RE/MAX 440
Mary Mastroeni
mmastroeni@remax.net
Mary Mastroeni
731 W Skippack Pike
Blue Bell  PA 19422
PH: 610-277-2900
O: 215-643-3200
C: 610-213-4878
F: 267-354-6212 
Welcome Home from RE/MAX 440!

Mary's Blog

Easy Ideas for Celebrating Presidents’ Day With Your Kids

February 15, 2018 9:03 am

Looking for a neat way to celebrate Presidents’ Day with your tot? Below are a few fun ideas perfect for an easy afternoon.

Have a history lesson. Depending on how old your kids are, take them on a little history tour. Focus on your favorite president, or a specific time period. Look online for easy lessons or videos to share.

Do a presidential craft project. Red, white and blue collages? Presidential mobile? A White House inspired gingerbread house? The options are endless when it comes to president-inspired crafts.

Decorate the house. Now that you have that presidential art project finished, use it to help your child decorate the house. Add a red tablecloth and some blue balloons, or deck out your kid's bedroom together.

Cook a meal fit for a president. Cooking together is a great way to bond, and at the end of it, you have a delicious meal. Sit down with your child and plan a fancy lunch or dinner menu fit for the White House, take them shopping for ingredients, and hit the kitchen.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Times to Put Your Phone Away

February 15, 2018 9:03 am

Just about all of us could benefit from a device diet. While a boon on so many levels, sometimes smartphones have gone too far in permeating our lives. A great way to detach even just a little bit, is to create boundaries around certain times and events, making them non-negotiable device-free zones for you and your loved ones.

Here are four places to consider making your phone off-limits:

Dinner. Hopefully, this is already a rule for many of you. But take a look around the next restaurant you’re at and you’ll see that’s not the case for a lot of people. Mealtime, especially dinner, is meant for relaxing and meaningfully connecting with friends and family. Everyone is so busy all day long, we need this hour for ourselves, don’t you think? Plus, not only is the social component important, but slow, mindful eating is important for your body, as well. If there are reasons you must have your device handy, such as a baby at home with a sitter, keep it on vibrate in your pocket, then check it when you use the restroom. Also, remember the old-fashioned way: give the sitter the name of the restaurant you’re going to so he or she can call there in case of an emergency.

The Movies. This is a rule in most movie theaters, yet we continue to see the haunting glow of mobile devices popping up throughout the audience. Enjoy the art of seeing a movie on the big screen and leave your small screen in your pocket - if not for yourself, out of respect for the rest of the people who paid $17 to get lost in an old-school cinematic experience.

Waiting in Line. This one’s a challenge, but well worth it. Research has shown that our creative thinking abilities are being diminished by our constant occupation with our mobile device every time we have a spare moment to kill. So, next time you’re in line at Starbucks or at the airport, resist the urge to pull out your phone and instead...let your mind wander. Maybe even strike up a conversation with the person in front of you. You never know where this exercise could lead.

A Concert. While mobile devices allow us to blast out on social that we’re at the concert of the year, as well as film the entire set, the downside is that we’re starting to miss the point - we’re at a live concert! So, take a couple of pictures, capture your favorite song, then put the phone away and immerse yourself in the concert experience - the crowd, the singing along, the lights, the performance. If you’re posting, snapchatting, tweeting, etc., sure, you’re telling the world you were there…but were you really there?

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How to Claim Tax Credit for Retirement Savings

February 15, 2018 9:03 am

It's tax time, and you're claiming those office expenses and miles logged getting to and from work, but are you taking the "Saver's Credit"? The Saver's Credit, also referred to as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit by the Internal Revenue Service, is available to eligible taxpayers who are saving for retirement, yet 64 percent of workers are unaware of the credit, according to the 18th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey.

"As a tax credit, the Saver's Credit is an important incentive to save for retirement in a 401(k), 403(b) or IRA. By saving for retirement and claiming the credit, eligible taxpayers may be able to lower their federal income taxes," says Catherine Collinson, president of nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. "Millions of Americans who are already saving for retirement could be missing out on the Saver's Credit simply because they don't know it exists. Among those who are not yet saving for retirement, the Saver's Credit could be the incentive they need to get started."

What Is the Saver's Credit?

The Saver's Credit is a non-refundable tax credit that may be applied up to the first $2,000 of voluntary contributions an eligible worker makes to a 401(k), 403(b) or similar employer-sponsored retirement plan, or a traditional or Roth IRA. The maximum credit is $1,000 for single filers or individuals and $2,000 for married couples.

