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

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Employers Look for 3 'Cs' When Hiring

August 18, 2014 12:48 am

(BPT) - Whether you are an employer looking to hire someone or the person looking to get hired, it's all about competency. Only 11 percent of employers believe recent graduates have the skills needed to succeed within their work forces, according to a recent Lumina Foundation report. Two-thirds of employers say recent college graduates may have the skills and knowledge for entry-level positions, but less than half believe recent graduates have what it takes for advancement to higher level jobs, according to a 2013 survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

So what are these essential competencies that candidates are missing? At the top of the list are the three ‘Cs’: critical thinking, collaboration and communication. Hiring officers look for candidates with good problem-solving abilities, the ability to work in teams, and those who have good verbal and written communications skills. For the traditional college graduate in his or her early 20's, much of their focus in school was spent on mastering subject matter, not necessarily on cultivating the three ‘Cs’. They may have a degree, but not much else in the way of experience. On the other hand, working adults who are earning their degrees later in life have had ample opportunity to hone these skills and are lacking the credential - a diploma - to get hired or promoted.

A new approach to higher education taking hold on campuses and in board rooms is called competency-based education. Under this model, students can receive credit for knowledge and skills they already possess. A 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 87 percent of Americans believe students should be able to receive college credit for knowledge and skills obtained outside the classroom. Some schools are well-established leaders in this practice. Degree programs like these define what students must know, have well-defined learning outcomes and have a rigorous means of assessing whether students have achieved these outcomes.

How can job candidates, young or older, demonstrate both subject-matter mastery and competence? To start, first evaluate and identify your unique combination of skills, values and personal traits. Research the job that you are seeking and the company that is doing the hiring. Think broadly and don't confine yourself to the same industry in which you may have experiences, either as an employee or a student who had an internship. List the knowledge you have gained and skills you have developed.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Three Ways to Avoid Getting Outbid on Your New Home

August 15, 2014 1:18 am

"Bidding for a new home can get pretty fierce in today's market," said Gibran Nicholas, Chairman of CMPS Institute, an organization that trains and certifies mortgage bankers and brokers.  "In some cases, you may be competing with more than a dozen other buyers who are bidding on the same property."  Here are three potential solutions to avoid getting outbid on your new home:

1 - Turn in your loan paperwork BEFORE you place an offer.  In many cases, you are bidding against cash buyers who don't need to wait for financing approvals. Look at it this way: if you were the seller, would you prefer to do business with a buyer who needs to wait for financing approvals, or a cash buyer who can close the deal quickly?  "That's why it's important to be proactive," Nicholas said.  "Provide your mortgage lender with things like your source of down payment funds, your asset documentation, your credit report and your income documentation.  This way, you'll be in a better position to close the deal quickly and compete with those cash buyers."

2 - Pay cash, but do it right. "Keep in mind that you only have 90 days after closing to place a mortgage on a property that you bought with cash if you want to secure your tax deduction," Nicholas said.  "In order to get that loan approval after closing, you'll need to document the source of funds that you used for your cash purchase. Talk to a CMPS professional for more details so that you can avoid problems down the road."

3 - Consider lender-paid mortgage insurance. Lender paid mortgage insurance allows you to accept a slightly higher interest rate in exchange for no mortgage insurance. "This is very useful because it's often less expensive than FHA insurance or Private Mortgage Insurance," Nicholas said.  "The lower monthly payment that results with this option can help you to afford a higher priced home, or at least get more comfortable paying at or above list price for the home you want."

Source: HomeQB.com

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Simple Ways to Balance Back-to-School Lunches

August 15, 2014 1:18 am

(Family Features) When you supply your kids with nutritious and sensible choices, you're ensuring a productive day in the classroom and beyond. It's simple to make lunch and snack time fun by tossing in some new, wholesome options that add variety and appeal for your little learner.

The most important nutrients parents seek when selecting the foods they feed their kids are protein, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D and iron. While stocking up on foods rich in these nourishing elements is certainly helpful, there's no way to ensure your child will eat them. However, recent studies have found that kids are actually more likely than their parents to be the first of their friends to try new food or nutrition products.

