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Mary Mastroeni

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Appraisals Continue to Play an Important Role in Assessing a Home's Value

March 11, 2016 5:49 pm

If you’re involved in a real estate transaction, whether you're the buyer or the seller, understanding the importance of an appraisal—and what it says about the home—is critical.
 
In its simplest terms, the appraisal is a professional assessment of a home’s value, performed by a licensed appraiser, who considers things such as the property’s features, current market conditions, and supporting data on sales of similar properties. From there, an appraiser will use a formula to calculate the true value of the home.
 
Appraisals are conducted by independent contractors who have no affiliation with the buyer or seller. Appraisers work for a fee, rather than a commission, so there’s no bias on his or her part when determining the value of a property. Not only does the appraisal allow sellers to establish a fair market value of the property involved in the transaction, the appraisal process also goes a long way toward helping a lender determine how much they can safely lend to buyers.
 
While all appraisals are different, ranging in length from a few pages to more than 100, they all include details about the house, a description of the neighborhood and side-by-side comparisons of similar properties. The appraisal will also contain an evaluation of the area’s real estate market, notations of major problems with the property that will affect its value and an estimate of the expected time it will take to sell the property.
 
Many of today’s appraisals are placing a greater emphasis on green features, with appraisers estimating higher prices when energy-efficiency methods are installed, a trend that’s not likely to go away anytime soon. This is something that you or your REALTOR® should point out if you’re accompanying the appraiser on the viewing.
 
In the end, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to agree with the outcome of an appraisal and base your buying or selling decision strictly on the results that come about through the process, but the appraisal is an important barometer to keep in mind as you work with your agent to determine the best price point at which to list your home.
 
To learn more about the appraisal process, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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In this Edition: Home Inspections

March 11, 2016 5:49 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters examines the importance of appraisals in today’s competitive real estate market. Other topics covered this month include simple tips to incorporate color into your home and how to spring clean your home into tip-top shape. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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3 Money-Smart Tips for Millennials

March 11, 2016 3:04 pm

From witnessing the plight of their parents to navigating a barren employment landscape, most millennials experienced the effects of the economic downturn in one form or another. As a result, they’re cognizant of the importance of monetary well-being, yet unsure how to best manage their finances.

In reality, there are many routes to take on the path to a secure financial future. The specialists at Northwestern Mutual recommend starting with the following money-wise tasks:

1. Set goals. Currently, just over half of millennials have set financial goals. If you haven’t yet defined your goals, take time to create money milestones that align with your future plans. Ask yourself where you want to be at this time next year. If you’ve already set goals, now is a good time to review your plan, assess how you're doing and make updates if needed.

2. Review your 401(k). Approximately three-quarters of millennials expect to work past age 65 because Social Security won't take care of their needs. This finding stresses the importance of a strong 401(k). Are you contributing to your employer's plan? Can you afford to contribute more? Spending even a few minutes analyzing your retirement savings can pay off big down the road.

3. Meet with a financial professional. About one in three millennials say a lack of planning is their greatest obstacle to achieving financial security. The best way to make sure you're making the most of your money is to create a plan with a financial professional.

Says Emily Holbrook, young personal market director for Northwestern Mutual: "Regardless of where millennials are on their financial journeys, completing even one small task today can have a big impact on their financial futures.”

Source: Northwestern Mutual

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The Top 10 Downtowns of 2016

March 11, 2016 3:04 pm

Things will be great when you’re downtown!

Livability.com recently released its ranking of the top 10 best downtowns across America, underscoring resurgence in downtowns in mid- and small-size towns. The downtowns included in the ranking offer expanded housing options, diversity and around-the-clock entertainment.

“Having a great downtown is about more than just great stores and great restaurants,” says Matt Carmichael, editor of Livability.com.  “A great downtown needs people. Great cities need great spaces to gather. These cities and towns are wonderful places to get out and engage with your friends, family and other residents.”

The ranking is as follows:

1. Alexandria, Va.
2. Santa Monica, Calif.
3. Greenville, S.C.
4. Bellevue, Wash.
5. Pittsburgh, Pa.
6. Boise, Idaho
7. Tempe, Ariz.
8. Plano, Texas
9. Colorado Springs, Colo.
10. Evanston, Ill.

To determine the ranking, Livability.com evaluated data from various sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the mapping platform Esri, to pinpoint areas experiencing an influx in population, new development and low vacancy rates. Livability.com also factored in Walk Score and affordability, among other indicators, and included a population parameter to identify downtowns that extend beyond Main Street.

Source: Livability.com

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Mortgage Rates Favorable for Spring Homebuyers

March 11, 2016 3:04 pm

Buyers in the market for a home this spring can expect lower mortgage rates across the board.

According to the Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) stands at 3.68 percent, and the 15-year FRM stands at 2.96 percent.

“The 10-year Treasury yield ended the survey week exactly where it started; however the solid February employment report boosted the yield noticeably on Friday and Monday,” explains Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “Our mortgage rate survey captured the impact of this temporary increase in yield, and the 30-year mortgage rate rose 4 basis points to 3.68 percent. This marks the second increase this year. Nonetheless, the mortgage rate remains 33 basis points lower than its end-of-2015 level.”

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) stands at 2.92 percent, according to the survey.

