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

Increasing results, not days on market!

Favorable Economic Outlook Peaks Since Recession

March 10, 2015 1:15 am

More than a third of consumers have a favorable view of the economy — the highest rate measured following the Great Recession, according to a recent LIMRA survey of Americans. The study also found for the first time since October 2008, consumers with a negative view of the economy are in the minority.

“Consumer sentiment on the economy tends to be seasonal – it’s not uncommon for us to see a boost at the start of each New Year,” said Jennifer Douglas, associate research director, LIMRA Developmental and Strategic Research. “To a greater extent, the strong equity markets, labor market, and low gas prices are likely to have prompted a sense of personal financial well-being, influencing their opinion of the broad economy.”

The quarterly study also tracks consumer confidence in various sectors of the financial services industry. The survey revealed that consumers show increasing confidence in the financial sectors.

“While confidence levels aren’t where they were prior to the Great Recession, the financial services industry is slowly earning back the trust and confidence of the American people,” noted Douglas.

Source: LIMRA

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Correcting Credit Report Errors Just Got Easier

March 10, 2015 1:15 am

All three credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian – will take part in a plan to minimize errors on credit reports, the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) reports. The program, dubbed the National Consumer Assistance Plan, will enhance their ability to collect complete and accurate consumer information and will provide consumers more transparency and a better experience interacting with credit bureaus about their credit reports.

“While we are pleased that the most recent comprehensive study by the Federal Trade Commission showed that credit reports are materially accurate 98 percent of the time, we are always looking for ways to improve our procedures, and this consumer assistance plan will allow us to do that,” said Stuart Pratt, President and CEO, CIDA. “While all three nationwide credit bureaus have been and continue to operate in compliance with the applicable federal and state laws, we have never hesitated to go beyond the letter of the law to voluntarily improve the existing credit reporting environment.”

Here’s what consumers can expect under the National Consumer Assistance Plan:
  • Consumers visiting www.annualcreditreport.com, the website that allows consumers to obtain a free credit report once a year, will see expanded educational material.
  • Consumers who obtain their free annual credit report and dispute information resulting in modification of the disputed item will be able to obtain another free annual report without waiting a year.
  • Consumers who dispute items on their credit reports will receive additional information from the credit bureaus along with the results of their dispute, including a description of what they can do if they are not satisfied with the outcome of their dispute.
  • The credit rating agencies (CRAs) are focusing on an enhanced dispute resolution process for consumers that are proven victims of identity theft and fraud, as well as those involved in mixed file situations.
Implementation of the consumer assistance plan will begin over the next few months.

Source: CDIA

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Outdoor Living: 4 Hot Trends

March 10, 2015 1:15 am

(Family Features) Inspired by neighbors, home improvement shows and social media channels like Pinterest and Houzz, today's homeowners are entering the deck planning and building process more informed than ever before. But sorting through this wealth of information and inspiration can make it hard to decipher what's really hot for today's outdoor spaces -- and to choose what's right for your home.

Surveying the wide variety of options is the first step in deciding how you'll approach designing your outdoor space. Start by considering some of the top influences expected to dominate the outdoor living landscape this season, according to decking and railing manufacturer Trex Company.

Designing Outside the Box
Gone are the days of simple squared-off decks and basic slab patios. Regardless of the size of the yard – or budget – homeowners today are thinking and building beyond the basic square space. Remodelers and architects report increased interest from customers in decks with multiple levels, curves, cantilevers, pergolas and even walls to create three-dimensional interest and define different functional areas.

Bringing the Indoors Out

The lines between indoors and out will continue to blur as homeowners look to extend the style, comfort and function of their interior spaces to their outdoor living areas. More and more indoor activities are migrating outside with the addition of features such as outdoor kitchens, dining nooks and fireplaces. Demand is also up for features like integrated benches with cushions and accent pillows, storage components and lighting, along with accessories such as ornamental post caps and railing with decorative balusters similar to those found inside the home.

Tropical Staycations

From New England to Southern California, the look of the tropics will dominate as a top outdoor design scheme. Materials that evoke the ambiance of an exotic island getaway are all the rage, from tiki torches, cabanas and waterfalls to deck boards featuring warm colors and multi-colored streaking inspired by tropical hardwoods.

High Performance, Low Maintenance
While aesthetics drive many deck-building decisions, performance is just as important. Increasingly, homeowners are seeking high-performance, low maintenance materials that allow them to spend more time enjoying their outdoor living space than maintaining it. This motivation has contributed to the continued innovation and popularity of composite decking and railing.

Source: Trex

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Shopping for a Car in a Connected World

March 9, 2015 12:42 am

The emergence of online and mobile resources has made it easier than ever to shop for a car, but there are still many shoppers who are prone to making some of the same old mistakes. Online car shopping leader Edmunds.com has identified the five most outdated car shopping tactics and their modern solutions:

Old Concept #1: Relying only on the dealership to build the deal and crunch the numbers.

