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

Increasing results, not days on market!

Top Tips to Relax and Save on Labor Day Trips

August 6, 2013 12:38 am

Looking to plan a getaway for Labor Day weekend? Here are some tips for travelers who want to get out and explore over the long weekend without spending too much money.

1. Celebrate the long weekend in the Big Apple. The Wellington is available Sunday and Monday night for as little as $157 a night. Walk to Central Park or Broadway from the hotel.
2. Booking early is always a smart move. Thousands of hotels offer lower rates for bookings purchased 21 days in advance.
3. Atlantic City is a relaxing and exciting Labor Day destination, with rooms filling up fast. Enjoy fun casinos and a walk on the boardwalk.
4. Some of the top destinations for Labor Day include Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Orlando, London, San Diego, Washington DC, Myrtle Beach, San Francisco and Miami.
5. Use Southwest Airlines' low fares to get to your destination. Many flights are available for as low as $59 to some of the most popular spots throughout the country.
6. South Beach sizzles over Labor Day. Try one of Getaroom.com's value boutique hotels such as the Harrison Hotel to enjoy nearby beaches, great Cuban food and world-class shopping.
7. New Orleans offers great food, music, and a glimpse into the nation's past. Enjoy first-class accommodations from $99 a night at the St. James hotel.
8. Many hotels in Las Vegas offer very low rates during Labor Day. Every major hotel has a pool and ice-cold air conditioning to help you beat the September heat. Try The Quad for rates as low as $32 a night and an unbeatable center Strip location.

Labor Day is a time to reflect on all of the hard work that made the country great and also marks the end of the summer travel season. With proper planning and some help, Labor Day travel can be enjoyable and within any budget.

Source: Getaroom.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Renters Insurance Can Provide Important Financial Protection This Hurricane Season

August 6, 2013 12:38 am

Although the majority of homeowners purchase insurance for their home, when it comes to renters, only 65 percent have renters insurance, according to a poll conducted for the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

The number of renters is steadily increasing. According to an April 2013 U.S. Census Report, the share of housing occupied by renters rose to 35.4 percent in 2013—up from 34.1 percent in 2009. And in some of the country's largest cities, renters significantly outnumber homeowners. In New York City, 69 percent of households rent their homes, followed by Los Angeles (61.8 percent), Chicago (55.1 percent) and Houston (54.6 percent).

"One of the biggest insurance problems after Sandy was the large number of renters who did not have coverage for their homes," pointed out Jeanne M. Salvatore, the I.I.I.'s consumer spokesperson and senior vice president. "It can be extremely expensive to have to re-buy the entire contents of your home, so a renter’s insurance policy provides very important financial protection when there is a hurricane or other covered disaster."

The good news is that renters insurance is relatively inexpensive. In fact, the average renters insurance policy cost only $185 per year in 2010 (the latest year this data is available), according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. That’s less than $16 per month.

When you purchase renters insurance, your belongings are covered against losses from fire or smoke, lightning, vandalism, theft, explosion, windstorm and water damage—for example, if an upstairs neighbor's tub overflows and damages items in your apartment. However, renters insurance does not cover damage from flooding. Flood insurance is available for renters from FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program.

Renters insurance includes additional living expenses (ALE) coverage if you are unable to live in your home because of a hurricane, fire or other disaster listed in the policy. ALE pays for hotel bills, temporary rentals, restaurant meals and other expenses you incur while your home is being repaired or rebuilt.

Like a standard homeowners insurance policy, renters insurance includes liability protection. This covers your responsibility to other people injured at your home or elsewhere by you, a family member or your pet and pays legal defense costs if you are taken to court.

There are two main types of renters insurance policies:

1. Actual Cash Value coverage
pays to replace your possessions up to the limit of your policy, minus a deduction for depreciation.
2. Replacement Cost coverage pays the real cost of replacing your belongings (regardless of depreciation) up to the limit of your policy. This will usually cost about 10 percent more but is a much better value in the long run.

