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Mary Mastroeni

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The Danger of Lead-Based Paint

October 14, 2015 3:52 am

Though the federal government banned residential use of lead-based paint in 1978, it remains on the walls of about 40 percent of the housing stock today. For children, older homes are considered to be the most hazardous source of lead, and exposure can result in lead poisoning, a serious health concern.

"Awareness is the key to eradicating lead poisoning," says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List. "The more homeowners know, the more likely they are to demand and be willing to pay what it takes to remodel and repair without endangering their children."

Any project that disturbs old paint – such as prep work for re-painting, remodeling or window installation – can create dust and debris that a child may inhale or ingest. Since 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has required contractors whose work disturbs lead paint to be trained and certified in proper safety techniques.

"Of course do-it-yourself projects present the same dangers, so handy homeowners should be following best practices, too," Hicks adds. "This isn't rocket science. It's smart, common sense actions that anyone can do – and all of us who deal with older homes should want to do."

To learn more about residential lead, visit EPA.gov.

Source: Angie’s List

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Report: College Expenses Eclipse Retirement

October 13, 2015 3:52 am

Financial obligations in the present may put off retirement in the future. According to a recent report by the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute, nearly one-third of Americans would be willing to reduce the amount they are saving for retirement, or even defer it, to help their children or grandchildren pay for college educations.

“Long ago, attending college morphed from a privilege into a necessity for so many,” says report author Michael Ericson, a LIMRA analyst. “With the average student loan approaching $30,000, people have been forced to shuffle around their financial priorities and obligations.

“In addition to eroding retirement confidence, these loans are causing Americans to reduce their discretionary spending,” Ericson adds.

But the report also confirmed what previous research has found: those saving for retirement are also more likely to save for other purposes, as well.

“Those saving in their 401(k)s are also putting money aside for college tuition. They’re doing what they can to prepare for both,” says Ericson.

Source: LIMRA

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Sunny Days: Controlling Natural Light at Home

October 13, 2015 3:52 am

(Family Features) No matter the level of natural light in your home, controlling the light is important, especially if limited privacy or damaging rays are concerning. Several blocking techniques can correct these matters, say the experts at ODL, Inc., a leading manufacturer of door and window products. Those techniques are:

Trapping light with textiles – If you’ve always considered curtains an attractive but non-functional addition to your home, think again. Choosing the proper weight and texture for your window treatments can significantly alter the lighting when curtains are drawn. For example, combining heavier drapes and sheer panels is a stylish approach that lets you filter without fully eliminating light. When placed on a double rod, the drapes can pull closed for more complete blockage.

Seeking solutions for unique situations – For glass inserts on doors, traditional coverings such as curtains or blinds are impractical; the sway of fabric or banging of blinds grows tiresome quickly. An alternative is an energy-efficient solution that lets you easily adjust and change the height and tilt of the slats as needed to control the amount of light and privacy you want.

Filtering harsh rays with window film – Although it lacks the day-to-day flexibility of other options, tinting windows or applying a window film is an effective way to significantly reduce bright light through a window. There are a wide range of options to fit your specific needs, from glare reduction and heat control to privacy and decoration. You can choose versions that allow varying degrees of opacity in gray or dark colors, or even frosted or stained glass looks. In most cases, the film is applied from inside; the street appearance varies depending on your selection.

Planting with purpose – If your preference is to leave your view unobstructed, enhance the view with strategically positioned shrubs or trees that lend a more subtle sense of privacy while blocking direct sunlight. This approach is ideal for windows and glass doors overlooking a scenic backyard with limited privacy concerns.

Source: ODL, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Mortgage Rates Average Well Below 4 Percent

October 13, 2015 3:52 am

Average mortgage rates across the board continue to remain below 4 percent, most recently falling due to weak employment numbers. According to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.76 percent with an average 0.6 point. The average 15-year fixed-rate mortgage dipped below 3 percent to 2.99 percent, also with an average 0.6 point.

The PMMS® also reports the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 2.88 percent (with an average 0.4 point), and the 1-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 2.55 percent (with an average 0.2 point).

“Calling the September jobs report disappointing is an understatement,” says Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “The sputtering U.S. economy added only 142,000 jobs. To make matters worse, there were downward revisions to the prior two months. Hourly wages were flat, and the labor force participation rate fell to 62.4 percent, the lowest rate since 1977. In response, Treasury yields dipped below 2 percent, triggering a 9 basis point tumble in the 30-year mortgage rate to 3.76 percent.”

