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

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Tips for Dealing with Fall Allergies

September 17, 2013 12:48 am

Many Americans associate summer with "hay fever," a popular term for allergy symptoms caused by pollen and other air-borne outdoor allergens. But if you think allergy season ends with the onset of cooler weather, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise. Allergy symptoms can last well into fall, often until the first frost occurs. And according to COIT Cleaning and Restoration company, it is important for people who suffer with fall allergies to minimize the presence of allergens in their homes.

"Plant pollens can persist well into fall, and ragweed pollen is no exception," said Bob Kearn, president and CEO of COIT. Ragweed is one of the most prevalent plant-related allergens present in our environment. "These pollens enter homes on clothing, footwear, and even pets, and can especially be a problem once we start closing windows, trapping allergens indoors and preventing the circulation of fresh air through the home."

According to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, approximately 75 percent of people who are allergic to spring pollen-producing plants are also allergic to ragweed. Ragweed typically begins pollinating in August, but the process can continue well into fall, which is why it is a problem for fall allergy sufferers. Ragweed pollen can travel hundreds of miles and cause problems even in regions where the plant's growth is less prevalent.

Mold, which thrives in damp areas both indoors and outdoors, can take hold in basements, bathrooms, and near leaky pipes. In the fall, piles of damp, raked leaves can become breeding grounds for mold, and mold spores, like ragweed, can become airborne.

Once ragweed, mold spores, and other allergens (such as dust mites) enter the home, they can be ground into carpets and furniture and can circulate through the indoor environment when the furnace is turned on in colder weather.

COIT recommends a number of steps to minimize the presence of fall allergens in the homes of allergy sufferers. Regular laundering of clothing (including outdoor wear) is critical. Bathe pets regularly, and ask family members and guests to remove footwear before entering the home. You can put a small sign near the door with a boot tray beneath it and provide clean slippers for use in the house. Wash bedding and towels at least weekly in hot water, and dispose of old pillows that might harbor dust mites.

Carpeting, upholstery, draperies and blinds are notorious for collecting dust and allergens. The beginning of fall is a good time to schedule professional cleanings to eliminate allergens that have collected in the house over the summer. Families with allergic individuals should consider scheduling additional cleanings at the end of fall. If you suspect mold in kitchen or bathroom tiling or grout, a professional Tile and Grout cleaning might also be in order.

Despite the prevalence of fall allergens, there are many ways to minimize their presence in the indoor environment and to help make family members who suffer from allergies more comfortable.

Source: COIT

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Can Schools Monitor Students on Social Media?

September 16, 2013 12:39 am

Are schools allowed to monitor their students on social media? Middle and high schools in Glendale, Calif. are doing just that. School officials have hired a company to track 13,000 students' online posts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and others, paying more than $40,000 a year for the service, CBS News reports.

Glendale's superintendent says the reason behind this somewhat drastic new measure is an emphasis on student safety. It also allows school officials to intervene if students are discussing suicide, violence, substance abuse, or bullying.

What are the legal implications behind this?

Government Action
The Fourth Amendment guarantees U.S. citizens the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures absent a warrant issued with probable cause. But it also requires government action and a reasonable expectation of privacy in what's being searched.

Government action doesn't apply when private persons are conducting the search. For example, if a friend is snooping in another friend's bag, this may be a violation of the bag-owner's privacy, but the Fourth Amendment wouldn't apply because the friend is not a government figure.

In the case of schools monitoring students' social media, however, Glendale's public school district does qualify as a government entity.

No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
But the "reasonable expectation of privacy" part is where the Fourth Amendment test falls short.

Students in Glendale can't be seen as having a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to their social media posts, because whatever students are posting can be seen by the general public. Unless the firm hired by the school district is hacking into students' accounts or using their passwords, then there is no Fourth Amendment issue here.

A similar argument can be made when it comes to trash that one leaves out on one's curb. Courts have ruled that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in trash left out by a curb for pickup, because the (former) owner of the trash knowingly put it out there in public.