Source: Freddie Mac

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Consumer Protection Week: IRS Scam Warning

March 10, 2016 3:04 pm

Around this time every year, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) National Consumer Financial Protection Week (consumerfinance.gov/ncpw) promotes heightened awareness of consumer rights.

According to the IRS—one of the agencies observing the week this year—one of the most recent and widespread issues affecting consumers are phishing and malware incidents. The IRS has seen an approximate 400 percent surge in these cases so far this tax season.

Consumers affected by this issue reported receiving emails designed to trick them into thinking they are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies.  The phishing scheme asked them about a wide range of topics, including requesting information related to refunds and filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information.

Variations of these scams have also been reported via text messages. When people click on these email links, they are taken to sites designed to imitate an official-looking website, such as IRS.gov. The sites ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information. The sites also may carry malware, which can infect computers and allow criminals to access your files or track your keystrokes to gain information.

The IRS urges people not to click on these links. Instead, send the email to phishing@irs.gov.

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When It Comes to Home Security, Safety Tops Convenience

March 10, 2016 3:04 pm

Many homeowners purchase home security systems to ensure peace of mind for themselves and their loved ones—and for most, that preference goes beyond smart home-enabled security advancements, according to a recent survey by LivSecure and The Harris Poll.

"Smart home technology is popular, but the survey shows that homeowners want more than a 'smart thing' when it comes to protecting their home and family,” says Amy Kothari, president and CEO of My Alarm Center. “Homeowners want assurances that help will arrive when their family needs it, and professional monitoring alerts first responders in case of an emergency.”

Survey results show 93 percent of homeowners want the authorities to be alerted by their security system in the event of an emergency, and 63 percent do not consider self-monitored systems as safe as professionally monitored alternatives.

Not all homeowners object to smart home-enabled security, however. The survey found 81 percent of homeowners assign importance to remote monitoring systems, whether through their mobile device, tablet or computer, and 72 percent would like their security system to control other home functions, such as lighting and temperature.

Additionally, survey results show that DIY, or self-installed, security systems are growing in popularity: 49 percent of homeowners are open to installing security systems on their own.

Source: LivSecure

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Spring Forward: Remember to Test Smoke Alarms, Carbon Monoxide Detectors

March 10, 2016 3:04 pm

Daylight Saving Time begins this weekend, historically serving as a reminder for homeowners to test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Most homeowners, however, neglect this important, potentially life-saving task.

According to a recent survey by Mister Sparky® electricians, just over 40 percent of homeowners test their smoke alarms each month; nearly 35 percent don’t conduct monthly tests, nor replace alarms every 10 years, as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). What’s more, one-third of homeowners do not have a working carbon monoxide detector.

The NFPA advises homeowners install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors outside of each bedroom or sleeping area, interconnecting them so that when one sounds, they all sound. If you need assistance installing alarms or detectors in your home, contact a licensed electrical professional.

Source: Mister Sparky®

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12 Tips to Protect Mobile Device Data

March 9, 2016 3:04 pm

Cyber criminals are targeting mobile devices in growing numbers. To protect the sensitive data on your devices, it’s important to remain vigilant, even if your financial institution implements preventative measures on your behalf.

“Banks use sophisticated safeguards to protect customer information, and it’s important for consumers to take certain safety measures too,” says Doug Johnson, senior vice president of Payments and Cybersecurity Policy at the American Bankers Association (ABA). “Remember that your smartphone or tablet is like a little computer, and any device used to connect to the Internet needs to be protected.”

Johnson recommends the following 12 steps to ensure your data remain out of the hands of cyber criminals:

1. Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen.

2. Log out completely when you finish a mobile banking session.

3. Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software (malware) by installing mobile security software. 

4. Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malware, worms and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions.”

5. Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.

6. Avoid storing sensitive information, like passwords or a Social Security number, on your mobile device.

7. Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.

8. Be aware of “shoulder surfers.” The most basic form of information theft is observation. Be aware of your surroundings, especially when typing sensitive information.

9. Wipe your mobile device before you donate, sell or trade it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.

10. Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you don’t know. And be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.

11. Watch out for public Wi-Fi. Public connections aren't very secure, so don’t perform banking transactions on a public network. If you need to access your account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to your mobile network. 

12. Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately. 

Source: ABA

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Your Property: New Safety Measures Proposed for Herbicides

March 9, 2016 3:04 pm

Herbicides—more commonly known as weed killers—are applied to landscapes to eliminate unwanted plants, such as crabgrass and dandelions.

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is proposing steps to prevent poisoning from one of the most widely-used herbicides, paraquat, which has caused several incidents of injury and death.

“We are taking tough steps to prevent people from accidentally drinking paraquat and to ensure these tragic deaths become a thing of the past,” says Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “We are also putting safety measures in place to prevent worker injuries from exposure to this pesticide.”

The EPA is proposing:

• New closed-system packaging designed to make it impossible to transfer or remove the pesticide except directly into the proper application equipment;

• Special training for certified applicators who use paraquat to emphasize that the chemical must not be transferred to or stored in improper containers;

• Changes to the pesticide label and warning materials to highlight the toxicity and risks associated with paraquat;

• Prohibiting application from hand-held and backpack equipment; and

• Restricting the use to certified pesticide applicators only.

Since 2000, there have been 17 fatalities (three involving children) caused by accidental ingestion of paraquat.

Source: EPA

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