New Solution:
Does the monthly payment for the car fall within your budget? Not sure if you're better off taking a low-APR or cash incentive? Want to know how much money you will or will not save by trading in your gas guzzler for a hybrid? Having a calculator at your fingertips and crunching the numbers along with the salesperson can help you better understand the deal and feel more confident.

Old Concept #2: Working only with the first salesperson that greets you or picks up the phone.

New Solution: There are several consumer review sites where shoppers leave feedback about their positive and negative experience. Before heading to the dealership, you can read through these reviews and identify a salesperson who delivers a consistently great experience, and then make an appointment with him or her.

Old Concept #3: Not asking questions because you're worried about looking weak or uninformed.

New Solution:
Dealers recognize the value of making you feel good about a deal, so a thoughtful salesperson will answer any question, no matter how ridiculous you might think it is. But if you're still wondering, it's easy to quickly research your question through a third-party resource on your mobile device.

Old Concept #4: Making a deal only when you're at the dealership.

New Solution:
Dealerships typically have an online process that lets you negotiate a price and make a deal remotely. That's a huge stress reliever for those of us who hate negotiating face to face.

Old Concept #5: Relying on your gut to arrive at your car's trade-in value.

New Solution:
If you're planning to trade in your old car, be sure to look up its value on your own. Be sure to print out the details and bring them with you to the dealership. Keep an objective eye; you may think your car is in "good" condition when "fair" might be a more accurate label.

Source: Edmunds.com

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A Lush Lawn in 4 Easy Steps

March 9, 2015 12:42 am

(Family Features) Want to get the best out of your lawn this year? Implement these simple hacks to keep your lawn green and growing, your equipment up and running, and your yard looking great.

1. Feed your lawn. In order to maintain a healthy lawn, you should fertilize twice a year. Start the process one month after the lawn starts growing in the spring, and one month before the lawn goes dormant in the fall. Spring fertilization is imperative, as it replenishes nutrient reserves that have been used up during the first growth spurt of the season. Avoid "burning" the lawn by only fertilizing at the recommended rate and ratio for your lawn. Check with the experts at your local lawn care supply store to choose the correct dose.

2. Perform mower checkups. A properly running mower is essential to keeping your lawn looking great. Make sure it's ready for every mow by incorporating these maintenance tips into your routine:
  • Change your mower oil. This should be done every 25 hours of use for a walk-behind mower, which is once a year for most users. For a lawn tractor, change the oil every 50 hours.
  • Keep your mower clean. Brush away grass clippings from the cooling fans and keep air intake screens clear so air can pass through. Make sure that all safety shields are in place to protect you and your family.
  • Sharpen your blade. A dull blade will split grass blades, leaving them susceptible to disease. Sharpen the blade to about one sixty-fourth of an inch for a clean cut. Also, be sure the blade is balanced to ensure an even cut.
3. Mulch instead of bag. Mulching while you mow leaves a thin layer of grass clippings on the lawn. These clippings gradually break down to provide additional nitrogen to the lawn. This provides a natural fertilizer throughout the mowing season. Look for mowers with specifically designed mulching mower decks and blades that cut clippings into tiny pieces, returning them to the turf.

4. Do more with your mower. You can now do more than ever with your tractor by adding implements to help complete yard tasks more quickly, and enjoy some rest and relaxation on the weekend. Use utility carts for hauling, spreaders for applying fertilizer, aerators to renew the soil, or even a snow blower attachment to remove the snow from your driveway.

Source: John Deere

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The Dos and Don'ts of Winter Home Selling

March 9, 2015 12:42 am

When it comes to selling your home, first impressions matter. According to the National Association of Mortgage Brokers (NAMB), it’s critical to put your best foot forward when putting your home on the market.

The NAMB outlines these dos and don’ts for preparing your home for sale.

Do:


Consider curb appeal. “Curb appeal is a huge draw for buyers,” says Don Frommeyer, CEO, NAMB. “If you live in a cold state, consider creating a winter planter with cold-weather plants like winter berry holly or noble fir. At the very least, invest in a new doormat and keep the driveway clear of ice and snow. Warm lights glowing in the window will also be welcoming.”

Invest in updates that matter. “People will pay top-dollar for homes with updated kitchens and bathrooms,” says Frommeyer. “If you can make even the barest improvements to these rooms, you will see a huge return. Update the yellowing tile in the bathroom or invest in new cabinetry. At the very least, purchase new shower curtains, bath rugs, and the like.”