So while it may seem invasive, the best way for students to approach this situation is to be informed about their rights. If they don't want their social media accounts to be viewed by certain people, they should set their profiles to "private" and limit the amount of information they share.

The social media lesson here: When you have a public profile, there really is no limit as to who can see this information.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Prequalification vs. Pre-approval

September 16, 2013 12:39 am

Prequalification and pre-approval may start with the same three letters, but there's a big difference between the two when it comes to your mortgage.

Prequalification takes about an hour and is conducted by a licensed loan originator or broker working for a particular lender. To obtain prequalification, applicants need to provide an application and have their credit pulled. Once this information is obtained and reviewed by the lender an applicant is awarded with prequalification status. Although this can be helpful for buyers to know where they stand, it does not necessarily lock in their rate or guarantee a particular loan at a given price point, says Chip Poli, CEO of a Massachusetts-based mortgage lender.

Pre-approval is different than prequalification in that your information has been underwritten by an authorized Underwriter. Mortgage lenders often provide in-house Underwriters because they can approve you for a home loan quickly and efficiently. Upon receiving a valid pre-approval, your next step is finding the right home for the right price. Once you find that home and it appraises for the agreed upon price or higher, you should be able to close your loan in a short period of time.

To get pre-approved for a home loan, be sure to fill out your mortgage application in its entirety. Leaving parts blank or incomplete will only make the process harder on yourself, says Poli. You will also need to provide certain documents concerning your assets, income and employment.

In order to ensure your home purchase goes as seamlessly as possible, consumers are better off applying for a pre-approval because it helps them truly have an idea as to what their budget is and protects them from hidden surprises once they find a house and apply for the loan. If you have a pre-approval in hand, it shows your real estate agent and the seller that you are a serious home buyer; in this market it is extremely important to the sellers that their prospective buyers have been pre-approved.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Protect Your Home - A Maintenance Checklist

September 16, 2013 12:39 am

Moisture intrusion is a leading cause of home maintenance issues and repairs. The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) encourages homeowners to identify potential maintenance issues now before they become major repairs.

“When it comes to water intrusion, it’s not often a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the moisture will take its toll," says Dan Schuerman, owner of Schuerman Inspections, LLC. "A maintenance inspection is the best way to safeguard your greatest investment from potentially costly repairs.”

Home Maintenance Checklist

A typical home inspection should include an evaluation of the roof to identify curling, shrinking, broken or missing shingles that may lead to costly leaks; an assessment of the perimeter of the home to look for signs of settling and for voids that will allow rain to enter through the home’s foundation; as well as a thorough inspection of the air conditioning system.

“While we don’t recommend that homeowners conduct inspections themselves due to safety precautions, there are several areas of the home that homeowners should pay close attention to,” adds Schuerman.

Schuerman encourages homeowners to visually inspect hose bibs (the threaded end of the outside water tap or faucet where a hose can be attached) for signs of frost damage; pipes for separated joints or splits; window and door screens for tears and holes; gutters for broken or loose pieces; and surfaces for cracking or peeling paint and caulking.

Before hiring an inspector, Schuerman advises homeowners to interview inspectors to understand what the inspection will cover and to verify the inspector’s experience. Below is a list of questions homeowners should ask their prospective inspector.

What does the inspection cover? Make sure the inspection and the inspection report meet the customer’s needs and complies with the ASHI Standards of Practice (available online at www.ashi.org).

How long have you been a home inspector and how many inspections have you completed? ASHI Certified Inspectors are required to have completed at least 250 paid professional home inspections and pass two written exams that test the inspector’s knowledge of competency. ASHI Members have passed the same exams and have performed a minimum of 50 fee-paid inspections verified by ASHI to be in substantial compliance with the Standards of Practice.

Are you specifically experienced in residential inspection? Related experience is helpful, but is no substitute for training and expertise in the unique discipline of home inspection.

