loving your home all year long. Here are a few ideas to get you going.

* A fresh coat of paint. Nothing reinvents a room like a fresh coat of paint. Yet many people put off painting a room because they can't afford professional painters and they don't have time to do the job themselves. But you can achieve that professional quality finish at a fraction of the time and cost by visiting RentalHQ.com and renting your own paint sprayer. Use your sprayer to add a neutral color, which provides visual appeal and works with most furniture patterns, leaving you plenty of decorating options.

* Change hardware. Faucets and cabinet hardware can quickly date a room. Replacing hardware can add beauty to your kitchen without adding a lot of extra cost. Be sure to find knobs and pulls that are the same size as the existing ones so you don't have to re-drill the cabinets. Do this for any furniture and in any room for an instant decor face-lift.

* Replace old tile. Outdated tile can make a bathroom look old and dull. Replacing it with new tile that is in style will give the space a rich, modern look. Tiling is a DIY project that anyone can tackle with the right tools. Rent the necessary items like a tile stripper, a tile saw and a mortar mixer to keep your costs down.

* Update curtains and blinds. Textiles play a major role in the overall decorating scheme of a room. New window treatments offer an inexpensive way to introduce bold color and patterns for an instant refresh. Pair your new curtains with decorative throw pillows for a striking impact to the living room.

* Recreate your flooring. If your carpet doesn't need to be replaced but it could use a little refreshing, cleaning your carpets will do the trick. If you can't afford to hire professional carpet cleaners or you feel like taking on the project yourself, renting a carpet cleaner can give your carpets the professional look you've been dreaming of. And if you have hardwood floors that need to be refurbished, renting a floor sander is an excellent first step for this project.

Home improvement projects do not have to include a complete overhaul to provide a new look. These smaller projects will dramatically improve your home all year long. To learn more about the tools you can rent for your next project and to see more ways those tools can help you, visit rentalhq.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


New Year's Resolutions That Will Keep Your Home Warm and Happy

January 1, 2015 1:15 am

With the New Year upon us, many people are reminded of their resolutions from the past year. Many resolved to keep up with their home maintenance. How did you do? Was your New Year's resolution to fix those air leaks in the window? If you haven't done it yet, the time is now. The winds of winter are here and that means that it's time to assess your home's insulation situation and save yourself some money while also providing your home with trendy new fashions. If you have never done it before, the first thing you should do to winterize your home is conduct an energy audit.

Hiring a professional energy auditor may seem unnecessary, but turning your home into an energy efficient machine will help you save more money in the long run. The auditor will point out spots of energy waste, poorly insulated areas and air leaks, and other places which are the main causes of higher-than-usual utility bills during the winter months. Once the auditor has pointed out the areas that need home improvement, it's time to go about winterizing those areas to save as much money as possible.

The term "winterize" is used in professional inspection services to refer to houses that are going to be vacant during the winter. However, there are ways to prepare (winterize) your home while living in it, which effectively protects it from the damaging effects of the harsh weather. Consider these tips for helping you make it through the winter in a comfortable and cozy fashion.
• Improve insulation. Poor insulation can cost you money on your utility bill year round, but especially during the winter when your cozy warm air is seeping through different leaks. If your home is not well-insulated, you will end up spending more money on gas and electricity trying to keep the heat in during the winter and out during the summer. This makes insulation improvements a top priority on your New Year's to-do-list for home repair and maintenance.

- Insulate all piping exteriorly exposed.
- Insulate your hot water tank with an insulation blanket.
• Doors

- Install weatherstripping.
- Use a door sweep for extra insulation.
- Like storm windows, storm doors can help you save money by eliminating air leaks in this area.
• Windows

- Find air leaks and seal them with caulking.
- Consider installing storm windows.
- Insulate your windows and save money in the New Year with eco-friendly shades that can also help keep you warm during the winter. The use of custom window coverings can help your home keep the heat in when the winds are blowing.

