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

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Lighting Choices that Save You Money

March 5, 2015 12:51 am

Your electricity bill can be a big blow to your finances. In order to save you some monthly green, and help lower your footprint, below is a list of a few secrets to savings on lighting for residential homes.

Solar Power Lights - Installing solar powered lights is a good way to save some cash. The lights use sunlight for power and charge during the day. Since they don't require wiring, the lights can go anywhere on your property. Some solar powered lights also come with motion detectors.

Dimmer Switches - A burning light bulb uses a certain amount of electricity, which is measured in watts. By lowering the wattage with a special switch, consumers can manage the bulb's electrical consumption. Dimmers come with a dial or a slide bar, which allows homeowners to adjust the wattage and thus the amount of illumination. Just how much energy dimmer switches save depends on many factors, including how much and how long a person dims the light, and the type of light bulbs in the fixture. Dimmers save the most money in rooms where wattage is high, such as the bathroom, kitchen and dining room.

Turn the (Non-Fluorescent) Lights Off - Almost everybody was brought up with the belief that you can save money by simply turning the lights off when not in use. Fluorescent bulbs are a bit more complicated. According the U.S. Department of Energy, if you're leaving a room for more than 15 minutes, turn out the lights. If not, keep the lights on. Why? Fluorescent lights are more expensive, and like other bulbs, switching them on and off limits their life. It's better to eat the additional energy cost than to continually buy new fluorescent bulbs.

Buy Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs - Three of the most common energy-efficient light bulbs are halogen incandescents, CFLs, and LEDs. You can find these in most hardware and home improvement stores.
  • Halogen Incandescents have a capsule inside that holds gas around a filament to increase bulb efficiency. They are available in a wide range of shapes and colors, and they can be used with dimmers. Halogen incandescent bulbs meet the federal minimum energy efficiency standard, but there are now many more efficient options to meet your lighting needs.
  • Compact flourescent lamps (CFLs) are simply curly versions of the long tube fluorescent lights you may already have in a kitchen or garage. Because they use less electricity than traditional incandescents, typical CFLs can pay for themselves in less than nine months, and then start saving you money each month.
  • The light emitting diode (LED) are a type of solid-state lighting -- semiconductors that convert electricity into light. Although once known mainly for indicator and traffic lights, LEDs in white light, general illumination applications are one of today's most energy-efficient and rapidly-developing technologies.
​These are just a handful of simple strategies that homeowners may be able do themselves to save money. There are many other lighting installation options to choose from that can save you money including motion detectors, recessed lighting and skylights.

Source: www.4overelectric.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

What Net Neutrality Means for Internet Users

March 4, 2015 12:42 am

Recently, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) came to terms on new standards that will protect net neutrality, or the ‘openness’ of the Internet. The announcement is good news for the everyday user, says the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Here’s why.

Internet providers can’t bar access to websites.
Under the new rules, Internet service providers (ISPs) are prohibited from blocking access to sites, including apps and services. They also can’t purposefully impede traffic to a site or prioritize traffic to the website of a company affiliate. The rules also apply to mobile Web.

Internet providers must disclose information.
ISPs are now required to provide information, such as promotion rates, data caps and surcharges, in a consistent format. They’re also required to relay information about network management that can affect service.

Internet providers have incentive to improve their services.
The new rules re-categorized ISPs under the telecommunications umbrella, but they’re not subject to the same tax provisions as other utilities. This encourages ISPs to invest in new ways to provide customers with enhanced offerings.

And because technology is ever-changing, the FCC granted itself the authority to evaluate future issues as they arise.

Source: BBB.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.

New Construction HVAC May Need Inspection

March 4, 2015 12:42 am

Despite popular belief, the duct work and HVAC system of a newly constructed house may not be as clean as it should be, according to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA). If you’re a homeowner of a new construction build, have your duct work inspected promptly to ensure it has been properly cleaned.

“It’s a common misconception among homeowners that the duct systems of new builds are clean,” said Bill Benito, president of NADCA. “HVAC ductwork is sometimes one of the first systems to be installed in a home and everything from construction dust, drywall dust and debris can find its way into a duct system during the building process.”

Homes undergoing renovations can be exposed to similar amounts of dust and debris, which can impact the functionality of the air conveyance system. If you’re renovating your home, consider the following:
  • Install high-efficiency disposable filters before beginning the renovation process and change them frequently.
  • If you hire a contractor, ask that the return vent, supply registers and diffusers be sealed and the HVAC system be shut off during renovations that include demo work or other dust-contributing activities.
  • Discuss with your contractor ways to minimize the amount of airborne dust within your home.
  • Ask that poly-plastic barriers be installed and HEPA-filtered negative air scrubbers be used in the work area to “scrub” clean the air and keep dust from migrating to other areas of the house.
Source: NADCA

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Get the Most Out of Your Bathroom Remodel

March 4, 2015 12:42 am

Remodeling a bathroom is one of the most worthwhile investments you can make in your home – aside from the enhanced comfort and functionality of an updated space, an upgraded bathroom is a must for many buyers. If you’re planning a remodel, consider this advice from the experts at HomeAdvisor.