Take the opportunity to start nutritious eating habits at a young age with flavorful food combinations that create balance at snack and meal time. A recent study shows that replacing non-nutrient rich snack foods (like chips) with a combination of healthy alternatives can help reduce calories by 72 percent and keep kids feeling fuller longer.
  • Protein Picks: To keep them feeling satisfied and fuller longer, include a few protein-packed choices in their lunch bag. Some options include roasted chicken, steamed edamame, hard boiled eggs, nuts or cheese.
  • Sweet Additions: Make their midday meal and snack time more complete with the addition of one or two servings of fruit. Some delicious options include apples, apricots, strawberries, blueberries, kiwis or pears.
  • Fresh Finds: Many vegetables offer fiber and other nutrients not found in other snacks. Throw in a bag of chopped vegetables, such as baby carrots, broccoli florets, celery, red bell peppers or sugar snap peas.
With a balanced approach to eating, you'll be able to send the whole family off to school or work prepared for whatever their busy day brings. You may also introduce them to some new favorite foods.

Source: Babybel

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Study Shows Commuting Alone Remains Top Choice for American Workers

August 15, 2014 1:18 am

A recent Census release discussed changes in bicycling and walking to work since 2000. Local governments have actively promoted walking and bicycling, sometimes as explicit criteria for new development.

Based on the Census data, tabulations from the National Association of Homebuilders show that from 2000 to 2012, the U.S. added 12.7 million workers, and the largest change in commuting was 10.4 million more Americans driving themselves to work alone in a vehicle.

Although the share of workers driving alone was lower in 2012 than in 2005, there was something of a spike in 2005—so the driving-alone share was actually higher in 2012 than in 2006-2009.

Next largest was a nearly 2 million increase in Americans working at home—while car pooling actually declined by 1.9 million. Other changes, including changes in bicycling and walking, were considerably smaller.

In summary, since 2000, the U.S. has added over 10 million workers, and driving alone remains the dominant means of commuting. The changes in numbers of bicyclers and walkers over that time, while positive, are small in comparison. Any success in keeping cars off the road during rush hour has been largely due to letting electrons and photons do the commuting while people work from home. The ongoing decline in car pooling, meanwhile, has been a largely untold story.

Source: NAHB

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4 Ways to Redecorate on a Teeny-Tiny Budget

August 14, 2014 1:06 am

You’ve done the spring cleaning, and you look around your home and suddenly, it looks a bit tired. If you’re longing for a re-do, but the budget is thin, what can you do on a shoestring?

Sara Mendez, a décor consultant at a California thrift store, offers four ideas to spruce up your home and change the look with a minimum outlay of cash:

– start by stashing stuff that’s lying around. A cheap bookcase will hold books and magazines in the living room – or toys or shoes in the bedroom. Look for pre-owned furniture that can double as storage – a coffee table with drawers, for example, or an ottoman that opens up to hold toys, linens, or paperwork.

– Changing the location of the couch or the bed is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to make a room feel different. Rearranging your space can also open your eyes to the nooks and crannies where a single decorative plant or a few colorful pillows can make all the difference in the world.

– Re-using things you already have can make a difference, too. Re-cover a couch or a chair in a new fabric – or add a few colorful pillows. Paint a room, or one wall of the room, for a completely new look – or refinish or paint an old dresser or end table to make it look new and smart. If the budget allows, buy a small, pre-owned table or other accent piece or two and paint them in a jazzy accent color to add interest to a room.

– Picture frames are cheap at a thrift store, especially if you are willing to change out the pictures inside them for posters or colorful prints that reflects your own taste. Or use the frames to create a family photo montage on one wall, or even samples of your children’s best art work.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

The Top Six Summer Dining Trends

August 14, 2014 1:06 am

Restaurants typically experience a surge in business in warmer months. Restaurant.com recently revealed summer dining trends that show seafood orders and Thursday night dining are popular among hungry Americans during the summer season. The findings were compiled based on data collected over four years from more than 16 million visits to local restaurants.

Though weekends remain a popular time for restaurant dining, Thursday night dining out increased in popularity by more than 10 percent during the summer season, while Friday (down three percent) and Saturday (down eight percent) saw a slight decline. Other summer dining trends include:

Gone Fishing:
Summer is the season for seafood. Warm weather and beachfront vacations contributed to the nearly 40 percent increase in the popularity of restaurants serving sea-based cuisine. This summer favorite reaches its lowest number of orders in December; it's most popular during the month of July.

