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

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Is It Time for a New A/C?

August 26, 2016 12:10 am


Summer’s nearing its end—did your air conditioning system deliver?

If not, it may be time to replace the unit. According to Howard Schwartz of the Connecticut Better Business Bureau (BBB), the average lifespan of a central air conditioning system is between 15 and 20 years. One sure sign it’s time to pull the plug? If repair bills have been adding up, Schwartz says.

New air conditioning systems reduce carbon emissions, require 30 to 50 percent less energy to operate, and run quieter than older units. Schwartz and the BBB advise the following tips when shopping for a replacement system:

Don't go for the lowest price. A low price doesn’t always equal the best value. A higher efficiency system might cost an extra $800 up-front, but could save you $300 per year in energy costs. Seek out manufacturer rebates, if available.

Consider a maintenance contract. A maintenance contract can come in handy when a system needs repairs, especially at inconvenient times, like during a heat wave.

Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat can help you save even more money by controlling the temperature even when you aren’t home.

To find a qualified HVAC contractor near you, visit BBB.org and consult your region’s Accredited Business Directory, Schwartz concludes.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Natural Disaster Risk and Its Impact on Housing

August 26, 2016 12:10 am


No area is safe from a natural disaster—but some lesser-prone areas are safe from a market downswing, according to a recently released report by ATTOM Data Solutions.

An area’s propensity for natural disaster can impact its home prices and sales, reported the ATTOM Natural Hazard Housing Index, which ranks over 3,000 counties according to level of risk for earthquakes, floods, hail, hurricane storm surge, tornadoes and wildfires. The counties with the lowest level of natural hazard risk, based on the Index, are concentrated in Wisconsin:

1. Milwaukee County, Wis.
2. Kewaunee County, Wis.
3. Racine County, Wis.
4. Knox County, Maine
5. Kenosha County, Wis.

The counties with the highest level of natural hazard risk, based on the Index, are:

1. Oklahoma County, Okla.
2. Monroe County, Fla.
3. Cleveland County, Okla.
4. Nevada County, Calif.
5. Lake County, Calif.

Home sales in counties with the lowest level of natural hazard risk have risen over 4 percent this year, whereas sales in counties with the highest level of natural risk have risen just shy of 2 percent; concurrently, home prices in counties with the lowest level of natural risk have increased approximately 3 percent, while home prices in counties with the highest level of natural risk have increased over 6 percent.

In the lowest-risk counties, the median sales price of a single-family home or condo sold this year was $156,245—in the highest-risk counties, that number jumps to $255,160.

Areas prone to earthquakes, flooding, hurricanes and wildfires have seen less home sales activity overall in the last five years—areas prone to hail and tornadoes, on the other hand, have seen the opposite.

Source: ATTOM Data Solutions
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Family Time: 8 Ideas for Memorable Traditions

August 25, 2016 1:10 am


As adults, many of our happiest memories revolve around the activities we did with our families—beachside barbecues, Fourth of July picnics, a special cake for birthdays. As parents, our goal is to create the same lasting memories that will stay with our children for their lifetime.

From Real Simple and Parents magazines come nine ideas to break out of your family’s routine and make for great memories:

Family Game Night – Each week, allow one child to decide which game will be played by the family. Have everyone share a snack of that child’s choosing, too.

Happy Half-Birthday – Celebrate half-birthdays with burgers or hot dogs sliced in half, half-filled beverages and a half-vanilla, half-chocolate cake. Sing ‘Happy Birthday,’ but stop singing halfway through the song.

Mommy/Daddy Dates – Every child craves special time with a parent. Once a month, Mom or Dad takes one child out for a special experience or treat.

Topsy-Turvy Day – The children wake up to find their toothbrushes in the fridge, their shoes in the hall, or whatever else you choose to misplace—and come to breakfast to find dinner, or dessert!

Santa’s Toy Swap – Along with cookies and milk, have each child leave a few gently used toys that Santa’s elves can give to other children.

‘Special You’ Plate – Comb the thrift store for one special plate—something colorful and whimsical. Each time a child does something special—an award at school, a good deed—he or she gets the special plate at dinner.

Service Project Day – Once a month, have the whole family pitch in at your local food pantry or soup kitchen, or volunteer for another community service activity.

‘Yes’ Day – Every time you say no to your children, have them put the request in writing and drop it in a jar. Each month, let each child pick one activity from the jar that you must agree to go along with.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The Average Credit Scores of First-Time Homebuyers

August 25, 2016 1:10 am


Your credit score is one of the most important considerations in the home-buying process, determining not only the approval of a mortgage, but also the rate attached to it.