Keep it bright. “Open all the curtains, turn on all the lights, even if it is in the afternoon,” says Frommeyer. “Replace all dead light bulbs. Crack open doors to the pantry or laundry room so people won’t be afraid to peek inside. And tidy up in forgotten places like inside the fridge or oven…people will be looking in there, and if they see mold or burnt food, they will be very turned off.”

Don’t:

Overdo it on the heat. “People tend to overcompensate when they know that potential buyers are coming to look at their home in the winter time. They crank up the heat to make the place warm and welcoming,” says Frommeyer. “But that can backfire. The air will be dry and stale, plus the buyers will probably be too warm as they will be bundled up in coats. So keep the heat at a reasonable setting and have your humidifier set between 40-60 percent.”

Expect people to use their imagination. “If you have a crazy color choice in one (or more) of your rooms, you might think that people will look past that,” says Frommeyer. “But that can prove difficult for buyers. Garish paint and wacky décor choices will make them uneasy, no matter how beautiful your home is underneath your collection of animal heads. Paint over those wild colors and put away any crazy items that might garner a laugh or a raised brow.”

Source: NAMB

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Cheap Superfoods to Fuel Your Health and Outlook

March 6, 2015 12:33 am

People who resolve to eat healthy are sometimes more than a little dismayed at the high price of nutrition. Vitamins and supplements are not cheap, and a pre-made salad can cost more than a candy bar or a bag of chips.

Researchers at onegreenplanet.org, an online lifestyle platform with a goal of helping people, animals and the planet, recommend seven (relatively) cheap superfoods that are far more valuable to our health and wellbeing than what they cost at the checkstand:

Spinach – Rich in calcium, folic acid, fiber and iron as well as vitamins C and K, this leafy green is cheaper than kale and can strengthen your bones, prevent disease and protect against age-related memory loss. Wash and cook it or chop into salad for an inexpensive health boost.

Strawberries – Called ‘heart berries’ by some native American tribes, the little fruits are full of phenols and other antioxidants that protect the organs by defending cell membranes. They offer heart boosters, cancer protection and anti-inflammatory compounds. Eat them out of hand or in cereal, salad, yogurt or smoothies.

Quinoa – Full of protein, this pseudo-grain contains very high levels of protein and fiber. Cook some up to serve with stir-fry dishes or fold into burgers, veggie burgers or muffins.

Bananas – They get a bad rap as carbohydrate-dense, but bananas are a proven potassium-rich superfood. Slice them onto cereal, eat them out of hand or mash them into quick breads or smoothies.

Sweet potatoes – The orange tubers are brimming with beta carotene, which raises vitamin A levels in the blood to help prevent colds, flu and certain eye disorders . Bake them, mash them or cut them into French fries and roast them with a bit of olive oil and salt.

Coconut oil – Speaking of oil, in some kitchens that drizzle of olive oil is being replaced by coconut oil. Packed with immunity, brain, and skin-revitalizing properties, coconut oil is becoming all the rage as the superfood it really is.

Himalayan pink sea salt – And speaking of salt, this superfood contains high doses of calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper and iron, which aid the body in processing sodium chloride and maintaining an optimum electrolyte balance. It will cost more than regular iodized salt, but the health boost is disproportionately higher.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


7 Cool Home Improvement Ideas for $150 or Less

March 6, 2015 12:33 am

If you're itching to remodel but the budget just won’t allow it, these inexpensive fixes from Better Homes & Gardens Magazine may help give you the look and efficiency you want with price tagsof under $150:

Shelving for extra storage – Take advantage of small, unclaimed wall or corner space in your kitchen and add open shelving to hold dishes, cookware and spices within easy reach. Embellish plain shelves with decorative brackets, and if you entertain often, add a wine rack.

Upgrade cabinets with molding
– Plain, personality-less kitchen cabinets take on new sophistication with the simple addition of molding at the edges. You can do it yourself with a little guidance from home store designers.

Restore the floor – The warmth and versatility of wood is incomparable, but exposure to dirt and foot traffic can leave it looking dull. Restore the shine factor and give a room a whole new look by polishing the floor with a product specifically designed for hardwood floors.

Give the fireplace a lift
– Give a dated brick fireplace a modern makeover with a fresh coat of paint. Start by thoroughly cleaning the brick to loosen grime. Apply a stain-blocking primer, then paint with a high-gloss paint.

Add crown molding – Crown molding on walls, doors and ceiling makes any living space look finished and luxurious. You can transform a room with trim in a weekend with affordable, off-the-rack moldings from a local home improvement center.

Try Roman shades – Give windows a custom look at a low price with do-it-yourself window treatments. With a mini-blind and mid-weight upholstery fabric, you can create a charming roman shade to block out sun and boost your décor.

Hassle-free game area
– Create a dedicated zone to serve as a central spot for the games, movies and music your family uses most often. A media cabinet with divided shelves should keep it all neat – or use a bookcase with a combination of bins and baskets to keep everything organized and ready.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


What Questions Should You Ask a Disaster Response Contractor?