The Raw and the Cooked: When warm weather rolls in, diners like to order sushi rolls. Visits to sushi restaurants increase by nearly 20 percent during the summer season. In fact, dining with Japanese cuisine in general jumps 21.4 percent in the summer, showing the popularity of Hibachi grills and Japanese steaks.

Barbeque Boom: The backyard barbecue is the unofficial meal of summer, but the other kind of barbecue is popular with diners, too. Restaurants serving up saucy, smoked meats and sides come in as the fourth most popular cuisine among summer diners, enjoying a 9.5 percent increase from May through August.

On the Road: With school out for summer and warmer temperatures luring professionals from their desks, many Americans make their dining plans on the go. Dining certificates purchased on mobile phones spike by 16 percent during June, July and August.

Source: Restaurant.com

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Enhance Your Home's Exterior During National Curb Appeal Month

August 14, 2014 1:06 am

August is National Curb Appeal Month, dedicated to helping homeowners focus on ways to add value and design appeal to their home's exterior.

"Real estate agents tell us that potential home buyers make a 'street decision' in less than 12 seconds on whether or not to view a home that's for sale," says Niki Decker, senior manager of product and marketing for Fypon, creator of National Curb Appeal Month. "That's a very short time to make a large impression and it all relies on the curb appeal of the house.

"Different curb appeal elements, such as well-maintained shrubbery, decorative millwork and trim, colorful plants and an appealing front entryway can have a fast, positive impact on home buyers. Even if your home is not for sale, curb appeal is important in setting a welcoming tone for your family and visitors."

According to the 2014 Cost vs. Value Study conducted by Remodeling magazine, many products added to the home have a high return-on-investment at the time of a home sale. Adding energy-efficient vinyl windows as a mid-range project to a home can have a cost recoup value of 78.7 percent, while the addition of vinyl siding can have 78.2 percent recoup rate.

The same study reports that the replacement of an easy-care fiberglass entry door can have 70.8 percent of the cost recouped, while a new roof on the home has a 67.6 percent cost recoup. A recent study from the National Association of Home Builders reports that the three most wanted outdoor features consumers desire for their home exteriors are lighting, a patio and a front porch.

"Whether you're adding a new component to the home's exterior or 'sprucing up' existing elements, color plays a major role in creating curb appeal," says Kate Smith, president of Sensational Color. "Adding color to the home exterior should be done in a 'top-down' approach so there's a unified flow that creates an overall pleasing impression.

Source: Fypon

Published with permission from RISMedia.

Mortgage Delinquency Rates Continue to Improve

August 13, 2014 12:54 am

Data released by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) indicates that the delinquency rate for mortgage loans on one-to-four-unit residential properties, considered single-family properties, decreased to a seasonally adjusted rate of 6.04 percent of all loans outstanding at the end of the second quarter of 2014, seven basis points less than its level in the first quarter of 2014 and 92 basis points below its level one year ago. The serious delinquency rate has now reached its lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2007.

The year-over-year decline in the share of mortgages past due, measured on a not seasonally adjusted basis, reflected a decline across each stage of delinquency. In addition, the foreclosure inventory also fell. The percentage of all loans past due fell by 84 basis points over the past four quarters. Loans 30-59 days past due fell by 47 basis points, loans 60-89 days past due fell by 13 basis points, and loans 90 or more days past due decreased by 24 basis points. The foreclosure inventory fell by 84 basis points over the past four quarters. In sum, the serious delinquency rate, the portion of loans either 90 or more days late or in the foreclosure inventory decreased by 108 basis points over the past year.

Similarly, the decline in the serious delinquency rate of more recent vintages correlates with an increase in the weighted average FICO score of borrowers. Since 2013, the weighted average FICO score has come down slightly even as the seriously delinquent portion of mortgages originated in 2013 and in the first six months of 2014 continues to fall. However, despite the recent decline in the weighted average FICO score over the past 18 months, it is still above the 708 recorded in the years prior to 2006.