Do you encourage your clients to attend inspections? This is a valuable educational opportunity. Purchasing a home is probably the most expensive purchase people will make. Taking the time to attend is well worth the time and effort.

How long will the inspection take? The average for a single inspector is two to three hours for a typical single family house; anything less may not be enough time to do a thorough inspection. Some inspection firms send a team of inspectors and the time frame may be shorter.

Will you prepare a written report? Asking to see sample report forms ensures the customer will be comfortable with the style of an actual finished report.

For more information, visit www.ASHI.org.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Clean Your House Naturally and Avoid Toxic Cleansers

September 13, 2013 12:57 am

It's time to tackle the annual home cleaning. But just because you're thoroughly washing, scrubbing and disinfecting your home, it doesn't mean you need to turn to cleansers with harsh ingredients and chemicals. In fact, you can easily clean using inexpensive products already in your kitchen, such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. Use these tips to clean your home naturally.

Start seeing clearly
: Are your windows coated with a layer of grime? A solution of two teaspoons of white vinegar and one liter of warm water can be used to gently remove dust or dirt from all glass surfaces including windows and mirrors.

Freshen up the fridge: In addition to food spills, your refrigerator takes on odors from all the different foods stored throughout the year. Discard old items and be sure you are regularly cleaning out the fridge. Help reduce odors year-round by keeping a box of baking soda in the fridge at all times, replacing it every 30 days for best results.

Reawaken your wardrobe: Start the season feeling good in clothes that smell fresh. Even when carefully stored, clothing can still be exposed to dust, and may require a good washing before wearing. Add a cup of baking soda to your next wash to naturally boost the power of your detergent. The combination will help balance PH levels to leave clothing cleaner and fresher. You can also freshen non-washable items like gym shoes, bags and sports equipment by sprinkling baking soda inside.

Renew the everyday rooms: Avoid the fumes of harsh kitchen and bathroom cleaners by naturally cleaning surfaces with baking soda. A sprinkle of baking soda on a damp sponge will clean counters, stainless steel sinks, microwaves, ovens and much more without scratching. For tough grease, mix vinegar and lemon juice to leave your surfaces like new.

Bet on a BBQ: After the inside of your home is looking spic-and-span, get your grill ready to prevent bad tasting hot dogs and hamburgers from ruining your next BBQ. Sprinkle baking soda on a damp brush, then scrub away any residue and rinse clean. For really difficult stains, make a paste with three parts baking soda to one part warm water and use a wire-bristled brush to work away at grime and grease stains.

Source: www.armandhammer.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Shopping on a Dime? How to Maximize Savings at Discount Stores

September 13, 2013 12:57 am

Bargain hunting for some new fall favorites? Follow the below tips, provided by PaydayLoan-Lender.com, to get the most out of your bargain shopping.

Write a list and avoid "browsing": Be aware of marketing tactics - A crucial way to not overspend is to learn how to spot a store's marketing gimmicks. Items are placed in certain locations deliberately and there is a proven science to shopping. Learn the layout of your store and stick to a pre-written shopping list.

Never shop tired or hungry: Shopping on an empty stomach or when tired is the number one way for consumers to buy more than they need. The discipline required to successfully bargain hunt requires a clear head.

Make sure that you definitely want to shop there before paying for membership: Check it out a few times before you sign on the dotted line. Visit the store to see if it is suitable.

Share a membership with a friend or family member: Cut costs even more by having a communal membership, thereby splitting the membership fee.

Use a smaller cart: If you choose a bigger cart, you will fill it up and buy more. A smaller cart means that you are limited to buying less, therefore, saving more. This is a psychological trick that can save precious dollars and avoid over-shopping.

Pay in cash: Estimate the cost of what items need to be bought and bring the exact amount in cash.

Source: http://www.PaydayLoan-Lender.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


New Opportunities Open Up for First-Time Homebuyers

September 13, 2013 12:57 am

In the coming year, more than 1.5 million consumers will purchase their first home. How do they do it -- and how can you be one of them?

