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 
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Mary's Blog

7 Websites House Hunters Should Visit before Getting Too Involved in the Process

July 8, 2016 3:13 pm

Thanks to the internet, there’s an endless supply of information available for those in the market for a new home, but sometimes, determining which sites are most beneficial can be overwhelming.
 
Here are seven websites that all homebuyers should keep an eye on as they make their way through the process.
 
Realtor.org. The official site of the National Association of REALTORS®, realtor.org provides MLS listings that are updated multiple times an hour. In addition to allowing prospective buyers to check a home’s value, realtor.org also offers research reports and housing statistics for different areas around the country. It also has a section full of tips for improving the house-hunting process from experts in the industry.
 
Homes.com. This site provides millions of homes for sale and rent throughout the U.S., with spot-on local information to make the buying process easier. It also offers a first-time homebuyer’s guide, an ask the experts section and plenty of blogs providing helpful information on topics such as insurance, mortgages and moving.
 
Zillow.com. Dedicated to empowering consumers with data, inspiration and knowledge around the place they call home, Zillow connects homebuyers with the best local professionals who can help. Offering a living database of more than 110 million U.S. homes, consisting of homes for sale, homes for rent and homes not currently on the market, zillow.com also offers its signature Zestimate home value to help prospective buyers better understand home pricing.
 
Trulia.com. This popular site provides comprehensive school and neighborhood information on homes for sale in neighborhoods all across the country. Trulia provides insight about the house, the neighborhood and the real estate process while connecting people with the right agents.
 
Quizzle.com. A website that offers a free credit score and a free Equifax credit report every six months, quizzle.com provides prospective buyers with a clear analysis of where they stand. If you’re interested in purchasing a home, it’s important to visit this site early in the process so that you can rectify any problems before it’s time to apply for a mortgage. 
 
Hud.com. This informative site, powered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has several valuable resources for those in the market to buy a home, including information about fair housing, predatory lending, RESPA and your rights as a borrower.
 
Crimereports.com. While it’s not something house hunters immediately think of, this site is an important one for those concerned about the safety of their neighborhood. Simply enter an address and it will list any recent incident reports, as well as notify you of any sex offenders living in the area.

For more information about online resources to help you through the process, contact our office today.

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Screened-in Porches a Hot Commodity during Summer Selling Season

July 8, 2016 3:13 pm

For those looking to purchase a home, screened-in porches are quickly becoming a feature that can’t be overlooked. Not only do they provide protection against insects, they also offer shade from the sun and shelter from the rain, while letting inhabitants feel as though they’re savoring the natural world outside. Even more appealing is the fact that screened-in porches decrease ground temperatures, saving homeowners from spending an arm and a leg on cooling costs during the hot summer months.
 
Screened-in porches also go a long way toward reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches adjacent interior rooms. Additional levels of comfort can easily be incorporated into the space by adding recessed lighting, pendant lights and ceiling fans.
 
For those getting ready to put their home on the market, adding screens to an existing porch can go a long way toward attracting a larger pool of prospective buyers. In addition to helping your home stand out from the competition, taking the time to add screens to an existing structure will more than likely pay off when the home is sold.
 
If your property doesn’t currently have a screened-in porch—or you recently bought a spot that lacks this alluring amenity—you may want to consider incorporating one into the space if you have the room. However you decide to proceed, keep in mind that adding a porch won’t do anything to increase the total square footage of the home. 
 
While there are numerous options to be considered when deciding which materials you’ll use to build a porch from the ground up—or add to an existing structure—experts suggest designing the porch in three phases: flooring, exterior materials and interior trim. Everything from pressure-treated Yellow Southern Pine to vinyl and up-cycled composites can be considered.
 
Before you get started, it’s important to carefully consider the positioning of the door so that it best suits your specific needs. For instance, you can build your screened-in porch with a door that leads directly into the house, or you can position the door to allow for easy entry from a pool or outside dining area. In most instances, aluminum doors are recommended because wood doors tend to warp over time.
 
You’ll also want to consider how you’d like the ceiling to look. Flat ceilings will provide an interior room feel, while vaulted or cathedral ceilings will allow for better ventilation.
 
If you’re not up to the task of building a screened-in porch with your own two hands, hiring a professional contractor will take the work out of the process. Not only will a contractor be up-to-date in regard to zoning laws, they can also deal with any issues that might pop up along the way.
 
To learn more about screened-in porches, contact our office today.

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In this Edition: Tree Care

July 8, 2016 3:13 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters examines the benefits associated with screened-in porches - and why they appeal to today's buyers. Other topics covered this month include seven websites house hunters should check out as they make their way through the purchase process and simple tips to keep your pool in tip-top shape this showing season. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

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Is It Time to Evaluate Your Trees? Pt. 2

July 8, 2016 12:43 am


In our last segment (Is It Time to Evaluate Your Trees? Pt.1), we introduced risk assessment measures homeowners might consider taking for the trees on their property. In this segment, we’ll dig into the methods and qualifications needed to carry out an assessment.