Set a Budget
– Major renovations require a budget, and the bathroom is no exception. Whether you’re planning a simple aesthetic upgrade or a full-on gut job, research typical costs for bathroom remodels and shop around for quality materials.

Make Room for Ventilation – No matter what changes you decide to make, make room in your budget for an improved ventilation system. Poor ventilation can lead to increased humidity, which can damage metal fixtures and paint and encourage mold growth. A reputable HVAC professional can help you select a ceiling fan that will work best with your space.

Go Green
– Because they’re so often used, homeowners can benefit significantly from energy-efficient fixtures in bathrooms. Inexpensive fixes, like LED lights and low-flow shower heads, and more costly upgrades, like dual-flush toilets and double pane windows, can trim big bucks off your monthly bills.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Mortgage Rates Reverse Course, Move Lower

March 3, 2015 12:09 am

According to Bankrate.com’s weekly national survey, mortgage rates unwound a recent increase last week, with the benchmark 30-year fixed mortgage rate pulling back to 3.90 percent. The 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.29 discount and origination points.

The average 15-year fixed mortgage dropped to 3.15 percent while the larger jumbo 30-year fixed mortgage settled at 4.07 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages were down also, with the 5-year ARM falling to 3.22 percent and the 7-year ARM sinking to 3.44 percent.

Mortgage rates moved lower last week after indications that maybe the Federal Reserve isn’t going to raise interest rates as soon as markets had thought. The minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s January meeting showed a hesitancy to raise interest rates on the part of Fed members. The concern was that despite recent signs of improvement in the job market and overall economy, raising interest rates too soon could douse the recovery. Since mortgage rates and long-term bond yields move in anticipation of Fed interest rate moves, any change in the outlook for Fed action can have a pronounced effect on mortgage rates.

Source: Bankrate.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Traveling? Get Legal Documents in Order

March 3, 2015 12:09 am

Whether you’re planning the vacation of your dreams or going on an annual family getaway, the legal counsel experts at ARAG recommend addressing the following before traveling.

1. Update Crucial Documents – Creating essential legal documents, like a will or a healthcare power of attorney, is always a good idea, but updating them before you travel becomes even more important. "Make sure these documents contain the most current beneficiaries and instructions," says Ann Cosimano, ARAG General Counsel. "If you don't have a will, you may leave important decisions – such as guardians for your children – up to the court system and the laws of the state."

2. Consolidate Important Information – It's helpful to put your personal, financial and legal information in one place before you leave town. "Tracking all critical information is incredibly useful for a trusted family member or friend to reference in case something happens to you," says Cosimano.

3. Get Your Travel Documents Together
– If you plan to travel internationally, you'll be required to have a passport or a passport card if you are traveling to certain countries or regions by sea or by land. The application process involves several steps and takes approximately 4-6 weeks to complete. Visit www.travel.state.gov for more information.

Additionally, a state-issued driver's license is considered valid proof of ID at the airport, so remember to bring it along when you fly. Before you go, remember to check the expiration date and make sure all your information on the license is current.

4. Complete Healthcare Forms for Children – If you are a parent or guardian, it is a good idea to complete a form referred to as a Medical Treatment Authorization for Minors. This document provides information regarding your child's medical history as well as insurance information and authorizes medical personnel to treat your child in the event you are not physically present or you cannot be located or contacted.

5. Review Rental Contracts Carefully – If you're planning to rent a car, vacation home or a boat, make sure you understand the terms and conditions involved. Some rental cars, for example, impose strict mileage restrictions for first time renters. It may be a good idea to have an attorney review the document before you sign on the dotted line.

Source: ARAG

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Buying vs. Renting a Home Solar System

March 3, 2015 12:09 am

Looking for ways to cut costs as a homeowner? Go solar!

According to Consumer Reports, installing a solar system at home can reduce your utility bills by 50 percent or more. And solar systems are here to stay – the U.S. Department of Energy expects 900,000 homes will have a solar component by 2020.

Before you hire a solar specialist, consider how much direct sunlight your home gets on any given day, in any season. Homeowners with more exposure to sunlight will have greater opportunities for savings. It’s also important to evaluate the exterior of your home – an older roof will not be an ideal platform for solar paneling.