"First-timers now represent nearly 30 percent of all existing home purchasers," said Ray Brousseau, executive vice president of a nationwide lender. "That's a big percentage, but it could be a lot higher because there are many ways first-time purchasers can finance with little down and little hassle."

Many of these buyers are able to afford a new home because they know that the mortgage marketplace has two separate ways to help them: First, there are traditional loan options. Second, there are more than 1,500 mortgage assistance plans for buyers purchasing a first home.

No Need For 20 Percent Down

The big barrier for many first-time buyers is cash. It takes cash for a down payment, and it takes cash to close. Lenders are generally looking for buyers with 20 percent down, but given that the typical home sells for more than $200,000, there are a lot of first-time homebuyers who have not accumulated the $40,000 or more that lenders prefer.

The good news: There are many ways around the 20 percent requirement with traditional loan options.

"It doesn't take a lot of up-front cash to buy a home today," said Brousseau. "FHA and conventional financing are all available with little down, while VA borrowers can qualify for mortgages that require no down payment."

The way such programs work is that they substitute insurance for the 20 percent down that lenders would otherwise want:

• Conventional loans are available with as little as 3 percent down plus what is called "private mortgage insurance" or PMI.

• FHA mortgages require an up-front mortgage insurance premium (MIP), plus an annual MIP based on the outstanding loan balance. Mortgages backed by the FHA are available nationwide and typically require just 3.5 percent down.

• VA financing is available for those with qualifying service, such as military personnel, as well as officers in the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). VA loans are available with nothing down. There is an up-front "guarantee" fee, but no annual insurance cost.

"Instead of $40,000 for a down payment, many borrowers can get a $200,000 loan with $6,000 or $7,000 down, or even nothing down if VA-qualified," Brousseau said. "That means qualified first-time homebuyers can buy a house today instead of waiting years to save 20 percent down."

Mortgage Assistance Plans

According to DownPaymentResource.com, there are more than 1,500 assistance plans administered by more than 1,000 agencies nationwide for would-be buyers, many aimed specifically at first-time purchasers.

In looking at these programs it's important to understand what the term "first-time buyer" means. It typically does not mean someone who has never owned a home; instead the usual definition for program qualification purposes is someone who has not had title to a home during the past three years.

This definition is important because it provides a way for people to re-enter the housing marketplace. For instance, suppose the Smiths owned a home and sold it to move to a job in a new community. Three years later they are "first-time" purchasers under the guidelines used by most assistance plans.

"Another important point about mortgage assistance programs is that many are specifically designed to encourage local home purchases by public-sector employees such as teachers, police, firefighters, nurses, and corrections workers," said Brousseau. "There are millions of people who qualify for such assistance."

The benefits available through mortgage assistance plans vary. For instance, borrowers may be able to get financing at below-market interest rates. Down payment grants may be available, essentially meaning that little or nothing down will be required. Another approach includes programs that offer tax credits.

Mortgage interest is generally deductible, but a "tax credit" is arguably more valuable. With what are called "mortgage credit certificates" or MCCs, borrowers can deduct directly from their actual tax bill. For instance, if you have $8,000 in mortgage interest you might be able to directly reduce your taxes by $1,600 while the remaining $6,400 can be treated as an itemized deduction.

"Given low interest rates and a firming housing sector, this is a terrific time to consider entering the real estate market," said Brousseau. "With today's financing choices, many buyers can own their own home a lot quicker than they might have thought."

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Global Study Reveals Americans are Planning to Travel More Domestically, but Steady Their Spending in 2014

September 12, 2013 12:48 am

TripAdvisor® announced the results of a recent survey called the TripBarometer. The survey reveals the leading travel and hospitality industry trends, according to over 19,000 travelers and over 10,000 accommodation business owners around the world. The study is conducted twice a year, and the results are analyzed independently by research firm Edelman Berland.

