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

The Social Security Sweet Spot: Deciding When to Claim Benefits

November 19, 2015 2:40 pm

Many of us plan to claim Social Security benefits upon reaching full retirement age—but according to a recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), knowing exactly when to claim benefits is unclear. In response to those findings, the CFPB has released “Planning for Retirement,” an interactive tool designed to help individuals before making a claim.

“Millions of Americans are likely to face financial insecurity in their retirement years,” says CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Deciding when to start claiming Social Security benefits is one of the most important financial choices a consumer will make. The CFPB’s ‘Planning for Retirement’ tool can help consumers clearly see their options.”

According to the report, many Americans collect Social Security benefits early, despite living longer. On average, Americans reaching age 65 today will live to age 85, meaning they’ll likely need sufficient income and savings to cover 20 years or more in retirement. Additionally, approximately two-thirds of the nearly 40 million Americans aged 65 and older who receive Social Security benefits depend on it for 50 percent or more of their retirement income. For a growing number of beneficiaries aged 80 and older, Social Security benefits account for 70 percent or more of their income.

Americans are eligible to claim Social Security retirement benefits without any reduction at their “full retirement age,” according to the Social Security Administration. For people born after 1942, full retirement age ranges from 66 to 67, depending on the year the person was born. Individuals can also claim their benefits several years before, agreeing to take less money each month, or they can claim several years after and get bigger monthly checks.

Generally, the amount an individual receives from Social Security is a one-time choice. This means if an individual claims the reduced or increased benefit, they receive that amount for the rest of their life, with annual cost-of-living adjustments.

The tool can be found at www.consumerfinance.gov/retirement/before-you-claim/.

Source: CFPB.gov

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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7 Steps to a Safer Home for the Holidays

November 19, 2015 2:40 pm

Gearing up for guests this holiday season? If so, now’s the time to ensure your home is safely outfitted for company. According to the remodelers of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), homeowners who expect visitors, especially elderly individuals, should assess their homes for hazards, and, if necessary, increase accessibility to accommodate their needs.

“Welcoming loved ones to your home is a cherished holiday tradition,” says NAHB Remodelers Chair Robert Criner, a remodeler from Newport News, Va. “By making some simple home modifications, you can ensure that family and friends will enjoy a comfortable visit and be able to maneuver around your house without trouble this year.”

Steps to take include the following:

1. Secure rugs and carpets. Secure area rugs with non-slip pads or double-sided carpet tape so that they are snug to the floor. Temporarily remove throw rugs, including bathroom mats, to prevent guests from tripping on the edges.

2. Test stair railings. Check that stair railings inside and out are tightly fastened. Make repairs where needed.

3. Turn up the lights. Put night lights in bathrooms, the guest bedroom, hallways and in the kitchen. Make sure there is a lamp or light switch within reach of the guest bed so that your visitor can keep a light on until safely tucked in. Well-lit outdoor walkways and entrances are also important when coming or going at night.

4. Clear outdoor walkways. Rake leaves, salt for ice and shovel snow from sidewalks and driveways to prevent falls.

5. Add non-slip treads or a mat to the shower. Be sure the shower your guest will use has a non-slip floor. To enhance traction, apply non-slip strips or a suction-attached non-slip mat.

6. Offer the best seat. Choose the best seat for your guest’s comfort—not too high, not too low. A firm cushion can prevent them from sinking too low in to the seat, and arms can help a person easily get up and down.

7. De-clutter. Move objects or even furniture that a person usually has to maneuver around. Secure cords to the wall or baseboards with hooks to prevent tripping. Clear stair steps of any objects, such as shoes, books, and other personal items, that tend to collect on the lower treads.

Source: NAHB

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Green Homes Favored Across the Board

November 19, 2015 2:40 pm

During the housing downturn, green homes provided support to the ailing residential market. Now, green homes promise to be an important element of the recovering market, according to a recently released study by Dodge Data & Analytics in partnership with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and with the support of Ply Gem Industries. In fact, a high percentage of home builders and remodelers report individuals of all ages are interested in green homes and features—and particularly those over age 55.