An arborist certified by the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) (TreeCareTips.org) can be beneficial when determining the safety of the trees on your property. The arborist, guided by ANSI A300 standards, will systematically evaluate your trees for risk in three levels.

Level 1: The arborist will view the tree(s) in question, whether in person or through photographs.

Level 2: The arborist will complete a 360-degree, ground-level observation of the tree or trees in question, examining the roots, trunk and crown for structural defects.

Level 3: The arborist will perform advanced diagnostic procedures, which may include extracting samples for lab analysis.

The arborist’s risk assessment method may vary between the following:

1. International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Tree Hazard Evaluation Method
2. ISA Tree Risk Assessment Best Management Practice (BMP) Method
3. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service Community Tree Risk Evaluation Method

The first method is impractical when assessing one or a few trees on a residential property—in a recent study, it was determined the method “runs the risk of being misused by commercial or consulting arborists who inspect individual trees in a residential setting.”

The same study revealed the third method, though adequate, may sacrifice detail, especially with regard to the tree’s condition and site history.

The second method, according to the study, is most appropriate for residential properties. It develops a list of multiple targets for a single tree, generating a “flexible, yet standardized means of coping with multifaceted assessment scenarios.” The disadvantage to this method, however, is the time needed to complete the assessment, the study found.

Consult with your arborist to determine which method will be suitable to assess the trees on your property. He or she may combine facets of two or three to carry out a comprehensive evaluation.
 

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The Top 20 Cities for Retirees

July 8, 2016 12:43 am


Many homeowners are planning to relocate as they transition to retirement—for some, those plans involve moving to a new city, or even a new state.

Bankrate.com recently ranked the top cities for retirees, based on factors ranging from cost of living and walkability.

“We found that smaller cities and suburbs fared the best,” said Bankrate.com Analyst Jill Cornfield in a statement. “Most seniors prefer to live in these types of communities because they offer access to big-city amenities without as much hustle, bustle and crime.”

The top 20 cities in the ranking:

1. Arlington, Va.
2. Alexandria, Va.
3. Franklin, Tenn.
4. Silver Spring, Md.
5. West Des Moines, Iowa
6. Nashville, Tenn.
7. Sarasota, Fla.
8. Rockville, Md.
9. Des Moines, Iowa
10. Murfreesboro, Tenn.
11. Scottsdale, Ariz.
12. Round Rock, Texas
13. Mesa, Ariz.
14. Bradenton, Fla.
15. Glendale, Calif.
16. Austin, Texas
17. Phoenix, Ariz.
18. Cape Coral, Fla.
19. North Port, Fla.
20. Charleston, S.C.

Bankrate.com’s ranking encompasses 196 cities in total. To see if your city made the cut, visit www.bankrate.com/finance/retirement/ranking-best-worst-cities-to-retire-1.aspx.

Source: Bankrate.com
 

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Does Your HOA Have a Wildfire Risk Mitigation Plan?

July 8, 2016 12:43 am


Wildfires can ignite anywhere, even beyond areas with drier climates. As a homeowner, understanding your risk is important.

Wildfire has become a topic of concern in homeowner community associations, a trend recently explored in the article “Where There’s Smoke” by the Community Associations Institute (CAI). In the article, CAI cites a record statistic: over 10 million acres were impacted by wildfire last year—more land than Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island combined.

What’s more, the article states over 3,000 homes in the wildland-urban interface—zones adjacent to unoccupied land and therefore at risk for wildfire—have been destroyed each year since 2000. Several factors are fanning the flames, including climate change and development.

To stave off the threat, community associations are leveraging risk mitigation programs. Your association may be following guidelines set forth by the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Firewise Communities program, which reduces undergrowth and tinder—fuel sources for wildfire—in residential developments. According to the article, mitigation steps may include:

• Clearing storm debris;
• Inhibiting landscape overgrowth; and
• Maintaining a fire break between residences and “native areas.”

Association policies, such as requiring water hoses or prohibiting charcoal grills, may also be imposed to reduce risk.

Obtaining sufficient insurance coverage—in addition to adhering to association policies—is crucial. The CAI article recommends you keep a digital inventory of your belongings in order to expedite the claims process should wildfire damage or destruction occur.

Seek out your association representative to learn more about your community’s wildfire risk mitigation plan. Discuss evacuation procedures and any other measures that may be enacted in the event of a wildfire.

For more information on wildfires, read the CAI article in full: http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/In_the_Line_of_Fire/2507995/310123/article.html.

Source: Community Associations Institute (CAI)
 

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5 Smart Things to Do with $1,000

July 7, 2016 12:43 am


It’s a great feeling: you received a hard-earned bonus at work, or an unexpected gift from a relative. The impulse to buy something you pine for is strong.

Before you spend that $1,000, think what it can help accomplish if you take one of these five steps, say investment advisors at the Motley Fool:

1. Create an Emergency Fund – Statistics say 62 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings—not nearly enough to pay for emergencies. If you’re one of them, take that $1,000 to the bank and crank up your emergency fund. You’ll feel a lot better when you find your car needs repair and you don’t have to haul out the plastic!

