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

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The Best Home Investment: A Wood Deck

July 16, 2014 1:24 am

(BPT)—As the seasons turn, more homeowners look for projects that not only make their homes more livable, but also offer great return on investment. With demand high across the country for outdoor spaces that bring the comforts of the indoors outside, there's no surprise that decks are one of the top remodeling projects for 2014.

In fact, a residential wood deck addition has a recouped cost of 87.4 percent, according to Remodeling Magazine's 2014 Cost vs. Value Report, the second highest ROI midrange project only behind an entry door replacement. That means adding a deck to your property will increase your livable space so you can enjoy the outdoors more, and you can rest easy knowing you're boosting the value of your home investment.

If you think you'd like to add a wood deck to your home, you might wonder about the different material options. "Although composite and PVC decking have gained popularity in recent years, pressure-treated wood decking still carries the lion's share of the market because it's inexpensive, easy to work with and can be found at any lumberyard," says Chris Fox, product manager at Universal Forest Products, a leading supplier of lumber and decking materials.

Today's pressure-treated lumber comes with advancements that weren't available to homeowners just a few years ago. For example, with more homeowners seeking eco-friendly building materials, wood suppliers are exploring environmentally preferred treatment methods. For example, ProWood's micronized copper azole (MCA) treated lumber decking is eco-friendly, cost effective and easy to install.

MCA is a method for treating the wood (typically pine) using an EPA-registered waterborne wood preservative system to protect against termite attack and rot. MCA-treated lumber provides a light, natural look, unlike other pressurized wood treatments that result in the greenish hue with which most people are familiar.

You can leave MCA treated lumber in its natural state for a more organic appearance in your outdoor spaces, or you can choose ProWood Dura Color decking that is color-infused with pigment driven deep into the wood fibers. This process creates beautiful treated wood grain that will stand up to the elements for many years, with no need for staining.

"People like the natural look of redwood and cedar, but they don't want the drawbacks that come with them, such as the high price and the fact that they quickly fade to gray," says Fox. "ProWood Dura Color lumber not only looks like natural cedar or redwood, but the color lasts much longer and is backed by a two-year color assurance warranty"

When researching treated wood materials for outdoor home improvement projects, such as a deck addition, Fox suggests discussing the project with the local lumber dealer and to be sure to understand and check the end tag for:

1. The description of use (above ground or ground contact)

2. Warranty statement

3. The quality standards it meets

4. Third-party quality inspection (which assures product has passed retention and penetration tests).

Source: www.prowoodlumber.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Five Ways to Make Your Entryway Grand

July 15, 2014 1:12 am

(BPT) - Most people enter their homes through the garage or backdoor, forgetting how the front entrance looks to neighbors and guests. Your front door is often the first thing others notice about your home. That's why it's key to make a positive first impression.

1. Install a new front door. With so many new entry door systems to choose from, ranging from single doors, to double-door options, to those accented with decorative glass, or transoms and sidelights, it's easy to find one that fits your budget and your style.

Sticking with your door? A fresh coat of paint will work wonders. Try a bold color to brighten a neutral color scheme. Alternatively, you can refresh old doors with new hardware. Choose handles and door knockers that complement your home's exterior design.

2. Replace broken or damaged items. Replace broken light fixtures, burned out bulbs and worn out weather-stripping on exterior doors. Ditch that faded wreath, worn out mat, and dead plants, and instead, add a bright new welcome mat and eye-catching seasonal decorations.

3. Polish your porch. Use a little elbow grease and ammonia-free, vinegar-based glass cleaner to wash the windows. Wipe down window and door frames and sweep sills with a dry paint brush or vacuum to remove dirt.

Fill flower boxes or containers with boldly-colored plants to accent your front door. If you've painted your door red, plant red and white or red and purple flowers to create a designer look. Or if you're keen on green doors, try purple or orange flowers for contrast.

4. Illuminate your walkway. Make it easy for others to see the way to your front door at night. Transform and illuminate walkways with easy-to-install solar lights. Stake them in the ground positioned so solar cells get enough southern exposure for sunlight to recharge nightlights during the day.