"Builders and remodelers have long recognized that green is the future of home building," says Tom Woods, a home builder from Blue Springs, Mo., and chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). "Since we first began partnering on this study with Dodge Data & Analytics in 2006, we've seen that commitment grow. The study's recent findings reinforce this continued growth, with new homeowner feedback showing a desire and expectation that new homes be high-performing, particularly when it comes to energy conservation.”

Per the study, 54 percent of home builders and nearly 40 percent of remodelers are currently constructing or remodeling at least 16 percent of their homes green. By 2020, 81 percent of home builders and 74 percent of remodelers anticipate constructing or remodeling at the same level of green.

Key factors driving the growth of green are the association of green homes with healthier living and the increasing use of renewable energy. According to the study, nearly half of home builders and remodelers (48 percent) expect to be using solar photovoltaic and ground source heat pump technologies.

Net zero homes are also emerging as an important trend, with nearly a quarter (21 percent) of home builders having built a net zero home in the last two years.

Source: Dodge Data & Analytics

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Get Your Home in Tip-Top Shape Even When Time Is Not On Your Side

November 19, 2015 12:19 pm

Ask anyone who has ever gone through the process of selling a home, and they’ll tell you that time is the No. 1 thing you need on your side. From removing clutter to making rooms look good, renovating or fixing anything that’s broken to finding a real estate professional you feel comfortable working with, there’s a lot of time involved in the process. But if a new job, a death in the family or a marriage proposal are necessitating a quick sale, there are certain things you can do to get your home ready.
 
If time is of the essence, the first thing you’ll want to do is get your house in showing condition. Throw out the clutter, pack your stuff away and hire a professional cleaning service to come in and get the house sparkling. You may also want to have someone come and take care of the lawn as well.
 
It’s also a good idea to take care of any updates that can be accomplished over the course of a few days. This means replacing broken light bulbs, patching up nail holes, making spackle repairs in the bathroom, fixing any drips and taking care of any little things that a potential buyer might use as an excuse to not be interested in your home.
 
Another great way to get your home in tip-top shape without wasting a lot of time is to hold a painting party with some of your friends and neighbors in order to freshen up some of the main rooms in the house. This is a great way to have fun, spend one last weekend together and get your house looking good.
 
Your agent will most likely have some ideas as well, so be sure to listen to their advice. This probably isn’t the first home they’ve been asked to move quickly, so be sure to take their ideas into consideration.
 
If you’re planning a quick move, try not to have visible signs in the home that lead prospective buyers to believe you need to vacate quickly. And make sure your neighbors know not to say anything about your situation if someone asks. The last thing you want is a lowball offer because a house hunter overheard that you needed to get out quickly.
 
In the end, it’s important to keep an open mind, especially if you need to move quickly. If an offer comes in under your asking price and your agent thinks it’s probably the best that’s going to come, you may have to accept. Make sure to talk about all the options, including the possibility of renting your home for a period of time if that makes the most sense.
 
Contact our office today for more tips to prepare for a quick move. 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Simple Tips to Help Lower Your Homeowners Insurance

November 19, 2015 12:19 pm

When it comes to homeowners insurance, very few truly understand what’s covered, and even less compare their policy with others on a yearly basis in hopes of getting a better deal. In fact, when it comes to insurance, homeowners typically know that they have it and that it was most likely purchased when they originally bought the home.
 
In a day and age when saving money is in vogue, homeowners shouldn’t be afraid to check with their insurance carrier every year to see what can be done to lower their costs without affecting their policy. 
 
While homeowners insurance typically differs from state to state, avoid making costly assumptions by understanding exactly what’s included in your policy.
 
Typically, a homeowners insurance policy will cover the actual dwelling and some of the other structures on the property, like a fence, garage and driveway. Personal property is usually covered, regularly covering the contents inside the home, although there will be a higher cost for high-value items like jewelry or antique paintings.
 
When looking to lower your premiums, one of the best things to do is bundle your insurance commitments so that one company handles any type of insurance you may have.
 