2. Pay Off Debt – Carrying credit card balances wastes money on interest payments, affording you less spend-able cash. Use that $1,000 to pay down debt, which may also improve your credit score—ideal if you need to borrow money or apply for a home loan down the line.

3. Save for Retirement – Add that $1,000 to your 401(k), IRA or savings account. Those in their 30s who invest it in stocks could generate an average annual return of 8 percent—or, if you put it into savings, could grow it to $15,000 by age 65.

4. Invest in Your Child’s Education – While student loans are an option, the less debt your kids take on, the better positioned they’ll be to start adulthood on financially solid ground. If you’re on track for retirement, have adequate emergency savings, and aren’t carrying credit card debt, put that $1,000 in a traditional brokerage account, a 529 or another type of college savings plan.

5. Invest in Yourself – If a degree or certification stands between you and a promotion and a raise—or if you plan to launch a side business or a new career—put that $1,000 windfall into making your dream a reality.
 

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Report: Rents Stabilizing

July 7, 2016 12:43 am


Out-of-this-world rents may soon come back down to Earth.

Nationwide, rents are trending upward, but only steadily so, with the average rent at $1,277, according to a recent report by Axiometrics, provider of comprehensive apartment market intelligence.

“Annual effective rent growth” was 3.7 percent in the second quarter of 2016, down from a rate of 5.1 percent one year ago. This measurement, determined by Axiometrics, was positive in nearly 100 percent of the data provider’s top 50 rental markets.

Still, some rental markets in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) lie outside of the trend. The top 10 MSAs for annual effective rent growth, according to the report, are:

1. Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, Calif. (10.4 percent)

2. Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. (7.9 percent)

3. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz. (7.6 percent)

4. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore.-Wash. (7.4 percent)

5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. (7.3 percent)

6. Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas (6.7 percent)

7. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla. (6.6 percent)

8. (TIE)

• Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tenn. (6.3 percent)
• Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla. (6.3 percent)
• Salt Lake City, Utah (6.3 percent)
• Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nev. (6.3 percent)
• San Diego-Carlsbad, Calif. (6.3 percent)

9. (TIE)

• West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Delray Beach, Fla. (5.8 percent)
• Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, Ga. (5.8 percent)

10. Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas (5.5 percent)

Overall, annual effective rent growth is concentrated in markets in the West and South, which boast encouraging employment prospects. Rents in these markets are expected to grow, and some outside of marginal increases, in the future.

Source: Axiometrics
 

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Buying a Home? Tips to Grow Your Down Payment

July 7, 2016 12:43 am


A down payment is an initial payment made by a homebuyer with financing, generally ranging from 5 to 20 percent of the home’s value, according to the American Bankers Association (ABA) Foundation.

A down payment of 20 percent will save the expense of private mortgage insurance (PMI), which is often imposed on borrowers who finance more than 80 percent of their purchase, and can also result in a lower mortgage interest rate.

To grow your down payment to 20 percent, the ABA Foundation recommends:

Saving – Open a separate savings account strictly for your down payment. Setting these funds aside from other types of savings will reduce the chance you’ll draw from it in times of need.

Budgeting – Your down payment will depend on the amount you plan to spend on a home. Assess your current financial obligations to determine how much you can save each month toward the down payment. Consider that many obligations can be reduced or even eliminated.

Tracking – Keeps tabs on the discretionary income you spend—this can help pinpoint areas where you can spend less and save more.

Researching – You may be able to save more with a down payment assistance or other housing-related program. Discuss the options available in your area with your real estate professional.

Bear in mind a 20-percent down payment is not a necessity, and ultimately, your budget and savings will determine the percentage. Contact a real estate professional for further guidance.

Source: American Bankers Association (ABA)
 

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Debt Regret: 3 Questions Students Should Ask

July 6, 2016 12:43 am


Student loan debt has ballooned to over $1.3 trillion, with more students than ever securing loans to finance a college education. The cost and results of that education—soaring tuition, burdensome debt and scant employment opportunities—have left some wondering, “Was it worth it?”

Post-secondary education is a necessary step on the path to higher earnings, but many with debt do not believe college was worth the cost, according to a recent survey by Consumer Reports—45 percent, to be exact. Of that percentage, 78 percent earn less than $50,000 a year, and 69 percent experience difficulty paying loans.

These findings present a cautionary tale for students entering college. Consumer Reports advises them and their parents to develop a financing plan that takes into account the following questions:

1. What do I want to get out of college?
2. How much will college cost?
3. How can I reduce costs?


It is crucial to enter college with a clear picture of your goals after graduation, according to Consumer Reports—taking “exploratory” classes or changing majors can cost thousands in unnecessary tuition.

The cost of college will be determined by several factors, including your academic transcript, your family’s financial circumstances, and the school you attend. To make the most economical decision, consider the bottom-line, “net price” of your education, Consumer Reports suggests.

Traverse all possible avenues to cut costs, too, Consumer Reports recommends. Is community college an option? Are scholarships available? Can studying abroad save you money? Factoring these measures into your plan can save you thousands in future debt and interest.

For more guidance related to student loans, visit ConsumerReports.org/StudentDebt.
 
Source: Consumer Reports
 

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