If you have expensive jewelry, furs, sports or musical equipment, or collectibles, you may want to consider adding a floater to your policy. Most standard renters policies include a limited dollar amount for such items. A floater is a separate policy that provides additional insurance for your valuables and may even cover them if they are accidentally lost.

The best way to determine how much renters insurance you need is to create a home inventory. This is a detailed list of all of your personal possessions along with their estimated value. An up-to-date home inventory will also make filing an insurance claim faster and easier. The I.I.I. offers free home inventory software and a mobile app at www.knowyourstuff.org.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Five Tips for Summer Picnic Food

August 6, 2013 12:38 am

Picnics are a great way to enjoy the last of those lazy summer afternoons in the sunshine and can be a cost effective family day out. Emma Bridgewater, the handmade kitchen and dinnerware company, has created the following five tips for the perfect picnic.

1) Keep food simple
Think about how practical certain dishes are when you prepare for a picnic. Dishes that work brilliantly around a dining table may not be so sensible served balanced on a picnic rug. Finger food eliminates the need for cutlery and will usually mean less mess at the end of the meal.

2) Choose foods that travel well
Hopefully you'll be taking advantage of a really beautiful day, in which case your picnic will be just one part of the day's fun. With this in mind, choose food that travels well. This will give your dishes a better chance of staying in tact, as well as keeping sandwiches from being disappointingly soggy by lunchtime. The most delicious sandwiches are often the simplest. Use lettuce or baby leaf spinach to surround mayonnaise-based sandwich fillings to keep the bread dry.

3) Create a finger-food salad
Chop up chunks of cucumber, cherry tomatoes, carrot and celery sticks to make a finger-food salad. Serve in bowls with hummus for dipping for a delicious raw vegetable treat. This way you can still serve healthy food without the need for knives and forks.

4) Keep the desert simple
Bring a sponge cake and a bowl of fresh strawberries, blueberries or grapes for a refreshing end to your picnic. Avoid sticky foods and cover cakes and sugary deserts to keep insects at bay. Keeping desserts simple is also likely to reduce the amount of cleaning up required at the end of the picnic.

5) Serve fresh and fruity drinks
Homemade lemonade or fruit juices can be kept cool with an ice pack in your picnic basket. Serving drinks in sturdy tumblers with a wide base mean they won't get spilled when you spread out on a picnic rug on uneven ground. Wine glasses and champagne flutes may look elegant at a picnic, but can leave guests struggling to hold a delicate glass, cutlery and plate of food.

Source: http://www.emmabridgewater.co.uk/

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Timely Tips for Home Buying

August 5, 2013 12:02 am

Regardless of market conditions, a home is not only a place to live, but also a financial asset and a plan for the future. But is it the right time for you to buy? Here are a few general rules to consider:

- Steady employment. It's essential to have a reliable source of income.

- A solid credit score. A bad credit score will increase mortgage interest rates. Potential homeowners should clean up their credit report and ensure that long-term debts are paid before considering homeownership. And when selecting a house, a potential buyer should determine the qualities that best suit his or her situation.

- An affordable price. The total cost of a home should generally be less than 2.5 years' pay. Ensure that the down payment and monthly mortgage payments are manageable.

- Location, location, location. Where a home is located can change its value dramatically. Being in a district with good schools, for example, is important -- both for raising the family and for resale value. Also consider what's going on in the community. Are peace and quiet high priorities, for example? Then perhaps a rural or suburban environment would work best. By contrast, if a desire for high culture and a fast lifestyle is a factor, then an urban setting might be preferred.

- Size matters. Is the home big enough, and will it allow for future growth?

Finally, when buying the house …

- Get some help from the pros. Using a real estate agent and a home inspector is important in selecting a good home and making an appropriate bid.