Themes from this season's TripBarometer include:
• Travelers vary considerably in their economic outlook, with those from emerging markets far more optimistic about the global economy.
• While U.S. travelers aren't planning to increase travel budgets next year, they are planning to travel more frequently and closer to home to discover the sights America has to offer.
• Despite the lack of confidence many travelers feel about the global economy, U.S. hoteliers remain confident about future profitability.
• Travelers are using credit to fund their holidays, particularly in emerging markets.

Travelers Plan to Lower Their Budgets
• Only one-third of U.S. travelers are optimistic about the economy.
• Americans are the least likely to spend more on travel in 2014 compared to other regions.
• Sixty-one percent of global travelers and 65 percent of U.S. travelers plan to spend the same amount or less in 2014.
• Travelers in emerging markets are the ones who plan to spend more.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Survey Reveals Nation's Exercise Habits

September 12, 2013 12:48 am

While many people say that they want to get in better shape and exercise more, how many are really doing it? To help showcase how, when and where Americans are working out, Timex released the results of a survey detailing the nation's exercise habits. The Timex/SodaHead.com survey reveals that while the perception may be that most Americans are not exercising, the reality is that 73 percent of respondents are working out at least once a week.

Key highlights of the survey include:

• Twenty-nine percent spend between 30 minutes and one hour on their physical activities and 18 percent are spending between one and two hours exercising.
• Sixty-one percent of respondents don't go to a gym to exercise. If they do go to the gym, they want to stay close—only 11 percent drive more than 15 minutes to their exercise destination.
• Working out at lunch may not be for everyone, but 27 percent of respondents are finding time to get in a workout during the work day.
• When it comes to finding time to exercise, it is apparent that many in America are not "morning people," as nearly half of Americans say that they don't exercise in the morning. For those that do work out in the morning, 6 a.m. is the most popular time.
• The most popular type of exercise is running (18 percent), followed by lifting weights (13 percent) and biking/hiking/outdoor activities (13 percent).
• Once Americans finish exercising, it is time to hit the showers. Forty-three percent of survey respondents spend at least 10-15 minutes in the shower, 25 percent spend a whopping 20-30 minutes and 10 percent spend more than a half-hour.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How to Prepare Your Yard and Garden for Winter

September 12, 2013 12:48 am

As temperatures drop and autumn colors arrive, a new season of gardening is upon us. In order to properly prepare your lawn and garden for the colder months ahead, you should be thinking about fall cleanup procedures so that you can enjoy your yard once the warm weather returns.

"Fall is the most important gardening season," says Elizabeth Licata, gardener-in-chief for Troy-Bilt®. "Tasks like cleaning up the garden are really about creating the beginnings of a productive garden for the next season."

By creating a fall to-do list, you can make fall cleanup easy and manageable. Troy-Bilt suggests that you do the following:

Clear away dead debris by getting rid of plants that have stopped blooming or have been killed by the lack of warm weather. Remove dead limbs on trees and trim overgrown areas.

Make sure to fertilize your lawn. As we usher in fall, and the cooler weather and rainfall associated with the season, reduce the height on your mower to two or two-and-a-half inches. Fertilize, reseed and repair bare spots before winter hits and you can maximize your green potential for next spring. Water the lawn one inch per week to saturate fertilizer and stimulate root growth.

Removing leaves often is also a crucial step. If leaves pile up, it can suffocate your grass, therefore killing it. Leaf blowers, especially backpack leaf blowers, can provide comfort and get the job done quickly and efficiently.

Spreading compost
over your yard is a great way to provide nutrients. The natural soil bacteria and microorganisms in the compost will treat the soil and grass, making it healthier and more bountiful for the next season. You can collect waste materials such as grass clippings, leaves and leftover fruits and veggies from your own garden to create your own organic compost.

By following these simple steps, you’re guaranteeing a lush and lavish yard for seasons to come.

Published with permission from RISMedia.