March 6, 2015 12:33 am

When disaster strikes, I know that property owners need to make a lot of decisions quickly and under pressure.

Effective disaster remediation involves a lot of moving parts: remediation specialists, insurance companies, local codes, state codes, documentation and more-and all of this has to happen in an atmosphere charged with emotion and stress.

Edward White, a SERVPRO professional based in western Connecticut says efficiency is key when you are dealing with disaster remediation because it saves customers money and it makes restoration work more effective.

White utilizes SERVPRO's proprietary DryBook(tm) tool, which helps him improve efficiency and maintain cost controls to keep his client's projects in or under budget.

He says since remediation projects must be managed to both industry- and insurance-company standards, tools like DryBook helps White track and document progress on restoration, cleanup and repair services.

No matter what remediation or restoration company you choose, White says property owners can avoid regulatory headaches and paperwork pitfalls in the aftermath of a disaster by asking the following questions:
1. Does your remediation company deliver a product that meets:
- Standards set by The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC)?

- Most major insurance companies, including cycle times and deadline requirements?
2. Does your remediation company have a system in place to ensure accurate, complete and convenient benchmarking of each step of the remediation process, including:
- Capturing and updating data, including job diary notes, electronically real-time on the jobsite, with simultaneous updates saved at the central office?

- Using e-signatures to help eliminate lost paperwork and the need to scan documents?

- Providing a complete record of the damage and remediation efforts in images, with descriptions, start-to-finish?
3. Does your contractor have the ability, on-the-spot, to:
- Identify the right equipment for the job, based on the damage description?

- Validate the use of each piece of equipment, automatically, as part of the remediation records?
For more renovation or remediation information, visit www.servpro.com.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The Next Phase of the American Dream: Growing and Preserving Your Wealth

March 5, 2015 12:51 am

Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, many pundits and experts have openly doubted the viability of achieving the American dream.

With homeownership, job opportunity and retirement security in decline, an Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll shows that most Americans agree with what the experts have said. Seven in 10 think that tomorrow’s adults – today’s kids – will have less financial security than adults today.

“There are several long-term issues we need to address, including our estimated $17.3 trillion debt, a legacy that our children are poised to inherit; but I think the United States will be stable for the next 10 years, and maybe longer if we get our financial house in order,” says Stephen Ng, founder and president of Stephen Ng Financial Group, (www.stephenngfg.com).

“Many Americans who’ve worked their entire lives for a comfortable, if not luxurious, retirement want to know their money will be there – that’s their dream.”

Ng is an international financial planner with certifications in 19 states. He’s passionate about teaching sound wealth practices to both clients and his community. Here are three important tips every pre-retiree and retiree should know to help preserve their wealth.
  • Go to an independent retirement-planning advisor. Financial planning can be confusing. For most retirees who are not professionals, the numbers, rules and terminology can seem like a foreign language. An independent advisor, who is licensed in multiple products – insurance, annuities and more – allows for a higher degree of objectivity, tailoring options for a client’s specific needs. He or she will not be bound to a corporate agenda or limited in their knowledge. Also, talk to the person who will be the architect of your financial future. Find out his or her values. How do they feel about their job? Are they patient in explaining your options? Do you trust your advisor?
  • Pre-retirees: know your start-date options for retirement. Be aware that in most cases, withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement plans before age 59½ may be subject to a 10 percent federal income tax penalty. The latest date to begin required minimum distributions is usually April 1 of the year after you turn age 70½. In most cases, withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income. There are 10 common planning options, some of which are funded by employers. They are the defined benefit pension; money purchase pension; profit-sharing plan; savings plan; employee stock ownership plan; tax-sheltered annuities, or 403(b) plans; individual retirement accounts; self-employed plans; simplified employee pensions; Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees; and annuity contracts.
  • Make sure you feel good about your annuity. An annuity is a contract with an insurance company in which you make one or more payments in exchange for a future income stream in retirement. The funds in an annuity accumulate tax-deferred, regardless of which type of annuity you choose. Fixed annuity contracts are issued with guaranteed minimum interest rates. Although the rate may be adjusted, it should never fall below a guaranteed minimum rate specified in the contract. Keep in mind that annuity guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability of the insurance company and contain fees and charges which are not limited to sales and surrender charges. All withdrawals of tax-deferred earnings are subject to current income tax, and, if made prior to age 59½, may also be subject to a 10 percent federal income tax penalty. Additionally, if purchased within a qualified plan, an annuity will provide no further tax deferral features. The contract, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than the total amount invested.
“This may be plenty of information to take in for now, but this is only the tip of the iceberg,” Ng says. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And, the more education you have about your own money, the better.”

Source: www.stephenngfg.com

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