- Make the right mortgage move. When selecting a mortgage, determine whether it's better to pay additional points: One portion of the interest paid at closing may lead to greater savings down the road. If the plan is to stay around for a while (i.e., more than five years), experts say it's usually better to take the points.

Follow these tips and make your home-owning dream a reality. Buying a home is truly a life milestone, and it can be a big step toward financial security. Finding a good house in a nice neighborhood could be the key to making a home investment pay off.

Source: ForeclosedHomes.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


3 Tips for Beautiful Wood Doors

August 5, 2013 12:02 am

(BPT) - Your home's front door is more than a portal for family and friends - it makes a statement about your own personal style. Home designers often list the entry door as one of the most cost effective ways to dress up the front of your home for "wow" curb appeal.

This Old House magazine notes that since the front door is the first and last thing we touch when entering and leaving our homes, "it's easy to understand why many of us still like our doors to be made of wood - nothing else matches the material's warmth and satisfying heft."
"People choose wood entry doors first and foremost for their beauty; it's a fine piece of furniture on the front of your home," says Brad Loveless of Simpson Door Company.

For homeowners who enjoy the beauty of wood entry doors, options are now available to stand up to the harshest climates - from the wind-driven rains of Nantucket Island to the desert Southwest. Following are three ways to have the wood door you want and to ensure it will look great for years, no matter what the climate throws at it.

Bring your dreams to life

With doors available in hundreds of wood species, and numerous designs and glass options, it can be hard to envision how a particular door will look on your home. Short of hiring an architect to make a sketch, most people have had to rely on their imaginations. Recently, easy-to-use, free online tools have become available to simplify the door selection process. For example, Simpson's "Test Drive a Door" enables people to upload a photo of their home and view different door options on it. This allows a homeowner to be sure before they buy.

Go for performance
People are used to looking for high performance when shopping for new cars or computers, but might not realize the same approach can apply to doors. Manufacturers have developed high-performance wood doors with superior weather resistance that last in the most demanding exposures, including coastal homes with no porch or roof overhang to protect the door.

One high-performance option to consider is choosing wood species that perform best in moist conditions, as this varies among wood types. Species that have been shown in laboratory testing to have natural moisture resistance include Douglas Fir, Black Locust, Nootka Cypress and Sapele Mahogany, among others.

Another performance option some manufacturers offer in their wood doors is water-resistant composite blocks within the bottom of the door, where water can infiltrate. Doors also are available with full exterior cladding to protect them from rain and sun, while retaining the beauty of wood inside the home.

A strong finish
With any door, whether made of wood, steel or fiberglass, it is crucial to finish it for long-lasting protection from the elements. Doors are sold either factory finished or unfinished. If unfinished, the door must be finished by the door dealer, a contractor or the homeowner.

Manufacturers provide step-by-step instructions for best results from finishing, and those steps typically must be followed to ensure warranty requirements. Chief among these are to finish all six sides - front, back and all edges. As no wood surface should be left unfinished, finish should also be applied to the cut-outs for the handle and lock set, as well as any other openings, such as for mail slots or pet doors.

If the door is exposed to sun, it is generally better to use lighter color paints or stains as those absorb less heat from damaging UV rays.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Time to Make a Splash? Keep Your Kids Safe in the Water

August 5, 2013 12:02 am

Summer is the time for swimming, be it at the beach, lake, or pool. However, you want your kids to stay safe while having fun making a splash. The following tips, provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics, can help you and your children stay safe and accident-free.