5. Trim bushes. Landscaping should accent your home, not dominate it. Keep bushes below the bottom sill of your windows to improve your view. Trim or replace overgrown shrubs and trees. Keep plant material trimmed several feet away from your home to minimize damage from wind or insects and eliminate a place for prowlers to lurk.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Three Steps to a Summer Home Makeover

July 15, 2014 1:12 am

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could bring that vacation feeling home with you? After a well-deserved getaway, recreate a relaxing atmosphere by adding summer touches to each space. Turn your home into a welcoming retreat in three easy steps:

1. Kitchen – Swap out darker finishes for neutral alternatives; think white or off-white table linens and chair cushions. Incorporate natural elements like fresh sunflowers or rattan baskets, and add brightly-colored dishes to your table to imitate a vibrant vacation setting.

2. Living Room – If it doesn’t already, rearrange your furniture to face the outdoors so you can enjoy a beautiful view. Display your summer reading choices on the coffee table as a reminder to slow down and unwind. Remove heavy winter blankets and open up windows to recreate the feeling of a shoreline breeze.

3. Outdoors – If your home has a front porch, designate a sitting area with oversized potted plants to mimic resort-style lounge areas. In the backyard, string lights over a patio or add a firepit to recreate your favorite camp site.

Source: HomeFinder

Published with permission from RISMedia.


What to Do When Your Bank Starts Charging

July 15, 2014 1:12 am

For everything from paying for lunch to paying the water bill, a checking account is the primary tool many Americans use to make day-to-day financial transactions. But for many, free checking is becoming a thing of the past as banks notify their customers that "free" accounts are being discontinued.

But no-cost checking isn't extinct. Some institutions offer accounts that require only a $100 minimum balance to avoid monthly maintenance costs, which may be a good fit for someone starting out in their career or for a family that is managing significant expenses. If earning power grows or expenses are reduced, it makes sense to explore the benefits of a premium account, which often requires a higher minimum balance but offers benefits like paying interest on your balance and reimbursement for out of network ATM fees.

For those looking to buy a home, choosing the right account can help keep more dollars in your wallet. Those who finance their home at their bank may receive discounts on their mortgage rate, which can translate into hundreds of dollars of savings a year.

Consult with a representative at your bank of choice to review how much money you can comfortably keep in an account, as well as the convenience and features you're looking for from your bank.

Source: TD Bank

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tune up Your Generator before Storms Strike

July 14, 2014 1:00 am

When a storm wreaks havoc on power lines, generator repair shops are often flooded with calls. To avoid living without power for an extended period of time, tune up your generator before a storm strikes.

If you own a gasoline-powered portable generator, maintain it regularly by following the owner’s manual. Supply it with new fuel and oil and ensure the battery is charged if it starts electronically. Fire it up frequently to ensure the engine is working properly, and use your transfer switch to test the system.

When stocking up on gasoline prior to a storm, store it in an ANSI-approved container in a cool, well-ventilated place. Make fuel last longer by adding stabilizer to the can.

During and after a storm, protect you and your home by running the machine at least 15 feet away from the house. Never run the generator in a garage or basement. When refueling, be sure to turn it off and let it cool completely before adding more gasoline.

Source: Consumer Reports

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Six Money-Saving Tips for DIY Movers

July 14, 2014 1:00 am

Moving without the assistance of a professional moving company is no easy feat. DIY movers must pack and unpack an entire household, risk breaking or losing possessions, or ship items and travel long distances.

One way to alleviate moving day woes is to rent a truck. Cut rental costs by keeping in mind these six money-saving tips:

1. Rent early. Most moves happen over a weekend near the end of the month. Save extra by renting on a weekday or earlier in the month.

2. Seek discounts. Shop around to find discounts. Many rental companies offer markdowns for students, municipal workers, seniors or AAA members.

3. Use your insurance. If your existing insurance continues during a move, see if it extends to cover moving vans. You’ll save on paying more for the truck separately.