"The Saver's Credit is a tax credit in addition to the benefit of tax-advantaged savings when contributing to a 401(k), 403(b) or IRA. Many eligible retirement savers may be confusing these two incentives because the notion of a double tax benefit seems too good to be true," says Collinson.

Who Can Claim the Saver's Credit?

The credit is available to workers ages 18 years or older who have contributed to a company-sponsored retirement plan or IRA in the past year and meet the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) requirements:

- Single filers with an AGI of up to $31,000 in 2017 or $31,500 in 2018 are eligible;

- For the head of a household, the AGI limit is $46,500 in 2017 or $47,250 in 2018; and,

- For those who are married and file a joint return, the AGI limit is $62,000 in 2017 or $63,000 in 2018.

Additionally, the filer cannot be a full-time student and cannot be claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return.

How Can Workers Claim the Saver's Credit?

"Workers who are eligible to receive the Saver's Credit are at risk of missing it if they use the wrong tax form. If you are eligible to claim the Saver's Credit, you should use Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040NR. The Saver's Credit is not available on Form 1040EZ," says Collinson.

Another important and potentially overlooked opportunity is the IRS Free File program. Workers who are eligible to claim the Saver's Credit are also eligible to take advantage of this program that offers federal income tax preparation software for free to tax filers with an AGI of $66,000 or less. Unfortunately, a concerning 55 percent of workers are unaware of this program, according to the 18th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey. Twelve companies make their tax preparation software available through this program at www.irs.gov/FreeFile. Certain restrictions may apply.

Tips for claiming the Saver's Credit:

- If you’re using tax preparation software to prepare your tax return, including those programs offered through the IRS Free File program, use Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040NR. The credit is not available with Form 1040EZ. If your software has an interview process, be sure to answer questions about the Saver's Credit, also referred to as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit and/or Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions.

- If you’re preparing your tax return manually, complete Form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions, to determine your exact credit rate and amount. Then, transfer the amount to the designated line on Form 1040, Form 1040A or Form 1040NR.

- If you’re using a professional tax preparer, be sure to ask about the Saver's Credit.

- If you receive a refund, consider directly depositing it into an IRA to further boost your retirement savings.

"Please spread the word about the Saver's Credit by telling your family, friends and colleagues – and be sure to check whether you're eligible. Many people who contributed to a 401(k) plan or IRA in 2017 are eligible to receive it, but may be missing out because they don't know about it," says Collinson. "Those who are eligible but did not save last year can still contribute to an IRA until April 17, 2018 and may be able to claim the Saver's Credit for 2017."

Source: Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies

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Should You Spend the Rest of Winter Prepping to Sell This Spring?

February 12, 2018 9:03 am

Many of us like nothing more than binging on Netflix or a series of good books during the waning weeks of winter.

But if there is even a chance that you might put your home on the market in 2018, a number of sources say the time to start preparing is at hand.

Brent Ash at centennialconstructionremodeling.com says now is the time to make your home sale-ready. Small home improvement projects will add curb appeal to your property and make the selling process as smooth as possible.

Ash suggests conducting a pre-listing conversation with a trusted contractor to catch any red flags that can prevent the sale from taking place. He says by identifying and correcting major issues now, you will gain peace of mind throughout the selling process.

For anyone who can move their home to the launch pad sooner than later, that agent says the remaining days of winter are a great time to list, as prospective buyers looking through late 2017 have exhausted limited inventory, and new buyers are 'moving in' to their home search as well.

Real estate professional Kelly Maguire says sellers should be sure to request and review a comparative market analysis (CMA), which will provide an initial snapshot of your home’s value.

Keep in mind that pricing and market conditions can change between now and the time you list, Maguire says, but knowing where you stand today will be helpful in planning both your sale and your next purchase.
One New York metro REALTOR agreed strongly, saying that pricing your house correctly is most critical when you first enter the market.

But the first thing to do is take a good walk through your property or ask someone like a trusted family member or friend to look at your home with the eyes of a prospective buyer and honestly evaluate your home objectively – with all its positives and negatives.

Next, get to work putting the property in tip top shape ahead of your 2018 listing!

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Tips to Help Prevent or Identify Vision Loss

February 12, 2018 9:03 am

Many of us will need glasses in our lifetime, even if we have 20/20 vision in our youth. However, there are some things you can do to prevent vision loss, or at least identify it and treat is quickly.