• All caregivers should learn CPR.
• Never leave a toy in or around a pool.
• Never leave children alone in or near a bathtub, even for a minute. There are no "bath seats" that are proven to be safe and not result in drowning.
• Never leave children alone in or near the pool; this includes inflatable and other children's pools. An adult should be within arm's length, providing "touch supervision."
• Swimming lessons are recommended for children ages 1-4 years. New studies suggest that these children may be less likely to drown if they have had swimming lessons. Teaching your child how to swim DOES NOT guarantee your child is safe in water.
• Make sure there is a telephone by the pool in case of an emergency.
• If you use an inflatable or plastic pool, make sure you dump the water out of the pool after each use and turn the pool upside down when finished.
• Install a fence at least four-feet high around all four sides of the pool. Four-sided fences can cut the drowning risk in half. Pool covers and pool alarms are not a substitute for fencing.
• Make sure pool gates self-close and self-latch at a height small children can't reach.
• Keep rescue equipment nearby, including a shepherd's hook (a long pole with a hook on the end) and a life preserver.
• Avoid inflatable swimming aids such as "floaties." They are not a substitute for approved life vests and can give children a false sense of security.
• Teach children to never run, push or jump on others around water.
• Teach children never to swim alone.
• Counsel teenagers about the increased risk of drowning when alcohol is involved.

Source: www.cincinnatichildrens.org

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips to Keep Your Home Pest-Free This Summer

August 2, 2013 12:28 am

Summer brings the return of bugs and other pests to your home. The first line of defense against an invasion is keeping your home clean and eliminating attractants that may bring the unwanted guests indoors.

To help keep your house pest-free, here’s a list of the top cleaning tips to avoid the pest invasion that comes with summer months:

• Clean dishes immediately to avoid flies. Don't wait until the end of the day to wash your dishes, especially if they have sticky residues. Before scrapping leftovers into the garbage, drain moisture and place scraps in a tightly tied bag in a trash can with a fitted lid.

• Practice insect control with non-toxic, organic sprays and insecticides. Home remedies or commercial products are effective for homeowners, which work on ants, roaches, fleas, etc.

• Prevent roaches by regularly cleaning around the fridge, stove, and dishwasher to remove food crumbs. Keep the areas free of liquid by cleaning kitchen counters after every meal, mopping the floor and wiping down baseboards.

• Cut back bushes and tree branches around your house. Remove any piles of leaves or other debris that has accumulated as they are perfect nesting spots for bugs and other pests.

• Seal small cracks in windows, doors or floorboards where bugs could get in with caulk.

• Place food in clean fruit bowls and use a lid to create a barrier between fruit flies and your items. For more, read Molly Maid's post on getting rid of fruit flies.

Source: Molly Maid

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Now Is the Time to Lock Your Rate

August 2, 2013 12:28 am

For consumers and borrowers looking to secure a mortgage, locking in to the lowest rate possible is critical to your success. A mortgage rate lock enables borrowers to lock in the original rate that they were quoted when they first applied for a loan from their lender. Not all lenders allow borrowers to lock in their rates, but those who do will usually allow for a rate lock at the beginning, when the loan is filed, or during the application process. Most borrowers prefer to lock in their rates when they first submit the loan, since this will protect them from potential rate or point increases that may occur during the home loan application process.

If you've been mortgage shopping, you've probably seen a lot of interest rates – some lower than others. You've probably also been following news reports about the recent increase in rates, and even though rates are still near record lows, it's pretty obvious that now is the time to take out a new mortgage or refinance an existing one. Of course, once you do decide to apply for a mortgage, it takes time – usually a few weeks – before the mortgage will be finalized. At the end of that time, you want to be sure you end up getting the same low rate that was in effect when you submitted your application. The way to do that is by locking in your rate, and maybe even your points.

A lock protects you from potential rate increases while your loan is being approved, it can also mean you are unable to take advantage of decreases in the interest rates that may occur while your loan is being processed. In a market where you aren't sure whether rates will fall or not, you might choose to float your rate. That means that although you lock in the rate when you make an application, the lender will adjust the rate to any lower interest rate that occurs while your application is being processed. Of course, if rates rise, in most cases the rate will "float" upward with them. Since points also typically fall with interest rates, some lenders also allow points to rise and fall during the application process.

Conducting research on the market and observing mortgage trends is a good way to make sure you can lock in at the best possible rate.