• Roofing

- Replace missing or damaged shingles.
- Clean gutters and downspouts.
- Check flashing around chimneys and other roof protrusions. Air often leaks around these areas.

• Outdoor landscape

- Cover furniture and external air conditioners.
- If your deck needs it, seal it before the wet winter ruins it completely.
- Drain gas from lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other outdoor equipment.
- Drain water from fountains.
- Purge sprinkler systems by shutting off water and blowing compressed air through system.
Preparing your home for winter doesn't have to mean locking yourself up in an igloo for four months! You can prepare your home for winter by redecorating your interior to match the seasonal trends and to add a new level of comfort and coziness to your humble abode.

Source: Budget Blinds

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Four Steps to a Healthier Lifestyle in the New Year

December 31, 2014 12:15 am

Cut the carbs, eat more veggies. Exercise more, stress less. Get organized, stick to a budget. We start every January 1 with good intentions, but often fail to follow through – just 8 percent of those who make health-related New Year’s resolutions manage to keep their pledges.

Stay on track this year with these tips from :DentalPlans.

Get inspired. Many websites offer inspiring stories from people that have met their health and fitness goals. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) page, "Inspiration for a Healthy Year," features pictures and stories to reinforce the idea that you can set and achieve significant goals.

Break goals down. Whether it's your resolutions or daily to-dos, a long list of goals is overwhelming, not inspiring. Make no more than three resolutions and break them down into actionable steps.

Explore your options. If you've delayed getting essential health services due to financial concerns, a little research can reveal ways to make getting the care you need more affordable.

Track and share your goals. It takes about three weeks to establish a new habit. Track your health goals on your 2015 calendar by marking the 22nd as the day you put the past behind you. Consider publicly sharing your goals with family and friends and asking for their support.

Source: :DentalPlans

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Homestays on the Rise Worldwide

December 31, 2014 12:15 am

The accommodation market is making room for homestays over hotels and Airbnbs, according to the Homestay.com’s first annual Homestay Index. In 2014, the number of homestays for vacationers grew exponentially, with both renters and visitors reaping the benefits of the cheaper travel alternative.

“The sharing economy is allowing both hosts and guests to completely redefine the travel experience,” says Alan Clarke, CEO of Homestay.com. “The homestay market segment is still relatively young, but homestays are not a new ideas – they may indeed be one of the oldest forms of lodging. They are ideal not just for homeowners with extra space, but also for adventurous travelers and event planners in need of pop-up lodging.”

The Homestay Index indicated the most expensive and least expensive options for travelers around the world. The top 10 for each are listed below.

Most Expensive Homestay Cities

1. Glasgow ($61 USD/per room, per day)
2. Rome ($60)
3. Amsterdam ($57)
4. Paris ($54)
5. San Francisco ($53)
6. Singapore ($51)
7. London ($50)
8. Florence ($49)
9. New York ($49)
10. Kyoto ($46)

Least Expensive Homestay Cities

1. Toronto ($20)
2. Alicante, Spain ($20)
3. Santiago ($22)
4. Darwin, Australia ($22)
5. Montreal ($23)
6. Buenos Aires ($24)
7. Berlin ($24)
8. Madrid ($24)
9. Seoul ($25)
10. Vancouver ($26)

Source: Homestay.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Becoming a Homeowner in 2015? What You Need to Know

December 31, 2014 12:15 am

With uncertainty over mortgage rates growing and new Fannie- and Freddie-backed programs rolling out next year, those seeking to buy a home will continue to contend with changing standards. If you’re planning to become a homeowner, take these steps before borrowing.

1. Get preapproved.
Stay ahead of the game by actually getting preapproved for a loan – not by getting an estimate from a lender. Not sure if you’ve been officially preapproved? Take note of what your mortgage professional does – if your credit report was submitted to an underwriter, you’re in good shape.

2. Don’t alter your credit habits. Don’t risk hurting your credit score while securing a mortgage. Keep all balances within normal range and avoid opening or closing credit cards – your debt-to-income ratio may suffer.