4. Get an accurate size estimate. Renters often charge more for larger vehicles, so be sure you’re only reserving what you absolutely need. Most companies have online tools that will help you get a precise estimate of space required.

5. Save on boxes. Take advantage of grocery stores, which often give away cardboard boxes for free. Select U-Haul locations also participate in a swap where movers can drop off or pick up no-cost boxes.

6. Stick to the schedule. Rental companies typically allot specific times that the truck may be used. Be sure to return your truck in a timely manner (preferably as soon as you’re finished unloading) to avoid late fees.

Source: Bankrate

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Most Shoppers Confused by Egg Carton Labels

July 14, 2014 1:00 am

Nearly two-thirds of Americans routinely spend more to buy specialty eggs, but a new nationwide poll reveals they don't always get what they think they're paying for.

When asked to describe the terms "free-range" and "cage-free," most respondents said they imagined hens roaming and feeding on open pastures. In reality, they were describing “pasture-raised” eggs. What’s the difference? Vital Farms explains egg carton labels:

Pasture-Raised
Genuine pasture-raised hens have unlimited daytime access to a minimum of 108 square feet of outdoor space each. They are exposed to sunlight and fresh air, and can forage for any foods that are naturally available on their pastures. Additionally, they are rotated to new pastures every few days so their vegetation is always fresh. The hens are brought inside at night for safety.

Free-Range and Cage-Free Hens
According to industry standards, free-range hens have limited outdoor access. This outdoor space is typically compacted dirt, and access is restricted through a small opening. While cage-free hens are not in cages, they can be packed in a barn with no access to the outdoors.

Currently, there are no government standards for egg labels, and the term “organic” is the only label regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Source: Vital Farms

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Debt-Free Is Still the 'American Dream’ for Most

July 11, 2014 12:57 am

Being out of debt and retiring financially secure represent the American Dream for a majority of Americans, and most are optimistic that they can achieve it, according to the 2014 Credit.com American Dream Survey. Retiring financially secure at age 65 represents the ultimate American dream for 36 percent of those surveyed, while getting out of debt came in at a close second, with 25 percent of respondents choosing it as their definition of the "American Dream."

The majority of survey respondents are optimistic about their ability to achieve their version of the American Dream, with 16 percent saying they have already achieved it and another 50 percent indicating it is within their reach. Only 24 percent say it is it not within their reach.

Other significant findings from the survey include:

• Dreams are personal and varied. After retirement and getting out of debt, the other top definitions of the American Dream included owning a home (17 percent), joining the "one percent," (five percent), graduating from college (three percent), and paying off student loans (two percent).

• Getting out of debt is a top priority. When asked about their top financial priority for the next year, at the top of the list was paying off credit card debt, with 19 percent of consumers choosing that option. Close behind that, another 18 percent chose "being debt-free." Other responses included investing for retirement (12 percent), saving for a major purchase (12 percent), buying a home (nine percent), paying off student loans (six percent), retiring financially secure at 65 (six percent), sending kids to college (five percent) or paying off the mortgage (four percent).

• Most are fairly optimistic about their ability to pay off debt. When it comes to being debt-free, 79 percent said they are very or somewhat likely to achieve that milestone in their lifetimes, with only 18 percent indicating that it was not very or not at all likely that they would be debt-free in their lifetimes. Not surprisingly, those with student loan debt were most likely to say it was not very or not at all likely that they would be debt-free in their lifetimes (28 percent), followed closely by those who have been unemployed in the past three years (24 percent).

Source: Credit.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to De-clutter Kitchen Cabinets

July 11, 2014 12:57 am

From spices to coffee filters to cooking oils, those kitchen cabinets have a way of filling up fast, and keeping these culinary tools in order can be a daunting task. Use these three tips to get your pantry and kitchen cabinets in order:

1. Empty Each Shelf
Go through each shelf to properly wipe out dust and crumbs, and to sort through outdated food. Before you put the items back on the shelves, clean the base thoroughly and line each one with a non-adhesive shelf liner which will create a protective, cushioned barrier on your surfaces.