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Don't Let Hidden Fees Bust Your Travel Budget

October 12, 2015 3:52 am

On top of planning flights, hotels, car rentals, dining and activities, there are numerous fees and surcharges to consider when traveling. According to Cheapflights.com, the most common of these fees include:

1. Booking Fees – With the increasing popularity of booking travel online, many airlines and travel websites now charge booking fees for folks who prefer to book travel over the phone. Even if you opt to book online, beware of any online booking fees. That small $5 fee adds up if you're booking travel for multiple people.

Avoid booking fees by shopping around and comparing prices. Whether you book from a third party or direct from the airline, hotel or car rental company, be sure to read the fine print.

2. Baggage Fees – Checked bags (and even carry-on bags on Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit airlines) are on an exceedingly long list of amenities that are no longer complimentary. In addition to charging for checked luggage, airlines also assess charges for overweight baggage and excess baggage.

Avoid checked baggage fees altogether by learning to travel with one carry-on bag. (Yes, it is possible!) With the right suitcase, you can pack it all in and not fret about fees or finding space in the overhead bin.

Alternatively, you can book an airline or fare class that suits your needs. JetBlue may have abandoned free bags on its lowest fare flights, but it's generally cheaper to book a Blue Plus ticket, which includes a free bag, than to pay for a last-minute bag check. And most airlines will charge you less if you pay in advance for checking your luggage.

If you fly often with luggage on the same airline, consider obtaining a credit card with that airline – free bag check is a common perk.

To avoid overweight baggage fees, weigh your bag at home before heading to the airport. Lighten the load by removing that extra pair of shoes or non-essential extra outfit. Leave the toiletries at home, too – you can use the complimentary hotel amenities or stock up at the store at your destination.

3. Customs Entrance/Exit Fees – If you’re traveling abroad, there may be entrance or exit fees charged at the border. Even if your destination doesn't require a visa, you might still be stuck with "air passenger duty." At the time of booking, inquire whether your airline ticket includes the destination's fees to avoid any surprises.

Avoid excess visa fees for last minute processing by applying well in advance. If you can, go directly to the embassy or consulate to apply for the visa. You'll save on express mailing your travel documents. If you use a third-party service, the company will likely charge a service fee on top of the visa processing fees.

If you are traveling on a cruise, be wary of port fees. When a cruise ship docks at a port of call, they are charged a government-imposed port fee that is passed on to the consumer. Ask the company or travel agent if the quoted price includes port fees. Larger cruise liners tend to include them, but it doesn't hurt to ask. If the port fees are piling up, book a cruise with fewer stops or book earlier, as rates tend to be much lower when booked months in advance. Traveling during the off-season also helps drive costs down.

4. Credit Card Transaction Fees – Your credit card provider may tack on transaction fees for each and every purchase you made abroad. Some credit cards and banks also charge a currency conversion fee.

Avoid credit card transaction fees by getting a credit card that doesn't add a foreign transaction fee to your charges. When presented with the option to pay with local currency or with that of your home country, always pay in local currency. The dynamic currency conversion option is based on a poor exchange rate, which means you will end up paying more. Plus, your credit card company may still charge you a foreign transaction fee.

Other travel fees to watch for include hotel fees, such as resort fees, airport shuttle costs, bed type guarantees and early check-in/late check-out fees; car rental fees, such as rental insurance, extra driver fees, alternate drop-off location fess; rebooking fees; and reward travel fees.

Source: Cheapflights.com

 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Insulation Tips to Keep Heat in, Cold out this Winter

October 12, 2015 3:52 am

(BPT) – One of the easiest ways to ward off winter’s chill at home is to increase insulation. And the best time to do it is autumn, before bitter cold sets in. To begin, assess the insulation in your basement, says Tom Savoy, technical director for Insulfoam.

“Up to 25 percent of a home’s heat loss is through the basement,” says Savoy. "Even if you don't spend time in the basement, it's crucial to insulate it right to help manage the heating throughout the rest of your home," says Savoy.

Many homes in the U.S. were built with fiberglass batts between wood wall studs, which are notoriously leaky, providing a bridge for heat to pass through the wall. Such insulation can also trap moisture in the walls, causing that musty basement smell.

A simple solution is adding a layer of continuous insulation to the home's basement walls using rigid foam boards, such as expanded polystyrene (EPS). Available in home improvement stores, EPS insulation is easy to cut and install using standard tools around the house. Unlike many other types of insulation, rigid foam boards are thin and easy to handle, without messy fibers to clean-up.