3. Avoid moving funds.
To mitigate your financial liability, put off moving funds until after you’ve closed on the home. That means no cashing out on investments, retirement accounts or CDs. Additionally, don’t use your savings to pay off debt or fund a CD – this can be a red flag to lenders.

4. Get your down payment gift early. If family is helping you with a down payment, have them deposit the money in your account more than two months prior to applying for a loan. You’ll avoid hassle with the banks trying to track down the source of the funds.

5. Create a PDF of all documents. Round up all documents related to your finances: bank statements for checking, savings and investment accounts, pay stubs, W-2s, tax returns and canceled rent checks. Compile these into one PDF for your lender’s convenience.

6. Be prepared to write letters. Lenders will want to know details about every potentially harmful financial scenario before approving your loan. If there are any discrepancies in your financial history, such as frequent moves in a short amount of time or a substantial monetary gift, be prepared to explain these situations thoroughly in a letter.

7. Cut costs on mortgage insurance. The new Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage programs require as little as three percent for a down payment – but insurance premiums through the FHA will come at a higher cost. Opt for private mortgage insurers, which generally have cheaper premiums.

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


5 Tips for New Year's Resolutions in 2015

December 30, 2014 1:06 am

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who will make a promise to improve yourself this New Year, there’s bad news: You’re 92 percent likely to fail in sticking to your resolutions, says a recent study from the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology.

About 45 percent of Americans make resolutions. Ranking at the top is losing weight, and staying fit and healthy ranks No. 5.

“Of course, those statistics represent the average – you don’t have to be average!” says Dr. Virender Sodhi, founder of the Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Medical Clinic, (ayurvedicscience.com), which provides complementary and alternative medicine.

“There are plenty of things individuals can do to improve their odds of success if they resolve to become healthier and fitter.”

Dr. Sodhi, author of the new guide, “Ayurvedic Herbs: The Comprehensive Resource for Ayurvedic Healing Solutions,” (www.ayush.com) believes we can move much closer to a world of disease-free societies by following the laws of Mother Nature. Individual commitment to health via New Year’s resolutions is one path to take us there. Dr. Sodhi offers five tips for staying true to your goals.

Get away from the instant-gratification mentality and avoid unrealistic goals. Don’t expect to go from zero to 60 – 60 being your ideal body image – in just a few months, especially if you have little background in training. Unfortunately, most who have resolutions like losing plenty of weight and quitting smoking are used to easy snack foods and quick rewards. Health is a long-term labor of love; commit to the love and wait for results.

Establish good habits! People make resolutions because they know they’re important, but they’re hard. With each passing week, more people drop their promises for self-improvement. You’ll want to set the right goals; if you want to lose 100 pounds, focus on the first 10, and then the next. Make sure to establish new and good habits – it takes about 28 days to stick. Once you train your mind with good habits, achieving your goals becomes much easier.

What you should expect from your “labor of love.” Frequency, intensity and time – these are the three investments you’ll need for losing weight or gaining muscle. As a general rule, exercise at least 30 minutes three to four times a week. Make sure to start with the appropriate intensity for your health; too little intensity and you’ll see little if any results, but too much and you’ll be prone to quit. Don’t think that it’s always better to exercise for a longer duration. What matters is quality. Increase time and intensity once you comfortably meet goals.

Solidify the gains with persistent positive reinforcement. Learn to reward yourself in a new way by paying attention to the gains in your body. Notice the improvement in stress levels, breathing, energy, sex life, mood and overall strength. While these improvements are wide-ranging and palpable, they increase over time and can be subtle. Don’t let these improvements occur without a personal recognition of your accomplishments.