Lighthouse Guild offers the following tips:

Get regular eye exams. Vision screenings and eye exams are critical to maintaining eye health. Comprehensive dilated eye exams for adults can help detect glaucoma, macular degeneration and other serious eye diseases that can lead to blindness. Vision screenings can help detect problems, such amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, in children.

Speak up if your vision changes. If you notice blurry spots, blurred vision, halos surrounding lights, eyes that itch or burn, black spots or "floaters," double vision, tearing or watering eyes, or if you find yourself squinting or having trouble reading or watching television, it's time to make an appointment. An eye doctor should be made aware of any gradual changes in your vision so the necessary action can be taken to maintain eye health.

Seek urgent care. Seek urgent care if you experience sudden and/or severe eye pain, sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, light flashes, or if your eyes turn bright red. Any of these could indicate a severe problem and should be addressed immediately.

Get UV-protected sunglasses. Tinted glasses will not necessarily protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. It is important to get good quality eyewear that provides both UVA and UVB coverage to protect your eyes properly.

Give your eyes a rest from the effects of digital eye strain. This type of eye strain—also known as computer vision syndrome—doesn't permanently damage eyesight, but symptoms could include burning or tired eyes, headaches, neck pain, fatigue, blurred or double vision. To rest your eyes, it's good to look up from your work every 20 minutes, focus on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds (the 20-20-20 rule).

Dr. Laura Sperazza, Director of Low Vision Services at Lighthouse Guild, says, "The most important thing you can do to protect your vision is to get an eye exam.  If you find out you're in the early stages of an eye disease, your eye care professional will help you maintain the highest possible level of eye health and visual function."

Source: Lighthouse Guild

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How-to Ward off Winter Sport Injuries

February 12, 2018 9:03 am

For those of us who love to hit the slopes, winter is the most exciting time of year. But with winter sports often involving high speeds and cold temperatures, it's no wonder they're some of the most dangerous activities around. Below are some tips for staying safe, from the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society.

Ski and snowboard boots must fit properly. When tightly fastened, your boots should be free of pressure points that might cause blisters. Ankles and heels should remain securely in place.

All boots should be snug but not overly tight. Boots that are too tight can decrease blood flow and make cold-weather injuries such as frostbite more likely. But a common mistake is to buy a boot that's too large and allows the foot to shimmy. A snug boot will allow you to wiggle your toes, but too much wiggle means the boot is too large.

Make sure footwear provides warmth, and wear socks that are breathable and moisture-wicking so your feet will stay dry. Keeping feet and toes warm and dry is critical when you're on the slopes for long periods.

If you're buying your first pair of ski or snowboard boots, consult a boot fitter at your local sporting goods store.These professionals will help you find the proper fit for your sport.

Source: American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society

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From Fashion to Tech, This Year's Top Paint Trends

February 9, 2018 11:27 am

According to the color experts at Valspar, instead of a one-size-fits-all paint color of the year, this year is marked by 12 different colors that reflect a wide variety of lifestyles and preferences, taking their cue from culture, fashion, design and technology. From colors that invoke healing and “hygge”—the Danish ritual of getting cozy and convivial—to those that spark passion and energy, Valspar's 12 Colors of the Year give homeowners an opportunity to express their own style.

While color names and shades vary slightly at different retailers, here are the 12 shades to look out for:
  • Soft Teal
  • Garnet Red
  • Mink Gray
  • Warm Buff
  • Dusty Lilac
  • Icy Green
  • Golden Ochre
  • Charcoal Brown
  • Poppy Red
  • Deep Green
  • Deep Indigo
  • Berry Pink 
While many of these shades lend themselves to enhancing an entire room, some can add a dramatic effect by simply painting one wall or a piece of accent furniture. Many of these shades can also be used in tandem on walls and trim, or as transitions from one room to the next.

As with any painting project, bring home a sample first and paint a small sample area. Observe the color in various stages of natural and artificial light throughout the day to get a real feel for how it plays out in your home.

Source: Valspar

If you need more real estate information, feel free to contact me.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Home Equity Levels Out. What Does It Mean?