To get started, you will first need to figure out how much insulation you will need based on its "R-value." R-value is the measure of insulation's ability to resist heat flow, with higher numbers meaning better performance. A quick call to your city or county building department will let you know what R-value is appropriate, and if you'll need to take anything else into account with your insulation project.

In addition to insulating the basement, another leaky area to check is attic hatches. As heat rises, these hatches often have gaps around them, allowing the warm air to escape. Properly sealing them with weather stripping and adding a layer of rigid foam to the hatch will help keep heat in your living area.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Post-Storm Electrical Hazards to Watch For

October 12, 2015 3:52 am

In the days following a severe storm, flooding can result in electrical hazards in the home and on the surrounding property. In fact, electrical equipment exposed to water can be extremely dangerous if reenergized without property reconditioning or replacement, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). Damage to electrical equipment can also result from exposure to flood waters contaminated with chemicals, sewage, oil and other debris.

“As families begin cleaning up after a flood, there are many hidden electrical hazards throughout the home,” says ESFI President Brett Brenner.  “Water and electricity don’t mix, and the dangers associated with submerged electrical equipment can be deadly.”

The ESFI strongly advises homeowners not to use electrical appliances that have been wet until they have been examined by a qualified service repair dealer. Certain equipment will require replacement, while a trained professional may be able to recondition other devices.

Electrical items, such as circuit breakers, fuses, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), receptacles, plugs and switches, can malfunction when water and silt get inside. Discard them if they have been submerged.

Keep in mind ocean water and salt spray can be particularly damaging to electrical equipment due to the corrosive and conductive nature of the salt water residue.

When it comes to downed power lines, always assume they are energized. Contact your utility company immediately to report downed lines, and stay at least 10 feet away from the line and anything it may be touching, such as a fence, tree limb or water. Never touch a person or object that is in direct or indirect contact with a downed power line. Instead, call 911 immediately.

Additionally, never attempt to move a downed power line – leave it to the professionals. Do not try to move a downed power line with another object. Even non-conductive materials like wood or cloth that are slightly wet can conduct electricity.

Portable generators can also be dangerous if not used properly. Do not operate a portable generator in your home or in any other enclosed or even-partially enclosed area. Generators can very quickly produce high levels of carbon monoxide, which can be deadly. Make sure that there is at least one battery-operated or battery backup carbon monoxide alarm in your home. Test it before using your generator.

Do not connect generators directly to the household wiring unless an appropriate transfer switch has been installed by a licensed, qualified electrician.  Always turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling.

Source: ESFI

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Keep Your Home Sale from Going Down the Drain by Paying Attention to Plumbing Issues

October 9, 2015 11:31 am

From increasing your home’s curb appeal to updating fixtures and appliances, the tasks associated with getting your home in tip-top shape before listing it can seem daunting. While putting your home’s best foot forward is the name of the game, real estate professionals stress that it’s just as important to make sure your plumbing is in good condition before listing.

In today’s competitive market, the last thing you want is for a sale to fall through because you didn’t take the time to fix a simple plumbing issue. In fact, many prospective buyers are taking it upon themselves to check for plumbing issues when viewing homes. That means they’re flushing all the toilets, turning on all the faucets and checking out the showerheads. A more seasoned expert may even look under the cabinet for leaks or check for water spots on the ceiling and in key areas around the tub.

While plumbing renovations aren’t typically necessary, it’s important to take care of any leaks in your plumbing system, as these can be an instant deterrent for buyers. You should also check the plumbing within your home for corrosion or rust. Be sure to thoroughly check any plumbing that’s easily accessible since potential buyers will likely be checking for signs of problems in highly visible areas.

Before allowing prospective buyers into your home, make sure your water pressure is strong and that there are no stains on any of the porcelain within the space. If you locate a difficult stain, you may want to consider hiring a local cleaning company.

When it comes to water damage, it’s important to remember that if you’ve fixed a water issue in the past, the signs may not necessarily be gone. Be sure to take the time to paint any walls or ceiling where there’s evidence of a long-ago problem.

In addition, make sure sinks and tubs are draining easily. If not, invest in a solution designed to unclog these areas, or check the drain yourself for any hair or debris.

Prospective homeowners tend to focus on things where they can use their hands, so make sure the hot and cold water knobs are easy to turn and that the faucets do not leak. If they do, replace the washers.