Source: LoanLove.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The Best Cities to Be a Chicken

August 2, 2013 12:28 am

Urban chicken coops – and the fresh eggs that come from them – have become the hottest trend among health conscious eaters and locavores. So what kind of person keeps chickens? It turns out they're not necessarily suburbanites with a lot of land; in fact on average, listings with chicken coops have smaller homes and smaller lots, but larger price tags. It appears some buyers are willing to pay a little more for a home with a henhouse.

But which cities have embraced this trend the most? Here are the top five cities to be a chicken, based on the number of homes that have hit the market in the past three months with chicken enclosures mentioned as a feature in the multiple listing service description.

1) Portland, Ore.
The locavore movement is strong in Portland, with many restaurants boasting a menu made of ingredients from less than 50 miles away. The city's residents were among the first to raise backyard chickens en masse, and even the former mayor, Sam Adams, had a couple of hens.

"From community urban farms to edible front yard gardens, Oregonians are crazy about keeping it local. We make our own cheese and sausage, brew our own beer, roast our own coffee…we even trade canned food. Chickens fit right in. The eggs taste way better, your neighbors will love you (if you share), and if you have a good chicken coop, you might be sitting on a little pot of gold when you sell your house!" said Jeff Bale, a real estate agent in Portland.

In order to raise more than three chickens in Portland, residents must build a proper enclosure at least 15 feet away from their home, and obtain a permit from the city. But a permit isn't required if you have less than three hens.

2) Ventura, Calif.
Perhaps it's the temperate climate that drove so many residents of Ventura to build chicken coops. It's much easier to take care of chickens when you don't need to worry about them freezing to death! Locals in Ventura, Calif., have been quick to embrace the backyard chicken movement; there's even a Facebook page called Ventucky Chicken, where residents can discuss the local chicken culture.

"The year-round weather in Ventura and the surrounding communities is terrific for raising chickens and other animals or having personal gardens for vegetables. With such a mild climate, it is no surprise that farming plays such a large part of the lifestyle in the area," said John Underwood, a real estate agent in Southern California.

City officials are trying to catch up with the trend. Last October the City of Ventura Planning Commission recommended that the City Council change the definition of domestic animals to include chickens, so that residents can keep up to six hens without a permit, as long as they are in a penned area at least 35 feet from a home. The laws and regulations currently vary by region; for specific details on the regulations in Ventura County, it's best to contact your local community council.

3) San Diego
Chickens are popping up all over San Diego, and we don't mean the Famous San Diego Chicken. Backyard coops have gained in popularity since the city amended its code last January to allow single family residents to keep chickens.

"Chicken coops are the trendiest house accessory in San Diego. Some have a small one-hen coop, while others have a deluxe, multiple-level coop brightly painted in neon colors. Hens can often produce more eggs than a household can eat, so some homeowners hold weekly egg sales on their sidewalk or at the local farmer's market," said Jordan Clarke, a real estate agent in San Diego.

San Diego residents are allowed up to five hens, as long as they are in the backyard, five feet from side property lines, 13 feet from the rear property line, and kept in an appropriate coop. The city offers residents an online form that makes it easy to look up the guidelines in their area. More information is available on SanDiego.gov.

4) Sacramento, Calif.
Sacramento was one of the first major metros to allow chickens, but unlike other cities, it requires a fee. Unfortunately, many residents are unaware of the license and fee requirements, and are keeping undocumented chickens.

"There are a lot of reasons people in Sacramento keep chickens. Some value the free, farm-fresh eggs, some see it as being good for the environment, and others simply enjoy having them as pets. It seems to be a growing trend; over the past few years I've been seeing a lot more chicken coops as I go on home tours with clients," said Lindsay Martin, a real estate agent in Sacramento.

People within Sacramento city limits can keep up to three hens in their backyard, as long as the enclosure is 20 feet away from any homes. An annual license fee of $10 per household and permit fee of $15 per chicken is also required.