The decline in the serious delinquency rate among more recent mortgage originations also coincides with a decrease in the share of mortgages where the unpaid balance exceeds the value of the underlying house, a situation where the borrower is considered “underwater.”

Source: NAHB

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Hotel Ratings: Which Should You Trust?

August 13, 2014 12:54 am

With a myriad of travel and booking websites available to hotel guests, it can be difficult to make a decision based on varying ratings scales. Most systems use stars to classify establishments, but how can you know which is most accurate?

Guides such as AAA, Orbitz, Michelin and Expedia use many factors to determine ratings, such as room size, location and view, dining, service, décor and toiletries. Because of this, there are frequent inconsistencies that make it challenging for visitors to find a quality hotel.

As a result, many users conduct their own research, often taking more time than needed sifting through hundreds of reviews. To simplify the process, keep these things in mind:

When searching online, consult user reviews only – no testimonials on the hotel website or other endorsements. These tend to be the most honest descriptions of what you can expect. Avoid the reviews on booking sites, as well – instead, read reviews on Tripadvisor.com or another site that aggregates their own.

Make sure the reviews you assess are recent. They may indicate things that will affect your stay, such as renovations or nearby construction. Additionally, look for reviewers that are similar to you. Guests traveling for business, for example, may mention a conference room, but make no comments about the pool or spa.

If you come across a one-off review that is different from others, disregard it. Try to get an overall sense of how satisfied guests were, rather than focus on one negative comment.

Even if you use a booking site like Expedia or Travelocity, it’s a good idea to visit the hotel’s website to get the most up-to-date information about the establishment. Booking sites may not have images for every type of room, and they don’t always include information about all amenities. You will also have access to contact information to follow up with any questions or concerns.

Source: Consumer Reports

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When Do Homeowners Need a Permit?

August 13, 2014 12:54 am

The summer season is considered the busiest time for home improvement projects, and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) is reminding homeowners to understand rules regarding building permits before embarking on common remodeling projects.

Although building codes vary from state to state, a permit is generally required for remodeling projects that involve changes to the building's existing footprint, electrical system or plumbing. Adding new windows to existing walls usually requires a permit. You are likely to need a permit for any project that goes beyond a simple repair or aesthetic upgrade such as:
  • adding supporting walls or taking down load-bearing walls
  • an in-ground concrete pool or a porch/deck
  • replacing the roof, backyard shed or concrete sidewalks, driveways and slabs
“There are two major reasons why a homeowner needs a permit on projects,” says Michael Harris, president of BRY-JO Roofing & Remodeling, in Richardson, Texas, whose company won a National CotY 2014 Award in the Residential Addition Under $100,000 category. “The first is because when a permit is filed, city officials will inspect the work completed at different stages to insure the work complies with current safety and health building codes. The second, and most significant reason, is it protects the homeowner’s investment they are making to improve the property.

When work is done to refresh an existing structure, however, a permit is usually not necessary. For example, updating the appearance of the existing kitchen cabinet doors with laminate layering does not require a permit. Other remodeling updates such as flooring/ceiling coverings, painting/papering, tiling or carpeting and interior wall decorations can usually be done without a building permit. However, even if a permit isn't required, certain projects may require licensed professionals for structural, electrical and plumbing work. If unsure, homeowners can check with their local city or county government office.

Permits need to be obtained before the project gets under way. If city officials spot a project without proper permits, work could be stopped until they are obtained, leaving you without a functioning kitchen or bathroom for weeks and a hefty fine.
If you are using a professional contractor, it’s recommended to have them pull the necessary permits. City officials are likely to have a long list of questions that contractors are best qualified to answer.

“While it may be tempting to forego the permit, a remodel or addition done without one can be a problem if the homeowner decides to sell or refinance,” says attorney Patrick Noaker, from Noaker Law firm, a member in the NARI Minnesota chapter.
If the appraiser’s total of the square footage of the home differs from county records, it triggers a search for a permit. If not found, the bank may decline to issue a loan on the home. In today’s housing market, illegal construction is a risk for the lender. A fire insurance carrier, for example, may refuse to honor a claim.

"If there is a wiring problem that causes the home to burn to the ground, the homeowner's insurance company could refuse to cover the loss," Noaker says.

Source: NARI

Published with permission from RISMedia.