Also, in much the same way that better drivers get better rates, people who are better at protecting their home will get lower homeowners insurance rates. Adding smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and alarm systems can do wonders when it comes to making your bill decrease.
 
Agreeing to take on more of the financial burden with a larger deductible is another way to save money each month.
 
Finally, understanding a home’s true worth can save you money on insurance. Most people take out insurance for the price they paid for the home, but even if your home was to burn down to nothing, you would still have the land, and that’s part of the value. A good insurance agent can help you decide exactly how much you would need in the most extreme circumstances.
 
For more tips and tricks to help lower your homeowners insurance, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Updated Fixtures Offer a Simple Way to Breathe New Life into Your Space

November 19, 2015 12:19 pm

If your home is currently on the market—or you’re getting ready to list it—you want it to be in the best shape possible to attract the most people and get the best price. Setting your home apart from the competition often means making some changes or adding some value to the space. One easy way to do this is by replacing the fixtures throughout the home.
 
To get started, go around the house and make a list of all the fixtures that have been incorporated into the space, including lighting, faucets and doorknobs. It’s also a good idea to make note of any problems or irregularities you may find, and determine what, if anything, needs to be replaced.
 
Once you’ve made note of which fixtures need to be updated, it’s as simple as going to your local home improvement store, buying updated models and doing some easy DIY projects. If you’re unsure about how to replace fixtures, YouTube is a great place to start.
 
If you’re looking to change the nuance of a room and really brighten up a dark area, replacing lights should be at the top of your list. Whether it’s adding a chandelier, dimmers or even switching up light plates, new lighting can make a big difference.
 
If you’re thinking of making fixture changes within the bathroom, make sure everything matches. For instance, if you’re upgrading the faucets in the sink, you should complete the room with new faucets for the bathtub and shower as well. Adding a rain shower is also very in vogue these days.
 
As for doorknobs, changing these out is a simple way to add a bit of shine or style to a room. Keep the look consistent by using the same knobs throughout each room—or even the entire home.
 
When updating fixtures, there’s no need to spend a fortune. In fact, there are plenty of low-cost options that will not only look great, but will go a long way toward attracting buyers.
 
For more information about replacing fixtures within your home, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Interested in an HOA? What You Need to Know before Signing the Dotted Line

November 19, 2015 12:19 pm

When it comes to buying a house, prospective buyers have a lot to consider. From the home’s price to its location and distance to work and play, there are numerous factors that need to come together in order to successfully make your way through the process. But many house hunters often overlook the cost and rules that come along with a homeowners association.
 
In its simplest definition, an HOA is a legal entity that manages a shared housing complex, whether it’s a condo building, a row of townhouses or a suburban housing development with shared space. While not every new home is affiliated with an HOA, many communities are, making this one area that can’t be overlooked when it comes to making a decision.
 
The easiest way to determine if a home you’re looking at is part of an HOA is to ask your agent or look closely at the listing yourself. The last thing you want is to be saddled with unexpected fees once you move into a new space.
 
When it comes to the cost associated with an HOA, it’s important to remember that it varies. Most homeowners associations collect monthly dues and use the money to fund activities that everyone in the community can take part in such as Halloween parties for the kids or a neighborhood wine and cheese night. This may be a great selling point for a new family moving into the area, but make sure you can afford the dues before signing the dotted line.
 
In a condo or townhome setting, the money from an HOA goes toward common elements such as landscaping, snow removal, fencing, mailboxes and entry gates. HOA fees can also be used to pay for the development’s security, maintain a shared swimming pool or playground and manage a shared septic system.
 
If you’re looking at properties that are part of an HOA, keep in mind that you can’t simply come and go from the association as you please. If you buy a property with an HOA, you’re required to be a part of it. While the structure of an association can vary depending on the total number of members, most have a president, treasurer and some elected board members.
 
Aside from the fees associated with an HOA, there may also be rules about what color you’re allowed to paint your door, the type of mailbox you can have, or even where you must place your garbage pails. If you consistently break the rules, you may be fined. 
 
An HOA also has a say in whether you can do certain remodeling projects such as building a deck or adding a swimming pool.
 