February 9, 2018 11:27 am

Home equity levels have been steadily returning since the recession years, however, the latest findings from ATTOM Data Solutions show that while equity is still on the positive side, the most recent gains are not quite as strong. Here are the latest stats:
  • 9.3 percent of all U.S. properties with a mortgage were seriously underwater at the end of 2017, down from 9.6 percent a year ago. However, this was the smallest year-over-year decrease in share of seriously underwater properties since ATTOM began tracking this data at the beginning of 2012.
  • 25.4 percent of all U.S. properties with a mortgage were equity rich at the end of 2017, up from 24.6 percent a year ago. This was the smallest year-over-year increase in share of equity rich properties since the third quarter of 2015.
  • The share of homeowners with at least 20 percent equity dropped 1.1 percentage points from a year ago, while the share of homeowners with between 10 percent equity and 10 percent negative equity increased 1.1 percentage points from a year ago. According to ATTOM, this indicates that homeowners are increasingly leveraging their equity to sell and move up into another home or by refinancing. 
If you’re considering leveraging the equity in your home to move-up, talk to a real estate agent about:

- What repairs/modifications should be done to your home to gain the maximum sales price
- The best plan for marketing your home, including listing portals, social media and open houses
- The best time to put your home on the market
- A realistic price range you should consider moving up to and the best locations within that price range 

If you’d like more homeowner information, please contact me.

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5 Ways to Get Ready to Sell Your Home This Spring

February 9, 2018 11:27 am

Spring has long been one of the best seasons for selling a home. If you’re ready to put your home on the market, follow these steps to make sure you’re in prime showing shape once spring hits.
  1. Find a real estate agent. Use this time to interview several agents and make the right selection. Choose an agent with excellent local market expertise, technology savvy, and negotiating skills. The relationship you have with your agent is important, so be sure to select someone you connect with and communicate well with.
  2. Make necessary repairs. If your agent advises that certain repairs be done prior to listing your home, use the remaining weeks of winter to get them done, as they will likely affect the price at which you can list your home.
  3. Have a painting party. There’s likely more than one room in your home that will need to be painted before it hits the market. Stick to neutral colors and spend the next few weekends accomplishing the task.
  4. Pack up. Now is the perfect time to start packing up unnecessary items. Not only will this give you a head start on your eventual move, it will declutter your home for optimal showing purposes.
  5. Plan a photo shoot. Once the essential cosmetic changes have been made, talk to your agent about the best time to photograph and film your house. Make sure your surrounding property is camera-ready, too, and if snow is masking some of your yard’s best features, gather photos of your garden in full bloom and your pool or patio under the bright summer sun so that your agent can add them to the listing. 
Your agent will have other directives based on the specifics of your home and its location. Be sure to heed their advice as they know what it takes to get a home sold.
 
If you need more real estate information, feel free to contact me.

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How to Lower Your Monthly Expenses

February 9, 2018 11:27 am

If you’re feeling squeezed by mounting bills every month, you’re not alone. The good news is, by taking a closer look at your monthly budget, you can lower your expenses...without making sacrifices, says the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
 
Start by taking a hard look at how much you spend each month or year on fixed costs such as your mortgage, entertainment and communications. In many cases, there’s wiggle room where you can reduce costs.
 
From there, look into reducing your insurance premiums. According to the BBB, insurance companies have many different pricing plans for the same coverage. Consult an insurance agent to see whether you can benefit from any new markdowns, such as a safe driver discount. You can also lower your vehicle, dwelling and umbrella coverage by opting for a higher deductible. Premiums decrease significantly if your deductible is high.
 
You may also be able to save money on your utility bills by investing in more energy-efficient appliances. Smart thermostats, for example, can reduce electricity consumption by learning your habits and lowering the heat or air conditioning at night or while you’re away from home.

Next, take a look at your cable television bill. Determine which channels you really need and cut back your package for significant savings. Or, if you’ve migrated to Netflix, Apple TV or other streaming services, perhaps you’re ready to cut the cord on cable altogether.
 
Also, be sure to analyze your mobile device services. Find out exactly what you’re paying per device and what your data plan is. It may be time to shop around for a new carrier with better rates and family plans.
 
It’s also important to examine your credit card usage. According to the BBB, while store-branded credit cards typically offer a discount off your purchases for signing up that day, the interest rates are higher than other credit cards, and if you don’t pay off the balance or miss a payment, you can get hit with charges that can outweigh the savings at the time of purchase. Instead, shop around for a card that offers money back on gasoline purchases, cash back on your monthly bill or points that can be redeemed for other products or services.
 
The BBB also points out that you can reduce expenses by performing seasonal, preventative maintenance on your home, such as changing air and water filters and having your furnace and chimney cleaned and inspected. A home is like a vehicle in the sense that you save money over the long-term if it’s tuned up.
 
Take the above steps and start putting some of those monthly expenses back into your pocket or savings account.
 
If you need more real estate information, feel free to contact me.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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