Embrace supplemental support. Of course, all health efforts are connected to your overall well-being. When you make the investment to eat more vegetables, you’re reinforcing your commitment to exercise. Consider practices such as yoga and meditation, which will feed your health kick and provide unexpected benefits. Additionally, supplements such as kelp, green tea extract, Commiphora mukul (Guggul) and Bauhinia variegata (Kachnar) can yield even more health benefits. And, spices such as garlic, onion, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, long pepper, and cayenne pepper all have important thermogenic properties, which stimulates metabolism.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Why Your Garage Door Color Matters

December 30, 2014 1:06 am

I have provided loads of information about your home's front door in our previous two reports, and today, we'll touch on one final and related subject - your garage doors. We recently became familiar with color designer, forecaster and renowned color consultant Kate Smith.

Smith's recent blog at sensationalcolor.com noted that the biggest mistake she sees homeowners making is using color to draw too much attention to their garage doors rather than downplaying them.

This is even more pronounced on a home with a protruding garage that already dominates the view of the home. The following points represent Smith's DO’s and DON’Ts for painting garage doors:
DO paint the garage doors in the same color as the house itself and not the trim color or white (unless white is your house color) if you want to keep them from standing out. Painting the garage doors the same colors as the body of the house may also make a home appear larger.

DO paint the trim around the doors either to match the door or to match the trim on the rest of your home. Usually it looks best if it is the same as on the rest of your home but there are times when it may look better to not call attention to the trim with a contrasting color.

DON’T paint the garage doors in the same accent color as the front door or shutters. This usually draws too much attention to the garage doors and chops up the facade of the home.

DON’T highlight the details of a standard garage door by painting the door in more than one color. There are historic or special doors where this may be appropriate but for the majority of garage doors this is not the way to go.
If your home is brick, Smith suggests finding a color that blends with the color of the brick. And finally, Smith says homeowners can draw attention away from the garage with lighting, colorful plants and flowers, or an interesting bench or other tasteful visual element near the front doorway.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Why You Need a Real Estate Attorney

December 30, 2014 1:06 am

I recently ran across a great post by Jeff Zane - a practicing real estate attorney in West Palm Beach, Fla., and a member of the Palm Beach County Attorneys’ Real Estate Council.

The item served as a good refresher for anyone who thinks they can save money during a real estate transaction by foregoing the involvement of legal counsel.

According to Zane, a buyer or seller should actually engage legal counsel early-on. He says the earlier in the process you involve an attorney, the more value you gain by their representation and support your interests.

Zane says a real estate attorney protect clients from potential problems that can range from the merely annoying to very costly by reviewing all written communications and contracts. Your real estate attorney reviews everything that requires your signature, including binding agreements and sales contracts.

Zane says an attorney's primary concern is that these contracts contain provisions and contingencies that benefit and protect you, and negotiating any changes to that end. An attorney can eliminate vague or unenforceable terms, and draft documents that require funds to be put aside in case the parties don't live up to their agreements.

Once you have found a home and agreed upon a selling price, Zane says a thorough search of the property’s title must be completed to ensure there are no liens or other outstanding judgments against the property, such as back taxes, lost or forged deeds, claims of undisclosed heirs or simple clerical errors.

A good real estate attorney will evaluate the status of one's title and pursue appropriate legal remedies to clear any title defects; advise you on what your title insurance policy does and does not protect against; and emphasizing marketability of the title when you sell.

If the title company does not uncover an existing lien, the insurance is there to cover it. Your attorney should also interpret and counsel you about all legal documents related to the title and transaction, including deeds, mortgages and closing statements.

In our next segment, we'll continue reviewing why a real estate attorney is a good investment.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Medical Debt Has Significant Impact on Credit

December 29, 2014 1:24 am

According to a recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), 43 million Americans have overdue medical debt on their credit reports. Medical debt is incurred differently than other unpaid bills because it can result from an unpredictable event, and consumers are often temporarily responsible for the bill in its entirety before insurance coverage takes over.

“It’s hard for consumers to navigate the medical debt maze and come out with a clean credit report on the other side,” said Richard Cordray, CFPB director. “Getting medical care should not make your credit report sick.”