There are many benefits associated with purchasing a home that’s part of an HOA, but before making a final decision, make sure you understand everything that’s required. 
 
To learn more about homeowners associations, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Improving Real Estate Market Offers Much to be Thankful for This Holiday Season

November 19, 2015 12:19 pm

Going through the home-selling process can be a challenging proposition for everyone involved, but as we enter the holiday season, it’s important to take a step back and remember that there’s a lot to be thankful for—even if your home is still on the market.
 
Even if the process hasn’t gone as smoothly as you had hoped, be thankful that you still have a home to sell. There are millions of people throughout the country who don’t have a home to call their own, and many millennials are still living in their parents’ basement. During the holiday season especially, be grateful that you have a roof over your head, as well as for the fact that once you sell, you’ll most likely have another. 
 
The improving economy is another reason to be thankful this holiday season. As the economy continues to improve, so too does the housing market, making it a good time to have a home listed as the market appears to be performing better than it has over the last three years. 
 
It’s also important to pay thanks to the fact that we live in a world where technological advancements make it easier than ever to show your home to prospective buyers. The Internet, mobile phones and tablets have made showcasing your house as easy as clicking a button. Plus, advancements in cameras and videos can work to your advantage when it comes to highlighting your home more beautifully than ever.
 
More often than not, when people take a step back and examine their lives and think about all that they have, they become more charitable—something that can help when preparing for a sale. Giving away clothes or items that you no longer use/need will eliminate some of the clutter from your home and go a long way toward helping others.
 
And last but not least, be thankful that you’re working with a savvy real estate professional who can seamlessly guide you through the process. Today’s agents work hard to ensure your home is properly marketed to everyone out there, and more often than not, you’re not seeing everything that goes on behind the scenes. In fact, recent research from the National Association of REALTORS® shows that houses are selling faster and for more money today, a feat that couldn’t be achieved without real estate professionals who are at the top of their game.
 
Contact our office today for more reasons to give thanks this holiday season.  

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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In this Edition: Homeowners Insurance

November 19, 2015 12:19 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters examines the many reasons we have to be thankful as we head into this year’s holiday season. Other topics covered this month include what you need to know before purchasing a home that’s part of a homeowners association and simple ways to get your home in tip-top shape when looking to sell quickly. 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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5 Ways to Prepare Your Deck for Winter

November 18, 2015 2:40 pm

(Family Features) Foot traffic, summer storms, scorching heat, high humidity—your deck has seen it all this summer. But did you know colder months can also bring a slew of wearing elements?

According to Wood. It’s Real., funded by the Southern Pine Awareness Network (SPAN), an information clearing house for homeowners, snow, ice, wet slush and lack of sunlight can cause significant damage to your deck if left unattended. To stave off this damage—and avoid replacement altogether—Wood. It’s Real. recommends:

• Packing. Now is the time to do some seasonal de-cluttering. Store items such as planters, which can cause decay and discoloration if they remain on the deck all winter, and put away furniture and cushions you don't expect to use until warmer weather returns.

• Cleaning. Use a power washer to remove accumulated dirt and any signs of staining or damage, such as mildew. Remember that cleaning isn't just about appearance; it's also about protecting the woodwork. Be sure to wash both the top and bottom of the deck.

• Inspecting and repairing. Inspect your deck for signs of wear and tear from the warmer months and make any necessary repairs or upgrades. If your deck falls into disrepair, replace boards or the entire deck using a cost-effective wood (such as Southern Yellow Pine) that resists the aging process.

• Protecting. You can easily test whether it's time to add a protective coating to your deck by checking whether water beads or soaks into the wood. You may be able to spot treat with waterproofing or stain by sanding the affected areas and reapplying. However, if the problem area is widespread or you can't remember the last time you stained or waterproofed the entire deck, it's probably time to do it again.

• Maintaining. Shovel snow regularly using a plastic shovel—metal shovels can ding and gouge wood. Use sand rather than salt or ice melt products that can harm the surface of your deck, and be sure to brush off any excess after melting.

Source: Wood. It’s Real.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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