If you’ve determined that your home is well-equipped for a solar system, your next step is to decide whether you’d like to finance your own system or lease one from a reputable company. Installation can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000, but you’ll immediately profit once the system is paid for. The government also provides tax credits and rebates which may lower costs overall.

Leasing a system may be a better option if you anticipate rate hikes in the future. A contract generally lasts for 20 years, so talk to your utility provider about foreseeable increases. It’s also a good idea to research past increases to gauge how volatile any changes may be over the next few years. Contracts typically include an escalation schedule that indicates expected payments over the life of the lease, so compare those with information from your utility provider to make the best decision.

Whether you plan to buy or lease your home’s solar system, be sure to shop around for estimates. A professional contractor will suggest the optimal size needed for your home and outline projected savings.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Healthy Job Growth to Boost Housing Recovery

March 2, 2015 12:33 am

The economy is poised for a pickup in growth in 2015 amid a strengthening employment sector, rising income growth, and declining commodity prices, according to Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research (ESR) Group. The labor market has started the year on an upbeat note and is expected to lift consumer confidence, in turn helping to boost consumer spending, manufacturing activity and the pace of the housing recovery. Economic growth may face some headwinds as a strong U.S. dollar weighs on the trade deficit. However, the economy is expected to climb to 2.9 percent for the full year, up from 2.5 percent growth in 2014.

"We expect housing to shift up a gear in 2015 following the uneven and ultimately disappointing activity last year," says Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. "Our forecast calls for a number of factors, including strong hiring and income growth, stabilized housing affordability, and modestly easing lending standards, to translate into improving housing demand throughout the year. We continue to anticipate that the Fed will begin to hike short-term interest rates later this year, although weak global economic growth and geopolitical headwinds will likely limit the rise in long-term interest rates.”

Source: Fannie Mae

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Tips to Avoid Tax Identity Fraud

March 2, 2015 12:33 am

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, 1.6 million Americans fell victim to tax identity theft in the first half of 2013 alone. The Government Accountability Office estimates that identity thieves stole $5.2 billion in 2013 as a result of this fraud. With Tax Day quickly approaching, the National Consumers League (NCL) urges taxpayers to be on the lookout for fraud.

“While most Americans dread Tax Day, fraudsters increasingly are cashing in with lucrative tax identity fraud scams,” says John Breyault, NCL vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud. “What makes this scam particularly pernicious is the ease with which fraudsters can steal personal information, file a false tax claim, and then turn the fraudulent refund into untraceable cash before the consumer realizes they have been a victim of a scam.”

Consumers receive W-2 forms from their employer by the end of January, but often wait to file their taxes closer to Tax Day on April 15. Since the IRS aims to process refunds quickly, fraudulent claims often go undetected.

The NCL recommends the following to avoid becoming a victim of tax identity fraud.
  • File your taxes as early as possible during tax season. Scammers depend on the fact that many taxpayers wait until late in tax-filing season to file. Filing early reduces the risk that a tax ID thief will be able to use your personal information to file fraudulently ahead of you.
  • Check your annual Social Security Administration earnings statement carefully. If there are earnings listed that you don’t recognize, someone else could be using your identity to obtain employment.
  • Review your credit report for any suspicious activity.
  • Never give out personal information, such as your SSN, date of birth, or bank account information in response to unsolicited emails, postal mail, over the phone or via text message, social media or other platform.
Source: NCL

Published with permission from RISMedia.

4 Steps to a Burglar-Proofed Home

March 2, 2015 12:33 am

Is your home safe from break-ins? Don’t rely on a guard dog to deter criminals – consider these tips from HomeyImprovements.com’s James White. Protecting likely the largest investment you’ll make in life will be well worth it.

1. Invest in a complete home security system.

Authorities may arrive long after the criminal has gotten away, but in the moment, a blaring alarm may scare away burglars before they can wreak havoc. Thieves may also move on to other homes if they spot a sign in your yard indicating your home is outfitted with a security system. Consider installing cameras with an automatic upload feature – if the burglar disables the camera, evidence of that will be available instantly online.

2. Don’t tip them off.
In effect, social media has opened the door to burglars. Many spend hours scouring the Web for individuals in their area who post about being away from their home for long stretches of time. Don’t make it easy for them.

3. Fortify all entry points.

Entry points are a thief’s target, so strengthen your doors and windows to prevent them from gaining access. Opt for laminated windows, which are much more difficult to break (and much noisier!) than standard ones, and install a deadbolt connected to a strike plate attached to the stud – not the jamb.

4. Conceal and secure all valuables.

Burglars can easily access drawers or cabinets, so consider purchasing a safe to store jewelry, cash and other valuables. Avoid leaving cash on the counter or in otherwise plain view.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.