By taking care of these simple plumbing issues ahead of time, you can keep a sale from going down the drain.

To learn more about the importance of keeping your plumbing in tip-top shape, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Simple Tips to Keep in Mind When Shopping for a Mortgage

October 9, 2015 11:31 am

Aside from searching for the perfect home for you and your family, obtaining a mortgage that fits your needs can be just as time-consuming a process. Whether you’re a first-timer—or even a seasoned buyer—you shouldn’t simply walk into your local bank and agree to the first mortgage you’re offered. It’s also important that you don’t choose a lender simply because you worked with them in the past. No matter what the market looks like, getting the mortgage that works best for you begins with shopping around and doing your homework.

Before applying for a home loan, take the time to inspect your credit report to make sure the information is correct. While mistakes and outstanding debt can be fixed, the process will take time.

Once your credit report is in good condition, and it’s time to look for a mortgage, you’ll want to compare and contrast various mortgage brokers, mortgage lenders, banks and credit unions.

From there, narrow down your choices and take a closer look at your top few offers by examining the numbers more closely. Looking beyond the basics, you need to determine all loan cost information, not just the monthly mortgage payment and annual percentage rate. Check the cost of points in dollar amounts, broker fees, origination fees, underwriting fees, administrative costs, mortgage insurance, yield spread premiums, commissions, escrow and closing costs. Without these numbers, you won’t be able to make a fair comparison.

While most prospective buyers tend to think that a 30-year loan is the way to go, over the years, 15-year loans have continued to gain in popularity. However, in the end, the most important thing is to pick the loan that’s best for you and your family.

In addition to 15- and 30-year loans, prospective buyers can also choose between fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages. If you’re interested in an adjustable-rate loan, you need to consider more than just the rate at the beginning of the loan period. It’s also important to understand and pay attention to the rules related to when and how often adjustments can occur, limits on what they could cost, as well as the loan’s ceiling rate. This is something that you should discuss closely with your lender.

If you happen to discover a better price with a different lender, but prefer one that you already know, don’t be shy about negotiating the terms, especially if you have a solid credit history. You may be able to lower the points, reduce some fees, eliminate some broker fees or even bring the rate down a small percentage.

Once you find the terms you’re comfortable with, lock it in, in writing, so that things don’t change. The lock-in should include the rate that you have agreed upon, the period the lock-in lasts, the number of points to be paid and a lock on as many other costs and terms as possible.

Finding and obtaining a mortgage may not be the most exciting part of the process, but it’ll set you on the path toward owning your own home, so do all you can to make sure you can live with the terms and payment conditions.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Home Purchase on the Horizon? Keep Red Flags at Bay

October 9, 2015 11:31 am

When it comes time to buy a new home, the last thing you want to do is send up red flags that could ultimately hurt your chances of getting into your dream home. One of the worst mistakes prospective buyers make is purchasing big-ticket items like cars or jewelry in the days or months leading up to a home purchase.

In fact, a good rule of thumb is to avoid making any major purchases (over $1,000) for a good six months before you even begin the house hunting process. This means no lavish vacations or new appliances. Large purchases are never a good thing when banks go to review your financial information, so it’s also important to stay away from buying furniture, even if you’re planning on using it in your new home.

Another common mistake that people make is constantly moving their money around (taking money from one bank account and shifting it to another, be it stock, mutual funds, a 401K or just another bank account). The problem occurs when lenders look at your financial history and see a lot of big withdrawals and deposits that need an explanation. In the end, this could cause a mortgage provider to back away from the deal.

If you’re looking for a home in a new town or state, understand that the process will take time. If you have a steady job, don’t quit with the hope that you’ll find the house of your dreams quickly. More often than not it takes several months to a year to find the perfect home, and the last thing you want is to be in a situation where you don’t have a job when you find the home of your dreams.

Another thing you’ll want to avoid is jumping at the first house you see. Even if the price is right, if the space doesn’t meet all of your requirements, you’ll most likely end up paying for your decision well into the future. Make sure you know well ahead of time what you want in a home and what you’re willing to concede. The last thing you want to do is make a quick decision without giving yourself ample time to look around.

And last but not least, take the time to find a trusted real estate professional to help you through the process. While you may be confident in your ability to handle everything that comes with the process of searching for and purchasing a home, it’s been proven time and again that having an agent by your side will lead to a better deal, a faster turnaround and a smoother process all the way through.

For more information about preparing to buy a home, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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