As a first-time homebuyer, you may be wondering what the ideal score is. A recent update from the Ellie Mae Millennial Tracker™ may shed some light on the answer.

According to the Tracker, the average FICO score of a millennial borrower who closed on a home loan this summer was 723; the average FICO score of a millennial borrower who closed on a conventional loan, however, was 748. The average FICO score of a millennial borrower who closed on an FHA loan this summer was lower, at 691. The majority of millennials in Ellie Mae’s Tracker obtained a conventional loan.

“Economic uncertainty may be contributing to a general tightening of credit, which could explain why we are seeing a slight uptick in the average FICO scores for closed loans to millennials,” said Joe Tyrrell, executive vice president of Corporate Strategy at Ellie Mae, in a statement. “We also continue to see FHA loans play a significant role in helping millennials make their homeownership dreams a reality. These types of loans make up 37 percent of all closed loans to this generation, compared to just 23 percent of closed loans across all generations of homebuyers.”

FHA loans averaged 45 days to close this summer, according to the Tracker; conventional loans averaged one day less, at 44.

Source: Ellie Mae
 

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Favorable Lending Standards, Low Rates to Lift Housing Through 2016

August 25, 2016 1:10 am


A recently released forecast expects the economy to regain ground through the remainder of the year, boding well for the housing market in the months to come.

According to Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group’s recent 2016 Economic and Housing Outlook, the economy is on track to grow 1.8 percent this year, boosted by an improving employment landscape and higher levels of consumer spending—both of which will give lift to housing.

“Housing market fundamentals remain a mixed bag,” Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s chief economist, explained in a statement about the Outlook. “During the second quarter of 2016, both new- and existing-home sales rose to expansion highs, while single-family starts pulled back, remaining historically low for an expansion.

“Tight housing inventory from a lack of new construction continues to create affordability challenges, particularly at the lower end of the market,” Duncan continued. “Robust rental demand during the second quarter of the year has created the lowest rental vacancy rate in decades. In addition, the homeownership rate dropped to below 63 percent in the second quarter, but we are seeing some tentative signs of older millennials moving toward homeownership.

“We expect homebuyers will benefit from improving job and wage growth, more favorable lending standards, and continued low mortgage rates through the rest of the year, with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate projected to average 3.4 percent during the fourth quarter.”

Source: Fannie Mae
 

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Planning for Retirement: A Checklist

August 24, 2016 1:04 am


Planning for retirement is a manifold and ongoing process, with many variables to consider. Dive into it with this checklist, courtesy of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC):

• Map out a yearly budget for each year you plan to be retired, up to age 100. Expect to need 80 percent of your current annual income each year, minus anticipated pension or Social Security payments.

• Take stock of your finances by valuing assets (e.g., your house, savings bonds) and consolidating retirement accounts, if beneficial. (Consult with a professional before rolling over any funds.)

• Consider your health, life and long-term insurance needs in retirement. If you are the primary earner in your family, for instance, it may be prudent to obtain long-term disability insurance; if your spouse has life insurance, on the other hand, it is wise to confirm you as the beneficiary. Bear in mind, too, that out-of-pocket medical costs are one of the largest expenditures in retirement.

• Start saving through your employer’s 401(k), 403(b), ESPO, IRA or profit-sharing plan, if available. If your employer matches contributions, save at least the amount necessary to receive the full match.

• Explore the possibility of securing an annuity, which can provide additional income in retirement. The four types of annuities are deferred income; fixed and fixed-indexed; single premium immediate; and variable, with guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefits. (For more information on annuities, visit NAIC.org/documents/consumer_alert_annuities.htm.)

• Revisit your savings strategy every five years. If change is needed, consider consulting with a certified financial planner to determine the next best course of action.

For more resources related to retirement, visit NAIC.org.
 
Source: National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Roof in Need of Post-Storm Repair? 3 Tips

August 24, 2016 1:04 am


(Family Features)—Roof damage brought on by a severe weather can render your home uninhabitable if it is left in disrepair. Act fast with these tips from the experts at CertainTeed Roofing.

1. Exercise caution. Do not attempt to make roof repairs unless you are qualified to do so.

2. Prepare for the insurance adjuster. Make detailed notes and take photographs of the damage, if possible, and give them to the insurance adjuster upon arrival. Look for blown-off shingles or damaged gutters during your assessment, as well as leaks inside the attic. Determine, in addition, any requirements the insurance company may have regarding the materials used for repairs.

3. Hire smart. Disreputable roof contractors are a dime a dozen. Consult with at least three professionals before hiring one to perform repairs, and ask them:

Are you licensed? Not all states have licensing requirements, so a “no” is not necessarily a red flag. Confirm the contractor’s response with your local licensing authority.