If a medical bill goes unpaid after a certain amount of time, the medical provider may hand over the account to a third-party debt collector. The majority of collections items that end up on consumers’ credit reports are furnished to the credit reporting agencies by third-party debt collectors. When a collection item ends up on a consumer’s credit report, it decreases the consumer’s credit score. These scores play an important role in the lives of American consumers because most lenders decide to grant credit and set interest rates based on them.

Complicating matters is the medical billing process itself. Challenges include cases where patients are billed multiple bills from multiple providers for one incident or treatment, and instances in which debt collectors “park” medical debts on credit reports as incentive for consumers to pay.

Source: CFPB

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Winterize Your Home to Avoid Unnecessary Insurance Claims

December 29, 2014 1:24 am

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, one of the worst winters in years is ahead for most of the United States with below average temperatures and abnormally high snowfall. Homeowners should consider the below tips to begin to prepare their homes for the cold months ahead and to avoid unnecessary claims.

1. Avoid ice dams.

Ice dams can form at the lower edge of your sloped roof when interior heat causes the snow to melt and refreeze. Once an ice dam forms, it blocks water from draining off the roof forcing the water inside, which can cause serious damage to your home's interior.

"Ensure the attic is properly ventilated and nicely insulated to minimize the amount of heat rising through the attic," said Paul Hurd, assistant vice president, National Property Product at Grange Insurance. "Homeowners should also seal air leaks in the ceiling so that warm air doesn't leak into the attic. In this case, cooler is better. Doing so will not only prevent ice dams from forming, it will limit cold air drafts and reduce energy bills."

2. Prevent bursting pipes.

Another potential cause of water damage is bursting pipes, which can happen when water freezes in a home's pipes. Secure insulation sleeves over any exposed pipes, seal cracks and holes near water pipes, and allow slow trickles of water to flow through faucets that are connected to pipes in unheated areas. If your home will be empty during the winter months, it is best to drain your water lines.

3. Keep sidewalks and driveways clear of ice and snow.
While your homeowner policy should have liability coverage, you can avoid claims by making sure your sidewalks and driveways are clear of ice and snow to prevent injuries. Try to shovel several times, even while it's still storming, so that snow doesn't get a chance to build up and bond to surfaces. Plus, it's much easier to shovel two inches of snow than five. Get down to the pavement beneath so that sunlight can warm it up and prevent ice from forming. In addition, use sandbox sand to add traction to slippery surfaces and prevent falls.

4. Properly shut down a vacant home.

For homeowners who close up a summer vacation home or leave for an extended period of time each winter, it is important to prepare before vacating. Homeowners leaving town should give a trusted neighbor a key so they can check the house periodically to account for any unforeseen damage and discourage burglars.

It is important that homeowners turn down their heat, but do not shut it off completely. They should also shut off water, clean out the gutters and arrange for snow removal services to clear sidewalks and driveways while the home is vacated.

5. Inspect heating systems and alternative heating sources.
Homeowners should inspect any heating systems, chimneys or other supplemental heating devices this fall. Although fireplaces, space heaters and wood stoves are popular heating sources, they require proper maintenance and caution to ensure safe operation.

"It is imperative to never leave wood stoves, space heaters or fireplaces unattended to prevent house fires," said Hurd "In the event of a house fire, call the fire department immediately. Once your family is in a safe place and accounted for, contact your independent agent to report the damage. He or she will help you file a proper claim."

6. Consider policy add-ons for further protection against harsh winter weather.
As weather pattern changes continue to impact insurance claims, homeowners should consider additional policy options to make premiums more affordable.

For example, homeowners should consider coverage add-ons for valuables damaged by water during a sewer, drainage or sump-pump back-up.

"Back-up of sewers and drains coverage provides coverage for losses caused by water which backs up through sewers or drains, or water that enters into and overflows from within a sump pump or sump pump well," Hurd said. "This coverage will provide peace of mind when winter storms approach this season."

Source: www.grangeinsurance.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.