2. Survey Food Items
Go through food items and donate or dispose of those you won't use, and group similar items together. This will help you keep track of your inventory. For further organization, sort based on expiration so you can use up food while it's still fresh.

3. Create User-Friendly Spaces
Make your pantry more ergonomic and easier to access by placing commonly used items on eye-level shelves. In addition, maximize the space in pantry and cabinets with turntables for spices and other storage solutions.

Source: Duck Brand

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Homeowners Can Cut Costs with Geothermal

July 11, 2014 12:57 am

The winter of 2014 was a wake-up call for homeowners facing higher-than-normal heating costs. With polar vortex cold sweeps, heavy snowfalls and ice blizzards affecting much of the country, energy prices for electricity, gas and oil have increased. Propane prices have skyrocketed due to scarcity of supplies, leading some governors to declare a state of emergency.

The hefty costs of heating and cooling - Many homeowners, concerned that energy prices for air conditioning this summer could be just as high, followed by yet another tough winter, are looking for alternative sources for heating and cooling. Higher performing, energy-efficient heating and cooling products are available, but they are still dependent on fossil fuels. Renewable forms of energy like solar and wind won't solve the problem. Such sources don't work all the time and require backup in the form of a conventional heating-cooling system, so the dependence on high cost fossil fuels remains.

Energy from the ground up - However, there is a viable renewable solution. It's called geothermal and its energy source is the very earth beneath our feet. Because the earth absorbs 50 percent of the sun's energy—more than 500 times more energy than mankind needs every year—there is an abundant power source in the earth to tap for heating and cooling. Geothermal systems transfer this heat from a home during the cooling season and return it to the earth during the heating season. Geothermal is possible because the temperature of the earth at 4 to 6 feet below ground remains relatively constant year-round.

"A geothermal system is the answer to today's and tomorrow's high energy prices," says Lyndal Moore, National Geothermal Sales Manager for Bosch, a manufacturer of geothermal heat pumps. "But that's just the beginning. Homeowners and homebuyers need to consider the long-term benefits of living in a home equipped with a geothermal system. It's not just the return on investment that should be considered, but rather the comfort, quietness, longevity and environmentally friendly nature of geothermal."

How geothermal systems work - A geothermal system is accomplished through the installation of what's called a "heat exchange loop" in the ground, either directly beneath a house or in the homeowner's yard. If a well or pond is available, the loop can be installed in the water and connected to the house in the same manner. This in-ground or water-source loop is connected to one or more heat pumps inside the house.

In the winter, the fluid circulating through the earth loop or water source absorbs stored heat from the ground and carries it indoors. The geothermal heat pumps compress the heat to a higher temperature and distribute it throughout the home. In the summer, the process reverses and the cooler earth absorbs the heat from the home, returning cooler fluid to the heat pump. This is typically cooler than the outside temperatures, providing a reduced load for air conditioning the home.

Significant savings for homeowners - The geothermal system uses a small amount of electricity to run the heat pumps, so homeowners will see a sizeable reduction in the cost of energy for heating and cooling each year. Geothermal systems are recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as the most efficient heating-cooling system of all (saving up to 70 percent on energy bills) and they come with a federal tax incentive rebate of 10 percent of total install costs which can be combined with state and local incentives that can save up to 40 percent of the total cost of the system.

Most of the cost to install a geothermal system is centered on the costs to drive bore holes into the earth and the installation of the loop. Thereafter, operating costs are typically low enough to show a return on investment within a decade or less. The loop infrastructure lasts around half a century and the heat pump, which has few moving parts, has an operating life expectancy of 25 years.

With a geothermal system, there is no fossil fuel use, no greenhouse gas emissions, few maintenance issues, and because the loop is underground and the heat pumps are located inside the house, the system is not susceptible to weather or storm damage. Plus, geothermal systems are exceptionally quiet in operation.

Source: Bosch

Published with permission from RISMedia.