Where are you located? Local contractors are not only within reach, but can also provide in-town, reliable references.

Do you have insurance? A reputable contractor will be fully insured, with liability and workers compensation coverage.

What are your specialties? Hiring a contractor with storm restoration experience can be beneficial in the insurance claims process.
 
Seeking a recommendation for a roofing contractor? Contact a real estate professional for references.

Source: CertainTeed

 

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DIYers: Check These Late Summer Projects

August 24, 2016 1:04 am


Late summer is the perfect time for some DIY house projects, with temperatures comfortable enough for both indoor and outdoor endeavors.

One days when it is too hot outside, clean the vent fans in the bathrooms—according to Danny Lipford of TodaysHomeowner.com, performing this chore at least annually will keep them operating efficiently and quietly.

To clean a fan, Lipford instructs:

• Turn the power off to the fan.
• Remove the cover (on most fans, this involves pulling down the cover to extend it, then compressing the spring wires on each side to take it off).
• Use a brush or vacuum to remove dust from the cover. Scrub it in soapy water.
• Vacuum out the dust from inside the fan box and wipe off the blades.
• Spray the moving parts with silicone lubricant.
• Replace the vent fan cover.
• Turn the power back on.

While you are on the step ladder, remove any cobwebs from the ceiling and scrub mildew from the walls, Lipford adds. Consider, as well, replacing inefficient light bulbs with LED or CFL equivalents.

Another project to take on, this time on warmer days, is installing a birdbath. According to OdalesOrangicLife.com’s Megan Othersen Gorman, birds are often lacking water in late summer—a birdbath can help attract them to your yard, which will keep pests at bay.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


How Safe are Diet Supplements? Experts Weigh In

August 23, 2016 12:25 am


Dietary supplements are more popular than ever, with products such as botanicals, minerals and vitamins regarded as highly as other, proven, health-preserving activities. How safe are supplements, really?

A recent investigation by Consumer Reports revealed some supplements may contain ingredients that have the potential to harm health. The organization sent secret shoppers to retailers, including Costco, GNC, Whole Foods and the Vitamin Shoppe, to gauge how knowledgeable employees are when it comes to supplements. The information employees provided, according to Consumer Reports, was lacking—when asked about yohimbe, for instance, employees did not disclose that the plant extract has been linked to serious side effects.

All told, 15 ingredients were deemed “potentially harmful” by Consumer Reports—and, because supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these ingredients may be blended and packaged in a way that is even more detrimental to health.

“The dietary supplement marketplace lacks the oversight it needs to keep consumers safe,” said Ellen Kunes, Health Content team leader at Consumer Reports, in a statement. “Supplement manufacturers should register their products to enable them to be identified and tracked for safety recalls and to show they are safe before being sold in retail stores, doctors’ offices and hospitals.”

Another expert, however, says the majority of supplements pose little risk.

“There is a small minority of products that do contain ingredients that shouldn’t be in there,” said Steve Mister, president and CEO of The Council for Responsible Nutrition, “but the larger companies, the big brands that you and I see, the ones producing the majority of the products out there, are doing quite well and are very safe for consumers.”

“We are concerned that many supplements are either unsafe or unproven,” Kunes added. “Rather than looking to supplements, consumers should consider other lifestyle changes such as being more active, and eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.”

Source: Consumer Reports
 

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Picnicking This Weekend? 7 Safety Tips

August 23, 2016 12:25 am


Summertime and picnics go hand-in-hand. Planning to bring a meal along on your next outdoor excursion? Keep in mind these safety tips from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

Keep Hot Foods Warm – Pack hot foods in insulated containers to protect against the formation of bacteria. Discard any leftovers that remain outside for longer than two hours.

Keep Salads Cold – Keep salads cold as long as possible. Discard salad leftovers that remain outside for longer than two hours, especially those that contain mayonnaise. (Consider, too, preparing salads that do not call for mayo at all.)

Pack a Food Thermometer – Grilling? Tote a thermometer to ensure safe cooking temperatures—burgers, at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and chicken breasts, 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Never partially grill meat or poultry beforehand.

Pre-Wash Produce – Wash raw fruits and veggies in cool tap water before packing them. (This includes melon, which may harbor contaminants on the rind.)

Take Care with Take-Out – Buy take-out meals ahead of time and refrigerate them before packing them.

Transport Food Safely – Pack perishables at the bottom of a cooler containing ice or frozen gel packs—and pack cold drinks in a separate cooler to lessen the amount of times the perishables cooler is opened.

Wash Hands Often – Pack a supply of moist towelettes.  Clean hands before and after handling food.
 

Published with permission from RISMedia.