5) Seattle
Seattle and Portland have a lot in common, including their love of urban chicken farming. Some of the most popular restaurants in Seattle boast organic items on the menu, including Tilth, which encourages the practice by hosting a tour of the top 25 urban farms in the area.

"Seattleites are foodies and conscious about what they put into their bodies. A lot of people have created urban farms on their property; they grow organic vegetables in their garden and raise chickens in their backyard. You'd be surprised by how many homes for sale have coops. Sometimes they're the front-and-center focal point of a yard, and sometimes they're unobtrusive, covered by trees and bushes," said Bree Al-Rashid, an agent in Seattle.

Seattlites can keep up to eight chickens, as long as their enclosure is at least 10 feet away from any home. They aren't allowed to roam off your property, so some type of pen needs to be created. People with larger lots can keep additional chickens.

Source: Redfin

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Natural Fun Takes a Backseat to Tech Time for Kids & Families

August 1, 2013 1:50 pm

From weekday afternoons huddled in front of gaming consoles to weekends spent downloading the latest smartphone app, kids today spend a significant amount of time indoors tethered to technology. A survey commissioned by Busch Gardens® found that 85 percent of moms worry that their children don't experience enough natural, unstructured outdoor playtime – the kind of activity so common in previous generations.

According to the survey of nearly 900 moms conducted by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Busch Gardens®, kids spend only two hours during the week participating in natural, unstructured activities such as playing tag, riding bikes, and exploring nature, and these activity levels increase only slightly on the weekends to a little more than two hours.

"As parents, we remember our own moms opening up the screen door on a summer day and telling us 'go outside and play,' and we did, playing with friends from the neighborhood, roller skating and concocting elaborate games," said Stacy DeBroff , founder and CEO of Mom Central Consulting. "We fear we're raising a generation of kids with 'Natural Fun Deficiency' who rarely play outside unless as part of planned activities with a coach nearby carrying a whistle and a clipboard."

Based on the survey results, both moms and kids see technology as a deterrent to kids playing outside – 68 percent of moms think their kids spend too much time plugged in, and 44 percent of kids prefer texting to kickball.

However, the obstacles to outdoor-based family time include more than just technology. More than two-thirds of moms feel that family fun often takes a backseat to day-to-day obligations.

Here are some tips to combat 'Natural Fun Deficiency':

For Kids
• Keep it Low-Key: Don't worry about creating a master outdoor curriculum for kids. Instead, encourage them to build a fort, suggest they invite the new neighbor kids over for a backyard soccer game, or challenge them to make the ultimate mud pie.

• Team Up with Fellow Moms: When it comes to planning play dates, the survey showed that almost 60 percent of moms never or rarely think about organizing an outdoor-focused get-together, despite the fact that 75 percent of moms want their kids to be more open to outdoor adventure. Work with other moms to banish time in front of the TV or gaming console and instead suggest that kids go outside for a backyard scavenger hunt or game of kickball.

• Group Learning Activities: Surprise the kids with learning experiences disguised as pure fun.

For Families

• Plan a Family Getaway: According to the survey results, 70 percent of moms rely on vacations as a time for kids to unplug and get away from technology. Planning a family getaway can be a great way for everyone to set aside pressures and obligations and re-connect as a family.

• Explore the Great Outdoors: To jumpstart natural, outdoor fun, identify vacation spots with enough outdoor activities to entice everyone in the family. For example, a beach vacation offers opportunities for swimming, water sports, and beach exploration, while a visit to a theme park provides everything from thrill rides to water fun to animal encounters in natural settings.

• The Family Who Plays Together, Stays Together: Support kids' newfound outdoor experiences by creating fun, easy-to-arrange family activities. Take advantage of extended daylight hours to eat dinner on the patio or schedule an impromptu picnic dinner in the backyard. Or walk the dog as a family each weekend morning.

Source: Busch Gardens

Published with permission from RISMedia.